While Julius Caesar feared the Ides of March, for those of us lucky enough to live with a cyclist, it is the whole month of July that we dread. For that can only mean one thing; the agony of the Tour de France.
Although Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans have been getting all the attention, personally, I think the maillot jaune should be awarded to the person who has to share a house with one bloke, two children and ONE television, permanently tuned to SBS.
Here is the average July day in our household:
5.55pm. I pour large glass of wine.
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6.00pm. Husband sprints home from work and displaces children from The Simpsons in order to watch Tour highlights on SBS. Fifteen minute screaming match ensues.
6.10pm. I pour second glass of wine.
6.30pm. All warring parties, none of whom is now speaking to the other, sit down for “family dinner.”
9.30pm to God knows when. Spouse watches live coverage of le Tour.
5.30am. Gets up to go cycling. (In training for something, is it World Masters’ Games? Round the Bay? Have actually forgotten…)
It is now Week Three, and the usual hideous transformation has taken place. Extreme sleep deprivation combined with adrenalin overload has turned him into a shuffling, red-eyed zombie, topped off with a consumptive cough.
I have tried to take an interest, I really have, but it’s hard to tell them all apart; let’s face it, all bicycles look the same, and, when the camera is shoved up their bony backsides, so do all the riders. And, sadly, the only element of sport I’m vaguely interested in — the beefcake factor — is quite low. I’ve seen Lance Armstrong in the flesh, and he is smaller than my 12-year-old. And as for pint-sized Cadel, I’m not sure why his voice is so squeaky, but 25 years of very tight lycra may have something to do with it.
If you want to check out the lean waxed calves of a few Euros, then head to the Italian café in Gouger St, Adelaide in January, where the Spanish team hangs out during the Tour Down Under. But after six hours sitting on a very narrow cycling saddle, do we really think they are capable of getting a leg over the podium girls? Why isn’t Mr Cycling Know-All Michael Tomalaris talking about that?
However, it appears I am not alone in my misery. Cycling is so popular in this country it’s been dubbed “The New Golf’”; it’s not hard to see why, as it is the perfect sport for middle-aged men. They can’t compete on performance (they’re too old) but they can compete on the thing that really counts, which is spending money. It is entirely possible to squander a fortune on kit and, get this, ONLY OTHER CYCLISTS WILL NOTICE. This means that you can spend up big without being caught out by the wife.
One of our friends owns several bikes, but his wife thinks there is only one, because she can’ t tell them apart. Another mate had a furious row with her husband when she discovered the invoice from the local bike boutique, not realising that it was only the deposit. And then there’s the clothes; the latest “it” brand is Rapha, which comes from the stable of high-profile British designer Paul Smith. I know the cost of a Paul Smith handbag, and it is chicken feed compared to his designer lycra (unbelievably, that is not an oxymoron). For instance, on the Rapha website there are Grand Tour Gloves, made from “African hair sheep leather.”
According to the copy, “African hair sheep live on the arid savannah of Eastern Africa. To cope with the heat and dry conditions, the hair sheep have extremely thin but strong skin.”
“A road rider using gloves made of hair sheep gets the confidence and feel of riding bare handed, but with the protection and comfort of the highest quality glove on the market.” All for just $US160.
You can see the attraction, can’t you? I think they just ride to Coluzzi, fondle each other’s gloves, drink three short blacks and ride home. Why bother doing any actual cycling?
I could go on and on — there’s the weight obsession, weird eating habits (Lance weighs his food before he eats it), hair removal techniques, supplements and pharmaceuticals (joke), not to mention a brand of Swiss clothing called Assos — who says the Swiss don’t have a sense of humour?
But come July 26, when some tiny, hairless teenager hurtles through the base of the Arc de Triomphe and dons a retina-burning yellow jersey, I will be raising a glass to the end of Dry July (as if) and the Tour de France and the resumption of normal family life.
In the final verse of Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Bicycles, he says:
I thought about evening when the boys wash up, sing, eat, raise a cup of wine in honor of love and life, and waiting at the door, the bicycle, stilled, because only moving does it have a soul, and fallen there it isn’t a translucent insect humming through summer but a cold skeleton that will return to life only when it’s needed, when it’s light, that is, with the resurrection of each day.
Amen to that.