Sunday, July 18, 2004
French president Jacques Chirac ( left) and Gallic hope Thomas Voeckler
C'EST LA GUERRE.. President Jacques Chirac reacted angrily today to the weekend's events in the Tour de France. The Associated Press reported:
Lance Armstrong cleared his path to a record sixth straight Tour de France crown, overpowering rivals to win the 13th stage Saturday. His two-day display of dominant mountain riding has all but decided cycling's showcase event even before it veers into the Alps next week.
Only Italian Ivan Basso managed to stay with the five-time champion on the devastating ascent to the Plateau de Beille, the last of seven climbs on a sun-baked, 127.7-mile trek through the Pyrenees.
As Armstrong and Basso rode through cheering crowds along the steep, snaking road, other riders scattered down the mountain, their hopes of dethroning the 32-year-old Texan evaporating with the sweat off their brows.
Jan Ullrich, considered Armstrong's
toughest rival, conceded defeat
after the steep 9.9-mile climb mined with hairpin turns.
I have rarely pushed myself so hard," said Ullrich, the 1997 Tour champ and five-time runner-up. "But after seven mountains and more than 200 kilometers under conditions that should really be ideal for me, I must admit: Lance appears to be unbeatable this year."
Ullrich has finished second to Armstrong three times.
French champion Thomas Voeckler held onto
the overall lead and the
prized yellow jersey — barely. In Friday and Saturday's stages in the
Pyrenees, Armstrong trimmed Voeckler's lead from more than nine minutes
to just 22 seconds.
Asked to comment, President Chirac blasted what he called "typical
American aggression and Texas bullying tactics" and called upon the U.N. and
the European Union to pass sanctions against the "imperialist
aspirations" of U.S. bicyclists.
Particularly galling to Chirac and the French government was the
AP's recital of the impending humiliation of French champion Thomas
Voeckler, who wears the yellow shirt of Tour leadership and
contemporary French valor:
Voeckler dropped away on the last, brutal climb to the Plateau de Beille, but he was able to keep his overall lead. It probably won't last long.
"I hung onto this jersey with my guts," he said.
Armstrong, who had set out Saturday with the aim of taking back the yellow jersey he so covets, was impressed. He said his team kept telling him through his radio that Voeckler was being left far behind — only to reverse course and say he was still hanging in.
"It's incredible," Armstrong said. "This guy has real panache.
"He deserves to have that jersey for
another day or however long
until he loses it."
But lose it he will. Armstrong is no doubt planning to take it from
him when the Tour passes nearer Vichy on the way to Paris. Panache the
French indubitably have, but it is no more deeply ingrained in the
national character than the talent, and propensity, for surrender. Let
us all hope that Chirac's current spite will melt into the usual
acceptance of defeat and its accompanying dismissive shrug. Otherwise,
many future votes in the U.N. Security Council may be tainted by Gallic
Ah well. C'est la guerre. GO LANCE!