It’s 9.30 pm, Saturday night, and my favourite annual sports event is about to start. What is it? The Tour de France, the world’s premier pro cycling event.
Yes, I love the AFL and NRL grand finals, but the two teams I follow don’t reach that ultimate game each year, so my interest is high, but my passion low. But the Tour? It’s on every year.
I’ve been a fan since the early 1980s. Back then all you could see were brief segments on The Wide World of Sports, or short films before films at the cinema. Then in 1991 it all became a little easier to be a fan, with Australia’s SBS broadcasting the race. The channel showed a little more of the race over time, to the point now that each and every stage of the race is shown live.
And what a race! It takes place over three weeks, starting 4 July, and finishing on Sunday 26 July, in what is the 102nd edition of the race. All up there are 21 stages, two rest days, 22 teams of nine riders, and by race end the riders will have powered their bikes along 3,359.8 kilometres to the finish line on Paris’ iconic Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
Why do I love the Tour de France so much? Firstly, I love it as an incredible sporting event. Yes cycling has a tainted history, what with drugs, blood doping, and the infamous bullying tactics and doping in recent years involving seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong (his seven titles have subsequently been stripped), but even so, to make it into the race, and then finish, is I think still a monumental achievement. Individual race tactics, team tactics, astonishing mountain climbs, death-defying descents… it’s an incredibly exciting sport.
Second, you can love the race as a travel series. If nothing else the Tour de France is the greatest three-week advertisement for the country of France. The broadcast frequently cuts to landscapes, chateaus, villages, and some of the shots from helicopter and motorcycle are absolutely stunning. On top of the images, the race commentators provide information on the landmarks and places of historical significance. So if you like travelogues and history show, there’s something in the Tour de France for you.
Next, Australians have what is now a long and proud history of competing in the Tour de France. From Hubert ‘Oppy’ Opperman in the late 1920s, to the barnstorming, successful Phil Anderson in the 1980s, and on to Cadel Evans, who won the Tour de France in 2011, we love the Tour de France, and the Tour de France loves us.
This year there are 10 Australian riders in the Tour, including one Australian-owned pro team, Orica-Greenedge. And in a special nod to Aussies and our ANZAC heritage, the race organisers this year have this year arranged that the race go through the village of Villers-Bretonneux, the site of incredible bravery in World War 1, and where the Australian National Memorial is situated. This will be during stage 5 of the race, on July 8, finishing in Amiens.
If you want to catch the race, SBS broadcast every stage live, but that is a commitment to 10pm or so starts, and 2am finishes. Or there’s the easier option of highlights packages the following day – check your local SBS program guides.
Finally, on top of all of this, I like the social media aspect of the Tour de France. There’s a solid crew of Aussie Tour de France fans on Twitter, and we all stay up until all hours, discussing the race, the scenery, and even the cows. Some cook up snacks pertaining to the region the race is in, and others replicate TV chef Gabriel Gaté’s recipes that feature in a segment at the start of the race, Taste Le Tour. We’ve all been doing this for 5 years or so, and some of us have met ‘in real life’ and become firm friends.
All of that and more is why I love the Tour de France. And right now I’m loving it just a little more as an Australian is leading the race after the first stage. Vive la Australie, and vive le Tour de France!
How about you… what is your favourite sporting event? Are you too a Tour de France fan? We would love to hear your stories.
To me – and most probably to anyone who plays it – basketball is much more than just a hobby, more than a sport, more than a way to stay healthy. Children and adults alike love the game because of the sheer joy and adrenaline rush felt when playing, as well as the feeling of belonging, of sharing a common goal. The intense emotions and the philosophy associated with the game make basketball my favorite sport. The qualities, values and lessons learned, as well as the hardships encountered on the court have helped me grow as a person.
First of all, basketball helped me believe in myself. I used to be a very shy and even cowardly teen, always afraid of failure. When I first laid my hands on the ball, I thought I would never be able to dribble properly, let alone score a field goal. But it was just a game, it was fun, and it didn’t scare me. And guess who’s scoring field goals now? As I practiced and my skills improved, I found myself much more confident – I understood that I was able to reach my goals if I worked hard enough, and this reflected in other areas of my life as well. I now had the courage to try new things, I was much less intimidated by people or unexpected situations, I felt stronger – I believed in myself.
Secondly, basketball is about teamwork and good communication. The game taught me to play for the team, not for myself – to know when to pass the ball to someone with better chances of scoring, or when to come help a teammate get out of a stingy situation. No matter how good the players are individually, if they don’t communicate and can’t work together properly, if they play for themselves, the team will most certainly lose.
Thirdly, I believe this sport can teach you a lot about who someone really is. Just one quick game can tell you more about a person’s life than anyone can imagine. Within the first few minutes on the court, you can learn about one’s willingness, eagerness, individuality, perception of self, optimism, confidence level, altruism, trust in others, and much, much more. All this without words – or not many, at least.
Another reason why I absolutely love this sport is because it encourages bonding. Whether we won or we lost, each game, each training session made me feel closer and closer to my teammates. Fighting for the same goal brings people together, whether the goal is achieved or not. Winning a game connected us in joy, just as much as the sadness of losing linked us together. Even the inevitable quarrels, once resolved, made me feel closer to the other players.
Finally, basketball is a cozy refuge when life gets difficult. Though I have grown a lot, I still am scared of many things, I sometimes lack confidence still – I am still human. Whenever I feel the need to run away, I just turn to basketball. While I’m playing, I can take my mind off whatever difficulties I’m encountering and I can believe in myself again. On the court, all I need is myself and my team, nothing else; for a few hours, all I’m focusing on is enjoying the game and having fun.
Basketball is my favorite sport, but it’s definitely not just a sport. It teaches you a lot about yourself and others, it boosts your confidence in yourself and others, it teaches you the importance of teamwork and communication, it helps you deal with difficult situations – it helps you grow as a person, and that is why I love it.