Saturday, July 26, 2008

Stage 19 - Friday, July 25: Roanne - Montluçon, 165.5km

"It's the first time I've managed to take one of my breakaways on this race all the way. It just shows, if you keep at it you can succeed."

"Now, I race for myself, for my own pleasure, and I don't listen to all that anymore. I'm sure that many of my fans today were really happy for me and that I made their day today. That's what counts for me."


I have spent most of the day yesterday, since the stage finished obviously and some of today thinking about what to write about this stage. Normally I'd talk about how interesting it was that there were two breakaways on the day, the first one being pulled back after 69k. And then, 72k into the race Sylvain attacked and was later joined by Jérémy Roy. And they rode, and rode and rode some more. And I sat at my desk at work and tried to will Sylvain to win.

I never gave up hope, but I thought, this is going to be like every other breakaway he's had. He'll give everything and then, with 1k to go (remember the stage when he went away with Chris Horner, who then sat up and kind of screwed him over? well, I do). Except the peloton couldn't pull them back. Sure, they upped their pace, they were racing hard and yet Sylvain and Roy stayed away. They kept losing time, but not in that 'oh, this break is doomed way' and then I began to think that it might be possible.

Then 1k from the finish, I thought, 'oh my god, he might just do it.' And then we had a similar finish to stage 18. Roy was behind Sylvain, biding his time, or so it looked. I kept thinking, 'oh, god, Sylvain's going to do it all wrong.' And I willed him to just sprint ahead, but what the hell was I thinking? He'd tried that repeatedly this tour and failed. Luckily he was thinking clearly and knew he could take Roy in the sprint, and that's exactly what he did.

I know there are other things to talk about, like how the jerseys didn't change and everyone's excited about the time trial tomorrow. But, I'm sorry, I don't think I can talk about anything else except Sylvain. As I told my mother, I almost posted 'Sylvain won, what more is there to say?' because, to be perfectly honest, that's how I feel about it. He did what I've been waiting for five years for him to do. What he's been waiting eight years (probably more, since he is French) to do. It's a great way for him to leave Cofidis, but an even better way to shove it back in the faces of everyone who said he couldn't do it.

To me, this is better than anything else this tour. Stage 19 was the best stage of the Tour that I have ever seen. Better than Armstrong's seven wins. Better than anything else that's ever happened in the Tour. I know that technically that's not true, but it is to be. Seeing him cross that line was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had as a fan. It doesn't get any better than this. And while I know that it's just one stage, it's one stage of the Tour de France. And it's in France. And it's Sylvain. I couldn't ask for anything more. I would have been happy with him for finishing the tour.

But this? Winning the 19th stage? Is better than anything else. I'm proud of him. Proud to be a fan of his. And damn proud to be a fan of cycling.

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