Saturday, July 23, 2005

Stage 20 - Saturday, July 23: Saint-Etienne - Saint-Etienne ITT, 55 km

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I suppose this picture of Jan Ullrich sums up the stage for a lot of people. All work and second place. It was, well, possibly one of the worst, stress-wise, stages I've ever seen. Of course, as I've said before, I'd already accepted that Armstrong will win the tour for the seventh time, so that was not my concern.

But I feel like I should have known disaster was going to happen. I'd already spent at least ten minutes being annoyed at the TV for the lack of Sylvain coverage. He's the national time trial champion of France and yet there was all of, oh, two seconds or some crap like that. But they showed him twice and that was better than nothing. And then Rasmussen rolled up to the start.

There were moments of amusement before then (mostly via cyclingnews) and then there was the scare that Savoldelli was going to fall. So right as Rasmussen started, I said something like "please don't fall." I don't, of course, believe that what I say has any effect on what happens, but man. I feel like I shouldn't have said that. It was disaster, almost from the start. My mother and I loved his gloves and socks, all in the polka dots. And then it all fell apart.

I've seen Rasmussen fall and switch bikes more times than I'm willing to admit and I still haven't been able to watch that first fall all the way through. I always turn away at the last second. It hurt too much. It chipped a bit off of my heart. Not completely heartbroken, as it were, but sad. Very sad. I really wanted him to remain in third. I'd almost accepted that it wasn't going to happen, but I didn't want him to lose time like he eventually did. As someone said to me, if it hadn't been to tragic, it would have been comedy. But, oh Michael, I'm so sorry.

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But, of course, Rasmussen wasn't the only story (or even the main one, but I'll get to that in a bit). Ivan Basso wasn't able to keep up his extremely high pace throughout the stage. As much as I don't like to say this, I am inclined to agree with Phil and Paul. I think Basso started too fast, but I suppose no one learns that lesson, except perhaps Zabriskie, who is just amazing. Speaking of amazing, both Bobby Julich and Alexandre Vinokourov were amazing. And had both of them not had to race against Armstrong, I think both would have been higher, if not on the podium.

Of course, Rasmussen's horrific ride benefited several cyclists, including Jan Ullrich. He rode what was probably the best time trial of his life.

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Except that it wasn't enough. I've never said this before, mostly because I never quite thought it was true, but I think that no one wanted to win this tour more than Lance. Sure, Basso and Ullrich want it badly, but not like Armstrong did. He was willing to throw it all away and he did -- and came out on top. As much as I don't like it, I have to respect him. He's pulled it off, like no one else. And, honestly, I doubt anyone else will be able to do it again. But, still, more on that later. Back to Ullrich.

He is not the prettiest cyclist to watch (I think that goes to Paolo Salvodelli), but he is powerful. And he proved today that he still has the ability to win. If it wasn't for Armstrong, he would have. He smashed everyone's times below his. And, after I was able to control my anguish for Rasmussen, he was fun to watch. He just powered his way along. I really hope he keeps racing for at least another year. He will win the tour, I really believe that. Especially once Vinokourov is off the team.

And now, back to Armstrong.

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It's over. Unless something truly horrible happens, this time it's really over. He's done it, seven in a row. No one will even come close, at least as long as I live. But, in all honesty, it doesn't make him the best cyclist around. It just makes him the best Tour de France cyclist. Eddy Merckx will always be the best cyclist, at least to me and many others.

I didn't want Armstrong to win, but I'm not sad he did. He is, and has always been, a pleasure to watch. I might not like certain things about him, but he does flow on the bike. It's like as beautiful as Savoldelli, but it is amazing. I'm glad I got to see it, and I'm glad it's over. Next year will be a lot more interesting, I just hope I get to see it.

As for tomorrow? Thor all the way. At least, that's what I hope.

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