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Friday, July 6, 2007
Updated: July 8, 5:23 PM ET
10 reasons you'll want to watch this year's Tour de France

By Jim Caple
Page 2

I finished reading Floyd Landis' "Positively False" Tuesday night, started "From Lance to Landis" Wednesday night, and just got back from riding my bike 16 miles to buy a Slingbox -- so I can watch the Tour de France just in case I find myself someplace without the Versus network during the next three weeks.

The yellow jersey
The yellow jersey, one of the most famous jerseys in sports.
In other words, I'm pretty jazzed for this year's Tour de France, which starts on Saturday.

Oh, I know. Saying you're a fan of the Tour this summer is like saying you still listen to Creed. Because of the recent doping scandals, you're not supposed to care about the race. The Tour is so off the radar, the Department of Homeland Security has downgraded the wristband color code from yellow for "Livestrong" to white for "Apathy."

I don't care. I'm so excited about the Tour I even broke down and bought some biker shorts (which my wife refuses to let me wear in public). And here are 10 reasons you should be interested in it, too.

1. For a minute, look past the doping scandals. Landis has gone to court to keep his 2006 title, 1996 champ Bjarne Riis admitted he was juiced, and so many other cyclists have been charged with drug use that the Tour should replace the yellow jersey with a psychedelic tie-dyed T-shirt. None of this speaks well for the sport, to be sure. But it's funny how the people who mock cycling for the proliferation of performance enhancers often are the same people who love football despite the suspicious size and speed of NFL players. When several Carolina Panthers from Super Bowl XXXVIII were implicated in a steroid scandal, no one stopped watching the Super Bowl. When Shawne Merriman was busted for steroids, the media didn't scream that the Chargers' season was a joke. So why the double standard?

Despite its problems, the Tour de France is still a very compelling sporting event, and what these athletes do is nothing short of remarkable. Baseball players sit in the dugout half the game chewing sunflower seeds. Basketball and football players get halftime to rest, in addition to their bench time. Golfers walk and still have someone carry their clubs. Cyclists, meanwhile, race up to 130 miles an afternoon, fighting the wind and climbing up steep Alpine mountains in the heat of summer.

Considering what they do, the only performance enhancer that would seem adequate is gasoline.

2. Old-school cheating. And hell, the recent doping is nothing compared to some of the stuff that went on when the Tour was young. Back in the old days, fans would toss nails on the road and set up obstacles; riders would break the inkstands at required stage check-in points, and put itching powder in their opponents' shorts, and place cocaine on their eyelids to stay alert during the grueling race. Those are just some of the tactics described in Graeme Fife's wonderful history of the race, aptly titled "Tour De France." My favorite story, however, is about Eugene Christophe, whose front forks broke on a descent in the Pyrenees. He carried the bike five miles to a village, borrowed tools at a blacksmith's shop, and forged new forks, repaired the bike and then resumed the race. I tell you, if today's cyclists had to work at a blacksmith's forge, they wouldn't need steroids.

London
The Tour de France, in ... London? Yep, that's right.
3. The race starts in London this year. Which is kind of like starting the Indy 500 in Cincinnati … except London has Big Ben, Parliament, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the Old Globe Theater, while Cincinnati has the Bengals.

The Tour often extends outside of France -- but this is the first time it has ever started in England.

4. U-S-A! U-S-A! Remember how much fun it was rooting against the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War? Now that Russia is our friend (well, sort of, sometimes), we've lost that drama at the Olympics. But you can recapture it at the Tour de France by rooting against those damn French, who keep implicating our guys in doping scandals. And we know it's all sour grapes because Americans have won the past eight Tours and 11 of the past 21, while a French rider hasn't won since Wham! was big.

5. A fashion statement -- Levi and a yellow jersey. The American with the best chance to extend the United States' reign is Discovery's Levi Leipheimer. He's a bit of an underdog, but he won the Tour of California, and the winner of that race has gone on to win the Tour de France every time. True, the Tour of California didn't start until 2006 (when Landis won it) but that doesn't alter the truth of the previous sentence.

6. Borat: 2,200 Miles of France for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Need another guy to root for? Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan got hosed last year. He wasn't implicated in the Operacion Puerto doping scandal, but enough of his teammates were that his team didn't have enough riders to compete. So he got the boot from the biggest race in the world, even though he was innocent (as far as we know). This has been Kazakhstan's year in sports -- Oleg Maskaev beat Hasim Rahman for the WBC heavyweight crown -- so if Vinokourov wins, we'll probably get to see plenty of Borat clips.

7. The Versus Network. Are the live broadcasts on too early in the morning for you? Don't worry -- the replays are always on, and announcers Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll quickly become summer guests you never want to leave. Granted, the Tour can be pretty repetitive, with lots of shots showing cyclists bunched together intermixed with the occasional breakaway. But even that is oddly hypnotic and relaxing to watch. And the furious finishes, the grueling Alpine climbs and the occasional rider flipping over a guard rail and plunging down a cliff (better hope those front forks hold up) make for damn good television.

8. Location, location, location. Plus, there is always the incredible scenery, which will range from Big Ben to the beaches of Dunkirk to the French Alps, the South of France, the Pyrenees and the Champs-Elysées. It sure as hell beats the view outside Cleveland's Jacobs Field.

Yellow jersey
This guy should really be focused on the podium girl, instead of the stuffed animal.
9. The podium girls. No further explanation needed.

10. Bicycles are the new SUV. I'm way ahead of the curve on this one, but bicycles are poised for a quantum leap in popularity. Continuing concerns about global warming, rising obesity, diabetes and traffic snarls will prompt more people to ride bicycles in the coming years.

Which is the biggest reason I love the Tour. Most of America's most popular sports are enjoyed only from the couch. Not biking. No matter your age or weight, everyone can bike -- and should. It's fun, and a good way to get around -- the extra time it takes to bike somewhere is easily made up by the time you save not looking for a parking space or going to the club for a workout.

More importantly, it's good for you, good for the environment and good for the country. Who is more patriotic, the person who commutes to work on a bike, or the guy who slaps a U.S. flag decal on his SUV that gets 12 miles per gallon?

So turn on the Tour during the next three weeks and start riding your own stages. Once again feel the joy you enjoyed as a kid while you pretend you're breaking away from the pack on Col d'Aubisque. Trust me, there is no greater pleasure in sports than passing SUVs stalled in rush-hour traffic. Unless you're passing them as they fill up at the gas station.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net, with more installments of "24 College Avenue." His new book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans" is on sale now.