Saturday, June 26

Number Six?

I’ve been a fan of Lance Armstrong for a LONG time. World Champion at 21. Winner of a stage in the Tour de France. Watching him in person at the old Tour de Trump and Tour Dupont, I was a fan during this early period and shocked and depressed when he got cancer. Amazed when he survived. Even more amazed when he returned to racing.

One week from today the Tour de France (TDF) will start. The tour is a three-week bicycle race that pushes the limits of human physical performance. Imagine a three-week automobile race that is based on discrete races. Drag racing, NASCAR, hill climb, F1, sprint cars etc. Each day each competitor gets a time from when they start to when they end. At the end of three weeks the person with the lowest combined time is the champion. Obviously, on a day-to-day basis, different people will win. Some are drag specialists. Some are NASCAR specialists. But a very special driver, with the right team, equipment, and a lot of good fortune, will do well in all events. This is the TDF except the engines are human. Power. Speed. Climbing prowess. Endurance. Decision making ability. Individual strategy. Team strategy. People reading ability. Team dynamics. All of these have to work for you to win the TDF. One slip, one day of not eating right, one poor decision, one day in 20 where your body isn’t in top form (virus anyone?) or your equipment fails you, and it is over.

This year Lance Armstrong (with considerable help from his US postal team) will try to win an unprecedented 6th tour title. To win two tours in a row is as impressive as winning two super bowls, World Series or NBA playoffs in a row. Five? Barely believable. Six? Six total has never been done. Six in a row does not seem possible. Yet it could happen this year. And, to add to the excitement, this year the tour has more real contenders than any of the past five. The German Jan Ulrich, perhaps physically more talented than any other cyclist in the world, and seemingly in great shape (Ulrich has a hard time maintaining his weight in the off season but this year looks lean and ready to rock), is Lances main fear, and rightfully so. The American Tyler Hamilton, growing out of his role as Lance’s faithful lieutenant in the mountains and now riding as the head of his own team. Hamilton put in a gutsy performance last year, finishing fourth after riding most of the race with a broken collar bone, and based on recent results is in really great form right now. The Spaniard Iban Mayo who is also ripping up races left and right. Of course there are others in the large peloton who could win as long-shots.

The line-up for this year’s tour is exciting without any history going into it. Add Armstrong’s well published history with cancer, the relationships between Jan, Tyler and Lance, and the fact that Armstrong is going for number 6, and you’ve got to follow the tour this year.

I can’t wait.

P.S. My Prediction:
1) Lance
2) Tyler
3) Jan

(more based on my heart than my brain...)