Cent Ans de la Plus Grande Course du Monde

Tour de France

stage 3


This is probably as good a moment as any to address if not the whole Lance Armstrong/drugs problem, then an overlapping issue that’s come up for me already in doing this for only three days so far. That is: sports fandom. It’s a mess now. The whole point of being a sports fan is essentially to be consumed by the mythology of the game and the players. ‘Mythology’ being a more dramatic term than ‘drama.’ I’m not even that much of a sports nut, but they’re simply no fun unless these men and women (as Serena gets knocked out of Wimbledon earlier today) are larger than life and to a serious extent superheroic, at least on 2 wheels (or on the ice). I’d argue that it’s necessary that athletes are heroic, which puts a lot of pressure on them in addition to the pressures of money, media, competition, livelihood, and so on. It’s hard to imagine any athlete at the professional level not being conscious of this pressure, which is not to forgive any whatever-it-takes behavior, but just to forefront the issue of fandom as it relates to drugs.

The problem, really, is what is our part — the fan’s — this mythology? It’s pretty simple: we have to choose from essentially two forms of fandom: 1) face the truth that everyone is doping, everyone is compromised, and fashion a new level playing field on that (which there is something to be said for as long as there’s no such thing as history or asterisks), or 2) participate willfully and complicity in the myth. And that, the bliss/ignorance of arguing the surfaces of one’s chosen sport — the surfaces of scores, rosters, replays — is very appealing.

In fact I’ve completely succumbed to the myth already, what with sentimentally upholding the minor heroics of Blel Kadri and Simon Clarke. In sports, the myth and the drama are real, as things to believe in. For the fan (as opposed to the player or employee), sports exist in the realm of entertainment, and thus no important reality, no important truth, is sacrificed by the fact that the game is built on fictions. It’s still really fucking hard to hit a fastball in the major leagues, and as my friend Ian argues, the advantage that drugs give professional cyclists relative to each other is infinitesimal, but any of these guys would still whip your ass on a tricycle. So.

(Whether this line ends ultimately in arguing for the legalization and regulation PEDs and thus the health of riders, which is an important reality, I’m not ready to say. I’m trying to be more of a progressive sentimentalist than the other way around.)

Today Liggett and Sherwen mentioned that Jürgen Roelandts is riding with a cracked or broken rib, and at one point Liggett said ‘There’s nothing to do about it except maybe put a compress on it tonight.’ Really, Phil? Are there not in fact the world’s most primo painkillers right at hand for all these guys, cracked ribs or not? There are. We have to know this. And yet, and yet . . .

Here is Pascal Simon, a domestique on the Peugeot team in 1983, who wore yellow for six days, in the mountains, with a broken shoulder blade. (I had forgotten the whole drama of Simon attacking against team leader Phil Anderson, and being able to do so because he was French.)

Drugs or not, that takes heart. Even the French love that shit. I certainly do. I’m a total sucker for it. I’ll try to be even-handed about the realities of the sport without sacrificing enthusiasm.