How to Watch The Tour de France. Everything You Need to Know.

Each July the French put on a little bike ride called the Tour de France.  They’ve done this every year since the start of the Twentieth Century, except for a few times in the 1940s when the French were tenants of Germany.

            On this side of the pond, the Tour is just there for sportswriters to have something to write about between baseball’s All Star Game and preseason football.  In Europe, especially in France and the UK, sports fans are going nuts this week with Wimbledon, both France and England in the semi-finals of World Cup play and this little bike race. Things are so crazy in England that on Saturday last, Wimbledon was pushed off the prime BBC channel in favor of England’s World Cup match. That’s the equivalent of the New England Patriots or the Golden State Warriors games being shown on The Shopping Network.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Tour de France, here, as a PSA, is a primer. First, no one watches The Tour de France.  It’s “The Tour.”  If you’re a bit of a snob (and what is more français than snobbery) it’s Le Tour.

Teams in Le Tour are made up of different types of riders. Just as baseball, football and basketball have position players, cycling teams have position riders.  There’s a team leader.  This is the rider best able to endure the different types of torture found on Le Tour. Along with him are other overall riders. This group makes up the GC, or “General Classification” of riders. The GC is where the eventual winner will come from. Also on a team are sprinters, hulking beasts (relatively speaking) whose specialty is going fast and pulverizing lesser riders; climbers, whippets who flit up mountain roads to the tops of the Pyrenees and Alps without breaking a sweat; and domestiques, apprentice riders whose job is to take care of the rest of the team by shuttling water and food from the team car to the riders, giving up their bikes to a rider who has crashed if necessary and generally being slaves to the rest of the team. If a GC rider falls and rips his shorts, a domestique will give him his.

Le Tour is raced over 21 days, or stages. There are flat stages, mountain stages and time trials, different venues where the different riders can strut their stuff.  The overall race leader wears a yellow jersey.  Each day, there is a stage winner, the rider who finished that stage fastest.  It’s theoretically possible to win Le Tour without winning a single stage, and except for the second day, the prior day’s stage winner isn’t necessarily the yellow jersey.  Note how the leader has been reduced to the color of his shirt.  If you want to ask who the race leader is on a given day, you say, “who’s in yellow today?”  Of course, if you’re a true aficionado, you don’t ask because you know.

Time trials are a special type of masochism.  In the Individual Time Trial (ITT) riders leave the starting gate one at a time and ride a course, anywhere from 15 to 50 km. alone, in two-minute intervals.  They wear alien-like helmets and put their hands on aero-bars to slip through the wind.  You pedal as fast as you can, as long as you can and hope you reach the finish line before your heart explodes. There’s also a team time trial, or TTT, where five riders race the course together and four have to cross the finish line. The team’s time is that of the fourth rider to finish.

Mountain stages are, as one would expect, rides in the mountains.  The route of Le Tour varies, but always, always includes several days in the Pyrenees and Alps.  Fans love the mountain stages because the riders have slowed to about seven mph and spectators can run next to their favorite riders, exhorting them on to greatness. Or, sometimes, get run over.  The summit of a mountain climb is a favorite place for the loonies to come out, as the accompanying picture shows. Of course, what goes up must come down and on the downside fans can see spectacular crashes.  To get an idea of what it’s like to crash on a bicycle coming out of the Alps, strip down to your underwear and jump out of a car going 45 mph on the freeway.

If you’re watching on TV, you can find Le Tour on NBC Sports.  For three weeks, you can listen to every move described by Paul Sherwin, Phil Ligget, Bob Roll, Christian Vandevelde, Jens Voight and other lesser lights. All are former Tour riders. Paul and Phil are Brits and given to delicious understatement.  For example, on a particularly nasty climb, a rider may be falling off the back of the peloton (peloton is French for “big group of crazy riders”).  This is technically called being dropped, and it’s not a good thing.  As this rider struggles up a gradient that would make a mountain goat puke, Paul or Phil is likely to note that “he’s in a spot of bother right now.”

Bob Roll is fond of calling Le Tour “the Tour DEE France.”  It’s not that Bob can’t speak French; he’s actually quite fluent.  It’s that he doesn’t like the French so he intentionally mispronounces their pride and joy.  Various stories exist about why he’s anti-French.  Some say it’s because he can’t get a decent beer in France.

