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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  8/1/2004

Legendes du Tour

That was the quasi-official theme of the Tour de France this year: the "legends" that all the fans, commentators, sportswriters and racers themselves always talk about. As we all know, this year saw another legend enter the annals of Le Tour -- the first six-victories-in-a-row winner.

What a tour! An emotional as well as physical roller coaster ride through la belle France. I was glued to OLN every day. It affected me so much, it's taken me over two weeks to sort out and express my reactions. So forgive me if this turns into a somewhat rambling look back at the legends of TdF 2004.

First, a confession: A year ago I was one of the naysayers. No way, I believed, would Lance win a sixth tour. I didn't even think he would show up to try. Boy, am I thrilled to be proven wrong!

"Pas de cadeaux," he promised. "No gifts." That's the kind of attitude that adds fuel to the legendary fire. My opposite number here at BikeCal.com, Bill Oetinger, praised Lance for "a savage move worthy of a Mercks or Hinault." But those legends have already moved aside. From now on, such attacks -- and attitude -- will be defined as worthy of an Armstrong.

Legendes americaines

And isn't it a kick that Lance is not the only American legend to write about? There's Bobby. Floyd. Levi. And Tyler. All homegrown legends building on previous American legends. Yeah, Greg of course. But way back were the legendary water carriers who paved the way for so many more. Guys like Jock Boyer and George Mount. (More about one of those oldies but goodies -- Bob Roll -- below.)

Bill thinks the most impressive legend of the future is the U.S. Postal Service team. I have to agree. Just watching the Posties sail through the wet, gnarly Team Time Trial while all the others were all over the road was astounding. Not only do they have "a great eye for talent," as Bill put it, they are also "a huge, corporate juggernaut that works year 'round on equipment, training, bike position, you-name-it."

That corporate juggernaut is spearheaded by some of the world's wiliest, wealthiest bike geeks. They've engineered a well-lubed machine of a team and have made Lance a very wealthy man. Frankly (or cynically?), I doubt they are doing it just out of the kindness of their high-finance hearts. They too are realizing the benefits of winning.

But where there are winners, there are also losers. The corporate losers here? USPS itself. Word on the street is that the Postal Service has sailed off into the sunrise to sponsor the Swiss in the America's Cup competition. Now there's a sport that will never become mainstream. What a mistake!

Legendes du tele

Here are my votes for best TV coverage, commentating and even commercials:

A tip of my Alpe d'Huez cycling cap to OLN and how they listened to viewers' opinions about the eary coverage. Or didn't you notice that Ms. Gum and the four flakes from Fresno (or some place like it) disappeared after the first week? Thank you, thank you, thank you!

To get in the mood for watching the tour this year, I read Bob Roll's book, "The Tour De France Companion." In it he describes a group of Americans clustered around a German campsite's TV set on Luz Ardiden last year. When I read that paragraph to Jim, he said, "Ah yes, that would be us."

As for Roll on the air, what a treat to have the original Bobke describe every stage with his hands. The guy is funny. And he knows pro cycling backwards and forwards.

I particularly liked the "Ask Bob" feature and agreed with most of his answers. Except the glaringly off-kilter one about women racers: "Why don't women race in the Tour de France?" After a few "ers" and "ums," he ventured that "women are too smart to subject themselves to this." Besides, he pointed out, women have their own Tour de France. And their own tours of regions of France, I might add.

Bobke, if you ever read this, here's my response: There you were sitting in Carcassone, mere kilometers from a well-known mountain finish, Pic de Nore, "haut lieu du cyclisme en Montagne Noir Audoise (Nore Peak, the cycling high spot on Black Mountain in Aude).

I myself climbed Pic de Nore on my way to Carcassone in 1997 (that's me in yellow on the left). There at the summit I saw for myself the monument dedicated to the stage winners. At the bottom was inscribed the name of the winner in the Tour de l'Aude Feminin 1996 -- Canadian Linda Jackson.

You missed your chance, Bobke. You could have pointed to the hills to your north and told of yet another legende on the distaff side. Tsk, tsk tsk.

Also tops in my ranking were the fantastic Nike commercials. What superb photography and editing! Who could tear themselves away from Lance racing a herd of buffalo or a flock of butterflies? The USPS, in spite of its commercial ignorance, managed to find an ad agency creative enough to produce another winner. For weeks during and after the Tour, my mind replayed the theme music on every downhill run -- Ta dah tadadah tadah tadah taDAH dah!

La legende de l'Alpe d'Huez

I managed to rise early enough to watch the Alpe d'Huez time trial live. I knew Jim was there so while trying to concentrate on the clock, Lance, and the crowds, I was also looking for him amongst the 900,000. When Lance trounced them all, I was soooo excited! I grabbed my phone and dialed Jim's cell number.

"Where are you?" I asked breathlessly. I couldn't hear the roar of the crowds all around him at all, but he could barely hear me. And he had no idea who he was talking to! "I'm on my way down the hill," he said, "right across from the Cycles et Sports store. Do you know where that is?"

He finally understood that I was not a member of the tour group he was guiding. It may not have been a scintillating conversation, but T-Mobile did get us connected. Turned out he was just above the finish line, where cameras would never pan.

Although the crowd behavior on the way up the Alpe could have been worse, it could have been a lot better. Maybe the Tour will pass on making it a TT in the future. All the more reason why Lance's victory here will become yet another legende du tour.

Une legende du coeur - (A legend of the heart)

It broke my heart to see Tyler Hamilton leave the Tour. I know his decision was based on the medical and physiological facts. It was the right decision. But I also know that it was influenced by the death of Tyler's beloved Golden Retriever, Tugboat. I too love a Golden Retriever (well, Cindi's mostly Golden). I can identify.
Farewell, Tugboat!
Hello, Cindi!

Legende de porter jaune.com

Everywhere I go I see yellow bracelets on the least likely people. A housewife shopping at Costco. A teenager sunbathing at the park. Not to mention members of the peleton zooming by the cameras -- rivals who had vowed to defeat Lance Armstrong now vowing with him to defeat cancer.

It's a forgone conclusion that Nike's Wear Yellow campaign will raise the $5 million it set out to. By the end of the Alps section of the Tour, the site was completely sold out. About the only place you could get a yellow "Live Strong" bracelet was on the race sidelines, where they were fetching one euro, about $1.25 American. (And now you can find 'em on eBay for lots more.)

So many legends to remember. In this election year, when so many of us Americans are split on so many issues, isn't it great that we all have these legends we can admire, emulate and take hope from for the future?

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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