The longer answer, though, is sad.
I turned on Versus (or VS, or We Show Hockey Network, or whatever it’s called) last night at, oh, maybe 3 AM Eastern, and I caught the last few minutes of what I assume was Stage 2 of the Tour of California. And, lo and behold, it was compelling: There was a breakaway at the end of the stage that happened maybe five seconds too soon, and the renegade was swallowed by a hard-charging pack led by Tom Boonen, who won the stage and, I assume, a trip to a winery to be named later.
But what shocked me was how good the sport was to watch, contrasted with how obscure it seems.
Cycling, after all, is wonderful to watch, thanks largely to the dryly witty British announces Versus employs, and relatable to all who have ever been atop a bicycle. At last count, that included everyone on Earth over the age of 7, including those who do for purposes of defense, and excluding really, really lame bloggers. (Specifically, the one who writes this blog.)
The athleticism required, a fusion of immense strength, inexhaustible stamina, and steely will, is remarkable, and the agonies of a tour are ghastly. Cyclists put themselves through hell for pennies on the dollar, racking their bodies, and, in our steroid-swept times, their souls for answers to one simple question: Who can get from Point A to Point B fastest?
Unfortunately, the sport mortgaged its future for the present years ago with lax rules and laughable enforcement, and cycling became the sham sport of the public eye in the summer of 2006, with Landis’ literally incredible Stage 17 win followed by the hell that broke loose.
Look, I know that Lance Armstrong isn’t conquering the cycling world in the name of cancer survivors and America right now. (Machochip has him opening up a bike shop for the common man or woman who wants to smell uncommonly good after a ride.) I know that the hopes we had for Floyd Landis taking that mantle evanesced in the wake of failed testosterone tests and petulant appeals.
(An aside: Honestly, given what evidence I’ve read of, Landis is either a bigger liar than Nixon or the victim of a ludicrously huge conspiracy, and given that that same conspiracy would no doubt have snared Armstrong, too, I tend to believe the former.)
And I know that Armstrong, the pure, avenging American hero in the world’s sport, may be as pure as dirt, and that the only things he avenged may have been the slings and arrows of those doing their job without the aid of modern chemistry.
But the sport, pardon the pun, is on the road to respectability. Is one period of negligence enough to torpedo its appeal forever?
I should hope not.