Perseverance

Stage 17 of the Tour de France was touted as the killer stage, the one that contained four staggering Alpine climbs before shooting down to the valley village of Morzine. This, the experts said, would be the toughest stage, the place where the eventual winner of the three-week slog around France would be selected.

I wish there was a way to easily capture the drama of that stage and put it into perspective with other astonishing feats of atheletic prowess and human force of will, but I’m not a sportswriter and won’t try to pull out the purple adjectives and hackneyed cliches to persuade you of the magnificence of that day. If you have four hours and a friend who has Tivo’d it, watch it, there are few examples of individual heroism to compare with it.
It was a script too incredible for a movie, the set up too perfect to ever be believed, but in the end it was about head-down, teeth-gritting effort on the part of one man fighting the pack and the clock.

Floyd Landis may have just won the most dramatic Tour de France victory in decades, if not the history of the race. Devaluing that win because the pre-race favorites were taken out in a doping scandal, comparing it to Lance’s seven … none of it matters because of what Landis did over the week. He goes into it having announced that he needs an operation on his hip, most likely an artificial hip replacement, and that this could very well be his last time in the Tour if not on a race course. Then he gets the yellow jersey in the Pyrenees, loses it, and then regains it on the fabled climb of the Alpe d’Huez with 500,000 crazed fans there to see yet another American move closer to the podium.

The next day, disaster. Landis bonks and loses 11 minutes on the final climb, plummeting from first to 11th place, down by 8’08”, written off by nearly everyone, including myself, as a lost cause.

Then comes the morning of the 17th stage, the hardest stage, and Landis attacks from the beginning, using his Phonak team to hurt the rest of the peleton. He breaks away and chases the breakaway, catches them, doesn’t pause to rest, to but keeps on motoring away, tailed a lone rider who put on the most shameless display of wheel-sucking ever seen. Landis received no help and expected no help (cyclists form temporary alliances to help each other cut through the wind as 80% of their effort is expended overcoming wind resistance).

He finished the day by winning the stage, his first in the Tour, and only 30 seconds back from the yellow jersey in third place. He sealed the deal in the individual time trial and this morning rode into Paris triumphant. The French have adopted his as their own, for the simple reason that the Mennonite from Lancaster, PA displayed the thing they love the most — panache. I call it perservance. Floyd Landis just rode into the history books.

FLOYD!!

One day after blowing up badly, Floyd Landis pulls off one of the most heroic comebacks in cycling history, winning a tough Alpine stage and putting himself only 30 seconds off of the yellow jersey. He’s poised to win the entire tour in the time trial. I am beside myself waiting to watch the stage tonight on the tube.

From Cyclingnews.com:

“Floyd Landis hammers it top the finish, getting everything he can out of the bike. He clenches his fist in triumph. YES!!! What a brilliant ride.”

Floyd is back in yellow (correction: all done)

This crazy Tour de France just got crazy again as Floyd Landis regained the yellow jersey with a ten second lead over Oscar Peirero on the Alpe d’Huez. These are the final days and Floyd is positioned, in fairy tale fashion, to overcome a dead hip and finish a promising cycling career with the ultimate victory. Think the Euro riders will let him get away with it? Don’t count on it. Floyd is incredibly exposed as the rest of the peleton tries to break a seven-year American streak of victories and he doesn’t have many teammates left to support to him at the front of the pack. I hope my Tivo saved today’s stage, I know what I’ll be glued to on Thursday night.

Update 7.19 – Floyd is done. He finished today’s massive Alpine stage eight minutes back. He’s done. It’s Oscar Periero’s to lose now.

Heroic cycling

This year’s Tour de France has been fascinating to watch, with Lance retired and the pre-race favorites taken out by the Spanish doping scandal. Some solid riders are left, and the race seems invigorated by anarchy in the peleton, with no one rider emerging as the padrone to take control over the tactics over the 23 day affair.

The Sunday New York Times magazine has a compelling article about the travails of Floyd Landis, the Mennonite cyclist who backed Lance in 2004 but quit to join Phonak, emerging as one of the top four American cyclists in the Tour this year. Floyd is riding with a bad hip — a a very bad hip — the kind of injury that would send normal people howling for the Demerol, but yet the guy was able to capture the top slot and the yellow jersey after an astonishingly difficult stage in the Pyrenees last week, surviving four consecutive cols or peaks and coming out in the lead.

The tradition of cyclists who ride through immense physical pain, in the world’s hardest sporting event, is part of the lore and drama that draws me in every July. Tyler Hamilton riding with a broken collarbone, Lance coming back from cancer, there’s a rider this year riding with a cracked vertebrae.

