July is my most favourite month of the year. You might very well wonder why because as the wintry weather sets in many people here in the Southern Hemisphere are grumbling about the cold, wet and windy days and the increasingly long dark nights. For two weeks of the month we have school holidays so our routines become less strict as most of us in our household are on a break from work or university. I love travelling and have been fortunate to visit France on two occasions and loved the countryside as I drove from Calais to Paris and then south on my way to Switzerland.
Cold weather, holidays and travel aside, the real reason I look forward to July is because I know for 3 weeks 198 riders will be undertaking the most amazing physical and mental feat of cycling a total of 3660.5km in the Tour de France. This year’s race kicks off in the county of Yorkshire in the United Kingdom for the first two stages, then from Cambridge to London for the third stage before heading across to France for the final 18 stages.
This is my 12th year of sitting up in the middle of the night to watch the cycling. You might wonder why the interest in cycling and the Tour de France in particular.
Back in 2003 on one Friday night my husband and I were out filling in time while we waited to pick up one of our children at a party in Chapel Street. We met up with a past pupil of my husband’s. Anyway the young man asked how I was, knowing that I’d been unwell having been diagnosed earlier that year with breast cancer. He asked had I read an inspirational book written by a young cyclist who had experienced cancer and successfully overcome it with a variety of conventional and alternative treatments. At the time I had no idea who the cyclist was that we were talking about on that cold winter’s night and what affect reading his book would have on me, but agreed that I would look into finding out more. Over the years I have found out that once you have cancer people like to suggest things for you to do or read so as to increase your chances of overcoming the illness, like the consumption of particular food for example apricot kernels, so I am always polite as these suggestions are genuinely made for good and I exercise caution as to what I might do with the information.
Anyway the cyclist we were referring to was Lance Armstrong and a couple of days later I was very touched that the young man had gone out of his way to purchase a brand new copy of Armstrong’s book, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life and leave it carefully wrapped with my name at my husband’s office. I have to admit that a book about a sportsman was a rather different type of gift I am used to receiving as most people tend to give flowers, hand cream or chocolates. I started to read it and immediately was interested in the journey that Armstrong had been on since being diagnosed with testicular cancer at the young age of 25 in 1996. No matter what people think of Armstrong and his illustrious cycling career, I have to say I do admire what he did to overcome cancer and to get back on a bike. Ok so his career may have been improved somewhat by taking illegal performance enhancing drugs I’m not going to condone the use of any drugs, but he is still a remarkable man.
How could any one cycle up to 200kms each day for three weeks straight around the French countryside with only two days for rest? I have nothing but respect for Armstrong and each of the cyclists as I have no idea to the answer of how anyone could do that (with or without performance enhancing drugs I might add). The Tour de France is a race of elimination, as many cyclists have to pull out as the grueling stages take their toll. Unfortunately illness and accidents happen to cut short the dreams of many. Mark Cavendish one of this year’s favourites was in an accident yesterday and dislocated his collarbone. Such disappointment as months of training and preparation were dashed in a simple bike crash close to the end of the first stage of the tour. Someone’s misfortune is another person’s good luck as this crash allowed Marcel Kittel to take advantage and reach the finish line to win Stage One and the honour of wearing the famous yellow jersey. It will take a few days for the cyclists to settle before we have any idea who will be wearing the yellow jersey in Paris on the 27th July.
So the very kind and thoughtful gift of a book by a past pupil of my husband sparked my interest in Lance Armstrong, which led to my interest in cycling.
Well it’s much cooler and quite dark down under here in Australia, yet it is warmer and light in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s Autumn in our part of the world and Spring up north. Ok I know you don’t need a geography lesson, but I just want to set the scene as to how some things just happen. The newspaper has just been delivered at 3.30am so I know most Australians are safely tucked up in their bed sound asleep. Not me though!
Each year at this time in May the Giro D’Italia takes place throughout Italy and this year SBS, a free to air television station is covering this cycling event in the middle hours of the night for the first time, straight off the back of their coverage of Eurovision 2014 in Copenhagen. Joy oh joy for someone like me who loves both cycling, singing and dancing and not necessarily all at the same time! Not to forget a love of colourful World flags.
Last weekend a World first happened as a bearded lady, Conchita Wurst from Austria took out the illustrious Eurovision crown with her amazing performance of Rise Like a Phoenix. No matter where you might stand on the idea of someone so beautifully dressed as a woman, yet with the blackest of black hairy beards, you would have to agree that the girl can sing and the lyrics of the song were very apt. The performance of this showstopping tune, reminiscent of a James Bond soundtrack sung by Shirley Bassey was destined to win and Wurst even sent a message to Russian president Vladimir Putin that Europe is full of “respect and tolerance” in response to Russia’s backlash against her sexuality.
