Sunday, July 31, 2005

SURPRISE LILIES - DAY 2. The single bud of a surprise lily that I photogrpahed yesterday is now well above ground, its stalk lengthening (about eight inches now). Three other buds have pushed their way through the dry-hard surface. Some people call this the "resurrection lily," because its leaf flourishes in early spring then dies away; months later the bud and stalk bore their way to the surface and suddenly spring the dryest, hottest, most unlikley part of the summer.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

DOG DAYS. Officially (who sets these boundaries, anyway?), "dog days" is the most sultry period of the summer, from July 3 through August 11.

SURPRISE LILY - DAY ONE. No sooner did I write about surprise lilies in the previous post than I went to Becky's flower bed to see if they were anywhere to be seen. This single, pointed, two-inch stalk was there, somehow pressing up through dry, hardened soil and a covering of mulch. I decided to take a photo each day (as I can remember it), journaling the progress of the surprise lilies--a grace in the heart of summer.

ANY DAY NOW. We’re on the brink of August. These are dog days, I presume. For the first time I can remember I am anticipating the surprise lilies that will any day now shoot a single, leafless stalk out of the dry ground, climb to 24 inches and produce a beautiful flower. In Indianapolis the onset of August means NASCAR good ol’ boys roll into town for the Brickyard 400 (oops, that would now be official known as the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard). It means varsity soccer tryouts and anticipation of return to school.

AUGUST ALARM CLOCK. August steals its way into our summer world. Amid camps and trips and enduring the heat and outdoor recreation, we happen to look at the calendar and--it’s August already! Like waking to an annoying alarm clock, we respond to August with denial, then protest, and then we hit the snooze button. Denial buys a week or two. Just a few more weeks of a slower pace. A few more stretches of R & R. Let summer continue a bit longer, we pray.

MIXED MESSAGES. The heat says its summer, but the calendar says it’s the brink of a child’s senior year of high school. Another will soon be returning to college. Two others will begin new school settings in 14 days. Already soccer conditioning has heated up. VBS is over and the fall begs planning. Responsibility urges us to move forward and opportunity bids us press through, even as the chirping cicadas on a hot summer evening would lull us back into summer slumber.

THE GRACE OF AUGUST. We don’t leave summer completely in August, or at least it doesn’t leave us. It is in August, when the unique experiences and moments of summer begin to be numbered, that we realize that we have been blessed by summer. This is the month when we savor summer, linger with its graces. Though September is on the horizon, perhaps the best days of summer are still to come.
79th LETTER TO PRESIDENT BUSH. I wrote and posted by 79th letter to President George W. Bush today. As a simple exercise in citizen engagement, I started out to write one letter a week for the duration of his Presidency, but faded from the weekly discipline after awhile. Though I have been thoroughly disappointed in this administration--which seems more like a grinding ideological machine than anything resembling leadership--I still write occasionally. I copy these letters to my congressional representatives and post them to a free website. All my letters can be read there. Last year the page was named a "Best of Geocities" site.

Friday, July 29, 2005


GOD’S POLITICS. The table of fellowship I participate in each Wednesday morning at Unleavened Bread CafĂ© is working through Jim Wallis’ book God’s Politics. We’ve been discussing the role congregations and Christians might have in honestly addressing issues that are currently buried or unknown. There are buried or unpopular realities which are just as important as the truisms about America which we most often hear and repeat. I offer this Wallis quote as a contribution to this unveiling.

POLICIES THAT ANGER THE WORLD. “Many people in the world may not be mad at America for ‘our values’…but for ‘our policies.’ But the U.S. policies that most anger people around the world are generally unknown to most Americans. Perhaps the religious community can play a critical role here because it is itself an international community and not just an American one. We also should have the capacity for self-criticism and even repentance, while national governments are seldom good at either.”

DID YOU KNOW? “The truth that most of the world knows is that the U.S. government has far too often supported military dictators in Latin and Central America, Asia and Africa who have murdered as many or more innocent people as Saddam Hussein. The truth is that the United States has not been an honest broker for Middle East peace and has not sought the proper balance between Israeli security and Palestinian human rights.”

AMERICAN IMPACTS. “The truth is that American and Western appetites for oil have led to a corrupt and corrupting relationship with despicable Arab regimes. The truth is that the United States sits atop and is the leader of a global economy in which half of God’s children still live on less than two dollars a day, and the United States will be blamed around the world for the structures of injustice that such a global economy daily enforces.”

HARD CONVERSATIONS MAY HELP. “To speak these truths is very hard, sometimes especially in American middle-class congregations, but speaking hard truths is part of the prophetic religious vocation. Yet such a hard conversation could illuminate the confusion many Americans feel and could actually help in the necessary process of national healing while offering practical guidance for preventing such atrocities in the future.”

Thursday, July 28, 2005

THROUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE. “Jesus says that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Maybe the reason is not that the rich are so wicked they’re kept out of the place but that they’re so out of touch with reality they can’t see it’s a place worth getting into.” -- Frederick Buechner in Whistling in the Dark

E. Stanley Jones was a Methodist missionary in India during the early to middle part of the 20th century. I find his numerous writings most insightful. Reading Matthew 6:25-34, I turned to Jones' reflection on this section of the Sermon on the Mount in The Christ of the Mount. I found this bit of wisdom:

“Fundamentally, the Christian does not own anything, not even himself. But he can use the material to the degree that it makes him more mentally, spiritually, and physically fit for the purposes of the kingdom of God.

The material is taken up into her life as a sculptor takes up a chisel, not as an end in itself, but as a means toward the end of a perfect statue. The material is not to be looked upon as evil but as an anvil, upon which are to be wrought out the purposes of the kingdom of God…

The material may be a cog or a clog. As long as it is a cog that fits into the purposes of the kingdom of God he may use it, but the moment it becomes a clog to his spiritual life, he must break with it, lest he himself be broken.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

EARTH, DISCOVERY, ROBOTIC ARM. It's surreal, isn't it? Though NASA has been flying shuttles for over 20 years (can you believe it?), I remain amazed. The earth hangs from the horizon, a 100-foot robotic boom/arm dangles above, and the shuttle Discovery carries seven astronouts at unimaginable speeds in orbit approximately 200 miles from the earth's surface. Though yesterday's liftoff was majestic and the effort to get back on track after the Columbia disaster two years ago nothing less than yeomen, much of the concern in the first 24 hours of Discovery's flight has been identifiable and unknown debris that fell off the shuttle during liftoff. The robotic arm has been used to take digital photos of nearly every square inch of the shuttle surface. Repairs, if necessary, are possible; that's one of the protocol changes since the loss of Columbia. I am fascinated by the live shuttle photos and conversation between the shuttle crew and mission control. Here's access to the live video link.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

GODSPEED, DISCOVERY. I've been watching the live preparations for launch of Discovery this morning on the Internet (via this link hosted by Yahoo!). The seven-person shuttle crew is scheduled to begin a 13-day mission to the International Space Station that will include at least 3 space walks. This comes over 2 years after the reentry disaster above Texas. NASA remains, for me, a fascinating and critical "research and development" investment of the American taxpayer. Meaningful space exploration fuels hopes and possibilities that deepen our daily commitments to find answers and broaden our perspective to care for all people of the world. The connection between space exploration and bringing world hunger to an end are, to me, not antithetical but ultimately complementary.

Monday, July 25, 2005

FAREWELL, PARIS. His seventh consecutive Tour de France trophy in his hand and his three children by his former wife Kristin by his side, Lance Armstrong waves farewell to Paris from the podium on the Champs Elysees. This is, to me, the most powerful image of this year's TdF.

AT WHAT PRICE? I contemplate this photo and I mean no irreverence or disrespect in the following query. I wonder, at what price does one pursue personal goals and "success beyond success" that put primary relationships and family at risk? Will these children look upon all this fame and glory and someday ask themselves, "Was this the cause of our broken family? If so, was it worth it?"

LOOKING FORWARD. For good or ill, what's done is done. Let the best choices now be made and grace abound. Lance says he is now ready to devote himself to being an available and more ordinary dad in Austin, Texas. Welcome to the club, Lance. Photo credit: AP Photo/Bernard Papon accessed at Yahoo!

Saturday, July 23, 2005


FROM BEGINNING TO END. As last year's Tour de France wound through its final stages, I penned the following poem in reflection of the three-week event. Again this year the epic captured and held my imagination from beginning to end. There were more stories to tell than came through the popular media--and more than I could share in “My Annual Amateurish Tour de France Updates” e-journal or at "The TdF for the Rest of Us" blog. I’m a little sad that it’s all ending again, even with the exultant outcome, but not sure my anticipation could be strung out much beyond this. Hope you enjoyed the Tour. Write if you want to talk about it.

Tour de France
rolls toward Paris
battle scarred
road warriors glide

Thru cold rain
slipping, sliding
the best fall
some wounded go

Sprinters fly
thru flat stages
glory shines
on but one back

Heights emerge
and climbers surge
digging deep
up the steeps toward

blindly tempt fate
get caught before

Discos pace
the peloton
few keep up
and Lance leads them

Trial time
crowds loom large
to see Lance charge

Seven wins
unrivaled feat
draws closer
as Armstrong rides

maillot jaune
legend lives
now Lance can come

Friday, July 22, 2005

ROLLING PAST HAY. The Tour de France is a feast for the eyes, particularly if one appreciates the variety of terrain and the natural beauty of the landscape. They rolled past bales of hay in Thursday's Stage 18. Hey, cyclists, look to your right! Okay, maybe later. Phot credit: REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Thursday, July 21, 2005

“Prayer is leading every sorrow to the source of all healing; it is letting the warmth of Jesus’ love melt the cold anger of resentment; it is opening a space where joy replaces sadness, mercy supplants bitterness, love displaces fear, gentleness and care overcome hatred and indifference. But most of all, prayer is the way to become and remain a part of Jesus’ mission to draw all people to the intimacy of God’s love.” -- Henri Nouwen in Prayer Embraces the World

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

ROLLING ALONG IN STAGE 17. In the middle of the last of 3 weeks of intense daily competition, the peloton of the Tour de France took it a little "easier" on Wednesday. "Easy" is relative; it's easier for them, still very hard for the average cyclist. Discovery Channel's Paolo Savoldelli won the stage and Lance Armstrong finished with his 2'46" lead in tact. Four more days... Catch up on the latest at my project "The Tour de France for the Rest of Us." Photo credit: Graham Watson @

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


I have so far been able to protect my children
from undue fear and outright violence,
from malnourishment and unjust treatment.
I have not, thus far, competently guarded them
from unbridled consumerism and outright greed,
from justification of all things material.

I have taught them the Lord’s Prayer,
duly recited at each table gathering,
but I have not begun to share with them
our indebtedness to a world we have exploited.

I have cautioned them on drugs and addictions,
and lived an ever-sober life before them,
but I have indulged my appetites for trinkets,
and fed their dependency on branded gadgets.

I have instructed the Commandments to the letter,
and called for living the values they commend,
but I wonder how many gods-not-called-gods
and masquerading idols we return to each Monday?

I have commended my zealous evangelical brethren
for calling out obvious social moral dilemmas,
but we together have swallowed camels,
and overlooked deadly sins that consume us all.

I want my children yet to learn from me
the difference between stewarding and possessing,
that what we possess tends to possess us,
that hearts follows treasures every time.

I want to teach my children, long before I pass,
that there remains an authentic Christian way,
beyond and nearer than I have so far made known;
it ever awaits the heart that hungers for God alone.

