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The Pretender

Posted by MDugard on Jul 20, 2006 11:55:06 PM

And when the morning light comes streaming in, we get up and do it again...Floyd Landis is going to attack today. He has to. This is his last chance to move up in the rankings, and he needs to be extremely bold. That huge eight-minute gap between Landis and Oscar Pereiro could actually be a blessing. If Landis attacks, the yellow jersey group won't go with him because Landis is so far out of contention. That would open the door for Landis to slip away and use his vaunted climbing skills (which so infamously deserted him yesterday on the slopes of La Toussuiere) to crawl back into contention. So what kind of stage is today? Daunting. There are five climbs, concluding with the Col de Joux-Plane, an hors categorie monster that is just as long and steep as L'Alpe D'Huez. Today's finish, however, is not atop a mountain, but seven miles down the hill in charming Morzine. The wind is up, the clouds are rolling in, and what began as a hot morning in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne is turning cool and crisp. The terrain, while brutal, is utterly gorgeous: lush farmland and cold gray rivers in the valleys, pine forests and charming country villages in the mountains. The quality of the roads is very poor, and little has been done to repave them for today (which the Tour usually insists upon). There's an independent spirit to this corner of eastern France (the French Resistance flourished here in the Haute-Savoie), which butts up against Switzerland. Chamonix and Mont Blanc, those legendary ski resorts, are just one valley over from the finish city. OK. I know that not everyone is rooting for Landis. And I didn't realize I was so pro-Landis until last night, in the wake of his implosion and subsequent tumble from first to eleventh place overall. But I was a little blue last night. This morning, as I went for a long run up and down the ski hill atop La Toussuiere, looking out across the deep glacial valley to the summit of the Courchevel on the other side, I tried to shake it. It made no sense to me that I could feel so melancholy about Landis's bad day. The feeling was a little like that emotion that comes the morning after game 7 of the World Series, when your favorite team has lost. But it ran deeper. It took me the whole run to put my finger on it: Ten years ago I was competing in the Raid Gauloises adventure race, when I had a very bad day and was helicoptered off the course. The sense of loss and even shame that accompanied my failure stayed with me for years. Now, obviously the Raid pales in comparison to the Tour's grand scale, but it bummed me out to think that anyone would have to work so hard and want something so bad, and then wear the mantel of failure. Which is what it is. The French press are already calling it the biggest collapse in Tour history. So I got back from the run and hashed it all out with Austin. At first we made excuses for him (he's had a cold for two weeks, a fact that he's shared with very few of us; his team is pathetic; he has that little hip thing), but that was pointless. Then we shifted our attention to the standings, trying to find someone to root for. The situation looked hopeless, but I need someone to root for. Emotional investment makes the Tour fun. But right now the Tour contenders all remind me of Presidential hopefuls slogging through the snows of New Hampshire, counting on attrition and dumb lick to rise to the top. If a future President should have a presidential bearing, then a future Tour champion should ride as if he's the best cyclist in the world. That's the guy I want to root for.  But I can't get worked up about Pereiro because I still can't forget how he whined after George Hincapie kicked his *** up the Pla D'Adet last year, Andreas Kloden came out of the East German sports system (call me old school, but I just can't get behind the guy... plus, he's riding everyone's coattails), and even Cadel Evans, whose cocky Aussie defiance I admire, hasn't been racing as if he's doing everything in his power to win. That leaves Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre. If I had to choose between the two, I'd opt for Sastre. His attack yesterday was gutsy and unexpected and successful. Ramblings like that are running rampant around the Tour. One French newspaper ran the headline "Le Grand Suspense" this morning, referring to the fact that anyone can win at this point. Austin and I ate dinner with the Velo News crew last night (the restaurant was only serving cheese omelets. Mine was incredible), and after everyone worked past the ongoing shock about what happened to Landis, it became a name game as we tossed out a laundry list of potential winners. Our table was outside, and we'd closed the pressroom, so it was after eleven. But the day's upheaval had an uplifting effect on our energy levels. We could have debated the matter all night. Then again, that's why they actually have the bike race, to settle the argument once and for all. This morning's L'Equipe ran the best Tour picture I've seen this year: Landis, obviously in agony, is dousing his head with a bottle of water. Meanwhile, a child standing along the road has reached out to lay his hand on the yellow jersey. The look of delight on the child's face and the pain write large on Landis's couldn't be two more different expressions. I've alluded all Tour to wanting to get out on the course and run alongside one of the riders during a climb. It's the most moronic thing anyone does at the Tour. I wanted to know what it was like. Well, yesterday was the day. Instead of a flag or some other banner, I would run alongside Levi Leipheimer while holding a pair of blue jeans up in the air (get it? Levi's?). Austin and I had a good laugh about that one, even it was a bad joke. Anyway, that whole Landis thing pretty much sucked the life out of my running attempt. There was no way I was leaving the TV monitors, because I needed to see every minute of that final climb. In the end, I didn't run with Levi. There are still three stages after today. Maybe there's still hope...Looking at the Road Book, I can see a few small climbs that might work. Alright, just a tactical note before I go: There's a very long valley between the descent of the Category 1 Col de la Colombiere. The headwinds are stiff, so a long breakaway rider might have trouble. Talk to you after the stage.

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