July 20, 2003
cyclingnews.com is profiling the four previous five-timers, since Lance Armstrong has a chance to become the fifth.
The latest profile is of the greatest racer ever to pull on shorts, Eddy Merckx.
Merckx did amazing things like win the yellow jersey, the green jersey, and the polka-dots. In the same Tour (1969). He holds records for Tour stage wins (35) and days in the yellow jersey (96).
He was nicknamed the Cannibal for a reason.
By the way, Lance Armstrong has been quoting Merckx, who has become friends with Armstrong, as saying: "Let's count the bodies when the war is done" about Armstrong's current Tour.
John Wilcockson of VeloNews looks ahead to tomorrow's run up Luz-Ardiden:
The last time that the Tour ended a stage at Luz-Ardiden, in 2001, Armstrong and Ullrich shook hands as they crossed the finish line. The two rivals had ridden together up the last Pyrénéan peak a day after Armstrong had sown up the race at Pla d'Adet.
At this year's Tour, going into Monday's stage 15 that ends at Luz-Ardiden, there will be no shaking of hands. The Tour has never been as finely poised as it is right now, with Armstrong, Ullrich and Vinokourov separated by only 18 seconds on GC. Luz-Ardiden, the final mountaintop finish of this Tour, can decide which of the three still has the strength to win this thriller of a Tour.
Wilcockson also relates the importance of Luz-Ardiden in Greg LeMond's Tour career. In 1985, LeMond was forced to soft-pedal, to keep him from threatening team leader Bernard Hinault's (ultimately successful) bid for a fifth Tour. In 1990, LeMond stamped his name on the race by dropping Claudio Chiappucci on the climb. Only Pedro Delgado's faithful lieutenant, Miguel Indurain, could stay with LeMond, nipping him at the line for the stage win.
I read the whole thing looking for a trace of irony or a trace of humor -- no luck on either score.
Denver Post columnist Jim Armstrong provides his expert sportswriter's view of the Tour:
I'm sure the P.C. cops will make me Jose Canseco's cellmate for saying it, but I've had it up to here with the Tour de Lance.
That's what it is, you know. No Lance, no Tour. At least if Tiger doesn't show up for a tournament, we can still laugh at Jesper Parnevik's outfit and hold out hope that John Daly will go Tin Cup. Not so in bicycling, where Lance is the show, the whole show, and nothing but the show.
After all, Lance is the only bicyclist Armstrong (hereinafter JA to distinguish him from the multi-maillot jaune) can name, therefore he must be the only bicyclist that matters, right?
This column is particularly ill-timed, considering that its thesis (if it can be said to have one) is that Armstrong has become so dominant that the Tour has lost meaning. Oops, looks like some of the other riders don't read ESPN!
When exactly was it that bicycling transcended recreation and became a sport, anyway? For crying out loud, we're already passing off ballroom dancing, skateboarding, chainsaw-wielding, street luge and synchronized swimming as legitimate sports. Where do we draw the line? It's getting so life's a beach volleyball game, then you die.
Of course, if you're reading my site, you know that the Tour is 100 years old, same as baseball's World Series. It's not like this is an X-Games phenomenon (created by, hmmm, ESPN).
Anyway, if you want to read the standard Ugly American view of bike racing, feel free.
Daily Peloton awards their daily "Golden Hams" and "Ham-Gazers" for Stage 14.
Among the Golden:
Alexandre "The Great" Vinokourov (Telekom) and Iban "Miracle Whip" Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi). They took advantage of the Armstrong/Ullrich chess match to fly up the road and take more time. They attacked up the final climb, and even though Mayo followed, Armstrong simply sat on Ullrich and forced the big German to make the pace. Vinokourov finished the stage in 6th at 41", and he took 43" out of Armstrong and Ullrich; by the end of the day, he was still in 3rd on GC but only 18" behind Armstrong and 3" behind Ullrich. With his ride today, Vinokourov now looks like a cinch for the final step of the podium. Mayo finished on Vinokourov's wheel, and moved up into 5th on GC at 4' 37". With the rides of Mayo and Zubeldia in this Tour, it seems more and more likely that a sponsor will step up to the plate and take over the team when Euskaltel stops their support next year.
