Chris Boardman has nothing but admiration for Lance Armstrong’s victory, but wonders what happened t
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE The Matrix was an awesome film, a truly masterful display of ingenious thinking and originality, but despite my appreciation of the workmanship, by the time I got to the third rendition, my enthusiasm had begun to wane; it was all becoming a bit stale. That’s pretty much how I felt by the end of the 2004 Tour de France. Great job, but I struggled to keep the whooping going. Last year there was a glimmer of a chance Lance Armstrong could be beaten and the event seemed to come alive again, so having followed the build-up to this edition, I was expecting a genuine contest. However, such has been the superiority of the American over his rivals that he beat them on the flat, in the hills, in the time trials and even in a sprint; total domination. again. As if his own abilities weren’t enough, Armstrong has created a team where even the one of the largest members (George Hincapie) was able to single-handedly dispatch large portions of the peloton. in the mountains! The closest thing to a threat Armstrong has faced this time were the flags being waved by the spectators. Jan Ullrich’s gutsy, never-say-die performance dragged him slightly further up the leader board after his disastrous start, whilst his team-mate Andreas Kloeden spent the last week working his way into an offensive position prior to the final long time trial. On stage 19 he took full advantage of his preparatory work and leapfrogged Basso to finish second overall. In contrast to the battling German, Basso’s performance was less inspiring. The Italian chose to remain in Armstrong’s shadow throughout and play the safe card. Up against the might of US Postal, what else could he do? Not since Bernard Hinault has one rider been able to dictate in the way Armstrong did when he rode across the break on stage 18 with the sole intention seemingly being to retrieve a stunned Filippo Simioni before letting the break proceed on its way; it was as if he had said “you, you and you go, but you come with me” and everyone complied. I have more respect than most for how professionally the American does his job but, regardless of what history there is between them, this action came across as vindictive, disingenuous and, well, not the actions of a gentleman (god, that sounds British). As expected the only real competitions in the final week, were the ones for the green and white jerseys. Unsurprisingly, Robbie McEwen proved to be somewhat fragile in the mountains, leaving his opponents free to steal back some points. However, any hope of a believable scrap was thwarted by the constant breakaway attempts that kept neutralising the crucial intermediate sprint bonuses Thor Hushovd dearly needed. The Norwegian tried to make a genuine fight of it and managed to keep the competition just short of conclusive until the last sprint; had he been in a team willing to work for him I suspect it all would have been very different but in the end, he simply ran out of race. Honorary mentions have to go to young Thomas Voeckler and his Brioches La Boulangre team for their sterling work keeping the yellow jersey for so long and to CSC, who must have had a man in just about every break of the race. So will the Texan now retire to his ranch or head for a career in politics instead? I don’t think he will leave cycling, at least not for another year anyway, and whilst he is so far ahead, why should he? One thing is clear, whatever Lance Armstrong has got, he still has bucketfuls more of it than anyone else.