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Intro to Tour de France 2007
submitted by Dave Balkin on 7/5/07
pixelThe Tour de France is cycling's legendary event covering 2134 miles and takes place from July 7 though the 29th with 2 rest days. The French get a bad rap for their societal quirks but we could learn a valuable lesson from their joie de vivre mentality of which celebrating the first full month of summer by taking a vacation is the most endearing.
pixel What fun it must be to relax with a glass of good cheap wine and follow this compelling athletic evnt that sees riders spending 4-6 hours on the saddle most days, and just to make certain the pretenders are separated from the contenders, there are 6 impossibly hard days in the Alps and Pyrenees going up and up and down at terrifying speeds.
pixelIn a race deliberately overloaded with French teams, the hometown fun is somewhat diminished because there hasn't been a French contender in a generation. Unlike Italy's Giro D'Italia, generally won by an Italian rider, the TDF brings every great rider and his team to the start line looking to earn a lifetime of glory that includes never having to buy a drink at the hometown watering hole.
pixelI hope I'm wrong but there is no American with even an outside chance of contending for the win; a podium finish by any one of them would be a minor miracle. Discovery's Levi Leipheimer has the best shot. He won this year's Tour of California, a really well financed and high profile stage race but without the help of a hometown ruling he'd have been over 30 minutes down after the first stage and out of it.
pixelLevi crashed 5 kilometers from the finish line but was given the same time as the winner. The rule was originally 3 kilometers but hastily changed otherwise the local interest would have been over before it began. Nobody protested. In stage racing rules are made to be broken and serving the greater good happens all the time. For example, each stage of the TDF has a time limit but if too many riders finish outside of it, which happens on mountain stages, they change it otherwise they wouldn't have a field for the grand parade into Paris.
pixelWhat about Floyd Landis and last year's debacle? I know as much as any outsider when it comes to the facts of the matter. My guess is he's guilty as charged and there are a myriad of reasons for that conclusion but the needle in his haystack surfaced with his statement at the National Bike Summit held in Washington DC in March of 2007. He was telling this group he hoped he would be vindicated and that his "nightmare" would soon be over. He concluded with "How can anyone not trust a Mennonite? That's inexcusable and a page out of Nixon's "I am not a crook."
pixelI got to know an extended Mennonite family who ran a farm 40 mile south of Miami. A group of us rode there a couple of times a week and stopped to recharge before heading back. They were great people with the best food and attitude of any group I've ever met. That was until development pressure threatened their farm and eventually consumed it. When faced with some hard choices they were just like the rest of us, troubled, confused and petty.
pixelNot incidentally, there is no sport that holds itself to the drug use standards that cycling imposes on its athletes. In a nutshell they allow nothing as well they should since these guys and gals are motors and supercharging when others don't almost assures victory for a competitive rider. Too much boost and the motor blows but take the restrictor plate off one car in a NASCAR event and then go out and bet the farm. 
pixelThe pressure to perform in every sport has seen sports medicine develop into a scientific discipline that pushes performance to higher levels than normally possible. They use legal drugs and that's a fine line that ethicists can ponder forever and a day. To its credit pro cycling publicly beats itself up over drug use suspending riders and team in a heartbeat even before cases are adjudicated. When other sports do the same the athletes will face a brighter future.
pixelThat's it for now. I'll check in from time to time with a report but writing about athletes and tactics that are unknown to all but a very select few isn't going to generate readership. When all is said and done all a writer wants is to be read and banging on a drum that nobody hears seems pointless.


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