Two Days In: A Feel-Good Story and Fans Acting Badly. Welcome to #TourdeFrance 2021!

After watching the Grand Départ on Saturday, I had mixed feelings about our ability to appreciate the things we love. During the past year, COVID restrictions cast a pall over every aspect of life, shutting down live sports events and putting the kibosh on holiday gatherings. We hunkered down at home bingeing on Netflix, looking hopefully ahead to the return of “normal” life.

Finally, it’s here. Sort of.

The widespread availability of vaccines has allowed businesses to reopen and family outings to recommence. We’re able to travel again. Sports events are back on the calendar – and cardboard avatars have been replaced by real, live people in the stands.

As a sports junkie, I’m overjoyed, especially now. It’s that magical time of year – the cusp between spring and summer – when the NBA and NHL playoffs share prime time with the US Open and the Tour de France. The UEFA Euro 2020 soccer tournament (happening a year late) reminds us that the next World Cup is on the horizon.

There’s so much to be grateful for, yet we seem determined to ruin it.

On Stage 1 of the Tour, a nervous peloton pedaled through the narrow streets of Brittany, accompanied by gray skies and intermittent showers. But the presence of fans along the way provided all the sunshine we needed: the crazy costumes, festive decorations, and roars of approval reminded us of how much we’d missed over the past year.

And then one moron went too far.

And during the NBA playoffs, as Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards left the game because of injury, a rather unsporting Philadelphia fan poured popcorn on him as he headed to the locker room. I’m a Philly sports fan and can admit we’re at times rambunctious in support of our local teams. But I (and most folks) draw the line at such atrocious behavior. This was unacceptable.

Lest you’re tempted to blame these antisocial acts solely on sports fans, allow me to share this video with you. It highlights just a few of the disgraceful altercations that have taken place in our airports and on planes mid-flight, all since we’ve re-emerged from quarantine.

Apparently we’re incapable of appreciating nice things. Even after a year of deprivation.

While most of us are just happy to be out and about again, relishing in small pleasures like live sports, the idiots are going to ruin it for the rest of us. Do we really want the sports leagues to ban (or severely limit) fan attendance because of the actions of a few jackasses?

But that’s what will happen if the athletes’ safety is at risk. Au revoir to Dutch Corner in the Tour de France; wave bye-bye to the high-fives from basketball players as they leave the court. In their place expect stricter security protocols everywhere we gather. Thanks to the idiots.

We can do better.

Okay – I’m stepping down from my soapbox now . . .

Van der Poel dons his first yellow jersey (photo: Mathieu Van der Poel, Facebook)

Mathieu Van der Poel, Feel-Good Story of the First Two Stages

I love sports in large part because of the stories. And Mathieu Van der Poel of Team Alpecin-Fenix brought a fantastic one to this year’s Tour. He’s riding in his first grand tour and comes to the race – as all young professionals do – with lofty aspirations of a stage victory or perhaps a day in the yellow jersey.

His French grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, also raced in the peloton, finishing second in the Tour three times and third on five occasions. Van der Poel’s father Adrie was also a pro cyclist with a Tour stage win to his credit. Wishing to honor that heritage, Mathieu publicly expressed his goal for the race: wear the maillot jaune during the first few stages in Brittany.

He came close in Stage 1, which ultimately went to world champion Julien Alaphilippe.

Sunday’s race presented more of a challenge, with two categorized ascents of the daunting Mûr de Bretagne. No one expected Van der Poel to be in the mix, especially with big time bonuses awarded to the first riders to cross the finish line. It looked like an epic GC battle among the early favorites: Alaphilippe, Pogacar, Roglic, Thomas.

Never underestimate the power of a family legacy.

As the second day of racing came to a close, Van der Poel succeeded not just in winning a stage but in earning the yellow jersey as the fastest man overall. Alaphilippe sits in second place (+8 seconds) followed by Roglic (+13) and Pogacar (+14). Geraint Thomas of Ineos lost a bit of time (+41) and was preceded by his teammate Richard Carapaz (+31) setting up the inevitable conversation about which of them should be the team’s leader going forward.

Looking Ahead to Stage 3

Aside from two category 4 climbs, the route will be flat. The biggest challenge could come from the weather which, in this part of France, tends toward wind and rain. Van der Poel took the polka dot jersey for best climber in his victory on stage 2 but look for the battle to heat up between Ide Schelling of Bora-Hansgrohe and Anthony Perez of Cofidis who went toe-to-toe throughout Sunday’s race. Both look fit and up for the challenge. As for the overall lead, I look for Alaphilippe to do his utmost to take back the yellow jersey. It will be fun to watch.

Eating and Drinking

Shellfish is a specialty of the Bretagne region – along with wind and rain!

This isn’t really wine country but cider fans will find much to their liking in Brittany. It’s also home to some of the world’s best seafood (you can see the oyster ponds in the Tour’s live feed). If you’re craving a glass of crisp white wine to accompany a shellfish tower, try a Muscadet from the Loire Valley to the south or perhaps a Chablis from Burgundy, to the east.

See you tomorrow for the next chapter!

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