Friday Group Ride #173

Perhaps we should discuss this elephant, the Tour de France, camped in our virtual living room. We have not been writing about the pros so much lately. This is less a conscious decision, and more just a reflection of natural inclinations. We are less interested in the pros generally and the Tour specifically, Padraig and I, than we have been in a loooongg time.

And why is that? Sadly, it seems to be a result of doping burnout. Perhaps we labored under a set of willful delusions, even after we knew how widespread doping was in the pro ranks, that allowed us to parse out teams and characters whom we like and on some level believed in. Thinking back on many of the posts and comment threads here on RKP over recent years, much of the discussion centers not on whether doping has been endemic, but rather on who is and who isn’t believable.

But when things came to a head last year, and confessions began flowing like champagne at a wedding, our ability to single out and separate the good guys from the bad guys was badly hampered. Seemingly good guys, minor players, had done bad things. We knew, but didn’t want to know. We thought we had accepted it, but we hadn’t. Our skepticism about the pro peloton was shown to be too conservative, not too cynical. Our ability to be entertained by the drama was overtaken by the burgeoning farce.

And so…this elephant.

Normally, this Group Ride would center on predictions for the race. Froome or Contador? What will Evans make of himself here in the twilight of his racing career? Which of the young pretenders will distinguish himself? Is Andy Schleck back, at last? Will he even finish? Those are just the tip of the French iceberg.

In some diminished way, we are interested in the answers. When you have cared so much for so long, it is hard to let go of the reflexive curiosity, the desire to engage friends in a serious discussion about a not-serious thing. But for us, the heat’s just not there, and we find ourselves far more interested in our kids’ riding or in the bikes and routes and stories of our friends.

Still, this week’s Group Ride is about the Tour de France. How do you feel about it now? Do you care who wins? If not, why not? You can tell us, Froome or Contador. You can answer any of the questions above, if that’s where you’re at, or maybe you can help us explain this feeling which is, in many ways, worse than the anger we used to indulge over the bad behavior of small and distant men. What is this new indifference, and will we, some of us, most of us, get back to that place of caring passionately?

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  1. Wes Parsel

    I’m relatively new to cycling, making this my 2nd closely watched tour, but boy am I excited! It’s the 100’s edition for god sakes! Doping or no doping, I can’t do anything for 6 hours a day for 21 days.

    I’m still in the honeymoon stage for a new cycling fan. Politics aside, racing along some of the world’s most beautiful landscape at excruciating speeds is what makes the Tour great. I recently stood near the KOM of stage two of the Tour of California and watched the suffering that heat and climbing will do to even the most seasoned pro. It gave me a new respect for the sport that a simple category 4 near my house just can’t reveal. VIVA LE TOUR

  2. Sam

    I still care. The excitement of sport and competition draw me to every race, not the names in the race. It’s like rooting for the Royals in the MLB: they suck and don’t win, but that’s not the point for me. And besides, Tejay’s going to win that thing–that kids on fire.

  3. Jeremy

    I can say that I honestly am excited about the Tour this year. More so for the drama that builds around this time than for rooting any single rider on. It’s the 100th edition and will hopefully drawn some more extravaganza from the promoters (the finish in Paris sounds like it will be neat). I love all the tech releases that happen and back stories of all these riders that seem to emerge around this time.

    Additionally I just enjoy the cat and mouse drama of the race. More so for the entertainment rather than the awe of the “performance” compared to real world standards.

    After all, professional cycling is entertainment for 99.99% of us. It does not have to be linked to our personal enjoyment gained from riding a bike.

  4. scaredskinnydog

    I’m probably more excited about the Tour this year than I have been for many years. For one thing the organizer’s created a course that is going to be full of constant surprises, no one team is going to be able to control the race all the way through. Add to that a handfull of uber talented teams dead set on animating the race and you’ve got all the ingredients for a real humdinger! My pick for darkhorse heroics is Tom Danielson. Tommy D’s got the eye of the tiger!
    My advice to anyone feeling too jaded to watch is to just sit down with a beer and watch the race, the passion will return.

  5. Peter lin

    I look forward to Le Tour for the same reason I watch any other professional sports. It’s a fun distraction. Like any other professional sports, there’s the greedy dark side of bad refs, juicing/doping, politics, poor sportsmanship and other craziness. I’m not that old, but I remember when the Russian Olympic team was accused of massive cheating.

    My bias feeling is this. If we let the cheaters ruin the sport for the everyone, they win. My love of cycling is detached from professional sports and is all about the physical benefits I get from it and the friends that share it with me. Regardless of what some knucklehead does in the sport, every mile and every minute I spend cycling is a gift. That gift isn’t something a pro cyclist can take away.

  6. Ted

    I am always excited and looking for stuff like Andy Schleck trying to win the Tour in a single stage with Cadel pulling the entire field after him trying to limit the damage or Thibaut Pinot riding away from the rabid remonstrances of Madiot. There will be at least one stage where something will happen that will mandate that I keep it on the DVR until next year’s spring classics roll around.

