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Cycle Fans: Sports’ Biggest Optimists

July 28th, 2019 · No Comments · France

I love cycling fans. They won’t quit on their sport no matter how dangerous, complicated, seedy or drug-drenched it gets. They are there for it, all the time.

Living in France, a person can hardly escape cycling — in particular during the Tour de France, which rode into Paris to wrap up proceedings today in the 21st stage.

The problem with their sport, however, is its tendency to generate high crimes and misdemeanors as it rolls through time.

This has been going on from the start. Consider the man who “won” the first two races, in 1903 and 1904. Here is the relevant wikipedia passage:

“The Tour de France was established in 1903 by newspaper L’Auto in an attempt to increase its sales. The first race was won by Frenchman Maurice Garin. He won again the next year, but was disqualified after allegations that he had been transported by car or rail arose. Henri Cornet became the winner after the dispute was settled; he is the youngest to win the Tour.”

That’s how it began. The winner of the first race may have taken a tram to get to the finish line yet. And more was to come.

The all-time Tour villain is Lance Armstrong, who seemingly wrecked the race by doping his way to seven consecutive victories, through 2005.

Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) throughout his career, and if his competitors were not already drugging, they soon wanted to have whatever Armstrong was having.

Armstrong is one of the darkest characters in the history of sports.

As a young man he had testicular cancer that moved to his brain, and it seemed like it would kill him. But he somehow survived, with plenty of help from the medical community.

One would think a person who had that kind of miraculous recovery would become a better person. A kinder person. An honorable person. Armstrong did not.

Instead, he became the worst of cycling’s many rogues, terrifying his critics and his witnesses into silence for more than a decade.

Know what the Tour did when it was finally made clear that Armstrong cheated his way to seven championships?

Organizers had no idea how to unravel the Armstrong Era, to the point that they simply nullified his seven “victories”. No one else was elevated to first place — probably because drugging was so rife. Anyway, it is as if the Tour from 1999 through 2005 never happened. Even if you traveled to some far-flung field and waited for hours to see cyclists zip past … what you saw was not the Tour de France. For those years, it does not exist.

If Armstrong were the one major malefactor, we could write it off and move on, but there are so many others. Just about any winner from 1980 or so to about 2010, the winner was drugging or had drugged or drugged later on.

How do fans stand that?

Perhaps because the sport and its main event are so colorful, so accessible (we all can ride a bike, right?), so intertwined with stunning images of the countryside and a wine-inflected picnic with friends and family … that it won’t let a little (or a load of) malfeasance stop it.

I am no expert on cycling, but I have been around it more than a little. In a previous life I covered the Redlands (California) Bicycle Classic six or seven times, and some of the guys who competed there are still around, Such as Chris Horner, who the stage race three times early in the century and served today as a commentator for NBC.)

The sport is as complicated as Armstrong’s career.

This year’s Tour ended with a 22-year-old Colombian, Egan Bernal, the winner, ahead of the great French hope Julian Alaphilippe, and cycling fans no doubt would like to think Bernal can be a breath of fresh air.

But, then, in the past week I’ve heard two cycling fans (they watch it as well as practice it) talk about how the racing is so much more fun — “now that drug-testing is so good that nobody does it any longer”. (Hah!) And there are guys who ought to know better!

We all should know better. Yet there we are, watching those whippet-lean riders climb to the top of a mountain or rocket down a road fringed with brilliant sunflowers …

Cycling fans! They always are ready to believe.


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