“Oh my God, this is actually really interesting!”
That has been All Bodies on Bikes advocate Marley Blonsky’s epiphany this summer as she’s started watching the Tour de France for the very first time.
Despite having grown up in Texas, the land of Lance Armstrong, Blonsky was never exposed to cycling — neither as an activity she might enjoy doing, nor as a sport to watch on TV.
This all changed in 2013, when bike commuting through the streets of Seattle turned into wanderings outside of the city in the form of bike camping and gravel riding. Mile after mile, she fell deeper in love with all things cycling.
However, the cycling industry doesn’t usually include bigger riders like her, and cycling clothes were hard to come by. So, after riding thousands of miles in ill-fitting clothing, Blonsky started working to change the cycling industry from the inside out.
These days Blonsky is well-known for her advocacy to get people of all shapes and sizes on bikes while changing the narrative of what a cyclist looks like.
Blonsky consults with bike brands on size inclusion, teaches classes for other large people wanting to ride bikes, and has started dabbling in the cyclocross and gravel racing, having notably completed SBT GRVL and the 100-mile race at Unbound in May.
New to the world of bike racing, she has also started watching the Tour de France for the first time, tuning in daily while enjoying her morning cup of coffee.
This is quite a change from last year, when she couldn’t have told you the difference between a yellow jersey and the polka dot one, and even went so far as muting all Tour de France related content on Twitter. This year, she’s part of the Tour de France discourse on social media and inspiring others to follow along.
“They just look like a bunch of clowns out there, and it's my favorite thing”
So, the obvious question then is, why now? What has inspired this American to tune into a sport she knows little about and that’s taking place thousands of miles away?
For Blonsky, it is a combination of readily available TV coverage, the EF Education-Easypost team's social media presence, Zwift and intrigue.
“You know, living on the West Coast, I tried to watch it, but it was always so early that it just felt too hard,” says Blonsky. “Now that I live in the Central Time Zone and the fact that [the Tour] is streaming on Peacock made it a lot easier. I didn't have to specifically search it out, it’s just on TV. “
“I think part of the intrigue for me also is that I've met some of these folks like Magnus Cort [winner of stage 10 of the race] and some of the other [EF Education EasyPost] folks. So I have a more personal connection. Same with seeing Tom Pidcock at the Cyclocross World Championships earlier this year. I just feel more relatable now that I’m kind of in that world.”
Blonsky is sponsored by Cannondale and therefore admits that she’s a bit partial to the Cannondale-sponsored EF Education team, though their bold kits and engaging social media content makes them easy to like.
“I know people have been complaining about their kits and paint schemes being ugly but I freaking love it! They just look like a bunch of clowns out there, and it's my favorite thing. They've got —what are those— frogs on their jerseys, and loud paint schemes, and it just feels like they’re having fun, even though [the Tour] is a super serious thing,” she says.
“I think that's what gets people excited and it makes them, as dumbs it sounds, Instagrammable. You just want to root for these people because they’re breaking the mold and making the sport exciting.”
"I feel like as Americans we're missing out on it"
Fun kits and bike paint schemes aside, Blonsky said watching the Tour de France in 2022 has been educational in more ways than one. She calls it a fire hose in learning about bike racing, its rules and tactic, as well as the global fandom around the sport.
"I'm a very casual fan. I still have no idea what's going on, but I love it. It's exciting —and I never thought I'd say that about bike racing —but there's strategy and tactics, teamwork, jersey competitions and coordination. There are just so many intricacies and listening to commentators explain what's going on makes me appreciate what they're doing so much more,” she says.
Blonsky's introduction to bike racing came through watching her friends race cyclocross and later trying it on herself. This January she even attended the Cyclocross World Championships, which took place close to her new home of Arkansas. But road racing, the jerseys, the team work, etc. was a mystery to her.
"Now that I'm watching it, I'm like 'oh my God, this is actually interesting'. It's so different from the way that I ride bikes, but we're still doing the same thing. And how they can ride this hard for so many days in a row — it's just mind blowing to me. Also, all the banners, sprints and KOMs, and jerseys that I have seen in Zwift a hundred times make sense now," she comments.
Blonsky said she's been equally impressed by the sheer number of spectators lining the streets everywhere they go.
"Just seeing the fandom from Europe makes me like, how do we get that over here? And the protests, too, I thought that just shows you the magnitude of the tour — that they choose this as their protesting platform," she says. "But also, I feel like as Americans we're missing out on it."
When asked if she's got a favorite rider in the peloton, Blonsky was quick to pick the Danish EF Education, Magnus Cort, who'd be lighting up the mountain classification before having to leave due to a positive Covid test.
"He’s got that stupid mustache and he just seems like a fun person to hang out with," Blonsky says with a laugh.
"And Tadej Pogacar. I was really rooting for him just because he was killing it every single day, and I still think that'd be really cool to see him come out on top of the end."
Blonsky's own immersion in the Tour de France has not only opened her eyes to professional bike racing, it's inspiring others too. Those following her social media channels get small doses of her thoughts on the day's stage or cute shots of her dogs tuning in, too.
"I hear from people all the time that they're now watching it too. It's so fun," she says.
Will she tune in once it's the women's turn to vie for yellow at the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift?
"If it’s on Peacock then yeah I will! I will probably get even more invested in that," she says.
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