“Age and treachery
will overcome youth and skill.”
Fausto Coppi, Italian
"Champion of Champions"

  _July 2005
   
 

 

 

Tour Diary - First Impressions

 

Lance Armstrong (seen here on the Alpe d'Huez 2004)

Ivan Basso (2nd on GC)

 

Jan Ullrich (3rd on GC)

 

Stage 20: Saint-Etienne (time trial 55.5km)

The race of truth

There is no hiding in the individual time trial. You are what you are and in the case of Lance Armstrong for six TdF's he has dominated in the time trial discipline. Today he had nothing to prove (except maybe to himself). He was leading the GC by 2mins 46secs over Ivan Basso. This was his last real race (tomorrow is largely a ceremonial promenade for the Yellow Jersey). So why not cruise round and enjoy the adulation of the huge crowds and just make sure that he stays ahead of Basso on GC.

The truth is that Armstrong is the consummate professional. He wanted to exit the race and close his career at the top. So we were treated for one last time to the powerful and beautiful spectacle of Lance in full flight.

As he usually does towards the end of the Tour, the man that Lance most fears, Jan Ullrich, was also in fine form. Like Lance he is also magnificent to watch in this discipline. However try as he may he still conceded 23 seconds to the American.

Ivan Basso started strong but faded to lose 1min 54secs to Lance. Behind these three the battle raged between those in the top ten places on GC. Alex Vinokourov came out on top and even beat Basso to come in third behind Armstrong and Ullrich.

Going into the stage Michael Rasmussen was third on GC with 2 minutes and 12 seconds advantage over Ullrich on GC. The speculation that he might be able to defend his GC position quickly evaporated as he quickly went through a puncture, two crashes and three mechanicals. His race revealed the truth that he is not yet ready to take the pressure placed on the leading elite riders. Media attention, team expectations and probably most of Denmark weighed heavily on him and he just fell apart.

The course itself was technical and not at all flat. Armstrong's average speed was an incredible 46.4kmph (28.8mph) over 55.5kms (34.5miles). This is the raw truth. Armstrong has been the best for six Tours . In number seven he again proved that he is the best.

 
         
 

This roadside poster says it all; "From the first to the last, they are all champions"

 

Paris and the final laps

 

Stage 21: Corbeil Essonnes Paris ( Champs Elysees ) 144.5km

Champions all

The Tour de France is the people's race. Wherever it goes huge crowds turn out to catch a glimpse of their heroes. On the world stage it is one of the most famous of all sporting events with the Yellow Jersey arguably the most famous of all sporting images. Ironically 90% of the general public has no real idea how the race is won yet they revel in its outcome.

Throughout its illustrious history the Tour has produced many champions that have become legends. Certain roads and mountains have acquired mythical status. Numerous individual rides and competitive confrontations are recalled with great relish each year. And now Lance Armstrong enters those pages of Tour history. Everywhere in print, on the television and on the web, experts are carving out his place in the role of honor. As interesting as all of this is, it is time that slowly determines where things fall in the big picture.

The first five-time TdF winner, Jacques Anquetil was not at all liked by his own French public during his racing years. He was ice cold, calculating, aristocratic and aloof. Towards the end of his life the public started to warm up to him. Now, over 40 years after his last TdF victory, he is held in great esteem and fondly remembered. Armstrong's legacy will also take time to mature.

For the sport the important thing is that Armstrong has written a big chapter in the Tour's history. His return from the jaws of death will forever link his fight with cancer with his determination to dominate the toughest sporting event in the world. This aspect alone makes the need for comparisons with former great Tour champions unnecessary.

Every year the road side crowds seem to get larger. If you have ever been part of that crowd you will know that they have discovered the secret to the Tour. Every single rider is cheered for the champion he is with equal enthusiasm. This year that spirit was displayed right to the very end when Alex Vinokourov trounced the traditional sprinter fest in Paris .

Next year the 93 rd TdF will be greeted with undiminished enthusiasm when about 190 of the greatest champions of any sport again take center stage throughout most of July.

 
         
 

 

 

 

 

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