We Really Like Them Apples
A Tour de France story from Luz-Ardiden.
We were just below the top of the climb at Luz-Ardiden, donning our windbreakers as the fog started to shiver us after the 14 kilometer climb from St. Sauveur. Our compatriot, Roberto, had placed the van with dry clothes, snacks, and water just 2 km from the finish of the 15 th stage of the Tour de France. Last year, Peter Thomson had led us to the perfect vantage point to watch Lance, with the aid of Roberto Heras, bury Joseba Beloki and take the yellow jersey when he attacked 5 km from the finish of the Tourmalet. The crowd of orange-shirted Euskatel supporters let out a roar just below us, which continued as the thousands of cycling fans, the true believers, the cognoscenti of the sport heard the ironic news - Lance was being dropped on the Tourmalet. Ullrich and Mayo had attacked and left a strangely weakened Armstrong 100 meters back 2 km from the summit. By the time we ran down to a TV located two switchbacks below in a club tent filled with swilling orange shirts with red faces, Lance had closed the gap and the lead group was once again all together, zipping up their jerseys for the cool flight down to the valley floor. What a relief, but what a fright. It was the feeling we all had for days; Lance could not dominate this 100 th edition of the Tour de France, he may have the maillot jaune now but he was barely hanging on as conditions and multiple attacks took their toll. The mountain god was about to topple. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /?>
We chatted and enjoyed the respite while the race moved on toward the base of the climb below us. We had a clear view that ran down 4-5 km and across six switchbacks before ending in the forest below. Above us the fog was going to block the helicopters and leave us with a much quieter race. I had learned to hate the mechanized clatter of the overhead peloton, which always heralded the coming of the race leaders. Shortly we heard the faint thwack, thwack, thwack of the aural attack when two monsters came around the mountain far below. Then, another roar from the thousands along the zigzagged road jarred us to action. Lance was down. Mayo was down. Ullrich was pulling away. Lance had been pulled down when he caught a bag of a fan on his brake hood and picked up an armful of road rash. Mayo had tumbled over him as Ullrich barely avoided the mini yard sale. By the time I got to a TV, they were back on their bikes and all racing again. Then, Lance pulled out of a pedal, wobbled and narrowly avoided and second fall. Could the mountain god be cursed in 2003? I couldn?t watch and walked back to my perfect live viewing spot to munch some comforting trial mix sent along by