“Vive Le Tour, forever.”
So ends the Tour de France 2005 and the professional cycling career of Lance Armstrong, taking the microphone on the podium and giving kudos to his rivals, Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich.
The rest went as most of us expected — Armstrong entering the Champs-Elysees in his yellow jersey at the head of the peloton.
My vision didn't include Sunday's spitting rain, but that didn't dampen things for Armstrong. He's the cancer survivor; 7-time Tour winner; the champion who goes out on top — probably strong enough for a few more championships – just so he can be with his kids.
The rain had stopped when he returned to the podium, with 2nd place Basso and third place Ullrich.
Armstrong called Ullrich a special rival and a special person. Basso he called the future of the tour. Then he said either could win the next Tour. “I'm out of it. It's up to you guys.”
Addressing what he called the cynics who don't appreciate cycling, Armstrong said:
“This is one hell of a race. Vive Le Tour, forever.”
Also, I didn't expect to see three of his Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team riders — whose job is to protect Armstrong — falling on the slick pavement right in front of him so he had to put his foot on the ground to avoid them.
And I didn't expect to see Alexandre Vinokourov power ahead of the sprinters and the rest of the peloton to win the final stage. “T-Mobile's Alexandre Vinokourov put on an awesome show of force on Sunday,” says the Tour de France 2005 blog.
In spite of the expected champsionship by Armstrong, when you look beyond the big Armstrong story, there was enough drama for many episodes of the Tour de France soap opera.
1. The T-Mobile team might have been a monster, not just because of its strength but because it had three heads. Although Jan Ullrich wore the leader's number 11, Alexandre Vinokourov and Andreas Kloden were both former podium winners (Vino #3 in '03 and Kloden #2 in '04) and seemed to have equal chances of winning. After attacking Armstrong a couple of times early, Kloden later supported Ullrich until a mishap forced him from the Tour. Vinokourov never seemed to help Ullrich, unless it also would help him too. At one point Kloden and Ullrich chased down Vino. Before the end of the Tour, Vinokourov announced he would ride for T-Mobile again. In spite of this, the T-Mobile wins the team competition.
2. The Lance Armstrong team – this year sponsored by Discovery Channel — wins two stages, in addition to the team time trial. George Hincapie, left, and Paolo Savoldelli become the only Armstrong teammates to win stages in the 7 Tours that Armstrong has won.
3. Mickael Rasmussen climbs from 68th to 4th place overall by winning Stage 9 in the Alps. The next day he climbs to 2nd place, just 38 seconds behind Armstrong. He holds that for five days, then slips to 3rd place for another five days. Then on Saturday he suffers a disastrous individual time trial, falling twice, changing a wheel once and his bike three times. The Danish cyclist finishes in the polka dot King of the Mountain jersey in Paris, but has dropped to 7th place. What will be his legacy, the KOM of a very difficult Tour, or the guy in polka dots flipping over his handlebars into a ditch?
4. Oscar Pereiro lashes out at Discovery's George Hincapie in Stage 15 after the two attack their breakaway group but Hincapie sits on Pereiro's wheel until just before the finish line. Pereiro is upset that Hincapie didn't do any work. By helping, however, Hincapie would have been working to help other rides gain time on Armstrong, something he couldn't be expected to do. The very next day, Pereiro uses the same tactic to win the stage. On the 18th Stage, Pereiro joins an all-day breakaway that puts him in 10th, leapfrogging three riders. He has gained 7 places in 5 days. The effort awards him the “most combative rider” distinction.
5. Alexandre Vinokourov, always on the attack, has a terrible day in the Alps on Stage 10, dropping from 5th place to 16th. The next day, still in the Alps, he begins battling back; he wins the stage and continues on the attack on almost every opportunity right through the final day when he makes a last ditch sprint against Levi Leipheimer. Trailing Leipheimer by just .77 seconds after an intermediate sprint on the final day, Vinokourov holds off the sprinters in a heroic finish on the Champs-Elysees to gain 5th from Leipheimer.
6. Jan Ullrich, head of the dysfunctional T-Mobile team, crashes into a car the day before the Tour starts. He crashes again in the Alps. Counted out by many, including me, Ullrich eventually gives up on beating Armstrong but refocuses on achieving a 3rd place finish to get onto the podium in Paris. He achieves it by delivering the second best time in the individual time trial.
7. The Tour starts with the tragedy of David Zabriskie. The cyclist from Salt Lake City wins the Stage 1 individual time trial. He remains in yellow until the 4th stage, when he crashes near the finish of the team time trial and limps in alone, his CSC team criticized for not leaving anyone behind to help him back in. He retires from the tour in the 9th stage, sitting in 179th place.
The top 10 for the Tour de France 2005;
Lance Armstrong (1, Discovery);
Ivan Basso (2, CSC) 4:40 behind;
Jan Ullrich (3, T-Mobile) 6:21 behind;
Francisco Mancebo (4, Illes Balears) 9:59 behind;
Alexandre Vinokourov (5, T-Mobile) 11:01 behind;
Levi Leipheimer (6, Gerolsteiner) 11:21 behind;
Mickael Rasmussen (7, Rabobank) 11:33 behind;
Cadel Evans (8, Davitamon.Lotto) 11:55 behind;
Floyd Landis (9, Phonak) 12:44 behind, and;
Oscar Pereiro (10, Phonak) 16:04 behind.
Other winners are green sprinter's jersey, Thor Hushovd; King of the Mountain, Mickael Rasmussen; and best young rider, Yaroslav Popovych; and most combative rider, Oscar Pereiro.