Welcome to Survivor on Speed
By Dave Shields
For the past three weeks American viewers of the Tour de
France have seen hundreds of advertisements for a game described as, “Outwit,
Outplay, Outlast.” Strangely, the commercials were interrupting a truly epic
example of that credo.
Tour de France competitors are castaways in an all
consuming world where alliances, strategy, strength, and intrigue rule.
They bring years of preparation and unparalleled dedication to the playing
field. Unlike the tropical getaways on the blockbuster show, though, this
“island” is flying down the road balanced on skinny rubber tires rolling thirty
miles per hour.
Contestants aren’t voted off. Instead, if they make a mistake or show weakness,
the playing field is yanked from beneath them. When this happens they sometimes
chase it down again and claw their way back on. Other times they adjust their
goals and attack the remaining island inhabitants in a new way on another day.
This version of Survivor is a domain that Lance Armstrong
has ruled for the last seven years with an iron fist. Of all his bicycling
accomplishments, his seventh Tour de France victory is the most impressive in my
eyes. With nothing left to prove, he proved everything.
He overcame the most aggressive competitors he’s ever faced. On numerous
occasions his rivals had him right where they wanted him, and then he sprung
their own traps against them. Lance was incredibly strong, masterfully cunning,
and clearly the best cyclist in the race.
Armstrong is far from the only reason that this year’s
version of the race turned out so gripping. The entertainment began with a
stellar opening time trial by Dave Zabriskie. He vaulted to the front of a
powerful list of American prospects, proving that cycling is alive and well in
this country for another generation. Dave’s crash in the team time trial a few
days later poignantly illustrated how at the limit these athletes are. One tiny
mechanical malfunction is enough to shatter a dream. We’re going to see a lot
more great Zabriskie moments over the next few years, though. You can take that
to the bank.
Had Zabriskie stayed upright, this great race might have
turned out even better, because Armstrong would have been pushed even harder.
Dave’s disaster indirectly lead to Team CSC’s loss of Jens Voight as well. With
the aid of those two men team star Ivan Basso would have posed an even greater
threat to Armstrong, but that’s not how it happened. Such are the whims of
Speaking of Basso, what an exciting career he’s on the cusp
of. The demands of cycling mandate unique characteristics that seem to assure
great protagonists always rise to the top. Intelligence, sportsmanship, and
awesome strength are critical elements to long-term success in this sport. Basso
has all of the above.
Jan Ullrich does as well. The only thing wrong with his
career is that it has overlapped Lance Armstrong’s. His talent and class are
indisputable. If he’d been as consumed by winning as his primary rival we’d
likely have seen a duel to the death.
Another American cycling superstar, George Hincapie,
notched a career highlight with victory on Pla d’ Adet, this year’s Queen’s
Stage. His transformation from a pure sprinter to a classics hardman to an
extraordinary climber boggles the mind. No one saw this win coming. George’s
longstanding dedication to Lance Armstrong is the definition of loyalty. What a
well deserved reward for years of hard labor.
Giuseppe Guerini falls into the same category as George in
some respects. He’s devoted himself to the service of Jan Ulrich for years, and
he too won a stage of this year’s race. Chapeau, Guiseppe!
Alexandre Vinokourov’s relentless attacks often animated
the race, and sometimes confused his own team. What bike race wouldn’t be better
for his inclusion? After relentless attacking which blew his GC chances he
summoned the strength to win a mountain stage and then blow everybody away on
the Champs d’ Elysees. Astounding!
This year’s race featured loads of other great players.
Chris Horner proved that his domination over the past several seasons in America
was indicative of world class talent.
Michael Rasmussen came from nowhere to make a legitimate run at the yellow
jersey, only to fail spectacularly in the final time trial.
Alejandro Valverde showed why so many feel he’s the future of cycling, pipping
Armstrong on a mountaintop sprint. Had he remained healthy the remaining battles
with Lance would have been very interesting indeed.
Levi Leipheimer turned himself inside out only to be vaulted over for fifth
place on the line in Paris.
How about the raw emotion of Georg Totsching’s stage fourteen win or the photo
finish on stage eight between Pieter Weening and Andréas Kloden?
So, where do we go for an encore? There are rumblings that
Armstrong’s next career will be in politics. I think that’s a great idea. Maybe
once he gets that troublesome world peace thing worked out he’ll turn his
attentions to making cycling broadcasts accessible to all Americans. One can
Dave Shields is the author of Amazon’s #1 Selling Sports
Novel, The Race. In June the book became the first sports themed novel ever to
win the Ben Franklin Award for Best New Voice in Fiction. To learn more or
purchase the novel, go
Editors note: David has
been busy working on his follow up novel to the successful "The Race." Scheduled
for publication in Spring of 2006. Get a taste of the continuing action as the
young Utah native Ben Barnes continues his adventures in le Tour.
Read chapter one of
Dave’s upcoming sequel to The Race: