Stage 16 - Knockout on Alpe d'Huez

| 4 Comments

Oh. So that痴 what it痴 like to see sports history in person.

Ready & waiting

We figured this was going to be one of the biggest days in cycling history, and the event did not disappoint. Along with an estimated 1 million of our closest international cycling friends beside us on the 21 switchbacks, we watched a staggering battle of wills up on the most famous climb in France. Our posse of 19 Lance-chasers suffered through the necessary 5am launch time to make it up there and witness the carnage. 13 hours later, Lance had won the day and taken his third victory in the last four stages.

Only 8 hrs to go

A few of us speculated that Lance might save himself for tomorrow痴 16,000 vertical ft stage and perhaps only get 3rd or 4th today, but hell no: he blew the mountain to pieces with a scorching win. A one-minute margin of victory over a surprisingly strong Jan Ullrich, and another two minutes over Basso, who was caught in the final few k by the maelstrom that was Lance Armstrong. Amazingly enough, Lance痴 actual time up the 13.8k climb was only 37:36, a full :46 off of Pantani痴 record, and only the 4th fastest ascent in history (after Marco痴 three record times). But it was a brutally hot day, and I知 not sure Marco痴 times were recorded after having won the day before, too, as was the case with Lance.

Nice view

The nice thing about today痴 event was that we got to see cyclists pass us for three and a half hours straight, whereas normally you only get maybe 30 minutes as a specatator even on the most spread out stages. They launched the riders in reverse-order of GC standings, sending them every minute until the final 20, which went at two-minute intervals to allow cushions for any potential screw-ups. Amazingly enough, I don稚 think there were any fan-interference stories, although there sure could have been with that many lunatics up there. Thankfully, I guess the fans were all pretty aware of the fine line between spectating and sabotaging a rider痴 day, and even those of us who decided to run managed to stay out of the way. Of the 19 of us in our group, about five of us ran with the riders as they came through宥eorge, Floyd, Eki, Leipheimer, and Julich, etc, but I知 not sure I will do it again in the future. The fan density is getting higher each year, and I think we池e really starting to crowd the riders this year. I ran with Lance for about ten seconds, and, as much as I was thrilled to cheer him on, I was equally terrified of tripping and becoming The Idiot Who Ruined Lance痴 Sixth Win.

Ekimov in action

Throughout the day, you could feel the drama gradually swell in anticipation. We had left our lodge 30k away at about 5am and made it to our viewing spot between switchbacks 10-9 (switchback #1 being at the top) by 8am. The race would not even begin for another 6.5 hrs, so we all changed into more comfortable clothes, hung our bikes on a rock wall behind our car, and spent half a day walking around and talking with other fans from Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, etc. A few of us scoured copies of L脱quipe to catch up on the details of yesterday痴 stage while we waited for the mayhem to begin.

Levi on the move

After the usual publicity caravan of sponsor痴 Disney-esque cars cruised through dropping off promotional trinkets, the first racer was off at 2:30. It took most of them about 22-24 minutes to reach our corner about halfway up, and so we could tell who was going well given the time split between their start time (from start sheets we壇 purchased from official vans) and their time to our switchback. About fifteen times, one rider was being caught by another right on our switchback. And the catch-ee was none-too-pleased to discover being a minute or two down already. Our spot was truly the center of purgatory for the riders; they壇 burned through their initial adrenaline surge and were now trying to dig into their 都uitcase of courage� (as Paul Sherwin would say) for some fuel to make it to the top. They were all soaked with sweat, gasping heavily, and wore faces you normally only see in horror movies. It was pure theatre.

