At home, we get to watch the Tour de France on a giant TV in glorious HD. But at work, we’re forced to find pirated live streams on our desktop from all kinds of sources. For this morning’s epic showdown on the Tourmalet between Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, all we could find online was the official feed from French TV. The picture was fine, even if we didn’t understand a word of it.
But then something wonderful happened. After the race was finished, French TV decided it would be fun to bring together two of the suavest dudes on the planet: Lance Armstrong and French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Oh, it was a trip!
The two greeted each other like they’re old friends (and for all we know, they probably are). The first thing we heard Sarkozy say to the pedalin’ Texan was in English: “I tried your bicycle.”
Lance explained to the announcer: “We’re just two old guys who like to ride bikes.”
At that point, the TV channel brought in someone to translate Lance’s words into French, and it became hard to hear what he was saying, but luckily, Cyclingnews has the whole thing:
President Sarkozy, who followed the Tourmalet stage from race director Christian Prudhomme’s car, responded by saying of Armstrong: “The difference between him and me is that he could become president but I can’t become a champion.”
Asked if there is any chance of him becoming president one day, Armstrong firmly replied: “No. I think I’m a week away from a very private life. Beer, family, beach sounds like a good combination. There will also be the bike. I think I have to continue with that. I like the bike, I like good health and the bike is an integral part of that as the president can confirm.”
Did the RadioShack team leader have any regrets this year? “I wish that I was younger, faster. I’ve had my time and I’ve got a long history with the Tour de France. I’ve had lots of good moments, got lots of good memories, I’ve also had some good luck, so I can’t complain and I won’t complain.”
Sarkozy described the seven-time champion as a model personality. “It’s very nice for the president to say that I’m a model,” Armstrong said. “My story is certainly a little bit unique within professional cycling but within the world as a whole there are millions of people who have been ill like me, and have fought that illness and come back.”
Then the announcers brought in Tour leader Contador and the day’s winner, Schleck, for further pleasantries.
As for the racing itself, it was only one of the most amazing, gut-wrenching, frustrating, and ultimately beautiful days in Tour history. Schleck and Contador, only 8 seconds apart on the general classification at the start of the day after a couple thousand kilometers of racing, burst from the rest of the pack and fought each other alone up the final 10 kilometers of the Tourmalet, the highest point in this year’s race and only the second time a stage of the Tour has finished on the mountain.
Schleck couldn’t pull away from Contador, but when Contador made his own attack with about 5 kilometers to go, Schleck pulled him right back. This was a leg-breaking fight of two equally strong superstars of the sport.
At the end, Andy Schleck finished just in front of Alberto Contador, and they immediately threw their arms around each other.
Schleck had won the stage, Contador had won the Tour, and we have seen a cycling rivalry develop that may be the most evenly matched since Italian greats Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali battled for supremacy in the post-WWII era.
To use an overused word, it was epic.
You may ask, but the race has three more days, why is Ortega acting like the Tour is over?
For the same reason Sarkozy and Armstrong and the French announcers were. In all likelihood, this was the finale of a superb Tour de France.
After a flat stage tomorrow, which should have no effect on the overall standings, in Saturday’s time trial, Contador is likely to gain a minute or more on Schleck. Sunday’s ride into Paris will then just be a formality.
Of course, something strange could happen. But for Tour purists, today’s stage is what we crave. A great showdown on a mountaintop between the strongest men, battling to the last kilometer. It has rarely been so evenly matched, and never, at this stage in the race, so close.
Only a president, and a 7-time winner, could hope to upstage that. And for a few minutes, they did.
Thanks, Lance. Now surprise everyone Saturday and win a stage before you go home to that “very private life.”