Stage 19 - Game, set, and match.

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In a result that can perhaps only be described as inevitable, the man in yellow ruled the final time-trial with unrelenting impunity, taking a solid 1:01 victory (the same as in Alpe d'Huez) over perpetual runner-up Jan Ullrich. Kloden pumped in for an impressive third, defeating Basso by enough time to sneak into 2nd overall, while Jan still languishes off the podium in fourth, over nine minutes in arrears. And it looks like thatís the way itís going to stay through tomorrowís finish. So nice work, Lance. The record books are being re-written as we speak.

On one hand, itís become a bit boring to watch Lance throw down yet another beating. Yet on the other itís incredibly redemptive to see this oft-doubted 32 yr old have his strongest year yet. He went on record in the papers the other day saying, ìIím not giving anything away this year. If I think I can win, I will.î And win he has. Todayís victory gives him his fifth stage win this Tourósixth if you count the team time trial, and almost his 7th if Fabian Cancellara hadnít snagged the prologue.

And good on you, Lance. Youíve been generous enough over the yearsógiving a win to Pantani, letting Jan come across the line in front of you, touting the teamís strength over your own, not to mention spending half of your free time fighting cancer with your foundation and charity work. So go ahead: take whatís rightfully yours. To the victor go the spoils. If the rest of the world wants to accuse you of doping without evidence, to claim youíre washed up because youíre too old, to report that youíre getting soft on donuts, to say youíre distracted by your rock star girlfriend (and I donít know how you werenítÖ), then they can serve themselves up a nice big slice of humble pie as you prove them all wrong. Youíve had your share of bad luck (what with a life-threatening disease and all), so go ahead and drink down that record sixth straight victory. And may the world know that no one even came close this year. Youíve taken your place in the mythos of cycling, and this is one 34 yr old who felt like a kid all over again watching you do it.

Meanwhile, back in reality, our dwindling troupe of 10-15 remaining cyclists tackled another little 55 mile jaunt with an Alpen climb in mid-route. We rolled down the valley towards Alpe díHuez, but took a turn south to head up a nice 8% grade climb to St. Christophe. The road wound up along a mountain river carrying bluish water that had been glacial snow only minutes before. It was like cycling alongside a Monet for a few hours. And I must have snapped a good 100 photos on the way up, in between cresting my anaerobic threshold a few dozen times. Iíve now ridden eight days straight, but I only rode about an hour and a half yesterday, so I was feeling fairly strong today. I went ìau blocî up the 3500 ft climb to St. Christophe, but then carried legs of lead the rest of the day, unable to drain them of lactic acid. Itís a tricky battle keeping your legs fresh throughout multiple days of Alpe-climbing, and I have no idea who guys like Lance, Sastre, and all the other GC rock stars keep on top day after day. You really begin to empathize with these guys after a week or two or riding over here. Sure, genetic superiority, years of training, the best equipment, and a few dozen soigneurs donít hurt, but it must take some judicial allotment of your efforts as well. Itís no coincidence Lanceís domestiques all have their good and bad daysóAzevedo on top one day, Floyd anotheróyou just canít keep it up every day.

Unless youíre Lance Armstrong. In which case your legs will do whatever you damn well want them to.

So another fantastic Tour in the memory banks. My group will spend another day in the saddle tomorrow. While most of our 34 person group will have left for various airports throughout Europe, the remaining dozen will tackle Col du Glandon (the first big climb of the monstrous stage 17 the other day) before returning to the lodge for a final feasting on whatever meat and wine remain in the building. After watching the final stroll into the Champs Elysees on TV tomorrow afternoon, itís high time to pack up the bikes (quel dommage!) then head off to the Geneva airport for me, JJ, Rachelle, Todd early Monday morning.

Hope youíve all enjoyed reading along this year, and that youíve been as electrified by this yearís tour as we have. May your own personal heroes inspire new adventures for you as well.

Bon chance, et au revoir.

-Mark

photos from the rd to St. Christophe:
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RockWallride.jpg


Resevoir.jpg


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AlpeCafe.jpg


AlpeChurch.jpg

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