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Vienna | 25.7.2008 | 19:23 
Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds

Zita, Rotifer, Steve

 
 
Phat King Kohl
  The road up to the 2,645m Col du Galibier had narrowed out, the tree line had been left behind long ago and the riders were now blinking up at seemingly never ending landscape of windswept and barren slopes of scree. But there were sizeable patches of hardy, short-bladed green grass growing between the hair pin bends of the zig-zagging road; and on one of those patches, in words spelled out by shining white stones, some fans had written a huge message to their heroes: "Mon rêve: un Tour propre" or "My dream: a clean tour."

It still remains a dream, sadly. There have been three doping cases already this Tour.
 
 
 
Bild: EPA
 
 
The End of An Affair
  If I wasn't inconsistent in my convictions, one of my longest-running love-affairs would have ended this year.

After seeing my lycra-clad heroes succumb to the doping inspectors one by one: from piratical Pantani, broken-boned Hamilton and testicle-patched Landis to lanky Rasmussen and gritted-teeth Ullrich - the list goes on -, I decided to shift my allegiance to a clean sport like, erm, darts.

Doping had cemented itself so firmly into the world of cycling that, as I learned from a tour aficionado , a colourful myriad of nicknames had sprouted up for the practice including "pissing violet", "having a magic suitcase", "loading the cannon", "salting the mustard" and my favourite: "dining chez Virenque", a reference to tainted French climbing legend Richard V.
 
 
 
King of the Hills
  But it is a man who has inherited Virenque's red and white "maillot à pois" who has finally put cycling back on the front pages of newspapers in this country for the right reasons. Waggily-headed Bernhard Kohl (he looks like one of those doggy-decorations that people put on the rear windscreen of their cars, doesn't he?) will become the first Austrian to ride the red and white shirt down the Champs d'Elysee, as long as he survives the flat roads to Paris.

If he gives it some serious gas on tomorrow's time-trial he might even finish up on the podium of the general classification. It's been a magnificent three weeks for the trained chimney-sweep. Chapeau, monsieur!

I'm certainly grateful to Kohl, who the international press has bizarrely decided is a dead ringer for rapper Jay-Z. He has rescued my love affair and made it once again socially acceptable to waste vast portions of my day following the trials, tribulations and gladiatorial battles of "le grand boucle". I have full taken advantage of this window of opportunity.
 
 
 
Bild: EPA
 
 
French Escapism
  On my day off, with the heavens weeping away inconsolably outside, I pulled my faithful old replica yellow-jersey, made myself a camembert baguette, poured myself a modest glass of pastis and followed old Bernie on his stirring trip over the sun-lit mountains. It was a wonderful trip.

As I lay on the sofa, nibbling on my afternoon brioche and enjoying the site of hopelessly drunk Dutch fans perched on the 21 hair-pins on Alpe D'Huez, mountain king Kohl, the merry old soul, showed his first signs of weakness. Visibly hurting, he only just dragged himself up with the big boys through the winding pressure-cauldron by sheer will power. He was dying 'a million deaths' as the Eurosport commentator David Harmon likes to put it. But, as Kohl collapsed at the top, he will have known he had survived the toughest test the toughest cycling race had to offer, and was still sitting on a Tour de France podium place. Whatever happens now, it has been a sensational performance. Chapeau!
 
 
 
Always Look on the Bright Side Of Life
  If Kohl does make it to Paris, he will pick up a nice cheque for 25,000 euros for his King of the Mountains crown. I fancy he'll probably have to give some of his spare change to his dad, Christian, who has been following the race in a car and keeping up that rather endearing Austrian tradition of always looking on the bleak side of life. Kohl senior has been complaining to the German press agency about the side-effects of having a neo-superstar as his own flesh and blood. 'Every three minutes, the mobile phone rings," he grumbled this week, "but no one thinks about the roaming costs I have to pay". Ha! That's exactly what my dad would say!
 
 
 
  Anyway, tomorrow's 53km time trial from Cérilly to St. Amand-Montrond is the moment of truth - and even if you aren't a huge cycling fan, you should watch it and see if Austrian sporting history can be rewritten. No Austrian has been on the final Tour de France podium since Adolf Christian in 1957.

True Kohl, whose best career result so far has been thrid place in the one-week French road race the Criterium du Dauphine Libéré two years ago, is not known as one of the world's best time-trialler winner, but neither is his realistic rival for a podium place CSC's Fränk Schleck.

If he simply rolls up in Paris it will be a unique achievement - if he DOES make it onto the podium, it will be an absolute triumph!
 
fm4 links
  Mr. Testicle Patch

The Phenomenal Mr.Armstrong

Bernhard Kohl's homepage
   
 
 
  P.S. It has been a remarkable summer of sport, hasn't it? But nothing has surprised me more than seeing UK dub and hip hop artist Roots Manuva showing off his dapper cricket prowess:

 
 
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