The Tour de France needs little introduction. It's the world's biggest, oldest and most prestigious cycling race with millions of people across the world tuning in night after night.
After months of delay and speculation, the 2020 iteration of the race has finally departed from Nice, for three weeks of racing, controversy, competition, drama and French countryside.
You don't have to be a cycling nut to appreciate that the Tour is much more than a race - especially this year.
After months of living under the stress of a global pandemic, the Tour is offering its legion of fans, old and new, some consistency, comfort and even distraction.
We asked three of our team members what they enjoy most about watching the Tour and you may be surprised at what they had to say.
Glen Janetzki: The roadie
1. Big time racing is back
We haven’t had the usual early season racing this year. Whilst that means I’ve had a lot more sleep than usual, I’ve definitely missed watching some great racing.
The riders have missed all the lead in races which normally prepares them to cope with the rigors of the Tour. It also gives us a pattern to look for – who’s performing well, who’s building up slowly? This year the lead in has been so unusual with no real pattern, no one is showing a dominance. This is leading to unpredictable and very exciting racing.
2. The competition is so open
In past years, the yellow jersey has felt like a contest between two or three contenders at most. This year, there are five or so that could be a genuine chance at taking the top prize coming into the race.
While it would take a brave man to bet against Sagan taking another Green Jersey - even he won’t have all things go his way.
Add in some crashes at the Criterium Du Dauphine to favourites like Roglic plus Bernal having some back issues and the contest has opened up to 10 different riders who could be up there on the podium at the end.
3. Ineos (Sky) don’t appear to be the most dominant team
Maybe there’s a slight chink in the armor or just some great recruitment by Jumbo Visma, but one thing is for certain, the usual scenes of the Sky Armada coming to the front of every hilly stage seems to be over, at least at the moment.
Jumbo Visma appear to be the big boys on the block for now and that change will surely lead to some exciting racing. I’m sure Dave Brailsford won’t sit back and take that lightly.
4. The new tech
This is the time of year that all the companies roll out their latest and greatest gadgets. This is one thing I can’t get enough of. New versions of bikes, helmets, wheels, shoes, kits - the list keeps going.All of them come with a guarantee to save me three watts or cut four seconds from my next ride if I were to purchase them. I know it’s all a bit crazy but I just love drooling over all the new tech every year.
5. The ability to escape
Shots of countryside and warmer weather reminds us all that summer is on its way. Summer for me, means a couple of family holidays to Bright (fingers crossed the restrictions will have lifted this year), where I get to pretend I’m in the Tour, riding up and down every hill I can find and I get to relish the bike skills and confidence my kids gain each year.
Watching the Tour every night always makes me smile and remind me of being there.
Anthea Hargreaves: The recreational rider
1. Female representation in the commentary team and in the broadcast
As women push for greater inclusion and representation across sport and cycling, it’s been refreshing to have a female voice as part of the coveted SBS cycling commentary team. Dr. Bridie O’Donnell has became the first women to join the commentary team in 30 years. Her inclusion hasn’t been tokenistic and her contribution has been credible and informed. I look forward to it setting a standard for years to come.
While there is no women’s tour, it was also great to see La Course, the one-off single stage women’s cycling event preceding the start of the Tour de France broadcast live on SBS. It was won by Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) in a thrilling sprint finish ahead of defending champion Marianne Vos.
2. No two days are the same
While the concept can seem simple (pedal as fast as you can and don’t get tired before someone else does), the Tour is widely unpredictable. Every day brings something new. Each stage offers more drama, unpredictability and novelty – anything can happen at any time.
It would also be remiss of me not to mention that it’s a minor miracle the race has gone ahead at all. With daily infections rising in France, there’s also the chance that it could be called off at any minute which gives it an added level of tension.
3. Getting into the tactics and strategy
With 22 teams and 176 riders with some big personalities competing for ultimate glory and various honours along the way, the tour offers an appealing mix of teamwork, sportsmanship and personal determination.
Whether you’re into the sport of cycling racing or not, you can’t argue that it’s not inspirational watching competitors at the peak of their fitness vying for victory for 23 days under grueling conditions. It’s a smorgasbord of competition with multiple contests – from the calculating tactics of the bunch to the breakaways, finish line sprint or heroic solo efforts.
4. Offering a chance to escape for the frustrated traveller
One of the best things about the Tour is that it's more than a cycling race, it’s a travel show with a bit of sport thrown in. And this year, more than ever, the scenery and landscapes of the tour have captured me. After months of lockdown, the Tour is giving me a taste of late-night escapism. While a trip to Europe is off the cards, watching the world’s greatest bike race is proving a fitting alternative. Cinematic shots of riders rhythmically pedalling along open fields, grinding up impossible ascents and descending at graceful speeds is proving a much-needed, calming presence in my otherwise limited locked down world.
5. The local cuisine on display
Another element that adds some extra European flavour to the broadcast is the showcase of the local cuisine. This year, the new Plat du Tour hosted by French chef Guillaume Brahimi, takes over from viewer favourite Taste le Tour with Gabriel Gaté. The series offers a gastronomic experience for frustrated travellers and Masterchef fan (like myself), featuring 21 recipes that originate from different regions of France and correlate to the different race stages.
Ethan Kusch: The commuter
1. Something extra to look forward to each day
In a year that’s continually thrown up challenge after challenge, and negative after negative, the Tour offers a nice escape and some normality – even if the Tour itself doesn’t look so normal! The AFL footy frenzy has gone some of the way to occupying me during this lockdown, and having the Tour there as well is offering a nice escape and distraction.
2. The fight for the jerseys
Often the battle for the Yellow Jersey often has a feeling of being determined before the race starts. That isn’t the case this year. There are multiple contenders for the general classification, the king of the mountains, and while the Green jersey is Sagan’s for the taking, there are some contenders creeping up. He has to lose some time, right? Mix all of this with the fact that we’re not even sure the race will be completed and it’s clear that there’s plenty to look out for.
3. The unsung heroes
I love the idea of the domestique. In a “team sport” that is so often about the individual, the virtually unknown soldiers of these teams that labour kilometre after kilometre, fetching drinks and food, paving the way to allow their leaders a shot at glory is something that should be celebrated! Viva le domestique!
4. The Aussies
Veteran Richie Porte will continue to fight it out in the GC but will need all his previous nine Tour's worth of experience to even come close to the yellow. Caleb Ewan is the one to watch for mine and certainly capable of stealing some stages wins as he has already in stage 3 with a brilliantly timed and powerful sprint. Can he challenge Sagan for the Green?
An Aussie team without any Aussies competing? I’ll still be barracking for them all the same. Adam Yates is a genuine chance to take some stages and wear yellow. I also love watching Esteban Chaves, the smiling assassin. If you haven’t yet seen “All for One” do yourself a favour. It is impossible not to be enchanted by the stories of Chaves, Matt Hayman and the rest of the team.
How to catch all the action
SBS will broadcast the Tour de France in its entirety in 2020, starting from August 29, with full stages available on the SKODA Tour Tracker, SBS HD and streaming service SBS On Demand.