What's Cool In Road Cycling

Discovering The Tour: a Slightly Different History

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that your world revolves around pro cycling. Our words are written by us, and for us. But how we look to those around us, who may not share our passion for the sport, can be an entirely different perspective…

Katherine Jones is a first year university student and daughter of PEZCycling and CyclingRevealed’s historian Graham Jones. Katherine, her mother and sister are not cyclists, but over time have come to integrate cycling into the family routine. This article is a revealing insight to perhaps how many of our families and friends become sympathetic (and even knowledgeable) about our great passion. [Graham Jones]

Through some unkind act of fate I was given a birthday in early July and a European father with an intoxicating love for one of Europe’s most popular sports. The date is July eighth, the sport is cycling, and the connection between the two is, of course, the Tour de France. The memories of my childhood summers include hot days at my neighbor’s pool, searching for treasures on a hill behind my house, and Phil Liggett’s roaring voice as a rider escaped from the peloton, powered up a mountain, and gloriously crossed the finish line.

Graham Jones and his “enlightened” daughter Katherine. Funny how the things we do that drive other people nuts can have such an influence.

Let us return to the days before testicular cancer, embarrassing Subaru commercials (I believe these put cycling on a level with football), and hearing anyone with a thick Boston accent say “Launce Ahmstrong”. This was a time when the Tour was broadcast as filler in the three am time slot. These were the days when there was no TIVO and the VCR better work or it will be a dark day in the Jones house.

Although the Tour is only three weeks long, those three weeks took over our house and our television. My father trained for the tour. He came home from his rides inspired, not to mention extra sweaty. He bought VHS tapes in bulk. He tested and retested the programming of the VCR. He woke up at all hours of the night in case the VCR malfunctioned, the power had gone off, or my sister or I had played with it. He labeled and filed every stage of every year.

At this time I was a ballerina/lifeguard/princess in training. I was decidedly uninterested in the Tour de France, as was most of North America. My father’s cycling buddies would join him in passionate conversation about the Tour. Other family friends teased my father about his unwavering dedication to the sport. It would not be long, however, before these friends were right beside my father treating cycling as an actual sport (although I had once heard that it said that it could not be a sport without a ball!) and Lance Armstrong as a hero.

I remember when Lance Armstrong was just an American with potential and bad luck in a massive sea of great Spaniards, Frenchmen, Belgians and Germans. I remember repeatedly asking my father how he could possibly watch a bunch of wheels turning for hours on end. I remember Banesto, Motorola, Festina. I remember Big Mig. He was a man who inspired something in me. I am not positive exactly what he inspired or why but that was a cyclist I watched. He was great. He was fast and dynamic and could always bring Phil Liggett and my father to the edges of their seats (at this time they were the only two people I knew who watched the Tour). Watching that “bloody great” Spaniard heroically win five Tours was amazing. Watching him lose his sixth might have broken my young heart.

Year six was an intense year. We were not to speak in the presence of the TV and the tension was so palpable that even I was drawn to watch the Tour unfold. To the best of my memory it became apparent early in the race that Miguel Indurain, that invincible Spaniard, would not be making history by taking the first ever sixth win. Watching him slowly and steadily lose ground to “Blarney Rice” was painful. I believe that both Big Mig and I abandoned the Tour that year. It was not until the Tour became an undeniable presence in American culture that I began to give it any attention again.

Today no one speaks of the inevitable: Lance Armstrong cannot go on winning the Tour de France for the rest of his life. Like Miguel Indurain before him, Lance has the chance to make Tour history. When Lance fades from America’s short attention span what will happen to my father’s beloved Tour? Will the race return to the hands of the Europeans who have nurtured, loved and dominated it for so many years? Perhaps it will prove to be a blur in American pop culture, but maybe a Texan with cancer is all that America needed to permanently latch onto cycling.

Either way, there will always be that spandex-clad group of diehards who have had the most to gain from the Tour’s takeover of America. They now get the Giro d’Italia on primetime, and my sister, still living at home, gets a headache!

– By Katherine Jones, June 2005

Thanks to the guys at CyclingRevealed.com. Check ‘em out for more great cycling features.

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