Stage 1 of the Tour is largely symbolic. Today, for instance, the competitors rode only about 19 kilometers (12 miles), spending only about 20 minutes on the road. But that doesn’t mean it’s insignificant.

What mattered today was not who won the stage — Dave Zabriskie, a young American in his first Tour — but that Lance Armstrong whupped the ass of the man considered to be his main rival, Jan Ullrich.
Armstrong, by virtue of being the reigning champ, was the last to start today’s individual time trial from Fromentine to Noirmoutier. Ullrich — the German who won the Tour in 1997, has come in second five times, and finished fourth last year — started second-to-last, a minute before Armstrong.

In a shocking display of competitive brutality, Armstrong actually caught Ullrich and passed him, taking a minute-six advantage. This was embarassing for Ullrich. You might even say humiliating. (Sorry for all the italics — I am possessed today by the spirit of Dr. Thompson.)

So in one swift blow Armstrong may have crushed the morale of the man with the best chance to beat him this year. I hate to kiss Armstrong’s ass — the constant hype surrounding him does get awfully tiresome — but Jesus. In the words of Rick James, “that’s cold-blooded.”

I have to admit I’m always tempted to look at Ullrich as a chump, even though in seven Tours he’s never finished lower than fourth — which most of us would consider a pretty bitchin’ track record. I didn’t see him win, and in the Tours I’ve watched he’s always seemed to come up small when it mattered. Plus he’s an easy guy to dislike: big, methodical, Teutonic, kind of a pretty boy. But you hate to see anybody treated the way Armstrong treated him today. It’s going to be interesting to see how he rebounds from this painful body blow in Stage 2.