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Chairman Bill's History of the Tour de France:
the 2000s

How a Newspaper Promotion Became the World's Greatest Sporting Event

Index: origins and early years | 1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s

This excerpt is from "The Story of the Tour de France", Volume 2. If you enjoy it we hope you will consider purchasing the book, either print or electronic. The Amazon link here will make either purchase easy.

2000. The Story of the 2000 Tour de france has been moved to the 2000 Tour results page.

2001 The year started with what by now had become the normal press releases from Telekom, explaining that Ullrich's preparation was on track. He did train harder than the year before, but in March he was still responding to questions about his weight. By riding the Giro for training in May and June Ullrich was able to come to the Tour with his best form since 1997.

Armstrong, repeating the successful rehearsals of 2 previous Tours, had been carefully riding, reconnoitering and learning the 2001 route. He was tired of the constant sniping from the French press and lashed out in January, "It's unfortunate that the biggest bike race in the world is in France. We're living in an era of French innuendo and insinuation." This was churlish of Armstrong. It is the French culture and the French people who made possible the great race that Armstrong devoted himself to winning.

A French investigation into allegations of US Postal doping resulted in testing of archived urine and blood samples from the 2000 Tour. They were found to be clean.

While Ullrich was struggling to find competitive form Armstrong finished his training with a ride in the Tour of Switzerland. He used the stage 8 mountain time trial as practice for the stage 11 timed climb to Chamrousse in the upcoming Tour. Armstrong confirmed his superb condition by winning both the hill climb and the final General Classification, beating 2001 Giro winner Gilberto Simoni by a minute and a half. In addition to his personal meticulous preparation, Armstrong's team was improved, notably with the addition of Vuelta winner Roberto Heras.

Pantani, buffeted by 3 judicial investigations into doping allegations, raced a bit in Spain in February, but was not able to finish a race. With Pantani's physical and mental form highly questionable and with one of his teammates having been caught earlier in the season with a high hematocrit, the Tour decided against inviting his Mercatone Uno team. Sprint specialist Mario Cipollini's Saeco team also did not get an invitation, partly because one of its riders was under the cloud of doping problems. After 1998 and 1999, the Tour wanted nothing to do with any potential scandal. The result was a Tour that was heavily weighted towards French teams.

Just to let the world know that the doping in the pro peloton was continuing unabated, Italian police raided the riders' hotel rooms during the San Remo stage in the Giro. Again the riders protested, causing the cancellation of the next stage. The surprisingly large quantity of drugs seized and the substantial number of renowned riders involved generated a complete crisis within Italian cycling. It was clear that the riders were not riding clean, but they were very skilled at evading doping controls.

The 2001 Tour was a clockwise affair with the stage 7 entry into the Vosges being the first climbing. After 2 Alpine stages the riders had 3 Pyrenean stages, all of which had hilltop finishes. At 3,453 kilometers and 20 stages, the 2001 Tour was a bit shorter than the 2000 edition.

Christophe Moreau, 2000's fourth place, won the 8.2-kilometer prologue in Dunkirk with Armstrong third, only 4 seconds slower, and Ullrich fourth at 7 seconds. It looked like a good start to a good race.

During the early stages as the Tour went into Belgium, the racing was extremely aggressive. After stage 3, Credit Agricole rider Stuart O'Grady was in Yellow. An extremely capable rider, O'Grady could be expected to hold the lead at least until the mountains. The question was, should the team defend the lead and burn themselves out or leave O'Grady to the wolves in order to work for Bobby Julich who had been third in the 1998 Tour? When a break went clear in stage 4, Credit Agricole was fortunate enough to have Julich in it. That put the onus on US Postal and ONCE to bring back the break, which they did. With a team time trial the next day, neither of the chasing squads wanted to expend the energy, but Julich was too dangerous to be allowed any freedom.

The team time trial was a surprise. Credit Agricole won it, thereby giving O'Grady more time in the Yellow Jersey. US Postal had a disaster when Christian Vandevelde slipped on the wet road and took down Roberto Heras. The team waited for them to remount and probably lost a full minute. Telekom also turned in a lackluster ride.

So, after the stage 5 team time trial and with the Vosges showing up in 2 days, here was the General Classification:

1. Stuart O'Grady
2. Jens Voigt @ 26 seconds
3. Bobby Julich @ 27 seconds
4. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano @ 57 seconds
5. Joseba Beloki @ 1 minute 7 seconds
8. Christophe Moreau @ 1 minute 17 seconds
15. Lance Armstrong @ 1 minute 53 seconds
19. Jan Ullrich @ 2 minutes 20 seconds

When the hilly, twisty roads of stage 7 hit, Credit Agricole director Roger Legeay did the unexpected. Instead of defending O'Grady's lead, he sent another of his riders, Jens Voigt out on a break, a move which succeeded brilliantly. Voigt was now the leader.

The next day, stage 8, set the Tour on its ear. Bike racing strategy is almost always a gamble. In a 3-week stage race, the director always wants to minimize the work his team does. So when a break goes, he has to calculate whether or not to put his men at the front and start chasing. If the break is filled with riders who could not possibly be threats to the overall win, then they may be allowed to get away through the inaction of the top teams. Or, the sprinters' teams may decide that the break must be retrieved in order to bring the race together for a mass romp at the end. Early in stage 8 a group of 14 riders got away and amassed a lead of 35 minutes. In that break were O'Grady and good journeyman riders Andrei Kivilev and François Simon. O'Grady was back in Yellow and some good but unspectacular riders had made the coming 2 weeks of the race very interesting. The new General Classification:

1. Stuart O'Grady
2. François Simon @ 4 minutes 32 seconds
3. Bram De Groot @ 21 minutes 16 seconds
4. Andrei Kivilev @ 22 minutes 7 seconds
24. Lance Armstrong @ 35 minutes 19 seconds

So the stage was set for the first day in the mountains, and what a day it was! The day had 3 hors category climbs: the Madeleine, the Glandon and a hilltop finish at L'Alpe d'Huez. Telekom decided to attempt to win the stage by going to the front and keeping the speed high. Over the Madeleine Armstrong moved back from the front of the peloton, looking uncomfortable and out of sorts. Encouraged by what they thought was Armstrong caught on a bad day, Telekom kept the pace very fast. On the Glandon Armstrong continued to appear on the edge of distress. At the base of the Alpe with the Telekom riders burning watts at a prodigious rate, Postal rider Jose Luis Rubiera went to the front and went full gas with Armstrong, Ullrich and Kivilev going with him. After Rubiera did his work and pulled off, Armstrong did a probing acceleration, slowed a moment and looked back, staring at the others, particularly Ullrich. Comfortable that they couldn't go with him he then rocketed off for a solo win. Stunned, Ullrich re-found his momentum and finished alone, second, almost 2 minutes later.

The entire stage with Armstrong's supposed trouble during the first 2 climbs had been a US Postal tactical set-piece. US Postal knew that the team directors all had televisions in their cars and could watch the race so that if Armstrong feigned difficulty, the other teams would know and act upon that information. Later it turns out that Telekom was suspicious but the opportunity to take back time from Armstrong doesn't occur every day. The chance had to be seized. Americans were ecstatic over what they saw was a challenging glare at Ullrich from Armstrong before he took off for the summit. Armstrong says that he didn't intend it to be the iconic "Do you feel lucky, punk?" type moment many thought it to be. In a later interview Armstrong said, "I wasn't being arrogant or cocky. I was looking to see [Ullrich's] condition and that of the riders behind him. I had to examine the situation. But when I saw it on TV, I could see why people were talking about it." Intentional or not, "The Look" has become a moment in sports that will always be remembered.

Things had changed dramatically. Armstrong voiced regret that Kivilev, an excellent rider, had been allowed to gain so much time.

1. François Simon
2. Andrei Kivilev @ 11 minutes 54 seconds
3. Stuart O'Grady @ 18 minutes 10 seconds
4. Lance Armstrong @ 20 minutes 7 seconds
5. Joseba Beloki @ 21 minutes 42 seconds
6. Christophe Moreau @ 22 minutes 21 seconds
7. Jan Ullrich @ 22 minutes 41 seconds

The next day was the time trial up to Chamrousse. With the race of truth, it is only a matter of speed and power. Armstrong had ridden the climb several times in his preparation for the 2001 Tour. His ride was superb. He won the stage and took another minute out of Ullrich who was now 3½ minutes behind Armstrong. Kivilev was 6 minutes slower than Armstrong. While Simon was still in yellow, the man thought to be the real danger, Kivilev, now had only 2 minutes on Armstrong.

Next was a rest day and a transfer to Perpignan and the Pyrenees. Stage 12 had a first-category hilltop finish, the kind of stage that Armstrong had used over and over to gain time on his rivals. On the final climb to Plateau de Bonascre, the cream of the Tour, Armstrong, Ullrich and Kivilev were off the front. Ullrich attacked and Kivilev was dropped. Then, near the top Armstrong took off and took another 23 seconds out of Ullrich and brought himself to within 28 seconds of Kivilev. Simon remained in Yellow with a 9 minute lead on Armstrong.

The 2001 Tour's Queen Stage was next. The 194-kilometer stage 13 had 6 highly rated climbs starting with the second category Portet d'Aspet at kilometer 73. Then, crammed into the remaining 120 kilometers were the Menté, Portillon, Peyresourde, Val d'Ouron-Azet (all first category climbs) and then the final hors category ascent to Pla d'Adet/St.-Lary-Soulan. Laurent Jalabert had intelligently decided to forego chasing the General Classification, trying instead for the Polka Dotted climber's jersey. At kilometer 25 he took off with a small group of non-contenders. Over each of the peaks, starting with the Col de Menté, Jalabert was first. By the time he reached the final climb he was exhausted and cramping, but the French crowds were delirious with joy over his exploit. Back in the peloton on the Peyresourde Telekom went to the front and upped the tempo. The increase in speed was too much for Simon who had dreamed of hanging on to his Yellow Jersey for another day. Along with most of the peloton, he was out the back. With the lead group down to just 23 riders Ullrich accelerated and only Armstrong could go with him. Together they went over the top of the Peyresourde. On the descent Ullrich misjudged a corner and went tumbling off the road. In a very sportsman-like move Armstrong waited for Ullrich. Neither Ullrich nor his bike seemed to have suffered any real harm. The descent and the delay allowed for a small regroupment, with Postal riders Heras and Rubiera along with Beloki and Kivilev rejoining them. Rubiera set a hot pace up the final climb and after he pulled off it was again down to Armstrong and Ullrich. They traded hard pulls and when it was clear that Ullrich couldn't quite match Armstrong's speed, Bruyneel radioed Armstrong to deliver the coup de grace. Armstrong came in alone with Ullrich an even minute behind. Armstrong had taken the Yellow Jersey.