Monday, July 18, 2005

RACING THROUGH SUNFLOWERS. Graham Watson's photography of the Tour de France is pure poetry. On Sunday morning, the peloton flies through fields of sunflowers on its way to Pyrenean peaks. Before Sunday's stage was over, the racers (including Lance Armstrong, in the yellow jersey) had crossed seven major mountain peaks...sunflowers were a distant memory. Catch up on the latest at the Tour de France with my blog project "The TdF for the Rest of Us."

Sunday, July 17, 2005

MUIR PEACE GARDEN. While at Manchester College for a workshop a few weeks ago, I was drawn to the Muir Peace Garden. Imagine: a small plot carved out of a busy college campus simply in the hope for the contemplation of peace. Such plots are dangerous to the status quo! Who knows what upside-down notions such places might give birth to in our top-down world? Manchester is one of three Indiana colleges that offer peace studies as a major. The other two are Earlham (Quaker) and Goshen (Mennonite). Manchester's affiliation is with the Church of the Brethren.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


A GREAT RESISTANCE. "Forgiveness has two qualities: one is to allow yourself to be forgiven, and the other is to forgive others. The first quality is harder than the second. To allow yourself to be forgiven puts you in a dependency situation. If someone says, 'I want to forgive you for something,' I may say back, 'But I didn't do anything. I don't need forgiveness. Get out of my life.' It's very important that we acknowledge that we are not fulfilling other people's needs and that we need to be forgiven. There is great resistance to that. We come from a culture that is terribly damaged in this area. We find it hard to forgive and to ask to be forgiven..."

WHEN COMMUNITY CAN BE CREATED. "It's not just individuals who need to forgive and to be forgiven. We all need to be forgiven. We ask each other to put ourselves in that vulnerable position--and that's when community can be created."

-- Henri Nouwen, quoted in The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, a collection of Henri Nouwen's writings compiled and edited by Wendy Wilson Greer (Crossroad, 1999).

Friday, July 15, 2005

ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER HURRICANE. This is reportedly the earliest active hurricane season on record. Last week Dennis passed over Haiti, Cuba and made US landfall. This week Emily tore across Granada and is heading toward Jamaica and then the Yucatan Penninsula. It's current path misses the US coast. And it's only July 15th. Great satellite photos and loops of tropical storm development and movement at the National Hurricane Center.

I would write some more
but I’m afraid
you don’t care
to read it.

I would explore depth
but I am told
you cannot
handle it.

I would plot a course
but I concede
you might not
follow it.

I’d explain myself
but it appears
you don’t have
time for it.

I’ll write anyway
for I believe
someone cares
to know more.

I will go deeper,
for I’m convinced
some children
will explore.

I will map terrain
for I can see,
beyond, a
distant shore.

I’ll share in detail
my journey’s day;
you’ll find what
I looked for.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

BASTILLE DAY IN THE ALPS. It is tradition on the French national holiday, July 14, for a native son to try his best to win the stage of the Tour de France. Today, Frenchman David Moncoutie showed heart and out-pedaled everyone through the last day in the Alps (pictured here by Graham Watson). Viva la France! The Alps are the longest and highest peaks the racers will cross, but the Pyrennees are the steepest...and they are yet to come. I think the Tour championship will be decided on Sunday. See what's ahead at my project "The TdF for the Rest of Us":

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


WHAT DID MARKHAM HAVE IN MIND? I do not know what Edwin Markham had in mind when he penned this poem. Apparently he rides a horse. But in my mind’s eye I see 189 cyclists virtually sailing the countrysides, forests, meadows, and mountains of France in July. I see the misty hills of West Virginia I pedaled as a youth. I think also of recent bicycle rides through Indiana, my adopted home. What do you see?

I ride on the mountain tops, I ride;
I have found my life and am satisfied.
Onward I ride in the blowing oats,
Checking the field-lark's rippling notes --
Lightly I sweepFrom steep to steep:
Over my head through the branches high
Come glimpses of a rushing sky;
The tall oats brush my horse's flanks;
Wild poppies crowd on the sunny banks;
A bee booms out of the scented grass;
A jay laughs with me as I pass.

