Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tour de Disappointment

I've been looking forward to 2013 for years. Because two of my favorite things celebrate their centennial this summer-- the Tour de France and Stravinsky's ballet "The Rite of Spring"--I have (moronically) been referring to 2013 as my "year of destiny" for about five years in anticipation. Surely their convergence would mean good things for me.

It's been a great year in many respects, but the actual Tour de France and "The Rite of Spring" have been real let downs. Here's why The Rite was disappointing, but let's focus on the Tour.

This is going to require a little Tour de France 101; if you're a rabid fan like me, you can skip this paragraph. The Tour consists of 21 daily stages in which 9-person teams compete for various wins: stage wins (whoever crosses the finish line first that day); General Classification leader (whoever has the shortest time overall, marked by the yellow jersey); and other titles like "King of the Mountain" (best climber: polka-dotted jersey), best young rider (white jersey, awarded through points system to best under 25), and best sprinter (green jersey, also awarded through points system). The jerseys trade hands throughout the three weeks depending on who leads the competition, and the final winner is named in Paris on the last day.

On Sunday, Chris Froome, who had already been wearing the yellow jersey for about a week, beat everybody up the lunar-looking Mont Ventoux, one of the toughest climbs in Tour history. He easily pulled away from his only contender that day, a 23-year-old Colombian rider (Nairo Quintana) who had an 8-mile climb to school every day as a child.

Scenes like this are why you watch the Tour, this is how sports stars become heroes. Or it was until cycling's elaborate doping scandal mutilated the infinitesimal  amount of support the sport received from Americans (it's not all Lance's fault, but you can blame him for all I care, I never liked the guy). After watching guys shoot away from their rivals on mountain passes as if shot out of a cannon, and then learning they had a positive drug test, it seems remiss not to question poor Froome. He's been more than civil with reporters who repeatedly ask him if he's a doper, but his patience is running thin. Who can blame him? He won the hardest stage of the Tour in its centennial year, and all anybody wants to talk about are the sins of past riders.

His heroism seems even less believable after he won the time trial Wednesday. You mean he's the best climber and the best time trialist in the group?

I don't want to think things like that, but spectators have two choices: they can join the camp of naivete or the camp of cynicism. Both feel awful. I find myself withdrawn and neutral, unable to amp up my usual excitement. For the record, that feels awful, too.

The competition isn't disappointing, but the preservative hesitancy to feel anything for it certainly is. Let's hope time heals the wounds. And that Froome is telling the truth.