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By Frank Thomas Croisdale

Nobody cares about competitive bicycle racing. OK, "nobody" is too harsh a word. There are some fans of bike racing in America, and I'm sure I'll hear from both of them as a result of this column. In fact, I'll amend that lead sentence to say, "Unless an American is winning, nobody in this country cares about competitive bicycle racing." Even then, the "caring" is shown by a brief pause of the thumb as ESPN gives the results, followed by a yawn and a flip to see what sort of zaniness Regis and Kelly are up to.

I speak, of course, about the annual bore fest known as the Tour de France. Held over three weeks, the 3,600 km (nearly a million mile) race is more commonly known in the good ol' U.S. of A. as the "Parade of Pedaling Pierres." In fact, the only time Americans have shown any interest in competitive racing was when a cheating Italian shoved a stick in Dennis Christopher's spokes in the thrilling movie "Breaking Away." Even then, it was only because the ensuing crash resulted in Jackie Earle Haley being strapped into a bike with wooden blocks on the pedals, which caused thousands of moviegoers to have the same simultaneous thought: If height were the only requirement, Kelly Leak could still play for the "Bad News Bears."

But I digress; the point is that Americans just don't give a baguette about a bunch of guys in Speedo racing shorts pedaling up and down hills for maddening amounts of time. We like sports where things wrap up in two, three hours max. We like time clocks, two-minute warnings and seventh-inning stretches. We like score clocks, with clear listings of personal fouls and time-outs remaining. We like going to the judges' score cards when a knock-out proved effusive.

Heck, once every four years, we even put up with gymnastic and ice skating judges, who make the guys scoring boxing look absolutely professional by comparison. Within that time frame, we will even consider the Biathlon a real sport -- if only because any sport plus the shooting of guns appeals to our inherent bloodlust. Plus, it sounds like something you and one of your friends would have made up one night after smoking a couple of bongs and gorging on a buffet of Twinkies and corn chips.

"OK, dude, how about this? It's basketball, but if you miss a free throw, you get hit with a bamboo stick?"

"Dude, chillax, here's the sport. I call it badbadminton. It's like regular badminton, but the birdie is a live grenade."

OK, back to the Tour de France. When Greg LeMond won, we cared for all of five minutes. Then Lance Armstrong won seven times with testicular cancer, and we had a ball (sorry about that one, but I couldn't resist). After Armstrong won for the first time, most people became interested because it seemed that the French were determined to prove that his domination of their "sport" was due to illegal doping.

I know that I speak for most Americans when I say we care if Lance was doping about as much as we care if WWE wrestlers are on the juice. If it makes it even remotely watchable, we're all for it.

But there is a point to this column, and I'm going to reward those of you hardy enough to have stuck around by laying it on you right now -- the United States Postal Service is broke.

The men and women who handle and carry your mail operated with a budget that was $7 billion in the red in 2010. With heavy competition from private companies like FedEx and UPS, along with an increase in Americans going electronic with their bill paying and routine correspondence, 2011 and beyond don't look too rosy for a mail move to the black side of the ledger.

Those of you with keen memories, along with those who declined when cute little tabs of acid adorned with a picture of Mighty Mouse were passed around parties at your college dorm, may recall that the USPS was a chief sponsor of Armstrong when he raced in the Tour de France.

How much the stamp pushers laid on ol' Lance has always been a point of debate. Until the past week, one had a better chance of knowing how much the International Bridge Commission doles out in pay and bonuses to its commissioners -- a chance that resides in the tiny crook wedged between little and none.

According to documents just made public, the USPS spent $31.9 million in support of Armstrong and his cycling team from 2001-04. That's approximately the income derived from the sale of a gazillion stamps.

Now forget for a moment that the government spent nearly $32 million of your tax dollars supporting a sport that no one this side of Curtis Sliwa not wearing a beret could give a crepe about. Also forget that while this money was being doled out, Armstrong was already being investigated for doping, a charge that, if proven, could result in fraud charges being lodged against those who signed off on the deal. Also forget that an agency $7 billion in the hole has no business sponsoring even a dime for a flea to compete in a jumping contest.

Forget all of that and think about what the USPS could have gotten for our $32 mil. I know many of you are doing the math on how many extra letter sorters and carriers could have been employed, but you're missing the bigger, or at least more comedic, picture of what a $32 million shopping spree could have procured.

With that money, the USPS could have sponsored Mike Tyson in a footrace with one of his pet tigers. The tiger would probably win, but you couldn't totally discount the chance that Iron Mike might chomp down on one of its striped ears just yards from the finish line.

The Postal Service could have also sponsored Barry Bonds' march toward the home run title. Imagine how big Bonds' head would have gotten with $32 million worth of juice shot into his behind?

Possibly they could have backed Michael Vick's dog-fighting empire. Heck, with that kind of jack, Vick might have fought hyenas or even crocodiles.

Best of all, the USPS could have used the money to conduct a full investigation into answering the question of why the rest of the world loves soccer and lives and dies for the World Cup, while we treat it much like, well, bicycle racing.

Stay tuned for details on how this story turns out. You'll have to follow new developments on your television or online. The government would like to notify everyone by mail, but hey, they're broke, for crying out loud.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Jan. 18, 2011