I ride on the hills, I forgive, I forget
Life's hoard of regret --
All the terror and pain
Of the chafing chain.
Grind on, O cities, grind:
I leave you a blur behind.
I am lifted elate -- the skies expand:
Here the world's heaped gold is a pile of sand.
Let them weary and work in their narrow walls:
I ride with the voices of waterfalls!

I swing on as one in a dream --
I swing Down the airy hollows, I shout, I sing!
The world is gone like an empty word:
My body's a bough in the wind, my heart a bird!

CLIMBING MOUNTAINS...ON TWO WHEELS. The Yellow Jersey, surrounded by his Discovery Channel teammates, climbs the winding roads to the top of Mt. Galibier in today's Stage 11. This shot by Javier Solano of AFP hints at the grandeur of the Alpine stages of the Tour de France. Read my daily updates on the TdF at "The TdF for the Rest of Us" - .

Saturday, July 9, 2005


NO LONGER EMBARRASSED. Each year now, I am smitten afresh by the Tour de France. I used to be mildly embarrassed by the intensity of my enthusiasm for it. But that was several years ago. I now join with millions of roadside fanatics and multiple millions of interested viewers on TV and radio in my unbridled enthusiasm for the annual July epic. Call it a mania, call it whatever. It is, for me, a good exercise.

CENTER STAGE FOR MY MARGINAL SPORT. As an avid cyclist, it is pleasing to see something I so enjoy take center stage for a month. It's a bit of a redemption for the "marginal" place on the road to which we cyclists are routinely relegated. I have faint hopes that average Joe's will catch something similar to mild respect for the Tour de France participants and translate that into empathy for my two-wheeled compatriots and me as we toil along the side of the road generally trying to stay out of harm's way.

LESSONS FOR LIFE. As a student of culture, Christianity, and the Bible, I enjoy the Tour de France as a dynamic and developing story rolling through time with an end point, engaging basic human energies, hopes, strategies, etc. There is an epic or mythic tenor to this annual journey. The strongest do not always win. Unheralded people reach deep to find surprising resources. Tragedy twists the story and the unexpected must be immediately confronted. Skill must be balanced with stamina and savvy. Suffering endured is somehow redeemed, not just for one, but for all.

More later.

Friday, July 8, 2005

HURRICANE DENNIS HEADED FOR INDY? While it may be four or five days away, the National Hurricane Center's 5-day projection plots the center of this storm near Indianapolis by 2:00 am on Wednesday. Hey, we need rain, but...

WISDOM FROM J. C. ARNOLD. Listen to the wisdom of Bruderhof sage Johann Christoph Arnold, responding to the London terrorist attack:

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED SINCE 9/11? “'Dozens dead, hundreds injured'” scream the headlines all over the world. But it seems to me that amid all the tumult, we are missing the most important thing. If 9/11 really changed us (as so many people claim) then why are we once again seeking protection in heightened security and military might? If we have really seen enough bloodshed and violence, then why aren’t we turning to God for help?"

WHEN GOD RESPONDS. "Biblical history shows us that whenever we think we have the answers and try to take world events into our hands, God withdraws from us. It was only when the children of Israel realized that their own strength had come to an end, and cried out to God, that he intervened and helped them. If God led the children of Israel out of Egypt, how much more will he help us today?"

I AM WITH YOU. "Anyone who is familiar with the Gospels knows that this message shines from every page: “Fear not; I am with you to the end of the age.” If we claim to be followers of Jesus, shouldn’t it shine through our lives as well?"

Thursday, July 7, 2005


I have been listening to NPR reporting and watching network TV off and on this morning, monitoring the aftermath of the second major terrorist attack since September 11, 2001. Al-Quaida operatives have claimed responsibility for four bombs that were set off in London's mass transit system during morning rush hour. I have been reminded of my feelings and responses on 9/11. I have also been thinking about what we have--or might have--learned since then.

