I am a fan of the Tour de France. We all know that “fans” stands for fanatics, and cycling fans are that. I have been hitting key web sites each day, listening to live audio feeds, and tracking my favorite riders. I wish I could be standing along the routes cheering on the riders and taking in the unique atmosphere of the tour. There is no sporting event quite like a big tour.
There are also few, if any, sporting events at this level of competition that allow for fans to get so close to the athletes. Fans typically line the routes, often standing only inches away from the riders. Some even pat their favorite riders on the back as the riders struggle up the steep climbs. If a rider falls fans will sometimes rush out to help them right their bike and even give them a push to get moving again. There have even been numerous occurrences in the Tour de France over the years where an over eager fan interfered (usually inadvertently) with one or more riders. One year Lance Armstrong hit the road when his handlebars got caught in a fan’s bag strap that was too far out in the route. Naturally this only made Armstrong angry and he went on to win that stage.
The tour is also one of the few sporting events where fans will also openly mock the athletes. With all the doping controversy in pro cycling, this has become a way to remain fans of the sport while venting a little.
Cycling fans are a peculiar breed. Many ride there bikes up the steep climbs to in order to find the ideal location from which to cheer, as well as experience the same route as the racers. Many will camp out over night in order to see the peloton pass for a brief moment. And many will run along side the riders as they pass, sometimes wearing costumes and waving flags. The tour is also one of the only professional sporting events that does not sell tickets to fans. Pick a place along the route, set up your lawn chairs, grab your flags, put out your table of food, and socialize. I have to say that I like any sport where the fans drink great wine and eat brie while basking in the sun. Forget the lousy bag of chips and cheap beer I say.
I must admit that I “know” these things from the vantage point of someone a long ways away from the tour who merely finds the whole thing fascinating.
Here is a cross section of cycling fans at previous tours doing their thing:
Several times in my life I have stood on the side of the road for local bike races in and around my home town. I have not worn costumes or funny hats or waved flags or painted my face (or belly) or stood naked in a line. But I did cheer loudly and had a great time. A dream of mine is to get to the Tour de France someday and cheer on the big boys.
Finally, here’s a couple of images of a fan who will not forget that day:
There is something poetic in that.