Claudio Chiappucci. Come on, say it with me: Clow-dy-o Kee-a-POO-chee. What a lovely, lyrical name. Such a rolling quality, it kind of reminds you of a cool mountain pass, wildflowers growing up the sides of the hills, a deep blue lake shimmering in the distance.
Close your eyes and . . .
Whoa! What's that? Some damned lunatic on a bicycle almost took my ear off.
Jeez! Here comes another. What's going on?
All I said was, "Claudio Chiappucci."
Now I know. He's wearing the yellow jersey! He's leading the gloriously unending, up the mountain, down the mountain, up the next mountain, what stage is this, when do we get to the Stage Deli already so we can get a real sandwich and not this runny boursin cheese and chives, through the tunnel, stuck behind the goat herd -- sure it's lovely but I'm not Monet, honey, I'm riding a bike race here -- across the vineyards, past the Nouveau Perrier source, to Limoges, to St. Tropez, uh-oh, I think I've got a flat, is it okay if I change the tire here by the topless beach, maybe I'll just sit here a while and change the tire tomorrow, Brigitte, is it okay if I call you Brigitte, that's one bodacious tan you've got, you know Brigitte this bicycle riding is for nerds, I'm actually kind of a surfer myself, to Bordeaux, to Beaujolais, to Burgundy, whoa, weaving here and there, steady big fella, through Cannes, past Le Cinema Jerry Lewis 99 Francs All Heures, into Paris, out of Paris, bus to Versailles, take photos, up the Alps, down the Alps, round and round and up and down and one-two-three jump one-two-three kick, back to Paris, finally on the Champs Elysees, Holy cow Martha, I think I see Gene Kelly dancing through the puddles, and can somebody please wash this yellow shirt already, I mean it's incredibly gamey, TOUR DE FRANCE!
With the World Cup and Wimbledon and the British Open and the pennant races and the Olympic Festival and the Goodwill Games, and all the ground clutter on the sports radar, we almost missed it, didn't we? We almost completely forgot about Greg "We Are" LeMond (We Are Les Enfants). He's five seconds behind with four stages to go; plenty of time, we'll catch up to him later. . . .
(Meanwhile, shifting to our side of the pond, how about Andy "Welcome To My Nightmare" Hawkins? Can you believe his July? He pitches a no-hitter AND LOSES. He throws 11 shutout innings his next start and loses in the 12th. In his next start he loses to Melido Perez's no-hitter. And the other day he gives up three straight homers to Bo Jackson, including a 465-foot opposite-fielder. Bo doesn't just know Hawkins -- he majored in him. Tell me, is this why they call the manager "Stump" Merrill, because he has no clue? What kind of man leaves his pitcher in to throw three straight dingers to the same guy? Has he no compassion? Luckily for Hawkins, Bo hurt his shoulder and left the game, depriving The Stumper of a shot at the Sadists Hall of Fame. And what's the catcher asking Hawkins? "Hey, Picasso, you got any other colors you want to try, or should I just tell the outfielders to play behind the wall?" The way Hawkins is going they'll tell the clubhouse boy to hide his belt and shoelaces. Pete Rose is having a better year than this guy.
Dexter, Dexter, Dexter, did you think because the commissioner used to be a Redskins season-ticket holder he'd give you early reinstatement? This isn't The Peoples Court -- he's Tagliabue, not Wapner. You knew it was a full year, minimum. You don't get time off for good behavior. Good behavior is what it's all about. Now what's with this CFL stuff? It's hard to picture you happy in Saskatoon. Do you have any idea how cold it is? It'll take away half your game. You'll try to spit at an offensive tackle, it'll freeze halfway there. It's so confusing: The field is 110 yards long, they time you in the 45 -- the clock you'll want to ring will be the assistant coach's. There're three downs, you'll see them punting and think you're having a memory lapse. It will take you eight games to understand what a "rouge" is; Theismann played three years up there, and he thinks it's a penalty on Estee' Lauder. Stay here, Dexter, play for the Redskins. They're always talking about "family." If there's a shred of truth in it, they ought to take you back, and give you a big hug and another chance. You're beloved here, Dexter. In Quebec, you'll just be another pamplemousse in the brain chain.)
. . . and here come the riders.
What these athletes do is incredible. The mountains they're peddling up, my Chevette can't even drive. LeMond is absolutely remarkable -- recovering from that near-fatal hunting accident, and winning the Tour last year against prohibitive odds.
Alas, cycling is unlikely to become a major sport here. It doesn't generate debates in bars. The last great cycling argument I heard was 10 years ago, when "Breaking Away" came out; people fought over who was the faster rider, Cyril or Moocher? There's an ominous sound to "velodrome," not to mention 7-Eleven, main corporate sponsor in American cycling. What's next, a polyurethane-flavored Big Gulp? We could try to appropriate the Tour De France -- like the World Cup -- but our concept of Europe is flawed. We'd end up running the stages through the streets of The Old Country in the various Busch Gardens, and the whole event would last 20 minutes, including commercials. John Tesh couldn't write orchestral music to it like he does now -- he'd only have time for a jingle.
The problem is, like soccer, it's not our sport. The Tour de Trump got tons of publicity, and there aren't six of you who remember the winner. The sad fact is that the best known American cyclist may not be LeMond, but Woody Harrelson, the bartender at "Cheers," who won the Tour de Lite.