Monday, July 07, 2003

One of the things I enjoy about July in Spain is, surprisingly, the TV--yeah, I know I just spent several paragraphs crapping all over Spanish television. But in July every day they show the footage from the daily running of the bulls during San Fermin (los sanfermines) in Pamplona. That's part of the afternoon news every day. Then, after the news, the Tour de France is on TV2. Watching bicycle racing, for me, is strangely relaxing, though I know that the Tour is considered to be the most grueling of official sporting events this side of the Ironman Triathlon. (By the way, Lance Armstrong started out as a triathlete.)

San Fermin started today with the very first running of the bulls. Nobody was seriously injured; scrapes and bruises were about as bad as it got.

We DO NOT recommend running before the bulls. It seems like a good way to get yourself hurt doing something stupid and macho. But lots of people from around the world come to San Fermin in order to do just that, so here are a few hints.

1) Watch them do it at least once before you try it.
2) Do not try to run drunk.
3) Get some locals to tell you what to do--wear a red beret, carry a rolled-up newspaper, etc.
4) Be able to run a hundred meters or so pretty damn fast. None of you two-pack-a-day smokers ought to try this.
5) Consider lying about it instead of doing it.

There are, by the way, encierros (bull-runnings) in other places in northern Spain, especially in Navarra, at about this time. You can look 'em up yourself--try googling "encierros Spain" or the like. You won't believe this, but somewhere in southern Catalonia near Tortosa they had a "running of the ostriches", since ostriches are now farmed in these parts. The poor things were chased around by the local street urchins and all their feathers were pulled out. They actually have mini-encierros for kids with little tiny bulls with their horns covered in sponge.

Then, after lunch, it's time for the Tour. Lance Armstrong is the heavy favorite again, and I don't see any reason he might lose unless he takes a bad fall. Lance is one of the best-known athletes in the US, with something like a seventy-percent name recognition rating. But absolutely nobody in the United States watches bicycle racing. I don't think the Tour is available at all on American TV, despite the about nine different sports channels that must be aching to fill up time.

Every single Old European out there is rooting for Lance to get smoked, since he's won their big prize for the last four years in a row. A bunch of assholes spent half of last Tour yelling "Dop-PAY" (doped, on drugs) at him. Of course, Lance has passed every doping test he's ever taken, unlike, say, all the Italians, or Jan Ullrich, the last guy before Armstrong to win the Tour, or like that Lithuanian guy who came in second last year whose wife got busted trying to cross an international frontier carrying not only his dope but the rest of the team's.

It is sheer heresy for an American to run away with such a hallowed Old European competition as the Tour. They just can't stand it. He must be cheating somehow. Uh, what if he's the fittest rider with the best team? Lance's team is awesome, featuring his two favorite sidekicks, Americans George Hincapie and Floyd Landis, and two of Spain's best riders, Roberto Heras and Jose Luis Rubiera. Also keep an eye out for fellow-American former Armstrong sidekicks Tyler Hamilton and Levi Leipheimer, who are now heading up their own teams and who are threats to place in the top ten. Imagine a one-two-three American sweep; it's within the range of possibility, though extremely unlikely, of course.

Now, if we only knew why the US Postal Service is sponsoring Lance's team. I guess they're trying to compete with UPS and Federal Express and the like.

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