A few immediate gut-level responses:

  • I offer prayer and condolenses for all victims of this attack. It seems like all Americans should be able to empathize with our British neighbors in this hour of grief, anger, vigilance, and resolve.

  • Trying to blame this attack on holes or weaknesses in British intelligence and security is a misplaced agenda. There is no wall high enough to keep out determined terrorists. All reactionary political hysteria will do is (a) reduce legitimate civil liberties and (b) produce an environment of increased and irrational fear.

  • Anger must not be permitted to give birth to resolve for retaliation, bigotry, and hysteria. Anger should be directed into an increased resolve for seeking justice through legitimate police and court action and through addressing the sources of terrorism.

  • It seems that, for all the American and European efforts at increased security since 9/11, as long as Islamic activists have significant hurts and hopes that go ignored, unaddressed, and are continuously trampled on by the West, all we will be able to do is react to more such acts of terrorism.

  • We have not made progress in drying up Islamic terrorism. We have denied, ignored, or criticized the clearly-stated concerns of the people who act in terrorism or who are sympathetic with activist's concerns. We have not taken seriously the religious and spiritual dimensions and sensitivities of Islamic society. In the nature and manner of our reactions to initital Islamic terrorism, we have fommented further terrorist reactions and mentality.

  • It would not be a sign of weakness in the West's resolve to end terrorism if leaders would move beyond political rhetoric ("they are evil," "they hate our freedom," etc.) and begin to address the sources of Islamic grief that lead to and sustain terrorism. It would, in fact, be a sign of real intelligence, authentic courage, and genuine foresight. The world awaits such international leadership.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

WE'RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE? Nah, can't be; there's a bit of a roll to this terrain. This is northern France as the peloton of the Grand Tour rolls eastward. Their trek will take them into Germany and mountains by Friday afternoon. Until then, the peloton is rolling through these magnificent landscapes. Do you wonder how much of the passing terrain the competitors take in?

Catch up on latest on the Tour de France at my new site: The TdF for the Rest of Us.

"Well, as I was saying, the world is eaten up by boredom. To perceive this needs a little preliminary thought: you can't see it all at once. It is like dust. You go about and never notice, you breathe it in, you eat and drink it. It is sifted so fine, it doesn't even grit on your teeth. But stand still for an instant and there it is, coating your face and hands. To shake off this drizzle of ashes you must be forever on the go. And so people are always "on the go." Perhaps the answer would be that the world has long been familiar with boredom, that such is the true condition of man. No doubt the seed was scattered all over life, and here and there found fertile soil to take root; but I wonder if man has ever before experienced this contagion, this leprosy of boredom: an aborted despair, a shameful form of despair in some way like the fermentation of a Christianity in decay."

-- Georges Bernanos in The Diary of a Country Priest quoted in today's Daily Dig by the folks at Bruderhof.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005


NEW SITE LAUNCHED LAST NIGHT. Check out my new Tour de France blog effort. I put together "The TdF for the Rest of Us" last night in an effort to make my rantings and raving on the Tour de France more readable, accessible and graphic. This takes the place of "My Amateurish Tour de France Updates" site. Go there and bookmark it/save it to your favorites if you want to catch up on my daily entries during the month of July.

FOR THE REST OF US. It's "for the rest of us" because most of us that are somehow smitten by the Tour de France are outsiders looking in. We don't know the terms and most web sites are full of sophisticated "in" languagage and techno-babble about the sport. "The TdF for the Rest of Us" is easy reading and includes a continuously growing glossary of Tour and cycling terms, along with helpful links, to make following the Tour through the month of July understandable, even enjoyable.

Monday, July 4, 2005

THIS WEEK'S EDITION POSTED. I've included in this week's Grace Notes a reflection called Cycling, Pain & Joy. Also, two poignant quotes. One regarding children as our guests by Henri Nouwen. The other, by Roberta Bondi, is a powerful reflection on how early church monastics understood the Image of God; it's a very hopeful statement. Read on.

