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By Patrick O’Grady
writing in the July 15 edition of The New York Times
Not to contradict Sam Abt, who has forgotten more about the Tour de France than I will ever know, but plenty of important stuff has happened during this year’s Tour.
True, most of what’s happened has had little to do with who will roll down the Champs-Élysées wearing a stylish yellow jersey and a big white grin come July 25. But then you can’t have everything, not even in the Tour.
For starters, it’s moderately important that the stage layout sucks. Front-loading the Tour with flat, fast stages, shunning both time trials and selective climbs, ensured that pretty much everybody except Jean-Marie LeBlanc would yard-sale at least once – including poor Matt White of Cofidis, who ate it on a TV cable warming up for the prologue.
And once the daily disasters pre-empted the super-sprinters’ shootout between Alessandro Petacchi and Mario Cipollini, both of whom crashed out early on, we had to settle for the mini-spectacle of one-legged, half-arsed Robbie McEwen frantically stumping his way to the front after getting run through the Cuisinart on “purée” in the last klick of stage 6. When he won his second stage, I half expected the poor, battered bastard to turn up on the podium wearing an eyepatch and a parrot.
Anyway, let’s recap the “action” to date, shall we?
Fabian Cancellara won the prologue and the first yellow jersey, while Jaan Kirsipuu won stage 1 and the jersey for the guy with the most vowels in his name. McEwen took stage 2, and Thor Hushovd became the first-ever Norwegian to wear yellow, which gave journalists a chance to make lame thunder-god gags, last-century hammer-time yuks and obscure references to “Prairie Home Companion.”
Stage 3 taught all of us, and especially Iban “I Could’a Been a Contender” Mayo, a bitter lesson about the hazards of pausing for a head-first, do-it-yourself colonscopy during a bike race. Lance Armstrong got the yellow jersey after Postal won the stage 4 TTT, which had more “everyone’s a winner” rules than a Montessori T-ball game in the People’s Republic of Boulder; more noteworthy was Tyler Hamilton’s Phonak squad finishing second despite the sort of evil luck you wouldn’t wish on an Iraqi headsman.
Some guy named O’Grady won stage 5 (wasn’t me), while Thomas Voeckler got Armstrong’s pretty yellow shirt and the joys of defending it with his merry band of breadsticks. Tom Boonen got stage 6, photographer Casey Gibson got him, and journalists got a chance to make “Wallace and Gromit” jokes. Stage 7 went to Filippo “Pippo” Pozzato, who is not a household name, even in his own household. And Thor hammered ’em again in stage 8. (See how that works? Journalists live for that sort of convergence. That, and open bars at press conferences.)
On the 10th day, we rested, except for a few of the favorites, who whenever a mike or a notepad was within reach allowed as how they would be kicking ass just about any day now, and the Italian dope cops, who managed to get a couple guys who hadn’t crashed out yet 86’ed from the Tour for being “under investigation” in what, like Texas, is “a whole other country.”
When racing resumed, McEwen won stage 9, then winked at his parrot with his one good eye. Arrr, matey. Come stage 10, Richard “Spotted Dick” Virenque and Voeckler presented France with a daily double just in time for Bastille Day, with the extra added bonus of giving a brutal wedgie to a Merckx (you think the Cannibal would’ve fallen for that little strategem? Puh-leeze). Meanwhile, the favorites idled along behind, giving each other tips on leg-shaving, sunscreen and idly wondering sotto voce about where a doper, if there were one, and we’re not saying there is, might be able stash his stuff in a hotel so securely that not even David Walsh, the Italian dope cops and TV station France 3 could find it.
David Moncoutié won stage 11, because, being a Frog and all, he doesn’t have to worry about Walsh, Roman legions or French muckrakers tossing his hotel room for hypos, black goats and copies of the Necronomicon written in Tom Simpson’s blood on William S. Burroughs’s skin. Anyway, that’s what they say down at the VFW bar. And three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond arose from the grave like Trekcula to take a nip at Armstrong in the French daily Le Monde. LeMond … Le Monde. Hmmm. Could it be a coincidence? You be the judge. Me, I know where the guys at the VFW bar stand.
Anyway, the whole damn’ Tour was proving to be about as exciting as the Martha Stewart trial, and I couldn’t have been happier about deciding against wasting money on cable this year. The only sense of anticipation the organizers had managed to create in what could have been an historic Tour involved their draconian “zero tolerance” rule regarding riders implicated in doping inquiries; I’m sure I’m not the other one who wondered whether some Inspector Clouseau type might turn up outside the Postal bus, asking Monsieur Armstrong to assist him with certain inquiries.
If I weren’t getting paid to help cover this race, I thought grumpily late Thursday, I wouldn’t be paying any attention to it at all.
And then – wouldn’t you just know it?. Today, on stage 12. . . .
Did something happen, or is O’Grady just making it all up, like usual? Drop a dime to email@example.com. Oh, and Inspector Clouseau? Kato would like to see you in the kitchen.