The Tour de France will be running its 100th race this year, and it’s all Karl Drais von Sauerbronn’s fault. Or maybe Kirkpatrick MacMillan’s, or Pierre Lallement and Ernest Michaux’s. Who knows, really?
They all contributed to its invention. But balancing your way to glory? The “Laufmaschine” or the “Velocipede”, or even the “Boneshaker” hasn’t given us any mechanical advantage, so why fret over a machine that can’t get us an output exceeding input... especially in an age where even the class wimp can travel light years in minutes on Google?
But the Tour is still on—the gall of the Gauls. Just the other day—in 1903—it was a vehicle to sell a sports newspaper (L’Auto), and look what it is today: The world’s third biggest sporting event; between 20 and 22 of the best cycling teams of nine racers from around the world, 12 million spectators of all ages and 3.5 billion viewers from 190 countries. And what does it sell now? Package tours, snazzy helmets, sweat-less jerseys, butt-comfort shorts, hundreds of newspapers, search engines, websites, condoms (data on this is still coming!), packaged water, television time, those strange and obscenely-priced bicycles, obscenely-priced stationary bicycles and drugs, for Asterix’s sake.
This will be the first time since 1988 that the race will not spill over the boundaries of France. That’s an ominous sign. England could have gotten a share, you see. The islanders are in a fix, too. England’s Team Sky is preparing, but Olympic time-trial champion and defending Tour champion Bradley Wiggins’ chances of retaining his title have receded with teammate Chris Froome being chosen team leader. But politics is not the problem. It’s France as a captive venue that is the critical issue.
If you look around enough, you’ll find that Qatar has put in a bid to host a part someday. Why? We’ve been researching this bit. How did La Grande Boucle last 100 years, when even wrestling was kicked out of the Olympics? Wrestling, after all, is the surest proof that your armpits are, well, not the pits. More important, how have men, for 100 years, sat on their balls and not felt the urge to, you know? The inference drawn from all experiments points to one big, lumbering, sleazy and an almost lethal “conspiracy.” Here’s the back-up info...
Cycling is a lifestyle problem! Yep. And it can sabotage sperm production in males. Just like an adolescent groin injury, cigarette smoking, heavy drinking, or even using a laptop directly on the lap, intense cycling will make you sad when it counts.
Now the other related set of data... global output of bicycles continues to be largely a Chinese affair—China produces two of every three bikes made worldwide. India, the EU, Taiwan, Indonesia and Brazil are the next five largest producers. That’s a quarter of the total production worldwide! The two add up to the same destination—it is not fair to forcibly put limits to your progeny-creating prowess. It’s bad PR. It’s better to allow the government to let you have subsidised bicycles instead, and tell you how good it is for your (and the environment’s) health. Secretly, they are squeezing the life out of your bits, you see. Take this data now. The population growth rate of France is around 0.5 percent, which puts them in the 150th position on the growth rate chart. That is more than the Chinese, who are at 152nd place, growing at 0.48 percent. Look at the UK’s growth rate—at some 0.55 percent, they are ahead of France, at 146th position. Of course, India is way up at the 87th position, with a growth rate of 1.31 percent, just short of Vanuatu. You want more? Guess where Qatar is? A growth rate of 4.93 percent, and they are absolute chart toppers—No. 1! The CIA World Factbook says so.
Now put the two sets of data together and… do you get the picture? Do you see the “conspiracy?” Now, if reading this is disturbing, relax. Population is a serious concern, so we’re all good. But back to the tour: Lance Armstrong aside, the Tour is one tough sport and there’s no stopping its fans or its participants. Except, of course, the damning mountains of France. But there’s action, and so we’re there.
Photographs: Getty Images