Well my dears, another delicieux Tour de France is in the books, and it ended as it always does: gloriously, in a blur of speed and color on the Champs Elysees in Paris. 147 men finished the 91st Tour de France, completing 3,360 kms in 20 days - through the Pyrenees, and then the Alpes, until Sunday's beautiful arrival in Paris. Le Tour always delivers! And so, apparently, does the US Postal Service. Those boys have done it again, and man was it delicieux!
So now my pretties, it's time for Le Tour Delicieux's top 11 scrummiest moments in a Trip arounf France that in our mind, was chock-loaded with scrummy goodness. Why 11? For the same reason that Nigel Tufnel's Marshall Stacks go to 11: because it rocks that hard.
- Lance Armstrong Framed up for the 6th Time by the Arc de Triomphe. We all know the genuinely epic saga of Lance Armstrong's remarkable career, beginning as teenaged athlete with preternatural strength and endurance, and winning the World Championships at 21 years old by riding the likes of Miguel Indurain off his wheel on a rainy day in Norway. Armstrong's always been special on the bike, but it's his return from cancer and the brink of death that made him what he is today - lean, impervious to the relatively insignificant pains of riding a bike for a living, and mentally and physically on a another planet. What can you say about Lance Armstrong in this Tour de France? He was absolutely unstoppable, and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the best rider in the world today. Lance Armstrong's six victories have all had their own special character, and this one has been marked by his absolute authority, bolstered by the flawless execution of his amazing team. Over 20 days of racing, from his blue lazer stare out of the start house in the Prologue to his triumphal return to the Champs Elysees, Armstrong left nothing to the imagination in terms of who wears the pants in this bike race. In Paris, he stepped into legend as the best Tour de France rider in history, and it was a brilliant performance.
Photo by Graham Watson, and courtesy US Postal-Berry Floor
I think my favorite thing about Armstrong in this tour (aside from that look of steely determination he always wears while climbing mountains on his bike like he's just knocked over a liquor store), has been the exuberance with which he's savored his victories. I loved his pumped-up salvo over the line at the Plateau de Beille, and his sprint victory in Villard-de-lans was inspired. I really enjoyed seeing him not downplay how much he likes to win. On the Alpe d'Huez, Armstrong was simply magnificent, and sprinting for the line against Pantani's record time, he almost looked like he was enjoying his little jaunt up every one of the 373 switchbacks. In Paris, Armstrong almost seemed humbled, as if his new status as the best ever in the Tour hadn't quite gotten into his bones yet, and his smile was almost abashed. Almost.
The Best Team in the World
Photo by Graham Watson, and courtesy US Postal-Berry Floor
- The US Postal Service Totally Bad Ass Professional Cycling Team presented by Berry Floor. It's the last time we'll see those colors in the Tour de France peloton, but these boys ended an era with class, unbelievable strength, and a glorious victory in Paris. You can't ask for more than that. Every single one of the postmen rode like a superstar this year, giving every last drop of sweat to see their man in the Maillot Jaune in Paris, and my hat's off to them. I think the lead up to the 2004 Tour marks the first year in the Postmen's winning streak that I didn't read a whole bunch of whooey about how Lance is strong, but his team is questionable; and it's about time, because these guys have been riding like this for years now. People are always so suprised to see guys like Hincapie and Landis leading the pack over the big mountains, but I have to say, all y'all haven't been paying attention over the past few years, have you? Floyd Landis has always been a killer in the climbs, and George Hincapie has been giving up his sprinting legs for the mountains in a steady shift for about three years now. Meanwhile, Jose Azevedo unequivocally had a better tour than Heras ever has, even working for Armstrong, Benjamin Noval finished his first tour like a true champ, while Pavel Padrnos and Old Man Ekimov made it perfectly clear that you can't mess with Texas while they're around. Triki Beltran did his job admirably, and please, people; what team could go wrong with Chechu Rubiera?
- Thomas Voeckler's Huge Ride on the Plateau de Beille. People, it just does not get better than Little Tommy Voeckler, does it? This little man happened into the Maillot Jaune by going with the break on a day when the peloton let it go long, and he made it look good; but that was only the beginning of the story. Ten days later, and despite every prediction, Ti Ti would still be in yellow, after having unpacked an apparently bottomless suitcase of courage in the Pyrenees. By slipping into the Maillot Jaune, Voeckler met his destiny head-on, and freaking LET IT ROLL, baby; finding grinta and deep reserves that he more than likely never knew were in there. In that 10 days, he became a hero, a heartthrob, and most importantly, a very impressive Tour de France bike racer.