The new General Classification:

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Andrei Kivilev @ 3 minutes 54 seconds
3. François Simon @ 4 minutes 31 seconds
4. Jan Ullrich @ 5 minutes 13 seconds
5. Joseba Beloki @ 6 minutes 2 seconds

The final day in the mountains took in the Aspin, the Tourmalet and an ascent to Luz-Ardiden. At the base of the final climb there were remnants of an early break getting caught by the fast-moving Postal-led peloton. With about 10 kilometers to go Basque rider Roberto Laiseka exploded out of the Armstrong/Ullrich group and raced for the summit. Meanwhile Postal riders Heras and Rubiera chewed up what was left of the front chasing group leaving again only Ullrich and Armstrong. They raced together for the top and as Ullrich tried for the third place in play Armstrong didn't fight him. As they crossed the line Ullrich reached out for Armstrong's hand and they crossed together. Effectively, the Tour was over at this point and Ullrich acknowledged as much. Armstrong said that he was in the best condition of his life. It showed.

There was now only the 61-kilometer individual time trial in stage 18 to affect the results. Ullrich was clearly tiring as he lost 1 minute, 39 seconds to Armstrong, the stage winner.

There was still one battle left to fight, the ownership of the Sprinters' Green Jersey. Zabel had won the penultimate stage leaving Stuart O'Grady with 212 points and Zabel with 210. This would be settled on the Champs-Elysées. Czech rider Jan Svorada won the final sprint but Zabel was second and O'Grady third, giving Zabel his record sixth Green Jersey. Armstrong joined the elite group of Louison Bobet, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain who were able to win 3 consecutive Tours.

Final 2001 Tour de France General Classification:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal): 86 hours 17 minutes 28 seconds
2. Jan Ullrich (Telekom) @ 6 minutes 44 seconds
3. Joseba Beloki (ONCE) @ 9 minutes 5 seconds
4. Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis) @ 9 minutes 53 seconds
5. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE) @ 13 minutes 28 seconds
6. François Simon (Bonjour) @ 17 minutes 22 seconds

Climbers' Competition:

1. Laurent Jalabert: 258 points
2. Jan Ullrich: 211 points
3. Laurent Roux: 200 points

Points Competition:

1. Erik Zabel: 252 points
2. Stuart O'Grady: 244 points
3. Damien Nazon: 169 points

2002. In January Ullrich traveled to the Tour of Qatar where his Director Sportif Rudy Pevenage said that "Jan is in excellent shape." But then on February 12, the bad news started. Ullrich started to feel pain in his knee and was told to reduce his training. In March, Ullrich's knee was still inflamed and it was announced that Ullrich would be out of action for 3 weeks. The injury continued to plague him all spring. In early May Ullrich was out driving one evening and hit a bicycle rack, and left without reporting the incident. The police suspended his license. Later it turned out that he was legally drunk at the time. That same week he announced that with his knee problem keeping him from racing, he could not ride the Tour. At one stroke the road to Armstrong's fourth win was made smoother. Armstrong wasn't happy, knowing that excitement is generated by healthy competition. He said that the Tour needed Ullrich in order to have a good race.

In early May it was finally decided to operate on Ullrich's knee. In June, in an out-of-competition drug test that all professional riders are subjected to, Ullrich was found to have amphetamines in his system. It wasn't a matter of his doping for performance enhancement, Ullrich wasn't racing. He had been at a clinic undergoing rehabilitation of his knee. The drug use was recreational. At a disco he had taken Ecstasy, which has an amphetamine content. His errant behavior was caused by depression over his inability to race. Ullrich's knee, even after the operation, wasn't getting better and he thought he might never race again. Telekom's boss Walter Godefroot had been angry about Ullrich's drunk driving. Now he was beside himself with fury. Because of the amphetamine use, the German cycling federation suspended Ullrich for 6 months. He underwent a second operation to the knee and this time he was able to resume training. Because of the suspension he could not begin racing until March 23, 2003. With no rider on the team capable of competing for the General Classification, Telekom was forced to build its team around Erik Zabel and his search for a seventh Green Jersey.

While Ullrich was imploding, Armstrong's preparations followed his proven model of hard training monitored by Chris Carmichael and Michele Ferrari and careful reconnaissance of the route so that Armstrong knew exactly what lay before him. The US Postal team, brought to support Armstrong, was thought to be stronger than even the year before. With Pantani still in a deep mental crisis, there was really no one on the horizon who appeared to be capable of challenging Armstrong.

The 2002 Tour, at 3,276 kilometers, was shorter still than the short 2001 Tour. In fact it was the shortest Tour since 1905. With 20 stages and the usual 2 rest days, the average stage length of the 2002 Tour was down to 163 kilometers. The 2002 edition was counter-clockwise, starting in Luxembourg, heading west across Normandy and Brittany. Then after stage 10, the riders transferred to Bordeaux to ride south to the Pyrenees, then the Alps. To keep the suspense up, several of the key determining mountain stages were saved for the end of the Tour. While stage 16 was the last hilltop finish, stages 17 and 18 had serious climbs that could shake things up.

It was clear that Armstrong's preparation was on target when he won the Tour's 7-kilometer Prologue in Luxembourg. The highly technical course pushed the pure-power Prologue specialists like David Millar off the podium.

The first stage gave an excellent example of what happens when a strong rider takes an intelligent chance. Just before the final sprint Rubens Bertogliati took a flier and the sprinters looked at each other to see who would chase him down. The answer was no one, and Bertogliati became the new Yellow Jersey. Zabel allowed Bertogliati only 2 days in the lead. With the time bonuses accrued in the intermediate sprints and a second place in stage 3, Zabel was the new leader, his first time in Yellow since 1998.

The stage 4 team time trial was the first important stage of the Tour. For years ONCE had made this discipline their specialty. Riding a nearly flawless race, they were able to beat the ambitious-for-the-win US Postal team by 16 seconds. That made their Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano the Tour's new leader. Now, ONCE director Manolo Saiz had to ponder the future course of his team for the balance of the Tour. He had a true General Classification contender in Joseba Beloki who was third in 2001. Does he defend the Yellow Jersey for as long as possible and tire his team, or does he save his team's energy for Beloki?

The General Classification after stage 4:

1. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano
2. Joseba Beloki @ 4 seconds
3. Lance Armstrong @ 7 seconds
4. Jörg Jaksche @ 12 seconds
5. Abraham Olano @ 22 seconds

Saiz was a banal, pusillanimous tactician. He answered the question early the very next day when a group of somewhat dangerous men broke away. ONCE quickly went to the front and shut it down. Effectively Saiz was conceding the race to US Postal, preferring to keep the Yellow Jersey they had for as long as possible rather than work for the Yellow they might get later. As the Tour raced at near record speed across northern France, ONCE worked with the sprinters' teams to keep the race together. US Postal was spared the need to waste energy policing the peloton. With the exception of a minor crash in stage 7 that cost Armstrong 27 seconds, coming into the first individual time trial US Postal had made no mistakes and suffered no serious misfortune.

Colombian rider Santiago Botero surprised everyone when he beat Armstrong by 11 seconds in the 52-kilometer time trial of stage 9. Gonzalez de Galdeano rode well enough to preserve his lead, riding only 8 seconds slower than Armstrong. Writers looking for something to hang a story on started speculating that perhaps Armstrong might not be invulnerable. The answer would come in 3 days, on stage 11. With a rest day next, the General Classification stood thus:

1. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano
2. Lance Armstrong @ 26 seconds
3. Joseba Beloki @ 1 minute 23 seconds
4. Sergey Gonchar @ 1 minute 35 seconds
5. Santiago Botero @ 1 minute 55 seconds

Stage 11, 158 kilometers long, went over the Aubisque at about the midpoint of the stage and then ascended part way up the Tourmalet to the La Mongie ski station. Jalabert was out trying to repeat his capture of the Polka Dot jersey. On the Aubisque he joined and then dropped a small escaping group. None of them could keep up with him so he just went off on his own. Back in the peloton Postal set the pace. On the Aubisque the pace was tolerable and by the time the pack reached the base of the Tourmalet it was still about 70 men strong. It was here that Postal unleashed their twin JATO (jet assist take-off) bottles, Rubiera and Heras. First Rubiera pulled, setting a pace so fast that superb riders like Gonzalez de Galdeano, Christophe Moreau and Bobby Julich were dropped. Then Heras took over with about 5 kilometers to go. Only Armstrong and Beloki could hold the small Spanish climber's wheel as they roared by the now very tired Jalabert. Near the end of the ascent Armstrong jumped to take the sprint with Beloki only 7 seconds back. After the stage Armstrong said that it took all he had to hold Heras' wheel as he towed the duo up the mountains. Armstrong was now in Yellow.

After La Mongie the General Classification stood thus:

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Joseba Beloki @ 1 minute 12 seconds
3. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano @ 1 minute 48 seconds
4. Raimundas Rumsas @ 3 minutes 32 seconds
5. Santiago Botero @ 4 minutes 13 seconds

The next day, stage 12, with its climbs over the Menté, Portet d'Aspet, Core, Port and then an ascent to Plateau de Beille, was almost a carbon copy of the day before. Jalabert went off looking for King of the Mountains points and US Postal kept the peloton working hard all day as they set a warm but not terribly high pace. On the final climb, again Rubiera started things going, then Heras took over and rocketed up the mountain at a white-hot pace. This time Armstrong escaped earlier and took a full minute out of Beloki, the only other rider who could stick with Heras. The days in the Pyrenees were done and Armstrong now had 2 minutes, 28 seconds on second-place Beloki.

