I sat at the edge of my couch yelling at the TV screen.
C’MON TEJAY! STAY UP THERE! STAY WITH THEM! C’MON TEJAY!
It was 10 o’clock on a Thursday morning. Thankfully I’m pretty sure my neighbors didn’t hear me. And if they did hear me, I would just point out they’re keeping a large turkey cagged in their backyard and I’m constantly serenaded by its “gobble” so we’re even.
My excitement was over a stage in the 2015 Tour de France. Attacks were happening all over the place in the final few miles of a long, arduous climb and I desperately wanted American Tejay van Garderen to stay with the leaders.
In recent years, July has become my favorite month because of the Tour de France. It is the month that sustains me for the other 11 of the year.
Sound crazy? Hang on. We’ll get there.
My entire adult life I’ve been a sportswriter. In theory I’d like it to be what I do for a living, just my job, but it’s also part of who I am. Being a sportswriter is part of my identity and being a print journalist means that identity comes with a preset series of rules, regulations and expectations.
Rule No. 1 — No cheering in the press box.
To be a reporter is to distance yourself from the outcome. You don’t care who wins. The reason? Sometimes you have to write shitty stuff. Teams lose. People cheat. Management gets greedy and players get arrested. Reporters are not the voice of the team. They are telling a story. Sometimes that story is all rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes it’s inspirational and poignent. Sometimes it’s about the systematic acceptance of domestic violence with subtle undertones of misogyny. You need to have some emotional distance in order to tell all those kind of stories.
Reporters don’t cheer in the press box.
The main exception to this rule — you are always allowed to cheer for yourself. You cheer for 2 hour and 10 minute baseball games. You pull for the guy you talked with at morning skate to do something good so that you don’t have to frantically rewrite your story on deadline. Because in this new media environment you are not only rewriting your story, you also have to blog, tweet, facebook and create an interpretive dance with smoke signals all in three minutes.
As a reporter you often don’t have time to be a fan and to be a good writer you need to have passion without regard for the outcome.
Then along comes July.
And it all changes for me.
While I have written a few locally-based cycling stories, I don’t cover pro cycling. That means I can be a fan. So I park myself in front of my television every morning in July (the perk of working nights and weekends) and watch the Tour unfold, fully invested in the results while living and dying with each stage.
I was overjoyed when my favorite rider, Fabian Cancellara, took the yellow jersey only to be devastated the next day when he crashed out with two broken bones in his back. He finished the stage anyway. He rode his bike with a broken back. I mean, really. I can’t even.
As an aside, sportswriters are not supposed to be star-struck by the people they interview. But as a fan of pro cycling and I can guarantee I would pretty much lose my shit if I got to meet Fabian Cancellara. I’d put former rider and current NBC commentator Christian Vande Velde in the same category. (Seriously Christian. I have so many questions. Are you sure you don’t want to come to a Sabres-Blackhawks game and chat for a few hours?)
As I watch this 2015 Tour de France unfold, I’m amazed at how deep and strong Team Sky is and wonder if Chris Froome will make a mistake. I’m incredibly impressed by Tejay and am hoping the American holds on for a podium spot. Dare I say I hope he finds a way to overtake Froome for the yellow jersey? I don’t think that will happen with the way Sky is riding, but the fan girl in me is pulling for the upset anyway.
During the month of July when I allow myself to be a fan, I start to dream again. I’m eager to take my 10-year old Specialized Allez road bike out for long rides and start searching for new triathlons or a century I can join. I read more. I write more. I explore more. It’s like being a kid on summer vacation. The entire world is open to me and life seems endless.
Keeping just a little bit of that sense of passion and adventure through the dark Februrary days and the endless grind of hockey season makes me a better sportswriter, even when the only thing I’m cheering for is myself.