For almost a week, now, the 2007 Tour de France has been winding its way across Europe. For the first time in about a decade, too, I've not really cared. Sure, I've checked on who's won stages, but "Tour Fever" has not taken me over, latching me to my computer screen or pop by a friend's house to watch a stage unfold. With so many big names not racing, including 2006 winner (at least as seen on TV) Floyd Landis, it's hard to not get excited. The real reason, I feel, has more to do with the reason for the absence of Landis, et al.: doping.
I've no intentions of launching into a tirade about how doping has ruined cycling, for I don't truly feel that...at least not on a personal basis. For me, cycling has always been more personal: a means of escape that feels like flying. In college, I scheduled my classes to allow for a 2-3 hour bike ride in between or would ride before classes, allowing for not only optimal parking, but also an exhilarating way to begin the day. I mentally wrote many of my essays while biking the hills of Boerne and Helotes.
But then came the scandals, beginning (for me, anyway) with Tyler Hamilton and the 2004 Olympics & Vuelte. Follow that up a couple of years later with Puerto, and things got downright nasty, including an additional implication of Hamilton, and culminating in the ousting of several 06 TdF pre-race favorites. But Floyd saved the day and resparked America's interest in the big bike ride...until doping tests revealed (or at least suggested -- I'm still undecided) he may not have legitimately earned the maillot jaune.
With the winners of the past eight years not invited (at least, according to what I've read) to this year's Tour, what's the point in following it?
This picture effectively captures what cycling is going through right now: something so awesome (and Vinokourov is that), battered and bruised, struggling to carry on. I particularly like the arm of a T-Mobile rider (former teammate?) offering a hand of support & encouragement.
So, while I'm still not fully psyched about the Tour, I am every bit as excited as ever about cycling. True, cyclists can be a bit elitist (all right, downright arrogant), but you get that in every form of sport. In cycling it just might be a tad more justified. Here's to hoping for a strong, dope-free finish for this year's Tour...and for cycling as a whole.
Thanks for reading.//dhs