Two days later, the stage 14 climb to the top of Mont Ventoux showed that even the Postal team was vulnerable. After Rubiera had done his usual set-up in the earlier part of the ascent, Heras, having a bad day, couldn't help. Armstrong was isolated without teammates. ONCE tried to take advantage of the situation and had Beloki attack. Armstrong not only closed up to him but counter-attacked, leaving the rest of the peloton behind. Up the road Richard Virenque had been in a break for almost 200 kilometers. He had shed all of his fellow escapees and was now laboriously turning the pedals, struggling to keep away from the hard-charging Armstrong. Virenque won the stage but Armstrong closed to within only 2 minutes, 20 seconds. Beloki had a terrible day on the hot slopes, losing almost 2 minutes in General Classification time. Even worse, Botero, who had been thought a likely contender for the podium, lost about 13 minutes. The tactics so far employed by the Spanish, who had at the beginning of the Tour had proclaimed that it would be "wide open" Tour and full of Iberian aggression, had been amateurish. Rather than try to put US Postal on edge, sending riders up the road, attacking at unexpected times, trying to isolate Armstrong, they were mostly content to sit on the Postal team and try to hang on for dear life on the final climb. Of course it was there at each hilltop finish that Postal's "murderer's row" would set the stage ablaze, destroy the peloton and release Armstrong for another brilliant win.

After a rest day the Tour faced 3 Alpine stages. The first one with its final climb to Les Deux Alpes didn't change anything in the top rankings. Botero, who had failed so dramatically on Mont Ventoux, rode a heroic ride to a solid solo victory.

In many ways, stage 16 with the Galibier, Madeleine and La Plagne climbs were just like the Pyrenean stages. Dutchman Michael Boogerd went off on a solo adventure at about the hundredth kilometer of the 180-kilometer stage. Early in the final climb Rubiera again lit the jets, leaving most of the remaining peloton in the dust. 5 kilometers from the finish Armstrong took off. He didn't catch Boogerd, but he put another 30 seconds between himself and Beloki.

The final Alpine stage, number 17, saw some epic riding as a break of 3 went away and held their lead to the end with Italian Dario Frigo taking the victory. The day had 3 first-category climbs but with the crest of the Colombière, the final one 20 kilometers from the end, it would be hard to hold any lead gained on the climb all the way to the finish. So the big guns rode tempo and no changes occurred at the top of the leader board.

The General Classification with the climbing completed:

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Joseba Beloki @ 5 minutes 6 seconds
3. Raimundas Rumsas @ 7 minutes 24 seconds
4. Santiago Botero @ 10 minutes 59 seconds
5. Jose Azevedo @ 12 minutes 8 seconds
6. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano @ 12 minutes 12 seconds

Now only the 50-kilometer individual time trial could be reasonably expected to affect the Tour's outcome. Armstrong won the stage and avenged his stage 9 loss. He was fortunate in the misfortune of the man who came in second. Raimundas Rumsas was ahead of Armstrong at the first time check, but his aero bars came loose, surely costing more than the 53 seconds that Armstrong beat him by. That put the icing on the cake with Armstrong now where the air was very thin with 4 consecutive Tour wins, joining Anquetil (1961–1964), Merckx (1969–1972) and Indurain (1991–1995).

Again, the ownership of the Green Jersey came down to the final day in Paris. Australia's Robbie McEwen denied Erik Zabel his seventh sprinter's crown.

Final 2002 Tour de France General Classification:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal): 82 hours 5 minutes 12 seconds
2. Joseba Beloki (ONCE) @ 7 minutes 17 seconds
3. Raimundas Rumsas (Lampre) @ 8 minutes 17 seconds
4. Santiago Botero (Kelme) @ 13 minutes 10 seconds
5. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE) @ 13 minutes 54 seconds

Climbers' competition:

1. Laurent Jalabert: 262 points
2. Mario Aerts: 178 points
3. Santiago Botero: 162 points
4. Lance Armstrong: 159 points

Points competition:

1. Robbie McEwen: 280 points
2. Erik Zabel: 261 points
3. Stuart O'Grady: 208 points

Edita, wife of third-place finisher Raimundas Rumsas was arrested near Chamonix in the French Alps on the final day of the Tour, her car filled with various pharmaceuticals that a rational person would assume were doping products. She had been following Rumsas throughout the Tour. She was taken to jail where she insisted that these were medications for her mother. While Rumsas was accepting the award for third place in the Tour in Paris, he knew that his wife was in custody. Edita ended up spending several months in jail while her husband avoided going to France where he could be arrested. In 2006 the courts gave both husband and wife suspended sentences for importing illegal substances. Tested several times, Rumsas never failed a drug test in the 2002 Tour. But in the sixth stage of the 2003 Giro he was found to have taken EPO. Because Rumsas passed all drug tests given to him during the Tour, his 2002 third place, while highly suspect, remains official and on the books. In fact, all of the dope tests in the 2002 Tour were negative. All the riders were said to be clean and free of drugs. As Willy Voet—whose misfortune precipitated the 1998 Festina scandal—noted, the Tour's 141 drug tests merely show that the riders remained far ahead of the testers.

2003. In September of 2002, still under a racing suspension for his Ecstasy drug use, Ullrich announced that when his contract with Telekom expired at the end of 2002, he would not re-sign, preferring to find another team and a new beginning. This is a difficult time of the year to begin looking for a new team as most of the squads have their budgets for the following racing season settled and their rider contracts at least agreed upon. This late in the year few teams had the spare funds to take on a new and extremely expensive rider. But, a man who can compete for a Grand Tour victory is a rare commodity and the bidding was spirited with Bjarne Riis' CSC team trying to bring him on board. Also Kelme, Phonak and the financially troubled Coast team tried for his services. He came close to a deal with a team sponsored by the German Postal Service. The deal was nixed when a new business plan for the German Post Office called for firing 40,000 postal employees. The politics of giving Ullrich a rich contract to ride bikes while tens of thousands of people were put out on the street killed the deal. The sagest advice anyone gave during this troubled time in Ullrich's life came from Armstrong, who advised Ullrich to ride for Riis for free. Armstrong understood that the difficult-to-coach rider needed direction, not more money. Riis had made it clear that if Ullrich came to ride for him, his free and easy ways were over. He would have to ride and train under Riis' instructions. Ullrich said that Riis wasn't exactly forthcoming about how much money he could pay Ullrich. In the end Ullrich chose Coast amid complaints from many of Coast's riders that they had not been paid their salaries for the second half of the 2002 season. Some surmised that Ullrich chose Coast over Riis because Ullrich wanted no part of the structured life and training that Riis would impose.

The UCI put the Coast team under a set of strict requirements regarding the payment of riders' salaries. On March 6, unhappy with Coast's foot dragging and endless excuses, the UCI suspended the team. Later in March the suspension was lifted but Alex Zülle, fed up with the turmoil and loss of racing time in March, bolted for the Phonak team.

In early May, Coast was suspended again. Team bike supplier Bianchi, who had assisted the Coast team with increased funding so that they could afford Ullrich, completely took over the team and its UCI license, thereby assuring Ullrich a place in the Tour.

Meanwhile super-sprinter Mario Cipollini's Domina Vacanze squad was not invited to the Tour. Noting that Cipollini always leaves the Tour before it hits the high mountains and that he had never finished a Tour, Tour boss Leblanc justified his decision by noting that in the 2003 Tour the mountains started after only a week of racing. Cipollini would surely ride only a few stages before abandoning.

It again looked to be a rematch between the troubled Ullrich and the perfectly prepared Armstrong. Armstrong rode a lighter race schedule but showed his sparkling form when he won the Dauphiné. Wide speculation that Spanish rider Iban Mayo could challenge Armstrong for the Tour victory seemed optimistic at best. While the Spaniard might be able to match Armstrong in the mountains, he was incapable of time-trialing at Armstrong's level. Also, it was always dangerous to assess Armstrong's condition based on June races. His trainers Michele Ferrari and Chris Carmichael were always careful to bring him to his peak in the middle of the Tour in July, feeling that a rider could sustain a high level of form for only a few weeks. It later turned out that while Armstrong did win the Dauphiné, it was a pyrrhic victory because Armstrong had to go very deep into his reserves in order to win. Coming into the Tour he was still tired from the effort. Later Carmichael said that they should have let Mayo win the race.

Ullrich seemed to being doing better than had been predicted. While overweight, he still managed a fifth in the Tour of Germany.

Telekom's new General Classification protected rider was Alexandre Vinokourov, who had just won the Tour of Switzerland. Gilberto Simoni, victor in the recently completed Giro, boasted that with his superior climbing prowess, he would be able to take the Tour. Like the Spaniards the year before, Simoni was about to find out how hard it is to beat a supremely prepared and capable athlete. Speak softly and carry a big stick is very good advice.

Team selection was no longer based upon whomever the organizers chose to invite. Now the top 14 teams in the UCI's ranking automatically qualified to enter. Tour management had the ability to invite 8 other teams, called "wild cards".

This was the Centenary Tour. 100 years before, Georges Lefèvre and Henri Desgrange had cooked up the idea of a 6-day race on the roads of France to help promote the ailing circulation of their paper, L'Auto. To commemorate the Tour's centennial at the October presentation of the 2003 route, 22 of the 23 living Tour winners were gathered together: Ferdy Kübler (1950), Roger Walkowiak (1956), Charly Gaul (1958), Federico Bahamontes (1959), Felice Gimondi (1965), Lucien Aimar (1966), Jan Janssen (1968), Eddy Merckx (1969, '70, '71, '72, '74), Bernard Thévenet (1975, '77), Lucien van Impe (1976), Bernard Hinault (1978, '79, '81, '82, '85), Joop Zoetemelk (1980), Laurent Fignon (1983, '84), Greg Lemond (1986, '89, '90) Stephen Roche (1987), Pedro Delgado (1988), Miguel Indurain (1991, '92, '93, '94, '95), Bjarne Riis (1996), Jan Ullrich (1997), Marco Pantani (1998) and Lance Armstrong (1999, 2000, '01, '02 and eventually '03, '04 and '05). Only 1967's winner Roger Pingeon missed the gathering. To further solidify the historic nature of the 2003 Tour, the route visited the 6 original stage cities: Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Nantes with a complex series of prizes and competitions involving those who did well in those stages. As it had been the custom in earlier Tours, H.D., the initials of Tour father Henri Desgrange were returned to the Yellow Jersey.

