Friday, July 21, 2006

Floyd Landis and Le Tour

I'm sure it's a fantasy for most boys with cycling dreams, the big cycling dreams that encompass the biggest bicycle race there is, the Tour de France. As a kid, you'll put yourself in the toughest situation: You're down by a big margin with one last mountain stage to go. You and your team decide to go for broke, to ride with audacity. You decide to attack from the start, to try to cut that deficit by winning the stage, and perhaps win the yellow jersey. And in your dreams, you'll come out on top. In your dreams.

It's a child's dream because in the modern Tour such comebacks are unheard of. When a yellow jersey leader is ahead by seven minutes, as Oscar Pereiro (Spain) was at the start of Stage 17, teamwork and convention suggest that he would hold that lead to the finish. An attacker hoping to indulge in this child's dream couldn't possibly expect to maintain the pace needed to stay ahead of the peloton.

But somehow, Floyd Landis (United States) was able to fulfill this childhood fantasy. He rode the race of his life, winning Stage 17 (his first stage win ever), and seating himself in third place, a mere thirty seconds behind the leader, the presumably startled Oscar Pereiro. When I watched the recaps of Stage 16, the announcers had written off Landis. Landis was done. It was finished. He might gain time in the time trial (Stage 19), but it would be too much to expect him back in contention.

Except Landis expected more. He dominated the stage, setting an unmatchable pace in the high heat. He attacked early. He chased a breakaway, then became the breakaway leader himself. In the broadcast, the announcers kept expecting a response from the chasing peloton, but the response would come too late.

Experts were stumbling over the superlatives, trying to describe this stage win. "Best stage that I have ever followed." "...I am wracking my brain thinking what I can compare it to." "...the greatest single day ride in the history of the Tour..." When a childhood fantasy comes true, when it happens right before our eyes, it's hard to come up with the words.

In the end, the unassuming Floyd Landis was quoted: "I was going to make whoever wins this Tour deserve it." That person might be him.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Forza Italia!

I'll be rooting for the Italian side in this Sunday's World Cup final.

I love listening to the play call on Fabio Grasso's goal (for the Italians against Germany in the semi-final). The Italians have won the World Cup in 1934, 1938, and 1982. I remember the 1982 win, and the goal getter for the Azzurri that year: Paolo Rossi.

Their opponents are the esteemed French, who won the World Cup for the first time in 1998. They are led by the nimble Zinedine Zidane. When his game is on, he's the picture of perfect ball control.

Forza Italia!