The Tour de France offers a magical escape, but is everything made believe?

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The afternoon therapy in the wellness salon went well, thank you. They meander along the winding roads of rural France. Their high rate of work, our curtains drawn, their flickering energy, our slumbering indolence. It’s so super healing, fantastically restorative. The banal beginning at each stage a kind of elaboration of the story to follow. Then everything goes to hell in a sprint finish.

Some of them chat and have lunch in the middle of the peloton with their teammates. Kazakhs in light blue livery. Gentle on the eyes, them.

For 21 days, they are there with two days off. Since the Grand Départ in Nice on August 29, they have averaged the distance between Belfast and Dublin each day, an 8,000 calorie workout of 183 km (114 miles) per day.

The longest was the 12th stage of 218 km from Chauvigny to Sarran, the shortest of the 36 km time trial in the mountains this weekend between Lure and La Planche des Belle Filles, a ski resort in the Vosges.

Dreaming of the finish in Paris, the climb has an average 8.5% incline, but a short stretch just below the summit at one in four will undermine every last nerve in the route. The legs will die.

In 19 days of racing, they will have covered 3,325 km. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The mountains, the heat, the attrition rate. It is convincing. To watch the teams’ peloton or the lone break, cut through the air for their star sprinter to put him forward for a decent shot in a stage win. Their energy belongs to him.

The peloton is on their way to the 14th stage of the Tour de France from Clermont-Ferrand to Lyon. Photography: Christophe Petit Tesson / EPA

The full conversations they have during the run, the time outs, the coasting, the descent, the mind reading for three or four hours a day. The Tour de France was therapeutic, curative and curative. You open the curtains and, hey, it was a sunny day.

But as they roamed a sunflower field on an idyllic stretch of flat road last week, a friend broke the silence of a lazy afternoon. Are they still taking the juice, he asked?

Well, hit a bag of vomit if that isn’t a sassy speech. The arrogance of 1998 is long gone. Protests against police raids on their steroid and EPO stores. The Farce Tower. The struggles not with the conscience but the tactics to escape. The conflict not with regulation and health, but the Trumpian avoidance and contempt of doctors, charlatans and healers for the health of young men.

When we ask ourselves if we are in the mood to forgive and believe, cycling asks forgivers to accept that the savage challenge they faced with drugs is now doing it properly. Except this year, they are going further and longer than they did in 2003 and 2004 and 1988, one of the golden years of doping.

It’s a cynical thing, but wondering if a bowl of pasta and a rub of your legs is enough to get them up a mountain the next day is what comes from a legacy of epic tampering. When you watch the 176 runners for four hours and see some take off and some explode and some climb a slope that goes up a foot for every four run, you begin to understand the extraordinary and ask yourself – how do you do it. -they?

What should we think of them in the pouring rain or the brutal heat of the plains?

Athletics are in the same twilight zone. Rugby is suspect. The difference is, the athletes caught up in cycling and track and field are big names. Those caught up in rugby are, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Aphiwe Dyantyi aside, are mostly unknown players.

The narrative sold to the public in rugby is one that plays for contracts and an entry point to professional play is doping. More kids are taken to Craven Week schools (six in 2018, three in 2017, four in 2016, five in 2015 and three in 2014. All for steroids) in South Africa than at the World Cup rugby, where no one gets caught. That they stop cheating when they leave school is not a credible story.

But cycling has adopted the biological passport. It describes the individual blood values ​​of athletes. There is a baseline against which their tests can be compared. It is a deterrent. What the experts are saying is that the passports have recomposed but haven’t stopped doping.

So what’s the answer as we come to the end of watching them pass the inlays of a granite chain or layers of limestone, glide along the rivers of central France and through gorges that will become in months ski resorts?

What should we think of them in the pouring rain or the brutal heat of the plains or when they start the day’s race in a rising morning mist and cold air on their way to conquer a brutal peak or start a roller coaster ride? over a series of mountains, throwing themselves on either side to start the sequence of inhuman ascent again?

Inuit have a word “iktsuarpok” for the feeling of anticipation when you are waiting for someone to show up at your house. In the final days of this year’s tour someone might be able to add to the lexicon of the cycling world.

A word perhaps for “the thrill of watching them chop along a high road through a meadow and then wonder if all of this is still faking it”. It would help the afternoon therapy next year a lot.

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