TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Jim.
JIM COON: How you doing, Tom?
GOLDMAN: Every July when you're doing these rides, are you imagining you're in the Tour, like, climbing the Pyrenees or the Alps when you're really hunched over your bike really going for it?
COON: I think imagining the Pyrenees or the Alps would be a little intimidating. But there's an extra energy in our little peloton here in Portland when the Tour is happening.
GOLDMAN: Jim Coon saw his first Tour De France when he was in France at the age of 16. Now a 60-year-old lawyer, Coon follows the race online - even the bad news. Coon is bothered by the doping scandals, but he doesn't dwell.
COON: Twelve-fifteen, gentlemen. Time to ride.
GOLDMAN: Jim Coon hops onto his $3,600 racing bike and heads out with about 20 others for a thigh-burning ride through the Portland Hills. Unlike Coon, veteran cycling journalist Joe Lindsey will pay attention to the doping issue. It's part of his job covering the race in France this month for bicycling.com. It maybe self-preservation, but amidst the steady drumbeat of bad news, Lindsey finds some silver lining.
JOE LINDSEY: I think last year's Tour was an improvement. It was cleaner.
GOLDMAN: Despite several riders testing positive, Lindsey says the absence of lop-sided victories on some of the 2008 Tour stages was an indicator that fans were seeing an honest race.
LINDSEY: They didn't have the raw strength to be able to just blast out of the field time and time again and respond to attacks and, you know, roll away from everybody like it was nothing. And you can look at things like that and say, okay, I believe we're making progress now.
GOLDMAN: Lindsey says at this Tour, anti-doping officials are planning to test lots of riders, particularly star riders who are expected to do well.
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LANCE ARMSTRONG: The critics say I'm arrogant, a doper.
GOLDMAN: There's no rider with a bigger star than Lance Armstrong. He's marking his comeback Tour De France with a feisty Nike ad that draws familiar battle lines between the good guys - cancer survivors like Armstrong - and the bad guys, his detractors.
ARMSTRONG: They can say whatever they want. I'm not back on my bike for them.
GOLDMAN: But the biggest fight Armstrong could face in his quest for an eighth Tour victory may come from his own teammate, Alberto Contador. Contador won the 2007 Tour, and he's been designated the leader of the Astana team, meaning his teammates, Armstrong included, are expected to help him win. Joe Lindsey says an Armstrong-Contador competition could create a perilous situation for Astana.
LINDSEY: If one of them gets the lead early, they may feel a little bit more pressure to defend it and therefore defend their status within the team and keep the guys working for them. If they do that, that runs the risk of really kind of using up a lot of the energy and the resources of the team early before it's needed.
GOLDMAN: And it'll be needed, says Lindsey, near the end of the Tour, which features a monstrous mountain climb.
LINDSEY: It may very well decide the race. And if you're tired before you get there, then you have no hope.
GOLDMAN: Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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