OPINION Real men don’t ride bikes, and other myths BY GRAHAM OSTEEN Editor and Publisher I’m not yet a complete bicycle geek like some of my friends around here, but I have developed a real appreciation for riding. Cycling is a gradual and acquired taste both in terms of conditioning and equipment, and it’s only when you start riding a lot more seriously than when you were a kid pounding the neighborhood pavement on a Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat that you can even begin to understand why Lance Armstrong is one of the most remarkable athletes in history. A lot of people are turned off by all the hype surrounding the Tour de France because it’s essentially a European sport. I was too for awhile. If you take the time to understand it, however, you’ll learn that riding that big loop up into the Alps and all around France like these guys do requires as much or more endurance and raw nerve than about any other sport imaginable. I love all sports, so I don’t say that lightly. As an experiment, you might try riding straight up a nice, long Darlington County hill with dead possums and snakes on the side of the road in 100-degree heat. When you catch your breath, remember that you’re in South Carolina, not the Alps, and these guys ride over 100 miles a day – straight – for almost a month. Cycling is humbling. I was visiting my favorite cousin-in-law last week when the Tour was in the early stages, and this rabid, traditional sports fan was making so much fun of me for watching the Tour coverage on the Outdoor Life Network that he couldn’t contain himself. I call him “Tall Boy” because of his preferred drink, and he loves college football and NASCAR racing more than anyone I know. “Why are they so bunched up on top of each other,” he ranted. “Why don’t they spread out. What a bunch of fruitcakes. That’s not a sport, they’re getting water from moving cars. Real athletes don’t get water from moving cars.” It went on like this for the entire night as we switched from pro baseball to the British Open to SportsCenter and back to the Tour. He called the Peloton the “Pelican,” and continued to question the riders’ manhood until I finally gave up and went to bed. After all the abuse I took from him that night, the next morning I found him watching the Tour at 8 a.m. when I came down to leave. “Tall Boy” still hasn’t let up on the issue of taking water from a moving car, but I know he’s been watching Lance bring the pain to his rivals in the mountains all week. It’s addictive once you realize that this amazing American is more than likely going to win a sixth straight Tour de France, more than any rider in history. The fact that he came back from cancer to do it is even more inspiring, and his story has touched countless lives all over the world. My wife doesn’t buy into the Lance Legend completely because he left his wife and kids and moved into the house next door with Sheryl Crow, but I would argue that his actions only prove he’s human. People change, and Sheryl is Sheryl. Some things you just can’t fight. Personal relationships aside, it’s great to see an athlete so dedicated and focused at the peak of his powers. Like Michael Jordan, he simply worked harder than anyone else in his sport to be the best, and he is.