Every year June and July come around. And with them comes the famous, weeks-long bicycle race, the Tour de France, prompting me to consider at last acting on my New Year’s resolution to exercise. So I dust off the old bike, pump up the old tires and commence the tour of the old neighborhood, visualizing its streets not as a vista of garage doors and lawn sprinklers but rather as miniature Loire Valleys, Languedocs and Haute-Savoies.
Central to the Tour de France are its many famous climbs, designated by categories (including, with a semantic logic only the French could contrive, the category “Beyond Category”). In my neighborhood the climbs may best be categorized as follows:
The one area that may be considered Beyond Category, and indeed to be avoided at all costs, is the Alpe de Fred, a small rise in front of my neighbor Fred’s house where Fred’s French bulldog, often joined by Fred himself, adds to a repertoire of incessant barking by first snarling at and then shedding fleas on passersby.
As the Tour de France has a number of distinctive colored jerseys for the best sprinter, climber, etc. so do I have my own collection including:
The Polka Dot Jersey, signifying a laundry mishap or unhappy clothing choices from the sixties;
The Green Jersey, signifying envy;
Various frayed, sometimes stained rugby shirts, representing more unhappy clothing choices from the past.
Then there is the Peloton. In the real European tours, this throng of a hundred or more professional riders becomes a whole greater than the sum of its parts, mercilessly tracking down breakaways, punishing attackers, and gobbling up kilometer after kilometer of the Gironde, the Alps, the Pyrenees. It is like Vladimir Putin’s or Kim Jong-Un’s idea of a holiday excursion.
The Peloton on my tour consists of:
An eight year old on a Schwinn until he rings his bell, speeds past me and heads for a nearby Dairy Queen;
Fred’s annoying dog, when Fred forgets to turn on the invisible fence.
During its three weeks of racing, the Tour de France has additional points competitions to distract riders and spectators alike from the unspoken reality that it is almost as numbingly boring and uncomfortable to watch someone sit on a bicycle seat and pedal for thousands of miles as it would be to perform. As the owner of a short attention span and ample, easily made uncomfortable behind. I compensate by awarding myself points for accomplishments as follows:
Riding under lawn sprinklers on hot July days (one point);
Staying on the bicycle when startled by a loud motorcycle (two points);
Making obscene gestures at riders of loud motorcycles (points correspond to the number of digits used in gesture);
Successfully falling from bicycle to avoid collusion with angry, muscular, heavily tattooed motorcyclist (three points);
Falling from bicycle for no apparent reason (minus one point).
Readers will undoubtedly be interested in the current classification leaders for my rides. They are:
King of the Mountains: me;
Overall leader: me;
Best Young Rider: me, except for the eight year old;
Best Old Rider: me;
Most Combative Rider: tie between Fred’s dog and the motorcyclist,
Most Annoying Participant: tie between Fred’s dog and Fred.
Tour de France riders train incessantly. Based on extensive experience gleaned from many circumnavigations of my block and occasional forays into nearby cul de sacs, I can recommend the following bicycle training exercises:
Buy a hammock and scramble onto it;
Ingest French wines or other foreign substances to individual taste (I’m not into drug or alcohol testing);
Turn on mobile device and find Tour de France on You Tube TV while lying in hammock (WARNING: entails risk of fall because of necessity of having to get out of hammock to retrieve mobile device one will almost inevitably discover one has forgotten);
Enter feed zone or kitchen to obtain more refreshment for future ingestion (WARNING: entails again having to leave hammock and further likelihood of fall);
Scramble back on to hammock after numerous falls (WARNING: easier said than done and entails risk of yet more falls);
Fall asleep after assuming perfect aerodynamic position in hammock with iPhone in one hand and wine glass in the other;
Remain asleep with Tour de France announcers droning on in the background until it is dark and too late to bicycle oneself;
Repeat, abandoning all New Year’s resolutions and substituting reruns of cricket matches or scoreless soccer games when and if the Tour de France ever concludes.