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.)

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Floyd Again

It’s not a surprise that Floyd Landis has filed an appeal of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s verdict against him. I’m prompted to remember what his mother said when that case went against him: something to the effect that she didn’t think it was worth appealing, but Floyd being Floyd — and seeing that he still insisted on his innocence — how could he not appeal?

Now the case goes to the oddly named Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, and the word is that its ruling — which will be the final, final, final legal verdict in the matter — will come down early next year.

In the meantime, Tour de France officials will appear in Madrid on Monday to bestow their event’s much besmirched champion’s jersey on Oscar Pereiro, who finished second to Landis in 2006. I just love picturing what happens if the Swiss court rules in Landis’s favor. Will there be a ceremony to retrieve the jersey from Pereiro and give it back to Floyd? (Of course not. In the unlikely event he wins his Swiss appeal, Landis will probably have to sue the Amaury Sports Organization, the Tour company, to get the championship back. Which reminds me of hearing Pete Dexter, the former newspaper columnist and fine novelist, asked about why he hadn’t sued David Milch, the creator of HBO’s “Deadwood,” for what Dexter felt was theft from his much earlier novel of the same name. “You know, if you do that, that’s what you do. That becomes your job. You’re someone who sues.” Not that I’m without sympathy for Floyd, but he looks like he’s got a new job.)

1710

Floyd Landis lost the 2006 Tour de France on stage 16 with a spectacular and humiliating collapse on the final climb in a long alpine stage. He came back the next day and did what no one imagined possible, riding a solo attack across the Alps that shocked those who left him for dead the day before. He won the Tour in the race’s final time trial and got his victory lap on the Champs Elysees. And then… . Well, you know all that. A urine sample taken after the thrilling stage win showed an unusually high level of testosterone. Something like a trial was held, and the verdict is in: 14 months after his apparent triumph, Landis’s tests have been ruled reliable and he appears to have lost the ’06 Tour once and for all. Unless he files and wins and appeal or contemplates a comeback in his late mid-30s, his career as a professional cyclist is over, too.

It’s a bad business. I’m not well versed in the case evidence. But I don’t want to believe Landis doped, and circumstantially the case against him — the very idea that he would cheat at that juncture of the race — never made sense to me and still doesn’t. The system in place to prosecute Landis and others is flawed simply by its presumption of guilt; essentially, it presents riders with test results and challenges them to prove they’re not right. So, in the absence of a “Shoeless Joe” moment — me: “Say it ain’t so, Floyd”; him: “I’m afraid it is, kid” — I think I’ll always see Landis the way he was on that one amazing day, bursting from the pack and overtaking and dropping one rider after another until, finally, he rode alone over the last mountain. He crossed the line at 5:10 p.m., or 1710 in the 24-hour time scheme the French use.

There’s a little movement afoot, promoted mostly by Trust But Verify, I guess — for fans and supporters to hoist their libation of choice in Floyd’s honor at 5:10 p.m. today, wherever you happen to be. I’ll be doing that.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Heart

Floyd072006

Today, Floyd Landis had to face the Tour de France cameras again. Yesterday, he ran out of gas on the stage’s last climb, hit the wall hard, and lost the Tour’s yellow jersey. Then he gathered himself, told reporters that even though he didn’t expect to win the Tour anymore he’d still give it a shot, and went to bed.

Today? Well, I may have disappeared so far into cycling-race geekdom (along with immediate family members and close friends, some neighbors, and assorted bicycling compatriots) that I underestimate the difficulty in conveying how amazing today was. Landis came out and attacked the field on the last big mountain-climbing stage of the Tour, and this time, he broke everyone else. Talk about heart.

He did not capture the overall race lead, but because of the nature of the last three stages — a relatively flat one tomorrow with limited apparent tactical opportunity for big moves by the race leaders, a time trial on Saturday in which Landis will be a favorite to win, and the short, flat finish on Sunday in Paris — he’s got a real chance to win the Tour. Of course, the thing about this Tour, unlike nearly every Tour for the past 25 years, is that you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Ready for Your Closeup?

If you’re watching the Tour de France every day on OLN — a bad habit in our household driven by the fact it’s the only place to see the race here in America — you’re well acquainted with the astounding caravan that moves along with the race. Motorcycles carrying TV, video and still photographers and course marshalls and timekeepers. Cars carrying race officials. Team cars — at least one for every starting squad of nine riders — carrying the team directors (the overall race strategists) and sundry VIPs and journalists. Neutral cars to support riders up and down the course regardless of which team they’re on. Overhead, at least one helicopter shadowing the progress of the daily race leaders. One of the more demanding and stressful factors for Tour riders must be the constant din of honking cars, revving engines and churning helicopter rotors.

For fans, though, the presence of cameras rolling along with the riders means that you’re right in the middle of the action. For riders, it means there’s no place to hide when something goes wrong. That’s what happened today for Floyd Landis, the former Lance Armstrong lieutenant who had managed to take the race leader’s yellow jersey this year. After a strong finish yesterday on one of the Tour’s classic tough mountain stages, lots of people had started to feel Landis would go on to win the race. But today — today was another brutally hard day, and on the stage’s last climb, Landis blew up. When one of his rivals accelerated sharply and the group around him chased, Landis simply couldn’t make his legs go any faster or harder. It was stunning to see — at least for Tour geeks who are used to seeing a single rider impose his will on the race.

Landis071906Landisa071906

Of course, Landis had one faithful companion as he found himself wallowing up the climb, his closest rivals vanishing up the road ahead of him: as usual, a Tour cameraman was there to capture every moment of suffering. All Landis could do was keep turning over the pedals until he got to the top, no matter how long it took.

[Later: Landis avoided the media at the finish, but later gave what Velonews termed an “impromptu press conference” during which he showed a lot of class. One exchange:

Q: Did you know when you were dropped that the yellow jersey was gone?

FL: I knew I felt very, very bad. I didn’t expect to stay close to the leaders. I did what I could. I kept fighting, but I didn’t have much left. I did everything in my power to stay close, but you saw what happened. ]

Technorati Tags: , ,

Road Sign

Tour071906

Maybe Floyd Landis, until his disastrous showing today a U.S. favorite to succeed Lance Armstrong as Tour de France champion, should have known trouble was coming when he saw this sign on the first big climb of the day, the Col du Galibier: “Galibier 12%, Jack Daniels 40%.” Someone who’s over there could probably do a pretty decent feature-length article on all the stuff that gets painted on the roads of the Tour route and on the people out there doing the painting.

Technorati Tags: , ,