The Prologue in Paris yielded a few surprises. Australian Bradley McGee won, but probably because David Millar's mechanic chose to lighten Millar's bike by removing the front derailleur. Millar got his chain jammed between the front chainrings and was forced to settle for a seething, furious second place. Armstrong was up to his usual performance, coming in seventh, 7 seconds slower. Ullrich showed that his spring preparation might have been good enough. He came in fourth, at 2 seconds. In addition to having some residual fatigue from the extreme effort it took to beat Mayo in the Dauphiné, Armstrong crashed in the Dauphiné and had to take antibiotics that didn't agree with him. To make things even worse, in the week leading up to the Tour Armstrong was suffering from gastroenteritis causing diarrhea that lasted right up until the start of the Tour. Given those handicaps, Armstrong's Prologue looks truly impressive.

In fact, Armstrong was having more problems than just a troubled gut. Armstrong changed shoes on the Thursday before the race start, causing a slight change in the pedal-cleat interface which caused an injury to his hip. He tried to mask the pain during the first week, but it contributed to his sub-par performance. Every rider has small and large problems along the way, but this was an unusual series of difficulties for a rider who usually came to the Tour perfectly prepared and in wonderful condition.

The first stage really showed how much depth Australian racing has acquired since the days in the 1920's when Hubert Opperman was the only competitive antipodean. Although Alessandro Petacchi won the stage, Aussie Robbie McEwen acquired the Green Jersey and his compatriot Bradley McGee remained in Yellow. As part of the Centennial, the Tour stopped for a moment at Montgeron, outside the restaurant Le Réveil Matin [The Alarm Clock] where the Tour started the very first stage in 1903. Just before Petacchi's final sprint victory, a nasty left turn caused a pile up that brought down several important riders including Armstrong. While Armstrong was unhurt, other riders including Rabobank's General Classification hope Levi Leipheimer, had to abandon. Tyler Hamilton broke his clavicle but decided to endure the pain and continue riding.

The first real sorting occurred in the 68-kilometer team time trial of stage 4. US Postal and its predecessor Motorola had always wanted to win a Tour team time trial. Frankie Andreu, who rode on both teams before retiring, said that the team time trial was Motorola director Jim Ochowicz's passion. Finally US Postal got their long desired victory, beating Beloki's ONCE by 30 seconds and Ullrich's Bianchi squad by 43 seconds. That put US Postal domestique Victor Hugo Peña in Yellow and Armstrong in second place, only 1 second behind with the mountain climbing commencing in 3 days. Over the next 3 days Peña kept the Yellow Jersey but US Postal came in for criticism when Peña went back to the Postal car to get water bottles for Armstrong. Many thought the Yellow Jersey deserved a bit more respect. What it showed was the absolute undeviating manner in which the entire Postal team viewed winning the Tour.

Stage 7 started the climbing. With several category 2 and 3 climbs to soften their legs, the riders' last major ascent was the Col de Ramaz, a category 1 summit that came 20 kilometers before the finish. Ridden in terrible heat, the day had a profound effect upon the Tour. Giro winner Simoni was exhausted from both his tough Italian Tour win and especially, he said, from the efforts of the stage 4 team time trial. He could not keep up with the contenders and lost 10 minutes. 2000 Giro winner Stefano Garzelli also had difficulty but didn't lose time. He also attributed his trouble in the stage to his efforts in the team time trial. About 40 kilometers into the stage Richard Virenque escaped and hooked up with several others who were already off the front, including teammate Paolo Bettini. Bettini bonked and had to let Virenque go. Virenque held his lead, taking off on the Ramaz and earning a solo victory. His beating the pack by almost 4 minutes earned him the Yellow Jersey with Armstrong still in second, now back by 2 minutes, 37 seconds. The tone of the Tour seemed to be clear. Postal set a moderate tempo for the peloton for most of the stage, and as in years past, the other teams were quite happy to sit on. It made for an easy ride, not having to do any of that messy racing stuff. By letting Postal dictate the race each year the other teams made the ultimate outcome nearly a foregone conclusion. Except for the Armstrong tifosi, the tactics the other teams had adopted in the face of Postal's strength since 2000 made for a boring race.

Stage 8 had a few category 2 and 3 climbs before the Galibier and a hilltop finish at L'Alpe d'Huez. While Armstrong may not have been quite at the top of his game, Ullrich was suffering with intestinal troubles as were several other members of the peloton. The real racers reached the base of the Alpe together. Then, in a shock to not only the peloton but also to the Postal team, new Postal recruit Manuel Beltran hit the bottom of the mountain with all jets blazing. His speed shattered the pack and put both Ullrich and Virenque out the back door. The other climbers, sensing that Armstrong and the Postal team had been riding easily over the Galibier for a reason started attacking. Beloki tried a couple of times to get away. Then Iban Mayo went and made it stick. Vinokourov attacked and made good his escape as well. Even Tyler Hamilton had a go but was brought back. Mayo won the stage, followed a couple of minutes later by Vinokourov. A half-minute later Armstrong led in the 6 other survivors. Armstrong was now in Yellow but it seemed as if the Tour, for the first time in years, was in play. Later Armstrong regretted not riding the stage harder because he feels he could have taken more time out of Ullrich.

It turns out that Armstrong's rear brake had been rubbing for much of the stage, including the climb over the Galibier. Armstrong wondered aloud about sabotage. It would not have been the first time in the Tour. The most famous occurrence of a rider's bike being vandalized was in 1937 and it almost cost Roger Lapébie the Tour when he tried to start a mountain stage and found that his handlebars had been partially sawn through. Nothing was proven in either case.

The new General Classification:

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Joseba Beloki @ 40 seconds
3. Iban Mayo @ 1 minute 10 seconds
4. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 1 minute 17 seconds
5. Francisco Mancebo @ 1 minute 37 seconds
6. Tyler Hamilton @ 1 minute 52 seconds

Stage 9 had the Lautaret and the Izoard, but both came before the 100-kilometer mark of this 184.5 kilometer stage. Late in the stage came the second-category St. Appolliniare and the third level Côte de La Rochette. They shouldn't have had too much effect upon the race, but affect the race they did. Armstrong had been unable to deliver a lethal coup de grace on L'Alpe d'Huez. The others had hit Armstrong with all they had and Armstrong was still the man in Yellow, but the sense that he could be challenged gave new life to the race. The day was characterized by constant aggression. Most of the good riders were together for the final climb when Vinokourov blasted off the front and drew no reaction. Further up the Rochette Armstrong hit the pack hard and took only a few riders with him, including Beloki, Mayo and Ullrich. They crested the Rochette only 15 seconds behind Vinokourov. It was on the descent that the race changed completely. On the serpentine road with its soft asphalt melted by the heat, Beloki went down hard. In a hard corner his rear wheel locked up, the tire rolled off the rim and blew up. Armstrong, who had been right on his wheel, went off the road, cutting across the switchback in a brilliant bit of quick thinking and excellent cyclo-cross riding. Beloki, in agony with a broken finger, elbow and femur, still wanted to get back on his bike. Just before the crash, his manager Manolo Saiz had told Beloki to let Armstrong take the lead. Now Saiz cradled the shattered racer in his arms, knowing that his Tour was over. With Beloki out, Vinokourov was in second place, 21 seconds behind Armstrong.

In intense heat the Tour rode stage 10 to Marseille; a day of rest followed. Postal's 43-second margin of victory over Telekom in the stage 6 team time trial was looking to be very important. Without that superb effort, Vinokourov would have been in Yellow at this point.

Stage 12 continued the drama. The day was a roasting 35° centigrade (95° Fahrenheit) and Armstrong suffered terribly from dehydration in the last leg of the 48.5-kilometer individual time trial. Ullrich won the stage with Armstrong, who had been going as fast as Ullrich for the first half of the stage second at 1 minute, 36 seconds.

The very tight General Classification stood thus:

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Jan Ullrich @ 34 seconds
3. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 51 seconds
4. Tyler Hamilton @ 2 minutes 59 seconds
5. Haimar Zubeldia @ 4 minutes 29 seconds
6. Iban Mayo s.t.

The Tour was now set for 3 days in the Pyrenees. Stage 13 had 2 tough climbs, Port de Pailhères and the hilltop finish at the Ax-3 Domaines ski station at the top of Plateau du Bonascre. While the other teams may have been guilty of using poor tactics during the Armstrong years, that accusation cannot be leveled at Postal's own manager Johan Bruyneel. He sent one of the their best, José Luis Rubiera, up the road in a break. Eventually at the crest of the Pailhères he was one of a group of 4 that was a couple of minutes ahead of the Armstrong/Ullrich group and ready to assist Armstrong should he need help.

On the final climb Rubiera was caught by the Armstrong group but Carlos Sastre, who had been part of the break, managed to stay away and continued on to win the stage alone. Further back Postal had Roberto Heras attack the Armstrong/Ullrich group. That left just shattered remnants, several of whom took turns attacking: Zubeldia, Vinokourov and then finally Ullrich. Sitting in the saddle Ullrich was able to ride the others off his wheel and come in second behind Sastre. Armstrong closed to within 7 seconds of Ullrich. That left the General Classification still very close:

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Jan Ullrich @ 15 seconds
3. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 1 minute 1 second

The second Pyrenean day had 6 climbs categorized 1 and 2: Col de Latrape, Col de la Core, Portet-d'Aspet, Col de Menté, Portillon and the Col de Peyresourde, whose crest came 11 kilometers before the finish. On the Portillon Virenque, Laurent Dufaux and Simoni emerged from an earlier break and were able to stay away to the end. Simoni, recovering from his earlier efforts in the Giro and the Tour, won the stage, giving him some level of redemption. On the Peyresourde Vinokourov joined a break that again generated no reaction from Ullrich and Armstrong. Vinokourov stayed away and narrowed the gap a bit more. Later Armstrong said that at this point he believed that his chances of winning the Tour were at best, 50 percent.

The General Classification podium now stood thus:

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Jan Ullrich @ 15 seconds
3. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 18 seconds

Stage 15, 159.5 kilometers from Bagnères-de-Bigorre to Luz-Ardiden, was the final Pyrenean stage with 3 big climbs. At kilometer 94 was the Col d'Aspin, at kilometer 135 the riders faced the Tourmalet. If Armstrong had recovered, his forte of grabbing serious time on stages with hilltop finishes would be well-served with the final ascent to Luz-Ardiden. On the Tourmalet Ullrich attacked hard but Armstrong came back up to him. On the descent Armstrong gapped Ullrich a few times on the tricky corners but the best riders were together for the final ascent.

