The Tour resists simplification, undermines the raison d'etre of ESPN Sportscenter. It must be taken in at length, at leisure, maybe while spinning on a trainer. No single headline, no series of headlines, can capture the phenomenon. It is just too historic, too intertwined with the outside world, too complex, in a word, too epic for scrolling newsreel-style appreciation. That was the point of pt. 1.
Within the multitude of storylines, however, one narrative stands out: the return of Lance Armstrong to the top of the sport. It is the one story to rule them all.
After three years of growing old and fat and forgetting what it's like to suffer, Lance was a sorry sight at the Tour of California and the Giro. No tapping out impossible cadences, no speed skating up mountainsides, no dancing on the tiptoes.
He looked heavy, labored. The supreme fitness was gone, and so was the fluidity of pedal stroke. Just as important, I didn't see the distilled hatred in his eyes, the sociopathic rage that powered him to seven victories in Paris and would probably keep him out of political office.
Armstrong came off, instead, as vaguely scared and in pain: a wounded animal. He wasn't just suffering: that, he'd always done. He was vulnerable. Human, even.
Off the bike, too, Armstrong was a changed man, more respectful of the difficulty of the race, more respectful towards the other riders than I remember. In interviews, he didn't waste words; he was forceful, but also diplomatic. Downright statesmanlike.
And he had a cause: Livestrong. He wasn't racing for the glory of the Kahsak railways, or to gratify his own insatiable ego, but for cancer victims worldwide.
You can say that Livestrong is a marketing tool designed to blunt Armstrong's narcissism, and it may well be. You can say that Lance doped, and he probably did. You can say that he still dopes, and he well may.
(They all may. Contador was reared on a doping team and he was on the Puerto list, but spared by the Spanish authorities. DiLuca just tested positive. Everyone around Kloden for his entire career was dirty. Everyone around Lance was dirty. The Tour may, in essence, be a pharmaceutical battle of Fuentes vs. Ferrari.)
But the truth is, as marketing, the Livestrong thing works. I dare you to watch the commercial.
I dare you to watch the daily videos, where he often dedicates the stage to someone now fighting the disease, where he graciously congratulates his rivals.
I dare you to watch him suffer and not find yourself rooting for Lance Armstrong. He's losing this tour to Contador, but in riding honorably, redeeming his legacy.
Riding for cancer victims is like riding for kittens: emotional game over.
That's why I sprinkled this blog post with random pictures of adorableness.
What's that, Bonnie Raitt?
I *can* make you love me.