Tour de France 2005, Stage 18

Posted in Tour de France on July 21st, 2005 by bill
James Doohan will be drinking Scotch and smoking a cigarette in heaven tonight.

James Doohan will be drinking Scotch and smoking a cigarette in heaven tonight.

Today’s stage of the Tour de France was cancelled due to the death of James Doohan, who played Scotty on Star Trek.

Psych! No, they went ahead with the race, but for the fourth stage in a row, there’s not much to report except that:
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Tour de France 2005, Stage 17

Posted in Tour de France on July 20th, 2005 by bill

Upon further reflection, I think I can answer my rhetorical question from the previous entry. The question was, if you’re Ivan Basso or Jan Ullrich, what do you have to lose by going all-out to try to beat Lance Armstrong? The answer is, you could wipe yourself out and end up falling way down in the standings, or even not being able to finish the Tour.

Maybe I’m letting my reflexive American fetish for being number one cloud my judgment. Maybe coming in second or third is good enough. Maybe I should apologize to Ullrich, Basso, and Mickael Rasmussen for calling them “surrender monkeys.”

Maybe. Even having said all that, I can’t help but feel that after having ridden so many miles, suffered so much, and come so close, you would want to push yourself and see if you couldn’t win the damn thing.
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Tour de France 2005, Stage 16

Posted in Tour de France on July 19th, 2005 by bill
Rasmussen, Ullrich, Basso: surrender monkeys?

Rasmussen, Ullrich, Basso: surrender monkeys?

If there’s one thing that still perplexes me about the Tour, it’s this: Everyone connected with the race, including the actual competitors, always seems to be falling all over themselves to declare a winner as soon as humanly possible.

As of yesterday, 15 of the 21 stages had been completed, a full week’s riding remained, and Lance Armstrong led his closest rival, Ivan Basso, by less than three minutes. And yet all the coverage assumed that an Armstrong victory was a foregone conclusion.

Including mine; I said yesterday that Armstrong is a mortal lock, and indeed it is highly unlikely that anyone will beat him. But it’s one thing for me to say it and another for Basso himself to say, as he did yesterday, “I’m not stupid. He’s strong. It’s finished.”
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Tour de France 2005, Rest Day 2

Posted in Tour de France on July 18th, 2005 by bill
Among those recuperating today will be George Hincapie (far left), Oscar Pereiro (near left), and some dimwit who ran onto the course and got hit by a motorbike (bottom center).

Among those recuperating today will be George Hincapie (far left), Oscar Pereiro (near left), and some dimwit who ran onto the course and got hit by a motorbike (bottom center).

You would think that, after riding 1152 kilometers (715 miles) in six days, the cyclists on the Tour would welcome a day off. But no, I am told that they don’t really want a rest day, that it throws off their rhythm. I don’t much care for the rest day either, because it reminds me that, to paraphrase Col. Kilgore, “Someday this Tour’s gonna end.”

Actually, on Sunday this Tour’s gonna end, as Stage 21 brings the peloton to Paris. Here’s what it will look like when they get there:

The winner—drum roll please—will be…

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Tour de France 2005, Stage 15

Posted in Tour de France on July 17th, 2005 by bill
A mostly, but not entirely, flattering photo of the late Fabio Casartelli.

A mostly, but not entirely, flattering photo of the late Fabio Casartelli.

This was a strange day for the Tour de France because it was the tenth anniversary of the death of Fabio Casartelli, the third and most recent Tour fatality. Casartelli was descending the Col de Portet d’Aspet on July 17, 1995 when there was a crash in front of him. He was thrown from his bike and whacked his head on a concrete block at the side of the road, hard enough to cause a hemhorrhage that killed him.

The other two Tour deaths, in case you’re curious, were Tommy Simpson, who died of (possibly amphetamine-related) heart failure in 1967, and Francesco Cepeda, who “plunged into a ravine” in 1935. It’s serious business, this bike racing.
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Tour de France 2005, Stage 14

Posted in Tour de France on July 16th, 2005 by bill
This mascot is only one of T-Mobile's many problems.