With 9 kilometers to go Mayo put in a hard acceleration which Armstrong answered. Then, as the riders were going around a tight corner Armstrong took the shortest line and caught his bars in the straps of a spectator's mussette. Down he went, taking Mayo with him as Ullrich swerved to avoid them. Armstrong and Mayo remounted and up ahead Ullrich slowed. The others weren't so interested in waiting for the Yellow Jersey so Tyler Hamilton went to the front and put his arm out to slow them. Armstrong, having trouble with his cleats, finally rejoined. Mayo took off again and then Armstrong jumped hard and no one could follow him. Ullrich, who is a momentum climber like Indurain, never did well when the speed changed on a climb. He had a hard time getting going again as Armstrong went by Mayo and took the stage beating Mayo, Ullrich and Zubeldia by 40 seconds. Mayo and Zubeldia were content to sit on Ullrich's wheel the remainder of the climb and try to take the cheap second place, which Mayo did. Ullrich did get his big body up to speed, taking 10 seconds out of Armstrong's gap in the upper slopes of the climb, but he ran out of mountain too soon. Waiting for Armstrong was a grand sporting gesture which probably cost Jan Ullrich the Tour. Comparisons have been made to the 2001 Tour when Armstrong waited for Ullrich after he crashed on the descent of the Peyresourde. The situations are not comparable. Going into that stage Armstrong led Ullrich by 4 minutes. That race, in truth, even though François Simon was in Yellow, was over. The 2001 Tour was not in play for Ullrich. In 2003 it was.

The resultant General Classification:

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Jan Ullrich @ 1 minute 7 seconds
3. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 2 minutes 45 seconds
4. Haimar Zubeldia @ 5 minutes 16 seconds
5. Iban Mayo @ 5 minutes 25 seconds

After the awards ceremony where Armstrong donned the Yellow Jersey, Bernard Hinault greeted him with the simple and telling words, "Welcome to the club." Barring misfortune Armstrong had joined the 5-time Tour winner club.

Now a rest day, then the Tour was to be decided on the penultimate stage, a 49-kilometer individual time trial. That would have been it except that Tyler Hamilton, still suffering intense pain with a broken collarbone, took off in the mountains of the final Pyrenean stage and won a memorable solo victory.

The stage 19 time trial didn't disappoint for drama. It was raining hard in the morning. Ullrich loathed the cold and the wet while Armstrong thrived in it. Unlike Armstrong, Ullrich didn't go out on the course in the morning to familiarize himself with the roads, preferring to stay in bed and watch a videotape of the route. The race itself turned out to be fraught with danger. Several of the riders who had gone off before Ullrich and Armstrong crashed, one breaking some ribs. Understanding that the Tour would be decided during the coming hour Ullrich shook with anxiety in the start house. He took off cleanly and for much of the distance he was leading as he rode at the record individual time trial speed of 55.21 kilometers an hour. Perhaps in any other era Ullrich's effort would have won him the Tour. But at only a couple of seconds slower, Armstrong was nearly matching Ullrich's effort.

And then disaster struck. In a roundabout, as the weather was getting wetter and windier, a gust of wind caught Ullrich's rear disc wheel and sent him to the ground. The Tour was effectively finished. Armstrong slowed to avoid crashing himself, letting David Millar win the stage and Hamilton take second. Since Ullrich was ahead of Armstrong by only 6 seconds when he fell, the race was really already over and the crash didn't decide the race.

Again, the Green Jersey's owner wasn't settled until the final stage in Paris. Robbie McEwen and Baden Cooke were separated by only 2 points. Cooke took second in the final sprint and McEwen was third giving Cooke the points classification.

Armstrong joined Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault and Indurain in the elite club of 5-time Tour winners. Only he and Indurain had achieved their 5 wins consecutively. Indicative of the intensity and the competitiveness of the 2003 Tour, it was raced at the record speed of 40.94 km/hr. It was also pointed out that if the peloton had really been riding clean they wouldn't be riding faster than during the 1990's, the glory days of EPO use.

Final 2003 Tour de France General Classification:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal): 83 hours 41 minutes 12 seconds
2. Jan Ullrich (Bianchi) @ 1 minute 1 second
3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom) @ 4 minutes 14 seconds
4. Tyler Hamilton (CSC) @ 6 minutes 17 seconds
5. Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel) @ 6 minutes 51 seconds
6. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 7 minutes 6 seconds

Climbers' competition. Virenque joined Bahamontes and van Impe as 6-time winners of the climbing competition:

1. Richard Virenque: 324 points
2. Laurent Dufaux: 187 points
3. Lance Armstrong: 168 points

Points competition:

1. Baden Cooke: 216 points
2. Robbie McEwen: 214 points
3. Erik Zabel: 188 points

2004. Coming into the 2004 Tour there was a feeling that for the first time in several years the Tour de France was wide open. No one looking at the close results of the 2003 Tour thought that Armstrong was vulnerable now because of the weaknesses and errors of the previous year; rather it was generally understood that less than perfect preparation and several mistakes such as changing Armstrong's pedals and shoes just before the start of the Tour contributed to his difficulties. No one thought that these mistakes would be repeated.

There were 2 reasons for the feeling that the Tour was in play. The first reason was the improvement in the depth of the competition. Several riders seemed ready to really challenge Armstrong for supremacy:

1) Tyler Hamilton. His new team, Phonak, was generously funded with a $9.6 million budget. Hamilton got to have a purpose-built team to work for him for the Tour. The corporate, Tour-focused US Postal system seemed worthy of replicating. Hamilton's form looked nearly perfect. He won the Tour of Romandie and placed second in the Dauphiné, beating Armstrong in the time-trial up Mount Ventoux. His high placing in last year's Tour, accomplished with a broken collarbone, spoke well for his abilities.

2) Jan Ullrich. Ullrich was back with Godefroot, the team having changed its name from Telekom to T-Mobile. Godefroot had been very bitter about the 2002–2003 breakup. Even though Ullrich was welcomed back into the fold, Ullrich's personal trainer and good friend Rudy Pevenage was still persona non grata and was not allowed to travel with the team. He was forced to take care of Ullrich by traveling on his own at Ullrich's expense. This was an interesting window into Godefroot's psychology and why, after spending many millions of Euros on superb talent, he had so little to show for it. He was willing to sacrifice the mental well-being of his most valuable and expensive rider to feed his anger. That, in a nutshell is the difference between Godefroot and Bruyneel and why Bruyneel always beat Godefroot. Bruyneel would never do anything that would in any way impair Armstrong's physical and mental well-being. The only point Bruyneel wanted to make was the one a victorious director makes when his rider wears Yellow in Paris.

Ullrich started training earlier than ever before for the Tour. His win in the Tour of Switzerland seemed to signal that his condition would be good. The only question mark was if his usual too-rapid weight loss in the weeks before the Tour would sap his strength. His teammate Alexandre Vinokourov would have been a second card for his T-Mobile team to play, both tactically to assist Ullrich and as a pure play for the Tour win. But Vinokourov crashed badly in the Tour of Switzerland and could not start. This was a hard blow for T-Mobile who had to re-think their strategy.

3) Iban Mayo. Always getting better. He won the Dauphiné, beating Armstrong in the time trial up Mont Ventoux and looked ready for the Tour. His question mark was the same as last year. Did he peak too soon? Last year he ran out of gas in the third week because he had tried to keep top form for too long.

4) Roberto Heras. When this erratic racer was firing on all cylinders, he was probably the finest pure climber alive. In the fall of 2003 he won the Vuelta. In the winter he moved from US Postal to the Spanish Liberty Seguros squad. His time spent as a domestique with US Postal was not wasted. Heras deepened his skills to become a competent though not world-class time trialist, demonstrated when he won the time trial in the Basque Country stage race. With only 61 kilometers of flat time trialing in the 2004 Tour, he had the chance of being the first pure climber to win since Marco Pantani in 1998.

There would be 1 tragic missing rider. In February Marco Pantani was found dead in a hotel room, a victim of his own terrible depression and an overdose of cocaine.

There were other riders with possibilities, but with the depth of the year's top-class field, any rider would have to rise to unusual heights to win.

The second reason for optimism among the other riders was Armstrong's age. Some think that upon having hit the magic number of 5 wins, since to date no one had exceeded that number, some insuperable wall arises. 5 wins is not a wall, it's just an arbitrary number of wins. The reason no rider has surpassed this number is that each of the previous 5-time winners, upon going for number 6, found younger, better riders, more capable of handling the abuse of a Grand Tour. I felt that at the beginning of the Tour, the race would be interesting and competitive because of Armstrong's age.

But there is a counter-argument. The other members of the 5-time club raced a full season. Eddy Merckx would suffer all winter in smoky six-day races. Then he would hurl himself onto the cobbles for the Northern Spring Classics. When the time for the big stage races came around, he raced them. In 1974, he raced the Giro, The Tour of Switzerland and then the Tour de France.

Merckx did no special scientific preparation as we now understand it, no careful tune-up. Just constant, non-stop, intensive racing for most of the year at the highest possible level. Even when Merckx rode the post-Tour criteriums, he would race them with all the intensity he gave the hardest mountain stage in the Tour.

This unbelievable schedule gave us the legend of Eddy Merckx, who won an average of 1 race a week during his professional career. It also wore him out prematurely. By 1974, Merckx says the "wear and tear" was showing.

Armstrong carefully prepared for the Tour, prudently choosing his lead-in races. He rode the Tour de France and then quit racing for the season. His body got the optimal tune-up and recovery. For this reason, his career should (and did) last longer than the others.

To me, the proper comparison is Fausto Coppi. Because his bones were so fragile, Coppi was regularly laid up while he let his broken bones heal. It has often been remarked that because the recovery these convalescences gave Coppi, he was able to attack the races he did ride with intensity and freshness. Sound familiar?

