THERE are some stirring human achievements – usually detailed through history as the achievements of ‘Man’ as if Rosa Parks or Emmeline Pankhurst or Natalie Imbruglia or Lara Croft had never existed in real life – that are so stunballs amazing that they are almost beyond imagination.
These acts of impossible brilliance send sirens through the head asking: How the fudge did they do that?
For instance, how does Man keep a custard slash foam pie fresh for two hours of a parliamentary committee meeting? How does Man sit through Bridesmaids in its entirety?
And how does Man cycle up Europe’s highest mountain peaks in the blazing sun at speed and then get up the next day and do it again? How does Man do that? Man, I don’t know.
It was the marvel of said men cycling up mountains which made the Tour De France such an engrossing spectacle in years gone by. Highgate West Hill seemed impossible enough, let alone Alpe D’Huez. And although cycling wasn’t on telly much, the Tour De France made cycling cool. It was mesmerising.
And yet, looking back, it feels as if it was all just a bit of a hazy con trick, like not much of what we were seeing was actually real. It turned out that Man, in lots of cases, couldn’t cycle up mountains in the blazing sun so fast after all, not without wacky blood tranfusions or taking dopey drugs at least.
So, one day you’d be celebrating the brave achievement of a lone breakaway across mountain ranges. The next day the same cyclist would be disqualified. Maybe even arrested for good measure.
As the Tour De France steers into Paris for its annual finale this Sunday, the cheats of the past still scar the contest and the lingering doubts are not helped by the presence of people in and around the race who have indulged in doping in the past. Nobody wants to deny rehabilitation or life’s second chances – buddy, we all need one of those at some stage – but lifetime bans for anybody proven without doubt to have cheated would go some way to repair the sport’s reputation to the casual viewer.
Should offenders really be allowed to take jobs working so closely with the riders and the teams?
During the dribbling commentary on Eurosport over the weekend (LOOK! There’s a haystack - in the shape of a bike - seen from the air) it was suggested the cyclists looked more knackered than usual. The tour has been tough, went the discussion, but it was also evidence that it was a clean tour; the suggestion being that nobody had extra jet pedals this year from taking something naughty.
If that’s really the case, we may get to wonder at Man cycling over mountains some day again. I hope so.
Published: 21 July, 2011
by RICHARD OSLEY