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Old 07-14-2004, 09:37 AM   #1 (permalink)
beauty in the breakdown
 
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
How To Watch Cycling (and the Tour de France), for Americans

Im going to start writing short summaries of the stages of the Tour de France so that people normally not exposed to cycling can get some coverage of it in simple terms, and watch Lance go for number six.

In preperation for writing coverage of the race, Ill give a bit of background. As cycling is so obscure in the States, very few people have a grasp of the sport. There is quite a bit more to it than merely a bunch of skinny guys pedalling all over France. It is one of the most difficult sports in the world--these guys race distances of upwards of 100 miles a day, every day, at a speed that exceeds the speed limit in most cities (almost always upwards of 25mph, frequently in excess of 30mph, and sometimes over 40mph, and even over 50mph on mountain descents). The Tour is 21 stages of racing, each stage lasting one day. The rider with the overall lowest time wins, and wears the race leader's jersey, the Yellow Jersy, or Maillote Jaune in French. This is called a stage race, different from a Classic, which is usually a one day race, such as Paris-Roubaix, a one day, 160 mile slog over cobblestones, traditionally one of the hardest one-day races in the world. Criteriums, or crits, are short, fast races that run many laps of a short course, and almost always end in a large bunch sprint for the line. Ill start with a few terms:

Peloton: The peloton is the main group of riders. Look for the largest group of riders near the front of the race. In the flat stages it could contain every rider in the race, in the mountains, it could contain as few as 20 riders. French for platoon.
Attack: Just what it looks like. An attack is when a rider launches off the front of the group he is riding in (be it the peloton or a smaller group), attempting to gain time on his rivals.
Breakaway: A breakaway is a group of riders that has attacked off the front of the peloton. If the group contains no one of importance to the overall classification, the peloton may let it go and win the stage. Otherwise, they will chase it down and recapture it. Riders in the breakaway, though they are usually from different teams, will cooperate and act as a team in order to stay away from the Peloton, at least until (and if) they come to the stage finish, at which point they will race for the win.
GC: General Classification. The overall time spent by the riders. The rider with the lowest overall time wins the race. The time is added together from each stage. This is why some riders who have excellent acceleration and nerves of steel, called sprinters, can race for the stage win, but be no threat at all to the overall lead of the race--one the race hits the mountains, the sprinters are usually left struggling to make the time cut, and many of them drop out of the race altogether. Sprinters are born, not made--when they go for the line, they are travelling upwards of 40mph and are jockeying for position, pushing, shoving, elbowing, doing anything they can to get in the best position to take the win.
Grupetto: The group of riders spit off the back of the peloton in the mountains. Usually contains sprinters and other riders that don't climb well. If they finish too far back from the peloton, they will be disqualified from the race. They usually just try to finish under this time limit.
Time Trial: A race against the clock. Riders set out alone at set intervals from the start line and try to run the course as fast as they can. The fastest time wins. Also called the race of truth because a rider cant hide in the group or draft off of others. A team time trial is when the teams of riders do it. The team with the fastest time wins.
Drafting: Riding close behind another rider, using the other rider to block the wind. Drafting off of another rider requires 30% less energy than riding out front in the wind. Considering that at the speeds these riders are moving, almost 80% of their energy expenditure is used merely trying to fight drag from the air, this and anything else that can be done to lessen drag is done fanatically.
Domestique: French for servant. These are the riders that surround their leader, protecting him from the wind and crashes, and chasing down attacks that may threaten their leader's position. Teams are structured with one clear leader, and the rest of the team exists solely to get their leader the win, be it in the sprints or in the GC.
Green Jersey: The jersey awareded for the best sprinter.
Polka-Dot Jersey: The jersey awarded for the best climber.

Now for some strategy:

Riders cant win the race in the flats. They can lose it if they crash too badly or let one of their rivals escape in a breakaway and gain too much time, but you can't win it here. Stage races like the Tour are won in the mountains and in the time trials. A pure climber cant win it because climbers typically cant time trial very well, and a pure time trialist cant win it, because pure TT riders can't usually climb. It is the strong rider that can do both, while surviving the flats, that wins.

