C'est Cool

News & Results

09/21/2005| 0 comments
by Paul Rogen

C'est Cool

There wasn?t an overabundance of drama at the 2005 Tour de France; so here it comes.

For two weeks after I returned from my fourth trip to experience the Tour de France, many friends and acquaintances asked me about Lance and the 2005 Tour.  I had a few answers and some short stories but I was too tired out to really give much of an answer.  Now that a few weeks have passed I am finally ready to give some measured responses.  But the answers have now become more complicated since the big revelations in L?Equipe about Lance showing traces of EPO in some 1999 blood samples.  Somehow, I knew that Lance Armstrong was not going to be out of the headlines for long.


This latest set of international headlines sets off a storm of reaction from every quarter that leaves me confused and bewildered.  There was not an overabundance of drama at the 2005 Tour de France; so now here it comes.  I am left with an ever expanding list of questions: If this is France?s version of yellow journalism, how can it possibly do anything but tarnish the world?s greatest bike race.  That L?Equipe owns a chunk of the TDF makes it even more bewildering.  What are we to think about the irregular manner that the revelations came out? Are these lab guys really amateurs and is the French cycling collapse really that essential to the national character?  How much can we care about some tests done seven years after the race during which the samples were taken? Did Lance know that it was possible that he might be outed on some 1999 EPO violation and that is why he pushed to garner a seventh title- because he knew that if he lost the one he still had the record of six on the shelf?  How long will the Armstrong affair go on?  Will it stretch out like the Hamilton affair and leave the same bitter bile aftertaste?  Why do thoughts like this even come up after such a glorious, unprecedented career? 


My European cycling friends would say these thoughts and questions come up exactly because Lance had such an extraordinary career. Extraordinary outcomes require extraordinary inputs.  When I question such savvy, hardened logic I am made to seem like an American na?f. Ever since I first witnessed Lance take the yellow jersey on the Tourmalet in 2002, I have been a true believer.  Now, the question is can I still be a true believer if I have even a scintilla of doubt about the perfect arc of a mythical cycling career? 


While there was a real lack of drama in 2005, there were notable occurrences.  I do not have to recount them here as many others have written millions of words about this years Tour and many more millions of pictures have been taken.  Most of the stories, insights and views are better than I could ever offer, but I still like my small insights which I think cast some light on the Lance who now stands accused and perhaps indicate why I am still holding to my grip as an American na?f, a true believer.



I have two short vignettes about Lance during the early days of the Tour.  The first is even before the Tour started.  We were all down at Fromentine for the opening stage 1 time trial.  We are the Thomson Bike Tours 2005 trip to the Loire Valley.  We were about twenty strong and very keen on seeing the start of the 92nd Tour de France.  There was a teeming crowd and lots of excitement.  Most of the riders were warming up in the shadow of the team buses and canopies, stretching it out on the rollers.  I watched some of the good teams, CSC and T Mobile spinning up a veritable storm.  The Discovery bus was hidden behind some others and unreachable so I did not see Lance warming up.  I watched a dozen riders go off a minute apart, then took a break and read and napped some.  (I thought that three years of race watching gave me a small dispensation to skip some of the riders.) When I woke, I found I was just right to see the last thirty riders go off and watched them with great interest, but was a bit dulled from my afternoon nap.  Still it was a thrill to see the start of the world?s greatest sporting event get underway.  I ducked into a brasserie right near the start house after Lance left and watched as he chased  the time clock and Jan Ulrich, who had left one minute prior to his departure.  At each time check it seemed clear that Lance was lining up Jan to make a slamming opening statement.  Lance seemed to hesitate for a minute before he blew by Jan near kilometer 16 just three kilometers from the finish.  The crowd howled and cheered like they were all from Austin, Texas.  A few were, but most were from France or Belgium.  It all seemed that Lance had lined up his tour preparations exactly right and that he dramatically declared that he was not to be touched in this version of the grand boucle. 