    And can we just give all the dopers their titles back, with the requisite actual or virtual asterisks (like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire et al will have after their “exploits”) so they stop commandeering the beginning of the Tour? All these windbags do is make it appear that all cyclists are still dopers because that’s the only thing anyone ever hears about come Tour time. Truth and Reconciliation and indepedent testing can’t come soon enough. Please….

  7. armybikerider

    The TdF is entertainment. Say what you will, but it all comes down to entertainment. My level of excitement for professional bicycle racing in general waxes and wanes with what I’m doing in my life – much as it does with every other form of entertainment that I pay attention to.

    Riding MY bike is an important part of my life, watching others ride their bikes has always been something that I can take or leave. What will I be doing tommorrow when the TdF is aired on NBC Sports @7:30 AM? NOT watching TV, but it’s because I’ll be riding my bike, not that I’m not interested.

  8. Wsquared

    Your collective disinterest in the pros and racing (other than doping stories, which generate much needed clicks) is the main reason I don’t check into RKP nearly as often as I used to. I found out about RKP when I learned John Wilcockson was writing a weekly column here. Now, though still on the mast head, he appears to be gone. Maybe you should change the name of the site to more accurately reflect its content, as in its about something other than racing. I find that doper discussions regularly degenerate into echo chambers for a minority of the bloody minded. I believe that’s why Cycling News now has some doper discussion free racing forums. People got sick and tired of getting ranted at by the same trolls over and over again. The doper obsessed have there own threads. I’m all for cracking down on drugs, but I’m fed up with some troll snarking about “They’re all dopers” after every race.

    You certainly don’t have to follow racing to enjoy and discuss cycling, but for me, after almost 40 years of following the sport, it’s part and parcel of my own experience. I still love watching & reading about racing. IMO, cycling is cleaner now than it has ever been, and is cleaner than other pro sports that I watch like baseball and football. There’s been a lot of exciting racing this season.

    For those of you who say they don’t watch cycling any more because of past doping, if you’re consistent & honest in you’re beliefs, you’re not watching any pro sports at all. That would put you in about 1% of the world’s population. It’s kind of trendy in some bike forums to turn up your nose at pro cycling these days, but I’m not going to pick up my marbles, go home, and play the wounded drama queen wailing about the past. There’s too much good bike racing to watch.

  9. Michael

    Ever since my wife gave birth to our first children (twins) I just haven’t cared much for the pros. Who will win? I couldn’t give a damn. Now when my boys keep the rubber side down, and we ride our bikes around the block, that will be one hell of a lot more exciting to me than a bunch of, doped up, over paid, animals on machines I can only look at longingly becuase I’m busy saving up for college. But since they all take PEDs, I won’t watch The Tour and make my children think the pros are any sort of a role model.

  10. randall

    I have my confirmation for the TDF challenge, and my hotel near the finale.

    Maybe I think I finally get it, why other Americans are so… mired? For me, the Grand Boucle will never be about the 15 seconds it takes for the peloton to go past. If one has never had the opportunity to experience the experience, it must be easy to focus on what one hears on the news.

    It’s a wonderful event. If you’ve never been, go for a day or two, then stay a week in the countryside and enjoy the food, wine, cheese, scenery and people. The tour isn’t just the people, and everything else is worth getting excited for!

    @Michael, LOL twins, I hope mine never want to compete, only because then I’d really be broke!

  11. SusanJane

    …the Tour de France. How do you feel about it now?
    I remember how Wes Parsel feels about the Tour. I was glued to my chair. Glued for the whole broadcast. No interruptions. And the family had to suffer through my summary of the stage with exotic names, strange tactics, wins, losses. I miss that.

    Do you care who wins? If not, why not? You can tell us, Froome or Contador.
    I do care who wins but I’m 90% more interested in _how_ everyone wins. It’s big shift. The glamor, hype and politics are just not my thing any more. 100 years means nothing. Whoever is on that podium (all the jerseys) had better earn it.

    …will we, some of us, most of us, get back to that place of caring passionately?
    We still have some dark times ahead with Truth & Reconciliation, and the UCI. Ask me then. Ask me when it’s all over. I hope I have enough passion for the sport to keep staying with it. As long as people like Wes keep coming back maybe I can too.

  12. Mark Young

    I do not care who wins, but more importantly were the stages exciting. Last years race was fairly boring but there were stages where unexpected things happened. Either way, I will be glued to my computer in the morning “watching” the “live feed” from either VN or CN. I would love to move my TV outside and do some tailgating with my wife’s brushetta and my daughters chicken pesto pasta and IPA, followed by a Rutherford Petit Syrah! (that’s racing food!)

    Like others, I have grown tired of the endless stores about the past and the pontificating of the armchair QB’s and actually care less about what these guys do. I prefer they make good choices and more so that they all do, but I watch the race for what it is and then go out and ride my bike because I love the exhilaration it provides.

  13. Bill Harris

    Surprisingly ambivalent, which is a shame because a) I so clearly remember feeling as Wes does about the 100th anniversary of the Tour in 2003; and b) it’s the main reason I dropped a small fortune on the huge flat-screen back in January.

