King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

In the U.S., the Tour de France (it's a big bike race) has not survived the end of Lance. Plus: T.O. shocker -- he's misunderstood!


So, watching the Tour de France much?

The Tour de France. No, France.

It’s a bike race. Remember? Over the past seven years, bicycle racing fans have told me, we Americans had come to love the Tour de France because of Lance Armstrong. He’d sold us on the event and on the sport.

I kept saying that what Lance Armstrong sold us on was Lance Armstrong. If he’d been a Greco-Roman wrestler, it would have been Greco-Roman wrestling, not the Tour de France, that became the signature broadcast for the cable network OLN, which hockey fans and almost nobody else know will soon be renamed Versus.

As soon as Armstrong retired, which he did after winning his seventh straight tour last year, I figured the Tour de France would go back to being one of those nice little niche events in this country, the kind of thing most of us are vaguely aware of and maybe a little interested in, but don’t really follow. Kind of like the running of the bulls or those European song competitions.

I wanted to be wrong as I snorted milk through my nose in derisive laughter at the suggestion — made to me by roughly one person per day during the last few Tours de France via e-mails that dismissed me and anyone else who didn’t love the Tour as fat, lazy, knuckle-draggers — that the event’s popularity would outlive Armstrong, that he’d changed the landscape.

That actually would have been nice. I think it’s cool when a sport noses its way into the picture in this country, even if the sport doesn’t do much for me. I’ve enjoyed how, at least during the last two World Cups and especially this recent one, soccer has finally become a part of the American consciousness in something like the way it has been predicted to do since the ’70s. Good for arena football for carving out its small but notable share of the market. Rock on, ultimate fighting.

But alas the Tour de France, and bicycle racing in general, seem to have faded a bit since Armstrong’s retirement. A clue that this was coming might have been gleaned from Americans’ cheeky habit of calling it the Tour de Lance during his run.

This is going to come as a surprise to most of you, but the Tour de France has been going on since July 2. It ends Sunday.

By faded a bit I mean ratings are down about 50 percent this year, and buzz is down by like infinity times infinity plus three.

Seriously, if you’re not a cycle-racing fan, don’t have a cycle-racing fan as a significant other, roommate or child, and are not a member in good standing of the Dave Stohler Marching and Chowder Society, have you heard a single word about the 2006 Tour de France?

Have there been regular updates on the Tour’s progress on the network news shows, as was common in the Armstrong era? Is “SportsCenter” treating the Tour as a big sporting event to rival the baseball regular season or NFL preseason speculation? Anyone mentioning it at parties? On the bus? Anything?

You don’t have to answer. This is a rhetorical conversation.

Americans, speaking generally and with plenty of exceptions, don’t care about the Tour de France, or about bicycle racing, because it doesn’t speak to us, doesn’t make sense to us in the way that the sports we care about do. That says nothing bad about either Americans or the Tour de France. It’s just a bad match.

We do like dominant champions, especially if they’re American. We like them better if they’re reasonably humble and well-spoken in front of the cameras.

We like them better than that if they’ve made a comeback from something, anything, but cancer is probably better than anything else they could come back from. And we like them even better than that if they become ardent spokespeople in the fight against whatever it is they came back from, especially if that’s a disease, especially cancer.

So we liked the hell out of Lance Armstrong, and we’d have watched him play badminton if that’s what it was he happened to do. And then when he retired we’d have promptly stopped caring about badminton, leaving OLN, soon to be Versus, your Official Badminton Network, holding the bag, if not the shuttlecock. Just as we’ve done with the Tour de France.

Now, about the 2006 Tour de France:

Hey! Come back here!

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Terrell Owens: I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way [PERMALINK]

Terrell Owens is talking again, telling Bryant Gumbel in an HBO interview that he’s misunderstood because the media portrays him as a selfish person, which of course he isn’t.

In a transcript from the episode of “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” scheduled to debut Tuesday night, Owens says he doesn’t think members of the media are conspiring against him, necessarily, but just using him to get readers and ratings.

Others get similar treatment, he says, but “I feel like I have been one of the main guys who’ve been vilified.”

Gumbel asks him why that might be. “That’s the million-dollar question,” he answers. “Why me?”

Actually, the million-dollar question for the 32-year-old wide receiver, who wore out his welcome in San Francisco and Philadelphia and figures to do the same in Dallas within two years, is why someone doesn’t persuade him to get treatment for his narcissistic personality disorder, of which more than one physician has e-mailed me over the years to say he exhibits classic symptoms.

And if T.O. doesn’t have narcissistic personality disorder — of course I have no idea — maybe he should ask himself that million-dollar question. Why is it that the media has singled me out?

Is it because he’s the best receiver in the league? Putting aside any argument about whether he is or not, there are other best players at lots of positions in lots of leagues who aren’t singled out for bad treatment.

Is it because he’s black? That’s never not an issue at all, but there are lots of other best players who are black who aren’t singled out for bad treatment.

Is it because he has chosen enemies who are protected pets of the media? Donovan McNabb maybe. But Jeff Garcia? Hugh Douglas?

Barring a personality disorder, the million-dollar question is what it takes for a guy like Owens to at long last say to himself, “Maybe it’s my fault.”

Sometimes the answer to a million-dollar question is a five-cent, Lucy Van Pelt-style diagnosis: You’re a blockhead.

Previous column: Baseball deadline trades, Mariano Rivera

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