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Bike Spike -- almost

Posted by MDugard on Jul 15, 2005 10:09:35 PM

I like Chris Horner's style. Though a climber, and entering the 13th stage of the Tour de France with tired legs, he helped his team by chasing down Juan Antonio Flecha's breakaway on this searing Friday afternoon (the stage began at 1:20 local time, late by Tour standards). Then Horner let it all hang out, dropping the indomitable Flecha and racing ahead with Cofidis's Sylvain Chavanel. The two were nipped just before the line. And though Horner ended up finishing tenth, he says he's not through yet. "There's plenty of time to win another stage. I'll do it again."I can only hope so. Horner's trademark is the "bike spike." When he wins he lifts his bike over his head, throws it to the ground, then screams like a madman on the podium.  So now you know.Though this is Horner's first Tour (at the relatively advanced age of 34, he's older than Lance Armstrong) he's a savvy racer. As he and Chavanel pedaled into the finish, Horner refused to take the lead, knowing that Chavanel would draft off him and slingshot past (think NASCAR) in the final moments. Chavanel slowed down, seeking to force the issue. Still, Horner refused. So instead of finishing second, he got that ten spot. Horner was unphilosophical. "Second or last, it's all the same. They only put the winner on the podium." Sure, he's a guy with nothing to lose. Horner's on a second-tier team and almost no one knows his name. But in a Tour when most interview questions are diplomatic or off the record, Horner is like a breath of fresh air. And on this withering July afternoon, fresh air is a very good thing.Robbie McEwen won the stage, giving him his third victory this year.Today was not the boring stage most people anticipated, but it was lightly contested. Lance Armstrong and his Disco Boys weren't risking anything in this weather. Armstrong is known to be suspect in the heat, perhaps as a result of his cancer treatments. Thus he hydrated well last night, rode safely inside the peloton, answered a few questions, then set off for his hotel. Most other teams had the same mentality. With tomorrow sure to be hot and uncomfortable (there are six climbs, including an Hors Category ("beyond categorization") climb up the Port de Pailheres, the teams were eager to get back to their hotels and off their feet. Team busses were driving away from the finish line less than ten minutes after it was all over. The exodus was unmatched so far in this year's Tour.Will Horner attack on Sunday's dramatic climb up the Pla D'Adet? Perhaps, but not on the final climb. "There's no way I'm going to be able to attack on that last climb when Lance is throwing it down. His team is just too strong."There have been questions about Lance's ownership stake in Discovery Team. Here's how it works: The Team is owned by a company known as Tailwind Sports, which obtains sponsors to pay the bills. Lance has a minority share in Tailwind. It was not always this way, but Lance gained that sort of bargaining chip as he became more and more of an icon.The address said that our hotel was in Aix-en-Provence last night, and I was looking forward to one of those late café dinners in the warm summer air. But the hotel was far outside of town – an inn, really – in the country. A freshly plowed hay field was next to the gravel driveway, and there wasn't another light for miles. Frankly, it was a little spooky at first. But the restaurant was still open (we always hold our breath; most places close by ten, and we rarely arrive by then), the room looked out onto a small forest, and the food was exceptional (olives smeared on thick bread, thin steak and roasted vegetables, some sort of custard/ice cream desert). We make each other laugh, even when we're talking about missing our wives and kids. We closed the place (there were only two other tables, so there wasn't much competition).I love the bread here.Ran this morning just after sunrise. I was searching for a trail, but was quite happy to stick with the single road connecting Aix to Beaurecouil. There were no cars, and the countryside looked like a mix between the Arizona desert and Southern California's sun-dried hills. I passed vineyards, small farms and large homes with private driveways. I finally found my trail at the top of a hill, and looped back down to the hotel.Rick Reilly from Sports Illustrated stayed with us last night. He was riding in the Discovery Team car today, so I agreed to drive his rental car from the start to the finish. It was a Mercedes sedan, though I'm not enough of a car geek to know which kind. All I can tell you is that it accelerates quickly, the air conditioning works very well, and the ride wobbles ever slightly as you push through 165 kilometers per hour.Not sure where we're staying tonight. We're headed off to the Discovery hotel for some late night interviews, then it's on to our own place. Tomorrow will be an early start with a mountaintop finish, which means it might be wiser to break out the sleeping bags (never attend the Tour without one) and camp in a pasture afterward, rather than brave the traffic jam coming back down. But that's tomorrow, and tomorrow is another day. I'll worry about it when it comes.There's a lot of time to think here at the Tour, what with all the hours wandering from town to town (by the time this is all done I will have driven nearly 6000 miles, roughly the same as driving across America and back again). We get lost on a regular basis, sometimes so lost that it feels like we'll never find the way. It can be quite maddening, and every journalist has dozens of stories about losing their car or sleeping in their car or wandering for hours in the dead of night, looking for a hotel that may or may not exist. But it dawned on me that the Tour's great lesson is to push forward, always forward. There's always a way. You just have to keep looking for it.OK. Enough Jack Handy. Talk to you tomorrow.

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