Tuesday, July 31, 2007
It’s Sunday evening, Versus has put the 2007 TdF to bed, the Champs-Élysées is once again overrun with automobiles, emaciated Euro-pros are fast approaching drinking their body weight in liquor at swank Parisian bars, gawkers confirm that Alberto Contador is indeed more skeletal than the models draped under each of his arms, and I’m thinking about Eliot Ness.
Specifically, the moment in “The Untouchables” when Kevin Costner’s Ness character realizes his plan to bring Al Capone to justice in court may be about to go up in smoke due to incriminating documents taken from a Capone henchman: the fix is in, Capone owns the jury. And Ness’s solution? He convinces the judge to swap juries with another trial across the hallway to ensure an untainted citizen pool.
Which brings me to the 2008 Tour de France. If one really cares about the future of the Tour, if one really cares about instilling a sense of integrity and truth to the most beautiful spectacle in sport, if one really wants to send a message to the Euro squads that we’re fed up with their doping fiascos, then send them all to Superweek. Here’s how it plays out:
At medical check-in prior to the TdF all the squads are told to simply pack a single suitcase of leisure clothes along with their cycling shoes/pedals. Surprise! You’re all flying to Wisconsin! No Tour for you. 12 months.
At the same time back in the U.S., everyone who’s pre-registered for the Pro/1 Superweek event will receive a plane ticket to France and similarly be instructed to pack a single suitcase of leisure clothes plus their cycling shoes/pedals. This is your new Tour de France peloton.
The kicker is…all the team infrastructure stays on their respective continents and will be divvied up by lottery. All the U.S. D3 squads and bike shop teams once headed to Superweek now get to draw straws for who gets to be Quick-Step, Liquigas, Euskaltel, etc. The arriving Americans will inherit the entire kit and kaboodle…all the bikes, team kits, team buses, team cars, soigneurs, chefs, team staff, mechanics, hotels, etc. They’ll just slot in to whatever team they pick via the lottery just as if they were on the team’s Tour roster. Similarly, all those Euro pros get to draw straws for the equipment awaiting them in Wisconsin. They may luck out and get a D3 squad like Rock & Republic with its array of Escalades, Scott carbon bikes, and actual hotels…or you may now have 9 Rabobank pros crammed into a 20 year old Chevy conversion van, sleeping in youth hostels or somebody’s basement, patching their own tubes, hand-washing kits in sinks each night, depending on prize money for gas, and feasting on my own tried-and-true econo Superweek diet of beer, bratwurst, burritos, and bananas.
The schedule of Superweek can be tweaked to give the Euros some semblance of the Tour. Just cluster all the road races in the middle of the schedule (Tour of Holy Hill is now your queen stage in the Pyrenees) and end it at Downer Avenue (now the Milwaukee substitute for the Champs-Élysées). If I was exceptionally cruel, the Euros’ trip back across the Atlantic would be financed by prize money alone…but maybe that’s going a wee bit too far. They wouldn’t be back until the Tour of Lombardy after hitch-hiking to the East Coast and then bumming a ride on a cargo freighter across the pond. There’s only about $60,000 (plus primes) to go around. Super squads like Discovery and CSC will definitely take a mega-financial hit, but the Agritubels of the world may actually make out about the same money-wise. Superweek will now be their Tour de France and post-Tour criterium-fest all rolled into one grandiose extravaganza. Maybe they’ll learn how to go around corners faster than old ladies.
On the Euro side of the Atlantic now being raced by America’s finest D3/Cat 1 contingent, maybe Henri Desgrange’s vision of the perfect Tour would finally come true. Said Desgrange, “The perfect Tour would have a perfect winner only if one man survived.” You want human suffering, the cream of America’s criterium racers will give you human suffering. Making the jump from several weeks of high-octane, 100km criteriums to seemingly endless consecutive 200km road races is quite an escalation in pain and mileage…let’s see how much truth there is to arriving at the Tour slightly under peak form and “riding oneself into shape”.
And could the hordes of viewing public know the difference? At Superweek…hell no. Maybe there would be some puzzlement about the relative lack of English speakers taking part and the preponderance of faux-hawk coiffures, but that’s about as far as it would go. In Europe…do all those people on the side of the road really know who’s racing? Well…probably. But certainly they’d warm up to their new “convicts of the road”. I think the doping would likely disappear in France, unless there’s a test for THC. Just call it “medical marijuana” to ease the suffering…of the entire peloton’s “cataracts”. Make sure those medical waivers are in order.
And unless the Euro peloton can demonstrably clean up their act during the rest of the season…well…back to Superweek for you in 2009, 2010…ad infinitum, and let someone else reap the benefit of being center stage in France during the month of July.