Anyone who has ridden through the mountains in Europe, the Pyrenees, the Jura, the Dolomites, especially the Alps can tell you the climbs and the descents are entirely different beasts, different from anything else in the world; they are long ascents, they are equally long all the way down. And in between, each climb is generally connected by a short valley, a lovely village and undoubtedly a scattering of round-abouts, or stumpy baguette-like isles of "road furniture", crusts of concrete to deviate the traffic - they're innocent unless you deviate your attention. So it was on the approach to Col de la Ramaz on Sunday - one last distracting deviation as the peloton's speed began to ramp, rider scrambling for front position, the ideal place to be; that coveted first dozen or so "out of trouble's way."
Sweeping through it at 60k's Lance became a momentary mortal cyclist, clipped a pedal and it was French radio shouts of, "chutes Armstrong!" Finishing a day unlike any other he had experienced in 12 previous years of Tour riding it would be understandable to be a bit frustrated, disgusted, demoralized, and well, completely distracted in your own affairs, but it's in those extenuating moments when little things spin forward and someone shows true class. At the end of the eighth stage Sunday the moto TV camera was leading Lance's every pedal turn up the Cat. 1 climb up to the ski station of Avoriaz - the camera is your companion in victory and defeat - this time there would be no dramatic music overlay, no just do it dissolving in the upper corner of the frame, and the only 'look' was one few had imagined over the past decade.
Armstrong finally crossed the finish line, accompanied by teammates, he was 13 minutes and 26 seconds behind new maillot jaune Cadel Evans of Team BMC.
But just seconds before Lance, riding abreast with teammates Chris Horner and Jani Brajkovic and un petit peloton of riders young and old, who will someday say to there children, "I rode with Lance Armstrong", crossed the line something subtle, maybe coincidence, maybe not. Maybe a personal, private show of class, happened - Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel clad in the yellow jersey, he had valiantly recaptured the day before, slipped a couple bike lengths forward or did Lance, lead others and eased up on the pedals insuring the maillot jaune crossed the line to the applause of the Avoriaz crowd? Sylvain had fought back up to join the Armstrong group and could have crossed the line as one of many. Instead, perhaps, there it was, the kind of moment that truly defines great champions, the grand patron of past pelotons paying respect to protocol, history, and the thing that defines this great race long after he is but a prominent chapter in its history - the maillot jaune.
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