At the end of each stage, there is an award ceremony.  The stage winner is presented, gets a bottle of champagne and kisses from two lovely French women.  If you look closely, you’ll see that their lips never get nearer than two inches to the guy’s cheeks.  I mean, he hasn’t shaved for a couple of days and he’s just finished a five-hour bike ride.  Ewww!

The final day of Le Tour is madness.  There’s no race for the Yellow Jersey.  By tradition, the leader at the end of the penultimate day is the winner.  But the race finishes with eight laps around the Champs-Elysees and the sprinters go berserk, pounding the cobblestones, cutting corners, occasionally losing it and sliding into the hay bales set up to stop careening riders from plowing into the howling crowd.  Meanwhile the yellow jersey and his mates cruise into Paris sipping glasses of champagne.

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Five Days to Go!

Garden veggie burger with corn and green salad. Delicious

Nothing really has happened so I haven’t posted lately. I did eat meat on Wednesday and paid for it. We were in Logan Tuesday night. Brad and Mel invited to their third annual back to school pancake breakfast. The bus stops right in front of their house and for the last 3 years they’ve done a pancake breakfast for all the kids at the stop. They had a big camp grill, neighbors brought juice, fruit and a big pan of ham and bacon. I ate 3-4 pieces of bacon as I flipped pancakes. Then for lunch Nancy wanted Chinese and the egg foo young was calling to me. It had pork, not much, not even 1/2 a small pork chop worth.

Two hours later I was miserable. I was nauseated, my stomach was rumbling and gurgling and all I could do was lie there for about 45 minutes. Nancy says I probably just over ate, but I’ve over eaten before (yes, shocking I know, but true), and never felt this way. I attribute it to eating meat after being meatless for 3 weeks.

I’d been warned about eating meat again after going without, but I didn’t expect this relatively small amount to affect me this way. I could see it if I had eaten a 12-oz steak.  Although I haven’t noticed a marked difference in how I feel on a veggie diet, I have seen a big decline in indigestion at night. It makes me think, what IS meat doing to us?

Melting Snowflakes

The absolutely unthinkable, devastating election results of last week have upset millions, even to the extent that some liberal university students are reportedly unable to function and professors are cancelling classes and postponing midterm exams. Whether the reports are true or not, they are prevalent enough to prompt one Yale professor, Steven Berry, to write a guest editorial in the Washington Post defending the strength of his students.

While I respect Professor Berry’s coming to the defense of his students, I have to wonder why this phenomenon exists at all. What has happened that students at the university level are apparently so brittle that they can’t deal with real life? I was in 7th grade on November 22, 1963.  We were out of school that day for some reason, but on Monday, November 25, we went back. There were no grief counselors, the school district didn’t cancel school, teachers didn’t excuse us from doing homework. We talked about what Kennedy’s assassination meant. We talked about how the Constitution provides for continuity of government. We talked about being saddened. But we also talked about how life would go on. The United States would remain safe (remember, this was during the Cold War and the threat of nuclear attack by the Soviet Union was real). In short, we dealt with it.

I have to think that it was because we had already been exposed to concepts that threatened our beliefs, and that we continued to be exposed to concepts like that, that we, as junior high students, didn’t crumble. I still remember American History in 1964. This was an election year. Our American History teacher contrasted the Republicans, Democrats and even the Communists on the bulletin board. Think of that! We were exposed to the Communists, whose leader, Nikita Khrushchev, had pounded his shoe on the podium at the United Nations and said the USSR would bury the United States, when we were but pre-pubescent, vulnerable children.

Professor Berry solved his students’ dilemma by way of a standing offer that he has. If a student, for whatever reason, feels he or she isn’t ready to take one of the two midterm exams, the student can opt out and transfer the entire weight of the exam to the final. Professor Berry feels that was a “clever” solution. But is it really?

I’m a lawyer. If I have a big trial tomorrow and I’m upset over the results of the election, the judge doesn’t care. A surgeon can’t tell his patient that he stayed up too late and is too upset about the Trump win to operate and remove the patient’s malignant tumor — sorry, it just has to wait. That response doesn’t fly in the real world. It shouldn’t fly in colleges and universities either.

