The Aesthetic Pleasure of the Tour de France

During the dog days of summer, with hockey and basketball over, a lull between Wimbledon and the US Open, and the beginning of American and European football seasons more than a month away, sports fans not consumed with baseball may be looking for a way to pass the time.  Avid cycling fans (in whose number I count myself) would eagerly put forward the Tour de France as a must-watch event that should be on every sports-enthusiast’s calendar.

For the uninitiated, the prospect of following the sport of cycling can feel daunting.  It is both a team and individual sport.  The riders on a team change from race to race.  Within a grand tour – the three-week races – some small fraction of riders compete to have the fastest overall time.  But there are many stages, each of which other riders (but again, not most) will try to win.  Still other riders try to accumulate points for climbing or points for sprinting.  Then there is the competition for the best young rider, the best team, and, each day, the most aggressive rider.  Needless to say, disentangling the motivations of teams and riders at any given point on any given stage can be quite a challenge for even the most experienced cycling fan.

If you haven’t decided to opt for running or archery or the WNBA to fill your sporting void in a fit of helpless exasperation at the complexity of cycling, I’m here to tell you that investing in the Tour de France has greater return on your investment than mere sporting competition.  There is, I believe, no more aesthetically pleasing event of any variety in the world.

Witness this montage of scenes from Stage One of this year’s Tour de France:

While the Tour de France may not be able to shine with the majestic beauty of Mont Saint-Michel every day, it sure comes close.  There are consistently spectacular images to captivate the eye during the admittedly frequent lulls in the action.

It is not only the great chateaus and cathedrals of France which provide the contextual beauty of the Tour; the landscape does as well.  Consider the image of cyclists riding through fields of sunflower:

Photo by GiroSportDesign via Flickr

Photo by GiroSportDesign via Flickr

Just stop and compare that to the venue for other sports.  This isn’t a stadium with advertising splashed everywhere, flashy LED scoreboards, and skyscrapers all around.  You can watch a sporting event and enjoy breathtaking natural beauty at the same time.  This beauty is the arena.

Photo by Rudov via Flickr

Alpe d’Huez, arguably the most famous climb in cycling.  Stunning.  You’re not into the cyclists riding uphill through screaming fans (see blow)? No problem.  Sit back and enjoy the view of the mountains for a bit.  Imagine being in the Alps, which, even when covered in fans, still look pretty awesome:

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Photo by Onno Weusthof via Flickr

The famous Dutch Corner of Alpe d’Huez.  You can practically imagine the din of cycling uphill through fans lined six or seven deep, all dressed in the same color and screaming their heads off.

With all due respect to PNC Park, Camden Yards, and Wimbledon, in cycling, the entire venue provides pleasure in a way other sporting venues do not.  If you’re looking for a sporting pastime that won’t disappoint, try the Tour.  When the action gets dull, enjoy the images of chateaus, farms designed to look like bicycles, majestic mountains, fans literally pushing the athletes to the finish, sunflowers, lavender, and the topography across the entire nation of France.  It is the most beautiful sporting event.  Literally.

Cover photo by Loïc Lagarde via Flickr

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