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Tour de France Observations
by Beth Boswell Jacks

“Avoiding crashes, suffering from dehydration,
driving to an epic victory atop majestic Luz-Ardiden,
and finally riding 33+ mph in the drenching rain
all paid off as Lance Armstrong and Team USPS
drove the 148 men left in the peloton home to Paris."
-- www.lancearmstrong.com

With brutally aching joints and muscles aflame, jerking and straining as the thin, hard wheels spun beneath him . . . the speeding biker centered the flag pole.

Perhaps you think I’m writing about Lance Armstrong, which I will, but to set the stage I had to take hubby G-Man back to his childhood and place him on his 1954 Schwinn Red Phantom, barreling across the school playground, reveling in the lead he maintained over a pal--until he hit the flag pole smack dab in the middle.

The ordeal, all the blood and angst, came back to G-Man as we watched Armstrong pedal his way to victory for the fifth straight year in the Tour de France a few weeks ago.

“Do you have any idea the pain those guys are going through?” G-Man asked as we grimaced in front of the TV. Biting the knuckle of my right index finger, I silently cheered Lance while (ukkk!) imagining the agony of enlarged lungs and boil encrusted buttocks from twenty-one straight days of cycling.

Of course, I knew. I mean, isn’t everyone intrigued with self-flagellation and torture?

I was especially interested this year though because I read one of the funniest books ever last summer. The book, FRENCH REVOLUTIONS by British journalist Tim Moore, describes Moore’s successful (but arduous) attempt to bike the Tour de France route prior to the “real thing” back in the summer of 2000.

As Moore explained at the beginning of the book, he thought he was simply embarking on a carefree bicycle cruise through rural French vineyards and sunflower fields. There was something about the Alps though that got his attention. But that was only after he’d spent agonizing days pushing those pedals hundreds of miles.

Moore wrote, “In the first seven days, [Tour de France] riders would cover a distance that in different and rather foolish circumstances would see them pedaling up to the outskirts of Warsaw.”

But, ah, little G-Man on his ‘54 Schwinn could have given Moore and Armstrong a run for their money and the yellow jersey . . . had his serious biking career not ended with the flagpole debacle.

Did G-Man sit and cry while blood streamed down his face and neck, his pale 10 year old visage turning into a ghastly mess? No, indeed.

“I got back on the bike and rode home,” he bragged, shrugging. “What could I do? I didn’t have a cellphone.”

And there you have it. The spirit of a true biker. The courage. The perseverance. The incredible bladder-busting determination to ride, whatever the price.

Anyway, at the height of this year’s Tour de France, I stood there in front of that TV, frowning as I watched Lance Armstrong battle the German guy for the lead somewhere on a cobblestoned street lined with hundreds of screaming Europeans. I could only imagine that at that point the riders would all probably be happy as punch to pull over to a sidewalk cafe and have some croissants and raspberries with cream.

Beaning a flagpole is no fun, but telling about it later is, I guess, pretty fabulous. Just like the Tour de France. Those guys (believe-me-buddy!) can brag about taking themselves to the pits of physical annihilation . . . and living to tell the tale.

It’s the biker spirit.

A favorite Tour de France story is about a competitor in 1967 named Tom Simpson. Unfortunately he crashed, and his last words (yep, LAST!) were, “Put me back on the bloody bike.”

Not me, friend. I’m with Tim Moore who quipped, “As last words go, these are about as likely to pass my lips as ‘It’s time someone taught those ostriches a lesson.’”

I gave up my shiny blue Western Flyer in 1959 when Daddy gave me the keys to our old black Hudson. I’ve been styling ever since--with no blisters and no rashes on my boo-hiney.

But hurrah to the bikers. I’d give the world for their stamina . . . and their thighs (she says while biting into her croissant).

Viva la bicyclette!


Beth Boswell Jacks, editor of USADEEPSOUTH.COM, is the author of Grit, Guts, and Baseball, a book about sports and race relations in the Mississippi Delta, and Snippets I and II, two collections of her newspaper articles. She is a freelance columnist for a number of Deep South newspapers, and her humorous verse has been published in children’s magazines.

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Write Beth at this address: bethjacks@hotmail.com


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