Among the Gazers:
"RoboJan" Ullrich (Bianchi) and Lance "El Jefe" Armstrong (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). While they stared each other down over the oven, Vinokourov almost snuck in to steal the pie today. Armstrong just sat on Ullrich when Vinokourov flew up the road, and Ullrich seemed to be just riding tempo so as to not blow up and make himself vulnerable to an attack from the Texan. They worked well together on the descent to limit Vino's gains, and calculated their efforts pretty precisely, but for a minute it looked like Vinokourov might be in Yellow by the end of the stage. Tomorrow is the final uphill finish of the Tour, and the last chance for these two to take time on each other and their other rivals before the final time trial next Saturday. Lance has yet to attack in this Tour, and tomorrow will be his last chance. With the top three riders within 18" of each other, the climb up Luz-Ardiden will be an all-out, no-holds-barred brawl. I'm already on the edge of my seat. But Lance and Ullrich better not depend on their ability to take so much time out of Vinokourov in the final time trial, or he could spoil their fun altogether.
If you get OLN, tomorrow would be a great day to call in sick.
“I will give it all I have and attack until all my energy is gone."
Armstrong, from the USPS Stage 14 wrapup:
Today, I had no problems following the others, which looks promising for the days to come. Tomorrow will no doubt be the most important stage of this Tour. I will give it all I have and attack until all my energy is gone. When looking at the result of the time trial, my only conclusion should be my advance on Ullrich is not big enough to put everything on the remaining time trial in Nantes.
For the first time in this 90th Tour he was asked about the possibility that he will not be the leader when the race concludes on July 27 in Paris.
"I'll just go home, have a cold beer and come back next year," he said. "I said before the start in Paris that I knew this race would be close. But to have it come down to the next two stages in the Pyrenees and the final time trial, this is a bit of a surprise."
"Tomorrow is a very big day, a big stage," Armstrong said. "We'll see if I improve overnight and can attack."
I've been saving this link for Simoni to, well, quite honestly, to drop out. I certainly didn't expect him to take a stage. In honor of Simoni's surprise victory, I'm pulling it out of the closet.
The picture's too big to post on this page, but here's the link to cyclingnews.com.
It's Simoni in an outfit that is to cycling jerseys what the Houston Astros uniforms of the early '80s were to baseball unis.
Those aren't his team colors -- he's wearing pink to commemorate being in the Giro leader's pink jersey.
This Reuters story quotes London bookmakers William Hill with the current odds:
- Ullrich 4-6
- Armstrong 11-10
- Vinokourov 14-1
Virenque was first to the top of four of the six climbs and now looks almost certain to win a record-equaling sixth polka-dot jersey as King of the Mountains.
If the Frenchman keeps his lead in the standings, he will join Spain's Federico Bahamontes and Belgian Lucien van Impe as the only riders to have won the climber's title six times.
[T]he main move came from Alexandre Vinokourov, who staged a late assault on the final climb to reduce his deficit on Armstrong from over a minute to just 18 seconds.
The Kazakh remains in third place overall, with Jan Ullrich still second, 15 seconds behind the Texan, after the two main rivals finished together.
Simoni, who fell out of the overall reckoning in the Alps, later revealed he had been on the verge of quitting the Tour.
"Yesterday I wanted to go home, but my team manager told me to go on," the Italian said.
"I am happy I did. This win was a way of cancelling my bad Tour.
"It's a great feeling, especially after being humiliated (in the Alps)."
It will be fun to see what Simoni says in his riders' diary over at Bicycling magazine. In the most recent entry (in a language I think we can only call Itanglish), Simoni seemed disheartened:
Finally brief news about me. I finished my race, with a big delay. No good news for me. I think I will continue, anyway. This is my will.
I'm glad he stuck around, and glad he has something to show for it. Wish Tyler Freaking Hamilton could pull a stage win, but I think the injury has slowed him down enough that he won't.
Back in action
Sorry for the jour sans. I'm back and better than ever -- now I'm posting with a beach view....
Stage 14 material should be appearing in the next minutes and hours.
I'll be filling in material on yesterday's stage with posting dates of yesterday (so the Wayback Machine will work), so if you're especially interested in Stage 13, check the archives over the next few days, as I dig up the best Stage 13-related links on the web....