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A nice editorial by George Vecsey:

April 12, 2009
Sports of The Times
After a Long Winter, It’s All About the Bike

Took my bike out of the basement the other day.

It had been hanging upside down since December, lately calling up the stairs, “”

I waited till the first warm day before turning it right-side up and oiling the moving parts and pumping up the tires. Then it was time for a ride.

The newest creak of the knees. The pleasant thumping of the heart, much better than from winter workouts on the stationary bike or the treadmill. The first slight disequilibrium from bending around a corner.

For those of us in the cooler climes, it is time to resume our love affair with our bicycles — one of the great unsung sports relationships. For us, cycling is much like tennis was when people dreamed about hitting just one ball a day like Borg or Evert or more recently hitting just one golf shot like Woods or Sorenstam.

Even for aging minimalists like me, cycling is more than a spectator sport and more than a green way to get to the train station.

Sometimes when I ride around my town — glacial hills, quiet back roads, increasingly courteous drivers — I wonder how many people got on a bicycle in the last decade after watching Lance Armstrong climb the Alpe d’Huez but also becoming fascinated by the peloton sweeping across France for three weeks.

Beyond all the doping controversies, Armstrong and the other riders supplied the image of humans suffering for their art. Hemingway’s old man sat in his becalmed fishing boat and thought of the great DiMaggio and his stoicism. How many riders, male and female, privately pretended to be the windswept, rain-lashed rider out in the French countryside?

Cyclists suffer. I think of my friend James Startt, a modern American in Paris — musician and photojournalist — once a hopeful junior cyclist. On Friday, Startt completed his test ride on the outdoor torture chamber of Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix race, known as the Hell of the North, the Queen of the Classics, or La Pascale, the Easter Race. It includes 28 segments of cobblestone roads on 161 miles.

Talk about opening day in baseball. Paris-Roubaix is the symbolic arrival of spring in northern Europe, when riders whack the alignment out of their spines and their bicycles. Startt has written about the race on, and that Web site also quotes the cyclist Chris Horner about Paris-Roubaix:

“The best I could do would be to describe it like this — they plowed a dirt road, flew over it with a helicopter, and then just dropped a bunch of rocks out of the helicopter! That’s Paris-Roubaix. It’s that bad; it’s ridiculous.”

Sometimes when I hit some leftover winter grit or a pothole in my little town, I imagine what it must be like to ride Paris-Roubaix. That’s where it starts, the identification with the great riders. The other day, I discovered that Greg Bouris, an official with the Major League Baseball Players Association, was a much more serious rider than me.

This is a man who worked for the Islanders when they were still pretty good, but considers Greg LeMond’s comeback to win the 1989 Tour de France to be the best sports event he has ever seen, albeit on television.

Bouris talked with reverence about Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon from an era when France produced champions. He used to ride 200 miles a week, from the flat south shore of Nassau County up the hills of northern Long Island, but now he is down to a mere 100 a week.

Not to insult the millions who have followed the Masters, but I agree with Bouris’s e-mail message: “I’ve often thought about taking up golf but scoff at the idea. It’s all subjective, of course, and for me, spending four hours in the saddle on a 90-degree day beats the heck out of knocking around a little white ball for four hours.”

Amen to that. I am not naïve about big-time cycling. The other day, I made a reference to cyclists who cheat by putting somebody else’s clean urine in their system, and I did not specify that this was done by inserting a catheter into the urethra. Armstrong knows all this, and he got himself in trouble with the French drug agency by disappearing for 20 to 30 minutes, even though he eventually tested negative.

Recreational cycling is a different sport. I admire friends who have cycled across the United States or through the mountains of Europe, or get out for a spin close to home.

Last summer, I formed an instant bond with Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago, not just because we both have wives who are classic examples of the phrase Better Half but because we both ride a Trek Hybrid.

Some cyclists are knuckleheads. A recent New York study indicated that 21 percent of autopsies for cyclists who died within three hours of their accidents in the city had traces of alcohol in their system. In my town, a lot of people ride on the sidewalk or facing traffic, a danger to everybody.

One survey said 57 million adults were riding a bicycle in the summer of 2002, and another survey by the National Sporting Goods Association suggested 42 million participants in cycling, according to Andy Clarke, the president of the League of American Bicyclists. And that does not include children, Clarke said. I sometimes congratulate youngsters who are wearing nifty helmets.

I don’t think I will ever don the form-fitting and gaudy cycling outfits worn by cyclists who zip past me on their big Sunday-morning outings. Shorts and T-shirts work for me. The main thing is to heed the plea from the basement — “” — and to climb back on the bike again.

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