“The ideal Tour would be a Tour in which only one rider survives the ordeal.”
Henri Desgrange (father of the TdF)

  July 2006


By Graham Jones
CyclingRevealed Historian


Stage 20 TdF Question Click Here

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CyclingRevealed's Final Impression '06

Stage 20, July 23rd, Antony (Parc de Sceaux) to Paris Champs Elysées, 152 km

Killer Instinct

One of the common themes that emerge from discussions and analyses about what constitutes a great champion; the “killer instinct” is often isolated as the great differentiator. Everyone riding the Tour is an exceptional athlete. Those that finish at the top end of the GC table are unique athletes possessing rare and gifted qualities. To emerge as the champion from this distinguished group requires superior athletic qualities driven by a ‘killer instinct' focused entirely on winning. Anything less than that is considered a failure.

All season Floyd Landis has focused on the Tour. Along the way he won the Tours of California and Georgia as well as the highly prestigious Paris-Nice. Now we can see that he was honing his skills to take on Le Tour. Unlike Lance Armstrong, Landis rarely displays his killer instinct. His almost swashbuckling image leading up to his dramatic melt down on Stage 16 lead everyone to think that he was enjoying his race, but not the stuff of a great champion. The all consuming drive to succeed was well masked.

The shock of his sudden demise mortified Landis as he struggled up to the finish at La Toussuire (Stage 16). At his post race press conference he declared that “I came here to win the Tour. The race is not over yet”. Brave words but logic defied any possibility to return as a challenger. By next morning he had decided to prove as much to himself as to the rest of the world that he was made of sterner stuff. Armstrong often speaks of the rage that consumes him in times of race stress. An intense climb would typically fire up this rage which then manifested itself as incredible power transmitted through his pedals.

On Stage 17 anyone looking into Landis's eyes could see rage. He had failed and now he was going to put things to rights again. As he crossed the line that magnificent day, Landis had decimated the peloton and recouped most of his previous day's losses. The nature of his victory salute and the look on his face as he crossed the finish line was a picture of rage. Yet moments later in his post race interview he was back to his soft spoken, almost introverted normal self.

His epic escape had moved him back to within 30 seconds of race leader Pereiro. Now everything hinged on the penultimate stage, the final long time trial. Again waiting on the start ramp you could see the rage bubbling up in Floyd's face. Fifty six kilometers later he crossed the line and was immediately swamped in a sea of helpers, officials, journalists and photographers. Unfortunately for this mob Landis was still boiling over with rage from his effort and as he stormed through the seething throng some poor soul became the target for his water bottle. Yet again a few moments later as he sat down for his first TV interview he seemed to have recovered his placid nature.

As we still reel from his incredible all-day escape, people have searched through Tour history to try and find comparisons. Everyone is looking to Fausto Coppi, Charly Gaul and Eddy Merckx who in their times also produced such epic rides. The mere fact that Landis is being compared to these legends speaks volumes for the magnitude of his achievement. Today it matters little where he slots into the tabloid of history (time will deal with that). Floyd Landis is a worthy and great Tour Champion.

From depression to elation

In 1967 I was trying my luck racing in Belgium . Also living in Ghent was our fellow Brit and hero, Tom Simpson. It was with horror that we watched Tom collapse on Mont Ventoux during Stage 13 of the Tour. Our black and white TV showed the whole sad affair. Depression set in within our little community and many of the lads went back home to England . I stayed for the rest of the year and then came back for the following season. A friend who was with us both years went back for a third year. He was found dead in his small apartment in Ghent during the spring of 1969. The verdict – drug overdose. We often wondered how he produced occasional days of racing brilliance when most of the time he rode like the rest of us.

The year after Simpson died the Tour came back proudly calling it ‘the Tour of health' . Symbolically the first stage started in the famous mineral water town of Vittel . Unfortunately little was learnt from Simpson's death. “ Affairs ” would spring up now and again only to fade quietly away. An ever growing list of young cycle racers was dying in their sleep. Elevated hematocrit levels were making it impossible for some hearts to continue beating during the quiet of night.

Thirty years after the ‘Tour of health' the Festina Affair broke during the Tour. The race was almost cancelled. Again much noise was made about the efforts to get rid of the drug scourge. It was obvious that this was having little effect. The tragic death of Marco Pantani showed that we were at rock bottom. Or so we thought.