Hillary How Do I Dislike Thee? Let me count the ways.

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This presidential election offers little. The best that can be said for either candidate is, “he/she isn’t her/him.” Donald Trump’s shortcomings have been pointed out by many here, so let me express my concerns with Hillary. In no particular order:

Her only goal is to be elected president. Once elected her place in history is secure as long as she isn’t impeached AND convicted (Bill already proved that impeachment alone means diddley squat). That’s because her biography will forever begin with “Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first female president of the United States.” That’s it, that’s all that matters to her. Even if she’s a total failure as president, no one can take away the fact that she was the first female president.

She’s suckled at the public teat her entire adult life. She has never worked in private industry and doesn’t have a clue about the needs of business owners. Nor has she ever been in a job threatened by the economy.

Related to the last two points, her entire adult career has been one calculated move after the next to achieve her only goal.

Everything (with rare exception) that comes out of her mouth has been strained and filtered for the proper spin. Donald Trump gets criticized for speaking his mind, uncouth and politically incorrect as it might be. Hillary, on the other hand, never speaks her mind without first considering the optics of what she’s about to say. That’s why it’s so newsworthy when she does go off script like she did with her “deplorables” comment.

She has little grasp of reality, whether intentionally or not, as evidenced by the fact that she took the FBI’s recommendation not to prosecute her as not only exoneration but vindication as well.

She has extremely finely-tuned selective memory, whether it’s about coming under sniper fire when landing in Bosnia (when the facts showed her greeted by dignitaries and children) to flat-out ignoring what was written in the FBI report by saying “that’s not how I remember it.”

Benghazi. The whole thing was a tragedy but then to blame it on a video that supposedly went viral and inflamed the mob was despicable. And then, when it wouldn’t go away after a year, it was dismissed as “old news.”

Peddling influence as Secretary of State.  No, it can’t be proved in a court of law, but there are too many questions: 30,000 missing emails, private servers, incriminating emails that have been recovered that suggest influence-peddling, and Bill’s speaking fees. Between 2009 and 2013, (Hillary’s tenure as Secretary of State), Bill earned $47.7 million in speaking fees, ten years after his presidency ended. By comparison, George W. Bush, who followed Bill, earned $10.4 million. Why did Bill remain so popular? Maybe because his wife was Secretary of State, hmm?

“Plausible deniability.” That’s the mantra of the Clintons. Whatever you do, make sure that there is a plausibly true, politically acceptable alternate explanation.

I’m no Trump fan. At this point I don’t know who would be better for the country. Maybe the right question is, who will do the least damage? For me, that’s tipping the scales to Trump. I think the nation can survive eight years of either of them, but what concerns me is the legacy that will be left by the Supreme Court nominees that the next president will have to make. I’m too afraid of what Hillary’s choices would mean for my First, Second, Fifth and Tenth Amendment rights. I’m not sure the nation can endure a half-century of liberal interpretation and expansion of federal powers.

We Are Sheep

Three seemingly unrelated news stories caught my attention in the last 24 hours. Taken together they demonstrate that society is willing to be led wherever by whomever.

First, the British Medical Journal recommends that in addition to putting nutritional information on packaged food (calorie count, number of grams of protein, fat and carbohydrates, serving size, servings per package, etc.) the package also features the amount of exercise needed to offset the calories ingested in a serving.

Secondly, the National Weather Service will no longer issue its weather alerts in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS as it has done for over a century. The practice of using all caps was caused by early limitations on typesetting, long before computers or even typewriters. The practice is not being changed because technology permits a more conventional form of writing. Instead it’s being changed because using ALL CAPS is considered shouting in print and the NWS doesn’t want to offend anyone.

Thirdly, a college student, Shannon Workman left the Chi Omega sorority rather than face disciplinary procedures for violation of “human dignity” rules for posting a picture of herself and two sorority sisters in cutoff jeans and Chi Omega tank tops. Here’s a link to the Good Morning America segment.

The common thread in all these is our (society’s) willingness to follow the masses, being unable to think for ourselves. With the food labeling, apparently we just aren’t able to correlate calorie intake to weight gain or understand that eating has consequences that might be undesirable, so now we have to be told what the penance for overeating will be.

