By Fred Rodriguez
Hello Tdf Fans: The days are long, the weather is warm, the riders are fit, and the excitement is in the air. Yes, it’s time again for the Tour de France.
It just really hit me when I arrived in France last night that there are only two days remaining before the start of the Tour. On the one hand, I’ve been anxiously awaiting its arrival for some time, and on the other, I can’t believe it is already here. June and July are my favorite racing months of the year. I always seem to overcome the slight drag weighing on my overall fitness that seems to hang around for a fair share of the spring.
It’s a nice feeling, finally breaking out of that cocoon. My physical preparations for the Tour began about eight weeks ago, after the spring races in April. I went back home to the U.S. the first part of May and proceeded to take an easy week on the bike. By the second week in May, my training became more regimented—each day the ride became a little longer, the hills a little steeper, the effort a little more intense, and, as if Mother Nature knew what I was up to, the weather turned a lot warmer. But I wasn’t complaining – I’ll take the hot days of California in May over the cold rain of Belgium in April any day.
Needless to say, each day I got out there on my bike I was reminded of the Tour. Each time I ate only the hard outside section of my baguette, leaving the soft center dough for the birds, I was reminded of the Tour. And each night I would force myself to bed just a little bit earlier, I was reminded of the Tour de France. Like a carrot in front of a rabbit, I knew it was all about conditioning my body to stand up to the 20-stage test. But of all the reminders of the upcoming July, none were quite like the one I received on May 17th. You see, in the U.S., May 17th is “Ride Your Bike to Work Day” – a day that celebrates and encourages both body and environmental health.
In my hometown of San Francisco/Bay Area, each city promotes the event by setting up stands out in front of City Hall, and distributing riding goodies such as water bottles, energy bars, and Gatorade. I happen to live two blocks down from my town’s City Hall, and so as some buddies and I were making our way out of town for a long ride, we decided to stop and grab a little food and drink for later. After we had pocketed a couple of bars and were about on our way, one of the ladies attending the stand yells out a twangy “Bo-oys! Don’t forget to take your Muu-Sett ba-ags!”
While none of us wanted or needed a musette bag, we turned our attention to the lady to thank her, but that we were okay without them. Well, she wasn’t going to take that as our final answer! “Bo-oys” she says, “Don’t you want a Muu-Sett bag? These are what the professional bike riders wear in the Tour-DEE-Fra-ance. The bag is full of food and the riders carry it over their shoulders while they ride hundreds of miles for when they get hungry.” We all let out a little chuckle, followed by my friend saying, “You see this guy right here…” (pointing at me) “…Well, he did the Tour de France last year.”
An immediate smile crossed Friendly-Stand-Lady’s face. What I thought was an “impressed” smile turned out to be a “You don’t fool me” smile. She then states “Oh you bo-oys. I know your type. You go out there in your snazzy bike clothes and pretend like you’re professionals.” “And YOU…” (again, pointing at me) “…If you were really a Tour-DEE-Fra-ance rider then you would have already been carrying one of these Muu-Sett bags with you. Like the professional bike riders do!” “Actually,” I said “the riders are given the bags by their soigneurs during the course of the race, they take the food out of the bag and put it in their pockets, and throw the bag to the side of the road and continue racing.”
Uh-oh. That was obviously the wrong thing to say. Friendly-Stand-Lady turned into Mean/Pissed Off-Stand-Lady. She continues to dismiss my friends’ attempts to convince her that I am a professional rider, and “shoos” us off. By this time I was laughing pretty hard. In any other circumstance we would have just ridden on, but this lady was so intent on not believing a word they were saying that it turned into a challenge to set her right.
It wasn’t that they cared that she knew I was a “Tour de France rider” so much as it was a mission for us to reprieve ourselves. We felt like little kids, pleading with mom, while being unjustly sent to our rooms for bad behavior we didn’t even commit. But this lady was tough, and evidently, tougher than we were – as we left the scene both without her belief and without her smile. For a split second, as we rode away, I was wondering if I really had done the Tour the year before – but only for a split second. After all, it was just another reminder.
So, here I am, eight weeks later, another USPRO Championship title in hand and jersey on back, and yes, I am ready to begin the Tour de France.
And to all the American fans out there – hope you had a great 4th of July. Keep those flags waving all month. Let the journey begin….