This mascot is only one of T-Mobile's many problems.

After a couple of mellow stages where the main contenders sat back and watched the also-rans compete for stage wins, things heated up in Stage 14.

I mean, literally, it was hot. The cyclists were pouring sweat as they suffered through one climb after another in the Pyrénées. They were taking any water bottle they could get from anybody, and most of the time just dumping it over their heads to cool off a little. It was so hot that one the guys from Euskaltel-Euskadi burst into flames at one point.

Or I may have imagined that. I was suffering too, for different reasons having to do with Scotch whisky. I was having trouble getting enough caffeine into my system to get my brain started, so when the moment came I’ve been waiting two weeks for—when somebody finally got Lance Armstrong in their crosshairs—I almost missed it.
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Tour de France 2005, Stage 13

Posted in Tour de France on July 15th, 2005 by bill
Sylvain Chavanel and Chris Horner

Sylvain Chavanel and Chris Horner are pursued by the forces of conformity.

For the most of the 160-some guys remaining of the 189 who started the Tour, this was as close to a day off as you can get while riding 108 miles. Stage 13 was almost completely flat, so none of Lance Armstrong’s rivals had a chance to try any funny business. Armstrong rode along looking almost happy, which is unusual for a man whose face is usually mask of concentration.

Meanwhile, five noncontenders broke away from the pack early and built up a lead that reached almost nine minutes at one point. I usually find myself rooting for a breakaway to succeed; it’s symbolic of individuality, nonconformity, something like that. In this scheme the peloton represents society, and every time you try to get ahead, it exerts a gravitational force designed to to suck you back in.
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Tour de France 2005, Stage 12

Posted in Tour de France on July 14th, 2005 by bill
It was a proud day for France. Go France!

It was a proud day for France. Go France!

I love to kid the French. They’re easy to kid: They talk funny, smoke all the time, love Jerry Lewis, wear berets, etc. etc. But in all honesty I have to say that I feel a lot more in tune with France these days than I do with many parts of the U.S. I’d much rather hang out with chain-smoking snobs than gun-toting fundamentalists any day of the week. And if I have to choose, I’ll certainly take The Nutty Professor over Blue Collar TV without hesitation.

I’ll take the Tour de France over NASCAR while we’re at it. At least the Tour goes somewhere instead of round and round in circles. But I am not here today to pick on Middle America and its diversions. I’m here to talk about Stage 12.
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Tour de France 2005, Stage 11

Posted in Tour de France on July 13th, 2005 by bill
It was a proud day for Kazakhstan. Go Kazakhstan!

It was a proud day for Kazakhstan. Go Kazakhstan!

It was a big day in every possible way. We finally passed the halfway point of the Tour. The riders had to deal with two huge climbs in the Alps, including the high point of this year’s race, the 8658-foot Col du Galibier. And the Outdoor Life Network responded with five hours of televised coverage, of which I was determined to watch every single minute, regardless of the risk to my health and sanity.

By pacing myself throughout the day, and with the Motorola DVR providing a big assist by allowing me to fast-forward through commercials, I was able to accomplish the great task. I’d like to thank my family; my kittens, Precious and Johnny Boy, who kept me company throughout the ordeal; and of course you, my many readers. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back.
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Tour de France 2005, Stage 10

Posted in Tour de France on July 12th, 2005 by bill

Stage 10 had everything you could ask for from the Tour de France: spectacular scenery, dramatic racing, a few crashes just to mix things up. This was the first stage this year where, if you weren’t watching, I think you really missed something.

Between the scenery and the racing, it’s hard to say which was more impressive. Even on TV, the cloud-wrapped peaks, towering waterfalls, and serene lakes of the Alps were too much to process. In person, it must be completely overwhelming.
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