In the case of the NWS, no one wants to risk causing offense, no matter how inoffensive what they did was meant to be. Heaven forbid that anyone should feel as if they are being shouted at by a printed bulletin.

Finally Shannon Workman’s case is another example of political correctness gone horribly wrong. The GMA segment airs a part of the disciplinary hearing held for Ms. Workman. Another woman, a Chi Omega chapter advisor, questions her:

Q:  Don’t you see that you have broken the rule on human dignity and your disrespectful attitude?

A: Um, no, not really.

It’s reminiscent of the Salem witchcraft trials or the Soviet Union’s readjustment policies where suspected witches and dissidents were given the “opportunity” to confess the errors of their ways before being punished.

In each of these cases it’s assumed that individuals are not capable of thinking and acting for themselves. Instead we have to be shown the right way, whether that is in the food we eat, whether we use proper print etiquette or what pictures of ourselves we take and post online. Conformity in all cases is a mandate of present society. Like sheep we are being led to greener pastures.

My father grew up on a sheep farm. He told me they used to put goats with the sheep because the sheep would follow the goats, who were more intelligent than the sheep. Some years ago I went on a backpacking trip where we used goats to carry our packs. After three days I realized how stupid goats are. The moral of this story is, be careful that the goats you choose to follow really know what they’re doing.

Hillary’s Victory Speech

Hillary comfortably won Super Tuesday. She gave an all-inclusive acceptance speech. You really can’t call it anything but that — she’s the presumptive nominee and her speech reflected that.

Well, her acceptance speech was almost all-inclusive. At one point she declared“We have to defend all our rights, workers rights and women’s rights, civil rights and voting rights, LGBT rights and rights for people with disabilities.” A great sound bite, meant to portray Ms. Clinton as a candidate of all the people, but notably lacking in at least one category: religious liberty.

Hillary make token acknowledgements of religion. She mentioned her own “Methodist upbringing” that taught her to work as hard as you can for as many as you can for as long as you can. No mention of God. She threw in a homily that referenced a house of worship when she told how she met with a group of Baptists in Flint, MI, regarding the water fiasco. There was no mention of supplication or invocation of Deity,though you can be pretty sure the Baptists had a prayer. And she closed her speech by pleading that we all work together to ensure that every American has the opportunity to live up to his or her own “God given potential.”

This is but one problem with the Left. They give lip service to religious freedom while simultaneously working to restrict those freedoms. Hillary calls for a swift approval of President Obama’s “strong, progressive” nominee to the Supreme Court. Does anyone doubt that “progressive” means one who will limit religious freedom as well as the Second Amendment? It’s like saying “some of my best friends are” blacks, Hispanics/gay, pick your minority that you want to placate. It didn’t play well 20 years ago, it shouldn’t play well now.

Believers use words like “faith,” “God,” “worship” as tenets to live by. Hillary uses them as a punch line and exclamation point.

November

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November is a lost month. It’s still autumn but November often isn’t. Yet it isn’t winter, either. November is often just a filler between Halloween and Christmas. Over the years Pilgrims and turkeys have been squeezed out by those two mega-holidays.

Early autumn has a sense of nostalgia about it, a longing for the recently departed summer. With October’s clear, warm days it’s easy to recall the carefree months that just passed. By the time November arrives those memories have faded. November is melancholy. November is a black and white photograph of an empty playground, swings hanging still, the playing fields bereft of life. November is ankle deep in fallen leaves, color drained from trees whose naked branches are fingers reaching into the lead-grey skies. November is sunlight trying to break through the clouds at the horizon as if to say “I’m still here.” November is cold wind blowing over barren ground, fields that a few weeks ago were golden with crops now fallow. November is the deserted garden that hasn’t properly been put to bed for the winter, tomato vines withered and twisted, shriveled vegetables left behind under a blanket of dead leaves.

November is a time to pause and reflect. It offers ample opportunity for both, with Veterans’ Day coming early in the month and Thanksgiving at the end. But too often we don’t take either opportunity in our rush to get through November so we can get on to Christmas. That’s too bad because November is a great month.