I like surprises. For example, if someone were — for no reason at all — to tap me on the shoulder and give me a White Chocolate Chip and Macademia Nut cookie, I would be both surprised and delighted.
Or if a person were to surprise me with a hilarious pun, I’d be delighted, and very surprised. Mostly because I have a hard time believing there’s such a thing as a hilarious pun. (While slapstick may be the lowest form of humor, puns are the lamest. Which gives rise to the question: is it worse to be lame or low? I’ll let you decide.)
Or if, right as I were to finish writing this paragraph, a person were to suddenly appear in my office door and throw a pie in my face, I’d be surprised and extremely delighted. I’d be surprised because my office is in my otherwise empty house and I’m not expecting any pie-bearing pranksters at the moment. And I’d be delighted because a pie in the face at that moment would be ironic slapstick, which is in fact the second-highest form of humor (fart jokes are the highest).
Also, I would be delighted, because I really like pie.
By the way, I am disappointed (but not surprised) to announce that no pie-throwing people materialized as I completed either of the preceding two paragraphs.
Anyway, I believe I have sufficiently proven that I like surprises.
Wherein I am Promised a Tour de France Surprise
Since — as I believe I have convincingly described — I like surprises, I was very excited when, on January 14, I read in Cyclingnews that the Tour de France wildcards would shortly be announced.
Why would this excite me? Well, because, according to Cyclingnews:
Traditionally, the attribution of wildcards was done in spring, to give the teams some time to prove their worth. But this year, ASO’s technical director Jean-François Pescheux revealed to Cyclism’Actu that the organiser wanted to designate the participating teams as soon as the end of January.
Moreover, “several surprises” could be on hand according to Pescheux.
You see that last paragraph in that there block quote? According to Pescheux, there could be several surprises revealed as part of the 2011 Tour de France!
Not just one little surprise. Several of them. How could I not be excited?
I began to wait, eagerly. Intrigued. Excited for what would surely be a delightful surprise.
Several delightful surprises, I mean.
Wherein I Fail to Be Surprised by ASO’s Surprises
I did not have to wait long. On January 20th, ASO — the organizer of the Tour de France — announced which teams would be racing in the 2011 Tour de France. Here is a list of the things that could maybe be called surprising from that announcement:
- All four of the “wildcard” teams — teams that are invited at ASO’s discretion, even though the teams are not one of the ProTeams — are French teams. Specifically: Cofidis, FDJeux, Saur-SojaSun, and Europcar.
- Geox-TMC did not receive an invitation, even though Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov — two heavy-hitting pros — are on that team.
I confess: I was disappointed by the calibre of these surprises. Sure, I was mildly surprised that ASO would be so openly jingoistic as to invite only French teams as its wildcard selections, but it was more of a single eye-roll than a triple-take with a “whaaaaah?”
And honestly, I wasn’t at all surprised that Geox-TMC wasn’t invited; this move was a direct parallel to the way Astana wasn’t invited the year after they got chucked out, mid-tour.
Though I will confess: I was a little bit bummed out that ASO didn’t have the courage to admit that it this non-invitation was actually in retaliation for the Footon-Servetto kit debacle of 2010.
“That’s it?” I found myself asking. “That’s the several surprises you promised me? Pffff.”
Surprises I Wish I Had Been Surprised With
I spent the rest of the day moping, surprised at how melancholy I felt about how unsurprising ASO’s surprises were.
What a wasted opportunity. A chance, as it were, to truly do something surprising and fresh and exciting with the Tour.
They could have, for example, surprised me much better with any of the following:
New Wildcard Selection Technique
Suppose ASO had announced that the four wildcard teams had not been selected using team nationality as its primary metric, and randomness as its secondary metric. That, instead, it had decided to choose teams based on something interesting. Such as:
- Team with most awesome mascot
- Team sponsored by company most likely to throw really cool schwag out to the spectators
- Team made up entirely of celebrity impersonators
- Team made up entirely of clones of Eddy Merckx (What? You think they’re not out there? You just haven’t heard of them because Eddy’s been training them in seclusion for the past three years, every since he sold his bike company)
- Team that’s demonstrated it’s really, really fast and has demonstrated that it deserves a shot at racing against the ProTeams.
OK, I admit. That last one was kind of nuts.
Sure, I enjoy the Tour de France. Sure, I enjoy tradition. And sure, I love all the action that happens at the front of the field in each stage.
But honestly, I get a little bit disgusted with those guys dogging it at the back of the peloton. The “Well, I’m not in contention today, so I think I’ll just save my energy and cruise today, even though I’m in the middle of a race.
Hence, ASO needs to bring in the “voted off the island” gameplay in reality shows. On sprinting stages, I suggest that the last sprinter across the line is out of the race. On mountaintop finishes, the last climber to the top of the mountain: out of the race. The slowest team on a TTT stage? Out of the race.
I guarantee that we’d see new urgency at the back of the pack.
Oh, and also there needs to be a stage where they have to eat live polligwogs or something before they can proceed.
Alpe d’Huez. Uh huh. Galibier. Sure. Mont Ventoux. Mmm hmm. Champs Elysees. Whatever.
When’s the last time we’ve been surprised by a Tour de France course?
I’d like to see ASO announce that there’ll be a cyclocross stage. And a mountain bike stage. And a track stage. And a BMX stage. When we get to Paris, we’ll know who the real best cyclist in the world is.
Which would be kind of a cool surprise.