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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Cycling: Lance and I are on fire 

Well, let's be clear: he is cruising to victory in the greatest bike race in the world, I'm showing remarkable power and ability in local low-category racing. But qualifiers aside, let's talk about Lance Armstrong first:

He's a machine. Having simply done enough to devastate his rivals by having only good days in the mountains while they sometimes had bad ones, he now leads the Tour de France by almost 3 minutes, and if anything he's likely to take more time out of his rivals on the penultimate time trial stage (because of the nature of bike racing, the stages between now and Saturday's TT pose no danger: on relatively flat stages, or ones where the mountains are far from the finish, Lance's Discovery teammates can work together via drafting in a paceline to easily catch anyone who is still a threat to his GC hopes (there aren't many: the tenth-place rider in the General Classification is a hopeless 12 minutes down)). The final stage on Sunday is almost always ceremonial for GC classification, though the sprinters are usually busy sorting out the places in their contest.

But as much as Lance has dominated this Tour, he has done so quietly, without an individual stage win yet. Meanwhile, his team, earlier maligned for situations in which they left Armstrong more exposed that is customary, has become a dominant force in the race. Overlooked is that two of Armstrong's teammates have won stages in the last few days, they just took a lead in the relatively obscure team standings, and their hope for the future, Yaroslav Popoyvich, has a comfortable lead in the Best Young Rider (white jersey) category.

The punchline is that most of those achievements have come largely as side-effects of tactics that were designed to help Lance win. Even without Armstrong, Discovery would be a very, very powerful team.

Now back to me: after winning a watch in a race two weeks ago, I haven't raced at all since. Did it hurt me? It did not. I went to the World Tuesday Night Championships last night, lined up with the Cat 4s, and went for it. I was feeling good all night, and proved it by winning another prime sprint, and then recovering well enough from that effort to pick up fourth place at the finish, to the surprise and delight of my teammates. Suck Level 2, and arguably my best race of the year.

The prime sprint was another one where I benefitted from the folly of others. In a bit of an experiment, I tried to take off from the pack far earlier than usual on the prime lap, and dared anyone to follow. As soon as I booked out, the pack instantly strung out, and was closing fast. So I moved across the road, denying the approaching front of the pack, now seriously single-file, any chance at my wheel. The leader of the pack followed my move, and by now we were closing on a tight corner. So I set up for the corner, still ahead of the pack, and whipped through in best ex-motorcyclist fashion at top speed.

Behind me I heard the distinct sounds of a crash in the corner. I carried on, pushed harder, and when I finally looked back, there was nobody behind me. I took the prime by hundreds of metres, and then spent a very slow hill-climb recovering from my efforts.

The rest of the race was fairly interesting: three escaping riders came up to me, I tried to hang on to their wheels, while my teammates (as I found later) were doing their best to shut down the pack. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay with the escapees, but fortunately, I was able to stay with the pack when it came by, and spent my time sitting in and recovering. The pack caught two of the other riders as well, and we all sprinted for second place (the remaining breakaway rider took first place by a vast margin).

Tonight: Steamworks Tour de Gastown. You and 30,000 other screaming fans watching some of the fastest racers on this continent. I don't think I'll be able to make it, but I still recommend it. On the weekend, the brutally hard Tour de White Rock goes off, and I will be there, since I'll be driving one of the support vehicles, also known as the best seats in the house.

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