Let's look at the 32 and over Tour winners:

1903: Maurice Garin, 32 years old 1919: Firmin Lambot, 33 1921: Leon Scieur, 33 1922: Firmin Lambot, 36 1923: Henri Pélissier, 34 1926: Lucien Buysse, 34 1929: Maurice Dewaele, 33 1948: Gino Bartali, 24 1952: Fausto Coppi, 33 1980: Joop Zoetemelk, 33 1996: Bjarne Riis, 32

In the last 50 years only Zoetemelk and Riis have been able to win the Tour after their thirty-second birthday. Hamilton was 33 on March 1 and Armstrong was 32 when the Tour started. Armstrong's birthday is September 18, so he was almost 33 during the 2004 Tour. Since World War II, more men have won the Tour 5 times than have won it after they turned 32.

The 2004 Tour was counter-clockwise, Pyrenees first. The route had some terribly difficult stages planned, and there was 1 interesting switch. The first time trial was up l'Alpe d'Huez. The Tour's climbing specialists would not lose as much time as usual in the time trials. They had only the Prologue and the Besançon time trial on the penultimate stage to cause them worry.

Another change was a "stop-loss" rule for the team time trial. The most a rider could lose in the team chrono event was 3 minutes. This harkened back to old Henri Desgrange who hated to see a weak rider get too much help from a strong team or a strong rider held back by a weak team. There was nothing new in this. Many previous Tours have awarded the winner of the team time trial only a small time bonification. Some Tours have allowed the team time trial to affect only the team standings, leaving the individual times unchanged. Americans, suspicious of French intentions and ignorant of Tour history, accused the Tour management of manipulating the rules to Armstrong's disadvantage.

The accusations of doping continued. Several members of the Cofidis team were found to have been habitual users of performance enhancing chemicals. The most notable of them was David Millar, the World Time Trial Champion. He wasn't found out through drug testing. He, like almost the entire pro peloton, had been able to finesse the testing regimen. It took the French police, who raided his home and found doping products, to extract a confession from the man who had for so long denied that he had cheated.

Armstrong had been at the center of accusations from almost the first moment when he showed that he could successfully contest the Tour. A French judicial inquiry into accusations of Armstrong and Postal team doping had been proceeding at a glacial pace. The investigators seemed to be convinced that if they looked long enough and hard enough they would find evidence of cheating. The inquiry took 21 months to complete. Finally, in September 2002 the investigation was closed for lack of evidence. In June 2004, a book titled LA Confidential: the Secrets of Lance Armstrong came out accusing Armstrong of systematically doping. It put together some rather plausible accusations, but to destroy a man's reputation, the book needed proof. Armstrong swore to bring the writers to account in court. Both sides failed. The truly compelling proof was missing and Armstrong did not pursue his accusers in court. To advance the story a bit more, in August of 2005 the French newspaper L'Équipe was able to discover the results of retrospective testing of frozen 1999 Tour urine samples. The newspaper said that 6 of Armstrong's samples were positive for EPO. Many arguments were mounted against the L'Equipe story, most of it silly francophobic spin. The one argument that Armstrong did make that has legs was that no one could be sure of the chain of custody of the samples between 1999 and 2005. On that basis alone it is only fair to leave Armstrong's reputation intact. On the other side of the ledger, Armstrong was contemptuous of the few riders who either admitted to have doped or spoke out against its use in the peloton. He seemed to be helping to enforce the professional riders' omerta, the code of silence regarding dope.

The race:

The Prologue time trial was held in Liège, Belgium on wet, slippery streets. Both Ullrich and Hamilton chose to ride it conservatively, hoping to avoid a crash. Ullrich's teammate, Sergei Ivanov crashed earlier in the day so Ullrich's team boss Walter Godefroot instructed Ullrich to ride carefully.

Armstrong, being a superb bike handler, chose to ride the event all-out. The times showed the effect. Armstrong came in second and put 15 to 20 seconds between himself and his challengers before the first stage. Even with the cautious ride, Ullrich's time was slower than it should have been. Ullrich was coming down with a cold.

It was on the third stage that the first real drama of the 2004 Tour took place. Two sections of pavé were included, the first being almost 3 kilometers long. As in Paris–Roubaix, each rider was desperate to be at the front as they approached the cobbles. The peloton accelerated to a near flat-out pace. Just before the first section, Iban Mayo and US Postal rider Benjamin Noval locked handlebars and went down. Also going down was the Yellow Jersey, Thor Hushovd. Postal hammered the front. When it didn't suit them, Postal had no trouble forgetting the traditional race courtesy of waiting for a fallen Tour leader. All of Mayo's Euskaltel team, including their number 2 General Classification man Haimar Zubeldia, dropped back to pace him back to the field. Before the Euskaltel team could rejoin the peloton, the race hit the cobbles. US Postal stayed at the front and rode the cobbled section blisteringly fast. First their George Hincapie and then more powerfully, Viacheslav Ekimov put in hard, long pulls. The field split into several groups under this onslaught. In the end, the front group with most of the top riders kept pulling away from a second chase group that contained not only Mayo, but top French hope Christophe Moreau. They lost almost 4 minutes and saw their overall lead hopes dim on only the second stage.

The stage 4 64.5-kilometer team time trial was held in wet and sloppy conditions. US Postal executed their ride perfectly and won the stage, putting Armstrong in Yellow. Armstrong was impressive, taking kilometer-long pulls.

Having chosen narrow tires that were too light for the wet roads, tires that were required by their time-trial bike's tight clearances, Hamilton's Phonak team suffered 5 flat tires as well as several mechanical problems. They were able to finish with the minimum number of riders, 5. In a team time trial, the team gets the time of the fifth rider across the finish line. Their ride was still impressive since they came in second after waiting twice for riders with problems and running a short team. They were denied the win, but it showed that Tyler's new team had real strength and could meet any need that would arise in the coming stages. With the new team time trial rules, Hamilton did not suffer the full 1 minute, 7 seconds that he lost to US Postal. Tour rules limited his loss to only 20 seconds.

Gilberto Simoni, the team leader of Saeco and multiple winner of the Giro, seemed to forget that he had to finish with his team to get the protection of the new rule. Coming into town, fearing a crash on the cobbles, he let himself get separated from his team. He lost 2 minutes, 42 seconds.

Armstrong made it clear that he would not defend his Yellow Jersey this early in the Tour. Early in stage 5, a break of 5 went off early and came in with a lead of 12 minutes, 33 seconds. Letting the break go was a considered judgment on Postal's part, but in the winds and bad weather and with a crash in the peloton, it became difficult to keep the break's lead from getting out of hand. This put the young French Road Champion, Thomas Voeckler of the Brioches La Boulangere team, in Yellow. This was not the result Postal wanted, as they remembered the trouble caused in 2001, letting a break containing Andrei Kivilev get a big lead.

The stages leading up to the first rest day after stage 8 were all run under wet and windy conditions across the north of France. Numerous crashes made the riders very nervous. It was said that more than 100 of the remaining 176 riders had been involved in at least 1 crash. At the 1-kilometer-to-go sign in stage 6 a terrible pile-up stopped most of the field. Tyler Hamilton went flying and landed on his back, breaking his helmet in the process.

Meanwhile, super-aggressive breakaway ace Jakob Piil had spent 551 kilometers of the first week in breaks.

By the rest day there were no real changes to the General Classification. Here were the standings before the Tour headed to the Massif Central for stage 9:

1. Thomas Voeckler
2. Stuart O'Grady @ 3 minutes 1 second
3. Sandy Casar @ 4 minutes 6 seconds
4. Magnus Backstedt @ 6 minutes 27 seconds
5. Jakob Piil @ 7 minutes 9 seconds
6. Lance Armstrong @ 9 minutes 35 seconds
7. George Hincapie @ 9 minutes 45 seconds
8. Jose Azevedo @ 9 minutes 57 seconds
9. Jose Enrique Gutierrez @ 10 minutes 2 seconds
10. Erik Zabel @ 10 minutes 6 seconds
11. Tyler Hamilton @ 10 minutes 11 seconds
20. Jan Ullrich @ 10 minutes 30 seconds
22. Bobby Julich @ 10 minutes 35 seconds
24. Levi Leipheimer @ 10 minutes 43 seconds
29. Ivan Basso @ 10 minutes 52 seconds
36. Roberto Heras @ 11 minutes 20 seconds
66. Gilberto Simoni @ 12 minutes 57 seconds
89. Iban Mayo @ 15 minutes 2 seconds

The Tour management had put in 3 transition stages next. They were not pure climbing stages. Instead they were to be challenging with 'heavy' roads that would be tough on the peloton. Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said that he included these stages hoping that some of the Tour contenders would try to shake things up with tactical, aggressive riding rather than just sitting in Postal's wake, riding tempo and waiting for the mountains.

It was not to be. Each day, opportunistic, non-threatening breaks were allowed to go, then controlled. These stages across the Massif Central of France had no real effect on the General Classification. Thomas Voeckler did manage to hang on to his Yellow Jersey thanks to the hard working defense of his Brioches La Boulangere team.

Stages 12 and 13 were Pyrenean mountain stages.

Stage 12 started with a long, slow rise out of Castelsarrasin. There were 2 climbs, an assault on the Col d'Aspin and then a climb partway up the Tourmalet to La Mongie. It was an astonishing day that saw the hopes of most of Armstrong's challengers fade. Ullrich, Mayo, Zubeldia and Hamilton cracked very early on the final climb. The day turned cold and wet, the worst possible weather for an Ullrich who had become sick enough to require antibiotics. When asked over his radio if his team's number 2 man, Andreas Klöden should wait and escort him to the finish, Ullrich, knowing that he was going to lose real time that day, gave Klöden his freedom. In the end, only CSC's Ivan Basso could stay with Armstrong. In the final kilometers Basso actually looked better than Armstrong and beat the 5-time Tour winner to the line.

Stage 13 was more of the same. It was a 205-kilometer ride over Col du Portet d'Aspet, Col de la Core, Col de Latrape, Col d'Agnes and then up to Plateau de Beille.

Very early on in the stage Tyler Hamilton was forced to abandon the race. Injuries to his back from a crash in stage 6 kept him from being able to ride out of the saddle. He said that he was unable to apply any power to his pedals.

