Editorial by Tom Demerly.
I'm a bit early with this,
but the excitement is boiling over. It does every year.
The biggest sporting event in the world is coming: The
Tour de France.
This year's Tour will be a rare edition of this massive,
fabled event. It is the 100th anniversary. Before the
first rider rolls down the start ramp in the prologue
the intrigue and controversy have already hit the headlines.
The team of Mario Cipollini, current World Champion,
has been passed over for one of four wild card selections
of teams competing in The Tour.
It's an unpopular decision outside of France. The specter of
drugs hangs over The Tour. People are wondering about security
for a race that unfolds over open roads in front of millions
of spectators inches from the competitors.
And then there is the big question: Will he do
Lance Armstrong has an enormous opportunity. Win
five Tours de France in a row. No other American has done it.
Only one human has done five in a row. Five in a row. Unfathomable.
The pressure of that alone on the shoulders of a young man is
To try to put this event in some kind of perspective
let's try this: Maybe you have run a marathon in around four
hours, or a bit faster. Good job. That's pretty fast. Now, do
that again. When you get to the finish line turn around and
repeat. That's right, run two marathons. Do it fast. Don't pay
any attention to the weather. Rain, 100 degree temperatures,
wind. Never mind that. Just do it. OK, you ran two marathons,
fast, back to back? Good. Now do that for 20 days in a row.
Boom, that's not too much different than doing the Tour de France.
You doubt it? Think about this: Some mountain stages in the
tour take over seven hours for the top guys to complete. It
would take us over ten, probably twelve. The time trials are
won at an average speed often approaching 35 m.p.h. That's the
average speed for over 25 miles for a guy like Botero, Simoni,
Hamilton or Armstrong. Not impressed? OK, try this: Get your
bike up to 35mph on the flats. Hold it there for an hour. Of
course, you need to slow down on the hills and for tight turns,
so that means you better go 40 mph on the flats to make up for
it. Remember; hold that for an hour. But other than that, It's
probably pretty easy. Heck, my buddy Frankie did it nine times
and I ride with him all the time. Oh, we should mention the
two million spectators that view a tour stage live, in person,
and the hundreds of millions watching on TV. Compared to the
Tour de France, the Superbowl is like a bass fishing contest.
It seems appropriate to make some sort of prediction,
so I'll potentially make an ass out of myself (regular occurrence
anyway) and deliver my semi-informed analysis of this years
Again, the big question is, will he do it? Let's
think about this. Armstrong has done it four times in a row.
He may have the power, fitness, mentality and team to do it
again. He may not.
Everybody has challenging years, and this is one
for Armstrong. He beat the cancer thing years ago, showing he
is one bad dude. But now he has to beat the dreaded "D".
His relationship with his wife has been on the rocks, and is
now rumored to be back off the rocks. There's no doubt, that
chick is a handful, but so is Lance. One problem is these two
are from different sides of the tracks. Anyone will tell you,
that makes a difference. Word in the rumor mill is they are
patching things up. Good. But the emotional roller coaster has
to have an effect. Or maybe not: That is the thing with Armstrong
though- he's a weird guy. Things have the opposite affect on
him they would on many people. Cancer? Made him tougher. He
is like The Hulk: The more you nuke him the stronger he gets.
When French cycling fans berated him during mountain stages
in previous years it only made him go harder. Armstrong is the
complete manifestation of the Nietszche quote, "That which
does not kill us only serves to make us stronger". The
problem with Armstrong's marriage may only make him more determined.
He operates on rage. He swims in it. He inhales anger and negativity
and turns it into speed and resolve. He is at his best when
he is pissed. If he's pissed in July, it will be five in a row.
Uncharacteristically, Armstrong has defended his
fitness and Tour preparation in the press in recent days. He
usually holds his cards close to his chest, understating his
capabilities. Is this an indication his own faith is waning?
Or is it a more sophisticated, calculated psychological war
campaign being waged against his competitors? Possible.
His competitors? Hmmm, that's easy. In previous
years his "competitors" withered to his mountain attacks.
They talk a good line and look fit and powerful. They are. In
any other era, except the Lance era, it would be good racing.
But with Lance over the past four years it has been a route.
Don't think for one instant that doesn't have an effect. Entire
teams have been built not to win The Tour, but just to beat
Lance. They failed. Their teams were powerless against Armstrong
in the time trials and the mountains. He dominated. These guys,
his "competitors", haven't gotten any better. Is Armstrong
any worse? Tyler Hamilton is strong, a possible threat since
he understands Lance. Hamilton? Good, very good. But not good
enough. Lance is mortal to Hamilton though. Two Americans on
the podium in Paris will be pretty embarrassing to The Tour
organizers who snubbed Cipo's team to let more French teams
in the race. The Frenchies will scramble for crumbs while the
Kelme boys from Spain and Colombia duke it out with the Americans
for the big stuff. But the Euros? Ulrich? Give me a break. Simoni?
It will make for a couple minutes of good TV before Armstrong
does him in. To them Armstrong is from another planet, the planet
Invulnerable. They were and remain fully intimidated. As well
they should. It is unlikely they will be a factor until Lance
shows frailty, then they will fall like buzzards on a body.
Armstrong is older. That is not necessarily a
factor yet. He is still flying. Dial that out. He trains like
a man possessed too. Because he is. Possessed with winning.
Then there is the race itself. Shit happens in
The Tour, but it has never happened to Armstrong. His luck has
been pristine. He has only had a couple minor tumbles, all at
convenient times. If Armstrong suffered an illness during the
race, a mechanical, a bad crash, an errant fan stepping into
the road at the wrong time, it could cost him the race. It only
takes an instant. Now clearly, this can happen to anyone. But
it has never happened to Lance. Five-time tour winner Bernard
Hinault said, "You make your own luck in racing, until
the guy in front of you falls, then you inherit his bad luck".
Doesn't some part of your brain suggest Armstrong is due for
some bad luck? Of course we all know statistics don't work that
way. But still
When you look at the total picture, the odds are
against Armstrong winning five in a row. There is simply too
much going against him. And this is precisely why he will probably