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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 19, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 29
Tour de Life: Tour de France Fever
Section One
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Tour de Life: Tour de France Fever

-by Beau Burriola

A lot of people say that cycling is not a spectator sport. I completely disagree; at least, if you have the right vantage pointx1600_. My favorite place to be is right on the jutting part ofx1600_ a curve that the peleton will traverse, gusting me with wind in one slow motion burst of adrenaline.

Living in the southern part of Belgium has a very beautiful bonus: I am close enough to get to see the Tour de France. It was my love of cycling that brought me to this country for the first time when I rode my bicycle from Amsterdam to Paris over six unforgettable days.

Now, years later, when the spring finally thaws enough for bike shorts, the peletons go riding out into the countryside, all color and speed and beauty. Most of us are just casual weekend groups of cyclists playing at being big in our minds, imaging ourselves riding in the real Tour.

'Cycling is boring,' Phillip at work says flatly. 'Of course, I don't watch the Tour.' Like most folks I speak to at work, he just hasn't got any interest in watching people ride bikes.

'Not watch it, not like on television,' I say, 'that is boring. You have to go stand in a field or along the street to watch it, to really see it.'

'What, and wait hours and hours for the one second they speed by?'

'More space for me,' I finally say, failing again to convince anyone to come along for the event. Tour fever isn't big in Belgium, but last year when the tour came to my little town of Tournai in Belgium proper. I scouted my watching spot two days before hand and I made sure I showed up early enough - not having anything to drink that would cause me to need to pee - a full four hours before anyone else. I marked my spot with a chair and a bicycle so that people could not move in front of me.

Before the Tour even arrived, I heard the cheering kilometers away. I stood right in my prepared spot and took in everything - the gradual crescendo of the cheers, the feel of the sun on my skin, the first of the support cars, and then eventually, the cyclists themselves, tilting dangerously toward me before the eddy of the wind they set off caught me in the face and held me completely breathless. I can look back in my memory at a frame-by-frame picture of that moment, broken only by the exhaust from the endless train of support cars riding along after.

As a Gay man, as an HIV+ man, my connection to cycling is more than a casual sport connection. It has been a tool in my arsenal to remain healthy, an escape when the world feels like too much, a way to see beautiful men with great legs in the tightest shorts they ever wear. Most of them are my size. This is my sport.

Sure, there's the scandals with doping and the politics of winning as a team, but none of that matters to me. To me, the Tour represents the love of cycling itself - the simplest and purest form of pleasure and happiness you feel when you clip into your pedals and ride your bike through the country smells of a beautiful, ancient countryside, the camaraderie of riding in perfect synch with other guys - like a school of fish - speeding over the smooth paved road toward another old village a few kilometers away.

This year marks twelve years since my first trip to Europe with my bicycle in a hard case at 22 years old. Since then, circumstance was kind enough to allow me to live here, and now, at 34, I am even closer to that exhilaration I first felt all those years ago.

Some Great Loves in our lives come and go; we recognize them and appreciate them and sometimes lose them and even forget them - but those loves in our lives we never lose are very often not people, but rather the things that enhance and deepen our experience of life and make it all worth living. They help us to overcome our sadness, our heartache, our illness, our habits and ourselves. They become so much a part of us that they live in our hearts. They keep us alive.

For me, that love is what starts rising at the end of May, and won't stop until the first snows and fear of pneumonia stop me from getting on my bike for another year. It's the love that has always shared this column's name.

'It was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, meant that we were meant to be together... and I knew it.' - Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle

(Beau Burriola is an amateur gay sport cyclist who has spent some of the best years of his life on the padded seat of a bike buffered with butt balm. beaubrent@gmail.com)

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