Then just days before this year's Tour Operacion Puerto was revealed in Spain . Fifty or so racing cyclists, doctors and team managers were implicated. Manalo Saiz (DS) and a bunch of his Liberty Seguros riders were implicated. The sponsor withdrew and basically the team collapsed and was no longer eligible for the Tour. Tour favorites Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich were fingered along with other prominent riders. Suddenly the top five riders from last years Tour were in disgrace and gone.

By the time the Prologue started in Strasbourg the prospects for the Tour and cycle racing in general were looking very depressing. It is with immense gratitude to the teams and their riders that our black mood was quickly replaced by elation at tremendous, spirited racing. Every day brought surprises, brave attacking racing and roadside crowds turned out in their hundreds of thousands.

Suddenly riders took on more normal human qualities as fatigue, recovery and days of brilliance flowed in their normal cycles unimpeded (or aided) by pharmaceutical and other ‘scientific' assistance. It is fair to assume that the fallout from Operacion Puerto has put a serious scare into the racing world. If this is so then hopefully it will stay that way. This Tour has been one of the best ever. Maybe the riders will realize that and from here on avoid seedy temptations to find ways to beat the system and improve performance. Sadly history contradicts this utopian vision but time will tell. Meanwhile in a somewhat perverse way we owe our thanks to Operacion Puerto for making this wonderful 2006 Tour possible!

The final sprint

In our pre-race assessment we agreed with the then prevailing general opinion that this would be a wide open race. Little did we anticipate how wide open until Ullrich, Basso and other celebrities were suddenly removed from the picture. Now who were the main contenders? For almost three weeks as the race ebbed and flowed and the Yellow Jersey kept changing hands, nobody was able to say with any certainty who was going to make it on to the final podium. This was new territory to Tour followers. Instead of a showcase for the talents of a few we had a real race on our hands.

The first week opened as is tradition with a series of sprinters stages. A sprinter even upstaged the prologue specialists when the Norwegian Thor Hushovd took the day and the first Yellow Jersey. Day after day the most notable fact was that World Champion Tom Boonen failed to win a stage. Robbie McEwen and Oscar Friere were the most dominant. Eventually Boonen left the race in the mountains as did Friere about one week after him. McEwen toughed it out by spending countless kilometers in the ‘autobus' and thus arriving in Paris to claim his third Green Jersey.

After years of frustration the French finally saw some hope for the future. Cyril Dessel spent some time in Yellow and Sylvain Calzati won a stage. Both riders, as did several of their French colleagues, spent much time at the sharp end of the race and as key players in many break away attempts.

In a chilling reminder of Joseba Beloki's crash on the stage into Gap a couple of years ago, the same roads again saw a horrific crash. Rik Verbrugghe and David Canada came off worse as they overcooked it on a road with melting tar from the incredible heat. Both riders left the Tour in an ambulance. The third rider to come down was T-Mobile's Matthias Kessler. A spectacular somersault over the roadside crash barrier saw him land flat on his face. Somehow he avoided injury and, although quite shaken, was soon back on his way.

This Tour will be remembered for three stages in particular; the two with the demise and then resurrection of Landis and Stage 13 to Montelimar when the break took almost 30 minutes out of the bunch. Oscar Pereiro was in that break and as a reward he took the Yellow Jersey from Landis. To this day the bunch is roundly criticized for allowing a break that much freedom. For the longest time after that it looked as though we were going to see a Tour ‘a la Walko' winner.

To a heroes welcome, the peloton entered the ‘City of Lights '. As expected the stage was a promenade with lots of photo opportunities to capture the main jersey holders and other race heroes as they savored the waning moments of this great race.

In this Tour of surprises and unpredictability, we should not have been surprised that Robbie McEwen was unable to put this race to bed with yet one more of his devastating sprints. That honor fell to Thor Hushovd – perfect symmetry as he also won the opening Prologue time trial.

As the dust settled, Landis, Pereiro and Kloden stood majestically atop the podium earning their just accolades as the three leading representatives of a peloton that lead us from despair to elation.

We hope that you enjoyed following us as we followed Le Tour. Thank you for reading CyclingRevealed.

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