Forgotten Tour de France
ANTIBES - FRANCE - It was a rare sight these days: Two men having pastis at the bar and excitedly watching the Tour de France on television. They were clapping, even, when Tour leader Michael Rasmussen allowed Alberto Contador to pass him just before the finish line and win yesterday's stage. There had to be some sort of explanation for this odd behavior, and then it came as soon as the men started cheering — in Flemish.
It would take a lot, more than the recent doping inquiries and the ensuing suspensions and early retirements, to tear the Belgians away from their beloved cycling. The French, on the other hand, might be approaching that point quickly.
Once upon a time, well, even just two years ago, these same bars would be filled with gray-haired men clutching the sports daily, L'Equipe and nodding their heads in approval at every uphill attack. Not anymore. Even when the Tour passed through this corner of the hexagon last week, TVs in a few bars were tuned in to game shows. Yesterday, during one of the Tour's most critical stages, the natives were gathered in the park across the street, playing a game of petanque without even a radio to be heard.
"I just don't have time for it anymore," said Valerio Tomasino, as he crossed his legs on the park bench and watched an elderly man slowly crouch over the boules with a tape measure. "I used to watch all the mountain races and the time trials. This year, I haven't seen a single stage."