As many fans can attest, the opportunity to spectate sports, whether in person or on television, drops off dramatically in the summer.
It’s probably a good thing — there are better things to do than just sit inside on a nice summer day (unless the temperatures creep above 100 degrees, as far as I’m concerned, anyway.)
Still, it’s nice to unwind in the evening or on a lazy weekend day with a good sporting event or two. Especially when compared to the fall, when you can have NFL, NBA, NHL and NCAA football games all in the same day.
To get an idea of what’s possible: on Oct. 28, 2018, five pro sports teams hosted home games in Los Angeles. It was possible to watch the Rams (NFL), Kings (NHL), Clippers (NBA), Galaxy (MLS), and Dodgers (MLB – who were in the World Series) on the same day — all in their home stadiums and arenas.
While that is the exception and not the rule, it shows the amount of overlap in the fall for sports. Similarly epic sports entertainment can be found in the spring, when the NBA and NHL playoffs are at the same time, along with the NFL Draft.
By the midpoint of summer we’re inhabiting now, however, the only major US sports leagues in action are MLB and MLS. Just coming off the All-Star break, baseball still isn’t to the point in the season where the playoff race heats up and things get interesting.
There is one welcome respite to the summer sports doldrums for me, however. The Tour de France, which runs for three weeks in July, is always a grand spectacle.
As someone who rides their bike, though not as much as I should, the Tour de France has been a fascination of mine for years. I grew up right in the peak of the Lance Armstrong era, with his first Tour title coming when I was only 8 years old.
While Armstrong’s reputation has been irreparably tarnished and he has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, watching the Tour during the years he dominated the sport hooked me for life. I became a fan of the sport as a whole, which softened the blow when Armstrong finally admitted to doping in a tell-all interview in 2013.
Growing up, we didn’t get many channels on the antenna in our backyard, but we did get CBS. So my exposure and experience with the Tour de France was seen mostly through the weekly hour-long recaps the channel offered.
It was a palatable starting point, with long stages trimmed down to short segments and added dramatization to the race as the battle for the general classification — the overall lead by time — played out in the Alps and Pyrenees.
While abbreviated, the CBS shows still captured the stunning countryside and towering mountains of France. It highlighted the biggest appeal of the race, with agonizing crashes, stunning collapses and white knuckle descents featured heavily.
When we began doing the mini-Musselman Triathlon in Geneva, New York, we would stay in the athlete’s village — empty dorm rooms on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. The dorm building had a ground floor lounge, with a small kitchen, workout room, pool tables and televisions.
Over the time we spent in Geneva for the race, we would always take time to go to the lounge, play pool and put on the full Tour de France coverage. Instead of an hour-long recap show, it would be wall-to-wall coverage featuring commentary from Phil Liggett and the late Paul Sherwin.
Watching the entire stage was a new experience, if only for those few days in July. Seeing the whole race unfold is likely boring for many, with hours and hours of men in Lycra pedaling bicycles, but it was fascinating to me.
The strategy, preparation and good fortune required to win a stage, let alone the overall race, are never on better display than in the full coverage. Some gnarly crosswinds or a mid-pack crash can undo a year of preparation in a mere moment.
Nowadays, I have a bloated cable package with far too many channels, including NBC Sports, so I can watch the Tour de France in its entirety. I frequently do, sometimes catching the morning broadcast from home.
In a lot of ways, I’m actually glad there isn’t football, basketball or anything else to distract me from one of the most amazing sporting events in the world. With 21 stages over 23 days, featuring 2,162 miles of racing in the 2019 edition, it’s almost an entire month of racing.
With the first significant mountain stage on tap for this morning, you can be sure I’ll be keeping an eye on the race as it unfolds. Vive le Tour!