Friday, July 27, 2007

Can Cadel Evans bring it off tomorrow?

On the eve of the penultimate stage of this year's berated Tour de France, there's exactly one minute and thirty seconds between Cadel Evans and the yellow jersey. Theoretically, in tomorrow's 55.5 km time trial between Cognac and Angoulême, Evans should be able to beat Alberto Contador by anything up to two minutes. Now, I don't intend to start selling the bear's skin [as the old French saying goes] before the animal has been shot, but I have a feeling that Australia might indeed be on the verge of obtaining her first global victory in the Tour. Clearly, there are many observers in France who would be very happy if things could happen in this way, because lots of people have serious doubts concerning the case of Contador, and it would be ever so nice if he were to be brushed quietly out of the way.

There was a weird atmosphere in the Tour just prior to Rabobank's decision to fire Michael Rasmussen. Cycling aficionados have been observing the muscly legs of champion bike-riders for the last century, and they've ended up creating a more or less standard image of what is expected in the physical form of a great cyclist. Well, Rasmussen's legs are light years away from the standard picture. When you watch him walking from behind, he looks like a skinny kid who has just got off his toy scooter. Now, this could simply mean that we observers have formed a screwed-up impression of what cyclists should look like from a physical viewpoint. But it's perfectly plausible, on the other hand, that Rasmussen is really nothing more than a lightweight shitbox crammed with explosive chemicals.

Over the last few days, the cycling public in France has witnessed several unexpected examples of the deplorable conflictual relationship between the world body that governs cycling [the Union Cycliste Internationale] and the Tour organizers. I have the impression that the Union is jealous of the huge success of the French event, and is trying to recuperate part of the rich fallout of the Tour.

There has also been a lot of open talk about the doping phenomenon in other sports. Maybe we've simply moved into a high-powered era in which the old-fashioned notions of clean and honest sports can no longer exist. Sometimes I have a nightmare vision of what might happen if the authorities simply gave in, and allowed sporting champions to consume whatever shit they liked. If this were the case, tomorrow's cyclists would glow in the twilight with a bluish halo. Their thighs would be so powerful that bikes would need to be built out of new high-tech materials sufficiently strong to avoid being crumpled. And, when such cyclists stopped for a piss by the roadside, the grass and weeds would cease to grow there for several years.

A couple of days ago, I received an email from the organizers of the Tour Down Under, who are all excited about receiving the visit, next year, of Miguel Indurain. It goes without saying that, for this Australian cycling event, the victory of Evans in the Tour de France would be a gigantic happening.

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