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Dog breath: A truly Grande Boucle

It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every 12 minutes one is interrupted by 12 dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper. – Rod Serling Wouldn’t you know, this would be the year I decide to do without TV for the Tour. It seemed like a good idea at the time, when we left Westcliffe for Colorado Springs. We’d had satellite TV on Mount Dog – HBO, OLN, the works – but the signal-to-noise ratio got way out of balance in late 2001, and we thought that we could spend the $50 a month on something that offered a little more return on the

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By Patrick O’Grady

It's good ... but it's just not OLN

It’s good … but it’s just not OLN

Photo: Patrick O’Grady


It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every 12 minutes one is interrupted by 12 dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper. – Rod Serling


Wouldn’t you know, this would be the year I decide to do without TV for the Tour.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, when we left Westcliffe for Colorado Springs. We’d had satellite TV on Mount Dog – HBO, OLN, the works – but the signal-to-noise ratio got way out of balance in late 2001, and we thought that we could spend the $50 a month on something that offered a little more return on the investment – say, a serviceable dinner out, a decent bottle of wine, or subscriptions to The Nation, Mother Jones and Cooking Light (hey, even Mother Jones had to hit the feed zone now and then).

I don’t miss CNN, Faux News and the rest of the so-called “news channels,” whose stories have more spin than a fixed gear on an alpine descent. If I want to navigate through steaming piles of fresh horseshit, I can always go back to Westcliffe and ride the Steelman at Bear Basin Ranch, home to some 70-odd hayburners who are definitely getting plenty of fiber.

And I didn’t miss OLN, either – until now.

This Tour, ladies and gents, is a bike race.

Frankly, I got a little bored with the Tour over the past couple of years. Like Miguel Induraín before him, Lance Armstrong had the peloton by the plums with a downhill pull, and everyone else seemed content to be racing for the remaining podium spots, a stage win, or a jersey in some hue other than yellow.

Armstrong made winning look easy. And even though even the most casual of bike racers knows better – the Tour isn’t easy for the press, the guys driving the camera motos, or even the spectators, much less the competitors – seemingly effortless victories do not make for stirring television.

So, given what dominates the airwaves during the 49 weeks a year when the Tour is not on, I pulled the plug. We have rabbit ears now: CBS, ABC and PBS, period. And if the set’s on, chances are there’s a DVD in the player, because if there’s anything worse than satellite or cable TV, it’s network TV.

Like I said, it seemed to be a good idea at the time. I’d been lending an occasional unskilled hand to the VeloNews web site, so I figured I’d have more than my fill of the Tour by the time U.S. Postal’s annual parade lap on the Champs-Elysées came around again, especially once Lance starting pinning minutes on guys like lead tails on Lycra donkeys.

And thus, having consigned TV to the trash heap and committed myself to the new media, wouldn’t you know it? A couple of wiseguys who stand a lot closer to Lance than I do took a good, long look at him and decided that four Tours or no, the dude pulls on his bibs the same way they do – one leg at a time – so why not have a go? It’s why they hold the race, no? To see who wins? Maybe all those race radios are playing a little Neil Young, the patron saint of burning out rather than fading away.

Tyler Hamilton takes an asphalt sample in stage one, says, “It’s only a flesh wound,” and remains a top-seven player all the way through stage 14. Joseba Beloki follows through on his promise to attack, only to roll a tarry tire and high-side it into the hospital. David Millar just misses setting a Tour record for making excuses as to why his hummingbird ass fails to keep pace with his alligator mouth (well, some things never change).

And Jan Ullrich, tanned, rested and ready after a few years of bad knees and worse brains, getting into more scrapes than Bill Clinton, any two of the Bush daughters and all Three Stooges, suddenly recalls that he won this race back in 1997 and opens up a 96-second can of whup-ass on SuperTex in the stage-12 time trial. The he adds a little insult to that injury in stage 13, jumping Lance on the final grinder and clipping his lead down to a measly 15 ticks.

This alone would be worth the price of a month’s worth of cable, Faux News and all. But when you throw Alexandre Vinokourov into the mix – a dude who clearly has no respect and would attack his wheelchair-bound granny if she were ahead of him in the buffet line – well, then, you’ve got yourself a Boucle you can safely call Grande, Hoss. It’s like watching some Bizarro World three-way version of the 1976 Foreman-Lyle fight, when both fighters spent more time on the canvas than Jackson Pollock.

Just 18 seconds separate Armstrong, Ullrich and Vinokourov as the Tour goes into goat country once again on Monday: The Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden, with 10,000 feet of up in 43km of climbing over the last 78 klicks. I wouldn’t tackle that action in my good truck with a satellite phone and the AAA all paid up.

But these guys will. And if Vino’ keeps acting all froggy, well, Lance might just have to do a little hopping his own bad self. Vino’s last, best chance comes Monday. But Ullrich, having beat both men like dusty rugs in that first TT, might just be willing to sit up and wave bye-bye as his former Telekom teammate scampers on up that long and lonely road, betting the jersey that he can do it again come the stage-19 race of truth, when it will be time to raise, fold or call.

Me, I’m calling – calling a friend and teammate who’s got cable, that is. I bet a full rack of Starbucks java and a sack of Krispy Kremes that I’m watching Le Tour on something besides a PowerBook tomorrow morning.


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