Friday, July 16, 2004

Stage Twelve - Day Fourteen

Almost every article you'll read this afternoon/evening will state that the man of the hour is Lance Armstrong. Some will even include the stage winner, Ivan Basso. But I am not one of those people. I'll admit that this stage was extremely exciting to watch and I expected Lance to pull out all the stops and take the win. Of course, I wasn't really surprised when he didn't. After all, today was all about gaining time.

People will also be saying that stage twelve was when the 'real tour' started. And, in a way, I agree. But not because USPS, in the end, couldn't pull Lance over the top. Not because Ullrich, Hamilton, and Mayo were all but dropped. Not because Ivan Basso beat Lance for the win. And not because Lance gained five minutes -- although that's probably the most realistic reason I can agree with.

What, you might ask, have I learned from this stage? Well, lots of things and most of them have to do with racing in the rain, cameras and helicopters, and how to break apart a peloton. But, what I learned, what ended up being most important to me was the fact that I learned who I'd really like to see win. And, much to my suprise, it wasn't Lance. But, watching Thomas Voeckler struggle up that mounting, I was yelling like the Basque fans, for him. "Go Thomas!" and "Allez Thomas!" were a few of the cheers that my TV (and my parents) had to endure. I was also yelling at Sylvain Chavanel for not helping Thomas (but, it turns out that wasn't the case. Sylvain finished -- though about a minute back from him -- next after Thomas. He was there.). I learned that while I think it would be cool for Lance to win, Thomas -- the little French boy who came out of nowhere -- is the one I want.

Now, I know that's not probable, and I'm almost certain he won't be in yellow after tomorrow's stage. But it didn't stop me from caring more about him than Lance. It didn't stop me from wanting to know where he was, even though everyone else was watching Lance and Ivan. Even while I was cheering for Lance (because, if not Thomas, then Lance) I was worried about Thomas.

What I learned from today is what kind of fan I am. Something I've known, but occasionally forget. I get lost in the all the hype of Lance on OLN ("only lance network") and forget that I'm the type of fan who goes for the underdogs (with a few exceptions -- Richard Virenque being one of them as well as, tennis-wise, Andy Roddick -- I still don't understand that one). And while many people believe Lance is the underdog, I do not. He is the clear favorite and I believe he'll win. But that doesn't mean I have to constantly root for him. I was all about Vino earlier. Anyway, I'm completely off my point. Today's stage proved to me that I take cycling personally, that I love this sport, and that, when it comes right down to it, I know where I stand. I want Thomas to win. I want to keep that jersey. To keep going. It's part underdog and part the fact that he's just working so hard.

So. The men of the day for me? Richard Virenque and Thomas Voeckler. Why Richard? It's easy. Even though he attacked a few times, he, too, was dropped. He ended up in a small group with Thomas. What did he do? Attack? No. He talked to Thomas, he spent a lot of time -- more than he needed, more than he was ever obligated to do -- helping Thomas. He tried hard not to let Thomas lose too much time. And that, right there, that impressed me.


Ok. I feel better. Now, for the rest of the stage. No big crashes, but man, the weather was shocking. It was really sunny, then Phil and Paul started talking about thunderstorms and about 10 minutes later bam the tiny breakaway of four were covered in rain. And, before we realized it, so was the peloton (and, of course, the autobus -- chugging along). As I said before, this is what people like to call the 'real tour's' beginning. But I have to confess that I've really enjoyed the past fourteens days, especially stages 5 through 11 12 where Thomas Voeckler has worn that yellow jersey. Not that today's stage wasn't exciting or that Ivan Basso wasn't riding like a man possessed, because he was.


And I was quite impressed with him (and Lance, but not so much USPS). I was happy he won. As for Mr. Armstrong? I think he'd rather win the stage to put on yellow (which I believe he'll attempt to do tomorrow) than just win the stage. He would have wasted energy on a win without gaining even more time if he'd tried to take down Basso. So things went.

Oh, Jan. I don't know what Andreas Kloden was thinking. Maybe he got the go ahead. Maybe he was trying to pull Lance back. Maybe he decided to screw Jan over. Or maybe Jan's playing us all. I don't know what to think. And I should probably end this, as it's about to storm here and I don't want my computer to get fried (alas, the storm came before I had a chance to post and then I left town). So a final parting thought and picture, then I'm out.

At the end of the day? It stacks up like this:

General classification after stage 12
1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Brioches La Boulangère51.51.07
2 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal p/b Berry Floor5.24
3 Sandy Casar (Fra) Fdjeux.com5.50
4 Richard Virenque (Fra) Quick Step-Davitamon6.20
5 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile Team6.33

And that boy? That darling BLB boy. He's still in yellow. Good luck, Thomas. I'm rooting for you.

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