With the spring-classics behind us and the big multistage events coming up, starting with the Giro d’Italia, I get a lot of the following question again: “Why would you want to waste your time on watching that drug-infested display of EPO cyclism?” But I don’t get tired of explaining. I am great fan of cycling. I love watching races and especially the Tour de France. Unfortunately, since in no other sport there is so strict drug-testing as in cycling, there are more cyclists testing positive on stimulants than in most others. And people that do not enjoy watching Le Tour feel strengthened in their opinion that the greatest annual sporting event of the year is better missed because of it.
Check your cynism at the door please.
There are many arguments why people who state that the Tour de France is not worth watching because every cyclist is a athletic drug-addict are wrong, but I don’t want to waste my time on cynics here (even though I recommend reading this article). What I would like to do, is explain my love for cycling races. And hopefully some of you out there will also see that the Tour de France is a masterpiece of sports. With Lance returning to the peloton, cycling is becoming even more of an artform as you can read here.
Structure of the peloton
Cycling is more than about two hundred athletes competing in one race (that fact alone would make it more interesting than most other sports); the structure of the peleton adds elegance: several teams consisting of 9 riders with their own specialities and one or two leaders per team. This makes cycling both an individual as a teamsport. Strategies and tactics are involved. At what point do what riders of a team try to escape the peleton? What riders will be a the leaders of the pack? What team is best a working together, thus giving their leader the extra edge?
To further complicate matters, cycling is also a sport with a very long and rich tradition. Riders that don’t like each other, teams that have an old quarrel. It’s like throwing Machiavelli into the mixture. The strongest rider doesn’t always win, often it’s the teams and riders that are better at the political games. The once that ‘read the race’ and interpret the tactics of the competition. You look at small gestures, facial expressions, how much time is spent at the head of the group, what gear someone is driving in… There is an almost endless amount of information you can use to calculate your chances and for a strategy.
Machiavelli was an Italian, but in the tour you also see a lot of the great Greek tragedies performed live. The lone hero, taking on the greatest mountains, fighting of the pack of hungry wolves that chase him. Men that have no strength left, fighting their way forward on pure willpower. The perfectly timed jump over the competition to cross the finishline victorious. There is planning and plotting, anger, euphoria and sorrow. Something there for everybody. All set in the beautiful French countryside,
Complexity, not randomness
A lot of sports are quite straightforward. Especially the sports where it’s a matter of one side against the other side. In my humble opinion, these sports become increasingly less interesting to watch when the outcome is more a matter of randomness than of effort and quality. Cycling is very complex, which makes it interesting and the even though the winner is not necessarily the best rider, the winner is very rarely determined by pure randomness. Cycling offers something to both sides of your brain. All you need to invest, is a bit of time.