Paul Staiti on the Tour de France

Thursday, July 9, 2009 - 12:00pm

Questioning Authority caught Paul Staiti, Professor of Fine Arts on the Alumnae Foundation, sneaking a peek at the Tour de France bicycle race. We asked him for the skinny on this year’s competition.

QA: Will Lance Armstrong be able to pull it off this year?

PS: Most everyone considers Alberto Contador to be the best cyclist in the world, and for good reason. Lance used to be the king. Certainly he is the greatest cyclist in the history of the Tour de France, and arguably the greatest in the history of the sport, though that crown might belong to the Belgian Eddy Merckx. That’s not to say Lance can’t win the Tour this year. But, along with Contador, who is his teammate on the Astana team, he has to beat Levi Leipheimer, Cadel Evans, and Carlos Sastre. I pick him to place fourth--which would be brilliant for someone who is 37 and out of the saddle for the last four years. Personally, I’d love to see him win.

QA: Has Lance been a user, and is he using now?

PS: Like I would know if he dopes? I’ve checked his Twitter log, and no, he says he’s clean. When he first won the Tour in 1999, most riders were altering their body chemistry in some way, and it’s hard for me to imagine that Lance was entirely pure. But he never failed a test. Yet the list of illegal substances was much shorter then. So this topic remains a mystery. The legality of his seven Tour wins, however, is not in doubt. By the way, do you know where I score some HGH?

QA: Could you please explain how the team/individual system works? Is Lance comfortable not being captain of the team?

PS: You can’t win without a good team. Teammates deliver water and food. They bike ahead of you so that you can draft behind (at a 30 percent energy savings). They can control the pace of the peloton (the main pack). The trouble with the Astana team is that of the nine riders, four are legitimate contenders for winning the General Classification (which is the list of fastest riders). Armstrong, Leipheimer, Contador, and Andreas Klöden all have a shot at winning. As the Tour unfolds, there is going to be some natural sorting out of that team. For instance, maybe Leipheimer, who peaked too early in the biking season, will work in support of teammates. And possibly, there is going to be some unnatural sorting. It could be that the team manager will have to choose the anointed one. Contador is the team captain, but does that mean that Armstrong is going to bike in support? He says he would. If Lance is strong in the Pyrenees and Alps, I bet he goes for victory. Lance spent the entire spring season biking in support of Leipheimer, who won a number of major races. Which mean Levi now owes Lance. Would Levi ignore that debt now and support Contador? I’m probably over-dramatizing, but those are some of the possibilities. Some think Astana is the greatest team in history. They ran a brilliant team time trial that requires everyone be on the same page. So who knows how it will turn out?

QA: Why is the Tour such a big deal, anyway?

PS: Le Tour is the Wimbledon of cycling. It has history; this is the ninety-sixth race. It’s brutal; about 2,200 miles across the entire country, including some ridiculous mountain ascents. And it has Paris; the last stage finishes on the Champs-Elysees. The Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana complete the big three stage races.

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