Saturday, March 13, 2010

It isn't quite springtime yet (temperatures in France are still below freezing), but already the European peleton is charging out of its gates, racing from the French capital to the Mediterranean in what has become known as the annual "race to the sea." Paris-Nice. A picturesque slog of 1,288 frigid kilometres. Completed in 8 days. While wearing spandex. Such is the devotion of the springtime racer to his or her sport.

And then, things can get a little hot, as in the 1984 edition of Paris-Nice, when a large group of protesting French shipyard workers blocked the race route. As the peloton collided with the protestors, several riders either dismounted from their bikes or fell onto the road. However, Bernard Hinault (aka "The Badger"), a 5-time winner of the Tour de France, took things one step further, throwing punches at the closest shipyard worker within reach. And of course, someone caught it all on film.

Fights in cycling are incredibly rare, as they should be, but when they do happen, whether it's because of the riders' wiry physiques or the lack of protection in their spandex, they are awkward and off-balance little episodes that prove why professional boxers do not wear cycling cleats.

Still, whether it's the sight of a cyclist charging into the cold with whatever protection he can find, or the image of Hinault delivering the full emotion of his off-season anxiety to someone's face, I can't help but feel the excitement of spring's impeding arrival. In the coming weeks and months, layer by layer, the winter gear will come off exposing my pasty legs to the light of day, and soon it will be summer.


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