And now Landis is gritting his teeth (Hamilton allegedly needed dental work because of the griding his teeth were subjected to during his collarbone tour) and powering through what well may be his last Tour de France. No rider has come back to the peleton with an artificial hip, so Landis appears to be sacrificing everything this year for his one and only shot at the palmeares.

And I beef about a concussion?

My cycling buddy Marta is racing up this tomorrow …

Washburn Gallery

Good luck to Marta on her ride in “Newton’s Revenge” up New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. The photo is by one of my heroes, Brad Washburn, mountain cartographer (he did the definitive maps of the Alps, the Himalayas, and the White Mountains), photographer, and naturalist.

This ride Marta is doing is an adjunct to the famous “Mount Washington Hill Climb” purportedly the toughest cycling climb. Period. This is where Tyler Hamilton made his name, and the new kid on Lance’s team, Tom Danielson made his. 7.2 miles of nothing but grueling uphill. Marta is shooting for a time under an hour and a half.

Update: Marta made it up the hill a little over an hour and half – Said she had the wrong gearing for the ascent and that is was too “easy”

Ullrich and Basso out of the Tour?

I woke up this morning to the nasty news that this year’s Tour de France is completely wrecked by the Spanish doping scandal, with the two front runners — Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso — both withdrawn due to a cloud of implication hanging over their heads.

While I despise doping in athletics as much, if not more than the next guy, the waves of scandal blowing over professional cycling are getting very tiresome. Lance couldn’t win a Tour without the European press dredging up some whiff of EPO doping. Tyler Hamilton’s career is in ruins — but his Athen’s olympic gold medal secure. And now the greatest cycling event of the year is trashed by the withdrawal of the two favorites.

Well, off to the Tivo to watch the prologue out of Strausbourg, more hope of George Hincapie to rise from the ranks of Lance’s lieutenant to a leader in his own right, but all without two of cycling’s greatest riders participating. This Tour has already gone down in history as one with an asterix next to it, similar to the 1998 Tour which was rocked by the Festina scandal.

Doping in cycling goes way, way back into the 50s and 60s, when riders chowed down on amphetamines to keep themselves going through three week grand tours. When the British cyclist Tom Simpson died on the slopes of Mt. Ventoux — his last words were “put me back on my bike” — and found with pills in his pockets, the sport began to take notice.

Soccer vs. Cycling

So the New York Times this morning is splashing a front page photo of American face-painters looking despondent over Team USA getting knocked out of the losing its first World Cup game. [thx to Totalbike for the correction] I chalk this one up as a non-event. Indeed, soccer, aka Football, may be the most global of games, but other than soccer moms and hordes of shin kicking American children, the game is not, despite repeated predictions of optimism, taken off to the manic extent it has everywhere else in the world.

Me, I am totally fixated on professional cycling — bicycling — and my favorite game these days is to instant message with my biking buddies to talk trash about our favorites going into the first non-Lance Tour de France in many years. Who will emerge as the “patrone” of the peleton?

I’ll be rooting for three riders. They are:

1. Chris Horner — great American rider for Saunier-Duval. Shows great heart and had a great Tour last year.

2. Ivan Basso. Italian climber. Only man to hold his own on the climbs against Lance. Winner of the Giro d’Italia and poised to be the main man in my opinion.

3. George Hincapie. I’ll go out on a limb, but this is Hincapie’s year to emerge from beneath Lance’s shadow and go all the way.

Why do I love the Tour de France? Imagine running 20 consecutive marathons. That’s why. There’s nothing so grueling nor so noble.

A new erg is on its way

I bought my old erg in 1995, a Concept 2 Model C, one of the first years of that model. I immediately became obsessed and started using the thing at least a half hour every day, losing a ton of weight and turning myself into a beastly 30-something, “competing” online versus the World Ranking and finding myself, at one magnificent point, the fifth fastest man in the world in the One-Hour competition. I rowed a few CRASH-B Sprints (The World Indoor Rowing Championships), and finished in the top twenty every time.

With a daughter who is a US National High School rowing champion, it was obvious yesterday that the old erg had too many millions of meters on the flywheel. So I dropped some credit card cash on this new Model D. I sense another love/hate affair with the Erg coming on. For those who are unfamiliar with the ways of the Erg, let’s put it this way, there is absolutely no piece of exercise equipment on the planet that will kick your ass as thoroughly as a Concept 2 erg. Period. None. Finito. No argument.