Paris Journal 2005

Monday, July 25, 2005

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The Tour de France arrived in Paris at around 3:45PM yesterday.  We went out to the Pont de Grenelle to greet it.  It was the worst time of the day to be outside.  It was raining, and the wind was blowing so hard that umbrellas were useless.


Lance Armstrong was at the head of the pack.  I couldn’t get my cranky old digital camera working fast enough to get a photo that includes him.  But the one at left was taken a fraction of a second after he passed by us -- just 30-some kilometers away from his 7th victory in the Tour de France.


After the peloton and the Discovery Channel’s team car were gone, we hustled back to the apartment to watch the end on TV, where we were once again enchanted by all of the wonderful views of Paris from the air.  A fleet of several helicopters and one plane follows the tour every day.


Lance has gained popularity in France over the past few years.  But there are still some snide stories in the newspapers here, begrudging his fantastic career.  Lance’s success is a bitter pill for some of the French fans of the Tour de France.  The Tour has not been won by a Frenchman for 20 years.  If you put Greg LeMond (another American) and Lance’s  victories together, Americans have won 10 out of the past 20 Tours. 


Too bad that cycling is tainted by doping.  Since Lance has won by such a large margin so many times, and since so many cyclists have taken illegal doping agents, some French surmise that Lance must be doping.  But Lance is the most tested athlete in the world, and he has never tested positive.


I think it would be impossible to be doping and to maintain the utter and complete physical control that he has, year after year, stage after stage, day after day, minute by minute.  Doping might help some mediocre rider to improve his time in a time trial, but it will not help him in the long, arduous Tour that involves punishing climbs and treacherous descents and wicked wet corners.


Lance is no mediocre rider.  He has unsurpassed discipline and he has worked harder at cycling than anybody ever has.  Some of his French critics, no longer really able to support their suspicions about Lance’s success, now are trying insults like saying he doesn’t have the character, or humility, necessary for being a great champion.  They will grudgingly admire his victories, but refuse to consider him a great man.


Some of them say in order to be a great athlete, you have to overcome some weakness.  They say Lance, in his perfection and obsession, doesn’t have to do this.  They forget so quickly and conveniently that he not only survived cancer, but he survived a horribly deadly cancer.  A cancer that deadly was more than just a weakness.


Some of the French critics have said that Lance is just a publicity-hound, an “homme mediatheque.”  But he has said so many times lately that he can’t wait for the day he doesn’t have to sign any more autographs and when he can just live a quiet life, out of the camera’s viewfinder – a time when he will no longer have to give interviews.


The poor, bitter Laurent Jalabert (a former racer in the Tour, now a French TV sports commentator) says Lance doesn’t want to just win, he wants to crush his adversaries like bugs.  But that just doesn’t fit the image on the screen yesterday (and many other days), where we saw Lance chatting with, encouraging, joking with, and complimenting other riders.  Jalabert bears a grudge against Lance from his pre-cancer days, in 1996, when Lance told Jalabert during one stage of the Tour that he, Lance, was going to win that stage.  So what, Jalabert?  Get over it. 


What I admire most about Lance is the wonderful message of hope he sends to cancer victims. 


Lance, his kids, family, and friends left Paris this morning for a weeklong vacation in the south of France (he adores France) during which he says he will eat a lot, drink wine, go to the beach, and NOT ride a bike.  Lance, have a wonderful life.


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