Sunday, July 21, 2013

Do It 'til It Hurts: Tour de France 2013 (Pt. 2)

Greg LeMond was "the American" in the Tour de France during the 1980s and early 90s - even though there were other Americans in the Tour during those years - most notably Andy Hampsten and Davis Phinney for the U.S., not to mention usually solitary Americanos - Colombians, Panamanians, Brazilians, Costa Ricans, Mexicans - as well. All of them Americans, too, but never mind, we'll come to that.

Raul Alcala (MEX), Tour de France, 1993

The Tours of the 21st century, since the great Indurain retired, have been dominated by U.S. riders - Lance Armstrong's consecutive victories, followed by Floyd Landis's recalled victory in 2006 - a pretty amazing national run for a country that rode balloon tires until about 1970, and where cyclists are still regularly run off the road for fun.

And of course we still remember the Tylers (Hamilton and Farrar), Hincapie, Leipheimer and Zabriskie - retirees now, some of them witnesses for the Armstrong prosecution, all either disgraced, semi-redeemed by confession or by prosecutorial immunity. But as any good Calvinist will tell you, there's no such thing as semi-redemption. Paradise and a permanent place in the record book are granted neither the partial hero nor the confesser.

Last year's Tour, if you were wishing for something completely different, was won by Bradley Wiggins, the first Brit in history to win it. This year's Tour has by now been won by his teammate, Chris Froome, an Anglo-African born in Kenya. The runner up, wearer of the King of the Mountain polka-dot jersey and the Best Young Rider's white jersey, is Nairo Quintana, a rookie Colombian rider. (The Colombians, whether by some genetic marker or cultural mandate, ride for the polka-dots and usually get them.) The only other Colombian in the Tour, Jose Serpa (another rookie), will finish in the top 25 riders.

The U.S. had six entrants in the opening stage this year. Two (van de Velde and King) have dropped out, and Andrew Talinsky will probably finish a respectable (Schleck-like) tenth. Not exactly dominant. I have to wonder whether U.S. supremacy in the post-Indurain era was largely due to Armstrong's religious enforcement of team doping, and to what must have been an expensive and pervasive secrecy that involved the UCI, the Tour sponsors, and broadcast agencies with which the latter held lucrative contracts. More than I know, but it suggests the grip Armstrong had on the sport if you see it that way.

The Colombians have been around, mostly invisible, since the mid-80s. Luis Herrera was probably the first to make his mark on the European tour - the first to win a Tour de France stage (L'Alpe d'Huez, '84); the first South American to win a Grand Tour (Vuelta a Espagna, '87); and only the second (after another great Spaniard, Federico Bahamantes), to win the King of the Mountain jersey in all three Grand Tours.

So Lance is hiding out in Austin; CadelMageddon is over; los Estados Unidados are either in temporary, post-pharamaceutical disarray or are reverting to our own cultural mandate . . .

So I'm basically keeping my eye on Quintana and the Colombians these days. All two - or three? - of 'em.

A bunch of Colombians

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