By Sal Ruibal
The 100th Tour de France begins Saturday on the French island of Corsica. The entire entourage that is the bolus of the Tour will cross the Ligurian Sea on an ocean liner.
Suzanne, one of six student journalists who won a spot covering Le Tour, describes her delight at spending the next month interviewing smelly, horny and emaciated riders: “It’s like finding the golden ticket in a Willy Wonka chocolate. We are unable to believe that we’re doing what we are; it’s happening and nothing can be better.”
There was a time when I was a grown-up version of Suzanne, going to my first Tour de France in 2000. Nothing could have been better. The nature of the Tour in 2013 is a lot like the Tour of 2000: Fingers crossed, hoping that the big skunk of doping doesn’t crawl under the dessert tent and crash the pretty party.
In 2000, the Tour was wishing and hoping and praying that Lance Armstrong’s 1999 win wasn’t powered by anything more than Gatorade and Trek. When he won again, there were sighs of relief, but all that expensive French perfume on the Champs-Elysees was tinged with some Eau du Pepé Le Pew.
Well, we all know what happened after that. I went to five more Tours and the skunks outnumbered the pussycats. Lance, Floyd, Johan, George, Tyler and all the rest took a long time to corral, but now we know that cheaters do prosper but eventually they all get caught because the only drug more powerful than EPO and steroids is hubris.
So bon chance to Suzanne and her pals. I hope they have the time of their lives. I had a great time at my Tours and made some great friends. But what I cherish the most was being able to take a bike there and ride some of the greatest roads in the world.
So this year I may get up early or stay up late and watch the Tour. But I will also ride my own bikes at least one hour every day the race is on. I owe it to the sport to turn my own pedals not in anger, but in the joy of moving on the surface of this beautiful planet under my own power.
The dopers may have cheated the sport, but they haven’t killed it.
I see more people riding than ever, especially women. Mountain bikes, cross-bikes, TT bikes, enduro bikes, tandems, gravel grinders, kids bikes, beater bikes, fat bikes, BMX bikes, 26ers, 29ers, 650bs and unicycles are all in the mix now.
Long live Le Tour, but better yet, long live cycling!