Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Le Tour de France is Not a Tour

Le Tour de France stands for the most severe form of sporting activity on the planet. A short sketch of one of the most gruelling and unique sporting events of the world, by a former national cycling champion

 

Le Tour de France is not a sightseeing trip. Nor is it a picnic. It is a misnomer. It stands for the most severe form of sporting activity on the planet. It lasts three weeks and covers about 3,000 kms, give or take a couple of hundreds every year.
 
Think of a Bombay-Poona cycle race. Throw in some mountains three to four times longer and often steeper. Think of rising from the hot plains to above the snow line in a single day. Think of snowstorms and blizzards. And chilly rain. And 100 kms per hour mountain descents. All on a small, narrow saddle, with 20 mm width tyres inflated to over 150 psi, in a bunch of 100+ riders jostling for space on narrow roads.
 
It is not your day out; even though it’s called a Tour!         
 
Tour in French means a circuit, a journey that goes around. Le Tour de France is a cycle that goes around France. And of late, other countries too, including England across the channel.
 
Le Tour is a series of individual races where all the contestants start off together every day. Each day’s performance is individually timed and recorded and the winner is the rider with the lowest aggregate time. One race was won by only 29 seconds.
 
These days the race is composed of about 20 teams of professional riders; each team has nine members. The whole exercise is a concerted effort in just getting the team leader first over the line every day. In fact, so important is the team spirit that the other eight riders are called “domestiques”, French for servants. (For more on domestiques, check out Google on ‘Domestiques in Cycling’.)
 
This is professional sports at the highest level. In case one wonders why in God’s name should the others help the team leader, the reason is simple. Money. All the winnings are usually shared. Of course, the winner gets a lot more from ancillary contracts, promotions, and advertising. And, the glory and adoration rival that accorded to cricketers in India.
 
So famous are the Tour winners that a survey taken in the 1950s threw up some astonishing statistics. The members of the French Army and Legionnaires were quizzed about the winners and 92% correctly named the winner of that year’s Tour, as compared to the Head of State who came poor second, somewhere in the 20%s.
 
The success of the Tour has inspired other such races. The Giro d’Italia, The Vuelta in Spain, all named for circuits. The Tour of Britain was once called the Milk Tour, sponsored by the Milk Marketing Board. There are Tours in Switzerland, South Africa, America and many other countries. None compares to Le Tour in prestige or effort. The other races call for extraordinary prowess. Le Tour asks for superhuman effort.
 
Le Tour is over a hundred years old; held every year except when interrupted by the two wars. The finish is always in Paris, on The Champs Elysees. Crowds are ten to fifteen deep over the streets, as lakhs watch the end of three weeks worth of cycle mania. And go mad if a Frenchman wins.
 
To really appreciate the skill and effort that go to make this event, see a documentary called, “Pour Un Maillot Jaune”; French for “For a Yellow Jersey”, the colour of the race leader’s shirt. Why yellow? Well, that’s another story; for another day.
 
As this is being written, it is almost 25 years to the day when we had our own stage race. The Zandu-Blitz Bombay to Delhi race. Ten days and 1,400 kms. At that time the longest in Asia, with Rs5 lakh as prizes; when the cricketers were earning maybe a few thousand over five days.
 
(Advocate Bapoo Malcolm was national cycling champion in 1962 and 1964. He also formed India’s first Professional Cyclists Association in 1982.)
 

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RK Laxman: The creator of ‘common man’ and a crow lover
An eye for detail made RK Laxman an excellent raconteur and mimic. He would regale colleagues with his imitations of politicians that he met around the world. Laxman never suffered fools gladly and does not suffer from any false modesty. An excerpt from Laxman’s interview from the ‘Pathbreakers II’…
 
RK Laxman, the cartoonist who gave India’s ‘common man’ a voice, will always be remembered as the country’s best cartoonist and a crow lover. Laxman, the reclusive genius, died on Monday at the age of 94 after suffering multi-organ failure in Pune.
 
According to a message doing rounds on the social media, “RK Laxman, the creator of ‘Common Man’, chose 26th January, a day when there would be no one in a newspaper office to report about his exit”.
 
Creator of ubiquitous mute spectator 'Common Man', Laxman was admitted to the hospital in Pune on 17th January for urinary infection. Laxman, brother of late novelist RK Narayan, is survived by writer wife Kamala, retired journalist son Srinivas and daughter-in-law Usha.
 
