July 23, 2004
BBC Sport offers a paean to the Postals, who look almost certain to finish 9-strong with yellow on their captain on Sunday.
They've made the rest of the field look sluggish by pushing the pace from hard, up to harder, then all the way past hardest. Not even the strongest guys in the peloton think they can put any serious time into the Blue Train this year.
Armstrong was given an armchair ride by trusted lieutenants over succesive climbs.
Over the tortuous Col de la Madeleine, at 2,000m the highest peak in the race, Pavel Padrnos hit the pedals in a relentless routine at the front.
George Hincapie, who has ridden with Armstrong in each of his Tour victories, took his turn to set the tempo on the the day's shortest, but steepest slope, the Col de la Forclaz.
Jose Azevedo, who has been by Armstrong's side on all the Tour's long drags, was never far away, but when he fell off the pace on the Col de la Croix Fry, Jan Ullrich and co must have sensed an opportunity to pounce.
The only problem was that Azevedo fell off the pace that was being set by Floyd Landis, a "Postie" who prefers to leave climbing to Azevedo, Manuel Beltran or Jose Luis Rubiera.
But there he was, setting a tempo that reduced the field to five - a feat even Armstrong admitted he has rarely seen. He stayed with his leader until the bitter and brilliant end.
And as the US Postal team comes to its bitter and brilliant end, let's lift a few to the Blue Train.
If Bruyneel and Armstrong can keep most of these guys together, we can probably lift a few again next year, to the new Discovery Channel squad.
Tip for the other teams: Here's the strategy to finally beat them: Somebody's got to bring a team (not 2-3 guys, but a top-to-bottom team) that can ride US Postal right off their wheels.