Who could possibly root against Lance Armstrong in his bid for a record sixth Tour de France championship? Well, all of France -- and maybe his ex-wife. And, trust me, folks, if you are cycling against an entire nation and one angry woman, you're racing uphill all the way.
The French are unhappy that an American might become the Tour's all-time winner. Then again, the French are unhappy with Americans in general.
Armstrong is accused of using banned performance-enhancing drugs in a new French-language book by David Walsh and Pierre Ballester titled, "L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong."
In the book, a former Armstrong assistant, Emma O'Reilly, claims he once asked her to get rid of used syringes and to give him makeup to conceal needle marks on his right arm. This is not definitive proof of doping; I've asked my assistant to do the same thing after watching "I, Max" on Fox Sports Net.
For years now, the French have tailed Armstrong, hoping a bad blood sample would fall out of his fanny pack. Alas, Armstrong never has failed a drug test.
Anyway, this mirrors the overall French disposition toward America. As everyone knows, there are four traditional areas in which the French have problems with Americans:
1. We hosed Napoleon on the Louisiana Purchase.
2. When we go to France, we insist that everyone there speak English.
3. We went to war in Iraq when they thought we should stay home and concentrate on doing what we do best, which is creating really bad reality TV and really good fantasy football camps.
4. What we've done to the croissant.
(Frankly, they have a good argument on this last point, for there is a repeated pattern of culinary malfeasance on our part. France gave us the croissant, we turned it onto the Croissandwich. Italy gave us spaghetti, we turned it in SpaghettiOs. Germany gave us lager, we turned it into Pabst Blue Ribbon.)
Actually, I must admit some allegiance to the French point of view. Heck, French film is better, French wine is better, French bread is better. In fact, culturally speaking, our only real advantage over them is 7-Eleven -- you simply won't find the convenience of a microwaved burrito anywhere in the south of France. Furthermore, is there a language more beautiful than French? In French, the spoken word sounds so much more soothing.
Typical French: "C'est la poule qui chante qui a fait l'oeuf."
Typical English: "Yo, Adrian!"
Now, in addition to the French sentiment and in addition to the pressure of racing against history, Armstrong has to deal with the bad karma of a marriage gone belly-up.
In the past year, Armstrong left his wife, Kristin, and started dating singer Sheryl Crow.
What, you think that's a consequence-free transaction? Oh, no. If you divorce the mother of your three children and begin bouncing around with some babe rocker, there is a price to pay -- and it's either coming out of your checkbook, your conscience or your cycling skills.
So as Armstrong makes his way through the mountains this year, he's carrying a lot of baggage. I thought I could sense the extra weight on his shoulders in the opening stages.
(Yeah, I watched a bit of the Tour de France over the weekend. It took me a while to find it -- I just assumed it was on ESPN, or ESPN2, or ESPN 9.0 Optimized, but, as it turns out, it's on OLN, the Outdoor Life Network. Who knew there was an Outdoor Life Network? That means I could start an Indoor Life Network! Anyway, the main commentator was the incomparable and compelling Phil Liggett. I get so stoked listening to him, I have half a mind to organize a Tour de Couch.)
I figure Armstrong is mentally tough and, at 32, still physically fit enough to win his sixth Tour. And to pour salt into French wounds, I hope he's drinking good, old-fashioned American spring water as he crosses the finish line. Perrier, my butt.
Ask The Slouch
Q. In your dodgeball column, you wrote that there soon would be "a professional dodgeball league made for TV." Well, as it turns out, the Game Show Network already has "Extreme Dodgeball." (Paul Wilson; Haverhill, Mass.)
A. Inexcusably, I was unaware of "Extreme Dodgeball." As a penalty for this error, I am watching the British House of Commons on C-SPAN for five straight days, then will spend an entire weekend at the Mall of America.
Q. I understand that "Listen Up," the CBS sitcom starting this fall based on Tony Kornheiser's life, will star Jason Alexander as Tony and Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Michael Wilbon. Who are they casting to play you? (Neil Ottenstein; Bowie)
A. The producers hope to ink Ron Jaworski by week's end.
Q. Does the proverb, "Lucky at cards, unlucky in love," mean you are odds-on to win the World Series of Poker? (John F. Lyons; Olney)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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