However, that spectacular effort was not even the highlight of the day; it was still coming.  After I walked back with our group to the pasture by the creek outside this small town where we were planning to picnic and avoid the crowded byways, my partner and our leader, Peter Thomson, told me he got a picture with my friend.  I was intrigued and wanted to know to which cycling friend he was referring.  He went on to recount how when walking back toward our encampment to make some calls outside the clamor of the crowd, he suddenly was passed by Lance on his time trial bike heading out of town for a warm-up spin. There was absolutely nobody else around and Peter, good Scotsman that he is with perfect French language skills, let out a good, ?Merde!? He grabbed for his camera in his pocket but Lance was too fast- around the corner and gone in a flash.  Peter kept walking but before he left the roadway here came Lance again.  Peter was still alone and Lance was coming at him quickly, but he dug in his pocket and again succeeded in getting his mini digital camera out just after Lance went by.  The merde was released with even greater force.  Peter mumbled and went on.  Thirty seconds later, Lance was beside him asking in perfect French, if he missed his picture.  Peter of course agreed and Lance offered to rectify things immediately. He tucked in close to Peter, held out Peter?s camera and clicked.  Then Lance flipped the digital camera around and reviewed his work.  The picture looked great and it was Lance?s turn to give the verdict, ?C?est cool,? he said. Peter agreed and wished him well in the race which Lance was about to embark on in less than thirty minutes.  Lance jumped on his bike and was off to slay Ulrich within the hour.   Now, that is the very definition of cool.



The second story is a few days later at yet another time trial- the Team Time Trial.  The 4th stage was anticipated as a critical 60 kilometer challenge from what were touted as two very strong teams, CSC and T-Mobile.  Thomson Bike Tours had set up a viewing camp 40 kilometers into the race course.  We were at the brow of a small rise just outside the village of Amboise along the Loire River.  I had pedaled the final 20 k of the race course earlier in the day and experienced the anticipation of the crowd all along the route.  I kept a good pace up and the crowd often let out yells as I came past.  I was toward the end of the allowable time when the course was still open and the picnickers were primed.  I could not return on the route as it was closed so I crossed to the quiet, even abandoned side of the Loire River and circled back to our viewing spot.  This enabled me to thread my way through the throngs on the bridge at Arsanderie and make my way up the surprisingly long incline just before our encampment.  My chums cheered my arrival and then we all waited for the real excitement.



We kept an informal time tally as the teams went flying by in pure tight formations.  Once in awhile we gave big whoops of encouragement to fallen warriors who had dropped off the back of their own team.  Perhaps they were just not strong enough this day or perhaps they were designed to be used up as spent rocket boosters. Toward the end of the afternoon, sure enough, CSC had a four second lead over T-Mobile.  All the rest of the teams were finished and well back in the standings, when the Discovery team came through.  Each of the fifteen plus teams we watched was in the classic echelon with riders pulling at the point for just a matter of seconds.  But when the Discovery team appeared Lance was in front and stayed there for the ten seconds we could see the team.  It was not a standard pace line but a train being pulled for what seemed like an eternity.  The speed was close to 60 kilometers an hour and made a sound also like a train. We later found out from friends who had gone up-course to see the race come out of Amboise and start up the incline that Lance was pulling solo even then.  This meant that he was doing an unimaginable pull of some minutes, not seconds.  The strength and focus it takes to do such a feat is beyond comprehension but managed to pull the Discovery Team into the lead by stage end at Blois.  It was as if Lance knew exactly what it took to give his mates a break and pull them back from a small deficit and into the lead that could be held for the last third of the race. 



So, I am left with a vast collage of a career and a race - four years of memories of Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France.  In spots it is hazy and confusing.  However, the picture has some very clear sections and it is those recent, 2005 vivid vignettes and images that I hold onto now and forever.  I can add them to the memory I have of Lance on the Tourmalet yelling at Roberto Heras to slow down in 2002, to the memory of Lance getting up off the pavement and roaring up Luz Ardiden in 2003 and to Lance looking right at us after he knocked the field out on Alpe d?Huez in 2004.  I do not really feel na?ve at all.  I feel I have been witness to an amazing career- far too vast and extensive to be stained by frozen B samples from the last century.

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