I Like Bike

The Tour de France fills Tom's void during the summer TV downtime.

This is how bad things are this time of year: I almost watched a baseball game on TV the other day. Football is still off in the distance, and the people at ESPN should all go straight to hell for televising LeBron James' summer-league basketball games.

The only first-run thing on TV worth watching is Monk, and that takes care of one hour and leaves 167 others to fill. By this time of the summer, the only things I haven't seen from the video store are movies that won awards at Sundance and almost always blow. I watched one the other night about some woman who got bored dating men and decided to give lesbianism a try. I'm sure the folks at GLAAD were thrilled with her representation of how people can just try homosexuality on to see how it fits.

Fortunately, I discovered something to tide me over these past couple weeks: The Tour de France. Or, as they say in the Land Where Surrender Never Goes Out Of Style: Le Tour de France. It's this big-ass bicycle race with hundreds and hundreds of men who are all skinnier than that guy who plays Will on Will & Grace.

I had heard of the Tour de France before, but I thought it was just a code name for German war games. Actually, I had seen highlights on SportsCenter, but it always looked like they raced 127 miles over the Alps and then somehow ended up with a 93-way tie for first. That made no sense to me.

I guess part of my previous lack of enthusiasm for cycling stems from the fact that I've never owned a bicycle (or a tricycle, for that matter). When you were the poorest kid in the projects, you get to say stuff like that. For us at Christmastime, it was like how Redd Foxx used to say: His dad would go outside, fire off a shotgun and then come inside and say: "No Christmas presents this year. Santa Claus just committed suicide."

I didn't even learn how to ride a bike until I was a teenager. (I never learned how to roller skate, either.) My good friend, Tyrone Fontenot, let me learn on his bike. But after that, when we'd go somewhere to play ball, he'd ride his bike and I'd run alongside as best I could. I ran everywhere, and after years of doing so, I got almost adequate at it.

(This isn't one of those stories like the Michael Landon made-for-TV movie where the guy becomes an Olympic champion because he wet his bed and his mom would hang the urine-stained sheets out the window so the guy would have to run home real fast and hide the sheets before his buddies or the girls saw them. I just became an OK runner.)

Anyway, Tyrone would ride his bike and I would run alongside, like Daniel Stern did in Breaking Away, which is my fourth-favorite sports movie of all time. (Guys do stuff like that; we all have a list of our favorite sports movies in order. Most lists start with Hoosiers, as does mine. Then comes Remember the Titans, Bull Durham, Breaking Away, Rudy, Raging Bull, Bang the Drum Slowly and the original Rocky. If I ever have a really--and I mean really--slow column week, I'll write my entire list, including No. 73, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, and Nos. Last and Next-to-Last, The Natural and Field of Dreams.)

I've just never understood the whole cycling culture. First off, you have to wear those Tchaikovsky pants (nutcrackers). Then, you have these shoes with one big cleat on them, so if you have to get off and walk around, you're leaning backwards at a 45 degree angle, like some Pimpin' Sam.

Some friends of mine wanted me to start training with them for the Tour de Tucson, which comes up in the fall. First off, I don't care what the weather is like; you should never have a situation where you have to say "bike race" and "fall" in the same sentence. Plus, at my advanced age and weight, my butt falls asleep just looking at a bicycle. And don't ask how my butt can look at a bicycle; haven't you ever heard of hindsight? (Or bun-zai!)

And a sleeping butt isn't the biggest concern. You know when you ride too long and you get that dead scrotum? You don't want to hasten the time when that scrotum dies and is unable to be brought back to life.

So, I'm taping the Tour de France at 5 a.m. and then watching it in mid-morning. They have this great American announcer on at the end. The guy is just the ultimate average Joe. He wears a polo shirt that doesn't fit right and he looks like a manager at Denny's. I also like the British play-by-play announcer they have who says "kill-oh-mee-ters" instead of "kill-ah-muh-ters."

It's stunning watching the cyclists perform as they are surrounded by motorcycles, cars and trucks that whiz by them at high speeds and incredibly close proximity. I'm amazed that there aren't horrible crashes every day. The idiots on the motorcycles take bizarre chances all the time. Then there are the people who line the route and get within inches of the cyclists as they whiz past. Sometimes they get so close you could swear the cyclist could snatch the underarm hair off the women.

What I don't understand is the scoring. The other day, some Spaniard finished in first place. The announcer said, "Oh, this is amazing. This is the first time in his career that he's ever won a stage. It's the greatest day of his life, the highlight of his cycling career ... but he remains in 210th place overall." What the heck?!

Meanwhile, Lance Armstrong cruises in the pack and keeps the lead. You can tune in to a nighttime sportscast and hear, "American Lance Armstrong finished (fill in any number: 6th, 83rd, 119th) and held on to his 21-second lead."

Somebody please explain this to me--and do it before football season starts, because by then, I will no longer care.