Saturday, July 28, 2007

TdF -- why I still watch

Tour de Farce, heh? Sure, the Tour de France has its share of problems. Several riders booted for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Another booted for....errrrr...lying? Well, ok. I'll give them that if those are their rules.

But yet, I still watch. I tune into Versus every weeknight for the enhanced (shortened with American color commentary) and every weekend morning for the live coverage (better play-by-play with British commentary). But why? What's the draw?

Even before I rode outside myself and long before I got into Spinning, I was drawn to the sport by the story of the man himself, Lance Armstrong. Here was a story of an average guy with a less-than-average background who not only overcame a crappy childhood but then an even crappier bout with cancer to win the Tour 7 times. In a row. And did I mention his prognosis was that he was supposed to be dead now?

Armstrong showed us that cycling is about the individual mental game as much as it is about the team game. Sure, your teammates help you along. You've got some to bring you water and food, some to cushion you from other teams and evil-doers and some to, literally, pull you uphill. But, if in your head, you're too hot or too tired or just too fed up, you're not going to do it. You've got to be playing that game inside yourself as well. And these guys play it big time. And it's the watching them play that draws me in every time. Watching rookie Alberto Contador tease Rasmussen up that last hill on Rasmussen's last day before he withdrew was crazy fun for me. Contador would settle back in the climb, let Rasmussen draw to his wheel, then Contador would find the power in his legs and break away from Rasmussen with lightning agility, while Rasmussen continued to drone onward. It was like watching my cat slowly torture a fly. He doesn't want to kill it. Not just yet. But he's going to have fun until he does.

Yes, the performance enhancing drugs are a problem. And as the science to detect them improves, so will the technology to mask them. So maybe there will always be questions and the integrity of the sport may not recover. But, bear with me here. It's not as if these drugs or these blood transfusions or this bovine hormone takes a guy who's lived on his sofa with Coca-Cola and Twinkies and all of a sudden makes him able to ride 100 or so miles a day for three weeks straight. These guys could do this without the enhancements. It's just that they've lost that game in their head and they convince themselves they can do it better with a little chemical help. I'm not saying it's right. I'm just saying: they can do this without the goop. Before they even play with the forbidden fruit, there's already something naturally different about their chemistry.

Believe me, I've sat on a bike at the bottom of a 7 kilometer 8% incline at the end of a 66K ride and turned and rode back the way I came. Maybe a healthy dose of frappucino would've gotten me up 7Ks of 8%, but I opted not to find out. I lost the battle in my head. So now that I've lived that, I tune in to watch these guys not even consider turning back. They do 8, 9, 10% inclines for a lot more than 7k a lot more than once in rides a lot longer than 40 miles. And they do it for three weeks.

So Viva Alberto, Levi, George and Team Discovery! Some of us are still pulling for you...

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