Tour Tames the Alps, Or Vice Versa.

It is clear there is no world class athletic competition as arduous as the the Tour de France. None comes close.

Nor is there any quite as cockamamie.

Alberto Contador, defending champ, an almost certain also ran this year, having gotten trapped in a crash on Day One, made one last Herculean effort to grab the yellow jersey today. He broke away early on in a killer 68 mile stage.

With 5 km to ride to the summit of iconic Alpe d’Huez, a 21 switchback climb that only the Beelzebub himself could have designed, Contador still had the field measured. Including his main competitors, the Brothers Schleck — Andy and Frank — Aussie Cadel Evans, and fading leader of the last ten days, homie favorite Thomas Voeckler.

Riding through throngs along the narrow mountain pass, the riders must not only peddle up an almost 10 degree energy-sapping grade, but dodge yahoos in costumes and speedos and wacky headgear, flag waving, photo taking fans narrowing the course to a matter of inches.

And some guy in green surgical scrubs starts running alongside Contador, and sticks a microphone in his face. So, Contador, weary from the three week grind, weary from a third day of climbing the Alps, knowing in his heart that his effort is for naught, gives the guy an elbow shiver.

This is 30 fans running from the stands, lining the free throw land, standing under the hoop with a spinning wheel and surrounding Dirk Nowitzki, who is attempting 2 charity tosses to clinch the NBA title.

This is 50 cheeseheads in the backfield waving green and yellow #1 fingers in Aaron Rodgers face as he’s trying to look down field and toss a winning TD pass in the Super Bowl.

This is Kemba Walker having to dodge Dickie V, Clark Kellogg, Digger Phelps, Bobby Knight, Bobby Plump and Gus Johnson plus a phalanx from the Butler dance squad, while he’s weaving his way to the hoop with :45 to play in a knotted NCAA title game.

This fan berzerkiosity is but one reason why the Tour de France is like no other big time sporting event.

I, for one, love it.

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I can claim no expertise regarding world class cycling.

What I do finally understand, after paying attention for the third year in a row on Versus, is there is way more strategy involved than I ever conceived. Who to challenge on breakaways? When to do it? Who helps who by drafting along the roads, and who doesn’t?

Frankly I’ve been mesmerized for the tortuous three week challenge of endurance and athleticism.

I could care less which riders are on drugs. If they have to climb 50 miles up a 10% grade today, after doing it yesterday, and the day before, give all the juice they want.

* * * * *

Contador’s last gasp chance was to no avail. He didn’t even get the stage W, having been passed by Frenchmen Pierre Rolland as his legs turned to lumber.

With but one competitive stage left — a time trial — the Schlecks from Luxembourg lead the pack, Frank the lesser :53 behind Andy. Aussie Cadell Evans is :57 behind. Frenchman Thomas Voeckler is 2:10 back. Contador, the defending champ needs to make up 3:55 tomorrow to win the Tour.

I’m not familiar enough with the sport to know if there’s a legit chance that Schleck can be caught. The excitable announcers Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen seem to think it’s not a done deal. I can’t disagree.

There’s 42.5 km of rolling countryside around Grenoble for the riders to battle tomorrow. The roads will lined with all sorts of unusual creatures in various stages of dress and un-. Waving flags and signs and arms and legs. All in celebration of this world class competition that goes generally unnoticed stateside when no American is a challenger for the crown.

It’s gonna be fun.

– Seedy K

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