This year marks the 100th edition of the Tour de France, which for some Boulderites is basically a three-week, international super holiday.
“It’s almost like Christmas, your birthday and maybe Easter all together,” said Boulder racer Robin Eckmann, who rides for California Giant/Specialized. Eckmann, who moved to Boulder with his family in 2004, has been watching the Tour since he was born.
Eckmann grew up in Germany watching the Tour on TV and sometimes in person. When he was 10 or 11, he remembers watching from the sidelines on the Alpe D’Huez — one of the best experiences of his life, Eckmann said.
For Boulder, the weeks during the Tour are a chance to watch cycling all day every day without judgement, said several local cyclists. It’s three weeks to show the rest of the country what cycling is all about, and a point of hometown pride with several Boulder-based athletes, like last year’s white jersey winner for best young rider and fifth overall finisher Tejay van Garderen, who will compete again this year.
The Tour officially starts Saturday on the island of Corsica and will be broadcast live starting at 5:30 a.m. on NBC Sports Network. Die-hards get up that early to watch with a strong espresso, while some like Eckmann say they prefer to record the live broadcast and watch it later as motivation for training rides.
“Maybe for some people, on the flatter stages it’s a little bit boring, but as a cyclist you know how much pain they’re going through right now and what their concerns are and what their actions at the end of the stage are going to be,” Eckmann said.
For some Boulder businesses, the Tour is a chance to promote staff bonding and boost morale. Boulder web development company Quick Left, which employs many bike enthusiasts and was founded by track national champion Ingrid Alongi, will throw a French-themed potluck party, complete with crepes, to celebrate.
The company also has fantasy cycling league team for the Tour, and Quick Left’s Rachel Scott said they plan to be competitive.
Boulder-based cyclist and Sanitas Sports founder Barry Lee, who organizes a summer criterium series in Longmont, said he’s looking forward to watching the six mountain stages (with four summit finishes!) during the race. That’s when the real contenders to win the general classification, or overall title, begin to standout, he said.
“I’m not very much of a climber, but it’s great to watch those when they really get down to the selectiveness of the GC (general classification) contenders,” he said. “It’s great to watch the time trials and see where it comes down to seconds, but on the mountains those guys lose minutes.”
Lee said the Tour is also an opportunity for veterans to introduce new people to cycling. He overhears questions in bars and coffee shops that have the Tour on TV, and it’s a chance to talk about cycling with a new population he said.
It’s also one more opportunity for cycling as a sport to earn back the public’s trust and rebuild its clean reputation after a tough few years of doping accusations, scandals and drama, Lee said.
Television cycling commentator and former professional road racer Todd Gogulski, who moved to Boulder from Davis, Calif., earlier this month, provided analysis for the 2013 race. This year, he’s got his eyes on GC favorite Chris Froome, who rides for Team Sky and finished second last year behind teammate Bradley Wiggins, who won’t compete this year because of an injury.
“Froome is the guy,” Gogulski said. “The challenge for him is that though he’s had a great season and won a bunch of stage races this year, he’s never been in position to be a leader of the Tour de France. The Tour de France is the pressure cooker of all pressure cookers in cycling.”
–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.