Sunday, May 13, 2012

It begins

A few of my friends believe that, for some unknown reason (at least to me), I became enamored of Lance Armstrong some years ago and began to watch professional cycling as a result. The truth is, I began watching cycling in the early 1980’s. At that time, there was an arrogant young punk named Greg Lemond who gifted the United States with some long-denied respect in the cycling world. When Lance came onto the scene a decade or so later, he was an arrogant young punk, too. But I liked his style, and it was fun, in those first years, to watch him battle it out with the Europeans in the Tour de France.

His fierce courage and bull-headed determination—especially after the cancer years—made the sport more interesting, for certain. But seeing those qualities plus an indomitable spirit in all my cycling favorites over the years is the lure that brings me eagerly back every year to planning 21 days in July around the Tour de France. Add to that, of course, the drama and intellectual stimulation of cycling’s particular chess game.

At least once a year someone mentions to me that they find cycling “boring,” or they don’t see what all the excitement could be about regarding ‘a bunch of guys in spandex riding bicycles.’ Which actually just reveals they’ve never watched a race. If you can’t appreciate the elite level of athleticism in these ‘guys in spandex,’ try riding 115 miles at an average speed of 30mph. Throw in some steep uphill climbs and maybe some sections of the road paved with cobblestones from the Sixteenth Century. If you’re still alive afterward, let me know how your ride went.

With the debut of Amgen’s Tour of California seven years ago, I now have a mini-drama right here in my own backyard in gorgeous sun-drenched California to look forward to every May. And that race begins today.

In recent weeks, the spring classics in Europe have been going full tilt, and fortunately for me, NBC Sports has been providing great coverage. I’ve watched big Tom Boonen win the Tour of Flanders and then, a week later, Paris Roubaix (his fourth win in the latter, tying a record). He will be here this week with the new team, Omega Pharma Quick-Step, and I’m excited to see how he negotiates the tough terrain of Mt. Baldy next Saturday.

Levi Leipheimer, a favorite of mine for years, will also be riding in the Amgen ToC this week. Levi survived a wicked crash in the second to last stage of the Paris – Nice race some weeks ago, only to be hit by a car during a training ride last month which result in a fractured fibula. Levi has won the ToC before, though he is saying at this point he doesn’t expect to be a contender in the overall standings. His leg is still on the mend, so props to him for coming out and competing anyway. How could he not? The ToC begins in Santa Rosa, where he currently resides.

Here’s hoping all my favorite guys ride safe, ride fair and sans performance enhancers for the next week. As I did last year, I will no doubt post quick daily updates on the race—if I’m not too busy watching.

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