Monday, July 12, 2010

The King Falls.

Angry Lance.



Defeated, not-as-angry Lance.



WOW. Sunday’s stage. Was. Amazing.

The typical antics played out through most of the beginning as the breakaway attempted to get out and stick—which they did, for a good portion, but the race took a surprising turn before the big climbs even hit. Armstrong took out most of his team in an unfortunate turn of luck, as he apparently rolled a tire on a turn. It took him and his teammates a while to catch back up to the GC group, even though the GC group restrained themselves from a full-out attack. Still, though, the effort taxed him, and he never quite recovered.

The story from this stage was not that Astana and Sky absolutely punished and drilled the last two climbs, splitting the field and swiping Pain and Anguish on every rider’s face (though Astana certainly did send a message that they aren’t a small team around a big rider, didn’t they?)—no, the real story was the Fall of the King.

Predicable jostling and testing played out by the GC guys, and those who managed to stay in the select group sent a very clear message. Wiggins (until the last part, that is), Evans, Basso, Schleck, Contador, Leipheimer, Sanchez, Kreuziger, and oh my god—did you see how Contador’s teammate, Navarro, absolutely wrung everyone out? Anyhow, these boys made a statement that they’re all on good climbing form right now. It was a bit of a surprise that Contador couldn’t respond to Schleck’s final attack, but that could be a sign of some wisdom finally settling into the brain folds of the springy Spaniard. Or he was just tired.

Anyhow. Back to the story. Livestrong Armstrong. If you compare his reaction from his crashe(es) yesterday to the ’03 Tour—remember that? When he got taken out by a fan’s musette, then pulled out of his pedal and smashed the family jewels jewel on the top tube—he was an absolute ball of anger, and it radiated from every pore on his body. He fought and contorted his body back up that mountain, taking back minutes to catch up and pass Ullrich and Hamilton. He was a warrior. And we loved him for it—despite his cockiness and brashness, America still loved him. But yesterday, it was as though the fire was quenched. You could see it in the resignation in his face—he was pissed—really pissed, but he didn’t have that desire to knock his body into submission and make it keep fighting. It was sad to see his bad, horrific luck, but even sadder to see him Give Up.

What is American cycling without Lance’s anger? His anger, his fight, have catapulted the sport and words like “peloton” into mainstream vocabulary. Riders like Leipheimer, Hincapie, Zabriskie--they’re strong boys, for sure, but they aren’t entertaining enough because they’re just not pissed off. We like them because they’re nice and they’re strong, yet they don’t conjure up “wow.” Anger has an upside, I guess.

But the Tour’s not over. Indeed, it’s just been week 1 of Le Thrilling Tour. Lance, graciously, has stepped up to the domestique plate for Leipheimer, so we’ll see how that plays out.

Perhaps Leipheimer will be pissed about a sunburned scalp—something! We need some anger to fuel that peloton these next few weeks.

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