Later on, Euskaltel's Iban Mayo played out a repeat of Federico Bahamontes's attempts to quit the Tour 50 years ago. Suffering badly in his second day in the mountains, Mayo fell off the pace. At one point he got off his bike. His manager convinced him to get back on the bike and continue. After riding just a few meters he started to take his shoes out of the pedals. His teammates kept pushing him along, not letting him quit. Even Fabian Cancellara of the Fassa Bortolo team came up beside him and started pushing him along. He eventually finished the stage, 38 minutes behind the winners.

Armstrong's US Postal team completely controlled the race, keeping the tempo very high. By the penultimate climb, the Col d'Agnes, there were only 22 riders left in the Armstrong group, 7 of them Postal riders. This was a team domination that probably has no equal in Tour history. Within the first couple of kilometers of the final climb the Armstrong group was reduced to about a dozen riders. As Postal's Jose Azevedo increased the intensity, it was soon down to just 3: Azevedo, Armstrong and the young hero from the day before, Ivan Basso. After Azevedo had done his work for Armstrong and swung off, it was Basso and Armstrong trading pace to the line. This time, Armstrong was the better of the 2 while Basso was showing the strain of the 2 days in the mountains.

Plucky Thomas Voeckler looked like he was finally going to lose his Yellow Jersey as he struggled up the final kilometers to Plateau de Beille. He had fallen off the lead group on each of the climbs and chased back on the descents, fearlessly blazing down the mountainsides. As he passed under the 2 kilometers to go banner, his manager drove up next to him and told him that if he pushed it, he could keep the Yellow Jersey. Exhausted, Voeckler dug even deeper and kept his lead by a whisker-thin 22 seconds. Armstrong was second, Ivan Basso was third at 1 minute, 39 seconds.

The utter collapse of nearly all the fancied challengers was a stunning result after only 2 days in the mountains. Armstrong and his team looked to be completely in charge before the Tour moved to the Alps.

Cyrille Guimard, the coach of Van Impe, Hinault, Fignon and Lemond, called the day a massacre. He thought that only Ivan Basso had a chance at the final victory after stage 13. And that was doubtful because he was only as strong as Armstrong, not stronger. Armstrong was the better time trialist, making it very unlikely that Basso could take time out of Armstrong in the remaining days unless Armstrong were to have a very bad day.

After the Pyrenees and stage 13, going to a rest day and then the Alps, here were the standings:

1. Thomas Voeckler
2. Lance Armstrong @ 22 seconds
3. Ivan Basso @ 1 minute 39 seconds
4. Andreas Klöden @ 3 minutes 18 seconds
5. Francisco Mancebo @ 3 minutes 28 seconds
6. Georg Totschnig @ 6 minutes 8 seconds
7. Jose Azevedo @ 6 minutes 43 seconds
8. Jan Ullrich @ 7 minutes 1 second
9. Pietro Caucchioli @ 7 minutes 59 seconds
10. Sandy Casar @ 8 minutes 29 seconds
11. Gilberto Simoni @ 9 minutes 50 seconds
14. Levi Leipheimer @ 10 minutes 47 seconds
16. Christophe Moreau @ 11 minutes 49 seconds
34. Roberto Heras @ 27 minutes 35 seconds

On paper, the first Alpine stage, 15, was a challenging but not a crushing stage. It had a category 2 mountain to climb followed by the category 1 Col de l'Echarasson. There was some relatively minor climbing after that before the expected showdown. The stage's climax was foreseen to be the second category Côte de Chalimont, which crested just 15 kilometers from the finish. A quick descent was followed by a slight climb to the finish line.

Ullrich knew that he had to do something soon. He would run out of opportunities very quickly with all the climbing and time trialing packed into this last week. Riding with the Armstrong group on the Col de l'Echarasson, he heaved his big body up the road in a furious attack. In the Pyrenees he had pedaled with a ponderous, slow, ineffective cadence. Here he was turning over his big cranks at a high rate, looking fresh and as powerful as the old Ullrich. He crested the mountain with a lead of about a minute over the Armstrong group. He picked up some remainders of a fraying breakaway, Garcia-Acosta (Illes Balears) and Santos Gonzalez (Phonak).

CSC hit the panic button. Not being confident that their Ivan Basso could challenge Armstrong for first place in the General Classification, Ullrich's attack could be a threat to the second place Basso currently held. Playing it safe, CSC's boss Bjarne Riis told Jens Voigt, who was up the road in an earlier break, to return to the small Yellow Jersey group that also had Carlos Sastre, Ivan Basso and 2 Postal riders. Together, CSC and US Postal brought Ullrich back to the peloton.

This group then came into the finish area. Armstrong sat in the back of the group in the big ring, cross-chained, ready to dump the gear for a sprint. Always prepared. He jumped, taking Basso with him and emphatically won the stage. Armstrong was now in Yellow.

Stage 16 was the wildly anticipated individual time trial up l'Alpe d'Huez. Before the collapse of almost of all of Armstrong's competitors, this was seen as a potentially electrifying stage that would showcase Armstrong, Ullrich, Hamilton and Mayo in a terrific, dramatic race. Given the lack of real competition left, the stage was expected to do nothing more than tighten Armstrong's grip on the lead.

Riding through a defile of race fans that were estimated between 500,000 and 1,000,000, Armstrong executed a convincing victory. He beat Ullrich by 61 seconds. His 2-minute man, Ivan Basso, was caught with about 4 kilometers to go. Nationalistic Germans showed their anger at their countryman Jens Voigt, who had been instrumental in chasing down Jan Ullrich the day before. Signs calling him "Judas" and catcalls from the crowd were his unfair reward. After the stage even Ullrich had to tell a press conference that was Voigt's job, to work for his team.

Stage 17, the 2004 Tour's Queen Stage was 204 kilometers of Alpine racing. The racers were to cross the Glandon, the Madeleine, the Tamié, the Forclaz and the Croix-Fry. T-Mobile had made it clear that this was an important opportunity to take the second and third places on the podium. They announced in advance that they would attack Basso.

As the racers rode kilometer after kilometer, US Postal set a fast pace causing all but the last few of the contenders to go out the back door without so much as a single attack. T-Mobile just sat behind Postal the entire way. Clearly the confidence had gone out of the legs of Ullrich and Klöden. As US Postal rider Floyd Landis, in an amazing display of power and endurance, led the leaders up the Croix Fry, the group was reduced to Armstrong, Ullrich, Klöden, Basso and of course, Landis. In the final descent into Le Grand Bornand, first Landis ("Run like you stole something", Armstrong told him) attacked and was brought back by Ullrich. Then T-Mobile's Klöden counter-attacked. Armstrong, upset at Ullrich for pulling back Landis, chased him like a fiend and caught him at the line. No change to the top placings still.

The penultimate stage, 19, was a 55-kilometer individual time trial. It consisted of an oblong loop over the rolling countryside starting and ending in Besançon. At every check point Armstrong was the leader. In the first time check, 18 kilometers into the stage, Ullrich had already lost 43 seconds. Ullrich had hoped to do well enough to make it to the podium but he fell far short of that goal. His teammate, Andreas Klöden, did beat Ivan Basso by a large enough margin to make it to second place in the general classification.

And that's how it ended. Armstrong made history by winning his sixth Tour de France. He defied the calendar and his doubters.

Richard Virenque won his seventh King of the Mountains title, passing Federico Bahamontes and Lucien van Impe, who had 6 each.

Final 2004 Tour de France General Classification

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal): 83 hours 36 minutes 2 seconds
2. Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile) @ 6 minutes 19 seconds
3. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 6 minutes 40 seconds
4. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 8 minutes 50 seconds
5. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 14 minutes 30 seconds
6. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 18 minutes 1 second
7. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) 18 minutes 27 seconds
8. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 19 minutes 51 seconds
9. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 20 minutes 12 seconds
10. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 22 minutes 54 seconds

Climbers' Competition:

1. Richard Virenque: 226 points
2. Lance Armstrong: 172 points
3. Michael Rasmussen: 119 points

Points Competition:

1. Robbie McEwen: 272 points
2. Thor Hushovd: 247 points
3. Erik Zabel: 245 points

2005. The 2005 route favored climbers a bit with only 74 kilometers of individual time trialing (2.6 kilometers fewer than in 2004) and 3 hilltop finishes. Instead of a short Prologue the 2005 started with a 19-kilometer individual time trial. This had the potential to change the complexion of the first week's racing. Normally the sprinters do reasonably well in the short, power-intensive Prologues. At worst they start the first road stage a few seconds out of the lead. Their hope is to accrue time bonuses along the way and gain the Yellow Jersey before they hit the mountains. With a long time trial the gaps between the better time trialists and sprinters would most likely put the lead out of time-bonus reach. One writer speculated that this might reduce the desperation and aggression in the early stages and make the racing a bit safer. Given the intensity of Tour racing, this was an unlikely outcome. The 2005 Tour went clockwise (Alps first), then headed to the Pyrenees and finished the climbing in the Massif Central before heading to Paris.

Professional racing was given a profound re-organization with the institution of the Pro Tour. The reigning president of the UCI, Hein Verbruggen, rammed through his vision of how the sport should be run. The 20 best teams were given a "Pro Tour" license good for 4 years. The most important races, which included the Grand Tours and the Classics, were given Pro Tour status. The Pro Tour teams would all have to send riders to all of the races that were on the Pro Tour calendar. The purpose of this reorganization was to give stability to the teams and a high quality peloton to all of the important races. Not happy with what they saw as a bald UCI power grab, the promoters of the Grand Tours pushed back finding many of the Pro Tour rules encroaching on their ability to run their races as they saw fit. While negotiations between the UCI and the Grand Tour organizers dragged on, both sides agreed to disagree for now and proceeded to run the season under a flag of truce. The result for the Tour was that all 20 Pro Tour teams had an automatic invitation to ride the Tour and the Tour organization could only choose 1 wild card. Facing a 200 rider limit to the peloton, there was some speculation that the Tour would have 8-man teams, allowing more small teams to compete. It didn't come to pass and only one discretionary invitation was issued, to the French Ag2R team.

There had been doubt as to whether Armstrong would ride the 2005 Tour and attempt to extend his winning streak to 7 consecutive Tours. In February he announced that he would, indeed, be on the line in July. His contract with his team's new sponsor, the Discovery Television Channel required him to ride another Tour, but he could choose to ride either the 2005 or the 2006 Tour.

