Monday Superlatives
August 31, 2020

For inner peace, watch the Tour de France

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MARCO BERTORELLO

The whole vibe of sports in 2020 was already weird because of COVID, and it got weirder this past week with the various walk-outs and strikes related to the shooting of Jacob Blake and the ensuing protests. I missed watching games while they were gone—a lot—but now that they're back, it's very hard to stay focused. In the past, when I said that sports were a "distraction," I meant it in a good way. Now? They're not a "bad" distraction, really, but they feel at least a little uncomfortable. It's not the same as the Before Times, and I think it's safe to say that it won't be until 2021. At the earliest.

If you feel the same, but you're not about to jump ship on sports entirely—let's be honest, people like you and me can't do that—here's my prescription:

1. Quit everything in life. Shed all responsibilities. Family? Job? Goodbye. Go to a motel if you have to.

2. Spend the next month watching the Tour de France. Every stage. You've already missed two, so get on it. It starts around 7 a.m. ET every and finishes just past noon. It'll be on for the next month or so.

3. When you're done watching the Tour, do your favorite form of exercise—obviously, cycling is best—and pretend you're one of the freakish Grand Tour athletes, a physical specimen with an incredible tolerance for pain who practices endurance on an almost religious level.

4. Start drinking around 3 p.m. You've earned it. Watch Luka Doncic if he's on TV. He won't be for much longer. (Update: In the hours since I first wrote this, he's gone.) Stop drinking at 7 p.m.

5. Go to sleep early, get up, do it again the next day.

Execute that plan for the next month, and life will be fine. The best part is, you'll kill time, and the most alluring possibility in this hellish year is to just fast-forward past the worst of it. The steps outlined above will annihilate the next month. Blast it completely into space. No guarantees after that, but hey, there are no guarantees period. At least I'm offering you some relief in the short-term.

I've written about the Tour de France before, possibly a half dozen times, and almost certainly on this website at least twice. I don't watch cycling at any other time of the year, I wouldn't know who the best riders are without reading a preview, but I'm glued to the Tour every summer. And that question I always ask myself is: How am I, a scatterbrained human of the Internet Era, able to sit and watch cycling for 4-5 hours each morning for a month, even though the relevant competitive drama lasts for maybe 20-30 seconds?

I'm serious about that. This isn't like golf. Sure, golf can be slow-paced and languorous at times, but every shot matters. In a cycling sprint stage, everyone just pedals along for hours and hours, and then there's a flurry of excitement in the final kilometer. Oftentimes the camera will fail to catch it perfectly, and the announcers are usually confused. Last year, on the verge of the most exciting moment of the entire Tour, when the agonizing labor of a month was set to culminate in a duel up a towering peak, the whole thing got canceled mid-race by a mudslide. That's not a joke. And even at the best of times, the drama can be generously described as "fleeting." March Madness this is not.

And yet.

Maybe it's the scenery. France is unbelievably beautiful, especially when they head into the Alps. I know there are slums in Marseilles and filthy streets in Paris, but if you just watched the Tour's picturesque helicopter footage, you'd think the entire country was just charming old medieval villages with terra-cotta roofs and stone churches built into the mountainsides.

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Tim de Waele

Also, I'm downplaying the intricacies. Riders aren't just fighting to win stages, or the overall tour, but for other prizes involving their skills at sprinting, mountain climbing, and more. The more you watch, the more you pick out the subtle strategies everyone's employing to gain an edge. On Sunday, French rider Julian Alaphilippe tried a late breakaway on the final mountain climb, gained a 20-second edge on the peloton (the main body of riders), and held them off at the end by a literal four seconds to win the stage. It was a brilliant tactical maneuver with no room for error, and he made it work. Even in the midst of very long races, the competition can be riveting.

Mostly, though, it's just the paradoxical combination of zen and suffering on the part of the riders. On one hand, there's a kind of meditative quality to being a professional cyclist, to dedicate yourself to a sport where you race for hours at a time, just gliding through the miles, past farmland and mountain passes and city streets. On the other, the sheer amount of pain you must endure is staggering. There's a purity to what they're trying to achieve—to stretch their own endurance as far as it will go, and then spend a month exploring the limits of that endurance and praying they won't crack. How could you look away?

It's the perfect piece of viewing nirvana, and it's coming at the perfect time. Amid the endless medical and political complications of professional sports in 2020, the Tour de France just lets you float along peacefully, admiringly, and asks for almost nothing in return...except that you ignore the possibility that every one of the riders is doped up to the gills. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and take the pill.