Tuesday, September 29, 2015

COLUMN: Tour De France

As many of you are aware, I spend my weekends moonlighting behind the DJ booth at area bars and nightclubs. People often ask me what I love so much about DJing. Maybe it's that rush you get when you drop the right song at just the right moment and the crowd goes wild. Maybe it's the smug satisfaction of being everyone's soundtrack for the night. Maybe it's the girls who request songs in full flirt mode. Heck, maybe it's the extra spending cash.

But if I'm being honest with myself, my favorite part might just be the weird TV that's on when I get home from a gig at 3 a.m.

There are some truly crazy shows on the dial in the pitch middle of the night. Some networks just give up and switch to infomercials, but the ones with the guts to broadcast original programming 24/7 usually come up with some real gems around 3 a.m.  This is especially true of the multitude of sports channels out there.

Simple sports like football, basketball, and baseball are clearly for the day-dwellers among us. At 3 a.m., you're more likely to channel flip into a documentary about the high-stakes, take-no-prisoners world of competitive eating. At 3 a.m., you can see guys in lumberjack outfits tossing telephone poles in the air and calling it a "sport." I can't tell you how many riveting games of Olympic handball I've been able to witness thanks to my loony schedule.

And THIS month, I've been returning from the club in just enough time to catch live coverage of one of the most insane annual sporting events out there: The magical Tour de France (or, in case you speak English, Tour of France.)

Yes, nothing makes a person feel more pathetic than sitting on a couch munching on fries while knowing that halfway around the world, human beings made of pure muscle are pedaling bikes up the side of a mountain at breakneck speed. It makes me feel especially glad that I answered "sure" when the girl at Hardee's asked me if I wanted to add two Big Cookies to my order for an extra dollar.

I'd seen clips of the Tour De France before, and I thought I understood how it all worked. I was under the impression that the basic premise went like this:

Step One: You sacrifice everything fun in life and instead devote your every waking hour to become a human Hemi engine capable of leaping small mountains with a single pedal.

Step Two: You realize that your lifelong passion, drive, and sacrifice are not enough to get you up that mountain, so you replace all of your blood with oxygen and steroids and pray that no one asks you to pee in a cup.

Step Three: You pedal really fast and hope for the best.

It turns out there's a little more to it than that. As I quickly observed, taking over the lead in the race is really tough, because you're out on your own against the wind with no drafting buddies. That's why the lead changes often and frontrunners purposely drift back into the "peloton," which I can only assume is French for "a buttnard of bikes."

The peloton is like a NASCAR restrictor plate race, but if the drivers were all on the hoods of their cars bumping elbows with one another. Bikes race inches apart from one another in pack formation, a skill I'd imagine to be tough on a Kansas straightaway, let alone while scaling the Alps. Invariably, one of them will wobble and suddenly 17 dudes are flying through the air with the greatest of ease. The winner is presumably the one with the least broken bones.

Eventually, the triumph of will, pursuit of excellence, and effectiveness of illegal pharmaceuticals will produce a winner of each stage. That winner, a master of adversity and living embodiment of greatness, will then finally be able to clutch the prize worthy of such a feat: a yellow jersey.

Look, not to undermine the priceless satisfaction of a job well done, but if I ever won a stage of the Tour De France, I'd like something a little more than "good job, here's a shirt." At the very least, I should be allowed to rule over the island nation of my choice for at least a year. I just rode a bike up a mountain -- give me money, give me an X-Box, give me ANYTHING besides a shirt. I just accomplished the unaccomplishable and you're gifting me like my grandparents at Christmas?

I'm nothing if not a problem-solver, though, and I've realized a couple ways to make this whole Tour De France thing a little less stressful.

(1) I have limited experience scaling the French Alps, but I'm pretty certain that it's got to be easier doing it by car. If you're going for that wind-through-the-hair vibe, just roll down the windows. In fact, if you're looking to tour de France, just Google de phrase. There are lots of affordable vacation packages that let you see the Alps without any peloton pack-riding or back-room blood doping required.

(2) Then again, going to France seems like a bother in the first place. Why not just TELL everyone you won the Tour De France? I have a feeling the only ones who would know are the 17 other club DJ's in town who are all getting home at 3 a.m. to watch this thing. As I sit here typing, Temple's Sporting Goods is two blocks away. I could bike over there -- well, who am I kidding, it's hot out, I'm totally driving over there -- and I'm gonna guess they keep yellow jerseys in stock. If not, I just found one on Amazon for $22.73. That's a small price to pay for the thrill of victory.

Oddly, I've occasionally found myself feeling sorry for Lance Armstrong. Not TOO sorry - after all, the guy IS the world's most notorious cheater. But regardless of what he did or whose blood was pumping through his system when he did it, the guy climbed a mountain on his bike, and that's no easy task even WITH pharmaceutical assistance. I mean, you could pump me full of Lou Ferrigno's blood, douse me in gamma radiation, and then make me really angry... and I'm pretty sure I'd still collapse into wheezing pulp after the first half mile.

I'll never undermine the athletic prowess of these riders. What they do is truly incredible, especially the ones who do it clean. And having the Tour De France on TV when I come home late at night has given me a newfound appreciation for the competitive sport of endurance cycling. It's just the thing I need to put me fast asleep while I tour de couch.

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