For me, one of the best moments in sport is the final stage of the Tour de France. It is a tradition that no rider is to attack for time on the last stage. In a day and age when so much money is involved in a world sporting event it is affirming to see that the tradition is respected by every rider. To do otherwise is still unthinkable.
So the final stage becomes a ride of celebration, tribute, playfulness, respect, relief and of course sipping champagne. I find one of the best moments is to see the colorful peloton pull onto the Champs Elysees. This year it was particulary special as the peloton had 40 year old Viatcheslav Ekimov, the oldest racer in the group riding in perhaps his last Tour, lead the pack onto the famed avenue. Ekimov moved forward to recieve the applause of spectators and then dropped back into the peloton to receive the pats of respect from his peers. Class, heart and the beauty of sport.
Then there is the Maillot Jaune. I was thinking of an article I read a few years ago in Bicycling magazine on Landis and was able to track it down. Here is where a bid for the yellow jersey begins…with an old heavy bike, Baggies and a burning desire….
It’s a raw February day in the Amish and Mennonite heartland of Pennsylvania Dutch country, near Lancaster. The minus-zero temperature is embittered by a stiff wind. Exposed flesh freezes in minutes. The radio warns people not to venture outside. At one house, a car sprawls haphazardly across the curb, a broken mailbox trapped underneath; it slid down the driveway on the inch-thick sheet of ice coating everything. Nothing moves. Except a 17-year-old Mennonite kid, improbably braving the frigidity on a bicycle.
Perhaps the only thing crazier than Floyd Landis’s act of defiance is his appearance. His dilapidated, $300 Marin Muirwoods mountain bike is fluorescent orange-and-yellow. He wears five layers of clothing: cheap thermal underwear, sweatshirts and pants, topped by tattered red K-Mart sweatpants and a nondescript gray jacket. A safety-orange hunter’s balaclava squirms under an oversized Bell helmet with a mesh cover. His feet are insulated with socks, plastic Baggies and another pair of socks, topped by oversized white $5 tennis shoes covered by more Baggies.
He still can’t feel his toes. But he rides for three hours, through towns with German-American names such as Strasburg, Kleinfeltersville and Landisville.
“I’m sure the neighbors thought I was crazy,” says America’s next great cycling revelation, our Lance Armstrong-in-waiting. “My mom did. But I would have gone nuts if I couldn’t ride.”
Landis pulled off one of the most incredible wins in Tour history. It was a pleasure to see a nice guy finish first in the end. Though the ignorant will relish in an American beating the French (ugh) I see little nationalism in this. This was Floyd and a team of Europeans working together to achieve one of the great victories in sport. However if the American face to the world is that of modest nice guy Floyd Landis even for a short while, then that is a good thing for once for America. Thanks Floyd!
UPDATE: Oh my i love him even more. From TPM
We pick it up as Landis’ cell phone begins ringing:
…. Reporter: Is that Bush?
…. Landis (laughing): I doubt it. I’ll hang up.