Angry Jan

Setting my camera on burst mode, I ran with about a dozen different riders, snapping photos while yelling 鄭llez, Allez!� with everyone else. It was a bit tricky to get accurate photos while running, since you were just aiming the camera in their general direction while using your eyes to navigate around other fans. In the end, I got a few great ones, but most of mine of Lance suffered since from the low light due to the clouds that moved in just as Lance began. As Lance approached, we knew he already had the fastest intermediate time, so the fan noise was deafening. He got to our switchback at under 19 minutes, I think, and I could barely keep up with him in a full sprint, especially given the dozen other guys trying to run with him in my section. After ten electrifying seconds of running and yelling 哲o chain!� I bailed off to the side thankful that I壇 stayed out of his warpath. There痴 a ghost-like blur to my shots of him, but it somehow seems appropriate considering how damn fast the maniac was going. Right after he passed, along came the camera-motorbike, then Johan and Sheryl Crow, then about a hundred Gendarmes on motorbikes, and finally a whirlwind of dust and wind from the helicopter above. It was truly as if a tornado had just blown through town.


Here he comes

Lance 2

Lance 3

Within thirty seconds, every fan on the road bolted off to the nearest R.V. with a TV to watch the final results tally in. Twenty minutes later, he壇 become the only one to crack the 40 minute barrier, laying down a 39:41 and effectively putting the nails on the coffin containing other rider痴 GC aspirations. History had been made, and Lance had shown once again he had no come here this year to get 2nd.

After some celebratory high-fives, our group gathered up our gear and food, and began our descent with the other million fans. (Actually many would have to spend the night since they壇 driven up there and cars would not be allowed to leave until noon the next day to allow for the team vehicles to have free reign.) Three hours later after a tricky decent and a beautiful mountain traverse we were back at our Lodge, liver-deep in a few bottles of red wine.

Tomorrow, the Tour heads into its most feared stage of all: the cruise from Boug D-Oisans to Le Grand Bournard, featuring the Col de la Madelaine (where we値l watch) and six other cols adding up to 16,000 ft of climbing. Watch for Postal to just sustain tomorrow: we don稚 anticipate Lance needing to gain any more time on his rivals. Basso is now nearly 4:00 in arrears and fading. But a Simoni or Heras (disappointingly 61st today) might go off the front to save some face with a stage win. Stay tuned.

4 Comments

I have decided that playgirl should sponsor a biking team, as clearly with all the tight shorts that are worn, this is a gay man's sport. I mean, when you are world champion you wear an outfit with tons of rainbows all over it. Hello!?! Can you get much Gayer? And I'm not talking about Gay like in old christmas songs. Clearly even the UCI is trying to tell us something. We are waving our gay flag high!-- is what they are saying. Sure they get manly men like Mario Cipollini and Lance to parade around but then look at Pantani's pink skin colored outfit he wore a few years back... pornographic! The only thing missing from the world champion's uniform is a giant pink triangle, and I think that they have this in discussions.

Not that there is anything wrong with it. Will and Grace is one of my favorite shows. I'm just talking dollars and sense here, people. I mean, gay men who do not even bike wear bike shorts. I can already see them wearing the outfits in the clubs. So I think the combination of men in tight shorts, with Playgirl on their outfits would be very good for business for the magazine.

Is anyone else with me on this?

Oh yea-

can you find Levi Leipheimer and tell him that he sucks and that he is not really a "rival" of Lances despite what Bob Sucks More Than Anyone Else Has Ever Sucked Roll says? I cannot believe they put that piece of crap on the US olympic team. What has he ever won? NOTHING. I cannot believe you put a picture of that guy on here. Chris Horner deserves it more, but since he doesn't say he is a "GC Contender in the Tour" he doesn't get the props. I'm so pissed about this.

sorry. I just am so sick of hearing about Levi Leipheimer. When that dude wins ONE race-- even some local crap ass criterium we can start talking about him but till then. Fermez !

Yes Jean-Frederique, you speak the truth. The sport is dominated by men with physiques like Winona Ryder who listen to Cher. May Playgirl make its money, and may the rainbow jersey be passed along to the next hero of France.

Hallo Mark

I spoked with you on the gigant alpe huez stage, i am the boy from Danmark, the one with us postal t-shirt and the chamipion cap with white pants, you said thah i could contact you about pictures of me on the stage!

Hope to here from you!

Armstrong for president!

Leave a comment