Tour is ultimate test of cyclists and fans

Cycling is a messy sport. Especially in the mountains, where we see wonderful moments mixed with consternation.

The best moment in recent years is still Lance Armstrong peering back at Jan Ullrich, then taking off up the mountain. Phil Liggett said it was as if Armstrong was asking, “Are you coming or not?” Liggett continued: “And the answer was: ‘Not.'”

The Armstrong investigation casts a cloud over that moment, fairly or unfairly. He stands accused by Floyd Landis, whose own staggering feat in the mountains has been tarnished already.

But even aside from doping questions, the mountains can bring out the weirdness. Mostly from the fans.

No other sport offers such a close interaction between fan and athlete in the midst of competition. A couple of motorcycles help clear the road for the leaders, but that path is often narrow. Cyclists climb at roughly the same speed as a fast jog, so fans can keep pace.

It’s exciting, but often glossed over is the fact fans can affect the action.

Today, Andy Schleck took off on what was his last realistic hope to win the Tour, assuming Alberto Contador beats him in Saturday’s time trial. Contador did what he to do, locking on to Schleck’s rear wheel and giving up no time to his young challenger.

Schleck wasn’t just carving a slipstream through the air. He was taking the worst of what a rowdy crowd had to offer. A couple of times, he had to swerve — not a big deal when you’re at full speed on flat land but a killer when you’re trying to force those pedals to turn over on a brutal climb. He also took a few good whacks to the face from Basque flags and the occasional arm, sometimes glaring back over his shoulder at the offender.

Contador’s sportsmanship was called into question a few days ago when he attacked while Schleck had trouble with his bike. Today, Contador got it absolutely right. He may not have let Schleck win the stage — he surely wouldn’t admit to it if he did. But he may have understood deep down that Schleck was the stronger cyclist on the day and deserved to cross first.

After crossing the finish line separated by less than a bike length after a climb that showed their dominance over the rest of the pack, Contador and Schleck hugged and sincerely congratulated each other.

They treated each other with respect. The fans ought to give that a try.

Published by

Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

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