The short answer to that question is that it's all Stephen's fault!
Last Summer, when I was so poorly that I could only rarely stay out of bed for a whole day, Stephen came to visit me. He is a huge Tour de France fan, so being a polite hostess, we watched it. I liked the scenery, even if I didn't really have a clue who anyone was or what was going on. There were even some times when I watched it when he wasn't here.
Stephen's enthusiasm wasn't the first time I'd come across Tour fandom. My friend Alex loves it, and Lance Armstong in particular and she and her husband have actually been in Paris for the final stage, which must have been an amazing experience.
This year I decided I was going to follow it from the start, to have half a chance of understanding it, so I set up the infernal wickedness of Sky Plus to record the highlights every day and go the iPhone app. Not the one that gives you the GPS positions and the live updates which costs £5.99, but the free one which gives maps of the stages and brief details of the teams.
It just goes to show that you don't need a V8 engine to be exciting. The first 4 days have been absolutely thrilling.
First up on Saturday was just a wee taster. A short time trial through Rotterdam. Yes, I know that's not what you'd call a well known French city, but the Tour often starts outside France. It even started in London one year. The weather was far from Summery which meant that Britain's Bradley Wiggins ended up further down the field than he would have liked.
Day 2, on Sunday, and the Tour went on to Brussels. That was not without its dramas when some idiot decided it would be a good idea to take their dog along to watch and said dog decided that running out to play with 200 racing bikes at full speed was a good idea. That could have been really nasty, but, thankfully it wasn't. Typically, British people being soft on animals as they are, people were e-mailing into the ITV4 highlights show asking if the dog was ok. The ride continued relatively uneventfully until a killer hairpin bend on the outskirts of Brussels. Imagine 200 racing bikes coming down a hill, along a wide straight boulevard into a reverse sharp right hand bend. The potential for carnage is every bit as high as you might think and Mark Cavendish was caught up in it, although he was thankfully able to continue.
The third stage saw the first climbs of the Tour. I know enough French to realise that the word Col is synonymous with pain to a cyclist and there were a few of them that day as the peloton headed towards Spa, home of one of my favourite F1 tracks. In the long ago days when I used to climb hills, getting up was generally bloody hard work but that was nothing compared to the trauma of coming down. It played merry hell with my knees and it's not great when you have zero sense of balance and are coming down on virtually vertical gravel. After one particularly gruesome Sunday afternoon, I decided that the Burn of Sorrows had earned its name.
Anyway, it was on the damp descent from one of the climbs that the crashes started to happen. There was one particularly spectacular pile up that seemed to involve most of the peloton. For whatever reason, they decided that enough was enough and they weren't going to participate in the sprint finish and all cross the line together. I'm not sure to be honest why they did that - surely it's not the first time they've come down a mountain in the wet?
After dogs, bends and mountains, what more could the organisers do to inflict pain on the peloton? Ah yes, make them cycle on cobblestones on day 4, 13.7 miles of them. Still nursing bumps and bruises from the day before, I can't imagine that bumping along the long cobbled roads of northern France can have been in any way pleasant. Lance Armstrong seemed to enjoy it though - it was losing time on the main roads that caused him to slip down the leader board.
Anyway, four days in and I'm hooked and looking forward to the final 17 stages.