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Once again, pro cycling has been pigeonholed as a bonanza of doping, cheating, and poor sportsmanship. The mainstream world will get another chance to laugh at our sport when “Tour de Pharmacy” comes out July 8, one week into the Tour de France. Should we be mad that our hallowed sport and the 103-year-old Tour de France are being so mercilessly clowned?
At first, I was. But then I watched the movie, had some laughs, and realized it is simply cycling’s “Talladega Nights” moment.
Andy Samberg’s mockumentary follows a fictional version of the 1982 Tour. Ironically, this was prior to blood doping’s heyday. (Amgen got approval to produce Epogen (EPO) in 1989. The proliferation of blood transfusions came a few years prior to that.) Nitpicking aside, the movie hits all of cycling’s lowlights in just under 40 minutes.
There’s no need to worry about opening old wounds in the sport’s psyche, though. “Tour de Pharmacy” is just too outlandish to be taken seriously. UCI boss Ditmer Klerken is entirely corrupt but prone to entirely truthful outbursts in press conferences. Stu Ruckman, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency admits to taking every banned drug and then painting his experiences. All the riders are taking all the drugs. Motorized cheating even gets a shout-out.
Doping is a sore subject for fans, journalists, and riders alike. We love cycling. We hate when cheating tarnishes it. Yet at the same time, we don’t willfully ignore those dark days. Time and time again, cycling media revisits doping, always in a serious manner. That reporting is critical, but is it the only way we can or should talk about doping?
Of course, cheating has ruined countless cycling careers — and worse. In that sense, it is no laughing matter. However, you’ve got to admit that there have been some stranger-than-fiction episodes along the way.
Remember when the late Frank Vandenbroucke claimed a stash of EPO was for his dog? Or when Floyd Landis said that a nip of post-race whiskey threw off his doping sample? How about the time when Tyler Hamilton tried to tell us a failed anti-doping test was due to his vanishing tetragametic chimera twin? You couldn’t make these stories up, and yet they did.
Cycling’s ludicrous litany of doping sagas borders on parody, with or without Samberg’s help. Is it so wrong for “Tour de Pharmacy” to take it one step further? Maybe in laughing at cycling’s win-at-all-costs past, we’ll be more inclined to look at the present with a critical eye.
Also, I can stomach the mockery because the movie makes fun of nearly everything. The film crew bungles a few segments — clearly on purpose — which were some of the funniest parts. Cycling journalists get their just deserts, portrayed as uptight, self-serious nerds unaware of any other sport. And as you’d expect, the movie lampoons the French in a variety of ways.
Before I watched “Tour de Pharmacy,” I fretted that Samberg’s spoof would turn people off of cycling. It won’t.
The movie is so over-the-top that no rational person will take it seriously. No one will watch this and think that racers actually tackle each other off their bikes, for instance. Does anyone think that a NASCAR race could end in a ridiculous running race, a-la “Talladega Nights?”
However, there is one part of the movie that I can’t reconcile. Alongside Mike Tyson, Lance Armstrong has regular interview segments throughout. Never one for contrition, it feels like he’s twisting the knife with this appearance. By making an appearance, Armstrong is perpetuating his long-held defense that everyone was doping when he ran the table at seven Tours. Instead, Samberg should have created a fictional character like Armstrong. (Italian rider Juju Pepe is a spitting image of Marco Pantani.) Plus, Samberg could have then cast an actual actor for the role.
Whatever your opinion of Armstrong and his acting, I doubt “Tour de Pharmacy” will change your mind. Similarly, this movie shouldn’t diminish your love for cycling — but it could make you hate Samberg. On the other hand, if you’re clueless about the Tour, maybe you’ll tune in this July to see what it is really all about.
And that’s the point, really. Cycling has arrived. Finally, we have a spoof movie, lousy with Hollywood A-listers, ample nudity, and crude humor that riffs on the Tour. It is not as funny as “Happy Gilmore” or as classic as “Slap Shot.” I watched it, and I got a few laughs out of it.
Cycling has gotten this far. I don’t think a wacky made-for-TV movie on HBO will tank our sport.