Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Five: October 19, 2012

Five reasons the 2003 Tour de France will still be one of the greatest ever.

Hard to believe that this next July will mark 10 years since this epic edition of the Tour. Even in light of the current Lance debacle, there is no denying the grand scale of the race that would become his fifth victory* in 2003. Even with the knowledge that the contenders were doped to the gills; here are five reasons why this edition of the grand tour will always be one of the most dramatic and enjoyable to watch:

  1. Alessandro Petacci's dominant sprint performances. He seemed to have an answer for all comers in his 4 sprint victories. His 2003 performances rival the dominance of Mario Cipollini and more recently Mark Cavendish. Especially outstanding was the stage 6 victory in Lyon where he started his sprint in about 6th place and seemed to have a different gear than anyone else; finishing with several bike lengths between himself and second place. Amazing to watch!
  2. US Postal's stage 4 clinic on team time trialing. The beautiful chaos of the team time trial...there is nothing like it. Poetry in motion when executed well and sheer pain and agony when it is flubbed. Postal was as near to perfect on this edition as you could possibly be - not a Warring General driving his troops to battle like Jan Ullrich and his Bianchi squad - but a team, working together to accomplish a common goal. Excellence.
  3. Vinokourov's stage 9 solo victory into Gap. Gosh - what didn't this stage have? A solo rider breaking away in Vino; an epic chase with Lance, Jan, and Joseba Beloki; and the tragic moment where Beloki's rear tire loses adhesion on the softened tar of the Pyrenean descent. His rear tubular tire rolls off his wheel and he crashes to the ground breaking his pelvis, femur and other bones (a crash many would argue from which he would heal; but not recover). Armstrong shows his Cyclocross skills by diverting around the crashing Beloki and through a field to dismount and hop across a ditch near a tree then to re-mount his bike and continue his futile pursuit of Vinokourov just as Ullrich zips by. If I'm ever near Gap; I'm finding that tree and that switchback to walk that stretch of Tour History. That scene encompasses the makeup of the Tour de France perfectly: victory and defeat; tragedy and perseverance; careers end while others continue; staid consistency and improvised creativity; predictability and chaos.
  4. Tyler Hamilton's solo victory on stage 16. Tyler broke his collarbone in the horrific stage 3 crash that decimated the peleton. As the team leader of Team CSC that year he wanted to gut it out and finish the Tour after finally getting to ride for himself rather than in support of one Lance Armstrong. Images of his sling peeking through his partially zipped jersey personified courage for the 2003 edition. He somewhat famously switched to an FSA compact (50-34) crankset for the duration of the race as well - popularizing the once fringe chainring configuration. Stage 16 saw Tyler giving his final effort to leave his mark on that year's tour - and he did so in grand form with a stage victory as the encore to his near 100-mile solo breakaway. Later we would learn that his shoulder had caused him such pain that he ground through the enamel on his teeth from gritting them so hard and had to have dental surgery upon returning home. Come on, what's not to love about that? A story to enough to make Bjarne Riis proud and bring a tear of inspiration to the eye of a then young but no less gutsy Jens Voigt.
  5. Lance and Jan's final time trial duel in the rain. For some of us; the image of Jan Ullrich sliding across the rain-soaked road, sparks flying from his rear derailleur after crashing on his way around a roundabout will be forever etched on our mind as one of the most memorable ones from this tour. Eight seconds separated them at the start and Jan had Lance on the ropes for most of the stage - taking many risks. One risk too many relegated him to second place, again. (Good video recount of the stage - head to the 7:35 mark for the crash...)

And this is to say nothing of the musette bag crash (photo, upper right); David Millar's time trial roller coaster (dropping a chain right out of the start house in the prologue and then winning the final TT in Nantes); Lance answering multiple attacks at once in the mountains; Richard Virenque's dominance in the Polka Dot Jersey; Carlos Sastre's mountain victory; and many other stand out performances.

If you didnt see this edition - or simply just want to re-live it - seriously check out World Cycling Production's DVD sets. I own the 12-hour version and still drag it out from time to time when I want to remember the drama.

*The asterisk denotes that this victory is likely to have an asterisk next to it in the record books...thus the asterisk. That's all...

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