Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Do It 'til It Hurts: Tour de France 2013 (Pt. 1)

In Sunday's fifteenth stage of the current Tour de France, Team Sky's Chris Froome went off like a shot seven kilometers from the summit of Mont Ventoux, finishing a half-minute ahead of the young Colombian Nairo Quintana to take the stage and the polka dot King of the Mountain jersey. He kept as well the yellow jersey with a four-plus minute lead overall. It was an amazing performance. Ventoux is the mountain that, in the 1967 Tour, conspired with the heat and a lethal mix of alcohol and amphetamines to kill the British rider Tom Simpson, whose memorial now stands on its slope.

 Froome in front

Some genius of the sporting press inevitably compared Froome to Armstrong, who has also gone up Mont Ventoux like a shot in Tours past, leaving a scattered and demoralized field of riders to sort things out below. "I'm going to take that as a compliment," was all Froome said in reply.

Armstrong has left a scrambled and confusing legacy - amazing rides, Tour victories that are no longer on the record but survive in countless digital and human memories. His pharmaceutical regimen aside, Lance was one of the greatest riders. When he was younger he was merely "brash." As he aged and grew to the status of a legend, brashness turned into arrogance, his general nastiness a cover for the fact that he had something to cover. Still, Travis Tygart and USADA only managed to uncover Armstrong's defects of character. They couldn't alter the facts - that he was an amazing cyclist, a dominant figure in Tour history despite his palpable removal from the books.

Froome is no Armstrong - meaning that he is diffident, quiet, and most probably clean. And coming from a 28-year-old, his rejoinder was a wonderfully terse mot juste, encapsulating at once a good bit of class, a mature presence of mind, and the judgment of history on Armstrong. Nothing more to be said, really.  

 Alberto Contador chases Andy Schleck up Mont Ventoux, 2009

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