As the caravan was winding down the hill, post brilliant Contador attack, his victory sealed for the day and yellow on his shoulders, there was a collective sigh and a heavy, almost visible grief that fell over the many who wanted Lance to win the Tour de France. As we drove down towards Montreux in traffic, a dad wearing a LiveStrong jersey was walking down from Verbier, explaining to his two daughters what had just happened.
"Lance just said it was a great attack. He said he wasn't as strong and that he would now work for Contador."
He was walking fast, a little ahead of his daughters and visibly sad that his trip, his family pilgrimage to witness the Lance comeback had now changed. He would have to rethink what he told his friends at work. He would need to readjust. It now becomes a great trip, a great experience in Europe, but not exactly what he had planned. He was hoping for a completion to the story. The same story that many of us hold onto: An athlete who came back from the edge of death, cancer gripping almost every portion of his body, to win more Tour de France victories than anyone in the history of the race. And then he decided to come back for one more.
Somehow Lance has transformed into the underdog...the broken collarbone in Spain, the playing-down, the humility. He wants to win. We all know it. He doesn't want to work for Contador. He's human.
Throw in the story of a young Spanish racer who was positioned to be the next Lance Armstrong. Three Grand Tour wins, countless victories, in his prime of a legendary racing career. Somehow he has become the disrespectful teenager who should know his place and who uncomfortably, almost impossibly fit into the supposed Johan Bruyneel plan. Did you notice on both of his attacks he took his earpiece out? No direction, just an attack.
Verbier changed the story today. But it's not that simple.
"“Failure has more to teach than success. Success teaches almost nothing at all. Life as you’ve constructed it has to disappoint you or you won’t grow up.” (Richard Rohr)
Stay with me.
Lance doesn't have to win. He doesn't have to be on the podium in Paris to accomplish his goals. He just has to ride his bike as fast as he possibly can for another week and most of us will gladly come along with him. Because we've been there. In one situation or another.
And, according to John Wilcockson (who has 38 Tours on me) This Tour is not over.
So, take a deep breath. Revel in the fierce attack by Contador, the courage of Armstrong, applaud the transformation of Bradley Wiggins into a climber, move on from the disappointment of Hincapie not being in yellow yesterday and push on. Set your eyes on Andy Schleck as well who told AFP today, ""We will try until we die."
Doesn't sound like just bike racing, does it?
The Tour de France is about the rise and fall of the human spirit. It's about suffering, about winning and losing and about adjusting mid-race to seek out a different dream. It's about being tired and hungry and judged.
The Tour is more about life than any of us will probably admit.
There's still time for more heroics and they will come.
Here's to Lance Armstrong who fought hard today and who carries the hearts of millions on his back. And to Alberto Contador, who seized his opportunity to shine.
I got a call after the finish from my wife who told me that after watching the entire stage at home in California on Versus with two five year-old boys that they saw the sadness in Lance's eyes and witnessed the strength of a young Spanish racer. The two boys went directly outside, grabbed their bikes and proceeded to race up and down the street for two hours screaming and yelling, winning and losing.
After the climb.
+Brad Roe is the editor of Road Bike Action magazine and will be writing about the Tour de France at www.roadbikeaction.com .+</p>