Sunday, July 3, 2005


TOM BOONEN SPRINTS TO WIN. Stages 2 and 3 take the riders across the northern flatlands of France. These stages are set up for sprint specialists to shine. Typically, after pedaling as a group for over 100 miles, a handful of sprinters will blast to the front and try to out-pedal each other across the finish line. Today, Belgian Tom Boonen outdueled Aussie Robbie McEwen across the line. At stake for the sprinters is claim to the Green Jersey, which is worn by the best sprinter in the race. Round 1 goes to Boonen, but I imagine MeEwen will wear the Maillot Vert in Paris.


1. The Maillot Jaune (overall race leader's Yellow Jersey) is still worn by American Tom Zabriskie; Armstrong is safely in second, 2 seconds behind Z.

2. Frenchman Thomas Voekler, who won the hearts of the French when he spent ten days in the Maillot Jaune in last year's Tour, now wears the Polka-dot Jersey as the best climber. Voekler, 25 years old, was in a breakway in Stage 2 and led the escapees over the two small "mountains" of the stage to grab the first climber's points.

3. When a group of riders cross the finish line in a group, they all receive the same time.

Saturday, July 2, 2005


ARMSTRONG HUMBLES ULLRICH. Stage 1 of the Tour de France, a 19 km time trial, was high drama. First, American David Zabriskie burned up the course at nearly 34 mph to throw down the gauntlet to the other 188 riders, each starting at one-minute intervals. No one else came close...except Lance Armstrong. The last rider out of the gatehouse and riding like a madman, Armstrong dramatically caught his one-minute man and rival Jan Ullrich, passed him with 3 kilometers to go, and crossed the finish line just two seconds short of Zabriskie's record-setting time.

Armstrong's performance accomplished several things:

1. It served notice to everyone that he is not riding his sunset tour as a "has been"; he is out to win. Clearly, Armstrong's preparation for the Tour de France has been on-target.

2. He put his main rival, German Jan Ullrich, in a tough place regarding morale and motivation. Ullrich may have been suffering from a crash a day earlier, but he will have to redouble his efforts early in the mountain stages if he is to contend. Some are saying that team leadership will pass to Alexandre Vinokourov, who placed 3rd in Stage 1 (51 seconds behind Armstrong; Ullirch is a little over one minute behind the Texan).

3. In this opening volley, he gained nearly a minute or more over all the top rivals. It's a "catch me if you can" situation for the likes of Ivan Basso, Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Landis, Ullich, and Vinokourov.

ZABRISKIE NOTE: Zabriskie's time was the fastest average time for any stage in Tour de France history. He takes over that honor from another American--Greg LeMond, who won the Tour three times in the 1980's. Zabriskie has now won a time trial stage in each of the Grand Tours (Spain, Italy, & France) within a year. He will likely be tagged "the next American champion," an up-and-coming contender, a racer to be reckoned with. Zabriskie rode for US Postal Service last year, but was not included in the 2004 TdF squad; he now rides for the Danish CSC team, which includes American veteran and past TdF podium stander Bobby Jullich.

Friday, July 1, 2005

2005 Tour de France Race Eve Preview


Since the end of the 2004 Tour de France, there's been quite a change in the cast of top contenders. Consider the following changes that impact the 2005 Tour de France:

1. Tyler Hamilton - After abandoning last year's Tour de France with injuries suffered in a crash on a cobblestone stage, American Tyler Hamilton went on to win a gold medal in the Athens Olympics. A month later, he was suspended for suspicion of having had a performance-enhancing blood transfusion. He has appealed his two-year suspension and his case is pending.

2. Gilberto Simoni - Simoni has, at various times, looked to be a possible challenge to Armstrong. But Simoni surprised the cycling world last week, announcing that he is too tired from his May effort in the Giro d'Italia to contend for the Tour de France. In addition, his Italian teammate and fast-rising star Damiano Cunego will not be able to contend-he has mononucleosis.

