The relief I feel is similar to that I experienced when I switched majors from science-pre-med to English Lit and learned I didn’t have to take calculus anymore. It wasn’t that I didn’t think calculus was a worthy subject or wasn’t one of the most important subjects in the syllabus. Without it, it would be a lot harder to build bridges and buildings that don’t fall down on a whim, and getting to the moon or Mars would be just about impossible. It just wasn’t something that grabbed hold of my fancy and wouldn’t let go.
This represents a 180-degree turn for me — not on calculus, but on the Tour. Just last year at this time, I couldn’t wait for the race to start and was telling everyone that it was requiring viewing.
But a year ago Lance Armstrong, an American who dominated a European sport, was going for his record seventh straight title in what would be his last race. And it seemed as if the entire world was out to get him, either by riding faster than he or by praying that the drug cops would nail him.
You had to watch that, even if it meant spending an hour on hold waiting to talk to somebody with the cable company to demand that it add the Outdoor Life Network to your menu so you could see the highlights every night. It had enough of the old Cold-War elements to make it seem like a battle if not between good and evil — even I, a card-carrying columnist, find it difficult to consign France to the Evil Empire — at least between us and them.
The French, after all, were trying to get our Lance, and whether he deserved getting or not, he rode for the stars and stripes and the French were treating him as if he was guilty of putting Cheez Whiz in the brie supply. You have to stand by your own in these things, and watching Armstrong put a whuppin’ on France and the rest of Europe — and do something no one had ever before done — was something you had to watch.
Lance is gone, and, while the French, the World Anti-Doping Agency and most of Europe are still trying to get him, there’s no reason to watch. Plus, now that he is out, it seems as if the cycling folks are trying to bust everyone else in the race for drugs. So, I guess it wasn’t just Lance who might have been trying to sneak something past the mass spectrometers.
And without Lance, it’s not an event anymore. It’s just a bike race. You can argue all you want that it’s the greatest bike race in the world, and you could be right, but in order for this American to watch any sport I didn’t grow up with, there’s going to have to be a compelling story line involved.
Wondering who will replace Lance isn’t a story line. Wondering if a different American can win isn’t, either. Give me an American chasing a German or Italian or Spaniard through the last two stages in the Alps while the drug police are tearing apart their hotel rooms, and maybe I’ll tune in then. Otherwise, wake me when it’s over.
The Tour is one of those events, like the World Cup, that Europe thinks is more important than any competition in the world, even American Idol. If we don’t care about it, they think we’re sporting philistines.
I don’t care if they find baseball to be duller than watching your car rust. If they think American football isn’t anything more than an incomprehensible brawl, I won’t argue with them. They may be right. And I certainly won’t hold it against anyone from anywhere who’d rather watch a squid rodeo than the Super Bowl.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
With Armstrong in the Tour, there was a personality with whom to identify and plenty of story lines to make it interesting. Without him, it’s just a lot of guys in Spandex riding fancy bikes.
I don’t even care who the drug cops bust or don’t bust. Not anymore. The Tour is coming to an obscure cable channel near you this weekend. But this year, you don’t have to watch it.
2010 Tour de France