Monday, January 21, 2013

Le Tour de Cambridge 2014

Just when I thought that the Tour de Farce couldn't get any less interesting after Lance Armstrong's crocodile tears on the Oprah Winfrey show last week, I heard that the 2014 edition of Le Tour will pass through my natal town of Cambridge (England).

When I was 10 years old my father suggested we went to London - something that we did every now and again but was always a treat. Having a bit of a spontaneous streak, instead of cycling to the station and taking our bikes on the train, he suggested we cycled all the way to London. The route we took was very similar to the one that the Tour will follow, except we went along the A10 (which was originally a Roman road). Of course we took a lot longer than these guys will take to get to London (6 hours with a break for lunch if memory serves) but it went down in the annals of the Smith family as a true adventure (we went back home on the train). I can only guess that this will be a time trial stage because it is very flat and not very long, so a peloton would cover it in next to no time.

Looks like I will have a reason to go back to Cambridge next year - after all it has been years since I last went back.

While I am on the subject, I can't help but chip in my own two eurocents worth of opinion about the whole Lance Dopestrong scandal. Let's get the first and most obvious thing out of the way which I think everyone can agree on: he cheated and therefore has been stripped of all his ill-gotten gains. As far as I am concerned, though, I see things this way:

1) The fall of an American Hero. From all that I have heard and read about Lance, he must have more testosterone than blood in his veins and will stop at nothing to win. While I find the whole "gentlemanly etiquette" side of the Tour to be a complete contradiction (especially to its brutal roots) I also think that competitiveness should be limited to the competition itself. One thing is the kind of jockeying that former Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack would engage in, in the style of boxers about to go into the ring, but I think that you should always respect your opponent. If we put the doping to one side, I would not say that Lance has ever set a very good example of being a sporting hero - he's more interested in winning whatever the cost. I don't really think that his fall from grace has actually been from very high up as he never had much grace to begin with. I would go so far as to say that his ability to convince, dupe and manipulate everyone around him is the sign of a sociopath or even a psychopath (not all psychopaths cut people up into small pieces...). I can't help likening him to Bernie Madoff or Nick Leeson - someone who got in too deep with a lie but lacked the empathy (or shit-giving) that normal people have to get out of it before it snowballed.

2) It's not all about the bike (or the performance enhancing drugs). Just as we have to have our "heroes" we also have to have our champions - the best at whatever they do. At these levels, the differences between athletes are absolutely tiny and road cycling is a notoriously random event in which everything can hang on the outcome of a scramble for the line in the last few seconds (anyone remember who won the road race in the Olympics last year?). All of these guys are absolutely amazing, complete outliers and a reminder to us all what the human body is capable of. The importance of having a winner is to provide that stimulus (not to mention prize money and sponsorship deals) to push the limits further and further. And let's not forget that Lance did beat cancer (albeit also with the help of drugs) so, however you look at it, he's a pretty incredible guy - just not someone you would trust to manage your investments.

3) What about the cover-up? Lance must have had enablers to be able to carry on as he did for so long. The obvious place to point the finger is at the UCI (Union Cycliste International) who undoubtedly had an interest in maintaining the integrity of the race as well as any backhanders that may have gone on. I hope that an exhaustive investigation is carried out because, quite frankly, I can't see road racing ever getting its credibility back as a sport unless some heads start to seriously roll.

Having said all that, I still find myself wanting to know whether he could win the Ironman World Championships (as a clean athlete) because I am just interested in pushing the limits and seeing how far we can go. I think Lance has closed that door by whining that the other dopers only got six month bans. If you are going to be the best at something, you can't expect to be treated the same way as everyone else. In this case he was the best at deceiving the whole world so I can't see him ever returning to competition (except, perhaps, as a body builder or a WWF wrestler where a blind eye is turned to drug use).

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