Saturday, July 22, 2006

Tour de Awesome

posted by BH

Seriously. I really meant to make several posts regarding the Tour de France this year. I have watched every day of the Tour for the past four years, and an early July call to Dish Network and an upgrade to the 180 channel package made that possible again this summer. I apologize. Here it is, the day before the final stage that will take the remaining riders into Paris, and this is my first post.

At the beginning of the Tour, I was rooting for Americans George Hincapie and Floyd Landis, though T-Mobile German Jan Ullrich was on the short list of BH rootees. Ullrich won the Tour in 1998, the year before Lance Armstrong started his domination. Since then, he has played second fiddle, as maybe the best rider to ever be looked at as a sucker. On the eve of the Tour's start though, Ullrich was booted, along with the other favorite, Italian CSC rider Ivan Basso, who had been on Armstrong's heels over the past two years.

At the beginning, it looked good for Hincapie. He finished second on the short prologue. Landis had a flat tire or something, and finished farther back in the pack than he wanted, while still proving himself formidable. Every year, the early stages are dominated by sprinters. They are relatively flat, keeping the peloton together and riders bunched until the final kilometers of the stage. There are the usual suspects; the Thor Hushovlds, Robbie McEwens and Thom Boonens of the racing world, and the General Glassification (GC) riders such as Landis and Hincapie stay in the pack, knowing sprinters are worthless on hills.

When the Tour hit the mountains, Hincapie crapped out. I had been holding out hope for him after he had won a mountain stage last summer. He had become the de facto leader of Team Discovery after the departure of Armstrong, though there were the beginnings of rumblings about perhaps the leader becoming Ukranian Yaroslav Popvich as the tour progressed. As it stands now, that is probably the case next season. Popo won a mountain stage, and Hincapie has languished, well behind the leaders throughout the race.

Landis distinguished himself from the rest of the field on the Alps d'Huez, perhaps the most famous climb in the Tour, earning the yellow jersey. Everything was pointing to Floyd holding the jersey until Paris. A funny thing happened on the next stage though. Landis took a giant crap on his bike. Early in the stage following the Alps d' Huez, Landis looked spent. A late acceleration by his group left Landis barely able to keep his cadence, and his bike, moving up the hill. He was written off, losing eight minutes to new leader Oscar Pereiro.

I remember waking up the next morning, thinking, "Hey, this is Floyd Landis we're talking about. This guy is a stud. Why can't he make up eight minutes on these guys?" When I turned on the television to check the status of the race, Floyd was up seven minutes on the leaders, and his gap was widening. He had left the peloton on the first climb and maintained his lead throughout. That. Never. Happens. Smaller groups almost always get caught by bigger ones. By the end of the stage, Landis had made up seven-and-a-half minutes on the leaders, and sat 30 seconds behind Pereiro in the GC, with only a flat stage, the last time trial, and the ride to Paris left. Today, he put a minute between himself and Pereiro in the GC after an ass-kicking time-trial. Tomorrow, he will ride toward Paris, and if all goes well, the 2006 Tour de France title.

Prior to the race's beginning, I had been thinking about whether this year's race was going to live up to what it had become when Armstrong was blowing guys away year after year. Each time he took a title, Lance, did something that made everyone realize that this guy was a machine and definitely the best Tour rider we'd ever seen. I really wanted this year's Tour to be exciting, living up to the Lance-ish moments we had become used to seeing. At the same time, I knew it wasn't going to happen. I thought about u2 coming out with the Pop album in 1997, and me trying to convince myself it was great, but knowing the whole time it wasn't. I knew I would try to convince myself it was great. Tomorrow is the ride to the Champs-Elysees, and I can say this is the best, most exciting Tour I've seen. Seven guys have worn yellow. Floyd Landis rode the best, most dominant ride I or anyone else has ever seen to get back into the race. With Armstrong, everyone knew he was going to calculate his way to a win. With Landis, anything can happen, and has, which has made it more exciting than any Lance-won Tour. This Tour needed to have a winner who had earned it, and Landis did that.

No comments: