It was a proud day for France. Go France!

It was a proud day for France. Go France!

I love to kid the French. They’re easy to kid: They talk funny, smoke all the time, love Jerry Lewis, wear berets, etc. etc. But in all honesty I have to say that I feel a lot more in tune with France these days than I do with many parts of the U.S. I’d much rather hang out with chain-smoking snobs than gun-toting fundamentalists any day of the week. And if I have to choose, I’ll certainly take The Nutty Professor over Blue Collar TV without hesitation.

I’ll take the Tour de France over NASCAR while we’re at it. At least the Tour goes somewhere instead of round and round in circles. But I am not here today to pick on Middle America and its diversions. I’m here to talk about Stage 12.

Today was Bastille Day, so the French riders were all jacked up. The French haven’t done so well in the Tour lately; no Frenchman has finished in the money since Richard Virenque came in second in 1997, and the last French champion was Bernard Hinault, who won his fifth Tour in 1985. This does not sit well with the natives, but they are somewhat placated if a French rider takes the stage on Bastille Day.

No doubt champagne glasses are being raised and calves’ brains fried all over France in honor of David Moncoutie, who crossed the finish line of Stage 12 well ahead of the peloton with a huge smile on his face. Maybe he was thinking about the honor he was bringing to his country, or maybe he was thinking of how he could get laid behind this for the rest of his life…no matter, the result is the same.

The good news for France didn’t stop there: Moncoutie’s fellow-countrymen Sandy Casar and Patrice Halgand finished second and fourth, respectively. The French sweep was broken up only by the third-place finish of Spaniard Angel Vicioso, who finally got his award-winning name into the papers.

I feel a little cruel for pointing out that all this meant nothing in the overall Tour picture, where that guy from Texas remains in the yellow jersey and the Dane in polka dots lurks 38 seconds behind.

There was one piece of news from Stage 12 with the potential to affect the outcome of the Tour: Armstrong lost one of his top lieutenants, Manuel “Tricky” Beltran, who fell on his head and had to drop out of the race. There are no substititions in the Tour de France, so Team Discovery will be a man short, but most of the teams have lost somebody by this point. I think that some of the commentators have been overplaying the impact of Beltran’s departure to heighten the drama, but we’ll see. After a flat stage tomorrow, the Tour hits the Pyrénées in Stage 14, and that’s when the real challenges to Armstrong’s dominion are likely to begin.