3. Mario Cippolini - The flamboyant Lion King has never been a contender for the TdF championship, but the sprinter does hold the record for winning the most stages of the Tour. Time takes its toll. Aging and having lost his edge, Super Mario parked his bike after a few poor showings this spring. In addition, Alessandro Pettachi, heir apparent to Cippolini's sprinting reign, is not riding this year's Tour de France.

5. Joseba Beloki - One of the Tour's most memorable moments of the past decade saw Joseba Beloki crash on a downhill in right in front of Armstrong in 2003. Beloki, who broke his leg in that fall, will ride this year's tour, but he has not yet returned to prime form. Beloki has been on the podium in Paris three times.

6. Good-bye US Postal Service; Hello Discovery Channel - You won't see the US Postal Service blue, red, and white uniforms this year. USPS ended its sponsorship of Armstrong's efforts after six years. The new sponsor is Discovery Channel and the team colors are blue-trimmed white. Armstrong and company still ride Trek bikes and sport Nike gear. Professional cycling, like all other professional sports, depends on strong commercial sponsorships.


Despite glaring absences of some top contenders and a new look to Armstrong's squadron, some things haven' t changed for the 2005 Tour de France. Such as:

Jan Ullrich - The 1997 winner of the Tour de France is also the man who has finished second in the Tour no less than five times. Jan Ullrich, 31, is said to be in better shape than in the past, he is motivated to defeat his nemesis...and this is his last chance. Ullrich, as strong as he is, has always been a full step behind Armstrong.

Alexandre Vinokourov - A T-Mobile teammate of Ullrich, Vinokourov may be in better shape to catch Armstrong than Ullrich. While the 31-year old Kazakh is committed to support Ullrich, if Ullrich slips at all, Vino will take over the pursuit of the championship. Vino finished ahead of Armstrong in the recent Daphine Libere, the last warm-up to the Tour de France. Also watch for another T-Mobile member to contend - Andreas Kloden finished second in the Tour last year. The T-Mobile trio - Ullrich, Vinokourov, and Kloden - together could do the most damage to Armstrong and Discovery Channel.

Ivan Basso - This rising 27-year old Italian star finished third in last year's tour and gave Armstrong the best competition in the mountain stages. He's had a great spring, winning a handful of stages in the Giro d'Italia. I look for Basso, riding for Denmark-based CSC, to be the strongest competition for Armstrong IF he and his team can perform well in the time trial stages.

Iban Mayo and Inigo Landeluz - Spanish/Basque teammates riding for Euskaltel-Euskadi, Mayo and Landeluz are both strong mountain climbers. Landeluz won the Dauphine Libere three weeks ago (Armstrong placed fourth). Mayo shadowed Armstrong for most of the 2003 Tour de France, but, like Hamilton, was injured on the cobblestones last year.

Floyd Landis and Santiago Botero - After riding in support of Armstrong for six years, American Floyd Landis became the team leader of the Swiss-based Phonak team after Tyler Hamilton was sacked. Landis has performed very well this spring. With Colombian teammate and super-climber Santigo Botero, Landis and the Phonak team could mount a significant challenge to Armstrong and Discovery Channel.

Levi Leipheimer - This American and former Armstrong teammate is as strong a contender as Basso. Leading the German-based Gerolsteiner team, Leipheimer is primed to win the Tour de France. The Montana native finished second in the Dauphine Libere. The issue is: will Armstrong dare let a fellow American--Leipheimer, Landis, or anyone else--steal his sunsetting glory? The sheer will and heart of the Texan will eclipse their best efforts. Maybe next year these Americans will continue the tradition.

Roberto Heras - One more contender needs to be mentioned. Spaniard Roberto Heras, who has repeatedly won the Tour of Italy and is a Spanish legend, may surprise all. As a teammate of Armstrong, he led the Champ up many a mountain in the past, but as a leader of his own team, Liberty Seguros, Heras has had mediocre results. Maybe he's coming into his own in time to challenge for the top of the podium.

Read "My Amateurish Tour de France Updates" every even day of the Tour.