The first week of the Tour, traditionally flat, belongs to the sprinters. The GC contenders, like Armstrong, just hold on and try not to crash. There will be lots of breakaways of riders looking for the glory of winning a stage. The peloton may let them go, or the teams of sprinters may try to chase the breakaway down to set up their sprinters for the stage win. The race doesnt really begin until the mountains, so it is only necessary to not lose time here.

The mountains seperate the men from the boys. When it starts climbing, the herd clears out as the riders that can't climb, like the sprinters, are dropped off the back. Here is where you see huge (and all of the legendary) attacks coming. If a rider can attack his rivals here, and his rivals cannot follow, they can not only open huge time gaps, but also inflict huge damage to other riders' morale.

One of the best things about the Tour, and cycling in general, is its tremendous history and culture. It is a sport very much steeped in tradition and honor. Riders traditionally do not attack their chief rivals or opponents, or the Yellow Jersey, if they fall. One also does not attack if the riders take a nature break to drain that last cup of coffee, or if the riders ride through a feed zone, a place where they are given bags of food and water. Also, when a rider rides through his home town, it is tradition for him to get off his bike and greet his family. A rider may attack the peloton on the day that the race goes through his hometown so that he can ride through first and greet his friends and family. The peloton will usually let him go, at least for a while. Even though he will likely be caught again, he will be a hero, in his eyes, and in the eyes of his family and village, for the rest of his life. Very few sports have traditions like this, and watching it is a spectacle.

Now some of the legendary riders:

Eddie Merckx. The man. The Boss. The Cannibal. There has never been a better rider, and probably never will be. The winningest man in cycling. He won every race in Europe at least once, and had over 400 wins in his career--consider that Lance Armstrong has "only" had around 70. He was known as the cannibal because he liked winning so much, he was constantly on the attack, attacking even riders that didnt have a chance for beating him, even on the flats. Quite literally, when he was racing, the rest of the group was just competing for second place. Almost a freak of nature, he won so easily. He would show up to the race, non-chalantly pull his bike out of his car, stomp the peloton into dust, and then go home, seemingly not even tired. He won the Tour five times. The last time he rode the tour, he was punched in the stomach by a spectator. His kidneys were bruised, and his doctor demanded that he leave the Tour, but he continued to race. A few days later, he crashed and broke his nose and jaw, but he still didnt drop out. His jaw was wired shut, and he had to drink his food through a straw, and was physically shaking during press conferences because of the pain, but he still rode on, and managed to take second despite his injuries. Dominated the sport until his retirement. His son, Axel Merckx, races today.

Miguel Indurain: The last five time winner, and the only one other than Lance to win five in a row.

Jaques Anquetil: Another five time winner.

Bernard Hinault: Five time winner. The French revere him as a god.

Greg LeMond: The first great American cyclist. Won three tours. In his last win, he was in second place over a minute behind Laurent Fignon in the last stage of the race, a time trial. He hammered the last time trial at an absurd rate, taking back the minute and more from Fignon to come around him and win the race by eight seconds, the closest margin of victory ever. One of the legendary attacks of the Tour.

Lance Armstrong: Needs no introduction. Has done more to popularize the sport in America than anyone before. Called 'The Boss' of the peloton because of his dominating performances (with the exception of last year, which was a difficult victory to say the least). Has had his share of legendary attacks, including the disposal of Marco Pantani, a legendary Italian cyclist who was expected to drop Armstrong in some of the mountain stages. Armstrong promptly stood up and destroyed him. Also, "The Look." In 2001, on the climb of L'Alpe du Huez, the most legendary climb of the tour, Armstrong was in the lead of the peloton with Jan Ullrich (his seemingly eternal nemesis) on his wheel. He looked back at Ullrich for 5 ot 6 seconds, seemingly to ask "Are you coming?", and then, quite handily, demolished him. The clip of this attack has been played over and over, even on US television--even folks who know nothing about cycling know a smack-down when they see one, and this was quite possibly the most blatant smack-down the sport has ever seen.

