The Tour de France is one of the hardest sporting events in the world. This year 176 cyclists have started the Tour, attempting to race for 3,328km over 21 stages to the scheduled finish in Paris on July 24. The riders will push themselves to their limits up mountains and often carry on through pain and injury. This might lead us to question why anyone would voluntarily put themselves through such an arduous event. What’s more, why do we celebrate those who suffer in this way?


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The first question is easier to answer. For the very best cyclists, there is the glory and honour associated with winning, alongside the financial and reputational rewards. For the rest, there is the great satisfaction that comes with competing, facing adversity, and completing the course. This is a central motivation for many cyclists, amateur as well as professional.

And such thinking isn’t confined to endurance cycling. For very many of us, facing difficulty and overcoming adversity is an important part of doing satisfying, fulfilling things: mountain climbing, gaming, playing a musical instrument or renovating a house.

The second question is more difficult to answer. Supposing that we are not sadists, why do we enjoy watching watching riders in the Tour de France suffer, endure and (hopefully) overcome?

One answer is that the Tour follows a certain familiar story or narrative. It is a competition or quest, where there are winners and losers, heroes and sometimes villains, good fortune and bad luck, and eventually triumph and disappointment. We derive great satisfaction from following such stories to their conclusion.

However, this doesn’t get to the heart of our fascination with, and celebration of, the suffering involved. A

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