Jul 24, 2005

tdf - stage 21

As I said before the green jersey is the only thing up for grabs. Well that's not exactly correct. There are some GC standings at stake too. In particular Vino is only 2 seconds back of Levi Leipheimer. Expect to see him try to win time bonuses today.

Well the beginning went as expected on the final stage. Lance led the peloton in the beginning to provide photo ops and then Basso and Ullrich came forward to congratulate him and allow for more photo ops. Vino, ever the attacker, came forward and shook hands with Lance too. :) Lance dropped back to get champagned and to greet all the team managers. And then brought the champagne forward so the entire Discovery team could share. Along the way there were actually a few crashes. Most of the stage is over cobblestones and it's raining. Tough conditions.

A funny comment from the Daily Peloton today. The Lanterne Rouge, the last man in the standings, this year is Iker Flores. The writer says that all the reporters have it wrong that he was also the Lanterne Rouge in 2002. It was his brother Igor. He then goes on to say that he was quite proud of being the Lanterne Rouge. So much so, that when the 2nd to last rider stopped because of bike problems. Igor thought he was being 'attacked' and dropped out of the peloton to mark him. Funny story.

Lance said before the stage that he would continue to compete in triathalons when he retires. This is the sport he started in. I'm guessing most of his competition will try to take time out of him in the running and swimming portions.

After the formalities are done and they now approach the sprint area - 8 times around the Champs Elysee. And Vino attacks. The Gerolsteiner team of Levi is marking him with Levi behind. But Vino is going to take this. He takes a 2 second bonus relative to Levi. Well done. However he is not strictly tied. He is behind by a fraction of a second. I hope he knows this.

Hinky and Popo crash. Armstrong is a little pissed. Not sure who caused it. Basso is pissed too. Gives someone the cupped hand facing upwards. Molto rovesc. They look okay though. Because of the rain the time bonuses and GC standings are frozen. This is an unusual step. That means Levi will keep his spot. To bad for Vino. It also means that Lance has won the Tour. The green jersey race is still on though. Here we go. I can't imagine going 45 mph over cobblestones. Good luck.

da Cruz attacks. Followed closely by Jalabert. 9 guys in there. One crashes. 3 others caught up in the mess. All caught except Albasini. He takes this loop. No green jersey riders in there yet.

Knaven attacks this round. Quinziato and Carlstrom catch up. 7 riders in pursuit and the peloton a few seconds behind. Knaven drops out and the 7 catch up. 9 together now. Nope they are all caught. Knaven tries his luck again. Nope caught. Tankink and Horner go out. They're keeping their lead. Now the sprint teams come up. Look out. They have the two. One lap to go. The sun is out. We're near the end. Vino and Brouchard go out. You have to admire Vino. McGee attacks. It's between these two. Vino wins. I'm seeing two different reports. One that he gets a time bonus and one that he doesn't. It probably doesn't matter. He's won that stage and that's probably more important to him. It's official. Vino takes 20 seconds and 5th on the GC. Strange. Hushovd will take green. Vino stole McEwen's chance for points.

Lance finishes safely. It's done. The ceremony at the end was surreal. Lance's kids on the podium with him. Basso brought his son up. Lance paying respect to the two challengers. I like all 3 of these riders. They are great sportsmen and show great sportsmanlike conduct.

Before I wrap up, a David Letterman's Top 10 List. Top 10 reason you know Lance Armstrong's getting cocky:

Goodbye Gatorade, hello Colt 45
9. For next two stages will be riding a unicycle
8. Is only giving 109%
7. Shouts, "Which one of you French bastards want my autograph?"
6. Yesterday rode twenty miles out of his way looking for whores
5. Already put the yellow championship jersey for auction on eBay
4. Lets fans ride on the handlebars
3. During stage 18, took in the noon showing of "Wedding Crashers"
2. On alternate days, substitutes his fat brother Dennis Armstrong
1. Took detour to nail Jude Law's nanny

A few thoughts to sign off on this year's Tour.

El Jefe. The Boss. It's an appropriate name. He has controlled all 7 of the Tours he's been in. Masterfully maximizing his chances to win the race. While his athletic ability alone might have taken him to the same spot, it's his ability to control the race that seals the deal. Riders from here on out will take notes on what he did and how he did it.

Some have said that this 7th win doesn't mean as much. I would argue it means everything. While no other rider had won 6 Tours before Lance, one rider should have. Eddy Merckx. He was attacked by an irate spectator (who was tired of him winning) on the way to what undoubtedly would have been his 6th win. By winning 7, Lance has shown he is the best Tour rider in history. As for whether he is the best rider ever, I'm not sure it's a question worth answering. If you've ever read Stephen Jay Gould's piece on why there are no .400 batters in baseball anymore you'll know why (some explanation in this interview).

I have mixed emotions about this being Lance's last race. After Lemond was done with racing, I have waited for another great US champion. I enjoyed Miguel Indurains 5 straight wins but it wasn't the same. I thought I was going to have to wait a lot longer given how few Americans cycle professionally. Now I have to wait again. And I'm not someone who subscribes to this concept of leaving a sport at your peak. I think if you love a sport and you love to compete, you should. To go out on top is a selfish request by fans so they can have 'pure' memories of how good an athelete was. Should I retired from my job once I'm not as good at it anymore?

i don't really need an American to win. Miguel Indurain when he was racing was just so awesome to watch. He was just an animal in the climbs. He was a charismatic person to route for. On the other hand it is time and Lance knows it. The Tour needs a new winner; "a new face". There's nothing more for Lance to prove. A fresh set of faces - Basso, Kloden, Vino, Zabriskie, Popo - wil most likely take the podium next year. But i won't rule out Ullrich just like Lance didn't. He is a great sportsman who has much more experience than the others. Lance dominated the sport to the point where there was much less drama. The Tour still has more drama than any other sport in my mind. But when you have a god competing against mortals, it can be a little lopsided. It's time to watch and wait for a new hero.

I would urge readers to tune in next year. Who knows, another American face might grace the podium. And even if one doesn't, it will always be the most exciting event in sports. Trust me you will enjoy it as much as this one!

There is one utterly surprising aspect of this tour however. It's clear that Lance himself is glad to be done with the Tour. There are the reports from semi-inside members of his entourage that they have seen a dramatic change in his mood and facade this year compared to the last 6. He does not seem particuarly interested in the race. One commented that he seemed in another world during the Stage 19 yellow jersey ceremony. Only snapping out of this stupor when he realized so many American fans were present. Barely cracking a smile in the process. And then there are some direct quotes
"five more hours in my career as a cyclist. I'm not terribly sad about that."
I must admit this seems strange. I would have thought he would cherish every moment of this Tour. It is the end of something which has clearly been a passion for him for the last decade. Perhaps he is fully aware no one can beat him this year. In fact maybe he is aware that no one could beat him ever. Perhaps he really is dying to go do other things. He's talked many times on this tour of his desire to become a great dad now. Perhaps he turned around one day and realized his kids were half grown up. And perhaps 7 Tours is just so grueling that no one would want to consider more than that. Time to move on. Thanks for all the great memories Lance.

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