Thursday, July 13, 2006

The excitement - it's really here!

I admit that even though I'm not a Lance Armstrong fan to the max, I enjoyed watching him steamroll the competition in 7 Tours de France. He was/is a machine and I have the utmost respect for the level to which he took his gifts and abilities.

This Tour was going to be exciting because without Lance racing, so many riders had a chance to wear the yellow jersey into Paris. Then came the doping scandal and a number of top contenders were ousted before even coasting up to the starting line. I was bummed not to see some particular face-offs (Ivan Basso vs. Jan Ullrich, specifically) but I knew that I'd still enjoy watching the race because no matter who rides it, it's an amazing thing.

A few more top contenders are out now due to crashes and that's never good. It's hard to see people who have worked so hard to be in The Race get beat down by what seems like a cruel twist of fate rather than some other rider being better than them. But that's all part of Le Tour - hard work, conditioning, mental toughness, and luck/fortune/fate/whatever you want to call it.

The first week of the tour is all about the sprinters, those guys who go fast and hard like rockets only to be left behind (usually) when the race moves into the mountains. Yesterday was the first day of "real" climbing in the Pyrenees and it was a surpisingly "boring" event. I could only guess that the contenders were playing it safe to get a feel for their own legs and a look at the condition of their competition.

Then came Day 2 of the Pyrenees.

And what a day it was! I had a hard time containing myself at my desk at work while reading the live updates at as a group broke away from the peloton only to be reeled back in while some more people broke away and then a bunch of people got dropped off the back when they couldn't hang with the large group pedaling up the mountains. On the screaming downhills, the groups would meld back together and then smaller groups would take off up the hills trying to leave the rest of the riders behind to get their names in lights, try for the stage win and pick up some climbing points. And then... then came the breakaway of contenders that I'd been waiting for! Leipheimer, Landis, Evans... But wait! There was only one Discovery Team rider in the bunch and it wasn't Hincapie! Oh, Big George, you dropped my heart like the lanterne rouge on an HC climb. You didn't hang with the leaders and I don't understand why! Why, George, why? Azevedo was there but I just don't have any heart left for him. Landis and Leipheimer and Kloden were there, but they aren't you, George. They aren't due to shine in yellow after playing a perfect lieutenant role for Lance Armstrong all those years. It's your turn, George! I fear that you're out of contention now but there are more days of climbing ahead so I'll keep some hope alive for you.

American Floyd Landis, who rides for Phonak, is now wearing the yellow jersey and I'm proud of him but I just can't find a soft spot in my heart for him no matter how hard I try. If he wins it all, and at this point it is his race to lose, I will be proud of him and American cycling.

No matter who won today, they were exciting times and I look forward to the next week and a half of watching these amazing men dance on their pedals.

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