Summer Sleeper

Winning!Rafa Nadal is celebrating fall with a phat $3.6 million check since winning his second US Open tennis championship, beating Novak Djokovic. As the announcers said, last year he watched the championship from his couch, nursing bum knees and wondering if he could ever return to the high level he’d accomplished.

Wonder no more, my friend.

And American cyclist Chris Horner won the Vuelta a Espana this month, making him the oldest dude ever – by five years – to win a Grand Tour (he’s 41).

He must have been keeping tabs on Diana Nyad, who said, “Never ever give up” and “You’re never too old to chase your dream.” She also walks the walk. The 64-year old swam from Cuba to Miami in 54 hours, vomiting much of the way due to the high volume of salt water ingested as a complication with the mask she wore to avoid jellyfish stings to her face.

It took five tries to succeed. Nyad’s first attempt was 35 years ago.

What now?SCAB: Alex Rodriguez will compete in this year’s World Series if the Yankees qualify (news flash – they didn’t), despite his suspension. Some say he was the one to save his sport after its last major doping scandal. These days, he’s appealing a suspension for the 2014 season (211 games). A-Rod is currently baseball’s highest-paid player – his salary exceeds the team payroll of the Houston Astros – and yes, he’s one of the latest to be caught in a doping scandal.

This whole, “First he saved the sport and later drove a dagger into its soul via doping scandal” thing sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I’m not the only one to think, “[Sigh.] Another Lance Armstrong” (though I did think it before hearing anyone else say it. Yay me).

ALLEZ! 138 miles of cycling, 67 hours of television, 6.5 bottles (35 glasses) of wine, 6 glasses of champagne, and 19 nights of sleep deprivation was the 100th edition of the Tour de France – and that’s just me. Thank god it’s almost 300 days until the 2014 Tour begins in Yorkshire, UK.

Wait – you’re not excited, though? What the heck?! How can you not be excited to see images like this? Okay, how ‘bout this one? They say Marcel Kittell looks like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, or maybe Vanilla Ice. He’s the latest sprinter to give Mark Cavendish a hair-raising challenge. Must’ve watched Cavendish’s sprinting tips.

Seriously, the Tour de France was one of the top highlights of my summer and I’ll tell you why. First, I’ll tell you why it wasn’t one of yours (with the exception of the five of you – you know who you are).

Visualize the finish lineI teach indoor cycling classes, aka spin. I get excited each July, when I incorporate Tour de France references into my classes. I ask who’s been watching. I tell clients to imagine the scenery of France. I add the song Tour de France by Kraftwerk to my playlist. I tell clients I’m their soigneur when I refill their water bottles.

[Insert crickets chirping.]

This year, no one said they were watching. Not ONE SINGLE PERSON. One client caustically snorted, “Is Lance winning?” Another told me it was all Lance Armstrong’s fault.

[Insert record scratch.]

Lance’s fault? That bastard! How ironic that we sang his praises as the person who “did so much” for American cycling and now that he’s admitted to doping, he’s all but gassed American’s enthusiasm for cycling – not that there aren’t any American pros, but former fans slinked off to the bleachers of their kids’ summer intermural games.

Lance giveth and Lance taketh away.

Oh no he didn’t! Lance made the Tour worth watching! Trust me. Sure, he was high-end entertainment value. He made America feel the dominating badass we so crave to believe it is. Now that he’s admitted he cheated, we feel duped and don’t want to be seen near any reminder of such.

No no NO! Now that Lance is gone, the Tour isn’t so predictable! And cyclists like American Andrew Talansky give us hope for another, cleaner star of the near future. (I heard that snicker. Don’t be such a pessimist.)

MULTIFARIOUS: For funsies, put yourself in Chris Froome’s cleats for a moment. He won the Tour de France this year (he’s the guy who came in second last year, helping teammate Bradley Wiggins win). You gotta feel for him. What a thrill to win the Tour de France. What luck to win the 100th edition. What gawdawful timing to win the first Tour since Lance admitted to doping, meaning Froome had to answer endless questions about himself and whether he, too, was doping. Buzz. Kill.

In his defense, Froome said, “This is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time.” And that’s exactly what it’s come to. A test of time.

AUSTRALOPITHECUS: Seriously, we’ve been faced with cheaters since the beginning of human existence (I was there). In the Tour de France, it struck early. The very first edition of the Tour was won by a cyclist who was banned from competing the following year – for cheating. You can’t blame the man. He apparently won by three hours despite being a chain smoker.

The sign was there, people.

Still, there are very good reasons I’ve spent a hearty chunk of my summer watching the Tour de France the past 14 odd years:

– Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll are a multi-talented commentating team capable of making several hours of cycling coverage a day, for three straight weeks, addicting.

– The scenery in HD could be a National Geographic special with French countryside, the Alps covered in snow, this year’s Corsica coastline, and wildlife caught from a bird’s-eye view (race helicopters).

– The unique brand of fan and their passion makes for nail-biting entertainment. More or less clothed and inebriated, thousands of international fans spend several intimate nights camping on the side of a mountain. They wait days for one of the most interactive and exciting minutes in sports. It becomes about trust, when the pros whiz by close enough to smell, in groups of “winning,” “chasing,” “hanging tough” and “bargaining with a higher power to survive,” that the fans won’t interfere with history.

– It’s sprint finishes, like NASCAR with half the wheels and twice the odds of a massive human pileup.

– And characters like Peter Sagan, who loads his bike by riding it onto the roof of his car; Jens Voigt and his six kids; and Tony Martin, the toughest man in cycling – if not sports. He apparently has no pain receptors.

[The Tour de France and NBC Sports Network can mail my publicity plug check now.]

TIMBITS: Lindsey Vonn was on skis this past Labor Day – the first time in seven months, since a skiing accident left her with a fractured tibia and ACL/MCL tears. Sounds like she’s in a good frame of mind, too.

Voigt says he’s ridden his last Tour de France. The sport is soon losing one of the most entertaining, authentic characters of the modern era (he plans to participate in a few more non-Grand Tour races). Respect.

Surprise! The Patriots released Tebow. But he turned down an offer to play football in Russia, which is weird, because American Football Championship of Russia rules allow players to reference Bible verses on their eye black.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.