It’s been an exciting week in our household. Margeaux learned to walk, for starters, and I am still getting accustomed to the sight of her toddling, vertical, down the hallway and around the corners. But that’s just the beginning of the awesome! We walked in a Fourth of July parade, swam in a pool, used enough water to power the Bellagio fountains to keep our garden green in an oppressive heat wave, caught fireflies with friends in town from Philly, and spent approximately a billion hours watching the Tour de France.
Here’s why I love the Tour, and why I think you and your kids should watch it too:
I love the Tour. I love the scenery and the landscape and the chateaus and the winding, narrow streets and the way the tiny towns make elaborate pictures of bicycles out of hay bales for the overhead cameras.
I love the unbelievable athleticism. Watching them race in the Pyrenees mountains, or summit the Col de Tourmalet will blow your mind. And they ride in unbelievable circumstances: heat, cold, rain, injury. a couple days ago, one of the riders crashed, finished the race, went to the hospital to get checked out, and discovered he had broken his tibia. DUDE BROKE HIS LEG AND JUST KEPT RIDING. Last year, a group of riders got hit from behind by a car, catapulted into a barbed wire fence, and got up to finish the race with blood pouring from their wounds. X Games got nothing on that.
I love the drama of the crashes and the breakaways and the sprints. I love the crazy fans who dress up in ridiculous costumes and stand directly in the path of the cyclists. I love that every day, all the riders slow down enough to eat a sandwich, and I really love the old photos of riders drinking cans of Coke while they ride. I love the stuffed animals and polka dot dresses at the presentation of the jerseys every day. I love the way the British announcers yell “IT’S THE MANX MISSILE, THE MAN FROM THE ISLE OF MAN!!!!” when Mark Cavendish crosses the finish line. The Tour de France, as far as I can tell, is the best possible combination of dangerous athleticism, ridiculous fans, and gorgeous scenery.
The first year D was old enough to be cognizant of tv was the summer I was pregnant with Lucy. D was about 15 months, just barely walking, and she would stand in front of the tv, transfixed, shouting CYCLE! CYCLE! CYCLE! Yesterday, she sat with me to watch the finish line, and I explained how the lead out train works to launch the sprinters to the finish line, and Margeaux stood in front of the tv shouting BIKE! BIKE! GO! WHEEEEEEE! Is there a better way to spend a morning when it’s 95 degrees by 10 am? No. there is not.
So let’s say your kids haven’t been watching the Tour since they were babies. What are some things you can help them watch for to build their interest?
1.) The uniforms are brightly colored and distinct. Look for the different teams, and the way they ride together to protect their best riders. The lead outs for the sprints are also fun to watch, and easy for a kid to understand: the team rides single file, with the front rider going as fast and hard as he can, then dropping off to let the next guy take over, until they launch the sprinter toward the finish line. It’s also a cool lesson in teamwork: they can’t all try to win. They have to work together.
2.) Watch for the King of the Mountains. He wears a polka dot jersey, and sometimes also sports a polka dot helmet and a polka dot bike, because why not? When you’re king, you can be a little flashy. We also taught our kids to look for the yellow and green jersey, and to recognize some of our favorite riders. This keeps them interested, but it also provides the hilarious bonus of hearing your 3 year old say, “Is that Frank Schleck?”
3.) They really do eat sandwiches, and what kid hasn’t imagined being so awesome on their bike that they could ride really fast, no hands, while eating a snack? Also, sometimes the whole peloton pulls over to pee, and the announcers refer to this as a “nature break.”
4.) After a crash, the injured riders sometimes hold onto a moving car while being bandaged, and then the medic leans out the window and gives the rider a big shove to launch him back into the race. Other reasons to hold onto a moving car while riding: you need a bottle of water, you need a new shoe (my girls made me rewind to watch a rider change his shoe while holding onto a moving vehicle over and over a couple days ago). My girls are fascinated by the danger that is obviously inherent in riding so close to cars, and by the fact that the riders get to break all the rules they associate with riding their bikes.
5.) Most days, there is a breakaway (a small group of riders who ride fast and hard a couple minutes ahead of the peloton). Sometimes one of these guys wins the stage. But usually, the peloton overtakes them. so you get to watch 1 or 2 or 3 guys get swept up by a sea of hundreds of riders. It’s incredibly visually dramatic, especially when they show the view from street level from just ahead of the breakaway, so you see the peloton looming behind and then wooshing forward.
We watch a lot of kids tv, and that’s cool, I’ve learned to love The Fresh Beat Band and to tolerate Dora. But spending a Saturday morning watching the Tour with my girls? Way better than watching Diego save a cheerful sloth or an anxious tapir or whatever strange creature he’s in cahoots with today. Go turn on the tv already, and tell your kid to look for the King of the Mountains. You won’t be disappointed.