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.
The stage winner was Alexandre Vinokourov, who gave an exceptionally courageous performance a day after losing major time in Stage 10. Vinokourov joined an early breakaway that led the race up the Col de le Madeleine and down the other side. Then, as the route travelled up the Col du Télégraphe, down a little jog, and up the enormous Col du Galibier, the other members of the breakaway fell back one by one until Vinokourov was left all alone at the front.
Vinokourov never faltered and reached the summit well ahead of the peloton. He was joined on the descent by Santiago Botero, and those two rode together all the way to the finish. In the last few kilometers Vinokourov’s legs were shaking visibly; he had obviously used up all the energy he had and was now going on sheer will. Yet he found the strength to beat Botero in a sprint to the finish.
And after all that, Vinokourov gained one minute and fifteen seconds on Lance Armstrong, remaining 4:47 behind. He regained his pride but ultimately did little to get himself back into contention for the Tour victory.
The guy to keep an eye on in that respect is Mickael Rasmussen, who stayed glued to Armstrong’s back wheel all day without appearing to break a sweat. Rasmussen remains in second place overall, just 38 seconds behind Armstrong. He must be part mountain goat, because he gets up and down these massive peaks with disturbing ease. Physically, he seems quite capable of challenging Armstrong; the question is going to be his psychological fortitude.
Like Michael Jordan, who I can’t seem to stop comparing him to, Armstrong is a master of the psychological game. He gets you to believe that you can’t possibly beat him, and so when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, you end up beating yourself. I’m pretty sure that this is why Jan Ullrich keeps falling short; he’s totally convinced now that he’s going to lose, and that’s exactly what happens.
Rasmussen has never faced the pressure of being in contention down the stretch, so he may crack, or he may be as oblivious as he seems. Hard to say; but you would be very, very foolish to bet against Lance.