Michael Barry has written three books on cycling, blogged on the sport for the New York Times and Times of London, and raced around the world.
The 34-year-old from Toronto has been around the cycling block, in other words.
But he’s still coming to grasp with the power of the Tour de France as the historic race nears its end Sunday in Paris.
“The most surprising thing has just been seeing the emotions of the spectators, and how big an impact this race has on the public — both here at the race and internationally,” Barry said Wednesday, a rest day for the remaining 172 riders.
“It’s really amazing just to see the positive impact that the Tour has. The people at the roadside are just ecstatic. It’s pretty rare you see that kind of emotion in people in any other realm. I guess you could compare it to the emotion of teenagers at a rock concert or Beatlemania or something like that. It’s pretty unique and it’s quite inspiring to see really.”
Sandwiched around Wednesday’s rest day are two leg-sapping rides up the historic Col du Tourmalet. The stages twist and turn — and keep going up.
The Tourmalet climb was 17.1 kilometres long Tuesday. Today, when the stage goes up the other side of the climb and ends at the top, it will last 18.6 kilometres.
Barry and his colleagues on Team Sky spent six days in the Alps and Pyrenees ahead of the race, getting a firsthand look at the climbs. The difference between then and now is stark.
“When we climbed up in training, you’re just climbing a mountain, with goats on the side of the road and a couple of cars might pass,” he said. “It’s tranquil and just beautiful and serene.
“And then (Tuesday) you’re climbing up and you can’t even really hear yourself think. People (were) screaming the whole way up. The Tour completely transforms the environment.”
After 16 stages and more than 81 hours in the saddle, Barry stands 95th in the standings, some two hours 31 minutes 11 seconds behind leader Alberto Contador of Spain. Victoria’s Ryder Hesjedal is 7:51 back of the leader.