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The Old Hands Salute the Tour!

In the Moreni post below, I just got through castigating a NY Times reporter for dismissing today's stage as an afterthought, on the judgment (IMHO) that his own bias doesn't have much to do with the rest of the world, who were enjoying the climactic stage to the Aubisque, even knowing we were getting more bad news later. It seemed like a completely fabricated notion on the part of Ed Wyatt, the reporter, and he didn't explain or source it, so I can only assume that he, like a lot of writers, shaded over into writing about his day and not ours. His race recaps have been professional though, so maybe it was just a throwaway line and I'm being too peevish.

Moments later I read another reporter writing about his day -- all the world is a blog? -- only this time my reaction was different. If you're a fan of the Tour and its modern history, then you know the names John Wilcockson and Samuel Abt. Professor Wilcockson (as I like to call him, with all due respect I might add) wrote a pretty moving piece about his day yesterday, as he witnessed the latest doping scandal unfold. In it, he details the experience of being at a press conference as the Vinokourov positive is announced... but rather than being self-indulgent, he's reporting the news. The press conferences themselves were the action, since nobody was there to watch the lab technician or see Vino get a transfusion.

Today, Samuel Abt reports on the circus that the race has become. His language is a bit more pointed and verging on disgust, but by the end of the article it's clear that fans and riders alike are distinguishing between the cheats and the race's innate beauty. While times are tough, the show goes on.

Wilcockson let slip in his article that Sam Abt is covering his 31st and probably final Tour de France. Writers gathered last night to celebrate Abt's long association with le Grand Boucle, and they could just as easily have been doing the same for Wilcockson, himself a three-decade veteran who over the last year has been easing out of the grind. I haven't been searching VeloNews every day but AFAIK he's posted only a handful of stories this year about any race, including the Tour.

This seems like a poignant moment for the sport and English-speakers' association with it. For many of us, these are the two biggest names in Cycling journalism. Search for books on Amazon and these are the authors who come up most. Abt and Wilcockson aren't just guys stuck on a beat; they both convey a dedication to the sport and a skill in reporting it that speaks of an inner love of Cycling. And since they were stuck on or clinging to this beat so long, their respective collected works are a living encyclopedia of the sport spanning the Hinault, LeMond, Indurain and Armstrong eras.

I don't know what happened at that party, of course, but the younger VN staffers and others in attendance were undoubtedly lucky to be there. I also know that the longer perspective of guys like Wilcockson and Abt are essential reading in times like this when we wonder where the sport is headed. Abt closes his article today with a warning: "If nobody cares enough to get mad, do they care at all? The possibility of more doping scandals depends on the answer." Wilcockson is more optimistic: he speaks of veteran journalists saluting the Tour and does so himself. The show goes on...

But it won't be the same without these two guys.