This year, Armstong is going for a sixth win, something no one has ever done in the Tour de France. His chief rivals include:

Jan Ullrich. As always. The German rider has won one tour, and has placed second to Lance every year the two have raced. An absurdly talented and strong rider, he has been criticized for not training hard enough or taking the race seriously enough. Still, despite this, the fact that he has managed to place second, consistently, behind Lance, speaks volumes about his talent. Known as the Diesel Engine because his pedal style emphasizes hammering a huge gear at all times, something not many others do. If you watch a stage, and watch the pedaling styles, Armstrong will spin a lower gear at a very rapid pace while Ullrich will grind out a huge one the whole race. Rides on the T-Mobile team (bright pink jerseys). He has stated publicly that he is sick of getting second and plans on winning this year.

Tyler Hamilton: A former rider for Lance on the US Postal team, he is one tough SOB. Last year in the Tour, he crashed and broke his collarbone in the first day of the race. He still hammered out the rest of the race, taking fourth overall. A few years prior, he crashed in the Tour of Italy and injured himself badly. He still rode the rest of the race, in so much pain, that he ground down most of his teeth to nubs and had to have them capped. His remark after last year's Tour was "Im glad my teeth were already capped." Rides on the Phonak team (green, white, and yellow jerseys).

Iban Mayo: A spanish climber who dominated in the recent Dauphine Libere, a Tour warm-up race. After a crash early in the race, an overall win for him is unlikely.

Roberto Heras: Another former member of the US Postal team, and an exceptionally good climber. His weakness is a weak team that will not be able to defend the Yellow Jersey if he gets it.

Im quite certain that I will think of more that I missed. I will post it in this thread when I do. Also, if you have any questions, just ask; Ill answer them as best as I can.
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Last edited by sailor; 07-14-2004 at 10:02 AM..
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Old 07-14-2004, 10:05 AM   #2 (permalink)
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For Americans???

Get over yourself.
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Old 07-14-2004, 10:39 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by Billy Ocean
For Americans???

Get over yourself.
Hey, I'm one of those Americans that's been trying to understand the Tour and been left in the dark. This thread has already helped me out considerably to understand the thing.
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Old 07-14-2004, 10:44 AM   #4 (permalink)
beauty in the breakdown
 
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Quote:
Originally posted by Billy Ocean
For Americans???

Get over yourself.
Yes, for Americans. Turn on the TV. Read the newspaper. America is one of the only countries in the world that doesnt follow cycling. The Tour is the most watched sporting event in the world, dwarfing even the Superbowl, and yet the most you see of it is a one-paragraph blurb on the back page of the sports section. So yes, for Americans. And yes, I am an American, so it isnt facetious. Ill say this: You get over yourself. Its a toungue-in-cheek title, and if you must take the "high road" over that, lighten up

Quote:
Originally posted by dylanmarsh
Hey, I'm one of those Americans that's been trying to understand the Tour and been left in the dark. This thread has already helped me out considerably to understand the thing.
Glad to be of help. This is what this thread is here for.
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Last edited by sailor; 07-14-2004 at 10:59 AM..
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Old 07-14-2004, 10:51 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I appreciate the info so thanks! Very well dont. I never knew that there was that much history and tradition in the sport. Keep the updates coming!
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Old 07-14-2004, 03:04 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Best way to get Americans to watch it is to have the Ladies of Playboy enter the race. I am sure that most would be glued to their seats.
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Old 07-14-2004, 03:16 PM   #7 (permalink)
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very nice. i knew half the stuff you were talking about (attacking, peloton/peleton, drafting, etc) but the other half was very enlightening.
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Old 07-14-2004, 03:20 PM   #8 (permalink)
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totally awesome. you have no idea how much i appreciate this thread sailor. i don't get to watch the tour much (if at all), since my family doesn't have cable, but i follow it closely in the news. it's sad that americans don't have much respect for endurance sports such as soccer and cycling. but that's just because we are so lazy and want immediate gratification. 21 days for a bicycle race? for americans to pay attention to it, you'd have to make it more like three days.
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Old 07-15-2004, 07:42 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Give the guys weapons and motors on those bikes and I'll watch.

Seriously though, how can you watch someone pedal a bike? Sure it takes "skill" and incredible endurance but what are you really watching? Kinda boring if you ask me.
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Old 07-15-2004, 09:53 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Some of us are asking how you could watch anyone "ride" a motorized bike, or drive a car. Not a biking fan (spandex should require a license, and you have to be a hot chick) but I can appreciate amazing athletes wherever I see them--even when they're scrawny kenyan runners hauling past my place at the Carlsbad Marathon.
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Old 07-15-2004, 10:08 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by Billy Ocean
For Americans???