  14. Ron S

    As with, dare I say, all professional sport, it’s really about entertainment. This year with no clear GC favorite (OK Froome is a favorite but he really doesn’t have a track record in big races), I am for the first time excited about the green jersey. Can you say smack down, the Manx Missle against the Slovakian Sharpshooter. I hope it goes down the final day. Back to the GC. I’ll only be interested if a new guy shows great form (but then I’ll also be suspicious. . .). Froome and the big bad Sky team doesn’t interest me. And I could care less if El Dope’ “wins” again. However, should bad luck befall these two and it’s wide open for a young gun to strut his stuff, then I’m all in, but otherwise, let the sprinting begin. TIOOYK

  15. Author

    @ ALL – This is great. I like the way this is going. People ARE more excited than I am. You know, I am on-board with the “it’s only entertainment” sentiment, but in practice, I need to care about the players on some level to be entertained by them. As I said to Padraig, I don’t normally enjoy movies that don’t have likeable characters in them. They may be well made, but without some sort of empathy, most forms of entertainment, sport of otherwise, just leave me cold.

    Having said all that, I have faith that my interest in the pros will return. I’m on vacation during the Tour, and free time plus cycling usually leads to good things. I’ll be riding a lot. We’ll see how much watching I get done.

    Thanks for all your input, as always.

  16. Paul

    I agree with Wsquared on the doper question. Why would revelations about what happened in the past make you ignore the fact that cycling is cleaner now than it has been in a long time, that dopers are much less welcome in the peloton, that there’s been a seismic shift in attitude, and that all those young cyclists deserve your support?

    Looking forward tremendously to the tour, especially after the relative washout at this year’s Giro, with all the stage changes. Froome for the win, for me.

  17. Patrick O'Brien

    My interest in the Tour is very low, but it is just me. But we used to be a big fan, but never enough to buy the 150 channel package to just watch the Tour. We did buy the T shirts, caps, and other stuff including books, magazines, and videos. But that books and DVD got sold off last year. This year we will continue the tradition of watching a critical stage at a friend’s home. We picked stage 18.

  18. Eto

    I look forward to the start tomorrow morning.

    On the premise that no one team should be so dominant any longer, I am interested in seeing how the top teams play their cards. I expect some surprises from riders who we may not be expecting much from, like Schleck, Evans or Ryder.

    Tapping into le tour over the next three weeks will be a nice treat.

  19. ScottyCycles

    I’m looking forward to Cavendish and Sagan going head to head for the Green jersey and to see Jens go on a long solo break.

  20. JPrummer

    With all the nonsense going on in country I need the real life distractions the Tour provides. The Tour puts me in a better mood and keeps me from watching the national news as much. After all our country is a bit messed up. The Tour can bring some of us together that may have different political views. Just ask Charles Pelkey. We share opposite political views but the cycling thing gives us common ground. Charles you are awesome.

  21. Petros V

    Well, doping or not, this time of year, every year, I turn into a couch potato glued to the TV. The Tour is fascinating. It is bigger than any one participant (I think someone said that once)…it is true. I would have loved to be at the finishing stage in 21 days. Or at L’Alpe d’Huez. Or Mont Ventoux. Those places are legendary!
    Who will win, or who do I want to win?
    I think that Sky was very powerful last year. They had two legitimate contenders, one was a lot stronger during some stages, but the ‘expected’ one, the team leader won. I don’t think Froome is as much of a lock as everyone expects. I cannot stand Contador, but he’ll probably be strong.
    I will be pulling hard, really hard, for Cadel. Why? Just because…

  22. MCH

    Personally, I’m not that excited by the Tour simply because the racing hasn’t been that exciting over the past several years. No great rivalries, no daring exploits, no panache. The UCI banned race radios. Perhaps they should ban power meters.

    I find the classics much more interesting.

  23. Patrick O'Brien

    The TdF was started to promote magazines and newspapers. The idea was to make it so difficult no one could finish, and even today the grand tours seem determined to outdo each other in ever longer stages and steeper climbs. It still works better for print than TV. And it still is a spectacle with the sport becoming secondary in importance. The tradition is the product, and ASO has the monopoly. I live in SE Arizona, and when the Vuelta de Bisbee died, my interest in the TdF waned. I lost my connection. I am getting older, but I hope not stale or stuck in time, and I tire of seeing the same old shit every year. So, no TV for me. I can’t afford or want to sit that long in front of the lobotomy box.

  24. hoshie99

    Definitely less interested than in prior years – even though everyone w/ a history in the sport was aware of what was up, I’ll second the doping burnout.

    I am more interested in discovering my own roads these days which, on balance, is probably better.


  25. bigwagon

    Wsquared said it well. I don’t really care about the doping stories from the past. I take the Tour as entertainment on it’s face value, just like when I watch a movie I don’t pick apart the special effects or obsess about holes in the plot. I can enjoy it in the moment and not get too wrapped up in all the rest. Rooting for Contador.

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