Now back to my geography lesson, if it is day here it must be night up North so depending on your location, Europe is always about 9 hours behind Australia. If you want specific time differences check the World Time app on an iPhone. Therefore while we were asleep last weekend, the Eurovision semi finals and grand final took place. The problem for me was the fact that on Sunday there were no spoiler alerts on the Eurovision Facebook page or the Sunday morning current affair/news shows and so anyone else like me wishing to enjoy the delayed telecast in the Sunday evening prime time spot and be surprised as to who was the winner, already knew Austria’s Conchita came first, followed by The Netherlands and Sweden.
Luckily, unless I fall asleep this won’t happen with the live coverage of the cycling as SBS start their coverage around 11pm and continue till the day’s stage finishes close to 1.30am here in Australia. I have been known to fall asleep with about 20kms to go while watching Le Tour De France, only to wake up watching a taped version of the World Weather whilst listening to some funky European music soundtrack. Quite disconcerting as one minute cyclists are racing through beautiful French countryside, or climbing the Italian or Swiss Alps and in the next blink of an eye the weather in the Greek Isles has taken over the screen. Then once fully conscious I realise it is actually cold, dark and I’m alone at 3am here in my lounge room!
While touring Europe in 2009, the Giro D’Italia was racing into Venice on the day I was there. The city was full of colourful cycling signage and amazingly lots of flat wood covered the famous walking bridges so the cyclists would be able to ride over the canals towards the end of the afternoon. Unfortunately the bus trip I was on would have me driven safely on to Rome as the crowds celebrated the end of the stage in Venice. I’d never heard of this event before that day and now years later I am able to watch it in the comfort of my own lounge room in the middle of the night. This year the race started in Northern Ireland where the typical Irish weather didn’t disappoint – lots of rain and very little sunshine for the first three stages. Once back on Italian soil the race has resumed in Southern Italy and it will make its way up North over the next three weeks. Truly an amazing endurance event where fitness and riding skills are just as important for cyclists and their support crews as safety is. We have already seen some horrific road accidents as the usually dry Italian roads have become wet, greasy and extremely dangerous as rain has fallen. The riders decided to neutralize the race on one day causing the commentators to question this decision. With less than 10 kilometres to go the cyclists’ go slow actions were proven right as a serious wet patch caused a horrific crash and race ending injuries for some riders.
I look forward to more late nights ahead watching the Giro D’Italia and hope that all cyclists continue to ride safely given the road and weather conditions over the next three weeks. It is looking very good with 12 Australian cyclists in this year’s race. Michael Matthews, wearing the Maglia Rosa (pink jersey) was first across the finish line today. Cadel Evans came 3rd and by the look on his face he was hoping for better than that as he led a good section of the last part of the race in the small breakaway group after another horrific crash just before a small round about on the wet and greasy road. Cadel’s team member Caruso was seriously injured and as a viewer it seemed ages before medical help and an ambulance came to help him.
At the moment there are a series of photos doing the rounds in cyberspace making fun of the plight of the Essendon Football Club in relation to the use of performance enhancing drugs by its team players. Drugs that are not approved for human use have been given to sportsmen at the most elite level. I do feel sorry for the stupid bloke who instigated this but really what human in his right mind would even think about doing this at AFL level and thought they would be able to get away with it?
An adaptation to the unfortunate club theme song, “See the Bombers shoot up,” along with photos of the membership packets that include an assortment of drugs, pills and syringes are all in bad taste. It is rather amazing how quickly this type of material gets produced once misfortune has hit an individual or group face on. Whack!
Of course those creative genii who have not much better to do at their work desk but create this type of artwork to make fun of the misfortune of the stupid folk at Essendon, would also find much humour in showing photos of Lance Armstrong as number one ticket holder for the club. Or photoshopping James Hird’s face on Armstrong’s body whilst being interviewed by Oprah. Let’s get the two of them!
For some unknown reason I am a keen follower of the Tour de France. The understanding of how this came about surprises many but none so much as it surprises me. I really don’t know why I have this obsession to follow a couple of hundred lycra clad men cycle their way throughout France over a three-week period each July. A dream is to go to France one year and follow a few stages on one of those organized sporting tours. Lance Armstrong is my hero or at least he was my hero till I realised what a drug-cheating liar he was.
I am sad when I think about him as a hero to so many, not only in the cycling world but for those of us fighting the fight against cancer.
I read his books, detailing his comeback from cancer and describing in minute detail his superhuman cycling abilities. I was well and truly a believer and follower of this great man. I still think that what he has done as a cyclist is amazing as it is pretty certain that so many of the other cyclists competing must have also been on drugs in order to keep up.
I watched the exclusive interview with Oprah live on my laptop. I’ve seen the tapes of interviews with Lance. He is such a good liar. I suppose we will never know the whole story. We now wait with great anticipation to learn the ramifications of the latest drug scandal in the sporting world. And more importantly what will do the rounds this week on the social media scene to highlight the stupidity and misfortune of others!