Ride Like a Champion

Stage 8:  So, Lance had a bad day today, and it certainly looks like his hopes for a podium finish are shattered.

Yep. He blew out, hard.

From the VeloNews live commentary:   The really frustrating moment was atop the climb at Les Gets. It was a weird accident and, from the look on his face, it became readily apparent that it was the final straw for Armstrong.

It’s remarkable that he never had a day even remotely like this in his seven-Tour run. He always appeared to have luck on his side – recall the Beloki crash among other moments.

As I was following along with today’s stage I thought, Man, Lance NEVER used to fall of the bike! But then I remembered 2003. That was the first year I actually watched the Tour, and it had to be the toughest of Lance’s Tour wins. Not knowing any better at the time, I thought that was the way all Tours were supposed to go.

  • He’d crashed earlier in the Dauphine, and he came into the Tour with stomach problems and hip tendinitis.
  • He suffered on L’Alpe D’Huez, narrowly escaped disaster when Beloki crashed on Stage 9, overheated himself in the Stage 12 time trial, and continued to falter on the next day’s stage.
  • The climax came on the road to Luz-Ardiden, where Armstrong was knocked off his bike by a spectator’s bag and later nearly fell off again when his chain jumped a cog.

That incident was the last straw for Lance in 2003, and he fought back — hard. He fought back and he clawed his way to the top of the mountain, and he ended up with his fifth Tour de France win . . . beating Jan Ullrich by just over one minute.

This morning it was clear many people seemed ready to write Lance off immediately. And it’s possible this was one Tour too many for the former champion; he’s not as young and strong as he was during his incredible string of victories. But anybody familiar with his story should know better than to assume the worst, especially right after the end of the stage.

I’m not a Lance groupie, but I admit the man fascinates me. Boy, did I get tired of the constant “Lance-centric” Tour coverage we tend to get here in the US, especially in the weeks leading up to the race.

I understand that Lance has the personality and the name recognition to draw in new cycling fans, but I hope that they can see there’s much more to pro cycling than Lance Armstrong. No team is ever really about just one man, and no race is ever about one or two contenders. There’s teamwork and strategy, and especially this year there has been luck, both good and bad, and the struggle just to survive from day to day. There are the daily breakaways, the fiery sprint finishes, and the early fight for the Yellow Jersey. It’s tough to beat the drama of the Tour de France.

Maybe it was never realistic to hope for Lance to win this year. I can’t help wondering what Lance’s own private expectations were.  When he came out of retirement for the 2009 Tour, I was hoping to see him ride in support of the next generation of GC contenders.  I kept thinking about how Bernard Hinault promised to help Greg Lemond win and then ended up trying to take the win himself.  Sure, it made for great Tour drama (although I wasn’t actually watching the Tour back then), but I think I would feel more respect for Hinault if he had kept his promise and acted a little less selfishly.

But here’s a question: how exactly should a former champion end his cycling career? Going out in a blaze of glory sounds fantastic, but how often does that really happen? I mean, how many of us could walk away while we’re still winning? (Just walk into any nearby casino for the answer to that question.)

Four former Tour Champs:
Anquetil:   Abandoned his sixth Tour attempt in 1966.  According to the True Grit Cycle News and Blog,“It was only with misgivings that he tried for a sixth Tour win, since as he said: “If I win, my contract fees won’t go up but if I lose to Poulidor then they’ll go down.”

Hinault:  In the 1986 Tour he battled teammate Greg Lemond for the lead and finally gave up 3 minutes. Hinault left cycling at the peak of his career. He retired in November of 1986. His last race was a cyclocross race five days before his 32nd birthday.

Merckx:  In the 1975 Tour he was punched by a spectator and was injured but didn’t abandon; he lost by under 3 minutes. He won his last Grand Tour in 1974 at the age of 29 and his last major classic in the spring of 1976, at the age of 30. He retired two years later on May 17, 1978, at the age of 32.

Indurain:  His final Tour was in ‘96, when he was defeated by Bjarne Riis. Indurain retired from racing after winning the Olympic Time Trial in 1996, but this month he’s competing in a triathlon.

Bottom line: I honestly don’t expect Lance to now come roaring back and to pound Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans, and Alberto Contador into submission. Velonews now reports that Lance intends to stay on and ride for his team instead of trying for a podium position.  I think it’s a wise decision.

I’d be very disappointed if he chooses(or is forced) to abandon, but I would also really have hated to see him stay in the GC fight and drop further and further down the standings. His struggles definitely make great Tour drama — and I admit that I like Lance better when he’s forced to show what he’s made of . . . even as a domestique. Those guys are the unsung heroes of the peloton and the ones who helped Lance reach Paris as a winner 7 times.

If this truly is Lance Armstrong’s last Tour, I hope he’s able to stay and fight it out with the rest of his teammates and to finish with his dignity intact.

Because that’s what being a champion is all about, and that is the true essence of the Tour de France.

Categories: cycling


Leave a Reply