Thursday, June 2, 2005

TOUR DE FRANCE PREVIEW

TOUR de FRANCE 2005: 5 WEEKS AWAY. Mark your calendar for July 2. That's the date for the Prologue of the Tour de France. That's the date for the beginning of the last stand for six-time TdF champion Lance Armstrong. That's the date all professional cycling revolves around. That's the date that has elite corps of cyclists training on Europe's toughest mountain roads. That's the date when the three-week epic will begin. Every race, every obstacle, every grueling training ride up to July 2 will pale in comparison to this Grand Tour.

MOST SURVIVE; ONE WINS. Three weeks of intense competition among 189 of the world's best cyclists will roll through the fields and crawl up the mountains of France. Some two thousand miles later, a winner will emerge and ride into Paris as the champion. He will not likely have dominated his competition; the margin of victory will be a few minutes, or a few seconds. But he will have proven himself the best in the combination of time trials, mountain climbing, and team strategy. He will have survived bloody crashes in the peloton, the exhaustion of 150-mile a day racing, broken equipment, intense heat, extreme cold, and pressure without and within. In a competition like this, most survive; one will win.

READY OR NOT? Lance Armstrong will ride the 8-day Dauphine Libere, June 5-12 as his last major training competition before the Tour de France. His performance in the Dauphine may be some indication of his readiness for the Tour. Lance has had a checkered spring thus far, withdrawing from one race and finishing out of the top ten in seveal others. But Lance usually holds his cards very close, sometimes misleading his competitors before slamming the door on them. A solid finish in the Dauphine Libere for Armstrong should give fair warning to other Tour contenders that the champion will not fall easily.

MATURITY VS. YOUTH. Armstrong is considered an "old man" in the sport. Maturity is important in Grand Tours; few riders in their early twenties have devloped the physical and mental capacities to win the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, or Vuelta Espana. About the time a rider is prime in terms of mental maturity, his age begins to tell on him. Armstrong, even if he is in tip-top shape for a 34-year old, will likely rely on savvy, strategy, team work, and experience to best emerging contenders with fewer years of wear and tear on their bodies. I hope Lance has it in him to win...one more time.

I am planning to follow the Tour closely and, as usual, put together frequent updates during the month of July. Stay tuned!

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