Sunday, July 25, 2004

Stage Twenty - Day Twenty Three


The 2004 Tour de France will always be remembered as the tour where Lance Armstrong won his sixth tour. Ullrich's performance, Basso's, even Andreas Klöden's shocking second place, will all be afterthoughts. Virenque's seven KOM wins will be relegated to a footnote. All because Armstrong won his sixth tour in 2004. If he wins seven? Six will still be remembered in all the glory and fanfare.

Of course there were other stories. The unknown Frenchman, the young Thomas Voeckler. The boy who may be the next big thing for France. The Fassa Bortolo team that won without Petacchi. Cofidis' much needed stages wins. Jakob Piil and Jens Voigt in all of those breaks. The ever-changing green jersey competition. The fighting for the white jersey. These things will be remembered, but none so much as Lance's sixth tour victory.


As for the 20th stage? The first part of it was pretty much like all other 20th stages. The only real difference was Dominia's Simeoni who decided to attack at least three times throughout the day. None of them were effective, for one reason or another. But other than that, the race to the Champs-Elysées was less than exciting.

The real racing began as the peloton started onto the Champs-Elysées. The pace started to speed up and a few breaks went off the front, but none of them were successful. At least until a group of about ten men, including Thomas Voeckler and Axel Merckx, gained what eventually ended up being a 40 second lead. They lead for most of the circuits, until Jan Ullrich and T-Mobile took over the pace making. But the break kept fighting capture, and then Juan Antonio Flecha jumped off the front. His attacked was the last straw for the peloton and they were captured. Eventually Flecha was too, right before the line.

The race for the green jersey was magnificent. The first sprint was won by Robbie McEwen, the second by Thor Hushovd. The final sprint to the line was at least sixteen sprinters long and, in the end, it was the young Belgian, Tom Boonen, who powered himself to the win. In a few years, maybe even next year, he'll be a real contender for the green jersey.

(cbs sportsline)

Boonen was part of the 'revolution' of young riders at this tour. From Fabian Cancellara taking the prologue and the first yellow jersey to Thomas Voeckler riding for 10 days in yellow to the 23 year old Russian, Vladimir Karpets, who not only earned the white jersey, but ended up 13th in the final general classification, to all of the young riders making it through those 23 days. This tour has given the cycling world something to look forward to.

The 'old men' are still around. 37 year old Scott Sutherland (Alessio-Bianchi) was in the Champs-Elysées 10-man break and Lance's team mate, 38 year old Viatcheslav Ekimov, finished his 14th tour. But this tour was all about then young guys. Aside from Lance's victory, the most inspiring story is that of 25 year old Thomas Voeckler. I know I've waxed poetic about him, but he deserves it. He proved us all wrong, he proved that a little known French cyclist and his team without a strong leader, could dominate, in one way or another, the peloton. Sure, he didn't make it to Paris in yellow -- but then again, he didn't need to. At least, not this year.

This tour was exciting in it's own way. Sure, last year's was closer, but this year had a lot more tension. Lots of crashes, lots of stories and lots of records breaking or almost breaking. If Zabel had won, he would have held the record for the most green jerseys. But, in the end, it turned out that everyone who came in wearing one for the four jerseys completed the race with them.

(cbs sportsline)

Robbie McEwen managed to keep his green jersey, in spite of all of the competition. Lance, of course, is in yellow. Record breaking Richard now has seven KOM wins to his name. And the new boy on the block, Karpets, took the jersey from Voeckler in spectacular fashion.

It was fun writing about the tour these 23 days. I can't wait until next year to write all over again. Perhaps one of these days, I'll be in France and reporting from the 'front lines.' But until then, I'll be watching on my TV.

As for next year? Lots of questions remain unanswered. Will Ullrich finally have the team he needs? Will Basso improve his time trialling skills enough to compete on every stage? Will the tour be dominated, as it nearly was this year, by the young guns? Will Voeckler be the next tour winner for France? Will Virenque retire or try for eight? And, of course, the real question. Will Lance be back for a seventh win?

Who knows, but next year promises to be just as exciting.

(cbs sportsline)

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