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Active Expert: Martin Dugard

July 2, 2005

Day One, Part Two

Posted by MDugard Jul 2, 2005

Noirmoutier en L'ile is the Cape Cod of France, known for its tourism and fruits of the sea. If you like oysters, this is the place to be. The media buffet, which each day showcases the food of local regions, featured heaping plasters of oysters (a leaner, slicker version of the stuff from back home), a creamy red fish chowder and piles of another local specialty, sea salt. Heaping mounds of it can be seen drying along the roads. I don't know much about salt, but the texture and taste reminds me of a deeply saline kosher salt. The wind is blowing from the northwest, which means it will be on the rider's left. It's misting, but the road isn't slick. The expanse of ocean along which the riders are pedaling right now is the Bay of Biscay. It is an area laden with history, as explorers from Columbus through Captain Cook have sailed though its turbulent waters (Cook considered this passage one of the toughest on earth). More recently, the Nazi U-boat fleet sheltered in bombproof concrete pens up the road in Lorient during World War II. The Tour route for the first four days will stay just south of the path the Allies followed after D-Day. The latter half of this week, however, will pass through cities and forests that saw some of the heaviest and most infamous fighting in the winter of 1944-45, as well as passing close to the legendary WWI battlefield of Verdun. While waiting for the stage to begin today, the broadcast feed in the pressroom featured a French television show that looked to be a cross between Desperate Housewives and CSI. Looked interesting. Couldn't understand a word. Had a conversation with Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong's coach, just after he did his stint on today's OLN broadcast. His comments were memorable for their direct nature. Namely, that Lance was in no condition to win the Tour four months ago. But then two key things happened: Armstrong announced his retirement just before the Tour of Georgia, which provided him with motivation and a certain nostalgia; and, Armstrong hurled his Blackberry into Austin's Lake Travis because his fondness for instant email was occupying too much of his time. Now, says Carmichael, only a crash, illness or just plain bad luck can stop Armstrong.Much is being made of the Armstrong/Floyd Landis rivalry, but Carmichael considers Landis a decided longshot. Saying that the pressure of being a team leader will be too tough on the immature Landis, Carmichael considers him a top-15 choice at best. Discovery team director Johann Bruyneel would like Lance to have at least a 90-second advantage over top climbers like Alexandre Vinokourov, Ivan Basso, and Roberto Heras before the first mountain stage on July 12.The consensus is that Armstrong should win today's time trial.   Jan Ullrich, who crashed into the back of his team car during a training ride yesterday, should also do well. However, the dark horse is Santiago Botero of Team Phonak. He starts just six minutes before Armstrong.An evolving aspect of the Tour is the different nationalities among the spectators. The vibe today is almost entirely French, with the majority of Americans, Spaniards, Germans and other tourists expected to bombard the event over the next week, as the race approaches the sexy mountain stages. However, I did run across a group of students from Helena High School in Montana, visiting the Tour for the first time with their French teacher. Their names, because they were so rabid and so interesting to talk to: Marta Madden, Julie Grant, Brenden Mcgill, Dylan Larsen, and Jordan Morey.   All were wearing Lance's LiveStrong bracelets. Larsen, held up a sign stating "Montana loves Lance and Levi." The Levi in question was Team Gerolsteiner's Levi Leipheimer, who hails from Butte, Montana. Butte, the students assure me, is "the shithole of the world." Nice.As I write, the 73rd rider of the day is beginning his time trial. But I haven't seen any of the action because the video feed in the press room is down. It's time to walk over to the finish line and watch this Tour de France thing in person. I'll check in later, when today's stage is all said and done.

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