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Five.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom Demerly in Bikesport store.

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 it?

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 huge.

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 race:

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 do it.

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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