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WHINE COUNTRY.
July 26, 2002

by Bill Hogan

 

 
 

Champagne is a famous wine region, located in northeast France, filled with sweet, vine-ripened grapes.

In the past couple of weeks, a new whine region has been cultivated along the 3,282 kilometer Tour de France course and it's filled with bitter, sour grapes.

 
 

For some reason, the French spectators that line the roadsides at the world's greatest bike race cannot come to grips with the fact that it is, once again, an American that dons the yellow jersey bestowed upon the Tour's overall leader.

So they mock Lance Armstrong. They accuse him of cheating – of using performance enhancing drugs – and jeer him as he passes them (and the other riders) by at fifty miles per hour.

In their minds, he's not a suspected 'doper', he's a confirmed 'doper'. The only problem is, there's nothing to confirm that Armstrong has ever taken performance enhancing drugs. The Frenchys are grasping at straws. Making excuses as to why this American continues to dominate the French and other European riders at their own game.

Sour grapes make for a very bad whine.

What really ticks me off is, from what I've read, the comments, the accusations, and the boos bother Armstrong. Though I can't understand why he cares at all about the opinion of people who find female armpit hair attractive.

And the media is as much to blame as the jeering spectators. They jump on every inference of doping, no matter how unsubstantiated. After reporting the stage winner and overall leader, there is little else to write about bike riding, I guess.

But this isn't Major League Baseball. These cyclists are tested for illegal drugs all the time. Armstrong has been tested many times. As far as I know, they found nothing to indicate he is doping. All Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds have to do to eliminate any suspicion that they are using steroids is to take and pass a drug test. Armstrong has done both.

Not to mention the most obvious argument in his defense: any man that has battled and beaten testicular cancer would never, ever mess with a drug that causes "genitalia dysfunction".

'Nuff said, François.

I expect the boos will get louder this weekend as Armstrong rides into Paris on Sunday for his fourth TdF victory in as many years. With a five-plus minute lead on the field, like Tiger going into the weekend of a major with a five stroke lead, this race is a done deal.

Unless Pepe Le Pew decides to sacrifice himself by diving in front of the peloton somewhere in the 144 kilometers between Melun and the Champs-Elysees, the people of France better start getting used to the idea.

And I don't think he'll be satisfied with four straight titles. Spain's Miguel Indurain set the bar at five when he won this race from 1991 to 1995. I see Armstrong chasing that seemingly unattainable feat with the same tenacity that Tiger shows as he pursues the equally daunting record of eighteen professional major victories that Jack Nicklaus posted.

(Pardon the multiple Tiger references. There are only a few men I know that have been so dominant in their sport and I like to compare apples to apples.)

When Rocky went over to Russia to fight Drago in front of an overly hostile Soviet crowd, he was despised mainly because he was perceived as a weak, capitalistic American. By the end of the fight sequence, the crowd cheered and chanted his name (much to the dismay of the Soviet leaders).

Through the course of the bout, he had won the skeptical spectators over with a raw display of guts, perseverance and determination that they grew to appreciate.

That's reel life. In real life, on Sunday in Paris, Lance Armstrong will coast to another Tour de France victory mainly to a chorus of boos. Too bad Pierre won't allow himself to appreciate this great athletic achievement.

In a country famous for its wine, you'd think they would better understand the meaning of sour grapes.

*

Check out www.laf.org. It's the website of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Founded by Armstrong after he was diagnosed with cancer, it "exists to enhance the quality of life for those living with, through and beyond cancer". They rely heavily on charitable contributions.

And I bet they'd appreciate it if Frenchy decided to pony up a Franc or two.

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