This guide is intended mainly for the dedicated Australian cycling fan (although, it can be adapted to other sports) who has to stay up into the wee small hours if he or she is to participate in the live viewing experience of a Grand Tour, or other major race in Europe. Races like the spring classics shouldn’t need this level of dedication, after all, it is usually only the one night. The grand Tours are a 3 week stretch, luckily, with a couple of rest days included.
The dedicated Aussie cycling fan can even see a fair amount of Grand Tour stages on free to air TV thanks to the wonderful coverage provided by SBS. For the Giro and Vuelta, there is a smattering of live stages, and for the rest of the time there is Steephill.tv or cyclingfans.com for live streaming.
So, how do you mange to survive the three weeks of the one Grand Tour most watched, the Tour de France, where all stages are live on SBS. Well, having done it a few times myself, I present to you my tips for helping you keep the eyes open til the closing credits.
#1. Never, ever assume the horizontal! I can’t stress that enough. I assume most people will be watching the race for the maillot jaune from their couch. If you do, I’m betting you wont last the first week before dropping off to the land of nod. It seems a lot of amateurs put the heater on, grab a blanket and bask in the warming glow of their 52″ LCD with the sound down so as not to wake the sane person in the house. To these people I say “You’re doing it wrong!”
I cant stress it enough, don’t get too comfortable. It is a rookie error. Even seated at your computer, make sure your feet stay a good 600mm below your head! You have been warned.
#2. Cold feet are your friend. It is July in Australia and depending on where you live, it can get pretty coolish at night. Use this as an ally. Keep the Ugg boots in the shoe rack and nude up the toes. The benefit here is that it gives you something to do which will help you stay awake.
You stay awake by not getting comfortable. Continually swapping the foot you are sitting on keeps you awake. And, it helps stretch those muscles that stretch when you sit on your own foot. Please, only one foot at a time.
#3. DeCaf tea. Because decaf coffee tastes like some one has boiled the water from the pool in old peoples home up the road. Having a hot beverage late at night is only bad if it is Horlicks. Make sure it is steaming hot, like thermo nuclear hot. That blister on the bottom lip or tongue will keep your mind off falling asleep.
Best to if the tea is something exotic, you know, something like tree bark infused with the tears of ants. The fact this tea exists will keep you awake for hours.
#4. Headphones. And, like Robin Williams character in Good Morning Vietnam said, “PLAY IT LOUD, OK!” Headphones come in very handy. Firstly, you can hear every little whoop whoop whoop of the helicopter blades as they blow the bejesus out of a poor French farmers crops. Also, they will stop you dropping off when that Skoda ad appears during an ad break. And it will appear!
Oh, and make sure they are wired headphones. That way, if you do manage to doze off and roll over to get comfortable, the feeling of being garroted should snap you back awake.
#5. Food. I can’t stress this enough. The exotic hessian and sawdust tea will only do so much. You need sustenance. It might be a bit late to be snacking down on a bag of Snakes or Clinkers. But don’t let that stop you from some good old Vegemite crumpets. Even better with melted cheese on top.
If you can’t stomach Vegemite, well, don’t be calling yourself an Aussie.
Whether you want serious analysis or snark, it is all out there on Twitter. Search for hashtags for each race. #giro, #tdf etc etc
#7. Place a bet, a large one. Nothing keeps you on the edge of your seat like putting next weeks rent on one of the Schlecks finishing in the top 180 in the ITT.
Best not to take tips from most of the SBS team. Tomo especially!
#8. Take some leave. Every year for the past 4 I have had the last week of the TdF off work. It is a pretty drastic measure, but it certainly makes it easier if you can grab a nana nap from about 1PM to 10PM before coverage starts.
It is also a great time to get out on your bike and try and match the antics of the race the night before.
So there you have it dear reader. There is no excuse for falling asleep at 1:30am whilst watching Voeckler drive the french ladies mad with his tongue antics.
Update : Since I wrote this piece, I have done another along the same lines for RIDE magazine. Check it out here.