So lo and behold, the Tour is actually more mind-numbing than the World Cup.
Yes, it's a prestigious race. Yes, there's history. Yes, occasionally there are great triumphs and tragedies.
But a great deal of the time, nothing's happening. The peloton just rolls along. Sometimes there's a breakaway group. But they stay broken away at about the same interval for what seems like hours.
The ends-of-stages do provide some excitement. For winning a stage, you get lots of points and money and other perks like standing on the podium and getting kissed on the cheek by beautiful French ladies bearing flowers. So there's actually a race going on for those final few minutes, and it's worth tuning in.
They have little intra-stage sprints and climbs, with starts and finishes, apparently designed to put a little excitement into the hours of tedium. You know what, though? A lot of the time they're just ignored. Or the riders in a breakaway group (even if they're on different teams!) will take turns being the first to cross it, so that nobody gets unfairly ahead in points.
I see some sportsmanship in that but I'd rather just see them go all out. It's a competition, for land's sakes. It's not the freaking MS Bike Tour. Though I have to admit that cooperation can bring competitive advantage. I just have mixed feelings about it. It's like watching two soccer teams playing for a draw when that means they both advance.
Oh, they also cheat. Or they let themselves get pushed along by people in cars quite a bit. Even someone helping them out on foot gives them a bit of a push-off. Everybody does it, and to be honest I don't know the rules - maybe it's all perfectly legal, and if it weren't it'd be very tough to enforce over these huge stages. Me? I don't like it. Pedal the bike yourself, mister. (And, >99% of the time, they do.)
Also, I don't really give much of a hoot about Lance Armstrong, and I don't need to know every five seconds that, yep, Team RadioShack is still in the peloton. (Yawn.) Along with the race leader, the youth leader, the points leader, and the mountains leader. Basically everybody you'd care about, plus the steroid-fuelled passé-electronics-shop-funded team members the American broadcaster is so obsessed with. They're five minutes behind a breakaway group of four riders that don't have a hope in hell because they used all their energy to get away. They're like the poor sailors of the USS Indianapolis - you leave the group, you get eaten by the sharks... more quickly and aggressively.
Anyway, if this is to catch on as a mainstream sport, some things need to be done to make it more palatable (television) viewing. I know, I know - I hate undue concessions to TV as much as anyone. But this is what watching the Tour de France is like:
"Oh, look, here's the peloton going through some tiny French village."
"And there's the breakaway group."
"It looks like nothing's happening, so let's have an interview with some technical wonk from one of the European teams that nobody outside of the cycling world cares about."
"Yak yak yak."
"Thanks for that interview, Bob. And if we look, we can see the peloton riding through this completely new French village."
"I heard they have good cheese there."
"They sure do, Jim. And the scenery is really pretty."
"It's a tray bell vill."
"Right as always, Jim. And let's take a look at the breakaway group... Yes, they're still riding along. There are still four of them. They are five minutes ahead of the peloton - oh, no, they are four minutes, fifty-eight seconds ahead. The peloton is catching up, Jim!"
"We may see some drama here over the next 200km of the course as the peloton excruciatingly slowly swallows up the breakaway riders."
"It's going to be exciting television, folks. Stay with us. For now, let's go to Bob, who's interviewing Team RadioShack's massage therapist..."
"Mr. Évident, do your riders have sore muscles after six hours of hard riding?"
"Yak yak yak."
"Thanks again, Bob. Oh, there's the music again - after the break, we'll revisit the peloton and the breakaway group. Will they still be the better part of five minutes separated? All this and more when the Tour de France continues right here on Versus."