And then a vulnerable genius (Pantani) and two educated, articulate, cosmopolitan cynics (Hamilton and Miller), allied to team managements deeply implicated in systematic drug use, turned me away from the sport, and I cancelled my subscriptions to both "Cycle Sport" and "Procycling" (for years I literally could'nt get enough!)
But Stages 16 and 17 TdF 2006 reminded me of what I'm missing.
Stage 16 saw Floyd Landis blow in a manner that a Formula 1 car blows when the smoke pours from the gearbox and the driver coasts to the pits off the racing line. 11 minutes went, as well as morale and belief (more important in a Grand Tour than any other sporting event). I was heartened, as this was racing as it was in the mid-Eighties, when a bad day was a disaster, rather than losing twenty seconds in the last kilometre and when riders yo-yoed on and off the groups on the climbs as they put in efforts and recoveries, rather then just efforts and more efforts - it seems the clean-up at last was working. Rasmussen, a pure climber, won the Reine Etage in the grand style and reminded me of Luchio Herrera, my first great stick-like hero in the mountains. Floyd suffered horribly.
As I settled at 7.00pm for the ITV 4 highlights package of Stage 17, I smirked as Landis claimed that he would go for the stage win - "You're for the broom wagon mate" I inwardly said. Once underway, I, in common with Phil and Paul, couldn't understand what Landis was doing as he set off alone on the first mountain of five brutal climbs in the cauldron of a French July. I thought that even a Yank would know that the live television coverage would only really start on the second last climb, so it wasn't even worth doing for the publicity.
The gap widened and the bunch bickered about who would work - even the dreaded earpieces failed to sort out an alliance to chase, and my jaw dropped lower and lower. Floyd was going on a epic ride and pulling it off. And, the other side of the beast that is the Joux-Plane (the only mountain to trouble post-cancer Lance), Floyd, afloat on a sea of adrenaline, rode over the line and into favouritism for the Maillot Jaune. At 9.00pm, I watched the whole lot again on Eurosport just to be sure it happened.
It was my sporting highlight of the year and an all-time great sporting comeback.
And I was falling in love again...
And then, suddenly, it was all gone.