I am an addict. There. I've said it. It feels so good to come clean. To be more specific, I find myself addicted to the Tour de France. I don't know how it happened: I'm not an athlete and I don't cycle -- I don't even like Lycra (and it certainly isn't a good look for me).
It started three or four years ago -- who knows how I fell down that slippery slope. But now I find myself once a year setting my alarm for 5 am (or 3:30 or 4 for the mountain stages) so I can get up and watch each day's stage, for the three-week race. I know that each stage is replayed later in the day, but my addiction requires that I get up and watch the first showing.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a morning person. Nothing persuades me to get up at what I consider to be the wee hours of the morning, except an early morning airplane flight (something I avoid like the plague -- in fact, I avoid all flying like the plague, because it's become intolerable).
This year not only am I watching the Tour de France, but at the same time I'm reading a newly published memoir by a TdF cyclist: Racing through the Dark: Crash, Burn, Coming Clean, Coming Back, by David Millar. The book offers a vivid and arrestingly (pun intended) portrait of Millar's life in professional cycling -- including his soul-searing detour into performance-enhancing drugs, his dramatic arrest and two-year ban after admitting in 2004 that he took the banned blood-booster EPO, and his ultimate decision to return to the sport he loves to race clean. Millar wrote the book himself -- no drugs for him and no ghost writer either.
It's great to be reading a behind-the-scenes look into the sport of professional cycling while watching the Tour de France. In fact, the other day -- twelve years after winning the prologue on his Tour debut -- David Millar won one of the stages while I was watching. (Of course I was watching; I haven't missed a stage yet!)
Stage 12 was a 140-mile ride from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay-Davezieux and featured two big mountain climbs -- and I mean big mountains. (Are you kidding me? How can these guys walk, let alone talk, after cycling that long and that hard? And then do it again the next day?) It was the 35-year-old Scotsman's first TdF stage win since 2003. "I'm an ex-doper and I'm clean now, and I want to show everyone that it's possible to win clean on the Tour," Millar said.
I love everything about the Tour de France except for the contingent of hooligan spectators (reference: European soccer/football matches, where inevitably someone gets killed) who are becoming increasingly bold, obnoxious, and interfering. Just the other day, some spectator(s) tossed carpet tacks and nails onto the road, causing at least 30 punctured tires. One rider was forced to drop out of the race after breaking his collar bone when another rider crashed into him after he had stopped to help a teammate with a flat tire. In a display of the sport's code of honor, race leader Bradley Wiggins persuaded the rest of the pelaton (for the uninitiated, that's the big block of riders) to slow down and wait for the "tacked" riders to catch up.
I mean really, who needs to see drunk boys in Speedos or fat suits running along the the road and falling all over themselves as the cyclists pass by? Or the fans who wave large flags at eye level into the road. Or the fan who waved a flare too close to the cyclists and burned the arm of Wiggins. The riders (most of them, anyway) follow a code of sportsmanship during the race. I wish the fans would too.
But, I digress. Crazy, rude spectators aside, I love everything about this sport. So if I seem a little bleary-eyed when you see me in the store, just know I haven't been out carousing but instead getting up before the newspaper arrives to cheer on the cyclists. And if you too become a fan of the sport, I recommend David Millar's book.