Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tour de France madness

Barring something unforeseen, such as a major crash or being beamed up by aliens, Briton Chris Froome appears to be on the cusp of winning another Tour de France. More than three quarters through the grueling three week bicycle race, he has a comfortable lead of almost 4 minutes. That's a lot. Four minutes on a bike for a world class cyclist likely equates to a couple miles. And most of his serious rivals have fallen far back or dropped out for various reasons. Froome is pretty much on cruise control for the last few stages.

But a few days ago something very interesting happened. Froome had opened up his lead on a mountain stage through the Pyrenees. Ever suspicious, some in the French press smelled a rat. One way or the other they suspected Froome was "doping". Though they had no evidence of such, the recent Lance Armstrong debacle likely remains fresh in their minds.

Froome has never failed a drug test, but neither had Armstrong. For that matter, the public at large likely wouldn't know to this day that Armstrong had cheated had he not gone public with it in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Suspicions abounded, but no smoking gun. For whatever reason, Lance decided to "come clean". On second thought, it was rumored Oprah paid Lance Armstrong $6 million for their tete-a-tete. That could be considered a good reason. He may be disgraced, but he's also rich. A trade off.

Nevertheless, the good French people who are big fans of the Tour de France -- and how many aren't? -- were quick to believe the unfounded allegation against Froome. Riding along, Froome was booed and even had urine thrown at him in their way of protesting what they perceived to be another "doper".

Let's get real. The French have long considered the Tour de France to be "their" race, and are much happier when one of their countrymen wears the yellow jersey as its victor. They have indeed had worthy champions in the past, such as Bernard Hinault. They are not as content when a "foreigner" wins it, but will begrudgingly acknowledge him -- as long as they can't find a reason to suspect foul play. Fair enough, but given this is an international event open to any worthy cyclists from around the globe, it should come as no surprise if and when "outlanders" wind up standing on the podium at the end. France is a great country, but the world is a big place when it comes to athletes competing at the highest levels.

For Froome to be subjected to such treatment by spectators as he pedalled his way along the courses was out of bounds. It was classless, distasteful, and only brought on by a French media outlet floating a rumor likely of their own creation, knowing full well the masses would gobble it up and believe it. It smacks of sour grapes and envy, and they should collectively be ashamed of themselves.

But in today's sports world, especially the Tour de France, Froome and his team felt the pressure of such innuendo and the need to respond. They wanted to dispel any notions the Briton was cheating.

They released medical data concerning Froome, as in his heart rate and respiration on the fateful mountain stage in question. Yours truly knoweth not how such things are monitored. Do they have sensors under the jerseys of the cyclists that constantly beep their vital signs back to command central?

As an ignorant layman, my guess would be the pulses and breathing rates of cylists are going to go up when they pedal hard, especially on brutal mountain climbs. If one guy's pulse is 120 and another's is only 115, it doesn't necessarily mean the latter is a dopehead. Maybe he's in superior condition, or has a somewhat different body metabolism. If the heart rate per minute is -- say -- 30  -- after going up and down a few mountains -- this would be good cause for suspicion. Either he's chock full of roids or some sort of cyborg. Break out the urine cup immediately and rush it off to the lab for analysis. Something is definitely wrong.

Yet for now, I would exhort the good French people to appreciate Chris Froome. Yes, he's one of those dastardly Brits, but the young man appears to be the best on the bike. Stop listening to your press which will always try to sensationalize matters that had little or no substance to begin with. As an American, I understand it completely. Our media does the same thing, and millions of fools believe whatever they see on TV or read in the tabloids.

But they often get it wrong. Worse yet, deep down they know they're wrong, but they do it anyway. Anything for ratings and publicity.

Chris Froome will be a worthy champion. Scorning him only tarnishes your own image abroad. Embrace him. He will have earned it.

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