When Tour is best choice, TV sports in a down cycle

Commentary

The Kickoff

July 05, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

Like any right-thinking, red-blooded American, I spent much of Independence Day -- the most patriotic U.S. holiday of the year -- watching the Tour de France.

What choice did I have? The Orioles weren't on until 4, the FX Channel was running a Cops marathon and you know how I feel about the World Cup. There was Wimbledon, I guess, but watching tennis without Anna Kournakova is sort of like eating 54 hot dogs in one sitting without pickle relish. More on that later.

The Outdoor Life Network filled the void with hours of coverage of the world's most celebrated bicycle race, which apparently has decided to go forward without Lance Armstrong ... though not without countless Lance Armstrong highlights, promos and commercials.

There's a part of me that doesn't get OLN, a channel for people who want to sit inside and watch other people do exciting outdoor stuff, but somebody has to televise the NHL and cycling without Lance, so we all ought to say a little prayer of thanks for marginal cable. And it's nice to see that Al Trautwig is still getting work.

I have to admit, it was an educational experience watching the striking overhead views of the Belgian countryside. Most of my knowledge of the European landscape comes from watching Combat when I was a kid, and I'm pretty sure most of that was filmed on some MGM backlot.

Stage 3 did feature some real drama, when Spaniard Alejandro Valverde went down in the final minutes and had to abandon the race with a broken collarbone. Valverde was one of the riders with a real chance to inherit the jellow jersey from Armstrong, and one of the few high-profile Spanish riders not to show up on the cycling equivalent of the Jason Grimsley affidavit last week.

Frankly, pro cycling is so dirty that I half-expected to see Jose Canseco trundling by on a 10-speed, but team officials didn't hesitate to disqualify the nine cyclists who were implicated in the doping scandal, even though four of them were top finishers in last year's Tour de France. I guess they don't have a players association.

No Americans were among the top 10 finishers in Stage 3 -- maybe they were somewhere watching fireworks -- but George Hincapie remains in third place overall and Floyd Landis is seventh. I've never heard of either of them, but that doesn't mean they aren't great guys with really big quads.

Matthias Kessler of Germany, a teammate of disqualified favorite Jan Ullrich, won Stage 3. The overall leader is a guy from Belgium named Tom Boonen, who has more nicknames than the cast of Grease. Depending on which cycling magazine you frequent, he's either "The Tornado," "Tornado Tom" or "The Cub of Flanders."

The Cub of Flanders?

Maybe I'll give Wimbledon another chance.

Murphy's Law is even in effect in Europe. Moments after Valverde crashed and fractured his collarbone, OLN ran a dramatic promo commercial asking "who will replace Lance Armstrong?" Of course, one of the two racers featured in the commercial was Valverde, who had just been forced to withdraw from the race.

With the World Cup starting late in the afternoon and sports fans growing weary of National Spelling Bee highlights, ESPN turned to the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island in New York. Japan's Takeru Kobayashi won for the sixth straight time, which essentially makes him the Lance Armstrong of competitive gluttony.

Kobayashi downed 53 3/4 hot dogs to edge American record-holder Joey Chestnut, but the important thing is, he didn't cover the spread ... and I'm not talking condiments here. Kobayashi was a 4 1/2 -dog favorite on the gaming site Intertops.com, but Chestnut inhaled 52 dogs to set a personal best.

Once again, it's obvious that I've wasted my life. People are actually getting sponsorships and making money to overeat, and I spent my childhood in a dismal and delusional attempt to be a professional baseball player.

This is where parental guidance comes in. My parents should have seen my potential when I was eating the whole box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese at 6 years old, but they kept buying me useless sports equipment.

Turns out, I probably should have watched the tennis, since Maria Sharapova was distracted by a streaker on the way to her quarterfinal victory over No. 7 seed Elena Dementieva.

Streaking is still kind of a big deal in England. Really, what else would you expect from a country where the men spent most of the Middle Ages in tights.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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