The Tour de France
Three weeks twenty one days nineteen days of hard riding. There is a champion with five consecutive wins and a determination to try again. It was Lance Armstrong’s hardest tour since he got off his bike in the mist in 1995. That was the year that Fabio Casartelli crashed on the descent of Col de Portet d'Aspet during Stage 15 of the Tour de France and died. Two days latter Lance won the stage and dedicated his ride to Fabio. I was lucky enough to meet Lance after his first tour win and I brought the picture of him winning that stage to sign. I said it was a great ride, he said it was the best day of his career. Now he is with a select group of riders that have won the Tour de France five times and stands with Miguel Indurain having won his five all in a row. But that is just the highlight of a hot, the hottest on record, tour that saw a massive crash the first day out. The best American besides Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton broke his collar bone in that crash and was not expected to finish. Instead he finished fourth overall and had the ride of his life on stage sixteen where he attacked and won the stage.
Go back to stage seven and listen to the heroics of France’s Richard Virenque take the day and go on to win his sixth pokadot jersey as King of the Mountains. We will never know what might have happened if Joseba Beloki had not crashed in front of Lance in stage nine. Beloki will be lucky to ever ride again having broken his femur at the bottom of a hairpin curve that sent Armstrong cross country to miss rolling over him. Beloki was second at that point and real threat.
Then there was the come back of Jan Ullrich. After missing the last tour with a blown knee he was back and dangerous. He tore up Armstrong in the first individual time trial making up a minute and a half bringing himself within thirty four seconds of the lead. At that point there was only fifty seconds separating first and third place.
The day after Lance’s disastrous time trial it was all he could do to hang on to a fifteen second lead as Ullrich powered up stage thirteen. At the end of the day eighteen seconds separated first and third. Never the previous four years had Armstrong faced such a tight race that late in the mountains.
Two days later Lance had recovered. Ullrich attacked on the Col de Tourmalet and dropped Lance who had to wait and be patient till his speed matched the German. He caught up to Jan and Ullrich again tried to attack, this time it didn’t work Lance held his wheel. The on the next and final climb for first time Lace attacked but it was short lived. A young boy held out a musette bag that hooked Lance's handlebars and he went down. Mayo rolled right over him. Tyler Hamilton seeing the yellow jersey down sprinted ahead and told Ullrich to wait which he did. Lance pulled himself up to the group then… he was off and running. He won his only stage in this years tour dropping the big German and the Kazak in his wake. It was not the two to three minutes we are used to seeing in the past but it was enough.
Then came the final time trial. Raining and dangerous the roads were an accident waiting to happen. Ullrich had to press to have any chance of a win and Armstrong kept the pace high. Their times jockeyed between Ullrich pulling ahead by six seconds and Lance pulling him back. Then Ullrich was down. Even though he got right up it was over. Lance could ease up and make sure he had a safe ride. His tour was won.
This was a great tour. Lance is the big story but each day brought heroics and valor.
There is no sport like the The Tour de France .
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