Boardman: A mountainous anti-climax
Chris Boardman looks back on a week when Lance’s rivals crumbled and wonders if Lance is still due a
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Having spent nearly two weeks looking forward to the mountains, it was something of an anti-climax when Lance Armstrong rode away from all the pre-Tour favourites. again. I almost thought I heard Ullrich say “Oh, I’ll get my coat then, shall I?” and Armstrong’s reply, “Yeah, thanks for stopping by.” It would seem that the German’s prologue performance was not born of unfathomable tactics after all, just plain not being as fast as the others. Now trailing the USP rider by a whopping 6-39, it’s hard to see what he can do to have any kind of meaningful influence on the outcome of the race. Basso seems to be the only rider in the competition who has lived up to his pre-Tour billing (Armstrong excluded of course) and is capable of staying with the American; the rest can’t even cope with Armstrong’s ludicrously strong team. Despite Armstrong talking of how tough his Italian companion was, I got the distinct impression he was merely being polite and that he could have ridden away at any time. Of course, the battle is far from over and Lance is yet to have his slice of the bad luck cake everyone else is busy digesting, but it is hard to see what anyone can now do to him or his team that will serve to be more than a minor irritant. Talking of irritants, Richard Virenque managed to slip into the mountains jersey yet again, by being king of the 4th-category climbs. I have to admit I am a little confused as to why Virenque is in The Tour at all. I fail to see how the TDF can send people home who are under investigation for doping (with nothing proven) and then let the likes of Virenque, who was established to be one of the causes of the race’s biggest ever doping scandal in 98, compete? Well, I suppose it is their race. An honourable mention must go to young Thomas Voeckler and his team for squeezing every last drop out of their stint with the yellow jersey; those boys really know a thing or two about hard work. After the preceding 24 hours of carnage in the mountains, his smiling face as he crossed the line in 13th position (still in yellow) was a welcome sight. This was an emotion I was hoping not to see displayed by Ivan Basso who, after his win on stage 12 and subsequent 2nd place on the monstrous stage 13 to Plateau de Beille looked disappointedly content. My fear that he would be equally delighted with 2nd on GC would seem to be coming to fruition, meaning CSC are likely to fall in to the old trap of working for Armstrong by default. With favourites cracking left, right and centre, it was a pretty confusing (and depressing) couple of days, so much so that I am actually looking forward to the flatter stages more than the remaining mountains, as it looks increasingly likely that only fight worth watching will be the one for the green jersey, and a fine battle it is shaping up to be. Robbie McEwen is clearly the fastest sprinter in the race, but he is decidedly more fragile than the likes of O’Grady, Zabel and Hushovd, the latter emerging as one of the new stars of the Tour de France. With plenty of grippy stages yet to come, I can see the young Norwegian wrestling the points jersey from McEwen’s shoulders, however he will need to build a buffer sufficient to survive the Champs Elyses, where the Australian is more likely to shine. Like Induran before him, we can hardly blame Armstrong for doing his job well, but it has to be said, watching him repeatedly stomp all over, well, everyone and snuff out any glimmer of a chance that he could be bested doesn’t make for top telly. Perhaps the collective cycling industry should club together and pay him a few million to retire. Hang on, I’ll go and borrow a tenner.