Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tour 2004

In the third week of the Tour de France, the focus should be on the riders, particularly this year as the top competitors have been waiting for the mountains to make their moves. But again, much of the press has been about what they call the “real” tour, the drug and doping that’s been part of cycling since anybody can remember.

Dave Kindred of the Sporting News wrote a scathing indictment of the Tour in the NFL preview issue, claiming that the final week of the tour is the time French authorities are waiting to raid the teams and expose the rampant drug use. Three-time Tour winner Greg Lemond has said that doping is a part of the business and his discussions with Lance Armstrong have never elicited a denial by the Texan. Lemond is right when he says that Armstrong’s performance is “either the greatest comeback or the greatest fraud in the history of sports.”

Fans of the Tour or even just fans of sport have a large investment in Armstrong, his team, and the rest of the competition of the Tour. Major international corporations including Nike, AMD and Subaru have millions of dollars invested in the Tour, and Armstrong personally. The riders are tested and retested everyday. Armstrong has proclaimed to be clean every day during the tour and reiterates his position in his books. Certainly his quest to become the greatest rider of all time by winning six Tours has spurred some jealousy among other riders, fans and the European press.

One television crew tried to gain access to Armstrong’s hotel room last week during the tour, apparently trying to go through his stuff, looking for doping evidence. In 1998, French authorities blew up the Tour, raiding the teams and exposing evidence of drug use throughout the entire tour.

Allegedly, the testing procedures have rid the Tour of drug use, but Kindred contends that the drug use has just become more sophisticated, avoiding detection by current testing procedures. It would be incredibly disappointing to find out that Armstrong, and his comrades are doing incredible things, and it’s all fake.

But there is another side to the equation. Could it be that Armstrong and his coach, Chris Carmichael have discovered another training method that’s just better than what’s been done before? Armstrong has a completely different approach to the Tour, planning each stage, preparing his body to adapt to each climb, time trial or sprint. They work on things like weight to power ratio, pedal cadence and heart rate and carbohydrate and protein intake.

Armstrong has also assembled the strongest team in the history of the Tour, with each man knowing his role and accepting that their job is to help Lance win. In exchange for this, Armstrong distributes his winnings among the team, not accepting any of the prize money. A small nod to the work the Postal team does over the three weeks of the Tour.

I admit, I’m a fan, and have great admiration for anybody who tests their limits and finds how good he can be. But I’m not naive and know the whole thing could come crashing down. I just hope not.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tour 2004

I was asked the other day why I was such a big fan of the Tour de France. The answer was easy. It doesn’t have anything to do with Lance Armstrong or the U.S. Postal team. I’ve fervently followed the Tour for more than two decades. It’s a competition that is among the most pure in sport (at least now it’s supposed to be since they’ve “cleaned up” the blood doping problem.) It reveals weaknesses and strengths just the same. It doesn’t discriminate. There’s still a certain amount of sportsmanship involved, and professional etiquette.

The preparations are arduous, but exactly how can you prepare for more than 2,000miles on your bike over less than three weeks? To just finish the Tour, you have to be complete in body and mind, willing to test your physical limits as well as your mental toughness. You know you’re going to suffer. You know your mind is going to say STOP before you make the first pedal stroke on a particularly difficult mountain stage. You know your legs are going to hurt, and not feel better for a while. And you know you’ll be emotionally exhausted almost every day. On top of those tests, this most grueling of all individual sports involves a team aspect as well. Each team with a leader, each leader with the goal of wearing the yellow jersey. Each teammate has to be physically ready to ride and as important, have no personal ambitions whatsoever.

How do you approach a race knowing that you’ll spend the next 2,000 miles on your bike, wearing yourself out, trying to help somebody else win! It makes no sense, yet dozens of “domestiques” line up each year just to say they were part of the Tour de France. As well as a physical and mental struggle, the Tour is also dangerous, with numerous broken bones, dislocated joints, and even a few deaths part of the Tour’s history.

Greg LeMond upset the international cycling community when he won the Tour, and came back to do so twice more after being accidentally hit with a shotgun spray fired by a friend on a hunting trip. LeMond wasn’t supposed to be able to win the tour. He’s an American, for goodness sake! This was at a time when only Frenchmen, Belgians and the occasional Italian and Spaniard had won the race. It wasn’t supposed to be part of the American psyche, the American culture to allow an athlete to develop into a world class cyclist. But Lemond won and might have kept winning had Miguel Indurain not come along.

Lance Armstrong was never supposed to win the Tour de France. In fact, he wasn’t ever supposed to finish it. He was too big, too muscular and not able to stay with the best climbers in the world during the Tour’s mountain stages. After recovering from cancer, Armstrong came back to cycling lighter but with the same power, enabling him to climb like never before. His approach, like every other cyclist in the Tour, is very scientific. So much so, that his training is worked on down to the heartbeat. Work at this intensity, for this amount of time and you’ll be world class. And even though it’s scientific, there’s something else to it that’s not easily explained by numbers and calculations. There’s will, there’s heart, there’s something intangible about the guy who gets to the top of the mountain first.

And that’s why I’m such a fan of the Tour de France.