It's March, and the ACC Tournament men's basketball final is being held. After 39 minutes of hard fought play, the refs call a television time-out with the score 89-88 Carolina leading Duke. Fans the world over watch the commercials and chomp at the bit for the game to resume. Will Kryzewski's squad find a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, or will Roy Williams' Heels reign supreme? When the coverage switches back to Greensboro Coliseum, we find that it will indeed be the University of North Carolina as champions this year, but only because the teams have - in essence - quit. For the final 60 seconds, the ball is graciously passed around between all players and champagne flutes are held high in celebration. Now... how many Duke fans are seriously pissed off?
Earlier in the year, the Super Bowl was contested in the same fashion. After 3 quarters and 13 minutes, the Dallas Cowboys are behind by 2 points to the Washington Redskins. Romo has led the 'Boys to the 33 yard line of Washington and have a first down, but the Two Minute Warning occurs and fans watch a little donkey long to be a giant beer horse while they wait for the exciting conclusion. But wait! When Al Trautwig comes back on-air, he lets us know that the Dallas quarterback will be kneeling on the final four downs of the game, everyone will take turns showing off their celebration dances, and champagne flutes will be held high by the winning team. How many people believe the State of Texas would secede from the Union?
Notice a pattern here? Unfortunately, this is what happens on the final day of the Tour de France every year. Essentially, the race is over after the penultimate stage, with the ultimate being a jolly jaunt through the French countryside and down the streets of Paris. What a wonderful feeling it must be to see the Arch de Triumphe knowing that you won the race yesterday, and that you just rode 90 miles for the hell of it. Does anyone else see a problem with this?
Now, I can understand the concept if the race leader holds a several-minute advantage. Individuals, and their race teams would be hard pressed to make up ground of that size with the nature of the peleton taken into consideration. Even with the check-point bonuses, a trailing rider would find it impossible to shake the leader enough to win the yellow jersey. However, if the second place rider is only 23 seconds behind, and the third only an additional 8 behind him, the possibilities are endless.
Except that they aren't. Tradition, professional courtesy, race rules... for whatever reason, the Tour de France is only 95% competitive - only 19 of the 20 stages are contested. I am highly disappointed (though I knew this was coming and have had plenty of time to prepare my fragile emotions) that there was no race to the finish at all. In my heart, I was imagining an all-out dash, with high drama and fantastic strategy. How cool would it have been to watch Cadel Evans bust his *** to beat Contador by just 25 seconds? Being Spanish, I'm a Contador fan, but I still want a race!
It seems to me that the possibility of drug use to calm these hyper-competitive racers down on the final day is even greater than the possibility of large-scale pharmaceutical performance enhancement. How many valiums does it take to stop a Tour rider? The world may never know.
One can only hope that enough fans will express their displeasure with this disgraceful ending that the Tour philosophy will change in the future. However, with the doping scandal holding the collective world-conscious, I don't see that happening anytime soon. Oh well, I'll keep moaning about it and maybe someone with influence will listen.