Learning from La Grande Boucle

Seven reasons mountain bikers should pay attention to the Tour.

By Kevin Rouse

As Sal Ruibal pointed out in his Dirty Words column yesterday, The Tour de France is, at its heart, basically a mountain bike race. Well, I tend to agree, so before you begin to resent how much more attention mountain biking’s older sibling gets, take a minute to see how the Tour and the spectacle it generates every July is good for the entire sport, and, how mountain bikers could stand to learn a thing or two from the stodgier side of the sport.

Photo: Joe Shlabotnik

1) Podium Girls

Does this one really need an explanation?

Sure, we have beer and baggies, but that doesn't mean we have everything right. We could surely stand to take a page from our road-rash-susceptible brethren and introduce a podium girl or two to the dirtier side of the sport. Aaron Gwin likely wouldn't complain for as often he sees the top step, and ladies man (read: Frenchman) Cedric Gracia could surely use some added motivation to get on the podium as he advances in his years.

Not to mention, what better way is there to glamorize the sport in the eyes of outsiders? Okay football, cycling sees your Pom-Pom girls and raises you a bit of class (and some well-tailored dresses if you catch my drift).

2) What's Good For Cycling is Good for Mountain Biking

Thanks to the Tour de France, the entire month of July becomes a sort of a de facto Bike Awareness Month. Just ask your local bike shop if they see a surge of new window shoppers and first-time buyers every July. Whether they’re coming in for a road bike or a mountain bike, another cyclist is another cyclist, and there’s never too many if you ask me.

3) Spectating 101

Sure, we may think we know how to get the job done, but the roadside fans of the Tour are the undisputed masters. From camping out on a mountainside days in advance to the copious bottles of wine and the odd bottle of homemade moonshine imbibed before the riders flash by for a mere moment, these folks know what they’re doing.

Add in the amount of dedication necessary to don some of their more outlandish getups and you start to understand the true meaning of the term superfan.

4) Cadel Evans

Ah, Cadel Evans. Ask him whether he misses mountain biking and, to be truthful, I’m not sure what he’d say. Ask him if he misses the paycheck (the one he collected back when professional mountain bikers could actually make a sizable living), and I’m sure you can figure that one out.

If mountain biking wants to keep its stars, we should probably try and make it worth their while to stay.

5) Ryder Hesjedal

Just read that last paragraph again, but simply replace all instances of Cadel Evans with Ryder Hesjedal.

6) Peter Sagan

Already the winner of three stages in his first Tour, the 23-year-old Slovakian is yet another mountain-biker turned roadie success story. U-23 World Champion in 2008, Sagan is no stranger to the dirt and livens things up every chance he gets. Whether it’s a stellar save in the prologue of this year’s Tour or a one-handed wheelie at the Amgen Tour of California, Sagan is proof that just because he’s switched to skinny tires there’s no need to forgoe the fun.

7) Lycra. Yes. Lycra.

Okay, this one may be a bit of a stretch (no pun intended), but disciples of the dirt could learn a thing or two from their Lycra-clad cousins of the tarmac.

First off, Lycra shows off sponsors much better than a constantly-flapping DH jersey. It’s just one example of how much better those skintight-clad roadies are at the whole ‘profitability’ thing.

Sure, in a perfect world, money wouldn’t be an issue, but ever since that pivotal moment in our childhood when we learned that unicorns weren’t real, entertaining the possibility of a perfect world was resolutely shattered.

I’m not saying we should make DH racers wear skinsuits, but all it takes is a brief sponsorship comparison between the two sides of the sport to realize our ass is getting kicked quite handily.