Monday, July 30, 2007

TdF Stage 20: Search For Tomorrow

I always got a kick out of how Lance suddenly looked 12-years old on the podium, year after year. It was like after all the fight and the swagger and the ruthlessness, he was still a kid with a dream. I didn't get that so much with Alberto Contador yesterday, but maybe that's because he already looks 12! He kind of goes the other way, in fact; you get glimpses of fire and swagger that show he isn't just a babyface. Like the way he tugged his jersey around the collar - yeah, that's right, I'm the boss.

There was much made of the youngster versus the veterans in the top three. That works with Levi Leipheimer, but not so much with Cadel Evans. Cadel has a few years on Alberto, but has only been a pro for two more years, and had only a few more career wins coming into the Tour. It's only Cadel's third Tour - and it would have been Alberto's third Tour as well if he wasn't kicked out last year. Cadel has had an amazing path at the Tour - 8th, 5th, and now 2nd. He's not going anywhere, he'll be in the fight for a few more years to come.

Levi could taste it this year, and is rarin' to come back and win it. I'd give him a chance. He saw how much he had left at the end this year, so maybe he can fine-tune that peak-fitness dial and bring it on a little earlier next time.

I have grave doubts that Floyd Landis will ever get another shot. No matter what decision comes down on his case, I can't see him being "allowed" back in this climate. Meaning, even if he's fully eligible, his presence won't be tolerated. I fear he will be the victim of the sea change we saw this year, where no less than the yellow jersey can be plucked from the race by no less than his own team, in a sense because no one wanted to see him win. We thought there was a rush to judgment on Floyd last year, but that got dropped like a sprinter in the mountains compared to the lightning speed this year that the likes of Alexandre Vinokourov got branded an evil heathen after one blood test.

Riders, teams, organizers, fans, and press are all so fed up with the doping, they want it all gone, banished, never to return. There was instant talk of a lifetime ban for Vino, because he was seen as such an insult to the race. Now, whatever ban he might get for his two positives will spell the end of his career anyway, but that's beside the point, the prevailing mood is no mercy, no benefit of the doubt, no second chances. So even if Floyd is completely innocent, and people (other than his original supporters) actually believe it, I think he will smack too much of "that" past, that dark cloud that cycling is so desperately trying to be reborn out of. There were so many things lost by way of Floyd's situation, each of them a heartbreaker, and I hate to think that one of those things is that we'll never get to really see what he can do with that new hip. Maybe I'm being too pessimistic, maybe we'll at least get to see him racing in the other Grand Tours or big races. And maybe something will finally give at LNDD and Floyd can be welcomed back to France. I can't say I'm optimistic, though.

I never paid close attention to Tyler Hamilton's case. He never grabbed me as much as someone like Floyd, and he always has that kind of vacant look in his eyes that doesn't breed confidence. But some of it has come back to me in recent days, with all the Vino talk. And I remember that though this test sounds straightforward, it is fairly new in cycling, with Tyler being one of the first cases. Vanishing twins aside, I think we do owe it to Vino to at least hear him out. In addition to the general climate, I think there were aspects of his background that made judgment come quicker. But I think of how I reacted to people who just wrote off Floyd, and said vile things about him, and it makes me want to be careful with Vino. It has been shown that someone is still stupid enough to use testosterone in the Tour de France, so I know the stupid argument isn't foolproof, so to speak, but really, that would've been so stupid of Vino. Especially given that he doesn't just carry a team or a random company on his back, he's carrying his whole nation.

Oh, yes, we were talking about an actual race, weren't we? Happier thoughts - I thought it couldn't get any better than Eki leading off on the Champs last year, and that's still a Top-Ten moment, but how thrilling was it to see George Hincapie charging down the cobbles to lead the peloton home. Resplendent in his Stars and Stripes, the ultimate road captain shepherding another yellow jersey to victory. Tears and goose bumps all around.

George is a perennial favorite of mine, along with Jens Voigt and assorted others. This year added some new favorites, guys who represented the soul of the Tour and kept me smiling through all the difficulties. There was Fabian Cancellara, such a delight the first week. And even though he tired as the race wore on, he kept smiling and working for the team and trying to get another win here and there. He was even up amongst in yesterday, coming in just behind the sprinters.