Get over yourself.
jeez, dont rag on the guy for trying to educate

I learned quite a lot... but I am Canadian... so i guess the thread wasnt for me
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Old 07-16-2004, 06:47 AM   #12 (permalink)
beauty in the breakdown
 
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Ill post a few more things, a sort of question and anser type deal.

Why do bikers wear all that Spandex?
Several reasons. One is comfort. Excess fabric will rub the legs when you are pedalling, giving you some nasty chafing action. Not fun. You'll only make that mistake once--I did. Also, by being tight like that, they better wick the sweat away from you, keeping you drier and cooler. Muscles also perform better when under slight tension from tight clothing like spandex. Then there is the drag issue--loose clothing flaps in the wind, and will suck quite a bit of power out of you.

Why do bikers shave their legs?
Again, several reasons. One of the big ones is that when you crash and tear up your leg on the pavement, it makes scrubbing it out a lot easier when there arent little bits of hair all in the wound. It also leaves a smaller scar. In addition, no hair makes massaging the lactic acid out of your legs a lot less painful. Then there is the air drag, but this is a bit of a lesser reason than the others. A lot of it is just tradition, its what cyclists do.

Whats the deal with all the doping allegations?
Unfortunately, cycling has had more than its fair share of doping allegations. Being that it is one of, if not the, most difficult sports in the world, some of the athletes feel that they need to turn to artificial help to compete. Cycling and Track are probably the two sports with the most doping allegations, and both are incredibly difficult endurance sports. Its an unfortunate matter, compounded by the fact that most of the drugs cannot be tested for. If it were up to me, Id ban anyone caught doping from competition for life, but cycling's governing body, the UCI, doesnt take such a hardline stance

Why are there so many people on the roads while they are riding? Couldnt they interfere with the race?
They certainly could, and have. Part of cycling's lure is that spectators can get up close to the athletes, and go apeshit. Youll see guys running alongside the riders, yelling at them, cheering them, and being generally obnoxious. Its all part of the sport, and is deeply ingrained in it. The spectators would completely rebel if they took that out, and some of the riders probably would too. There have been many times when the spectators interfered--Lance fell last year when he caught his handlebar on a bag held by a spectator, and the great Eddie Merckx was punched in the stomach by a spectator while on a climb. Its just part of the sport. Imagine if you could run along the sideline of the stadium during the Superbowl--you'd be pretty excited about that. Besides, they cant do much about it anyways--you cant completely barricade over 100 miles of road a day. That would take upwards of *at least* 200 miles of fencing, and an obscene number of man-hours. Just isnt gonna happen.
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Last edited by sailor; 07-16-2004 at 06:49 AM..
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Old 07-19-2004, 11:48 PM   #13 (permalink)
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hey, sailor, thanks for that. it was quite well written, and a complete cycling idiot (me, duh,) was just educated.
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Old 07-20-2004, 05:51 AM   #14 (permalink)
beauty in the breakdown
 
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Quote:
Originally posted by hawkeye
hey, sailor, thanks for that. it was quite well written, and a complete cycling idiot (me, duh,) was just educated.
No problem. Glad I could be of help.
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Old 07-20-2004, 07:58 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Great post sailor.
The tour has no secrets for me but tell the rest about the time trial on l'alpe d'huez.
(I heard the organisation is expecting 1 million fans on the climb to l'alpe d'huez)
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Old 07-20-2004, 08:06 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by Ace_O_Spades
jeez, dont rag on the guy for trying to educate

I learned quite a lot... but I am Canadian... so i guess the thread wasnt for me
technically you ARE an American if you're up in Canada.
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Old 07-21-2004, 11:18 PM   #17 (permalink)
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a North American.... touche salesman... touche
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Old 07-23-2004, 06:38 AM   #18 (permalink)
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we should just call it The Tour de Lance
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Old 07-24-2004, 02:26 AM   #19 (permalink)
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Quote:
t's sad that americans don't have much respect for endurance sports such as soccer and cycling. but that's just because we are so lazy and want immediate gratification.
I have full respect for football and cycling, just no interest at all; very interesting information still. Basketball, rugby, and semi racing are the only sports that hold my interest for more than 30 seconds usually. Two of those are nearly impossible to watch in the States - I got hooked on the Semi racing during a Med Cruise - so basketball is the only thing I watch or play for the most part.
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Old 07-24-2004, 12:50 PM   #20 (permalink)
beauty in the breakdown
 
