In a bold move, this year each stage of the Tour de France was broadcast in its entirety. Now, I love cycling, both riding and watching but I doubt I have it in me to watch six hours worth of racing. I think my absolute limit is about three hours and even then it probably doesn’t get my full attention until the business end (the last climb of the last few km’s of a sprint stage).
I think there is probably a debate to be had about the future of cycling and how it can be made more appealing for TV (and therefore sponsers) whilst maintaining the culture, traditions and history that make it such a unique sport. There can’t be many people, if any, that actually sit down to watch the entire stages, and I am including even professional reporters who are paid to do it. Who has that much time on their hands? Who even has the inclination?
So what is my strategy to strike a balance between watching a three week grand tour whilst also be able to maintain a presence at a full time job and being a family man.
You have got to prioritize. You have got to be ruthless.
An obvious place to start is to not even bother with the boring transitional stages. Now that is not to say that they cannot prove pivotal to the outcome of the race especially if a cross-wind wreaks havoc but in terms of the odds of this happening then you are pretty safe to sit these stages out. The highlights will more than suffice.
These transition stages are designed so the sprinters can have their fun and despite the breakaway no doubt giving a valiant attempt it is doomed to failure before a bunch sprint. If you want to catch it live then the last 5km should be all you need.
Amongst a group of my friends we have a WhatsApp group dedicated to cycling and during the Grand Tours this morphs into analysis and opinion about the race and the key protagonists. Since we are all functioning adults that have responsibilities we have a simple rule when it comes to spoilers; on flat sprint stages spoilers are allowed by anyone who happens to have seen the race but when it comes to mountain stages, especially summit finishes then there is a strict moratorium on spoilers. Time trials are a grey area. If they are towards the business end of the grand tour then we are firmly on no spoiler territory.
You can also rely on the fact that the organisers will design the route such that the blockbuster stages are spread over the three weekends. So basically you just need to make sure that you don’t have a social life for three weeks (or nine weeks). Pretty easy for me these days it has to be said.
Even on a potential crucial mountain stage where the main GC contenders dare to throw down the gauntlet you don’t need to be glued to the screen from the moment the flag goes down. I tend to have the TV on in the background whilst I do other things around the house and play with my son. This strikes a nice balance between being a dutiful father and making sure I am not missing anything potentially explosive.
I think this is part of cycling’s problem in attracting sponsorship in that it doesn’t lend itself to having the full undivided attention of the viewer. I have been encouraged by the recent toe-dipping into innovating some of the cycling such as the Velon series and the like and I would certainly like to see more of this. Cycling is one of those sports that is only fully appreciated once it has been demystified.
When the action finally starts, when the first fireworks are going off on the last brutal climb of the day you will hopefully find me on the couch giving the TV my fullest attention. To my left my partner will be gamely taking an interest and asking searching questions. On the floor my son will be playing with his toys and sometimes deciding that the TV screen would make a great runway for his planes.
Recently I was at the wedding of one of my good friend’s way up at the top of the country and in an effort to save money we stayed in an AirBnB with my friends and partners. It just so happened that the group staying together consisted exclusively of members of the cycling WhatsApp group and it just so happened that the Sunday after the wedding was shaping up to be an explosive Tour de France mountain stage.
We nursed hangovers all afternoon as we watched the stage and what a stage it was. Wet descents. Crashes. Abandonments. And an epic battle to the top of the climb. I would never have considered watching cycling to be a social event in the same way that watching a game of football with your mates over a few beers was but I was wrong. The conversation flowed and the debate raged. We decided that watching a stage of the Tour de France together should become an annual event.