Readers, we don't get serious here very often. (You're welcome.) But today we're getting serious.
We're getting serious today because we read this recently on WashingtonPost.com, and it left us seriously rankled:
Right about now you may be asking yourself, What does this have to do with running? The answer is: Nothing. But we are in the thick of this year's Tour, and it's my website, so there.
Anyway, as the Washington Post article says, some current and former pro cyclists are grousing that the Tour in general, and this year's route in particular, has too many long stages. A Dutch rider named Tom Dumoulin was seen feigning a yawn during Monday's stage, which ran 223.5 kilometers, or about 139 miles. That is certainly a long way to ride. Tuesday's stage, from Saumur to Limoges, is this year's longest—237.5 km, or about 148 miles.
Oh my God. Guys, that's so far!
Don't take my word for it. Just listen to some of the riders.
“I know a lot of guys don’t like the long stages," cyclist Tom Hansen said Tuesday. "It does get boring.”
The stages are boring? The ***ing stages are boring? You're boring.
And Jens Voigt, a retired pro cyclist who works as a commentator, worries that the kids today will roll their eyes and go watch, I dunno, cat videos if their screens don't stimulate them often enough:
“If nothing happens in the next five minutes, [young viewers] switch to something else, so it has to be shorter stages and more action. ... No stage should be longer than 200 kilometers and no mountain stage should be longer than 180 kilometers. That is long enough for everybody to sort it out.”
Maybe Tour stages are a bit overlong. But, guys, please. If you really want to sell this you need to come up with a more compelling argument.
Suggesting that the riders are bored, as Hansen does, is pathetic. Are these tough-as-nails elite athletes we're talking about, competing in the world's premiere endurance event? Or mopey teenagers dragged along on a family vacation?
Suggesting, as Voigt does, that we should tailor the Tour to make it more "digestible" for some alleged market of mouth-breathing, TiVo-watching smartphone addicts is flat-out appalling.
It's also needless.
Broadcasters and digital outlets already can, and do, edit Tour coverage to suit their audiences. Hardcore cycling geeks can watch all, or nearly all, of each stage, presumably including detailed elevation profiles, breathless commentary on urine sample delivery, and occasional close-ups of riders picking their noses or whatever it is they do during downtime. Casual viewers, defined as viewers who pronounce Tour de France to rhyme with Tour de Pants, can watch a 5-minute recap of each day's racing, meaning some aerial footage, a crash or two, a few drunk spectators debasing themselves, and the sprint finish. And maybe a shot of the riders zooming along behind a field of sunflowers.
They'll offer this range of coverage whether the "long" stages are 230 km or 180 km. The only thing that'll change, really, if the Tour gets whittled down is that it will get a little less epic.
This would be a sad thing.
It would be sad for all of us, because truly epic things are rare and getting rarer. Hundred-year-old traditions shouldn't be abandoned in some cynical, shortsighted chase for "eyeballs."
It would be sad for me, personally, too. Before I was a runner I was a cyclist. Every summer I watched the Tour with a reverence I hadn't felt before and haven't really felt since. I wasn't much good at racing, I learned, so mostly I rode 100-mile rides—centuries. Coincidentally, the longest I ever rode in a single day was 147 miles—one mile shy of the longest stage of this year's Tour.
It took me all damn day. It was hard. Can I imagine riding that far during a 21-day race around France, including some of the toughest climbs on the planet, in a pack of the world's fastest cyclists? Can I imagine riding that far while knowing that mountain stages and time trials lie ahead?
Of course I can't! That would be insane. Incomprehensible A superhuman challenge.
But that's what the Tour is supposed to be.