Checking One Off The Bucket List – On A Mountain At The Tour De France

I have said it before and I’ll say it again.  I love the Tour de France.  Being the dork that I am, I have watched every stage of the Tour for virtually the past decade.   How have I accomplished this feat?  I get the TV to watch the Tour in July.  The rest of the year, I give him the TV the rest of the year to watch all the football, basketball and hockey he wants.  It’s a fair trade.  Watching it on TV, I always dreamed of seeing it live.  Guess what?  It finally happened. On Wednesday and Thursday, I was on mountains in France in a Detroit Red Wings jersey, getting sunburned, and taking in the spectacle.

Watching the tour on TV, you can’t fully appreciate the beauty of the mountains the colors, the helicopters, and the excitement.  You can’t meet the other fans.  They are delightful and quite friendly.  I don’t know of many places where you can meet so many people from other countries in such a congenial environment.  The excitement was contagious and everyone made the most of it.

On the way up Col de la Madeleine, we stopped and bought this wonderful hunk of local cheese out of someone’s barn for our picnic.  Because you have to get on the mountain early before they close the roads, people picnic, eat, drink and are merry.  Everyone was having a good time.

True fans of bicycle racing appreciate seeing these guys and go to great lengths to do it.  My guests (Boris, Natasha and Mr. Peabody) hiked with me 18 miles up and down a mountain to see the stage on the Col de la Madeleine.   Others, biked up to the peak and back down.  Some people camp out on the mountain days ahead of the stage to get a good spot.  The rich and lucky get to ride in the cars (although I can’t imagine the view of the cyclists is that good) or get shuttled to a viewing area with a TV at the top.

Even the trip from one stage to another was exciting for us cycling fans.  We saw NBC Sports cars racing down the highway to Albertville.  Although we had no idea who was inside (NBC Sports probably pays their speeding tickets), since we couldn’t catch them. We’re swearing that it was Bob Roll (who doesn’t love Bobke) in one with Paul Sherwin and Phil Liggett in the other.

It was just amazing to think that caravans travel from distant countries to experience the Tour.  Observers spray paint the name of a relatively unknown cyclist from their region on the pavement.  Some guy from a village in the Netherlands who drove a thousand miles and spray painted his countryman’s name on the mountain.  He’ll be lucky to finish in 45th place.

We have done the All-Start NASCAR race.  While there is huge excitement and the fans are devoted, you have a drunken, often belligerent atmosphere.  The most intoxicated people we met were some nationality censored who offered us beverages, told us some great stories and played us some great music.  Rock on.

We saw last year’s winner Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggens in the yellow jersey surrounded by team Sky.  We saw all of our favorite American riders: Chris Horner, Levi Leipheimer, big George Hincapie, the hilarious Dave Zabriskie, Tyler Farrar, Christian Vande Velde, and the awesome Tejay Van Garderen (who should be BMC’s GC rider).  I even got to see some of my favorites: Frank Schleck and Fabian Cancellara.   Even going uphill, they whipped by us at amazing speeds.  I was still able to see enough to tell you ladies that Spartacus (aka Fabian Cancellara) is just as handsome in person.

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Our Introduction To The European Football Championship 2012

English: 1964 Euro-Cup. Español: Trofeo de la ...

English: 1964 Euro-Cup. Español: Trofeo de la Eurocopa disputada en el año 1964. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most Americans know football (the American kind and the other known to us as soccer), many are unfamiliar with the European Football Championship (also known as the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, Euro 2012, the European Championship or Euro Cup).  Here, football/futball/soccer is huge.  People here are excited.  We see flags decorating balconies, viewing parties at bars, people wearing jerseys, etc. Even if people aren’t huge fans, they absorb a lot of football knowledge and culture by osmosis.  We’re enthusiastically embracing Euro 2012 as a chance to learn and are watching games.  Although I don’t think we are as enthusiastic as some fans who have been driving through Switzerland’s streets honking their horns for the past hour.

Meilleurs résultats Euro

Meilleurs résultats Euro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s how it works.  The top two teams from each of the 4 groups (referred to as pots) move on for a single elimination tournament.  Group “B” with Germany, Holland, Portugal and Denmark, is the toughest section.  Many argue that it is the hardest group ever assembled in international tournament history.  The top two teams in each group advance to a single-elimination tournament.

According to our friends, the Euro Cup is one of the most important soccer tournaments to Europeans.  Although Americans might not be familiar with it, it is one of the world’s preeminent tournaments.    To Europeans, it is second only to the World Cup and to some, it is bigger than the World Cup.  They argue that the World Cup has some weak teams while the Euro Cup only has strong teams.   It is more important than the Olympics and the European Championships.  The Euro Cup occurs every four years, alternating cycles with the World Cup’s so that a major tournament occurs every two years.

Like the Superbowl or the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, gambling pools abound.  Most offices have several pools.  Friends make informal bets.  It’s crazy.

In Geneva, an area with many immigrants and foreigners.  Euro Cup is a chance to embrace your heritage.   Everyone supports their home country and foreign nationals here get together to watch their home country’s games.  Our friend who lives next door to a Portuguese bar reports that it is packed, loud and, um, very festive on game days.

English: UEFA European Football Championship a...

English: UEFA European Football Championship appearances by country. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neighboring countries seem to rival each other more than non-neighboring countries.  History also may play a role.  We know more about European history than football/soccer history, so there could other explanations for rivalries.   Here are some of the rivalries:

This European  Cup has had a few controversies:

  • They had to post some of the games in Ukraine because some Polish cities (I’m looking at you Krakow) didn’t want to invest in the infrastructure and stadiums.
  • Several government officials are boycotting Euro 2012 to protest former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko‘s mistreatment in a Ukrainian prison.
  • BBC’s Panorama did an exposé on race-related soccer hooliganism in Poland and the Ukraine.  It showed disturbing images of racist taunts, violent attacks of minority students, as well as scenes of fans making Nazi salutes and chanting anti-Semitic epithets.
  • Authorities struggled to contain violence after the Russia – Poland game.

If you want to watch it in the US, a DVR is handy.  Most tournament games air in the morning in America.