Thor Hushovd threw his arms skyward as he won the final stage and brought the incredible 2006 Tour de France to a close. For me Hushovd’s bookend victories are symbolic of this year’s roller-coaster race. Thor flew to an improbable win and yellow jersey in the prologue way back on July 1, then lost the jersey on stage one when George Hincapie alertly grabbed a sprint bonus. To add injury to insult, shortly after crossing the line Hushovd fell to the tarmac, coursing blood. It took a while to comprehend that he’d been the victim of a bizarre encounter with a fan’s souvenir.
Stitched and bandaged, the Norweigian returned to the race. He re-claimed the yellow jersey on stage two, but on the very next stage he lost it again. Then on stage four, as a result of a judge’s decision, he was relegated to the back of the pack. His hopes of defending the green sprinter’s jersey he won in 2005 were shattered. He’d already gone through so much, and he wasn’t yet even a fifth of the way through the race. Two huge mountain ranges and sixteen excruciating stages remained ahead.
Thor battled on. How fitting that the big Norweigian would seal this race with a victory on the Champs d' Elysees. My eyes were drawn to the green bracelet around his wrist. He wears it in tribute to teammate Saul Raisin, a man who has been watching this year’s Tour from the saddle of a stationary trainer in Dalton, Georgia. Saul is pushing himself to return to the highest levels of the sport after an April bicycle crash that put him in a coma. It’s more evidence that bicycle racing’s allegories extend into the lives of the men who race the bikes.
I’ve never enjoyed a Tour any more than this one. Controversy, despair, strategy, surprise, elation, collapse, resurrection, retribution, and coronation. All are hallmarks of the Tour de France. All were exhibited in spades in this year’s rendition.
In part, the highs were so high because the lows were so low. The evening before the race started, a doping controversy rocked the peloton to its foundation. The Tour usually waits until the opening gun to start claiming victims, but not this time around. Twenty-two men did not make it to the starting line because of the implications. Spectacular crashes took their toll along the way as did a variety of other misfortunes, and consequently twenty-seven more men fell by the wayside before the peloton reached Paris at the third fastest average speed in history.
Every man in the group endured incredible obstacles along the way. Wracked by stifling heat, exhausted by thousands of kilometers of hard road, they begged Landis not to attack when rumors of his strategy circulated through the peloton at the start of the seventeenth stage. They explained the foolishness of such a desperate venture. No man could gain back the sort of time he’d lost on the previous day all on their own.
But to the great fortune of cycling fans, Landis doesn’t care for conventional wisdom. If he did, he would have been spending Thursday, July 20, 2006 in Lancaster County, Pensylvania, anonymously tending to routine chores. Instead he was on Alpine roads re-writing the history of cycling… and he was doing it on a bad hip.
Bravo Floyd! Thanks Damiano and Robbie and Michael and the scores of competitors who animated this amazing three week race. Thank you once again for the lessons you’ve taught us about ourselves. Allez, allez, allez!
....( )/ ( ) Victory for Floyd! HOORAY!!! Look Ma, no hands!
p.s. If you'd like to learn more about the Tour de France and the complex strategies that drive this race while reading an entertaining story, please check out my novels here.