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And, of course, they're world class athletes and I'm a 43-year-old sportswriter. You can't play in Yankee Stadium. You can't play on Lambeau Field. And you can't play Augusta National unless you are incredibly rich or a close friend of Hootie Johnson. But the wonderful thing about the Tour de France is that you can ride the route. All you need is a bike, a detailed map and the desire to do so. The Tour de France might be the world's premier bike race, but it's a difficult competition to appreciate when you're standing by the road as the cyclists whiz past. To gain a better appreciation, I rented a bike and rode the Stage 4 route from Tours to Blois the day after the race. Granted, this was a very short and very flat stage, but it was the only one that fit into my Lost in Translation Tour schedule of European sports.
|Jim was raring to go when he picked up his rental bike.|
|Jim Caple's Lost in Translation tour
9:22 a.m., 14.9 miles: I can see Amboise and its magnificent chateau rising above the town. There's just one problem. I suddenly realize that I'm on the north bank of the Loire River and the race was on the south bank. Somehow, I made a wrong turn and have ridden the past eight miles, at least, on the wrong road.
|LOST IN TRANSLATION|
Take a look back at Jim Caple's European vacation thus far:|
While England slept
Strawberries, cream and Maria
Get off my back, honey
The amazing race
French fried over Olympics
A pit stop at the Tour de Lance
|He got to see plenty of nice scenery along the way.|
12:35 p.m. 42.2 miles: I coast past the finish line. Or what had been the finish line. Yesterday, there were thousands upon thousands of fans watching the finish here. Now, there is nothing but an empty parking area. No fans, no TV crews, no podium and, most disappointing of all, no Sheryl Crow. 12:41 p.m., 42.3 miles: I'm pretty sure the start of Stage 5 is at 1:15 in Chambord, about 12 miles away. I doubt that I can ride there that quickly, but the start might actually be at 1:30. In that case, I can make it in time to see the riders off. Either way, I need to try. If nothing else, the additional mileage on the bike will give me a better understanding of what a longer stage is like. 1:23 p.m. 54.5 miles: I'm just about at Chambord when I notice a very long, steady stream of traffic coming toward me. I believe I'm a little late for the start.
I've come this far, though. There is nothing to do but continue the rest of the way. At the very least, there should be a concession stand where I can get something to eat. I'm starving. 1:29 p.m. 56 miles: There is no concession stand. They are, however, selling key chains for $8 each. 1:54 p.m., 56.2 miles: As soon as I point my bike back toward Blois and ride away from Chambord, I receive a very unpleasant surprise. There is one helluva headwind blowing solidly in my face. I averaged 17 miles per hour most of the way to Blois, and 15 mph most of the way from Blois to Chambord. But with the wind kicking me in the teeth, I can't get the bike above 10.
I'm tired, thirsty and hungry. And then it starts to rain. 2:22 p.m., 61.6 miles: I am going so slow that Pee Wee Herman just passed me. 2:30 p.m. 62.8 miles: I walked the marathon course at last year's Olympics in 104-degree heat, but this is much, much worse. I'm not joking. I really am miserable. My legs aren't the problem. They're tired, but not particularly sore. It's my shoulders and back that ache from leaning my weight on the handlebars for the past six hours.
|But by the end of the ride, Jim was, well, exhausted.|
I feel like a pile of dirty laundry. And I suspect I smell like one, too. I am completely wiped out. But what really exhausts me is thinking that the Tour riders will go the same distance, plus another 46 miles. And they'll do it in less time. Factoring out the few breaks, I rode for about six hours and gained a new appreciation for competitive cycling. As well as an uncomfortable rash around my private parts. Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is on sale now at bookstores nationwide. It also can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.