Posts Tagged ‘bike racing’

The Tour de France is over for another year, although professional bike racing continues.  When it’s Tour time, the subject of Lance Armstrong is never far away, at least for now, in these years close to his tumble from grace.  I have some random thoughts about Lance.

If you believed he wasn’t doping, you were living in cloud cuckoo land.  If the next best riders in the world were having wins taken from them for doping, there’s no way Lance could have been that much better just naturally.  But therein lies my title.  He WAS the best.

He was the best at doping and winning, the best at doping and not being found out.

He was the best at bringing the sport to prominence…before he was the best at bringing it down in the eyes of many.

He was ultimately the best, but not the only, to steal the joy of winning from others.  It doesn’t feel the same to win the Tour de France, or any other race, when the person in first is disqualified.  Sadly, the ultimate winner was often someone far down the list, as doping was quite prevalent.

He was the best at not only despising but crushing people, big and small, and at destroying lives while pushing himself up on the pyres of those lives.  He’s still the best at not apologizing for it.  Maybe he’s the best at defining the word “amoral.”

In sport where cheating has ranged from, in the old, quaint days, taking a bus or train rather than riding, to sophisticated blood doping, he is unique in combining so many negative things.  He did start LiveStrong which I hope will survive and has done so much for people with cancer.  But one right doesn’t mitigate a lifetime of wrong and, in many cases, what I would be tempted to call evil, at least in his personal dealings.

But perhaps Lance might, totally inadvertently, be the best thing that’s happened to cycling for a long time.  Last year, the winner of the Tour, Chris Froome, stated that he, his team and many other riders were vowing to ride clean and so far, nothing has disproved that.  This year’s winner, Vincenzo Nibali, viewed as a clean rider, said,

Steps have been taken and great progress has been made, and with it so my results have arrived.
I have to thank them (doping controllers) because without these iron controls maybe I wouldn’t be here today.

I know that as long as there are sports, there will be those seeking an illegal way to be better than others.  But in the world of professional cycling, maybe the best cheater will turn out to be the best thing for a sport where doping was getting out of control.

At the end of yesterday’s post, your intrepid heroine and hero were taken aback/aghast/stunned that they were going to have to climb about 7 km in rain carrying all their food and gear for the day, up one of the steepest grades of le Tour.  Will they make it?  Read on and find out.

We’d overcome both closed road and navi revolt to find ourselves dropped at the base of the climb to La Plance des Belles Filles.  The only way to go was up, unless we were to abandon the Tour like a rider after a bad crash.  Mentally girding our loins, we strode off, following a crowd of people strung out along the visible part of the climb.  Not only were there fellow walkers, there were bikers; cyclists who wanted to be able to say they’d ridden that part of Stage 10 of the 2014 Tour de France.  They ranged in age from families with children to older men and although they might not all have been moving very quickly, they were moving.  Amazing!

On the way to the top

On the way to the top

Our plan was to be near the finish line, so we continued up and up, past a few people who had already staked their claim on the lower slopes. (Those slopes were filled with cheering spectators during the race.)  We sweat, took off raincoats, unzipped layers, re-did them all when it began to rain again and repeated that sequence for the interminable amount of time it took us to get to the area not far from the finish where the road leveled off for a bit. Here the party feel was on, with souvenir stands, food and drinks for sale, a gigantic TV screen, porta potties and people.  But our destination lay still further on, past the 22% grade that waited to break the riders’ hearts after they would have already ridden almost 161 km, at the finish line. (more…)

Walk a mile in my shoes.

OK.  I can do that and when I’m done, I’ll understand you better.  But if you really want to understand even a small amount about what a rider on le Tour de France goes through, drive with us over a bit of the route they will ride during the 161.5 km on Monday’s stage 10 from Mulhouse to La Planche-des-Belles-Filles.

One of the stages this year is not far from Melisey where we’re staying and  four days prior, my s-i-l drove us over a large section of the route.  Some stages, or at least parts of them, take place on wide (relatively speaking) roads–flat, open areas where riders chat in the opening minutes and look fresh and happy.  Not so here.

We turn sharply off the main road onto a paved track that gradually becomes barely wider than the Land Rover.  Thick forest and undergrowth crowd both sides along the steep road, while in many places the right side drops precipitously, sometimes on the other side of a low, stone, moss-covered wall just the right height to pitch you over should your bike tire hit it.

photo 1(79)

We spend much of our time shaking our heads and exclaiming incredulously, trying to imagine the hoopla of the Tour attempting to squeeze through here–lead cars, motorcycles, breakaway group (the easiest to get through with only a few riders), the crush of the peleton, the team cars and media.  We meet a TV truck followed by two riders shrouded in rain gear (did I mention it’s been raining all day/week?), looking less than trilled to be out checking the route along the “easy” way-downhill.  We try to imagine all this going uphill at racing pace and probably fail miserably.

photo 2(78)

Green, lush beauty surrounds us, beauty that will go unseen and unnoticed by the laboring cyclists and entourage: flowers, rushing creeks, several waterfalls and quiet, although the latter will be gone on race day.

photo 3(63)

Suddenly, we rejoin the main road at the 5K marker.  The road is wide(er), the pavement smooth.  But between here and the cloud-wrapped finish line at La Planche-des-Belles-Filles, the Plank of the Beautiful Girls, the grade veers between a “mere” 6% and 22%!!  And all this comes at the end of hours of racing and just under 157 km.

photo 4(41)

Legends has it that during the Thirty Years War, the Swedish soldiers were raping and pillaging.  The girls of the area decided they would rather die than be raped and drowned themselves in the lake.  A soldier, possibly the captain, who had fallen in love with one of the girls, carved an epitaph for the them on a board (hence the “plank.)   No one will carved the name of the winner this Tour stage on a board, but his name will go down in Tour history.  Locals are pulling for Thibaut Pinot , not only a local but a young Turk of French cycling.

Enormous carving by a local artist of a bear holding one of "the beautiful girls"

Enormous carving by a local artist of a bear holding one of “the beautiful girls”

The empty spaces on race day will be crammed with fans, the two of us among them if all goes as planned.  One couple has already staked out a spot-in a small pull-off near the top, complete with camper, trailer and satellite dish.  We come away with a much deeper understanding of the stamina and mental attitude needed to compete at this level of the sport…as well as an inkling of why men would be driven to find ways to cheat, to make the ride just a bit easier, something that has been going in various ways since the Tour began.