Well, that mean ole devil want to catch Lance
Want to stick that pitchfork in his ass
Yes, that mean ole devil want to catch Lance
But Lance, he just too fast

–Blind Lemon Peloton
“Lance and the Devil Blues”

Let us now worship Lance Armstrong.

Lance — I feel comfortable calling him Lance now — came in first in the time trial today, beating a very motivated Jan Ullrich by 23 seconds. In doing so, he won his first stage of the 2005 Tour and guaranteed that he will complete his seventh overall victory tomorrow.

Just about the whole world is united in its admiration for his achievement, and while I am constitutionally averse to holding popular opinions, I just can’t find any reason to feel otherwise.

Sure, there are some haters out there who will tell you that we should turn against Lance because a) he’s on the juice, b) he dumped his wife for Sheryl Crow, or c) he’s only pretending to be such a nice guy and underneath is a cold-blooded, manipulative egomaniac.

Well, a) he’s had more drug tests than Robert Downey Jr. has had drugs, b) that’s really his own personal business, and c) if he’s pretending, he’s every bit as good an actor as he is a cyclist.

Try as I might to avoid becoming a Lance partisan — mostly because I detest the screaming, flag-waving yahoos you see cheering for him at the Tour — I am continually disarmed by his demeanor. He is supremely self-confident without crossing the line into arrogance. He believes in himself more than anyone I’ve ever seen with the possible exception of Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan (for those of you keeping score at home, that’s the third Jordan reference in my Tour coverage). But he never talks trash about his opponents, never disparages them, just crushes their will by outperforming them.

So I surrender. I, too, am a big Lance fan and will be toasting him as he rides into Paris tomorrow.

Meanwhile, it’s Saturday night here in Oaktown, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to assess Lance’s legacy in detail, as every sportswriter in creation is doing today. Chuck Squatriglia did a very nice job in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, so I am providing a link to his article here.

But before I go, I just want to say this one thing: We have precious few heroes and precious few reasons to celebrate these days. All you haters, take tomorrow off.