A little disappointing today to see AC and LA completely dismantling the last vestiges of team unity even before Cav's tires have had a chance to cool from that blistering finish yesterday. I don't know the circumstances but I wish Lance had attended the team celebration for Contador Saturday night. If the rest of the team was there he should have been too.
It's funny though how perception and allegiances change. A year ago, as I listened to Armstrong explain his reasons for returning at the now famous Interbike press conference (first question Greg Lemond), I immediately sympathized with Contador. I think I wrote that it was the kid's time in the sun and hoped that Lance would return to ride for and not against him. I dreamed of a Giro victory for Lance, maybe an appearance at Paris-Roubaix, but the Tour book was closed.
I underestimated the magnetic power of the man from Austin. He showed up to the Tour of California prepared to work for Levi. He raced without complaint in that rainy first week, launched a spectator and media frenzy around the team worthy of vintage Stones or U2. He got stronger and his authority and impact on the peloton was immediate and impressive. He was clearly having fun and I vividly remember him low fiving Hincapie before Stage 3 of the ToC. There's no way he didn't want George in yellow after Stage 14.
And like everyone else I followed him on Twitter. Plenty of fluff about dinner with friends and what he was listening to on the iPod but in between some great stuff about training and pictures from the road. The Livestrong message stayed front and center, and somehow Lance balanced the comeback with the greater mission. As the season progressed we got inside the team bus with Lance, Levi and Horner. Levi opened up a little and Horner, well Horner is Horner (great guy). Those videos were terrific.
Armstrong the racer, the leader, the communicator, the politician. You could feel the momentum building but it was the broken collarbone that made him the underdog. Rocky, cue the theme music.
I saw him win at Nevada City and he looked good (Rocky II shape) and he had me. When the Tour started, the excitement I'd felt watching Contador climb previously was replaced with apprehension. I wanted the champ to hang with the young guy in the mountains. Contador's twitchiness was irritating (how unfair is that) and I dreamed Lance would once again dominate the time trials. Stage 3's crosswinds had me believing LA's head could beat AC's legs.
It was not to be. The kid was strong, even if he's clueless about race strategy. Sorry Andreas.
By the time the Schlecks attacked at the base of Ventoux, the whole Tour had been reduced to Lance keeping his place on the podium. The poker face was back, except for a reassuring moment of irritation when he shook his head at Frank as if to say "You're kidding right, I'm not going anywhere today" He climbed like the Lance of old and late in the last few kilometers it was Contador grimacing. Sometimes you can't figure out why you feel what you feel. If you follow boxing you know what it's like to watch a fight where you don't know either of the combatants, but within a round or two, you've figured out who you want to win.
This time I knew both fighters, liked both of them going in but in the end Armstrong was my guy. Prudhomme is right, he animated the race, and next year can't come soon enough. For god's sake RadioShack hire a good designer and get the kit right, cause it's going to be front and center when the battle resumes in Holland.
If Lance can regain his TT form and climb like he did on Ventoux, we got ourselves a fight. Don't tell Don King or Bernard Hinault. Ding! Ding!
Postscript: Kudos to Frankie Andreu for several solid interviews... good questions at the right time.