[What percentage of French people are mimes? A simple majority? NTTAWWT.]
The Tour de France is what it is for one simple reason: France will always be the epicenter of cycling. Maybe the French people don't own the sport the way they once did, but they haven't exactly relinquished it either. Traditions go way back, of course, but even today they abound if you know where to look (Lille, St. Etienne, Le Vendee...). Geographically, France acts as the hub of the European cycling world. And it's the only country which contains every critical element of the sport. France is not about cobbles but it has them (understatement of the year). France isn't the quaint little rooftop of Europe but it goes there, oh very yes. It's a country where major races go from Paris to either Roubaix or Nice or Tours. And none of this is likely to ever change.
Which is a long way of saying that I am breaking down the boundaries of this notes column and doing whatever the hell I want.
[Off-topic: France is even in the Vietnamese section of your local grocer, which in my case has resulted in a tofu on baguette lunch waiting for me. My favorite baguette story -- in Cambodia, where very delicious baguettes are sold on the street for a couple hours every morning, for something like 15 cents. I spotted a baguette seller from a pickup truck where we were waiting to begin a long boat ride, which was dead certain to have no decent food whatsoever, and jumped in the line of ragged gringos. But "seasoned travelers" being what they are, the woman in front of me stormed off baguette-less because this seller wanted something like 17 cents for his baguettes. The lesson? I like bread.]
* The hottest topic in France right now is almost certainly
French open protesters Arnaud Demare and the FDJ Conundrum. Actually the Madiots have long maintained that having both Demare and fellow fastman Nacer Bouhanni is less a problem than a luxury, since Bouhanni is of the mad-dash variety and Demare more of a Boonen type, strong enough to win sprints but more of a classics profile. Still, seeing Demare win the other day and come third today in Switzerland, at the ripe old age of 21 (Bouhanni himself is only 22) raises the question, when will we see him back in a grand tour? Bouhanni seems set for the Tour, and having just done two-thirds of a Giro. That's great, I like Bouhanni (because he's never put me into the barriers), and I get that at this age there's a good reason to not be thrown into the Tour. But dammit! I can't wait much longer. Also, I can't find any mention of Demare for the Vuelta -- and that would be a waste, because at some point the kid needs to get in the long effort of a grand tour, if only to build for Belgium next spring.
* Is Peter Sagan's nickname really "the bug"? Spanish headlines today: Kristoff Squashes the Bug. At what point do we ponder a possible Norwegian points jersey campaign? [Answer: next week sometime.]
* Speaking of bugs, back in Colombia, home of the cycling "beetles," the Vuelta a Colombia is underway, but without significant Europe-based competition (for obvious reasons). Felix Cardenas is the defending champ, and is back for more, facing off against the likes of Mauricio Ardila, and many lesser-knowns. But less-known doesn't mean less talented so it may be worth seeing whether any interesting riders emerge.
* Sadly, the Tour is likely to be nearly devoid of Colombians. Several of the top riders from the South American beetle factory burned their matches at the Giro, and thus far only Nairo Quintana is scheduled to take the start -- and that's only according to Movistar's long list, not its final selection. Patience is not my virtue, if you haven't noticed.
*Veering over the Swiss border, today Pat McQuaid's unctuous re-election campaign suffered another blow, though perhaps only a glancing one. The Swiss Federation received a protest from three of its members over its endorsement of McQuaid, arguing that his claim of Swiss residence isn't up to snuff in some way. [Aside: it's nice when the UCI's endless arcana can be used for good, not evil.] Recall, McQuaid's nomination was supposed to come from his home federation, namely Ireland, but when that was successfully protested, McQuaid went fishing for Switzerland's endorsement in lieu of fighting the Irish fed. Or maybe he's doing that too. In any event, he's got two nominations in limbo now, as well as a challenger.
* On to happier (?) subjects, there were two doping positives in the last week: Russians Nikita Novikov (Vacansoleil) for some sort of steroid, and a confirmation of Alexander Serebryakov's EPO positive from last year. Serebryakov, of Euskaltel, apologized to his team, who quickly cut ties with its first Russian recruit, part of a globalisation plan at the squad. Hopefully their next effort goes better. Vacansoleil, meanwhile, are certainly going out with a whimper. Their two team victories are befitting of a squad meeting its demise. Blanco appear headed for a happy ending, but not so for the Netherlands' other big squad.
* Johan Bruyneel Demon-Watch: According to Bruyneel, this week's rating is "Not a demon." This is a change from last week, when the rest of the world said that he was, in fact, a demon. Stay tuned for more...
* Ryder Hesjedal took to twitter yesterday to thank people for the well wishes, and to talk about how his wheel got swept out by someone else. I'm not sure what you can read into that, but he sounds more OK than not. #hopeforjuly