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Cycling News and Opinions
Unfair and Unbalanced

Il Giro vs Le Tour:
Which is better?
Padraig says the Tour

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories

TDF volume 1

Bill & Carol McGann's book The Story of the Tour de France, Vol 1: 1903 - 1975 is available in print, Kindle eBook & audiobook versions. To get your copy, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

On another page Larry Theobald of CycleItalia explained why the Giro d'Italia is the greatest race.

The very knowledgable Padraig of The Cycling Independent doesn't agree. Here he politely disagrees with Larry and tells why graven on his heart is the Tour de France.

Why the Tour de France is the ne plus ultra

When it comes to sports, cycling has been my favorite since long before indexed shifting existed. And when it comes to sporting events, the Tour de France has been my favorite since, well, since I found out about it.

Let me say that Larry has me at a disadvantage; aside from being a good guy, Larry is also knowledgeable. In the 18 years I've known him, he has proven to be better versed in all things cycling than even some of the most dedicated riders I know. He's got far more years seeing the Giro and the Tour than I do, but I've got something you can't argue: unconditional love.

You see, when I first saw the Tour de France on TV, I was a young guy just rediscovering cycling. I'd been driving just long enough that being seen on a bike wasn't a source of embarrassment. I didn't have to hide my love for cycling anymore.

And here was this event that legitimized cycling and turned my favorite activity into sport. Six hours a day on a bike? Hot summer days? Spectacle? Changing scenery? Drama? To me, the Tour de France is the perfect summer day—the Fourth of July—over and over. It is like living at Disneyland.

Spectacle: I want the spectacle. I want cycling to be the center of the universe on a hot summer day. To me, this is the natural order of the world. I can get intimate at any other race, but at the Tour, I want something that outshines the Super Bowl. The vehicles of the promotional caravan can't be too unlikely, too garish and their occupants can't throw too many tchotchkes.

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July: Is there a more perfect month for cycling? Cycling is a warm-weather activity, an offering to the sun god. The perfect Tour de France is hot day followed by hot day punctuated by the occasional steamy shower and the chill of the high mountains. Rain and cold should only be spices sprinkled over the top. Frankly, the Dolomites ought to be raced in July and August, not June.

Tradition: This history of the Tour de France is embedded in the route of the race in a way the Giro can't replicate. Each year, when the race's route is announced, the clockwise or counterclockwise looping of the race immediately summons the previous years in which the race traversed the countryside by a similar route. There's more to tradition than simply using the same roads over and over; finishing on the Champs Elysées recalls not only previous editions of the race, but a world-wide triumph as well.

Roads: It's true that there's nothing quite so wonderful as baby bottom blacktop, but there's more to roads than the ease with which we traverse them. On my first trip to the Alps, I was on a little-used climb in the Vercors and turned onto the final climb of the day when I encountered paint from another era. I snailed over red, yellow and white paint spelling the names of pros all but forgotten. But when I saw Laurent Fignon's name faintly painted on a steep stretch, I realized most of the paint I had seen was from the mid-'90s, but this artifact dated to 1989. I got chills thinking of those guys on their way to Villard de Lans, where Fignon won the stage and seemingly bolted the maillot jaune to his back. There's history in the paint. Leave it.

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The fans: I can't say a word against the tifosi, but the international flavor of the Tour with fans coming from the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and yes, even the United States, does more to unite the people of the world than anything else I have participated in. As for partying, seeing the Dutch fans party on l'Alpe d'Huez is unlike any tailgate party I've seen at a football game. The hospitality of the Basque fans to the promotional caravan and their politically laced cheering for their riders is something to behold. If I were catering a party in France, I'd hire a bunch of Basques any day. And in my experience, the fans at the Tour who come from European nations are incredibly well versed. I once had a French housewife not just translate from the radio, but explain to me the disintegration of the day's breakaway as she poured her husband another glass of wine.

Food: I've had bad meals all over the world. In Italy I expect to be wowed at every meal so when I have a bad meal there, the experience is monumental. It seems the bigger the hotel, the worse the food, and being near a big race like the Tour or the Giro often requires being in the biggest hotels. In France my expectations are lower and consequently, I'm never disappointed and the amazing meals I've enjoyed in Provence and the Cote d'Azur still rank among my favorite meals of all time (but there was a ravioli I had in Assisi that I hope never to forget). I've gotten indifferent service in France and Italy and they frustrate equally.

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Beauty: Italy, for all that it is (and it is much), isn't as large or as diverse geographically as France. The Tour's looping route ensures each year that there will be an ever-changing landscape for the riders to pass through. One need only refer to the video montages used to recap the whole of the three weeks once the race has wound to its conclusion. The contrast of the scenes in the vineyards of Bordeaux, the snow-capped high Alps, the mist-enveloped Pyrenees and the Provençal sunflowers are all the more dramatic when the scene shifts back to the elegant urbanity of Paris. What an adventure we've had!

Of course, this discussion is purely academic. No one in their right mind would ever pass on seeing a Grand Tour up close and personal. Go. Go as often as possible.

The Cycling Independent is a site every person passionate about riding should bookmark. It's well-written, insightful and intelligently opinionated.