By Andrew Hood
Off to the races
Racers (and writers) woke up with a tinge of a hang-over Monday following the big sigh of relief that comes at the end of the pressure-cooker that’s the Tour de France.
Lance Armstrong and his Discovery Channel teammates were feted at a private bash inside the posh Ritz hotel Sunday night in Paris. Some 600 invited guests celebrated Armstrong’s unprecedented seventh Tour victory.
Armstrong was scheduled to fly to the French Riviera on Monday to begin his life as a retired athlete.
“Come Monday morning,” Armstrong said on Saturday, “we’re going to wake up in Paris and the kids and Sheryl and I and a group of close friends and family we’re going to fly to the south of France and enjoy ourselves for a week and lay on the beach and drink wine and not ride a bike and eat a lot of food and swim in the pool, splash around with my kids and not worry about the fact…thing is that this job is stressful, and this event is stressful, so it will be hopefully a week’s preview of what my life will be like for the next 50 years, with no stress.”
Others were packing their bags and heading back home.
Fred Rodriguez, who suffered through the last few days of the Tour with a crook stomach, is returning immediately to the United States where his wife is expecting to deliver a baby boy any day now.
“It’s pretty exciting. I’ll stay home for two weeks, then come back and do rest of ProTour events and then the world’s,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not sure if I’ll do the Vuelta, I’m scheduled to do (Tour of) Poland. If Tom (Steels) goes to the Vuelta, I’ll probably have to go to Poland.”
Levi Leipheimer, fresh off his sixth place overall, is scheduled to race the Tour of Germany from Aug. 15-23. He’ll likely race at the GP San Francisco as well.
“I’m content with my Tour,” he said. “I’ve improved and there’s no reason I can’t keep improving.”
Floyd Landis (Phonak) doesn’t want his strong form in the Tour de France to go to waste. Landis rode to an impressive ninth place in his first Tour as a team leader. He’s likely to race the Vuelta, where he wore the race leader’s golden jersey last year, but isn’t expected to finalize his decision until later this week.
Bobby Julich (CSC) finished his seventh Tour in 17th place, good for his fourth top 20 result of his career.
The mark ties him with Tyler Hamilton for Tour finishes and pushes him closer to the American record-holders. Frankie Andreu and George Hincapie have finished nine Tours each with Armstrong and Andy Hampsten each with eight.
Julich will defend his title at the LUK Challenge and then race the Tour of Benelux in early August.
Merckx signs with Phonak
Axel Merckx will race next year with Phonak, according to reports in Belgian newspapers.
“I have signed for one year with an option for a second, because I may still retire at the end of 2006,” Merckx told Belgian journalists. “I’m happy because I’ll be renewing my old friendship with (team manager) John Lelangue, who I rode with as an amateur.”
Evans pops question
Australian rider Cadel Evans celebrated his breakthrough eighth place overall in the Tour de France by proposing to his partner, Chiara.
Evans popped the question as soon as he reached the team hotel in Paris after Sunday’s final and 21st stage from Corbeil-Essonnes to Paris.The loving couple was seen at the bar of the Meridien Hotel – the official Tour hotel – soon after he asked. The classical pianist said “yes.”
Chiara was sporting a silver ring with a blue stone (sorry, this correspondent is not versed on geology). The ring matches the band that Evans was given by her on the first rest day to remind him to be more aggressive. It, too, was blue.
He wore the band throughout the Tour. Although, as Evans revealed in front of his bride-to-be, that he didn’t wear it in Saturday’s 55km time trial at St Etienne.
“I was afraid it might get caught on the handlebars,” he explained.