Tour’s final days capture locals’ imagination
“The last 20 kilometers seemed to go on forever. I think my tongue was hanging out the entire time. I don’t know if I’ve ever worked so hard for anything in my entire life. If you told me two weeks ago that this day was possible, I would have offered to sell you some swamp land. But that’s bike racing. Extreme lows can easily be matched for extreme highs. And there’s no telling where or when you will find either experience.”
– Tyler Hamilton from his online journal at
written after Wednesday’s stage win.
SUMMIT COUNTY – No doubt cyclists throughout the world are more inspired during the three weeks during the Tour de France than at any other time of the year, and local cyclists are no different.
Everyone seems to feel the 2003 Tour has been the most exciting in many years, and those in the local cycling industry are waiting on the edge of their seats to watch the outcome.
“This is the most exciting one we’ve seen for a long time,” said Stewart Voutour, longtime cyclist and owner of Team Managers Ski, Bicycle and Rowing Co. in Frisco and Copper Mountain. “Lance (Armstrong) isn’t actually walking away with it this year. There are some people giving him a run for his money.”
Many local cyclists and obsessive Tour fans feel Tyler Hamilton might have joined or replaced Jan Ullrich as Armstrong’s main rival had it not been for the stage 1 crash that left him bravely and unbelievably racing with a fractured collarbone.
“I suspected Tyler Hamilton might have had something big to unveil because he’s had such a great season so far and he’s very, very motivated,” said Mike McCormack of Maverick Sports, who met both Hamilton and Armstrong after Armstrong’s first Tour win in 1999. “I think had he not crashed, it would have been a very different race.”
Hamilton visited Summit County last year shortly after persevering through the Giro D’Italia with a fractured shoulder to finish second overall. He had some bike work done at Wilderness Sports in Frisco during his visit, and left a lasting impression on the staff.
“It was after the Giro and before the Tour, and (Hamilton) was on vacation recuperating,” said Gary Lunsky, bike tech at Wilderness. “He wanted some cranks installed. He was a super humble guy. You’d never know he was a professional racer. He wanted to know what I was doing. He wanted me to ride his bike.”
Hamilton left a signed jersey and hat at the store.
As far as this year’s highlights, most local Tour fans feel Armstrong’s crash recovery and subsequent grind to victory in Monday’s Luz Ardiden stage has been the most exciting moment so far.
McCormack was at Downstairs at Eric’s in Breckenridge Monday as the stage was unfolding on the bar’s many TVs, and he said the restaurant’s reaction to it was as good as the race itself.
“There had to be 250 people in there, and it was a decidedly non-local crowd,” McCormack said. “When (Armstrong) fell down (when his handle bars hooked a bag held by a spectator), the whole room shouted, “No!’ I thought, what a difference from five years ago, when the Tour had no fans. Then, as he crossed the finish line, the whole room erupted in cheers.”
Still, others were more moved by the sudden cyclocross action in stage 9, when Armstrong dodged fallen opponent Joseba Beloki going downhill at high speed, rattled through a field, jumped over a ditch while carrying his bike and remounted to continue racing with the peloton.
“That’s the most incredible thing I’ve seen in the Tour,” said Mark Thompson, who, as a big-gear-pushing cyclist identifies more with Ullrich than Armstrong and who is so admittedly obsessed with the Tour that his 2-year-old, Hans, has his own yellow jersey. “I remember last summer there were some articles saying cyclists weren’t athletes, just guys out there pedaling. That stage shows you what handling skills those riders actually have. Would you want to be riding 45 mph through a field on a road bike and have the presence of mind to do what Lance did?”
Most locals feel Armstrong will pull off his fifth Tour victory Sunday, but, as Tour drama thus far has already proven, anything could happen.
“I don’t think his pride will allow him to have another bad time trial (on Saturday),” McCormack said. “But he could crash, he could get sick … anything could derail the final podium for him. To win, he needs to have … maybe not good luck, but he needs to not have bad luck.”
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