Image by Johan Vandamme - 2 via FlickrLe Tour Has Begun
Today, 197 men will cycle 222km through Belgium on the first full stage of the Tour De France. 222km is about the same distance that would cause me to die if I tried it, yet these super fit athletes will get on their bikes every day for the next 3 weeks or so and do a similar distance every day. When they get a bit bored of doing hundreds of kilometres on the flat, they'll start racing up and down mountains as well.
I know that the image of the tour has been tainted recently with doping scandals and the persistent but unproven rumours about some of the very best cyclists, but I am still in awe of the men who can take this super marathon event. Is there a tougher challenge in sport, I can't think of one. The tour seems deliberately designed to make it almost impossibly mentally and physically tough. The race begins with a short time trial, then it takes the riders on a series of hard, long but mostly flat stages, then at last, when the riders are tired and sore from day after day in the saddle, the race enters the mountains where it doesn't so much sort the men from the boys as the men from the supermen.
Right now the riders are speeding along the Belgian coast, today's stage will finish in Brussels in homage to Eddy Merckx, five times winner of the TdF, and who was 65 this year. My first proper bike was a purple Eddy Merckx racer, so light you could pick it up with one finger, I did hundreds and hundreds of miles on that bike when I was a kid.
Right now a group of three riders have broken away from the peloton and are leading the race, but with around 150km to go can they stay ahead of the mass of riders and pick up valuable seconds in the overall time, or will the superior mass of the peloton reel them in during the closing stages of the race ?
I managed to tap the buy button on my i-phone last night before realising I was spending six quid on the official TdF application, but now I have got the thing I will be glued to the tiny green, white and yellow shirts moving along the road maps of France. Geeky I know, but it is so absorbing.