It already seems like a long time ago that I squeezed my way up to the barriers in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /?>
Paris and saw Lance Armstrong sweep down the
Champs Elysees to his sixth Tour de France victory. Yet for all the excitement that day it has been amazingly quiet as to what is next for the great American rider. Will he defend the yellow jersey and try for a seventh consecutive win and risk the wrath of the French who already think he has won enough or will he turn southward and try his legs at the Giro and placate the naysayers who say that Lance focuses too much on the Tour to the exclusion of the other great classic stage races? If he was to secure the maglia
rosa to go with his wardrobe of yellow, might that quiet the critics? Of course, Lance has never been one to curry the favor of critics. Still, what is he to do on the downslope of a great career? Or, is he even on a downward slope? Last year at this time we all knew that Lance was completely focused to make a valiant try at garnering his sixth straight maillot jaune. He did that in commanding style in 2004, now what will he do in 2005? Is he more concerned with establishing a place in history by branching out to some other major tours or is he contractually committed to try for a seventh TDF win? Either path could secure his position at the very top of the all time cycling pantheon. In spite of his remarkable record at the Tour de France, a misstep now might keep him off the top spot of the podium for the ages.
Last May I watched Damiano Cunego sweep up the Mortirolo in
Italy on his way to the 2004 victory at the Giro. I thought I was seeing the future of top flight cycling. Later in the summer, at the Tour de France I thought back to the sight of the diminutive Italian when I listened to the legendary Bjarne Riis list off the challenges of knocking off Lance as the top cyclist of this era. I was at the start of the 14th stage in
Carcassonne on a rainy day. Lance had just come through the
Pyrenees and had pushed back Ivan Basso with a convincing win at Plateau de Beille. Jan Ullrich seemed to be fading back into the first tier of also-rans. My Roadcycling.com press pass had helped get me into the village to mill about the team buses in a cold rain on a day when not many could really want to ride. The press was asking about Ullrich and the possibility of him moving over to CSC to get some inspired coaching from Riis. Bjarne smiled and indicated he would wait for a call from Jan. Riis is at the stage of his career where the hungry press looks to him for pronouncements as to where the future of cycling will lead. He indicated that he thought Jan was still the