Every summer subjects us to a familiar list of ills. Heat, humidity, drought and sometimes boredom are among the common afflictions of the year’s hottest months. However, many American sports fans are more concerned with the dog days’ most painful ailment: a lack of athletic action.
Through a timeless stroke of scheduling ineptitude, summer’s hottest months tend to be sandwiched in an awkward period between the end of the NBA Finals and the beginning of the NFL season or the opening matches of Europe’s major soccer leagues.
The perfect summer sporting event to fill the gap combines long hours, with beautiful scenery and plenty of opportunities to top off your drink. Additionally, It’s made for both bar and home viewing and might even be more fun to see on TV than live.
Contrary to popular American belief, the world’s greatest summer sporting spectacle is Le Tour de France. While the disgraced Lance Armstrong hasn’t exactly provided American sports fans with the greatest ambassador to the sport, I assure you that not only is Europe’s premier cycling event entertaining, it is utterly Shakespearean. Between climbs through the Alps, sprints along les Champs Elysées and 35 mile per hour bicycle crashes, no contest compares to the Tour de France.
Though Armstrong certainly did his part to build up, and subsequently crush, American interest in the sport, there are plenty of riders in the pro-peloton worth following. Representing the US is the BMC pro team’s 27-year-old star, Tejay van Garderen. The young Colorado native is competing at the highest level of the sport and is just now entering his prime, giving aging stars like Chris Froome and Alberto Contador a challenging opponent. Van Garderen and his American co-star Andrew Talansky are, however, general classification riders, meaning that watching them will involve sitting through a lot of interesting, albeit difficult to understand, mountain stages. For those interested in watching the most exciting, and oftentimes death-defying side of the sport, nothing less than the sprinter’s competition of the Tour will do.
Sprinters are the fastest accelerators in the pro-peloton. While these riders don’t normally earn the best overall time throughout the Tour’s 21 stages, they do usually dominate individual stage wins and can be seen barreling toward the finish line at dangerous speeds on the flat sections of the race. The Tour’s premier sprinters compete in the points competition for the Maillot Vert, or the green jersey, a measurement of which rider can win or place most frequently in individual stages and intermediate sprints. Slovakian youngster, Peter Sagan, puts on a show every year, flying through sprint finishes, descending dangerous mountains at speeds upwards of 60 miles per hour and celebrating with the sort of panache not normally seen in the sport.
However, beyond the excitement of sprints or the drama of the mountain stages, the Tour’s greatest quality may be the sheer level of exertion and determination required of its riders. This year 198 riders entered the Tour de France, but only 160 finished in Paris three weeks later. The Tour is the ultimate display of human determination. Teams fight and often put themselves in harm’s way for their lead riders.
Cycling has boasted legends on par with any other sport’s greatest. Men like Felice Gimondi, Jacques Anquetil and the greatest rider of all-time, Eddy Merckx, have given the Tour, and pro-cycling as a whole, a history of pain, drama and unmatched triumph. As a fan of nearly every major sport, I can say with confidence that there is no competition more Shakespearean in nature or Herculean in effort required than the Tour. So sports fans, next time you’re sitting around on a hot summer morning, give the Tour a shot.