Laxman’s fondness for crows is only slightly less known than his Common Man. His fascination for black extends to his trademark attire of black trousers and white bushshirt and black ambassador car.
 
In 2010, Laxman gave an interview to Moneylife’s Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu for the ‘Pathbreakers II’ in which he shared some unusual moments of his fascinating life. For example, the famous JJ School of Arts rejected to admit Laxman, saying, “you show no talent, we can’t accept you.” 
 
The creator of the immortal ‘common man’, Laxman travelled to many countries. After returning from UK he was even offered a job from a newspaper in London. “I thought about it and refused. Nothing like India for cartooning and drawing! The politics here give you plenty of ideas and there is a variety of characters. Over there, you have these dull politicians going up and down in their grey suits,” he said in the interview.
 
Read the interview with RK Laxman here…
 
 

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COMMENTS

SuchindranathAiyerS

2 years ago

Alas poor Laxman. I knew him well.

Obama Wants You to Have Cheap, Fast Internet, But Many Cities Aren't Allowed to Provide It

Obama hailed the benefits of an open Internet in his State of the Union address. Here's what it is and how he's trying to make it happen

 

On the evening of 20th January, during the State of the Union address, President Obama pledged "to protect a free and open Internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks." Obama is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to challenge a wave of state laws blocking the construction of municipal broadband networks, which are high-speed Internet services run by local communities.
 
Here's what you need to know about the president's proposal and what it might mean for consumers.
 
Why can't cities just build their own broadband networks?
 
Although there are about 300 municipal broadband networks across the country, laws in about 20 states create multiple administrative and financial hurdles for new networks to get off the ground. Such legislation makes it difficult, for example, for communities to issue bonds to cover the upfront costs of building a network or to lease out unused fiber as a way to offset their costs. In Florida, residential broadband networks must demonstrate how they plan to turn a profit within four years, a tall order. According to The Baller Herbst Law Group, so-called fiber-to-the-home networks often take much longer to become profitable. In Nevada, there are population restrictions. Municipalities are prohibited from providing broadband if the population exceeds 25,000; for counties, it is 55,000 or more.
 
Why have some states put these restrictions on municipal broadband networks?
 
The cable lobby and some conservatives believe that the business of Internet service should stay in the private sector. Last week, Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer called Obama's plan "a new federal takeover of state laws governing broadband and the Internet." Telecom industry groups such as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association have argued that these networks are risky investments that could drive cities into debt. Telecom companies have donated millions of dollars to state and federal politicians on both sides of the aisle. Besides contributions, the cable lobby has directly submitted legislation to restrict municipal broadband networks and taken fledgling networks to court. Last year, according to a report by Ars Technica, the Kansas Legislature squashed a bill to limit municipal broadband networks that was drafted and submitted by the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association. When Lafayette Utilities System in Louisiana announced its intention to build a municipal broadband network, they faced three years of court battles with two incumbent Internet providers, costing them $4 million, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity.
 
How is Obama going to get around these restrictions to expand municipal broadband?
 
The Obama administration is urging the FCC "to ensure that communities have the tools necessary to satisfy their citizens' demand for broadband." Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act charges the commission with encouraging "the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans." In its letter to the FCC, the administration argues that "where private investment has not resulted in adequate broadband infrastructure, communities can and should play a leading role in expanding broadband access." In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will revamp its broadband loan program to offer financing to eligible high-speed broadband carriers in unserved and underserved rural areas. The Department of Commerce will launch a new initiative to provide online and in-person technical assistance to communities that will help them address challenges in planning and implementing broadband networks.
 
What obstacles does Obama face?
 
With a Republican Congress, it's likely Obama will face opposition. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., drafted a net neutrality bill that would strip the FCC of Section 706 authority. He argues that this change is "necessary to update FCC authority for the Internet Age." 
 
Moreover, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has said the Commission does not have the authority to preempt state bans on municipal broadband. In a statement last week, Pai recommended that the commission "focus on removing regulatory barriers to broadband deployment by the private sector."
 
But it's still possible for Obama's proposal to have an effect. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker introduced a bill on Thursday that would amend the Telecommunications Act to make it illegal for states to restrict or prohibit municipal broadband networks. And FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has already seemed to express his support for using the FCC's authority to remove barriers for municipal broadband networks in Tennessee and in North Carolina, which have submitted petitions to lift restrictions on their networks. "I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband," he wrote in a blog post in June.
 
The commission is expected to vote on these petitions on Feb. 26.
 
 
Courtesy: ProPublica.org
 

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