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Quote:
Originally posted by Hanxter
we should just call it The Tour de Lance
At this point, yeah. He won easier this year than I think he ever has.
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Old 07-24-2004, 01:17 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Nice thread sailor...
I started watching the TDF when Greg LeMond started winning and always enjoy watching and riding some. These guys also seem to me to be some of the best pure athletes in the world.

Can you explain one thing which Ive never understood: How do the domestiques actually help the team leader? They are all cycling the same distance, and they're all usually close together, so aren't they all more or less putting out the same amount of energy? Ive never really understood the role of these guys.
Cheers...

edit: well I just re-read your original post which answered my original question but I have another:
When you say that a cyclist has a lot of natural talent, what exactly does this refer to? Is it his cycling mechanics? The amount of stamina he has? thx again

Last edited by powerclown; 07-24-2004 at 01:24 PM..
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Old 07-24-2004, 04:45 PM   #22 (permalink)
beauty in the breakdown
 
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Natural talent can mean many things. Lance Armstrong has lots of natural talent in that his body is freakishly well built for aerobic endurance efforts--like cycling. A rider could also have a very good grasp of racing tactics that could allow him to overcome a slightly lower fitness level than some other riders.

Im assuming you are talking about Eddy Merckx. Merckx was a bull of a rider--he just hammered away all day, every day, and trounced everyone in the process. His body was, like Lance's very well suited to the demands of the sport, and allowed him to win, seemingly without effort.

Sheer determination can also come into it. Lance is known to be fiercely determined and focused. All riders must be to an extent, but the man lives on a bike year round to prepare for one race. He also has the mental ability to push the pain out of his mind and keep going when every muscle in his body is screaming--he put this to good use last year after he crashed coming up the Luz Ardiden, stomping out a fiendish pace to take the stage.

As for the mechanics of it, that can certainly come into play. Lance has a very fast pedaling style. He spins the pedals very quickly in a lower gear, which allows him to transfer most of the work to his aerobic system, which recuperates much more quickly than his anaerobic system--his legs. Compare this to the slower pedaling style of someone like Jan Ullrich, who pushes a very large gear at a slow rate. Both work, but Lance's is a bit more efficient, and also allows him exceptional acceleration.
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Last edited by sailor; 07-24-2004 at 04:47 PM..
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Old 07-26-2004, 07:38 AM   #23 (permalink)
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Sit back and wait for the inevitable... Lance Armstrong wins another TdF. Congrats to Lance... he's a machine.
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Old 07-26-2004, 12:20 PM   #24 (permalink)
beauty in the breakdown
 
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Quote:
Originally posted by cameroncrazy822
Sit back and wait for the inevitable... Lance Armstrong wins another TdF. Congrats to Lance... he's a machine.
He is a machine. Im not sure hes human.

Not sure hes gonna ride another one, either. Hes said that he wants to ride other races next season, like the Tour of Italy, the World Championships, and the Hour Record, and that he wont come to the Tour unless he is 100% committed and ready to win--something he wouldnt be if he rode those other races. I can also see him not racing it again because he has a deep sense of tradition in him, and to break the record is enough--I dont think he sees the need to shatter the record.
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Old 07-26-2004, 02:14 PM   #25 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by Mister B
Seriously though, how can you watch someone pedal a bike? Sure it takes "skill" and incredible endurance but what are you really watching? Kinda boring if you ask me.
I think it's a hell of a lot more interesting than NASCAR and all they do is run around in a loop for a few hours. People say it takes endurance but it's nothing close to cycling.

Maybe us Americans don't watch because it's an international sport. We tend to only like "our games"
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Old 07-31-2004, 09:29 PM   #26 (permalink)
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yep, thank you that was well written and very helpfull!!
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Old 08-02-2004, 11:06 AM   #27 (permalink)
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Thanks Sailor for all the very informative information.
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Old 08-08-2004, 06:02 AM   #28 (permalink)
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