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Columnist: Cycling is alive and well in the U.S.
DENVER • Phillipe Lesage is a journalist from France. He’s watched the Tour de France most of his life. He’s waded through the crowds at the world’s grandest cycling event.
He spent the past week in Colorado following the USA Pro Challenge through the mountains and valleys of our glorious state.
The French have a reputation of looking down on everything American. Let’s just say Lesage declines to follow that tradition. He was overwhelmingly impressed by the Challenge.
“Incredible,” Lesage said Sunday near the finish line in downtown Denver. “There is a future for cycling in America. You can tell.”
This is good news on a wonderful, awful week for cycling.
On Thursday, Lance Armstrong announced he had ended his struggle with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, meaning he will be stripped of his seven Tour de France victories. On Saturday, Armstrong refused to discuss his future after competing in Aspen. Well, he did say he planned to eat a cheeseburger.
But he did make one prediction.
“Cycling is going to be fine,” Armstrong said.
And he’s right. Even after the fall of one of America’s most beloved sports titans, cycling in our country is headed for good times.
While Lesage roamed Colorado last week, traveling from the mountains outside Durango to the race’s eventual conclusion on the streets of downtown Denver, he saw hundreds of thousands of fans.
“They were much, much younger than the fans in France,” he said. “And they are really big fans. They really love the sport.”
In France, Lesage explained, many of the fans come out for what he called “gifts.” A few hours before the cyclists race by, food and other goodies are offered to the fans. This helps inspire the masses to attend the Tour.
In America, fans watch the races because they want to be close to the cyclists. And, of course, because they want to be seen on television.
If you want a reason to believe in the future of cycling in America, consider what could be ahead for Colorado native Taylor Phinney, who won Sunday’s sprint stage.
Phinney is 22, fresh off two 4th-place finishes at the London Olympics. He’s the son of Davis Phinney, the first American to win a stage at the Tour de France, and Connie Carpenter-Phinney, who won gold in road racing in the 1984 Olympics.
I talked with Phinney in 2008 before a race at the Air Force Academy. Those were dark days for American cycling. Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton had been disgraced, and Armstrong was under a cloud of suspicion.
Phinney, even then, was looking ahead. He said he enjoyed cycling because of the sport’s “purity.”
And he’s right. There’s not much more pure and basic than a competitor climbing on his bike to do battle with other cyclists.
On Saturday, Phinney was riding the streets of his native Boulder. Tears were in his eyes. He was home, competing in one of the world’s premier cycling competitions.
“One of the best weekends of my life,” he said Sunday.
Don’t worry. For him, and for us, even better cycling weekends are ahead.
Armstrong’s tainted era is over, buried when he surrendered to his fate on Thursday night. The sport he once dominated will survive, and thrive, without him.