Tour de France 2016: I wish I cared

Flashback to years 2005-2010: My bedroom walls were lined with posters of cyclists. Ivan Basso descending in the mountains during the Giro d’Italia on his Cervelo R2.5. Zipp 303 wheels blurred with speed. Magnus Backstedt of Garmin-Slipstream, out of the saddle riding his sleek carbon-fibre Felt. Tom Boonen celebrating a stage win in the green jersey. Fabian Cancellara gritting his teeth, holding off the peloton to win stage three in 2007, fighting for his life to keep that yellow on his shoulders just one more day.

In the years 2006-2010 I treated my bike with the same reverence that a clergyman treats a chalice full of Christ’s blood. I rode the bike, took the bike apart, put it back together, wrapped new bar-tape around my FSA wing bars with their ergonomic drops. That bike meant more to me than 75% of the people in my life. The Tour de France was a month where three to four hour chunks of television time were already accounted for. Rest days were the bane of my existence. Doogs and I would text back and forth–we’d do fantasy Tour de France, we’d gush over the tactical minutiae involved in a race that so few people on this side of the pond truly understand and appreciate. We were in our own little club–the outsiders, the teens in tights with shaved legs who worshipped the way Alberto Contador danced on his pedals in the Pyrenees.

But today, I do not care. And I wish I did. My father cares. My father still rides his bike whenever he has a few hours to spare. I would’ve forgotten all about the TdF if my father hadn’t texted me last night, reminding me that today it begins, the most difficult and under-appreciated and completely sullied athletic event in the world.

Before moving forward, I must address that the conspicuous absence of Lance Armstrong’s name from the list of posters I hung in my room is not entirely truthful. There were Lance posters on my door. There were Lance posters in my garage, where the bikes still hang. There were Lance t-shirts and Lance books and LiveStrong socks and Lance was always the guy–Lance Armstrong: an idol and a hero, a take-no-bullshit Texan who was hated by the French because he was better than they were. He was volatile, aggressive–indomitable. Lance was the guy I went to see when my mother and I flew west and road-tripped to follow the Tour of California down the coast in 2009. I remember watching him ride by in Sacramento, just warming up. You could hear his deep-dish rims whirring over the pavement. You could hear the rising and falling of the whir with his signature high-cadence pedaling. His calves were cut by diamonds, and in the way that you don’t understand the power of a bear until you’re in its presence, I finally felt that I understood: Lance Armstrong was something special.

My “Favorites” tabs were all Youtube videos of Lance. Alpe d’Huez 2001. Better known as “The Look.” Turning around, looking into the eyes of Jan Ullrich before delivering the fatal acceleration with a vigor more at home in the Animal Kingdom than in a bicycle race. His 1999 Attack on the Sestriere. His deft bike-handling skills during Stage 9 in 2003, riding into Gap. Blowing by Ullrich in the 2005 prologue, making a statement before Ullrich could even get his bearings.

These were the moments that awoke the hairs on the back of my neck. And when the truth came to light, I ripped my Lance Armstrong t-shirt off my body. I am not exaggerating. I ripped it off of myself like I was in the fucking WWE and threw it away. I took down all the posters. One remains, framed, on the cement floor of my garage, his fraudulent visage turned to face the wall.

They all cheated–Basso, Ullrich, Pantani, Merckx, even David Zabriskie–like the nicest seeming dude you’d ever meet. Floyd Landis, Vinokourov, George Hincapie, Tommy Danielson, Bjarne Riis, Contador–all of them. But Lance was the worst. He duped us all for a decade. And he beat down anybody who even dreamed of exposing him. Just ask Frankie Andreu or Greg LeMond, the only true American Tour de France champion. Ask any journalist who dared to ask the only question that mattered.

And so I do not care. I do not care how good the field is. I did not care about Bradley Wiggins or Chris Froome. I wish I cared about Peter Sagan–because he is exceptional and if anybody can bring this sport back to a respectable place, I think it is him–and I do not even know the names of the people I do not care about because I haven’t been invested in watching the Tour de France for probably two or three years now.

And it’s a damn shame. Part of my life has been taken from me, and I’ll never forgive the man/men/sport that did it. Because the sport is culpable as the men who participate. The whole damn thing is a farce. And I hope someday I’ll come around–someday I’ll make the trip to watch the race in person, maybe when all the bad seeds have endured the twilights of their careers and left their bikes in their garages for good.

But for now, I do not care.

 

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