Coming into his first Tour de France, Decatur native Joey Rosskopf was well aware of its status as the world’s biggest cycling event.
But that distinction didn’t come into full view until Sunday, when he sped into Paris and across the finish line — capping off 21 days of racing across France. He was especially struck by the ride past the courtyard of the Louvre Museum and the famous glass pyramid at sunset.
“You wind your way through the city, you finally make it to the Champs-Élysées,” he said in an interview. “It’s just a really cool, climatic way to end the race, because the crowds there are so huge.”
The 21-day Tour de France is professional cycling’s premiere race, in which cyclists ride in excess of 100 miles most days, including riding over mountains in the Alps and Pyrenees. Any rider who fails to finish a stage within a set time limit is eliminated, so it’s not unusual for first-timers to struggle to finish at all. Rosskopf, one of only four Americans to compete in the tour, not only finished, but came in 73rd overall out of more than 150 riders who finished the race. The 29-year-old was second among the Americans riding in the race.
One highlight for the Decatur High School graduate was finishing 10th in the individual time trial stage of the tour, competing against the world’s fastest bike racers over a 17-mile-long road course.
It was also nice for Rosskopf to see his parents Ken and Linda, who traveled with a large group of supporters to France to follow him along the course for two weeks. They also got prime seats in Paris to see him cross the finish line in his orange jersey as part of team CCC.
His parents are not the only ones cheering Rosskopf on. Cycling fans in Decatur and across metro Atlanta have been keeping up with his performance, too. Rosskopf’s parents came home to a sea of small orange flags in their front yard, with a sign that said “Way to go Joey.”
“I’m still blown away by all the messages and support from people in the Atlanta area,” said Rosskopf, who began the sport by joining his father and other local cyclists on group rides around Atlanta.
This year’s Tour de France was marked by a dramatic ending, which saw Colombian Egan Bernal, 22, become the race’s youngest winner since 1909. The early favorite to win the race, Chris Froome, was unable to start the race due to a serious crash, leaving it unclear who this year’s leader would be. In addition, the weather was extreme: a European heat wave sent temperatures over 100 degrees on some race days and a hailstorm that ended with a mudslide across the course cut one stage short.
“The way that the overall classification played out was a lot more unpredictable and exciting than it has been the recent past. Even the riders within the race were getting wrapped up in that,” Rosskopf said. For what it’s worth, he said the weather wasn’t a huge factor for him.
For now, Rosskopf is recovering in Spain, where he usually stays throughout the year. But it won’t be long until he’s back on his bike, since he has another race Saturday. In the meantime, he said, finishing the Tour de France feels like a weight lifted off his shoulders.
“I can finally let my guard down a little bit,” he said, and “not worry about how many minutes per day I’m on my feet, or little things like that.”
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