ARMSTRONG: "ALL-AMERICAN BOY."
Lance Armstrong, like Astronaut Neil Armstrong and old-time radio's Jack Armstrong, is an American hero. His battle with cancer and his successful return to the top of the cycling world is well documented.
Still, it really didn't
come as a big surprise that the French would boo (jeer?) him when he was
introduced before the start of the 2001 Tour de France.
Now, I'm not a big Tour de France fan. C'mon, its bike riding. We've all been there. I realize that's like comparing the Daytona 500 to a Sunday drive in the country, but it's still bike riding.
For many sportsfans, myself included, when any sport's "Super Bowl" comes along, there is a certain interest - the Tour de France is no exception. Especially when it pits the United States against the rest of the world. Especially when the rest of the world is supposed to be better.
Armstrong, the reigning Tour de France champion, is looking for a three-peat. The French, who haven't supplied a winner to their countries' own race since 1985, are looking for any excuse to root against him.
It was a "fluke" when Greg LeMond became the first American to win the Tour in 1986. LeMond won the twenty-one day endurance race again in 1989, and again in 1990. So much for the "fluke" theory.
Armstrong's success is no fluke, either. And the French know it, they just don't like it. (What can you expect from people who worship the theatrical works of Jerry Lewis!)
What does this man have to overcome and accomplish to win the hearts (or at least the applause) of the French cycling fans?
Does he have to storm the beaches of Normandy, lead the allied forces into Paris and liberate the country from the perils of the Third Reich?
Well, Americans just as brave and committed as Armstrong did just that fifty-seven years ago. It's time the French started showing their appreciation.
* * * * *
The fact is, had it not been for the efforts of American soldiers during WWII, this race may have been called the Tour de Occupied France.
Flash back to your high school history class: After the German invasion of France in WWI, French War Minister Andre Maginot was committed to building an impenetrable fortress along the German-French boarder. Two hundred miles of steel, concrete and weaponry called the Maginot Line. It was fabulous. When WWII started, the French felt safe. A German attack would be futile.
Skip to the punch line: It didn't take a genius (in fact, it only took the mind of a maniac) to figure out what to do against such a formidable obstacle. GO AROUND!!
The Germans marched through Belgium into Northern France and were partying in Paris in a matter of days.
(I don't mention this "military blunder" in order to embarrass the French - the fact is, I have read with great interest the post card detailing the "great modern military leaders in French history". I'm just trying to make a point.)
It took the American operation Overlord - a.k.a. D-Day - a.k.a. the invasion of Normandy - to drive the Germans out of Paris and back across the Rhine.
When the U.S. government finally gets around to building the much deserved WWII National Memorial (for more information on this project, visit www.wwiimemorial.com), they should put it on a ship, send it overseas and slap it down right in the middle of the Champs-Elysees.
If they hurry, it can be sitting there when Lance Armstrong finishes the 20-stage, 2,146-mile race. Then, whether he three-peats or finishes dead last, there will be two great reminders of American heroism occupying downtown Paris.
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