Tour de Crash

08/05/2010 06:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Contact sports with good quality smash factor are guaranteed moneymakers. Demolition Derby, football, and the fine art of Theater Wrestling packs coliseums and auditoriums with fans, just craving a good pileup.

Cycling is different. Racers practice the fine art of avoiding each other. Rocking handlebars an inch apart, they somehow undulate with the grace of a bee swarm across the finish line. One nanosecond of a wrong move would ruin the party.

So, what's to like about bike racing? No smashing with purpose. No big money. Aversion to physical contact. Uniforms made of tight-fitting Phospho-Lycra decorated with dozens of sponsor logos. Wild socks and strange helmets.

Getting into all this stuff is interestingly called "suiting up." What?

I've done a lot of bike racing, and I'm willing to admit I've probably been laughed at for years. A good friend who's an author has a place in Moab but doesn't ride. He calls it the Halloween Lycra Parade. We're a little low on the spectator list and don't get much respect.

Racing is strictly a participating sport for me. I'll watch others doing it for about ten seconds during the sprint, and then I'm done, "suited up," and out the door.

This year however, I watched the entire Tour de France. I watched the replays. Twice. And for the first time, I got an attitude adjustment on my own sport.

But it's complicated.

Tour de France organizers are gifted event planners. They manage to lure thousands of fans who'll willingly camp in anyone's pasture for three weeks, waiting for a fast moving train of men in tights, who come and go in a flash.

Then they jump in their Winnie and follow. Amped-up the whole time, fans conduct their own costume contest while they're at it, outclassing the bike racers. Women shove handbags and men bedsheet-sized flags into racer's faces, tangling with bikes and taking them down.

Racers don't complain much. They pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get back on the bike. They don't ask leashless dogs and free-range sheep why they cross the road. The critters do it anyway, and like any road-kill candidate, know how to pick their moment.

This thrilling sideshow provides more demolition action for Tour fans than the Indy 500. The Longest Sports Production Ever still needs all the publicity it can get, and love-crazed spectators have no problem providing it.

This year's Tour started politely enough in Stage 1. The French lengthened the course near the finish, knowing just-out-of-the-gate machismo would grind out some crashes.

But in Stage 2, they ambushed a trusting Peloton by serving up a route the width of a luge run in a scheduled rainstorm. Motorcycle pacers leading the pack spun out, buttering up the road with transmission oil and producing, rather than preventing, nasty crashes.

The Peloton reacted smartly with a boycott. Bunched together, they refused to race, casually cruising wet and mad en masse across the finish line. Tour officials were forced to play by their own rules and award the whole pack the same points.

Fans were furieux.

For the rest of the Tour though, racers provided the feature entertainment. A finishing-school-quality Ethics Revival broke out, quel surprise after last year, resulting in single acts of loyal camaraderie while infractions of honor were met with team disdain and boo-hisses from fans.
After a day managing the Biggest Bike Race on the planet, French officials deserve a little amusement too. Although their crowd control was missing and a few routes sucked, they were still handing out stuffed animals to Stage winners, and one option on stand-by.

A little relentless random drug testing in the middle of the night on a "person of interest" was entertaining. And while at it, they picked their favorite with just a little too much bon destin and heroisme, plus more Tour wins than any other racer in history.

Worse yet, not a native of France but some Big State in another country that relishes the battle cry "Don't mess with Texas". Tenderized by accusations from other racers, not too squeaky clean themselves, they had their man.

And yes, you guessed correctly.

Last year, a talented Spaniard on the Astana team abandoned his job description front-running for Lance Armstrong. Alberto Contador jumped-and-dumped, leaving Lance behind to buck the wind all by himself. This shocking lack of respect for team cohesion resulted in massive mutiny by the Astana Team, leaving Alberto all alone on the ship.

Before the Tour was even over, Astana announced the formation of their new Team Radio Shack, Contador not included. Alberto's consolation prize was to squeeze out Armstrong on the podium in Paris, breaking Lance's historic seven year winning streak.

Armstrong's global following was huge, and his Foundation's work beyond impressive. With every success story though, a storm is not far behind. Fame and Infamy are identical twins. The French "questioned" Lance's almost superhuman accomplishments. He must be doping, or something. Let the tests begin . . .

Cycling was about to get even more interesting, for all the wrong reasons.

About our only reprieve this year from the persistent drone of the Lance Bashing Show was the Andy and Alberto Show. Still on a resurrected Astana Team and a favorite to win the Tour again, Contador's self-serving side made a comeback. Best Buds with Andy Schleck, also a favorite, he staged another jump-and-dump when Schleck popped a gear change and grinded to a halt on a tough climb.

Winning the Stage, a sheepish Contador was rewarded with booing fans. Schleck, now rocket fueled with the rage of betrayal, relentlessly dragged Contador up the next day's Mountain Stage. Still perky from hitching a long free ride, Contador attempted another jump-and-dump. Schleck quickly bridged the gap, staring Contador down mano-a-mano, as if to say "Don't even think about it."

Contador didn't, eased off, forced himself to eat his own crow, and gave Schleck the win by a hair. Promptly mobbed by the News Reporter Surge, he planted his palm on Schleck's jaw, twisted his head around, and flashed him a rather condescending wink. Contador knew he was winning the Tour anyway.

While all this soapish drama was unfolding up front, Lance was back cruising with his team through his last Tour de France, licking multiple wounds. Battle weary and ripped to shreds from hitting the pavement almost daily in Peloton frenzy, he declared to an interviewer "The day wouldn't be complete without a crash."

Armstrong's falling-out with Lady Luck was shored up by Versus commentators who ran daily re-runs of his best Tour moments of the past. Then it was back to another Stage commentary with more drama and surprise. Bob Rolled on as Phil Liggett made good use of his favorite British expletive "Oh my goodness me!" throughout the Wild and Crazy Tour of 2010.

The warm and fuzzy memories didn't last long. Just when we thought our Hero Lance would ride lovingly into the Tour Sunset, somebody let the dogs out, biting at his wheels yet again.
Apparently, the media, sour-graping racers, and the Privatized Police were missing The Soaps in France.

On August 2nd, the US Anti-Doping Agency started up their own. USADA was quoted by unnamed sources they were promising racers previously busted a "sweetheart deal" if "you can finger Armstrong . . with anything harmful", and "we'll get out the eraser . . . everything is cool". USADA is reported to have reduced penalties for athletes caught doping in the past. If they provided evidence on other athletes, even though it's prohibited by USADA rules, the offenders were off the hook.

Many are calling this bribery, and yet another oddity is USADA singling out Armstrong with charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, but no one else.

Rounding up "illegals" is rather trendy right now. Illegal "aliens," illegal "drug users," illegal "celebrity probation jumpers" . . . All it seems to take is a few to agree some type of human behavior is "illegal" and lot of noise and punitive action is quickly justified.

I'm trying to remember the last time I enjoyed something construed to be "legal" and wasn't rained on because they didn't like the color of my parade.

Actually, now that I'm thinking, it was last night. I gazed up at a night sky planetarium in the Wasatch Mountains packed with real stars, and no one seemed offended.

If I get on the bike tomorrow and the same thing happens, I just might be on a roll.