Confessions of a distant observer…

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As we approach another edition of the Tour de France, we will be publishing some online features relating to the race. These are from regular contributors to RIDE Cycling Review as well as readers who have stories that they’d like to share about their experience(s) with the event. If you have any anecdotes you’d like to share, feel free to send your story to RIDE’s publisher.

The fourth installment comes from Todd Norbury, who writes a blog about cycling and spends much of his spare time either on the bike or watching other people ride theirs. He offers some advise for the many viewers who will inevitably commit three weeks of their lives to watching a group of riders get from Liège to Paris the long way around France…

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Responding to the challenge of three weeks of late-night viewing…

So, it is now days, not weeks or months until the “Race that stops a nation” (France, that is… November is a while away) kicks off in Liège. Yes, you’re right, that is actually a little north and east of the border but the Belgian city is the start point for the 2012 Tour de France.

I have been given the task of giving some tips for keeping up with Le Tour from a comfortable chair on the other side of the world to where the race unfolds. Having previously written about how to get through a single stage of a Grand Tour, this article is actually a guide to surviving the whole three week event. And if you haven’t tried to keep up before, it is all about survival. You will enjoy the rest days nearly as much as the riders. Consider this article as the Tour Caravan, gentling winding its way in front of the peloton throwing out freebies to those lucky enough to grab them.

Michael Tomalaris proudly shows off the 2008 edition of the Official Tour de France Guide.

Michael Tomalaris proudly shows off the 2008 edition of the Official Tour de France Guide.

The first thing you are going to need is the Official Tour Guide. I would even suggest two: one to turn into a magazine that looks like it has sat in the barber’s for 10 years, and one to keep as a momento of the Tour. If that tip alone doesn’t get me a regular gig at RIDE Media, I’ll give the game away!

The Official Tour Guide is a great resource for keeping up with the Tour.

I am no Rupert Guinness or Matthew Keenan, so the Tour Guide lets me keep up with riders and teams and stages. I find myself flicking through it late at night trying to figure out who the break away rider is from a wildcard team that I don’t recognise. It is also something to get you through that damned repetitive series of ads we get served up during the TV coverage every year.

Three very important letters for those wanting to follow the race in Australia: SBS. The network is your audio and video lifeline to the Tour.

Make sure your antenna is working well and the set-top box is tuned in, because for the past half dozen or so years, we have been treated to live coverage of every stage of the Tour.

Now, I am going to assume that the people reading this are the real cycling fanatics. And I am certainly not going to think less of those who record a stage to watch later, but if you have any sort of connection with the outside world, good luck keeping the results a secret. Maybe you could have followed the race once this way but cycling is gaining popularity quickly and it now features regularly in the mainstream media… particularly during the month of July. Local ABC radio was even giving out results at 7.00am the following morning in 2011…!

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For the fanatics, a great little trick is to be able to sleep, where ever and when ever you find the time. Before dinner if you are home early enough; after dinner if not. Don’t waste your lunch on mindless jibber jabber with work colleagues, grab some sleep. I try and get at least two hours, to offset the time I am going to be up late at night. It won’t balance up, you are going to be sleep deprived if you want to see it all. Best you explain this now, today, and keep explaining it to your nearest and dearest. Oh, and those pesky work people as well. You will be suffering Tour Syndrome. TS, as it is known, is basically a whole peloton worth of sleep deprivation. You are going to suffer like Jens Voigt on the Tourmalet.

Bank those hours of sleep now, at least you can start the Tour feeling fresh. As in my original story on how to view a Grand Tour, I actually take the final week of the Tour off work. It is best for all concerned. It also gives you a chance to go for a ride during the day.

The interweb… what an invention! If you can manage it, whether it is a tablet, laptop or – at a push – your smart phone, you will want access to the net. I will try to gather a list of must follows on Twitter before the Tour starts (and update this post accordingly). There are many people who will provide fantastic insights, commentary, laughs and snark all bundled inside 140 characters. Then there is the Cycling Central Tour Tracker. This has the video feed, as well as a most lively chat window in it. Jump in and join the fun. By the end of the Tour you will feel like you are amongst friends. It really is a great addition to the Tour coverage.

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Don’t be shy either. You don’t have to be Paul or Phil to join the conversation. Ask questions, make comments, it really is a great experience. If you’re an expert, you can help educate the people who aren’t. If you aren’t yet an expert, may I suggest having a look around for some of the dubious internet feeds that stream video before the broadcast starts out here. That way you can seem very informed on what is happening during that stage before the rest of the country.

Food and drink to keep you going for three weeks.

It will really pay to figure out your caffeine tolerance in advance of the race starting. After all, your sleep pattern is going to be as shabby as a sprinter on a HC climb. Partaking in that skim goats milk triple mocha-vanilla latte’ with a dusting of truffle dust might be the go when you are going about your regular routine, but try sleeping at lunch time when you’re amped on coffee.

These next few days are the perfect chance to give it a test run. Find some hot beverages that will warm you up, but not stop you from sleeping once the riders have crossed the line. I am sure there are probably some exotic teas that actually help you get to sleep. I suggest you hit them once the front runners pass under the flamme rouge.

Food is also important. At no time is it more important than when Gabriel Gaté makes his nightly appearance before the live feed of the race hits the screen. Gabriel is going to taunt you with canard a l’orange, cotriade, friands, foie gras and fromage fondue! Some of these may be incorrect, but you get the idea. When he presents these and then sits down for a lovely glass of Chateau du Plonk 1997, you’ll be wishing you hadn’t had dinner. Don’t head to the freezer for a Lean Cuisine, all you’ll feel is disappointment. Load yourself up on vegemite-laden toast, a bag of cold Minties (the effort of chewing them will tire you out and save you brushing your teeth before you hit the sack) and if you have had a really bad day – ie. no sleep – maybe an energy gel… for it should make you feel like you’re part of the race. For an even more authentic feel, dig out that old library bag from school – it makes an excellent musette! As a bonus, when you have eaten everything, I like to throw mine across the room to a pretend fan. I don’t suggest this with what ever you are drinking out of unless you are using a bidon, and even then, it makes a racquet.

There will be times when the race gets a little boring. Paul and Phil will be digging deep into their suitcase of clichés*. If you don’t know now, you will by the end of week three. There are four Sundays during the Tour. You don’t win the race in the first week, but you can lose it. And Paul Sherwen buried himself so many times I’m surprised he found his way out of the hole. You have been warned. When they start getting to you, it’s time to grab the Official Tour Guide.

There you have it. A bit of a run down to help you survive your three week Grand Tour. I hope it helps you enjoy your Tour de France from the comfort of your couch.

Now, where did I leave those Minties?

Todd ‘Norbs’ Norbury (cycling.norbtech.com)

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*Publisher’s note: should you find yourself yelling at each cliché, put your energy to use – log on to the RIDE Facebook page and share your frustration with others who will then find humour in it all… that way everyone’s a winner.

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Author: rob@ride

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