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July 25th, 2007 Nicholas Deshais | News Stories
 

Tour de Farce

Lance is gone and Portlanders don't seem to care anymore about bicycling in France.

     
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Bits of croissant flake to the floor as about 30 middle-aged mouths grind like ruminants. The aging and well off, decked in green argyle sweater vests with perfectly trimmed hair and the like, enjoy their afternoon foodstuffs: croque monsieurs, pain au chocolat and every type of croissant and quiche imaginable.

Above them on the flat-screen TV that hangs from the ceiling of St. Honoré Boulangerie in Northwest Portland, the Tour de France replayed over and over again last week, as it did almost every afternoon for the past three weeks, to the unresponsive masticators.

Where's the love, chubs? Two years ago, hundreds of people turned out to Tour hot spots around Portland, from the Lucky Lab to the Bike Gallery, to rally behind Lance Armstrong, the cancer-surviving Texan phenom, for what would be his record-breaking seventh Tour win.

Armstrong—pumping his skinny fists in the air, combating doping charges, dating Sheryl Crow—was a hero of sorts; a Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods or Muhammad Ali for the cycling set.

Now, Tour enthusiasts say the French bakery right off Northwest 23rd Avenue seems to be the last Portland venue featuring the 2,200-mile, 104-year-old race that ends this Sunday, July 29.

"Americans only like it when we're No. 1," says Pete Sullivan, a 47-year-old physician at OHSU who's come to watch the race most days it's played at the bakery. Only about 20 of the most dedicated racing fans turn out as early as 6 am to watch the Tour in real time. The rest of the day, after 8 am or so, the TV is ignored.

"This year there aren't any big [American] contenders," Sullivan says.

Two years after Armstrong's retirement, what the hell has happened to Tour fans in a city where one study for the city's bike master plan reports a full 84 percent of its citizens think biking is a good way to get around?

"Who says nobody cares?" asks Chris DiStefano, spokesman for Chris King, a local, well-respected bike component manufacturer that used to sponsor Armstrong's Discovery team as well as throw Tour-watching events around town. "It's just back to being people who care."

But it's Portland, Bike City USA. And we even have an Oregonian in the race—Bend's Chris Horner.

The only Oregonian racing this year, Horner—part of the Predictor-Lotto team—is 17th overall as of Tuesday, which was a rest day for the tour. That's pretty damn amazing, yet his name doesn't ring a bell with many people, including Melissa Joyvert, who was enjoying some toothsome breakfast goods outside of the bakery Monday morning.

"I don't mind [Tour watchers] being here," says Joyvert, 26. "I just don't care about the Tour myself."

Portland may be a bike town, adorned with bike boulevards, routes and lanes, but connecting bike commuters with the Tour de France is about as logical as linking the fact that you have a driver's license with watching NASCAR. Most bike riders in Portland don't race, they coast.

And we don't wear spandex.

 
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