Posts Tagged ‘Lance Armstrong’

Well, it’s that time of year when the skinny guys with big legs start pedaling across France, through the fields of lavender and up and down the sheer precipices of the Alps and Pyrenees.  Yes, it’s the annual Tour de France which is a  big deal in our house.  Don’t call when the tour is on in the morning because, chances are, you will only get the answering machine.  My wife is an avid sports fan for only baseball and cycling, scouring the papers for any mention of races throughout the year, so that when the Tour begins it has her undivided attention.  It’s her Super Bowl, or World Cup for you soccer fans out there.

This year looks to be a great race filled with drama and several storylines.  The most obvious is the Lance Armstrong versus defending champion Alberto Contador story.  Lance is the seven time Tour champ  who is making this his last effort in the fabled race and Contador is the two-time champion from Spain who has had a running feud wiith Lance since they teammates (in the most strained sense of the word) in last year’s race.   There is a constant snipe stream running between the two.  Lance is ancient by cycling standards, 38 years old and Contador is in his prime at 27 so youth is definitely on the side of the Spaniard.  He is also the finest hill climber in the world which he made truly evident last year with incredible  dashes up inclines that were just outside being called cliffs. 

 However, the deciding factor in their showdown may come down to their teams because even though this is an event for the individual rider, it is also a team effort based on cooperation and strategy.  Lance’s RadioShack team is deep and experienced with many of the same riders that set up Contador for his victory ( and Lance’s third place finish) last year.  Contador is still with last years Team Astana but with a host of new and less experienced riders.  There are a number of stages where this may cost him valuable time.

Lost in this showdown is the presence of the Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank.  Both are very talented riders and climbers and may benefit from the spotlight shining so brightly on Lance and Contador.  Andy Schleck has been on the verge of breaking through as a champion for a couple of years now and this may be his chance to climb to the top. 

Who am I rooting for?  It’s the Fourth of July weekend.  How could any red-blooded American not root for someone with a name like Lance Armstrong?  That is an American hero name, even if you didn’t know his accomplishments.   He would be the same character if he were a cartoon with that name.  But can he finish his last tour with the yellow jersey?  Stay tuned.

Anyway, it should be a great race for the next couple of weeks.  Enjoy the race and enjoy your Fourth…

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climbing-in-the-tourIt’s that time of the year again and I’m always surprised at how interested I can become in the Tour de France bicycle race.

I realized this today when I came into the studio and remembered that this was an off day on the Tour so I wouldn’t have the race on the television in the background here in the studio.  I found myself I little disappointed, much to my surprise.  

I’ve always been a sports fan since I was a kid but primarily the big sports like baseball, football and basketball.   Boxing, a staple of the Wide World of Sports, was also a favorite although over the years I have lost all interest.  But when I was a kid, boxing held more prominence in the public eye and Muhammad Ali was at his peak.  I remember even wanting to be a writer for Ring magazine when I was 12 years old.

But bicycle racing never got a lot of coverage here and the idea of it as a watchable sport seemed kind of far-fetched.  I mean, guys on bikes pedaling in big packs for a hundred miles at a clip through all kinds of terrain, going over the highest passable peaks?  It seemed kind of slow paced and didn’t have a lot of action even though the racers sometimes flew down steep precipices at crazy speeds.  The coverage never really captured the spirit of the competition.  Besides, we didn’t know the stars of the sport, who were almost always European.  We didn’t have our own horse in the race, at least anyone who could contend and pull in our interest.

American Greg LeMond changed that a bit in the late 80’s when he won three Tours.  He drew the initial glance from the American public and created a slight sensation.  But his name sounded so, so- how do I say this- French.  The casual fan was never quite sure if he was American.  There wasn’t the same level of of coverage and technology didn’t provide for the instant worldwide dispersal of information that it does today on the web.  

No, it took Lance Armstrong to pull us in.  No wondering about that name.  We now knew we had a horse in the race.  And what a horse he was.  He brought drama to the race, from his unlikely return after his battle with cancer to the way he dominated Tour after Tour in his cool, methodic manner.  The French press and bike racing establishment despised him and that only elevated him in our eyes.

So his victories made us finally watch and the coverage became better and more comprehensive, allowing us to see the real drama and beauty of the race.  To see how truly epic were the efforts of these athletes.  I ache just watching these guys struggle over these impossibly steep mountain passes day after day.  I am amazed at the level of dedication it must take to compete at this level.

So, it has become one of my habits in July to flip on the tube as I work and have the Tour there.  Skinny men with huge legs.  I would have never imagined.

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