Voeckler's ride up the Plateau de Beille, after getting dropped on every prior climb on the toughest mountain stage in this year's Tour, and then battling back to hang onto a slim lead of only 22 seconds was the most riveting moment in this year's tour. Watching Voeckler struggle towards the summit, I could barely look at my television, but when I did, he was climbing out of his skin, swerving with exhaustion, and working that 1000 yard stare to come to the line and raise one triumphant fist, and let me tell you that this race fan cried real tears. Heart like that is rare and beautiful, and Tommy? Every one of the ladies at Crazy Jane's copy desk wants to make out with you.
Seriously, people. I love this kid!
...And, one picture was NOT enough.
Photos of Ti Ti by Anita Van Crey
- Lycra is Awesome!. It's no secret, is it ladies? I mean, who among us cannot see a church by daylight? Or, a fit man in a lycra costume, as the case may be! Personally, I really enjoyed every single moment of Le Tour Deliciuex that involved seeing Axel "Big Sexy" Merckx, Jens "The Hammer" Voigt, or George "LL Cool G" Hincapie in my T.V. box. I barely made it through the many delicieux appearances of Little Tommy Voeckler. Chechu Rubiera is officially this year's write-in favorite, and with his beautiful smile and blue eyes, I have to say that I concurr. Chechu is definitely a dreamboat. Jan Ullrich was in the mix, and that always makes me feel like I'm on Sprockets with Dieter: as happy as a little girl. Of course, there's always Lance "Hotpants" Armstrong. I had some major votes for Stuey O'Grady; it seems his podium appearances are always a gigantic pleasure for some of my girlz. And, people, Ivan Basso, with his green eyes and perfect skin, is just plain gorgeous.
- Fabian Cancellara In Liege. In listing all the lookers, I've been saving the best for last, and since I'm in charge here at The Desk, I get to make that kind of decision. I want to be perfectly clear when I tell you that Crazy Jane's personal choice for Mr. Delicieux 2004 is Fabian Cancellara, with his smooth brown skin, his little bow of a mouth, and more than 6 feet of pure bike racing power. While this handsome devil was prepping to lay down some speed in the prologue starthouse, I was sitting at home going "Hel-looo, good lookin'!" I was delighted that Mr. Switzerland held onto his 2 second lead over Big Daddy Armstrong. As Cancellara waited in the wings to find that he had beaten Armstrong by 2 narrow seconds, the tears spilling over his charming cheeks, I was reminded of nothing so much as a beauty pageant, only better! Instead of boring old girls, it was big handsome bike monkeys, and instead of bikinis, they were wearing lycra bike racing kits, and instead of tap dancing or baton twirling, Mr. Cancellara was kicking major ass with his big muscles at Le Tour de France, and instead of a tiara, Fabian got to wear the Maillot Jaune; which is way better, don't you agree?
Fabian Cancellara: Mr. Delicieux 2004
Photo by Anita Van Crey
- The Young Bucks. It was le plus delicieux seeing so many of the young guys make the race this year. First, Fabian Cancellara's beautiful win in Liege, then Tom Boonen, Thomas Voeckler in the Maillot Jaune, Pippo Pozzato, and finally, Tom Boonen again, putting the cherry on top in Paris. Once the battle for the Maillot Jaune was pretty much sewn up on La Mongie, it was the fight for white that really had me tied up in knots. I have to admit that I was really hoping to see Voeckler win it, but his efforts to defend the lead for 10 days proved arduous, and he couldn't hold on in the end against the relentless forward march of Russian contender Vladimir Karpets. I know I've complained about the carpet on Vladimir's head, but truthfully, he rode a great race, and hair can always be cut.
- De Rigeur Epic Drama to Spare. There have been a lot of race fans complaining about the boredom this year; folks who felt like the inevitable Postal steamroll into Paris just wasn't floating their boat. By and large, though, it's the same crew who are all up in arms about the whole Filippo Simeoni flap, and the wires are still blazing with pronouncements like: "The Maillot Jaune is a Bully!" and "Filippo Simeoni is a Martyr for Truth, Justice and Sporting Ethics!" or, alternatively, "Lance Armstrong is 'El Patron' and Simeoni is a Whinging Crybaby!" Personally, I don't feel like I have enough information to make a judgement, but with the passion people are bringing to this topic, you'd think there were Weapons of Mass Destruction involved! People please! I think it's time to admit how much you love a good soap opera.
I have to say, with everyone's attention focused so single-mindedly on passing judgement in Simeoni-gate, I think the real drama of Le Tour is falling by the wayside, and everyone who thinks it's boring to watch the best rider in the sport at the top of his game taking care of business is boring are, quite frankly, smoking crack. Yes, Lance Armstrong just keeps winning, but it's amazing every time, and I'm not bored yet. Have I mentioned the lycra costumes?
