High winds and bleak, cold weather marked the first nine days of the annual Tour de France bicycle race. But Canadian cyclist Steve Bauer appeared to be impervious to the elements. For the first 10 days of the 23-day race, as the 198 competitors raced from a park near Poitiers in west-central France to Paris, Bauer sported the yellow jersey that the rider with the best overall time wears. Then on July 10, the riders entered the gruelling Alpine portion of the race. During the 118-km ride from Geneva to St. Gervais, France, Bauer, 31, relinquished the lead to Frenchman Ronan Pensee. By the end of last week, the native of Fenwick, Ont., stood in 28th place. That effectively shattered Bauer’s hopes of finishing among the first three. Still, Bauer said that he was pleased with his achievement. “I’ve already accomplished more than I hoped for in wearing the jersey for 10 days,” he said. “Those were the best days of my career. I did my best.”
Unpredictable weather and long days of riding with little rest make the annual 3,400km Tour de France one of the world’s most demanding sporting events. Bauer, one of the top 20 bicycle racers in the world, was the only Canadian competing in this year’s ride, which French sportswriters rate as the third-most important international sporting event after the Olympics and World Cup soccer. Professional cyclists, including Bauer, spend much of the year training for the event, which started on June 30 and is scheduled to end with a traditional parade along the Champs-Elysées in Paris on July 22. “The Tour is the one everyone knows and respects,” said Robert Guennegan, spokesman for the Paris-based Tour de France Society, which organizes the event. “It’s not easy, there’s no way to cheat and it’s a pure test of strength and ability.”
Still, the consensus among competitors is that the Tour is decided in the mountains. Indeed, Bauer lost the jersey with a disastrous first day in the Alps, finishing behind 31 other riders—and more than 22 minutes behind Pensee. Although he is a capable sprinter, Bauer says that mountains are his weak area. “I’m a good all-round cyclist,” he told Maclean ’s, “ but I couldn’t honestly say that I’m as good a climber as some of the past tour winners have been.” The lead changed hands among the good climbers throughout the rest of the week. After Saturday’s leg, Italy’s Claudio Chiappucci held first place, followed closely by Erik Breukink of the Netherlands in second, and defending champion Greg LeMond of the
United States in third. Pensee had dropped to the fourth spot. With a difficult stretch of cycling through the Pyrenees mountains looming on July 17 and 18, the standings could still change drastically.
Although individual cyclists emerge as winners, the Tour de France is a team sport. The race itself is complicated. This year, 22 teams of nine riders were participating in a series of 21 races over varying distances. They include mass-start road races; individual time trials,
during which riders set off separately and try for their best times; and team time trials, the results of which are added to the aggregate time of each team member. As well, riders compete for points in sprints and hill-climbing. During the road races, team members use ingenious strategies to ease the pressure on their best rider. And, typically, Bauer’s fellow riders on the team sponsored by New York City-based 7-Eleven Convenience Food Stores
rode in front of him and on both sides to reduce wind resistance for him.
As the Tour travelled around France, more than 4,000 spectators, journalists and team organizers flocked to the cities and towns along the route. The budget for the Tour is about $23 million, with advertisers contributing about $15 million and television rights producing another $4 million to $5 million. The rest is contributed by cities along the route and team registration fees. About $2 million goes out in prizes—including about $420,000 to the winner, who shares the money with his team.
A silver-medal winner in cycling at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Bauer has devoted his life to the sport since then. Bauer has played hockey and football, among other sports, but says that he always preferred cycling. By 1972, he had been selected for the Canadian junior team, only to be promoted to the senior team later that same year. Because he races so often—110 times in 1989—Bauer says that he does not have to do much other training. He spends the winter with his wife, Elayne, and 11month-old son, Cohen, in Fenwick, a small farming community near Niagara Falls, Ont., where he grew up. But for the past five years, he has spent racing seasons with his family in Gullegem, Belgium. “It’s very practical to live in Belgium because I’m near the sites of the most important races,” he explained.
Bauer, who has said that he expects to earn more than $500,000 this year from his sponsors and from prize money, has ridden impressively in recent years. He wore the yellow jersey for five days in the 1988 Tour de France and finished in fourth place overall. As well, he won the Grand Prix des Amériques in Montreal in 1988. But despite his victory in the world championships in Zurich last August, Bauer stands only 19th in ^ the World Cup after four of the 12 2 races this year. But in April, he 5 came second in the highly regarder ed race from Paris to Roubaix, £ near the Belgian border, losing to I Belgian Eddy Planckaert by less than an inch.
9 Last week, Bauer was clearly § disappointed with his performance ° in the Alps, but said he was determined not to ease the pressure on - himself until the Tour was over.
After a relatively easy 149-km ride from Villard de Lans to St. Etienne on Saturday, Bauer was still more than 23 minutes behind race leader Chiappucci. Still, the cyclist insisted that he was proud of his accomplishments. “I’ve proven I can race, and people know me now,” said Bauer. “To win is not everything for me.”
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