Americans' response to Armstrong's Tour feat a little lacking
Posted: Monday August 2, 2004 11:58AM; Updated: Monday August 2, 2004 12:46PM
The day after Lance Armstrong won his record-breaking sixth Tour de France last week, a small article appeared in The New York Times detailing the creative ways residents of Austin, Texas, Armstrong's hometown, had commemorated his victory. These included a yellow spray-painted plastic flamingo among a flock of pink ones in front of a local nursery and crepe paper hung in the stairway of a local pub that spelled out GO LANCE.
"Perhaps the pinnacle of the tributes to Armstrong," the article reported, "was a pastry at the upscale Hudson's on the Bend restaurant, where the illusion of a bicycle was created with lemon mousse, cookies for wheels and a chocolate seat and handlebar, all gliding along a road made of chocolate."
Now, I like a road made of chocolate as much as the next person, but it seems to me that the guy who just won the toughest sporting event in the world for the sixth time in a row might reasonably expect a bit more in the way of stateside celebration. Where were the ticker tape parades? Or, in terms that modern American sports fans might appreciate, where were the cars flipped over and set afire? With all due respect to Hudson's undoubtedly esteemed pastry chef, doesn't a feat such as Armstrong's deserve greater fanfare than a cake? Doesn't it deserve, at the very least, a little discussion? The concensus around my corner of the Bay Area is that record-breaking win No. 6 hasn't generated nearly the buzz that record-tying win No. 5 did.
Sure, win five was far more dramatic than six, which was locked up early. In five, Armstrong visibly suffered; he had to overcome crashes, dehydration, messed-up equipment, an obscure, road-blocking protest against McDonald's and a fan's wayward tote bag to beat five-time runner up Jan Ullrich by 61 seconds. This year there were drug allegations blossoming anew and a fair amount of clucking over Armstrong's marital status. Some people I know won't comment on his victory simply because they disapprove of Armstrong divorcing the mother of his three kids and taking up with rock star Sheryl Crow.
Moreover, I suspect even non-judgmental Americans are starting to experience hero fatigue. And if American cycling fans are antsy for suspense, imagine the French, who have not always shown great patience with sustained dominance by foreigners. Fortunately, Armstrong avoided the fate of Belgian cycling great Eddy Merckx, whose bid to win his sixth Tour was ruined by a frustrated spectator who punched him in the gut on the Puy-de-Dome climb in 1975. Fans did Armstrong no damage this year, but the French media took a few shots after the race.
L'Equipe blasted him for single-handedly chasing down and humiliating Filippo Simeoni, the Italian cyclist who is suing Armstrong for defamation, in the 18th stage. Le Monde, the paper that has enthusiastically pursued all Armstrong-related drug rumors for the last few years, weighed in with a ponderous geopolitical piece about "Armstrong's America," basically equating Lance to U.S. military might. While Greg LeMond seemed to recall for the French "the GIs steeped in humanity and modernism back in the summer of 1944," Lance symbolized a different era, the paper opined. "One can only salute the performances of Armstrong's America. But, however imperfect, it's our right to prefer that of LeMond."
Personally, I am grateful to have had the chance to cover the Tour during Armstrong's reign (wins Nos. 4 and 5). His savvy as a cyclist aside, the guy is smart, he's interesting, he's quotable and he gives everything to this race. Eight years after his cancer diagnosis, his story remains compelling. He has single-handedly raised the profile of cycling in the U.S. and probably elsewhere and -- OK, this is a purely selfish point -- he speaks English, the one language I can generally understand without a translator. When he finally bids the Tour adieu, whether it's next year or the year after, I believe he will be sorely missed, even by the French media ...
Seeing the picture of John Kerry kitesurfing in the latest SI inspired me get back in touch with one of my favorite profile subjects of the last few years, kitesurfing icon Flash Austin. (Memorably, Flash told me in an interview two years ago that kitesurfing was like "touching the face of God," an assertion I have yet to test.) For fans who have lost track of him, Flash is currently in the midst of a three-month sojourn in Rio de Janeiro, where he is "bringing kiting to communities that need it" and otherwise "partaking of a culture" by mountain climbing in the morning, kitesurfing in the evening and traversing the backstreets of Rio by skateboard in the wee hours.
Do not count Flash among those who consider Kerry a wooden presence. Kerry's interest in kiting indicates that the presidential candidate is "somebody who is really in touch with his soul," Flash said. "It's amazing to me that someone of that political ... how shall I say it --flavor -- can also have an interest in something as freeing as kiting. To be so steeped in the political atmosphere and at the same time be so in touch with the natural side of himself ... to me, that's a really good combination." ...
Speaking of Kerry, I noted with interest his daughter, Alexandra's, speech at the convention that included the tale of Licorice the hamster, whom the presidential candidate saved from drowning when its cage was swept into the drink years ago. Incredibly, it was not the only pet-rodent rescue story making headlines last week. Check this out for the strange fate of Lucky the rabbit.
With football season drawing near, I thought it was time to see how the "sweeping" changes in the University of Colorado athletic department, promised in the wake of the football recruiting scandal and in lieu of anyone getting fired, were coming along. A brief perusal of the Denver area papers offered no news from CU's athletic department, per se, but at least the withered academic arm of the school is doing something about CU's boozy image: It is once again scheduling more than a few classes on Friday, the day students have traditionally reserved for recovery from Thursday nights.
Best name for a bowling team I've seen in a while: The Rolling Blackouts, the nom de lane for the team from Industrial Light and Magic in San Rafael, Calif. Nice touch on the left breast of their light blue, short-sleeved shirts: An IL&M logo that looks suspiciously like that of PG&E, the California utility company that plunged many of us into periodic darkness a few summers back. On that note, I better pull the plug on this blog. The Greek PG&E equivalents willing, I'll send news from Athens in a few weeks.