TDF 2009

The Tour de France starts this weekend and the overarching storyline is whether Lance Armstrong can win an eighth yellow jersey at age 37. If he can pull it off, the victory would not only make him the oldest TDF winner in the 100+ year history of the race, but it would extend his record victory total. No one else has ever won more than five times.

He's not the experts' odds-on favorite; his Astana teammate, Spaniard Alberto Contador, is favored along with last year's winner, Carlos Sastre. But Sastre at 34 is no spring chicken himself, and he doesn't have the team firepower that backs Contador. In fact, from the team perspective, Astana stands head and shoulders above the rest (despite questions as to whether the Kazakh team can meet its payroll). In addition to Armstrong and Contador, the team also has American Levi Leipheimer, who is podium-capable, if not an actual challenger for the yellow jersey.

It's never that simple, of course. Having too many powerful riders can be a problem as well as a blessing, especially if the talent comes with equally oversized egos. Team manager Johann Bruyneel will need to have superhuman diplomacy and nerves of steel to discern which of his stable is the rider most capable of overall victory, then somehow convince the rest of the team to buy into that premise. The Tour is unique in that regard: it's a team effort wrapped up in individual achievement...or vice versa. I never can decide. Why I do know is that at some point during the race, each teammate will be asked to sacrifice his own prospects of winning in order to help the Anointed One to victory. Most of us have never been asked to make that kind of professional sacrifice and so we can't imagine the psychological and emotional forces at play.

But back to Lance. I don't doubt that he's still got the competitive fire to do great things in the TDF. And despite his assertion that (1) he's a team player and (2) he's come out of retirement primarily to raise awareness for cancer research, he's still approaching the race like someone who intends to win it. He's spent the past week out on the actual course, riding the key stages as he does the tedious prep-work that sets elite riders apart from the peloton. It really comes down to whether his body will cooperate - and whether luck (or fate or God's blessing or whatever else that intangible force might be that makes your tires stick to the wet pavement when everyone else is going down, and keeps at bay the stomach bug that's decimating the rest of the pack, and stops that wobbly chain link from snapping until just over the finish line) is once again his friend.

Am I pulling for him? As a fellow Texan, I should say so. But not just because we share state citizenship. If the only reason you root for Lance to win the Tour de France one more time is the spirit embodied in this commercial, then that's plenty reason enough.

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Anything to aggravated the French! Oui?

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on July 1, 2009 1:36 PM.

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