Monday, July 6, 2009

Le Tour! Le Tour!

The Tour de France began again on the Fourth of July, and Lance Armstrong is back in the mix (in case you hadn't heard).

So, if you get sick of the three-ring circus of speculation surrounding Sarah Palin, you should check it out on Versus. They play the live broadcast from 8:30 AM Eastern and then replay it in condensed form at 2:00, 5:00 and extended at 8:00.
Why do I love le Tour? Is it the snappy British commentators?
Is it the fantastic camera work that makes you feel like you've visited France and several surrounding countries?
The excitement of competition?
The fact that, now after several years of watching, I feel like I know what I'm talking about, recognize the competitors, know a bit of their history, and am able to understand the significant ins and outs of the competition as it's happening?
Why, yes.

But the whole thing is just way more fun when you have someone to root for. For years my mother and I rooted for Lance Armstrong. Every year we told ourselves that it didn't matter how far back he was in the flat stages - once he got into the mountains he would climb to the top, leave the rest of them in the dust. But no matter how sternly we told ourselves that, we were always on the edge of our seats until he had earned a substantial lead.

And even though it's pretty easy to see that the guy's a bit of a jerk, at least he's a jerk who can put his money where his mouth is. Commentator Bob Roll crowed this year that he was so happy Lance was back to give some personality back to this thing. He's exciting, he's wily, and he's really damned good at this.

It was hard to be a fan in the past few years. Floyd Landis was more than exciting, with breakaway after breakaway taking him into the yellow jersey. My whole family got into the excitement and then -- he's disqualified for doping. And then over the next few years everyone and their mother is disqualified for doping. Distressing, to say the least.

But now, after a few tours in which only a few big names remained, le Tour is back! It feels alive again, it feels exciting again. I'm back to explaining to friends and co-workers why it matters that so-and-so didn't have his team with him, what they're doing pulling little cans of coke from the back of their jerseys, why the peloton all gets the same time, why breakaways hardly ever work, but are worth the shot, and (most often) how there can be a team sport with an individual winner.

It's fun, it's beautiful, it's fascinating, it's worth a look!

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