Skip navigation

Currently Being Moderated

Letting It Go

Posted by MDugard on Jul 13, 2005 1:24:35 AM

Stood at the finish line as Mickael Rasmussen crossed in first. He broke away at the very beginning of today's 171.5-kilometer stage from Gerardmer to Mulhouse and rode like a champion. Though the climbs were not difficult by Tour standards the descents were a series of tortuous hairpins overlooking long drop-offs. And the final stretches of the race left him exposed to a gusting crosswind. Rasmussen is 31 – aging by Tour standards. He is also a former mountain biker who made the daunting leap to road riding. So as he charged down the final straightaway here in storm-tossed Mulhouse, the fans banging their palms atop the metal barricade signage to bring him home, there was a feeling that some change had taken over the Tour. It was not business as usual, with the sprinters and Discovery Team controlling the action. Rasmussen had taken a bold risk and succeeded. One can only imagine his utter sense of satisfaction. "It felt very good from the very beginning," is how he described it. "As the day progressed I just felt better and better."Jens Voigt of Team CSC fulfilled team manager Bjarne Riis's recent declaration that his team had specific plans to prevent Lance Armstrong from winning the Tour. Voight and Frenchman Christophe Moreau also escaped successfully from the peloton. They beat Lance Armstrong and the other Tour favorites to the line by exactly three minutes. Voigt now wears the yellow jersey, while Armstrong will be back in Discovery Channel blue and white.Voigt it in first place. Moreau is in second, 1:50 behind. Armstrong is in third, 2:18 back. There has been no change in the time gap between Armstrong and top rivals Ivan Basso, Alexandre Vinokourov, and Jan Ullrich.So what's the story? I would say it comes down to Armstrong voluntarily relinquishing the jersey. Despite all the weeping and gnashing of teeth that is soon to take place in the American media, losing today is a very good thing for Lance. I would even go so far as to say he gave the jersey away. Jens Voigt is not a threat to win the Tour; he can't time trial and he's going to spend the next week working for CSC team leader Ivan Basso, despite his lofty status. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The Discovery Channel team has been working hard this week, riding at the front of the peloton in defense of the yellow jersey. As much as Lance wanted to wear yellow all the way into Paris, that had become unrealistic. It's much better for the Disco Boys to let Team CSC defend, allowing Lance and the boys to draft a few bicycles back. That way they rest their legs, rest their battered psyches, and will be mentally and emotionally poised to attack with gusto during next week's mountain stages.The race has been over for forty minutes. Armstrong is probably already mourning the (hopefully temporary) loss of the yellow jersey). He's probably also rejoicing that he didn't have to go through the podium ceremonies, post-race interviews, and drug screening so he can catch an immediate flight to Grenoble, where his team will spend the night. The Bale-Mulhouse Airport is just a few miles down the road. Losing yellow allowed Lance to hop into his team bus and make for the charter. Knowing Discovery Channel's efficiency, they may already be wheels up now.As expected, David Zabriskie abandoned the race this morning. He hasn't been the same since his crash during Tuesday's team trial, and has looked obviously spooked in the last couple days. Yesterday, in fact, he finished the stage dead last. "He gave us the most perfect start we could have asked for," Voigt noted of Zabriskie's Tour-opening stint in the yellow jersey. "He's a good rider and I hope he gets better soon."I don't know if the OLN feed picked this up, but a bottomless man greeted the riders at the top of the Col de Bramont. note:  They did.  At first I thought he was wearing a flesh-colored thong.  But then, you know, it became obvious that he wasn't.I found myself thinking of French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery today. In particular, I was looking at the crowd here. They were normal people, like you and I, screaming their heads off for a skinny Danish cyclist they never heard of before. It reminded me of our daily need for inspiration, and Saint-Exupery's rant against society's embrace of mediocrity. "You rolled yourselves into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, raising a modest rampart against the winds and tides and stars. Nobody grasped you by the shoulders while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught will you ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning."I have a feeling that people come to the Tour to experience that awakening. As I've written before, it can't be about just the bike race. It's as if, by watching others, us spectators may be inspired to push their limits. That awakening is the starting point of all personal journeys. Within some of us is a championship cyclist, within another a brilliant entrepreneur. In our lives we will be faced with great unknowns: the diagnosis of cancer; the call to help a troubled friend; the need to move forward after tragedy. As professionals we will attempt to chart paths that, however modest our lives may appear on the outside, involve deep moral decisions and complex tactical judgments. And though we may never ride the Tour de France, each of us, like the cyclists, faces a daily barrage of adversity, complication and decision. "By endurance, I conquer," was Polar explorer's Ernest Shackleton's family motto. It applied to more than just exploration.Like Lance, I'm pushing out of here in a hurry. Instead of taking the long way through France to Grenoble, I'm cutting through Switzerland and spending the night in Geneva. Not sure what time I'll get there, but I hope to pull in before the sun goes down. That should give me plenty of time: It stays light until ten or so.Tomorrow is a rest day in Grenoble. The Tour riders will go for a leisurely two-hour bike ride, then spend the day incognito.  Tomorrow is also the day that everything changes here. The press room has been a relatively static place so far, but I'm just now starting to see the second shift arrive as the race moves into the pivotal second week. Even more folks will parachute in here tomorrow, as will a host of new spectators. Like a great movie, all the action takes place in the second act. So it is with the Tour de France. Next week will be a raucous, loud, bombastic, tortuous, thrill-a-minute action adventure. As much fun as I've had until now, I know that it's all been just the beginning.  Talk to you tomorrow.

Comments (6)