Tour de Dibble

I should know better, but the sports jerks still get to me when they start talking every summer about how the Tour — you know, the Tour — isn’t really an event. Driving through Baltimore on our way to the airport to come home, I heard Rob Dibble and another troglodyte start in on Lance Armstrong and the Tour. Dibble said that cycling isn’t really a sport because “the bike does a lot of the work” and Lance can “coast on it and sit on it.” So when we got to the airport, I wrote the following and sent it off:

Dear Rob Dibble and ESPN Radio:

Every year at Tour de France time, sports boneheads cut loose about what a joke bicycle racing is. And every year people like me, who actually know something about sports that don’t involve throwing, hitting or kicking balls or pucks or people, try to show you what boneheads you really are. So here we go again, but maybe with a difference.

First, your comments dismissing cycling as a sport show such amazing ignorance that it’s hard to tell where to begin. But let’s try the statement that during bike racing, the bike is doing a lot of the work and that the physical exertion is nothing like that encountered during running. Rob that’s about the same as saying that your shoes are doing a lot of the work when you throw a fastball; and in baseball, spiked shoes help you get the leverage you need to throw. It’s true that bicycles have a marvelously efficient way of converting muscular energy into motion. But at the professional level, that translates into extraordinary results. If you take a look at the speeds attained and energy spent (in terms of watts or calories or any other way you want to measure it), bike racers are putting out the same or more effort as long-distance runners; in sprints, which may come after hours of tough riding, the energy output is very similar to that of sprinters in track and field. What the bicycle does is make it possible for a trained athlete to go farther faster and longer than someone on foot or on cross-country skis, for instance. So, to go back to the baseball shoes for a moment: There’s no way wearing the same model shoes you wore would make it possible for Lance Armstrong to throw a 95 mph heater. And there’s no way that putting you on Lance’s bike would make you anything more than a sad, sweaty, out-of-breath retiree.

Rob, I’m sure you doubt all this. But I think I could prove my point to you and your audience. I think a fair test would be to pit you, an elite one-time professional athlete who utterly dismisses the idea that bike racing is challenging, against a retired pro cyclist. Someone like Greg Lemond, who’s been out of the game for awhile. But you know, that might be stacking the odds against you. What I’d really like to do is get you on a bike myself and do a little race. Maybe 20 miles or so. A route with some climbs and some descents. I’m 50. A run-of-the-mill cyclist. I’d love to have you show me how easy the sport is.

And one last thing, Rob: You got mad on the air because some Cubs pitcher might have exercised some poor judgment and was said to have committed a “Dibble-ism..” You wanted to know what a Dibble-ism is. Well, throwing a ball into the stands, as you once did in Cincinnati, hitting a hometown fan, is one example. Disrespecting fellow athletes because you don’t understand their sport is another.

Hope to see you on the road.

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