- The Ride into Paris. Watching the peloton wrap itself in fluid lines around the corners on the Champs Elysees I always think of the long hard road - not just the road into Paris in this tour, but the road from further back, the road from being wiry little boys and young athletes who could only dream of a day as sunny and perfect as Sunday in Paris - and remember that every man who braves le Tour has his own story of where and how the fitness, strength, and will to perform this incredible feat was forged in his body and mind, and it's a crying shame that we can't hear every one of those stories. That ride into Paris with all it's pomp and glory, amid throngs of cheering fans, is just what they all deserve at the end of that road, and those boys delivered the thrills until the very last moment. I especially loved Thomas Voeckler riding hard in the break in his French Champion's jersey, Axel Merckx mixing it up in there, and yet another big move from Juan Antonio Flecha. Meanwhile, Fabian Cancellara was driving it at the front of the pack, (and lord knows, I love to see that), while Armstrong, his tough guys, and everyone not gunning for the sprint kept it upright for the victory parade. Nice work, boys.
Tom Boonen in heaven
Tom Boonen on the podium for that final stage win was as golden and boyish as ever. Apparently, young Tom is just big enough for his britches, winning like that on the Champs Elysees! Can you imagine what that had to feel like for the 23 year old Belgian, standing there in front of the Arc de Triomphe? What a victory, and what a brilliant way to finish a first tour. From where I'm sitting, a big theme of this race is the way the Tour separates the men from the boys, and makes manifest what was once only potential in a man. Seeing Tom Boonen take his deep breath on the podium, surrounded by the most beautiful city in the world, accepting his well-earned kisses from the podium girls, it was as if he was breathing in the new Tom Boonen - you know, the one who punked 'em all on the line in Paris. If that charmer Christian Vandevelde is to be believed, that kid is more than likely driving a fast car with Miss Belgium in the passenger seat right about now, and I love it!
- Jan Ullrich and Andreas Kloden: Teammates, Rivals & Friends. I loved Jan Ullrich on the podium in Paris as T-Mobile accepted the honors as the best team in the Tour de France. He's just finished his worst Tour de France ever in fourth place (and, before I go on, can I just make absolutely certain that we are all aware that in this year of HUGE disappointment for Der Kaiser, that his WORST finish is 4th? Stud!), and not only that, but he's been out-paced by his own teammate. Andreas Klden rode brilliantly while Jan struggled in the Pyrenees, and the deficit was too great for Ullrich to pull back, but on the podium you'd never know he's suffered any disappointment. Smiling broadly, his arm around Klden, he looked as beautiful and angular as ever, with his long legs and freckles, and just as bright as the sunny weather in Paris. Jan fought like the Champion he is in that last week, digging as deep as he ever has for the best he has in him. He finished where he finished, and had the class to offer Armstrong the old Chapeau, saying that he has "great respect" for the way his rival rides this race. Jan Ullrich is a gentleman, an incredible athlete, and on top of all that, he's looking delicieux. And, for the record? Good Lord, how I love Le Tour!
Ullrich & Kloden
AP Photo/Peter Dejong
- Babies on the Podium! Um, is it just my imagination, or is Robbie McEwen's son Ewen the cutest baby in recorded human history? My friends, I am a girl, and I have to tell you that I positively adore it when the bike racing dads bring their little monkeys up on the podium. Richard Virenque had his beautiful daughters, Robbie McEwen had his nuclear weapons grade cute son, and Ivan Basso's beautiful girl even tore Lance Armstrong's concentration away from looking off into the distance triumphantly on the podium in Paris. And, before we move on, let's talk about someone who's gearing up to be a Dad next year at this time: Big Georgie Hincapie. George and his lovely fiance, Melanie, have joined impressive gene pools to cook up something that can only be good, and I can already taste the delicieux-ness of the day he stands on a podium with his little darling.
Phil Liggett & Paul Sherwen: the REAL dreamboats of Le Tour
Photos courtesy of OLN TV
- Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen's Sheer Genius & Enthusiasm. There is very little that is more heart-warming than Phil and Paul calling Le Tour. I love that bit that happens every morning where Phil talks about all the epic bike racing we can look forward to in the day's stage while Paul gives him that sideways little smile. I love it every time Phil points out an episode of Paul's exploits in Le Tour from the days of yore, and Paul responds with about 17 gallons of "Aw, shucks." Phil and Paul have been calling this race for so long. They've seen champions come and go, and they've reported triumphs and tragedies of equally bewildering magnitude, and they always do it with grace, encyclopedic knowledge, and most of all, a passionate and contagious love of this beautiful sport. Phil charms my socks off every time I see him, and it's official that Crazy Jane has a big crush on Paul.
Alas, it's time to say good-bye to Le Tour for 2004. It's been an immense pleasure! All of us at Crazy Jane's copy desk must thank you all for reading, and for your e-mails. Note to the peloton: The ladies are loving you!
Au revior for now!