June 30, 2015
In any given pocket of the Twin Towns, you might overhear people chatting about the Twins or the Vikings or the Minnesota Wild. But even with the avalanche of bikes in our fair cities, I almost never hear people swapping commentary about professional road cycling. Unless, of course, the Northstar Grand Prix races have snarled traffic in their neighborhood as racers from all over the country sprint over the closed urban roadways while spectators smack cattle bells.
But you guys! The Tour de France began on Saturday – and it’s been epic. The race comprises 21 stages over three grueling weeks – and riders only get two rest days in that time. They climb winding mountain roads for 21 miles straight. They race along crosswind-crazy stretches of pavement at 40 mph. On a flat, windy road. Not downhill. And pelotons often break apart in vicious crashes that can swiftly end any top contender’s fight for the yellow jersey. No other sport in the world features such amazing feats of endurance as what’s on display in the Tour de France.
It’s the Tour of Pain. Or the Tour de Douleur, in French speak.
Did I mention crashes? The Tour is known for its impossible pile-ups of bone and metal. This year has been no exception – and we’re only on stage five. On Monday’s stage three, a rookie cyclist accidentally bumped the wheel of a racer in front of him, sending him skidding on the pavement. But because the peloton was so thick with riders in close quarters, he ended up taking out almost the entire right-hand side of the group. It was like watching a bowling ball take out an entire lane of pins, with guys and bikes flying into the air.
That lane of pins also included the overall leaders at the time, Swiss cyclist Fabian Cancellara of the Trek Factory Racing Team, who landed in the embankment on the side of the road, his yellow bike (to match his yellow jersey) bounding along the ditch like some weird jackrabbit.
For the first time in a long time, officials stopped the race so ambulances could navigate the complicated congestion of support cars and cyclists. Three guys were out of the race right away. Cancellara winced and got back on his bike, only to finish almost last due to two lumbar spine fractures discovered after the fact. And a slew of battered, bloody cyclists gingerly continued, their jerseys and shorts ripped open so all the world could see their wounds.
Badass defined, in other words.