IF LIFE'S PLEASURES form the bedrock of happiness, my guiltiest one goes like this: Every July, I call up my local cable provider to request a 30-day upgrade, paying a mere $5 for the soothing companionship of Paul Sherwen, Phil Liggett, and the rest of the Tour de France coverage team at the Versus network. We’ll spend 23 blissful days together. Each morning I’ll wake to the sound of Liggett’s breathless accounts of meaningless sprint finishes (“He nips him at the line, but only just!”), key mountaintop battles (“He’s got the bit between the teeth!”), and stunning helicopter shots of the French terrain (“Just look at that buttress!”).
Each night I’ll settle in for the bonus coverage, watching it all over again in slow motion, tolerating Bob Roll’s spastic analysis of remaining contenders like Andy Schleck and Denis Menchov. During these brief studio segments, the hosts will wring their hands and discuss the latest doping controversy, but it’s always mercifully short. You’re in a safe place at Versus; they’ll never pierce your dreamy bubble of denial. When the champion is finally crowned, I’ll pour my own glass of champagne, savoring a victory that will inevitably be revoked due to scandal in the coming weeks. But no worries—I’ve been here before. I’ll just memorize the name of the second-place finisher. Was it Óscar Pereiro or Óscar Freire?
This year, as with the past few, there are people who will want to take this right away from me. They’ll say the whole event is a sham, that cycling is beyond salvation. They’ll point out the string of recent champions who have been embroiled in doping controversy. They’ll say they’re tired of me ignoring the kids and monopolizing our one television. And for a moment, I’ll think they’re right and begin my annual sulk. But then I’ll remember: drugs don’t kill cycling; cyclists kill cycling. And I’ll raise my right hand high in the air, clutching my remote. From my cold dead hands, I’ll say.