In the final kilometer of this year’s edition of La Flèche Wallonne, Primož Roglič attacked startlingly early in the run up the infamous Mur de Huy. Nobody was expecting it because such a thing is suicidal, tactically unwise. Still, he launched his body anyway, his tires gripping the hellishly steep road by means of the sheer weight and friction of his body, propelled forward by the monumental effort of his legs. On his flushed face, that familiar expression of unfettered concentration. Primož Roglič did not win La Flèche Wallonne — he was beaten by Julian Alaphilippe at the line — but he almost did, and this alone is worth our respect. He took a known risk, threw everything at it and committed with absolute certainty, which, when you think about it, is a terribly brave thing to do.
There comes a time in one’s life when we all must do such a thing.
This is mine.
Originally, my first bike races as an in-person correspondent were supposed to be the GP Quebec and GP Montreal, the Canada one-day races, which, until eleven days ago, I was planning to cover for ProCycling. However, to my devastation, those races were cancelled. On a whim and in the throes of my professional disappointment, I searched up what the situation was like travel-wise between France and the US. It turned out that, as of June 8th, all travelers to France from the United States would be welcomed with simple proof of vaccination. Luckily for me, I’d been vaccinated in the beginning of May.
“what if i went to the tour de france” I tweeted that day, and as soon as I tweeted it, I thought to myself, well, why not? After mulling on it for a while, I went to the ASO’s website and applied for a press pass for this very publication and waited. I heard nothing, and to be honest, I thought it was a bit of a lost cause because this is a very obscure newsletter. In my emails with my editor at ProCycling, he asked what races I wanted to cover and suggested a different race for me to go to at the end of July. I agreed and added parenthetically that I had applied as press for the the Tour but that it was totally up in the air. A conversation was born. We hopped on a video call. If I could swing it, I could be provided work.
I waited another day, chatted with a different editor at a different publication about the logistics of applying for the press pass. The window was closing fast. I spent all of last weekend waiting anxiously for a response. Eventually, my editor offered to add me to ProCycling’s roster, which sounded like a done deal, yet still I waited. I had pieces due during that time that I couldn’t even think of working on. I hung around in bed like a schoolgirl waiting for signs of life after texting her middle school crush. Eating and sleeping became annoyingly difficult.
Meanwhile, my mind raced with all kinds of frankly terrifying questions like: how the hell was I going to get around? I can’t drive! I ride my bike everywhere! Could I hitchhike? It’s not like I could take a taxi or a bus to tiny obscure towns in the Pyrenees. Also, where would I stay? Did I have enough in savings and/or an available enough credit card balance to spend three weeks in hotels in France? Was one supposed to stay in a hotel kind of in the vicinity of a lot of stages and then drive to each one or rather does one stay in a hotel close to every stage, changing rooms nightly? Do I need a French SIM card?
By Monday, however, things looked like they were falling into place. I asked around to see if anyone could find me a ride, and thankfully the folks at CyclingWeekly had room in their car. They provided me with a list of hotels they were staying at, which was, to be honest, a life-saver, because constantly flipping back and forth between the road book and the travel website was agonizing. In this moment, perhaps more than any other, I craved a dual monitor setup so badly, man.
Monday, I rocketed up my metaphorical Mur de Huy at my metaphorical far too early point. Even though I didn’t have final approval, I went for it, cashed out my savings plus what I got from my tax return, putting the flight on my credit card. I booked a three week trip in France in the span of four hours, which is rather like the time I planned an entire wedding in a month — a feat of mental and logistical stamina afforded only to the truly deranged.
And then, yesterday, while I was taking a bath after a morning bike ride, I got the email.
I was going to the Tour de France as an official correspondent for ProCycling magazine.
There’s a distinct conversation I remember having in passing with my husband around February. I told him, “If I keep this up, if I keep publishing, keep watching the races, maybe I can be a correspondent for the Tour de France in, like, five years.” He thought I’d probably do it sooner, and I laughed at him. I will no longer laugh at him.
Perhaps people think that I’ve been doing this for five years already, but those who recognize me from my career as an architecture critic know that this not true. I wrote my first essay about cycling in September of last year, after Primož Roglič lost the Tour de France to Tadej Pogačar in that devastating final time trial. Initially self-published on Medium (where I later posted a seven-part series about the 2020 World Championships Men’s Road Race), it was picked up by Bicycling Magazine who ran it on their website. After that, I wrote a few more articles for them, one about the UCI E-sports World Championships, one about the collaboration EF Education First did with Rapha and the streetwear brand Palace for their Giro d’Italia jerseys (a design critic’s homage), one about Tom Dumoulin leaving cycling. (He’s now back and has just won his forth Dutch National Time Trial Championship.) Unbeknownst to me, soon things would get kicked up a notch.
In January, Bicycling asked me to write a profile of Primož Roglič, a 6000-word piece I have spent five months working on, during which I interviewed him twice. (This piece comes out next week and I promise you, I will never once shut up about it.) Around the same time, I started this newsletter, and shortly after, more freelancing work doing race analysis and medium-form essays materialized and now, here we are.
This whole experience for me has been rather like learning how to swim by means of being pushed off a boat. Oh, you want to interview a cyclist? Why not the number-one ranked cyclist in the world who’s notably thorny with the press? Oh, you want to go to a bike race? Why not the entirety of the Tour de France as a correspondent? I’ve been a writer for a long time, an architecture critic for five years, and never before have I found a home so easily, never before have I advanced so quickly, never before has work come so frequently, never before has the possibility of career stability seemed so viable. It was in this supportive landscape that I realized just how often I had to debate the nuances of deeply personal things like my identity and upbringing, fighting time and time again for my hard-earned legitimacy, all while being made to feel inferior due to not having the right background, be it class or academic, when I was in the arts. This is something that I am still in the process of reckoning with.
My little background story, as unflattering as it may be, as nervous as I am revealing it to the world even though many of you already know it, is why my going to the Tour de France as a correspondent is truly insane. I have no idea what is going to happen. Hence, I’m going to write down everything.
Last month, derailleur did a massive project for the Giro d’Italia involving lengthy recaps, lush illustrations, the works. This time it’s going to be a little bit different because one of us will be there, on the ground, in the flesh. Do you want to know what it’s going to be like traipsing around France broke as hell, hitchhiking with other journalists, staying in hotels that range from total shitholes to little precious bed and breakfasts in the French mountains, all while witnessing the most famous bike race of all time not only as a journalist but also as a writer and a human being? Well, buckle up, because I’ve always been the type to overshare.
Meanwhile, back home, Jackson will be covering the race in highlights, doing long-form recaps of the most exciting stages in the traditional derailleur form, similar to how we’ve covered minor stage races and the classics. This time around, we’re asking for subscriptions ($6/mo!) not because we’re paywalling content like we did in the Giro, but because a) we can pay illustrators to make up for my absence, and b) some of that money will be going to me while I am at the Tour de France chronicling my unhinged personal journey for all of you. I wish we at derailleur could do the Jumbo Visma jersey thing where all of your names get printed on a shirt that I’ll wear around France, but alas, we don’t have that kind of time.
This may be the ballsiest thing I’ve ever committed myself to, but, like Roglič on the Mur de Huy, the win scenario beckons action, and thus, I have to do it. It is an existential need, something that gets me a step closer and closer to my girlish dream, which is to do this every year.
Like I said, I don’t know what will happen - truly, I do not know. Neither will the guys who actually ride the Tour de France. And yet, with grand tours, the uncertainty’s part of the allure. The fog of unknowing only makes the sunlight of arrival that much warmer on our still-fresh, eager faces. It’s going to be a hell of a ride.