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Greg Lemond on the New Tour

Versus, the jock cable TV network that promotes its Tour de France coverage as part of its “Red, White, Black and Blue Summer” (the network also presents bull riding and some form of fighting in which heavily muscled males punch and kick the crap out of each other), has another mission. With the consensus view now apparently settling on the belief that professional cycling before now was unspeakably shabby and riddled with drug cheaters, Versus is bending over backward to emphasize cycling’s New Really Clean Era.

OK, great. The Tour blew itself apart the last two years by stripping the 2006 champion, Floyd Landis, of his title, and then seeing its 2007 champion in the making, Michael Rasmussen, fired by his team a few days before the end of the race. Unspeakably dirty or not, the Tour was reduced to a shambles and came to represent not only the greatest feats in athletics but the worst of the doping believed to afflict cycling and elite sports in general. However, it’s more than a little disingenuous for Versus, which made built a good audience and raked in good money promoting the legend of Lance Armstrong, to turn around and strike the pose that those days were the bad old days.

As part of its New Clean Era coverage, Versus produced Greg Lemond for an interview on Sunday. Lemond, a great champion in his own right who has made a second career out of trying to undermine Armstrong’s accomplishments, is a spokesman for the Righteous Really Clean New Cycling. Lemond was odd in the interview, a little disjointed and tongue-tied and inarticulate. One of the Versus personalities, Bob Roll, tried to set him up with a question on the new age in the sport: “You have a huge legacy in this race. How do you see the evolution of the sport as it is right now?”

Lemond’s answer:

“I’m more excited about the cycling than I have been in years, and I think there’s a big change, there’s good people in it. Bob Stapleton and Jonathan Vaughters [the men behind the newly sponsored Garmin-Chipotle and Columbia teams] are really making a big effort. I think there’s a desire I’ve never seen before. It’s good. I’m positive.”

Translation: Now that Armstrong and the disgraced Landis have departed the scene, Lemond can get into the sport again. And there are classy people involved, not the scumbags who helped Armstrong eclipse Lemond as America’s greatest racer.

Roll’s cohost, Craig Hummer, asked an interminable question about the meaning of two big name U.S.companies signing on as team sponsors in the last month or so. Lemond seemed to come unhooked from any thread the interview might have had.

“Yeah — you know — cycling is — I’m actually very bullish on just the sport in general. When you look about — look at congestion, you look at the diabetes problem in America, um, it’s probably the best sport to do in terms of low impact but high cardiovascular output. And so I’m really bullish on the sport in general as a leisure activity in America. It is a sport of people past 40, but we need to get those kids in high school, and I’m very optimistic, and the Tour de France, you can’t duplicate this, this is magic, and, uh, I saw it last year, and, I mean, when Rasmussen and Vinokourov, it was quite depressing to my sons, but they still watch cycling, they watched the Tour of Flanders this year. It’s a great sport.”

(Congestion? My co-watcher theorizes he meant asthma.)

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TV Tour de Crud

I bray every July about Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, our English-language TV announcers-for-life of the Tour de France. It’s not just the cliched, empty language they use–granted, it was charming once upon a time–it’s their tendency to miss big moments in the race and to make assertions that are simply wrong.

To really appreciate how terrible these guys are, though, it’s necessary to tune in to the Tour of California coverage that their network, Versus, is airing each night. The main problem I have is that Paul and Phil have no concept of the race geography or terrain. Thus on last night’s Stage Two show, Sherwen spouted off about “the long straight roads of the Napa Valley” as the leading racers were shown speeding down the long, straight roads of the Central Valley, on the outskirts of Sacramento. Cycling fans hear constantly about how the racers themselves ride the course to get to know it. You’d think that the guys broadcasting this stuff could at least drive the course so they might get a feel for what’s going on; but there’s no evidence they or the producers take such a rudimentary step. Instead, they just talk over the edited video of the race and spout off. In yesterday’s stage, much of which I’ve ridden many times myself, it was obvious they had no idea where the action was taking place or what was to come. It’s just lazy, lazy, lazy crap.

That’s not the only problem with the Versus coverage, though. The stages have been edited down to a point that it’s hard to get a sense of the action unfolding. Key moments, such as a crash that put local rider Dave Zabriskie out of the race, are missed or ignored (despite the fact the show hasn’t been airing until a good four hours after the finish). And Bob Roll, the one on-camera guy I’d assume (since he has lived here) has a sense of the region. is reserved to his usual role of clown savant.

The best alternative, if you’ve got a high-speed Net connection: the live video/audiocast on the Tour of California’s own site. The video is choppy, but the audio commentary is vastly superior to what the Versus boys deliver,.

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