At the end of the day in the flat lands of central Veneto, I sat sipping a lager and listening to the thunder rolling down from Montegrappa and wondering about my passion for Le Tour.
This is particularly relevant because over the past year or so other passions such as Formula1 have decayed in relation to my passing years.
What is it about Le Tour that, above even my new ‘home-town’ ciclismo event Le Giro, draws me to the TV nearly every afternoon as I justify abandoning my writing and editing in favour of watching 200 bicycles being propelled by helmeted gentlemen along recently resurfaced or dangerously unsurfaced roads and tracks of France and the flatlands of Europe.
I considered the history of the race from the perspective of an Antipodean. My first awareness of what has become known as Le Tour, came in, I believe, 1976 when I spent the summer in Europe, mainly in Paris, developing new generation batteries. Yet though I am aware of a few names from that period of French pride, my interest did not catalyse until our first star of Le Tour, Phil Anderson, won a stage in the early 80’s.
We welcomed the Hubert Opperman of the new generation, and began the 30 year wait of increasing excitement for an Australian winner of Le Tour – thanks Cadel, and then the Ozzie team Greenedge. So, the magnetism of Le Tour is our heroes, touchable and real, from all over the world. But can we keep it that way?
The early 80’s, those were the days of realisation of how much extra performance an athlete could achieve by ‘chemical enhancement’ yet we did not question whether any cyclists of the great races of Europe were affected by these new experiments in human physiology. Though, we had watched East German female athletes either exposing sufficient to prove their femininity and disguise the doping, or hiding enough to maybe disguise testicular development.
So, in hindsight we were not surprised when the ‘Berlin Wall’ of cycling came tumbling down a few years ago after many years of cracks and leaks and it was realised that more of the recent heroes of cycling may have ‘enhanced’ than didn’t. The excuse for enhancement was the need to face reality, and I still feel for the many young men drawn into that web – if you didn’t perform you missed out on contracts and titles. The ones I particularly feel for are those who were pilloried for admitting while many more sat retired on the sidelines. So it won’t come as a surprise to know that I believe that the achievements of the testicularly limited Lance Armstrong, were still outstanding and that many have benefitted in their health from his misguided efforts.
It is also a conundrum to sit and consider what will be the next quirk of human physiological management that we will find and subsequently condemn our prime athletes for partaking therein.
Maybe there is a solution. Let’s add no more to the existing tests that measure the impact of chemical enhancement techniques already known, but let us set dietary rules just for the greatest race, Le Tour. I can suggest that for 4 weeks before Le Tour and during the event, every cyclist must consume solely local cuisine de France – a smorgasbord of:
jus d’orange ou de pamplemousse (300 ml), plusieurs croissants, du pain avec la beurre locale, escargots (douze), bouillabaisse (250 ml), caneton d’orange ou pied de cochon (une portion) ou peut-être le Chateaubriand, des pommes de terre à la vapeur, une portion des petits pois, du fromage Brie ou Chèvre, une demi-bouteille de vin (Francais), un petit portion de cognac, armagnac, benedictine ou chartreuse verte, une grande bouteille d’eau minerale (Evian).
The 200 competitors in Le Tour may not ride with such gay abandon and may need to meet more often the call of nature, but the French economy will receive a great agricultural boost in terms of product made and product recycled by the thousands of loyal fans copying their heroes; and the cyclists will be more cautious to avoid missing the opportunity for their evening repast.