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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Lance Armstrong tells The Guardian, “I’m not afraid of anything.” Recycling the claims that he’s the mostest testedest athlete evAH, Armstrong says that he can stand the scrutiny sure to follow his return to the sport. The numbers cited here do not look all that high. Indeed, with 75 known tests between 2001 and 2005, mostest testedest is surely an exaggeration.

But anyway, Armstrong’s not afraid of anything.

Except it turns out, the Big Bad Scarey French Fans, who line the road side every July. Do French fans even go to the Tour anymore? Surely, they leave that to the Tourists, just as here in California we surrender each summer certain beaches and attractions to the teeming hordes. You can have Disneyland. Really, it’s okay. Take Zuma too, while you’re at it.

The idea that somehow the French fans pose a security risk to his Lance-ness is a long-running staple of the Armstrong PR Machine. This line began back in 2003, the era of Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast, when French bashing was en vogue, or perhaps I should say in fashion, here in the United States. John Kerry’s French language skillz proved a liability when he ran for president, though really, that was the least of his problems. (Memo to Gav, do not run for president.) A wave of nativism swept through American public discourse, fanned by French opposition to the 2nd Gulf War. Armstrong’s claims about anti-Americanism among the fans lining the roadsides fit neatly into that wider context. To be sure, the threat, in this case, was imagined. But in crafting his identity as the beleagured American abroad, facing down the hostile Europeans, he fit into the mainstream of American culture and politics.

But that was then.

Now, this talk of anti-Americanism on the roads of France sounds dated, dated like that nine speed cassette you were so proud to sport at the local office park crit. Psst, it goes to eleven now, you know. The idea of the French tifosi dragging Armstrong off to Madame Guillotine is as absurdly far-fetched as ever, and the Texan looks still more ridiculously paranoid to suggest it. Though nativism is never far from the surface in American culture, despite the metaphors of melting pots and huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the French have dropped off the map of most Americans’ fears.

Whether Armstrong rides in France, the tifosi will paint the roads with anti-doping messages just as they have every year since 1998’s Festina affair. But most will be so busy partying — and really, how many beers does it take to start painting penises on the road? This, I would really like to know — that His Presence will hardly much register. In France as in much of Europe, Armstrong is as controversial as he is in the United States. Some fans love him, some fans hate him. But, more importantly, all love the race. And a good party.

So enough with the hyperventilating, Mr. Armstrong. Your claims that the fans are hostile and your safety is at risk, well, frankly, it’s not especially credible. It only makes us all wonder about the real reason you do not ride. Is it that you can not win? Or, perhaps it’s the AFLD that has you worried? Or, maybe you just want to grab as many headlines as possible between now and July. Warning: Your fifteen minutes have nearly expired.

Either ride the bike, or don’t ride the bike. But basta with the silly excuses.

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