I always watched the Tour with my Dad. I don't really know how it started, but as long as I can remember, that was what we did. This year will be the first Tour without Dad to sit at the couch with and talk bullshit. We never watched it live, always the half hour highlights, finishing up just as dinner was about ready.
I'm not really excited about the Tour this year. Partly this is because my own racing, and that of my friends, is of greater interest to me. Up until a minute ago, I hadn't even thought about whether dad's absence is playing a role. In all likelihood, it isn't. But i can't help but feel alienated by my friends who watch the tour religiously. They know more about the riders, the course, the stats, the controversies than i care to find out.
It wasn't always like this. At the risk of sounding precious, I was into the Tour long before anyone else i know was. This doesn't make me better, or more knowledgable. What makes me uncomfortable is how my friends treat it as simply a sporting event. I couldn't care less about the sport itself. It's just a bunch of dudes earning heaps of money riding very, very fast for three weeks, hepped up on anything they can take without being caught.
To me, the Tour means winter, open fires in the living room, eggs on toast, Antonia my sister complaining loudly about how she was missing the Simpsons, my Dad ignoring the racing and raving about how nice the French countryside looked, my Mum feigning interest when Dad drew her attention to some aspect of the race. The Tour is winter nights at home.
So when my mates start reeling off Cadel's chances, taking into account his move to BMC, or Contador's lack of morality, I feel like backing away and removing myself from the TV. The Tour de France is just a bike race that happens once a year. The riders come and go, the controversies develop, and are subsequently forgotten.
So when I try and think back to the earliest Tour's I watched, i have a vague recollection of Indurain dominating the field, of Pantani climbing, as if dancing on the pedals, of Ullrich taking a climb in such a low cadence, it seems hard to believe he doesn't fall over sideways. When i have these memories, the TV is only in the corner of the room, a backdrop to a much larger picture, of comings and goings, of woodsmoke, of eggs on toast.