Cycling has exploded in popularity in my lifetime. Why? What are the turning points that shift popularity, a single event, multiple events, a generation that thinks differently to others? Is it the new immediacy of information and media?
I am no expert, but enjoying guessing, and can draw on some personal experiences. If I had to put all the money on a winner, Le Tour. Over 35 years ago I was dragged into cycling by participation, a school assembly message requiring kids to join a school cycling competition. After a few outings on a 10 speed, a second hand Bertin, a French machine of some pedigree, was acquired from the spoils of a milk run and soon racing began in earnest. I fell in love with cycling simply for cycling’s sake. Then come my first October in the sport, my world changed, Le Tour.
But why October? Because back then we waited for sea freighted cycling magazines, such as the Cycling Weekly and Miroir Du Cyclisme, to explode the sport from their pages in its ultimate glory. No daily coverage, no results online. Fast forward to today. Australia is enjoying its third generation of Tour stars. The foundation laid by riders such as Piper, Anderson and Stephens leads to the triumphant Evans, McGee, O’Grady and McEwen, to the modern day Mathews and Gerrans. We even have our own team. The Tour de France is mainstream viewing, the scenery, the drama, Gabriel Gate and Phil Liggett, it’s as Australian as a Grand Final weekend.
But why? Is it the previous craze of marathon and fun runs that has left a generation with bad knees and hips, a golf swing that no one can fix, a cholesterol test that turns you vegan? Maybe. Is it the story we all wanted to believe about a cancer survivor that drove TV ratings through the roof? Probably. It doesn’t matter how we got here, but we are here, and it will stay. Cycling is not a “in thing”, it is a way of life, we know that as we all now live it. Now we just need to continue to grow as a community, we still are a minority on the road, and safety is at the core of our sport. The Tour De France each July slowly converts a few, the rest of the year it’s up to each of us to continue its good work. Knowledge is empowerment, and sharing it removes ignorance.
So here’s why I love the Tour. Firstly, it is the month when you meet people for the first time it is ok to say you are a cyclist. Instead of the random negative comment about 10 abreast red light runners, it is replaced by “I don’t quite get the Tour De France but I love watching it, those guys are crazy, and that French guy at the start, you know, the chef dude… (he lives in Melbourne)”. I love going on Facebook and seeing posts of new cyclists making their once in a lifetime holiday following Le Tour with smiles as wide as 53 tooth chainrings. I love how even in mid-winter it manages to up my melatonin whilst rugged up at 1am on the couch. I love how my morning coffee is dedicated to the daily results sheet. I love how I feel a sense of loss when it’s over. I love how there is always a little bit of what they do I still take out on my own rides after all these years, they never stop inspiring me.
I really don’t care who wins, they deserve it, there are no easy Tour wins, and by the time the winner gets to Paris, they have won me over. But I do care about the impact it has on our cycling, you and me, the weekend warriors, the first timers, the next generation. There is no better advertisement than Le Tour for our passion, no greater educator.
So in July we take a month off explaining why we do it, the good news is after every July there is a smaller number we need to educate. Enjoy your Tour de France.