Fame makes a man take things over. Fame lets him lose, hard to swallow.
Fame puts you there where things are hollow Fame ~David Bowie- Fame
It is once again that time of the summer when I get up early nearly every day to watch a live TV broadcast from France, and places near to it. It is also the time when TV commercials get repeated over and over with annoying consistency throughout each of the four hour transmissions. The above quote comes from one of them- the commercials that is. I was not a big fan of this phase of Mr. Bowie’s career, and after one viewing I had had enough of this attempt at selling one of the latest models of a Cadillac SUV to the waiting masses, although it must have been the fame refrain and the funky disco beat that someone was counting on doing the selling, as I don’t believe the third line describes an aspiration of Clan Cadillac, regardless of how true it might be. And I don’t believe they- the advertising geniuses that is- were even close to anticipating the internet comment crowd backlash from vocal white people who found that the image of a white slave combined with images of other skinned people in power, and in the driver’s seat of a white Escalade, are all indications of somebody’s war on white males. Personally, in looking up the lyric sheet and finding that John Lennon was in on its creation- Fame, that is, not the commercial (obviously)- I can’t imagine he would have been very happy with where it wound up, although at the same time I believe he might have found humorous irony in this mixed advertising message.
All of this is a bit far from the bike race I started to talk about tangentially, that of course being the Tour de France. For those who don’t know, it is on now, and I suppose there is a bit of fame and fortune there, although these days if one mentions bike racing in the general word association game, the verbal slot machine whirs and in many cases “Armstrong” and “doping” and “cheat” are the only words that show up in the window when the brain stops spinning. This is too bad, since over the ten or so years I have been going through this particular viewing ritual I have come to crave the drama of the peloton and the bunch sprint and the breakaway as much as I hate the crashes and the repetition of their replays. But if I hadn’t endured the crashes this time around I would have missed key parts of this year’s racing. With barely half the three weeks of riding completed, two of the major contenders for the glory of being awarded the yellow jersey as acknowledgement for being the rider with the lowest accumulated time for the entire 2,277 miles of the race, have crashed out. Former tour winners Chris Froome and Alberto Contador have hit the deck on multiple occasions with Froome finally giving up with sprains, fractures and breaks to both wrists and Contador leaving with a leg pain that turned out to be a break from a crash on a high speed descent.
Neither of these riders left easily. Froome only abandoned the race after two consecutive days where he had crashes and got back on the bike. The second day he had two crashes in cold and very wet conditions and only conceded when he simply could not hold on to the handlebars anymore. Mr. Contador’s race ending crash was more freakish, hitting a pothole on a downhill stretch while eating to fuel the rest of the race day. What was amazing to watch here, besides the crass rudeness of race photographers hovering and flashing while the competitors were getting their racing head and gear back together, was the drive to continue- something we have seen time again through the years. In Contador’s case he climbed back on the bike and rode another eleven miles before deciding that the pain was too great to continue.
One thing that is amazing in its own right is the level of coverage the Tour receives. Unlike stadium based sports, this bike race can cover well over a hundred miles in a stage, and with a monstrous crew of motorcycle transported live video cameras and an air corps of at least five helicopters, one can sit on the couch with wake-up coffee in hand and literally have the best seat on the race route. Today was somewhat different though. As the rigors of the hills and the mountains and the weather and the incessant racing rolls on, the Tour chews up and spits out some riders, putting them in a situation known as “off the back”. This is not where anyone wants to be, and is a place where riders lose the advantage of the pack, both spiritually and aerodynamically. It is also a place that the TV cameras rarely goes.
As I sat down with my mug in hand this morning I found that I was not watching the usual bumping and shuffling that goes on at the front of the pack, but rather it was a view of a lone rider struggling to not be left behind the team support cars. Of course, his team car, that of Team Garmin Sharp, was with him, but that was it. Every now and then there was a flash back to the breakaway and the peloton, but mostly this one camera at the back, the way back, of the race was catching the grimacing and the labored pedaling of American rider Andrew Talansky, who just a few days before had been fifth in the overall standings and was now losing tons of time on the others. There was speculation from all five commentators as to when the inevitable was going to happen. Talansky had crashed badly a few days before and even the rest day had not helped him mend. From the commentators we heard scenarios of what fate might overtake this rider. We heard interpretations of how form and expression and the occasional hand on the lower back might be harbingers of doom. And then Talansky stopped.
What happened next was something I have never seen or heard during the race or anywhere. There were no sports paparazzi there to steal souls, and even more amazingly, for what appeared to be minutes, the commentators had nothing to say. There was no banter, no speculation, just the sound of the video camera motorcycle engine idling as everyone waited to see what would happen. Talansky sat on a guard rail as one of the team directors talked to him. This did go on for minutes, but for once no one was counting. In the end, Talansky stood up and got on his bike and rode on past spectators who had seen what they thought were the last riders go by nearly twenty minutes before. Without exception they all applauded, as they did all the way to the finish line, which Talansky crossed with time to spare before he would have been disqualified for not making the time cut. We have seen a lot of strange and painful things on this year’s Tour, but Andrew Talansky showed us perhaps the best reason why we watch these races.