By Patrick O’Grady
David (Duffield) is a really nice guy, but he’s losing it. Apartfrom pointing out Lance Armstrong after 10 minutes or so, we learned nothingof the (Liège-Bastogne-Liège) participants until Eurosport put up a caption naming the breakaway riders. We had, however, a lecture on mussels, Hotel Mercur, sprockets and past winners of the race. – Julie Jones, on the newsgroup rec.bicycles.racing
Hey, now wait a minute!
Remember the bad old days of televised cycling coverage in the United States? Of course you do. Our demographic is composed almost entirely of forty-something masters racers, USA Cycling attorneys and some tosser calling himself Stikman, who pops by every Friday for a tad more torque on that wedgie I gave him a few weeks ago with the mountain-crossrant. For those few of you who came along after the Outdoor Life Network debuted in 1995, you don’t know how good you’ve got it, even with thoseirksome Bowflex commercials.
When I first became interested in bike racing, if you wanted to watch a spring classic you had to cultivate a pen pal in Belgium, then badger him to send you a bootleg video of the Eurosport coverage. But before you could actually watch it, you had to send the cassette to another pen pal – this one, a voodoo priest in Haiti – who, with just a little chicken blood, some graveyard dirt and a zombie schooled in PAL-to-NTSC conversion, would transcribe your Euro’ video into something your Yankee VCR could comprehend.
This, of course, did absolutely nothing to translate the Euro’ commentaryinto something your Yankee brain could comprehend. Mostly it wasin Flemish, which sounds like a drunken Orange Order trombonist tryingdesperately and futilely not to recycle that last pint through his instrumentduring the annual Apprentice Boys march through Portadown.
Come to think of it, the commentary still sounds like that, wheneverEurosport’s David Duffield is behind the mike instead of Phil Liggett andPaul Sherwen. Listening to the genially befuddled Duffield call a race is not unlike watching TV sports with an elderly, heavily medicated uncle,except TVs come with a mute button.
One wonders whether Duffers was standing ringside at a Lennox Lewisfight one fateful evening, sucking on a magnum of Bordeaux between nibbleson a rank fistful of Limburger, when Lennox suddenly threw a wild punch,wine and cheese went flying, and this is what the cycling world was leftwith after the doctors unwrapped the bandages.
Still, if forced to choose between the inane 30-second Tour recaps weused to get from ABC or ESPN and Duffieldnattering on about Fausto Coppi, shellfish or the putrid slab of goatsqueezings he noshed on last evening, give me cheddar-head every time.With OLN on the job, you get to see the pros play the game, just like everyother American sports fan with a premium cable package or satellite dish;add a fridge full of beer, an unplugged phone and a mute-equipped remote,and you’re as close as most of us will ever get to velo-heaven.
Sometimes the action is triumphal: Armstrong shooting Ullrich ‘The Look’in the 2001 Tour, or a mud-covered Museeuw abruptly deciding he was ina hurry to hit the showers at Roubaix this year.
And hot on the heels of that thrill of victory is the proverbial agonyof defeat, the fat, rancid slice of humble pie that gives winning sucha delicious taste by comparison: Ullrich’s head drooping to his handlebarsas Armstrong lights it up, or a weary Hincapie, wobbling along the cobbledroad to Roubaix, thinking, “Hell with it, I’m beat. See you back at thehotel, Tom, I’m gonna take a refreshing nap in this ditch here.”
Then he gets back up, soldiers on and finishes sixth! Me? I’dhave traded my bike to the first passer-by to come up with cab fare backto Paris and a full flask of brandy.
It’s inspiring, is what it is. After watching this year’s edition ofthe Hell of the North, I lumbered off the couch, grabbed a ’cross bikeand tackled my own windswept classic, the challenging Dog Mountain-BearBasin-Dog Mountain, a humpbacked, sandblasted 90 minutes of rippling gravelroad, dusty horse trail and rock-studded deer path, all of it above 8500feet, and I won, not least because I was the only guy riding. You’ll neversee it on OLN, unless they launch a “Funniest Cycling Videos” show. Buttrust me, it was epic, and now I’m ready to get back on that couch, ’causeit’s Thursday night, Flanders and Flèche Wallone are on, and mylegs hurt for some reason.
So move over, Dave old buddy, and pass the Bordeaux. But chuck the friggin’Gorgonzola in the loo, would you? It’s beginning to smell worse than FaustoCoppi’s feet.
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