The Giro D’Italia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Me


I have long believed that the very unpopularity of professional cycling in this country is a point in its favor—that my enthusiasm for this sport renders me more worldly, more sophisticated, more European than the average American sports fan. What, after all, could be more European than a cloyingly superior attitude toward Americans?

I am well aware that in the U.S., professional cycling is viewed as a pursuit reserved largely for gay men and communists. I take this as a badge of honor. With cycling coverage so often focused on “designer” drugs, the sport’s luminaries bearing phallus-friendly names like “Lance”, and the athletes themselves clad in tush-tight Spandex, who can begrudge the boors their opinions?

But the last three weeks have cut the legs out from under me. You can learn a lot about a sport’s fan base by paying attention to commercials advertisers run during competitions. And, sadly, you can learn a lot about yourself. Cycling fans: the news is grim.

Watching the 21-stage Giro D’Italia (Italy’s equivalent of the Tour De France ended Sunday) on NBC’s Universal Sports channel, was a thrill: seeing Lance Armstrong back in the saddle after a three-year retirement was inspiring; watching as eventual winner Denis Menchov crashed in the rain during the final day’s time trial (tearing a hole in his pink leader’s jersey), only to hop back on the bike and power across the finish line was extraordinary.

Even so, the commercials made one thing depressingly clear: far from being among a legion of well-heeled, sophisticated, Europhiles—people who speak more than one language, scoff at the notion of decaffeinated espresso, and medicate their depressed poodles—I am in fact, one of a small and pathetic gang of sad sacks who just can’t seem to grow a pair and watch some NBA playoffs like the rest of their compatriots and may very well never have kissed a girl.

Following is a list of advertisers that ran commercial spots every day during the race:

* Extenze penis enlarging pills.

* A penis pump, which manually inflates your limp member like a bicycle tire (could that actually be the tie-in?)

*Proactiv acne treatment (the manufacturer offers free shipping for the product, in case you want to spend that extra cash on a chocolate bar to rub all over your face)

*A law firm offering help to people who owe thousands of dollars in back taxes

*AloeCure, which “naturally soothes” the digestive systems of people suffering from Acid reflux, heartburn, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and ulcers

*An anti-hunger organization

*The San Jose Repertory Theater, which is mounting a new production of the musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

Add to this the fact that the race was followed each day by an hour of women’s doubles ping pong programming, and you get the picture: advertisers, who presumably research these things, believe that we cycling fans are zit-faced, scoff-law senior citizens suffering horrendous bowel distress who not only have tiny penises, but also have discovered that they don’t function properly. And we love the musical theater.

I’m not yet sure how I feel about this portrait of my fellow cycling fans and me. I’ll know better in about ten days, when my penis pump arrives in the mail (shipping not included).

Chanan Tigay has contributed to publications including Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle. He has covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the shoe bomber trial for Agence France-Presse. He lives in San Francisco. More from this author →