Withdrawal

Tour de France Stage 20 Ventoux 26/05/09

When I was a kid the Fourth of July was summer perfected, a day devoid of household chores where my family and I moved from one party to the next, and ending in the mother of all parties (relative to my short life). Consequently one of the worst days of the year was July 5th. It should have been summer at apogee—the smell of sulphur hung in the damp morning air and the shells of dazzling light littered neighbors’ lawns. Yet I always felt a sadness. In my head, summer was all downhill.

Today, July 5th has been replaced by the Tuesday following the finish of the Tour de France. That Monday has always been a day of processing, reading follow-up stories, post-race interviews and looking at photos. Even in the 1980s when I was a shop rat, that Monday was the last coverage of the Tour de France in the New York Times. I’d pick up a copy on my way to work at the shop and I’d be joined by the other wrenches as we poured over the list of results.

And so Tuesday has traditionally been the day where the absence sinks in. No online coverage, no live updates, no TV, and the only fresh news possible is a non-negative result—the last thing in the world I want from the Tour.

But honestly, how often could I have taken another week of the Tour de France? The combination of online and TV coverage takes over my life, short-circuiting my ability to have even the most important conversations.

“What are we going to name the baby?”

“I don’t know; can we talk about it during the commercials?”

Kidding, but almost not. During the ’89 Tour I dreamt about the race three different times. In one, Laurent Fignon and I were teammates and worked for the same shop; we’d race in the morning and fix bikes in the afternoon.

It took me more than 20 years of following the Tour de France to realize that each year, no matter how entertaining the race is (and with the exception of ’94 and ’95 it is always very entertaining) I need it to end. I can’t spend 365 days a year the way I spend July. It’s the party that, while not yet over, you pull yourself from, knowing that there’s a ride in the morning and to stay to the bitter end will involve a conversation with the cops.

Even in this age of parting shots and counter shots, though the race may wind down later than usual, it does conclude in our hearts. Thank heaven; now I won’t cut the visit with friends at the coffee shop short. And that’s the embarrassing part: We might joke about going through withdrawal, but for those of us who come under the race’s sway the way a werewolf does with the moon, we’re different people, short-circuited in a way that only a junkie could identify.

But now that we’ve got our wits about us once again, bring on the Vuelta!

Image: John Pierce: Photosport International

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5 comments

  1. bikesgonewild

    …bit of a dichotomy, eh what ???…

    …glad it’s over ‘cuz it literally takes over one’s life (to be immersed in the coolness of live tv coverage of the tour de france is totally a dream come true for us “old-timers but then again, tv in the mornings ???…sheesh) but definitely suffering the withdrawal symptoms…

    …but so much better than the early ’70′s when i’d read about it a month after the fact in a well thumbed copy of either owen mullholland or gary fisher’s french language “miroir du cyclisme”

  2. Robot

    There are a few sporting events that have this obsession/withdrawal/relief effect on me. Certainly the Tour. The World Cup (of football). The European Cup (of football). The Giro. The Vuelta. Events that play on and on and subsume my interest in food and sleep.

    In the end I’m sad for an end to the drama, but glad to have my life back, like when I quit drinking.

    Literally.

  3. Spindrift

    The anthemic end-credits music on Versus following Stage 21 is the saddest couple of minutes of my Summer (barring any actual tragedies).

  4. Lachlan

    I used to watch parts of 89 everyday on VHS… now I know it so well I can replay in my head anytime the August withdrawl gets too bad ;+)

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