The Tour de France begins this Saturday, July 4, so that non-Americans can have something to care about on that day. It’s a race that will last for 23 days, cover 3500 km (2200 mi), and test the fortitude of every member of the 22 competing teams. This year the race starts in Utretcht, Netherlands. It will end, of course, with a last stage around Paris, featuring the Champs Elysees.

If the thought of biking from Atlanta to San Francisco in three weeks is not enough to dissuade you, there is likely something wrong with you and maybe you should consider the Tour. The thing is it takes more than one skill set to do well. Some of the stages each year – 9 this year – are flat stages. Three are hilly. Seven are mountain climbs with grades of up to 19% — which seems steep for a car drive tbh — several of which end at the mountain’s summit. To perform well in every type of stage is asking a lot, yet the overall leader in the General Classification is the one who will wear the yellow jersey, sipping champagne as he makes his final lap.

Just the thought of the training for the race would be enough to make most of us head for the couch. Or death. Sky Team of England recently held a two-week training camp in which the team spent five hours a day on their bikes. Five hours a day at a training base altitude of 2150 m (7054 ft) – not quite as far above sea level as Aspen, CO at 2408 km (7900 ft) but close enough to give you a feel. Add a ride each day that is the equivalent of four ascents of Everest … You’re either going to be ready for the main event or gasping by the side of the road. Or death.

To ensure each athlete is working at peak levels, no carbs are allowed unless absolutely necessary. Goodbye bread and pasta, hello protein, fruits, and vegetables. And it’s not just the leader who is giving it his all. The entire effort depends upon the efforts of the team as each member does his part to get the leader to the top spot. It’s a physically demanding, grueling sport that gives whole new meaning to preparation and teamwork. And wishing you were dead.

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