Jun 30, 2011, 3:40 PM EST
Say you’re the folks who organize the Tour de France, and you want to get people’s minds off of all this doping business. Yes, drugs have cast an inky shadow over the event in recent years, but we’re beyond all that. Here’s to a new age of fair play and clean living!
Of course what you’d do is erect a replica Roman Circus, and let an angry mob boo your defending champion.
Yep. More than 7,000 people attended the Tour de France opening ceremonies at the Puy-du-Fou today, in which the 22 racing teams were introduced in a fashion that you had to love … if you’re Caligula. This is totally true: They remodeled an arena to look like a Roman gladiatorial stadium, and brought the teams out in a variety ways that included carriages, Roman soldiers, medieval knights (?) and girls in flowing robes. They even rose one of the teams up into the middle of the stadium via an underground lift, as in the movie Gladiator.
Only this time, the crowd wasn’t so ready to let the protagonist live.
Alberto Contador, who won last year’s Tour de France amidst doping allegations (he failed two urine tests but was later cleared), was roundly booed when he took the podium on Thursday. I imagine there were quite a few thumbs-down gestures as well. (Also, at least one cry of “Sir! Please close your toga!”). The entire spectacle was something only the French could dream up, and served as a fitting beginning to an event the world is now referring to as the Tour de Farce.
But wait, don’t touch that dial. If you’re thinking of tuning out this year, I have to ask, are you nuts? A circus is still a circus, and if politics has taught is anything, it’s that the more dysfunctional the event, the greater the potential for entertainment. There are many reasons that the Tour de France is worth watching, amigo. Here are nine of them.
9. Sheep can influence the outcome. In last year’s race, Contador was helped in the final mountain stage when a herd of sheep wandered onto the course. He darted through the obstacles, but other riders were slowed and fell back a bit in their times for the day. I can think of no other sport in which mutton has played any major role.
8. There’s always a chance one rider will attack another rider with a bicycle wheel. Yep. In last year’s race, Carlos Barredo and Rui Costa engaged in a wild fight at the finish line of stage six, with video showing Barredo releasing his front wheel and using it as a weapon. Barredo told Spanish journalists that Costa had elbowed him in the gut during the race, nearly throwing him off his bike. The best part: Neither rider was expelled.
7. They may be using motorized bikes. When Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara won the Tour’s Prologue race last year, officials immediately grabbed his bike and x-rayed it to see if he had used any hidden motors. This is true, and there are still those who say that some riders use them. Hold on Gunther, we’re making the jump to light speed!
6. Lance Armstrong still taunting the French. Even though he’s not racing this year, the seven-time winner announced plans today to attend the final two days of the race. Possibly this is just to tick off the French, who are still unable to let the whole doping thing go. Hopefully he won’t run into Tyler Hamilton, however.
5. The Course.
4. The Tour de Pigeons! As a prelude to this year’s race, organizers are holding a Pigeon Tour de France. From Reuters: Just days before cycling’s elite gather to race in the grueling Tour de France, pigeon fanciers are looking to promote their sport with a 13-stage race around the country. The pigeons completed the fourth stage of their race on Thursday, eclipsing their cycling counterparts as they whizzed from town to town at speeds ranging from 40 km per hour (25 miles per hour) to 120 km/h, with favourable gusts. Unfortunately, “Checkers” was forced to relinquish his title when he failed the poop test following the third stage.
3. It’s the only sporting event which requires skin-tight pants and a map of the Alps. In what other sport does the playing surface suddenly shift upwards and disappear into the mountains? And in what other sport can you just pull over and pee? And is this how the yellow jersey became a tradition?
2. The Crashes. With the stakes so high and the course so windy and littered with sheep, it’s inevitable that riders are going to go down, some in spectacular fashion. Here’s a video collection I think you will enjoy.
1. El Diablo. It just wouldn’t be the Tour de France without the guy in a Devil’s costume running along and annoying the riders with a pitchfork (see video below). But there are other characters as well, including the mysterious Chicken Man, and of course Borat. Also, a very talented Robin Williams impersonator, who … wait a minute, that’s actually Robin Williams. (Pushes him into path of oncoming bikes). That’s for License to Wed!
Rick’s Cafe Americain appears each Thursday. Contact: Rickchand@gmail.com.
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- None found