Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Getting Respect Sir Lance's Way

Sir Lance being congratulated by Mark Cavendish, the stage winner

Watching the Tour de'France coverage with a friend, I excused myself for a minute to use the bathroom. The talking heads on Verses were repeating my comment of a few minutes earlier that the Peleton was getting really stretched out. It seemed to me a large break-away group was over-due to make dash off the front.

I had been able to make out some of the advice Hincapie got from his team car 5 minutes earlier, and then the announcers began wondering aloud why Lance was being such a work-horse for his team, pulling hard at the front of the Peleton. All of that info said one thing - break-away, and in numbers. The ideal situation for a break-away in heavy winds is to sprint through a cross-wind, and then turn as a tight group into a howling headwind. It makes bridging up from the front of the Peleton nearly impossible.

Upon returning a couple of minutes later the announcers were going on about nothing again, when I happened to notice a bend in the road, and an echelon staring to form, with a lot of yellow jerseys in the gutter to the right. As I was yelling at my friend that a break-away was imminent, it happened. As Armstrong said later when interviewed, "it doesn't take a genius", but Contador, brought in by Astana to replace Lance as the team leader, sure didn't see it, and is now 19 seconds behind Armstrong in 4th place. Lance and Popovych and one other Astana rider went with the break-away group, and the rest got left behind for good.

A break-away group of 27, with one entire, in-tact team like Columbia High-Road defending yesterday's win, is not going to be reeled in. That's enough power to drop the entire Peleton, and they did just that. I was grinning from ear to ear. Lance may be old and past his prime, but he's savagely brilliant in managing a race, and when he calls for a favor or starts directing traffic, people listen and obey. He was just absolutely masterful, and got heartfelt hugs from Hincapie, Cavendish and the entire Colombia team at the finish line.

His move from 10th to 3rd place in the race was just brilliant. It was thrilling to see him barking orders and organizing competing interests into a solid and sustained break-away effort. Pop, just like in the Amgen Tour, was right there, helping him in any way he could. I am also very curious to know, and sure it will not be known for some time, if ever, if George Hincapie, an old friend of Lance's, tipped him off to Colombia High-Road's intentions, as it was George who was getting the coaching orders from the THR team car.

I got the definite sense watching the break-away group working together, that many of the riders felt that Lance's removal as the Astana team's leader was insulting and shabby for a man who has dominated the TDF and been a brilliant ambassador for the sport. In cycling, as in many sports, there are many, many unspoken rules and traditions. Coaches and team owners have little influence over these elaborate rituals, and I think Team Astana's owners got a very frank and brutal reputiation today from the moral leadership in the sport of cycling.

I have to say, it was a very satisfying to watch this act of defiance play out, and I salute the senior statesmen of the sport for honoring Lance Armstrong for all he has done for the sport, and the many, many contributions he has made to teams and individual riders alike. I was also very impressed that the very young Cavendish seems to get the unspoken rules of cycling. I commented on his gracious behavior here when commenting on the Amgen Tour of California, and he seems to be maturing into a gracious winner, team player, and keeper of the sport's standards. For this he gets my picture vote for this post, celebrating with Lance after the finish.

If you missed today's stage, I hope you will get a chance to watch it soon. It was a real thing of beauty - and justice. Cycling is truly blessed to have such a magnificent spokesman. God's Speed Lance. On behalf of millions and millions, I wish the very best for you, and will cheer you on to victory with the utmost admiration.

No comments: