By Chris Carmichael
Paris in July is a hot and wondrous city. After weeks of traveling with the three-ring circus that is the Tour de France, through little towns and villages all over France, arriving in Paris is a definite culture shock. When you’re this close to the Tour, you sometimes forget that other people are simply not interested. The Tour is a major event in Paris, but the city doesn’t shut down completely for it.
There are even people here who don’t know the Tour is coming tomorrow. That’s fine, and at this point it is even a bit refreshing. I have had little chance to think or talk about anything other than the Tour de France for the past three weeks. I am ready for the Tour de France to end; I look forward to seeing my family again. Everyone at the Tour shares that same sentiment about this time every year.
Lance rode well today and ensured his fourth Tour de France victory by winning the final individual time trial. The seven-kilometer, 1000-foot climb in the course was not steep, but its length made it difficult enough to open time gaps between racers. Raimondas Rumsas, riding the time trial of his life in pursuit of second place overall, twisted his handlebars during the climb. To that point, however, he was actually 17 seconds ahead of Lance Armstrong. Riding a bicycle with potentially faulty steering required Rumsas to take fewer risks on the descent and avoid pulling on the bars. As a result, we will never know if he could have overtaken Joseba Beloki for second place.
I don’t think he would have challenged Lance Armstrong over the entire 50 kilometers, even if his handlebars had stayed firmly attached. Lance did not attack the climb with everything he had because he knew the course was long and there were some rolling hills toward the end. During the final time trial of the 2000 Tour de France, Lance had to dig very deep to win against Jan Ullrich.
In the last ten kilometers, Lance slowed considerably, to the point where a Mapei rider he passed chased him down again (I think it was Tom Steels). Everyone fades toward the end of a long time trial, but Lance wanted to make sure he kept enough energy in reserves today to be able to finish with a strong final ten kilometers.
Tomorrow’s final stage will be a repeat of last year. Lance and the Postal Service will arrive in Paris with the yellow jersey, Laurent Jalabert will arrive in polka dots, and someone other than Erik Zabel will at least arrive in the green jersey. While Armstrong and Jalabert will be leaving with their jerseys, no one is sure who will be leaving with the green jersey.
Zabel knows how to win it on the final day, he only secured it for good in the finishing sprint in 2001. Robbie McEwen, on the other hand, knows how to win on the Champs Elysees, having won the final Tour de France sprint in 1999. Either way it will be a good show, something for the commentators and journalists to write about, and an exciting reason to watch the final stage.