On the Road: Grasping straws
July 2, 2005
The Tour de France is over.Yes, there are still 20 stages to go and the champion won’t cruise to the Champs-Élysées till July 24, but it’s already a done deal. If Stage 1 was any indication, Lance Armstrong is unbeatable.I took a stool in front of the television at the Hickory House Saturday morning eagerly awaiting the beginning of the world’s greatest race and expecting a showdown between Armstrong and his rivals, who have but one last chance to unseat the six-time champ.What I got was just the average superhuman day from Big Tex. He didn’t win the race (a couple of seconds behind young American David Zabriskie), but he put such a distance between him and the men who count that it’s going to be nearly impossible for them to make up, assuming he rides like that the rest of the way.So it’s going to be like sitting through movies like “Titanic” or “Apollo 13.” We already know the ending, but how exactly will we get there? What kind of plot twists and side stories will develop? Who’ll be the heroes and villains? Where will the climax come?We may already have seen it.Then again, this is no film. It’s a great three-week soap opera with only one beautiful woman (Sheryl Crow). But make no mistake, it’s for real.How will the likes of Jan Ullrich – Armstrong’s arch-nemesis who was caught and passed by the champ in Saturday’s time trial – or Ivan Basso – the only man who came close to hanging with Lance in the mountains last year – react? Will they rise up and battle with a new and desperate zeal? Or will they ride out the storm until next year when the Tour is sans Lance?Could heat, rain or wind play some strange and unexpected role? Can age do what competitors could not – catch up with the man in yellow?Will some freak accident, horrible crash or sickness ruin Armstrong’s recent run of good luck?Might overconfidence lead to some silly tactical error that could turn the race?Based on the past six years, and based on Saturday, all that’s grasping at straws.But I’m still going to watch.