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.

Actually, for just a minute in Stage 17, Ullrich looked like he was taking a shot. After covering a fairly exciting if meaningless sprint to the finish by a group of non-contenders, the TV cameras switched back to the peloton and found Ullrich at the front, charging hard with a look of grim determination on his face.

But nothing came of it. Ullrich, Basso, Rasmussen, and the other big names all finished with the same time, and the Armstrong juggernaut rolled on for another day.

The stage winner was Paolo Savoldelli, who became the second Discovery Channel rider to win a stage. Oddly enough, neither one of them is Lance Armstrong, who has maneuvered into the overall lead without ever taking a stage himself (he was part of the winning team in Stage 4). He has four more chances before he hangs it up, theoretically for good, on Sunday. Will he pull it off? Do we care? Well, we’d better; it seems to be the only drama left.