Welcome back, new cycling fans and old! You've got the Who, When, Where, and What Cool Cycling Terms you need to know. Now, whether you're watching the race by the actual roadside, or just wondering who *are* those nutwhacks you're seeing on TV, you oughta know who's watching the Grand Boucle, the Big Show, the--well, you get the picture. Why? Because the Tour de France isn't just a *race*, it's an *experience*, especially for (and because of) its rabid fans. So who are these people? Witness, The 9 Species of Cycling Fans:
1) The Wannabe: He's ridden the entire 267 kilometers of the queen stage just this morning before the race organizers closed the route for the riders--twice. His Strava KOMs rival Alberto Contador's, on one of El Pistolero's *good* days. And, despite heavy approbation from those who might dismiss him as a ridiculous, thwarted, moneybags weekend-warrior poseur, has he got the $10,000 superlight carbon-fiber ride and full polka-dot mountains leader kit (including socks and custom frame paint job) to prove it. Generally harmless, but he will *gut* you if you try to beat 'im to that bidon the race leader just tossed. How else can you pretend you're Astana's team leader without the right equipment?
2) The Polly Pureheart: Paints your name on the road--a dozen times in a single kilometer. Patiently waits for autographs for hours outside the team bus, and scores one (totally reasonably) from your mechanic, too. Politely begs a selfie with you at the hotel, while you're not too busy waiting for the elevator, of course. Has visited cycling museums in Belgium, Italy, France, and Spain, and is currently raising funds for one--or a giant marble statue of Jacques Anquetil--in her own hometown. One of the last bastions of unsullied love and innocence in a jaded sport, and no, they really *can't* believe their heroes'd ever do such a horrid thing--so don't dope and break his trusting heart, you soulless selfish goon!
3) The Helpmate: Need a bottle of water to toss over your broiling climbing carcass in the 90 degree heat? Got it. Help getting your bike in order after a crash? He's there to pick it up and set it straight. Want a mani-pedi to soothe your spirit while you wait for the team car? Nail file and cuticle oil right here! A close relative to the Polly Pureheart, he's always got your back, and will even give you a push on it to help you along--whether you want it or not!
4) The Camera Whore: the most annoying of all Fan Species, this jack!@# running screaming next to you dressed in a cowboy hat with giant steerhorns on it and a Captain America man-thong, a terrifying clown wig and a tutu, or a completely incongruous and unnecessary bunny suit, has no interest other than creating a disgusting Youtube spectacle of himself, and pissing you off completely, for all eternity. God, you're INTERFERING WITH THE RACE LEADER'S LINE, you unbearable braying jerkface--back off, or it's fair game if Bernard Hinault pops up and smashes you into the tarmac!
5) The Punisher: Whether roadside-shaming you with an enormous insulting banner, blaring "DOPER!" in your ear to the mellifluous accompaniment of a vuvuzela as you pass, or merely sprinting beside you dressed like a humongous syringe wielding a mock-up of a hospital blood bag, whatever your performance-enhancing indiscretions or however many decades in the past they were, this fan is gonna make you PAY--as publicly as possible. Notorious Subspecies: the Pig. Not only hates their unsuspecting target, but actually throws urine on it. Hey, that's what your fellow riders' ill-aimed "nature breaks on the fly" are for! Spiteful Cousin: the Bitter Betty. Specially wired to suck the joy right outta you like steroid-stuffed mosquito on tender mortal flesh, no matter who wins, or how beautifully, she'll claim he's a dirty, doping scumbag. Worse, she's probably right. Oh well, enjoy the race anyway--if you can!
6) The Wanderer: Gee, that kitten video is important. My, this text is interesting! No, my toddler *won't* get bored sitting on an empty mountainside for 6 hours and start careening around like a flailing Froome on amphetamines. Sure, my unleashed dog *could* use a nice walk right into Sylvain Chavanel's wheel! Do you even *know* you're at the Tour de France, you utter and inexplicable twit?
7) The Bon Vivant: the Pippo Pozzato of the fan world, they've perfectly perched their pop-up camper on the edge of a cliff that'd terrify an overly arrogant mountain goat, and they're ready to enjoy the next 24 hours (or longer) waiting for the race to come by. Bread, cheese, and fine cured meats? Check! Just slightly overripe cherries from the bush out back of the house? Of course! Wine whose color jauntily recalls the perfect yellow of the maillot jaune, or the robust red of the Katusha kit? We emptied out the wine cellar, it's all right here! Cashmere blanket to fend off the chill, an umbrella hat to fend off the scorching sun, camp chairs that rival a down-filled chaise for comfort? We've got you covered! Notable Subspecies: the Party Animal. They like to live well too--by getting completely hammered. Rider bonus: they may offer you a beer in a plastic cup as you ride by. You're already at the !@#-end of the peloton--might as well enjoy the rest of the ride!
8) The Nationalist: Hey! It's my flag, my giant flag, can you see my giant flag, I'm gonna whip my ginormous flag into your face and blind you right when you need your eyeballs to win the stage with! Yep, she's gonna show her national pride to the peloton and to millions of viewers at home, even tho there's *one* guy from Obscureistan in the entire peloton--and he's not even in this race!
9) The Eejit: Finally, exceptionally well-meaning but potentially catastrophically injurious, this is the amateur iPhone photographer, hysterical enthusiast with a swinging inflatable promotional tchotcke, or desperately precarious leaner sticking out over the barrier, right on a high-speed corner, or over the curb 200 meters from the line in a sprint--and if you're lucky, like, say, Thor Hushovd, you'll only end up with a minor crash and a moderately bloody arm-slash to show for it. I *know*, honey, I love it too, I do--just, maybe from a bit more distance next time!
Well, cycling fans, you got all the Background Stuff You Need to Know--next up, we cover the 2016 race itself, so get yer team kit, grab your flag, and start gettin' ready to holler!