And David Millar, wearing his heart and his prickly heat on his sleeve. I can't imagine how uncomfortable and exhausting it must have been to fight that rash every day, but it didn't dampen his effort one bit. He gave his all in a number of breakaways, and remarkably also in the mountain stages, sometimes setting a crushing pace for the whole peloton. His frank and heartfelt comments on the doping issue were moving and refreshing, and credible from someone who's been there. As if he hadn't been through enough already, then his tires explode, on two different bikes, on the final TT, unbelievable. He was close enough to the start that they could ride Iban Mayo's bike to him so he could at least keep on riding, but of course all was lost in terms of time on the stage. I look forward to seeing him bring it again next year, hopefully with fewer problems!

I guess there's only so many times I can express respect and affection for Yaroslav Popovych, but he just came through every day, how can one not take notice? His hard work and positive energy were a joy to watch and inspiring to witness, right through the final TT and the ride into Paris. Once upon a time he was going to be the Next Big Thing, but he hit a plateau, and here comes Contador just sweeping right by him. But Popo did take a big step up this year, and perhaps found he is better suited as a super-domestique. Or maybe he will be a late(r) bloomer, 8th on GC ain't bad! Wherever he finds his place, I'll be watching and cheering him on. Yes, there are an abundance of good memories from this Tour, I wish everyone could've seen as much of them as that other stuff.

A hearty thanks for all the support and encouragement to keep me coming back day after day. It's always great to talk Tour with people that "get" it! I don't know who's in and who's out, but I'm already looking forward to the Vuelta!

R.I.P. Bill Walsh, a genius and a pioneer.


jessica said...

hi Julie - I only commented here once but I just wanted to say again how incredible your writing is. You put such detail and clearly, love, into your tour experience. I think I read Are We There Yet possibly 3 times - so well expressed during SUCH an ugh time!

But I need to get a faster computer so I can stream European tv to watch during the tour next year =) And I'm with you 100% - love that George. But I did think that profile spot with he and his wife was a bit goofy.

cat2bike said...

George, has the love of the cycling fan, especially the english speaking ones, like the US and Canada. He can do no wrong. I agree Jessica, that the profile was kinda goofy, and his wife got more camera time than he did!

But Julie I want to address, what you said about Floyd. I'm not sure he will care if he races in France or not as long as the LNDD is the official lab. But I'm not sure he has to race the Tour again, to finish a career in cycling that he will be proud of. He just seems happy to be riding his bike. Being rich isn't that important; comfortable, yes, but not "Lance rich". I think he'll be happier on a team that just lets him do what he wants, and influence the younger riders. He has an ego and a strong will, but I'd be happy to see him on a domestic team...maybe...Slipstream.....and grow with it. He had so much fun on the ride he did in Colo this weekend and the cyclists loved having him there!! Shoot, I think Rhiis would put him on BMC if he thought Floyd would take a position. He and Scott Moninger would be great team leaders to a young team. I don't know, maybe this is what I WANT! Selflish american fan, who loves Floyd!! Since I read your post after the Iban Mayo news, I think David Millar's post on Vino is very telling. Mayo hasn't been the same since 2003-04. The epo didn't do him a damn bit of good. I think that says something about so of this doping.,6802,s1-7-123-16313-1,00.html

They lose perspective on life and sport. And I don't think Floyd would do that...just my 2cents.

I've enjoyed your post greatly! You are a awesome writer! Did you learn that in Law school, or were you already talented?? Which ever it is , I can't imagine enjoying cycling without your comments!!

Phil said...

Thanks Julie for bringing good writing to the sport. You definitely should be writing on velonews or similar..seriously..I'll keep saying that. Let me know when the Vuelta is and I'll tune in again.

Camille said...

Phil is so right, Julie... no one is flattering you, believe me. It strikes me as a huge shame for these great entries not to be read by all of Marty's, Sara's, Cathy's and whomever's readership. It is just outstanding. SO informative and insightful especially for someone like me (relative cycling neophyte) who just needs a whoooole lot 'splained to me! Not to mention how eloquent you are at doing so, in a way even a newbie, esPECially a newbie, can understand. You're da bomb, girlie.

Anonymous said...

Ditto what everyone else said, Julie!! Loved your posts!