|Now that's service|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
This year's Tour de France covers approximately 2,000 miles -- and it is the shortest course in the Tour's history. The Tour is so extensive that it has its own police force and bank. It lasts three weeks and consists of 20 stages, including one stage that essentially follows the old Maginot Line and another that stretches nearly 150 miles. During its notorious mountain stages, cyclists make vertical climbs of more than a mile on grades as steep as nine percent, which is akin to riding your bike up a mile-high stairway. They ride over passes so high they still have snow, with the cyclists burning as many as 10,000 calories per day.
The Tour is so insanely exhausting that a person once described it as a "contest in purposeless suffering," adding, "There is no reason to attempt such a feat of idiocy." That person was Lance Armstrong, who likes to say things like that. He once said he didn't ride for pleasure, "I did it for pain" and "I become a happier man each time I suffer."
With an attitude like that, he probably watches "Bicentennial Man'' and "Jakob the Liar'' when he's not training.
Armstrong is the Tour's three-time defending champ and is also the favorite this year (he entered Monday's ninth stage in eighth place, 34 seconds behind the leader, Gonzalez Galdeano). Armstrong is so ridiculously good that some wonder whether he might be getting a boost from a performance enhancer. This, of course, is utter nonsense. As everyone who follows our network coverage of the Olympics and other international sports, Europeans are the only ones who use steroids or blood dope. Americans never do that sort of thing, unless they hit home runs.
Seriously, Armstrong has been tested so often that I bet he can urinate into a salt-shaker without splashing a drop, and he has always come up clean. As he said in that old Nike promo: "Everybody wants to know what I'm on. What am I on? I'm on my bike busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?"
Armstrong rides for the United States Postal Service cycling team, which is a little weird, considering the team competes abroad much of the year. I'm not sure who the USPS is trying to reach. It's somewhat like the electrical companies that pay millions of dollars to slap their name on a stadium when customers have absolutely no choice about where they get their electricity. It's not like people go to the stadium in Anaheim and say, "Hey, we oughta get us a whole mess of that Edison electricity!''
But I don't want to criticize the postal service here. To the contrary, it's time someone praised the post office. When our nation is once again hit with yet another impropriety, when Wall Street is shaken by continued scandal, when they can't even play the All-Star Game to a conclusion, it's good to know that you can still rely on the post office.
And what do they receive in return? Criticism. Scorn. Cheap jokes about Cliff Claven and assault rifles. It's completely unfair. You want to talk about slow delivery? Try mailing something from Italy, and then tell me that our postal service doesn't do a great job. The USPS does a superb job. Even if it does bring me far too many pre-approved credit card applications.
That's a lengthy aside about the mail in a column that was supposed to be about cycling, but what the hell, somebody needed to say it.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.