It's the start of the Tour de France and, despite the day's revelations, we'll be tuned in like glue for the month. Along the way, we're going to be fortunate enough to have Tour commentary from novelist/cyclist Dave Shields, author of The Tour and The Race. He'll be joining us on Mondays and Thursdays with his impressions of the race, specifically geared toward non-cyclist/literary types. Feel free to use the comments box to ask those cycling questions you always wanted answered but were afraid to ask.
We're also pleased to present a number of special Three Minute Interviews (3MI) which we'll be sprinkling liberally throughout the months, with some of the best cycling writers out there. (Regular TEV readers know the rules - three custom questions, last two the same for all; but we've modified the fourth question - who's the best writer we've never heard of - with a cycling focus.)
We're happy to usher in Tour de France weekend with Samuel Abt, a news editor for the International Herald Tribune, who has covered bicycle racing for 30 years. He has written 10 books about the sport, including the acclaimed Breakaway: On the Road with the Tour de France, LeMond, and Off to the Races. He is the only American to have been awarded the medal of the Tour de France for distinguished service to the race.
TEV: Personally, I can read about watts-per-pedal and lactate thresholds until I'm blue in the face but I'm kind of freakish that way. What's the primary challenge a writer faces when trying to make cycling compelling to a general reader?
SA: The primary challenge is that a general audience knows almost nothing about the sport, so a report has to provide information limited by that lack of knowledge. I have never once referred to a gear ratio or a saddle height, remembering that my own mother once told me she stopped reading my articles when she encountered the puzzling word "kilometers." So, nothing technical, but plenty about the people, the surroundings, even the strategy if it can be explained coherently. The point, I think, is context and the Tour offers that day after day.
TEV: My audience consists primarily of readers of literary fiction. What case can be made for making Tour coverage relevant and interesting to them?
SA: I can be a pretty literary guy myself --- right now reading everything Murakami has written --- and a bicycle writer, if he does his job well, can offer everything he can --- except perhaps for the similes, extravagant plots and shadings of characters. But you don't have to be a sailor to enjoy Conrad.
TEV: Who do you think will win the Tour, and why?
SA: Basso, I guess. Somewhere in the Alps, I suppose. (TEV note: This interview was conducted last week. Basso was my answer, too.)
TEV: Now that Lance is gone, what are the chances that Americans will stay pay attention to the Tour?
SA: Who cares if Americans tune in? That means television. What I want them to do is read about it. Will they? Doubtful, alas.
TEV: Who is the best cyclist we've never heard of?
SA: For Americans, anybody except Armstrong.
TEV: Ask yourself any question you like - just make sure to answer it!
SA: Question: In the grand scheme of things, what does the Tour de France represent? Answer: It's not a metaphor for life, it's just a bicycle race.