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Mistaken for a Frenchman

Posted by MDugard on Jul 12, 2006 12:19:23 PM

I don't know about you, but I loved Zidane's headbutt the other night. It was the last game of his career. He was tired. What better way to bow out than with a typically French act of grandeur?Onward. It's a glorious morning. I'm writing from the Tour's pre-race village, near the starting line of today's Bordeaux-Dax stage. The city is historically chic, with great old cathedrals and soot-covered buildings. The village is situated in a broad plaza, a gravel expanse (not sharp gravel, but those small smooth pebbles that line a fine dirt path) lined on both sides with trees and broad pedestrian thoroughfares. The weather, once again, is hot and humid. A towering limestone memorial with a bronze statue on top and a vast fountain at its base is the plaza's centerpiece. So I sit in the midst of all this, laptop on my lap, coffee and pain du chocolat on the table, feeling a certain quiet joy wash over me. It's great to be at the Tour. Perhaps because of my name, which is written on the Tour badge dangling from my neck, an American tourist just came up and mistook me for a Frenchman, asking information in loud, slow English. I didn't know whether to be flattered or to correct him. The timing of Floyd Landis's hip replacement announcement is odd. My first thought -- that Landis released the news Monday to give himself an out if things don't work so well in the next two weeks -- was a tad too cynical, knowing that Floyd isn't the sort to make excuses. So why? Though the story broke yesterday, the full version comes out Sunday in the New York Times magazine. Magazines have a long lead time (writing, editing, production), so the story was written at least a month ago. If Floyd has kept the secret so long, why release the news at all?Johan Bruyneel, his former team director when Landis rode for the Discovery squad, was surprised by the timing of the announcement. "I wouldn't have talked about it," said Bruyneel. "If you're the favorite in the Tour de France, you try to hide your weaknesses instead of telling the world."I tracked down Floyd. We talked at the starting line, in the shade of an elm. So why release the news mid-Tour? To throw a bone to the story's author, an old friend of Floyd's who has a book to promote. Landis secretly snuck home to Southern California in June and trained for two weeks. He didn't fly to France until just five days before the Tour began. While home, he decided to put the story out there, figuring he wanted to be up front with the news instead of having it leaked to the press during the race. "This is the last year of my contract," he told me, "it seemed like the honest thing to do."A quickie strategy primer, for those who've written in with questions: the peloton is the name given to the collective assemblage of bike racers. Everything about the bike race begins and ends with the mood of the peloton, and their objectives on a given day. Today, for instance is a flat stage. The teams of sprinters like Tom Boonen (especially Boonen, who wore the yellow jersey for a few stages but has yet to win a stage) tend to control the pace on flat stages, because flat stages invariably end up with a sprint finish. Teams control the pace by riding in a group at the front of the peloton. Often they will share those duties with another team having similar objectives. Today that will mean Boonen's Quikstep and maybe Davitamon-Lotto. Despite saying they won't work hard to help Robbie McEwen win his fourth stage, preferrig to rest so they can help Cadel Evans in the mountains, Davitamon-Lotto will probably do just that. An attack is when a rider or group of riders sprint away from the peloton. It's done with the intention on helping one of those riders win a stage, or to meddle with an other team's strategy. Teams sometimes sends individual riders out to counter the attack, and sometimes the peloton, which is a very tightly knit community, works as a whole to kill it. But sometimes an attack escapes, at which point it becomes a breakaway. The attackers have left the peloton so far behind that they're, literally, out of sight, sometimes miles and miles ahead. But it's punishing to ride alone like that. The peloton takes great pleasure in letting the breakaway riders gain an advantage, and then reeling them in within sight of the finish. However, when a breakaway rider wins, especially after racing along for hours, it is a day both glorious and memorable. Had dinner last night at a brasserie in front of the Gare St. Jean, Bordeaux's train station. It is a seedy section of town, with sleeping drunks, and urine puddles and used condoms in the alleys. So there was a very precarious charm to it all. But the brasserie served a fine salade nicoise, and Austin and I split a carafe of white wine after he arrived from the States. We talked until almost midnight, catching up on life, and sharing stories about wives, children, and career. All in all, a fine evening to be in the warm night air -- even in front of the gare. Went for a run this morning out along the Rue Aquitaine (a muddy and swift river, swirling with eddies and as wide as the Missouri). The broad footpath also fronted Bordeaux's grand, 16th-century buildings and the St. Michael Basilica, with its 374-foot tower and mummies in the crypt. Crossed the river to see what was on the other side. Tried to take a shortcut across a railway bridge on the way back, but thought better of it when the TGV suddenly streamed in my direction. A very Stand By Me moment, and a good reminder that train tracks aren't running trails. Why is that I needed to be reminded of that every couple years?The village featured a nice breakfast menu this morning. I watch a lot of Food Network at home (a little Rachel Ray, but I like Giada -- did I spell that right? -- and Alton Brown), so I had a question for the chef about how the scrambled eggs came out with such a sublime texture. The answer: use only eggs, salt, and butter while cooking (lots of butter), and cook the eggs over a very low heat, stirring every thirty seconds. Anyone know who sings the female vocals on the Counting Crows version of Big Yellow Taxi? She sounds familiar. OK. Off for Dax, which takes the Tour very close to the Spanish border. Talk to you after the stage.

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