Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Where Is the New Tour Champion?

I’ve been disappointed with this year’s Tour de France. At the end of the race, there will be a winner, but, so far, there’s no champion. A true champion wins with confidence and courage. There have been no epic, merciless attacks. Instead, each contender appears to be overly conservative, afraid to lose time rather than anxious to gain time.

It’s true that Lance Armstrong’s Postal and Discovery squads perfected the tactic of gradually increasing the pace in the mountains until a small, elite group remained on the final climb. Several teams appear to be employing this strategy, but they have forgotten that once Armstrong had the lead group small enough, he attacked.

Jan Ullrich, seemingly a perpetual second to Armstrong, still tried to attack his foe. He was not going to lose the race without a fight. Others, like Pantani, Virenque, and Vinokourov, appeared fearless and attacked against all odds. Often, after an attack failed, they would attack again. Then again. Then again.

The current Yellow Jersey, Floyd Landis, does not attack. When he somehow finds himself ahead of the other contenders, he nervously looks over his shoulder as if inviting them along. Boring. To be a true champion, just once Landis will have to look over his shoulder, sneer, and put the hammer down. If his attack fails, attack again. If in the end someone else was faster, then at least he gave his all.

A true champion of the Tour earns it. He throws down the gauntlet, gives his best, and lets the chips fall where they may. Playing a statistical chess match might earn the victory, but it does not make a champion.


Jim G said...

I agree. But maybe that bum hip he's got is preventing him from putting the hammer down (he's scheduled to go in for total hip-replacement surgery right after the Tour -- has something called "vascular necrosis" or somesuch as a result of an old bike crash)? I can't imagine he's riding with zero pain...

scott said...

On the other hand, each individual stage is more exciting (imho) because you have no idea how it's going to turn out. By this point in the last couple of tours (the only ones I've been able to watch), the end of each stage was the same old story. Now, it feels like anything could happen. So the yellow-jersey race may be less impressive, but day by day there's a lot more variety. I'd had enough of sneering and dominance for a while. Let the chaos continue...

--scott in charlottesville, va

Anonymous said...

The Tour champion is always the guy with the yellow jersey in Paris. Five times the champion was Eddie "The Canibal" Merckx, who chewed his competiton up and spit them out (in 1969, he won the yellow jersey, green jersey and pokadot jersey). Once the champion was Joop Zoetemelk, who never crashed out, burned up or made a mistake (one yellow, six 2nds, two 4ths, one 5th - and 16 complete tours, an all time record). Another time the champion was Steven Roache, whose Tour win was the same year he won the Giro and the World Championships, showing world best form from May to October. For seven years we've watched, rooted for and been inspired by Lance Armstrong - seven years where his Tour champion status stands alone, unsupported, given his zero Giro participations, zero Veulta praticipations, zero World Championship wins, and single bronze Olympic medal in the same period.

Eras or different. Years are different. Riders are different. Smart riders play to their strengths and do what it takes to to win, given their ability, their team, and their competition. And the guy with the golden fleece in Paris is always the Tour Champion.


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