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Tour de France 07 – deja vu, again!

July 25, 2007

In July last year we watched Rasmussen streak over the top of Glandon on his way to claiming the polka dot jersey, which he kept to Paris.


Some distance behind him that day came a toiling yellow jersey on the back of Floyd Landis.


We didn’t hear till the next day, in the café on the top of the Col du Lautaret that he had bonked seriously and lost critical time and the jersey to Perreiro Sio.

The carriers of the news, incidentally, were a bunch of guys from the Newry Wheelers, also following the tour on their bikes. We shared bananas and tall tales with the brooding, heavy presence of the Galibier at our backs. And strong coffee in our hands.


Later in the day, we drove from Briancon back towards Bourg d’Oisans and stopped where the mountain road meets the valley road out of Bourg, just where it turns left and up. There we found a small kitchen bar on the right hand side of the road in the shade of some trees. We asked the woman behind the bar to switch the TV to the Tour coverage and ordered cold beers. We watched the last hours of Landis’s great recovery ride to reclaim the maillot jaune.

We were stirred, exhilarated, inspired, thrilled and delighted at what this man had achieved in the face of the previous day’s despair. It was heroic. Though we did note his clenched fist salute at the end and the way he brushed off all the hangers on as he grabbed a water bottle. I remember remarking that it was unusual behaviour for a Mennonite!

Imagine then the disappointment a week or so later when we were home from that place of legends and I heard Floyd had tested positive for excess testosterone after that very ride.

Well I’m not at the Tour this year, first time in several years, but how thrilling it has been. Robbie MacEwan appearing from nowhere following his crash to claim victory in Canterbury. Contador and Rasmussen duking in out to Plateau-de-Beille having dropped all the other climbers on the way. Then the younger man torturing Rasmussen repeatedly on the climb to Loudenvielle but unable to shake him off. What about the youthful endeavour of Soler over the top of Galibier and into Briancon and holding on for victory in those brutal final kilometres up into the old town?

Then Vinokourov. Ahh, Vino. The mad, aggressive Kazakh. I remember his own team, T-Mobile, riding him down in a break a few years ago. Always liable to fly off the front only to be shelled out the back. His crash won widespread sympathy, particularly when the peloton extracted full advantage from his misfortune. To see him riding with up to 60 stitches in his legs and elbow, or watching his normally impassive face crease up in pain and tears was to marvel at the capacity of the human body to endure hardship.

Our house rejoiced loudly at his brilliant timetrial in Albi, then lamented his loss of time on stage 14.

When he stormed back on 15 up the Peyresourde and into Loudenvielle we were stirred, exhilarated, inspired, thrilled and delighted at what this man had achieved in the face of the previous day’s despair. Only not as much as last year. I had been burned once and wasn’t able to fully trust again.

So no surprise then at the news that followed. In fact, I emailed a friend earlier in the day to say how much it reminded me of last year. And I feared being duped again.

And that’s the danger to this wonderful, wonderful sport. We can only believe and be stirred then disappointed so many times. I haven’t plumbed the depth of the well just yet. I’ll watch today and expect another marvel up the Aubisque—a mountain we camped out on 2 years ago and watched Armstrong ride past on his way to a historic 7th.


I’ll risk again the disappointment.

Damn this cycling.

From → Sports

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