Tuesday, July 18, 2006

l'Alpe d'Huez ride today!

Think of l'Alpe d'Huez like the Tour de France's version of The Incline: a road through the Alps that climbs over 3,500 vertical feet through 21 switchbacks and can either demolish riders or propel them to victory.

This is the one day of the Tour de France I never miss: exciting, gut-wrenching, and guaranteed to bring out the best quirky phrases of federating cycling commentator Phil "Two titans dancing on the pedals" Liggett.

I'm willing to even stick my neck out and say this spot was host to one of the greatest moments in sports of all time, a moment cycling fans simply know as "The Look."

Here's a breakdown of it from USA TODAY:

It came in the 10th stage of the 2001 Tour, with Lance Armstrong and German rider Jan
Ullrich battling in the Alps in the first mountain stage.

Knowing that the other teams closely monitored the Tour TV coverage for race intelligence, Armstrong pretended to be suffering early in the 120-mile stage. He stayed close to the lead pack as it rode the first two peaks, but he showed a pained look on his face.

Ullrich's team pushed the pace to wear out the seemingly forlorn Texan drafting on their wheels, saving his energy.

Their worst fears were soon realized when Armstrong teammate Jose Luis Rubiera pulled to the front and promptly accelerated, taking Ullrich, Armstrong and Andrei Kivilev with him.And then came The Look.

As the road began a steep rise toward the 21 switchback turns on the monstrous ascent of L'Alpe
d'Huez, the rivals were no more than a half-wheel apart after two earlier climbs and hours in the saddle. Suddenly, Armstrong accelerated, opening a gap of about 10 yards.

Out of the saddle, his toes pointed down as he danced on the pedals, Armstrong suddenly slowed and looked over his left shoulder, his eyes fixed on Ullrich's face for four or five seconds, seemingly challenging his chief rival to match the bold move. The German rider's eyes were shielded by sunglasses, but everything else about his expression showed despair. He jerked at his radio earpiece and grimaced as Armstrong lit the afterburners, roaring alone toward the peak.

Eight miles later, Armstrong had gained two huge minutes on the 1997 champion, sealing his third Tour victory before the three-week race was half over.

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