Ullrich had already put in 2,500 kilometers by New Year's Day, announcing that unseating Armstrong remained his primary goal. When Armstrong announced that he would ride the 2005 Tour, Ullrich responded that this would make a better race. Also, he had made no secret of the fact that he longed to beat Armstrong.

The man who had given Armstrong such a scare both in 2003 and 2004, Iban Mayo, and who had suffered such a physiological crack-up in the mountains of the 2004 Tour turned out to have contracted mononucleosis. He wasn't ready to mount another challenge.

In the pre-Tour tune-up races, the Dauphiné Libéré and the Tour of Switzerland, both Ullrich and Armstrong did well enough. Neither wanted to be peaking in early to mid June. Ullrich led the Swiss Tour for a while and eventually came in third, only a minute and a half behind the winner, Aitor Gonzalez. Armstrong came in fourth in the Dauphiné while T-Mobile's other Tour hopeful, Alexandre Vinokourov was fifth in the Dauphiné, only 3 seconds behind Armstrong.

Armstrong's teams had been put together for a single purpose, to deliver Armstrong to Paris in Yellow. Ullrich's teams usually had split ambitions. Besides working for the General Classification, stage victories were highly important to the German team. In the pre-Armstrong years this had worked well for them. In 1997 they had won both the Yellow and the Green Jerseys courtesy of their successful dual-pronged Ullrich and Zabel attack of the Tour. For the 2005 Tour T-Mobile announced a team that was selected with the sole purpose of winning the Tour's General Classification. The team looked to be extremely strong, with 2004 second-place Andreas Klöden and 2003 third-place Alexandre Vinokourov. To make room on the team for another domestique who could help in the mountains, 6-time Green Jersey winner Erik Zabel was left off the roster. The T-Mobile team looked to be almost scary-strong. Still, the real question, given the rough parity Armstrong and Ullrich had in time-trialing, did Ullrich bring enough horsepower to the Tour to withstand Armstrong's explosive bursts of power near the final summit on stages with hilltop finishes? That was where the big time was lost, stage after stage, year after year. With the exception of 2003, Armstrong had about clinched each of his Tours with a rocket-like burst of irresistible speed at each year's first hilltop finish.

T-Mobile seemed intent upon confirming their image as the team that couldn't quite get things right. On the day before the Prologue, team director Mario Kummer was motorpacing (driving a car or motorcycle with a rider right in the vehicle's slipstream) Ullrich when he hit the brakes without warning. Ullrich crashed through the rear window and into the car. Everyone on his team went out of his way to say Ullrich was fine with only a few bruises and cuts.

Let's look at the stage 1 19-kilometer individual time trial results. At 54.67 kilometers an hour, David Zabriskie's ride was the fastest time trial in Tour history, beating Lemond's fabled 1989 final stage record of 54.454 kilometers an hour. Zabriskie had been a member of Armstrong's Postal team but when they were uninterested in renewing his contract Riis picked him up for CSC. Armstrong, who started a minute after Ullrich, caught and blew by the slower moving German.

1. David Zabriskie: 20 minutes 51 seconds.
2. Lance Armstrong @ 2 seconds
3. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 53 seconds
12. Jan Ullrich @ 1 minute 8 seconds

Sports physiologists such as Michele Ferrari, Armstrong's training guru, noted that after a crash the body's diversion of precious energy and resources measurably impaired a racer. At the first stage Ullrich had given up a minute he shouldn't have, a minute he could probably not recover from Armstrong.

Zabriskie kept the lead until the fourth stage, a 67.5-kilometer team time trial going from Tours to Blois. CSC, having the Yellow Jersey, was the last team to ride. At each checkpoint throughout the ride they were ahead of Discovery by a few seconds. As CSC blazed the day's final 2 kilometers, Zabriskie had what can only be guessed to be a lapse of concentration. The team was in perfect formation and then Zabriskie went flying in a terrible crash. The team continued on and Zabriskie limped in a minute and a half later. Zabriskie had no memory of the crash and couldn't explain why it happened although a high-speed touch of wheels was the likely cause. Discovery won the stage by 2 seconds and Armstrong was now the Tour leader. Discovery's 57.325 kilometers an hour was the fastest Tour team time trial on record.

The next day's start (stage 5) was delayed a little because Armstrong, following an old tradition of not wanting to wear the Yellow Jersey the day after inheriting it from a rider who has lost it from misfortune, was told he would be ejected from the Tour if he did not put on the Yellow Jersey. That settled it and Armstrong was in Yellow. The early stages were the sprinter's private property with Belgium's Tom Boonen winning 2 stages and Australia's Robbie McEwen taking stage 5.

The finale to stage 6 made it clear that Alexandre Vinokourov would need to be watched. Just before the finish, as the pack was closing in on fading escapee Christophe Mengin, Vinokourov and Lorenzo Bernucci took off after Mengin and caught him. Mengin crashed in the dangerous final corner, forcing Vinokourov to slow, allowing Bernucci to take the stage. But with the 12 second time bonus for second place and the 7 second gap to the field, Vinokourov elevated himself to third in the General Classification. At the dawn of the 20th Century Henri Desgrange had said bicycle racing is a sport requiring head and legs. Vinokourov continually proved the old man right.

Stage 8 took the Tour from the sprinters and gave it to the men of the Tour. Stage 7 had crossed into Germany and stage 9 took it over the Vosges as it headed back into France. It was a rare day in the Tour when T-Mobile out-raced Discovery. On the final climb, the second category Col de la Schlucht, Armstrong found himself isolated. The day's hot pace had forced his already tired team to be dropped. Vinokourov tried several savage attacks which were brought back. Then T-Mobile launched Klöden who caught an already escaped Pieter Weening. Their break stuck and Klöden moved to 1 minute, 50 seconds behind Armstrong, who remained in Yellow. Armstrong, knowing that he could not win the Tour without a working team to defend him, was clearly angry at being left alone and promised that there would be hard talk at the team's dinner table.

The next stage, looking to conserve energy and give the Discovery domestiques a rest from protecting the Yellow Jersey, a 3-man break containing CSC's Jens Voigt was allowed to go. This was exactly what Discovery was looking for. They wanted to give the responsibility of the Yellow Jersey to a man who would not be a long-term threat. Voigt was just such a man and he now had the lead with a rest day next before the real climbing began. Again Ullrich crashed, this time at high speed early in the stage. He was able to rejoin the field with little trouble.

This Tour was shaping up to be a very fast, hard-fought race with an average speed of 46.22 kilometers an hour average over the 1,493.5 kilometers covered so far. The General Classification after stage 9:

1. Jens Voigt
2. Christophe Moreau @ 1 minute 50 seconds
3. Lance Armstrong @ 2 minutes 18 seconds
4. Michael Rasmussen @ 2 minutes 43 seconds
5. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 3 minutes 20 seconds
6. Bobby Julich @ 3 minutes 25 seconds
7. Ivan Basso @ 3 minutes 44 seconds
8. Jan Ullrich @ 3 minutes 54 seconds

Stage 10 was a simple enough stage with the category 1 Cormet de Roselend midway through the 180-kilometer stage, and then a hilltop finish at Courchevel. Simple though it may have been, Armstrong was again able to destroy the ambitions of several of his competitors on the final climb of the first high mountain stage of the Tour. This time there were no problems with his team. They were able to escort him until the final kilometers of the stage setting a very fast pace, especially from the end of the descent of the Roselend until the final climb. In the first 8 kilometers of the climb Roberto Heras, Alexandre Vinokourov, and Joseba Beloki were dropped. Then Ullrich came off and Floyd Landis (now riding for Phonak) was also shelled. T-Mobile decided to sacrifice Klöden and had him escort Ullrich up the mountain. Meanwhile Armstrong did the lion's share of the work as men who had spent almost a year preparing for the Tour were tossed and gored. With a kilometer to go Armstrong revved it up some more and only Alejandro Valverde could go with him. Valverde, being the better sprinter, took the stage and with that, the 2005 Tour was turned upside down. The new General Classification after several important riders had inexplicably failed their first test:

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Michael Rasmussen @ 38 seconds
3. Ivan Basso @ 2 minutes 40 seconds
4. Christophe Moreau @ 2 minutes 42 seconds
5. Alejandro Valverde @ 3 minutes 16 seconds
8. Jan Ullrich @ 4 minutes 2 seconds
16. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 6 minutes 32 seconds

Stage 11 was another day in the high Alps with the Madeleine, Télégraphe and Galibier before a long descent to Briançon. On the Madeleine Vinokourov joined a break of about 10 riders. As they rode over the three mountains almost all of Vinokourov's fellow breakaways dropped off until he was left with only Santiago Botero. Back in the reduced field, Discovery rode at tempo, not too worried about a rider with a 6-minute defecit in GC. Vinokourov outsprinted Botero for the stage win, and with the 1 minute, 15 second time gap to the field plus the 20 second stage-win time bonus Vinokourov moved up to twelfth, 4 minutes, 47 seconds behind Armstrong.

That ended the heavy Alpine stages. Now the very tired riders worked their way across Southern France in heat so oppressive that at one point the officials had a section of the road that had melted hosed down to cool it off.

Stage 13 saw a couple of racers lose their game of "poker" with each other and the peloton. Chris Horner and Sylvain Chavanel had a sustainable lead in the final kilometers when, jockeying for the stage win, first Chavanel and then Horner stopped working. Chavanel took the front but couldn't maintain the gap by himself and in the final meters they were swept up by the fast moving peloton.

Stage 14 was the first stage in the Pyrenees. In baking heat the stage started with a series of third and fourth category climbs and ended with the hors category Port-de-Pailhères and a first category hilltop finish at Ax-3 Domaines. Again, an early break without any riders who could be considered trouble was allowed to get away. One of the riders, experienced pro Georg Totschnig, managed to drop the other breakaways and solo to victory. Back in the peloton T-Mobile decided to roll the dice and set a very fast pace up the Pailhères. T-Mobile's tactics seemed to be in a bit of disarray. Vinokourov rocketed away from the now very reduced group and Ullrich chased him down. In so doing he managed to gap Armstrong who was now without teammates. After waiting a few minutes Armstrong then calmly closed the gap up to the leaders. It was an impressive display of power and sang-froid.

At the base of the climb to Ax-3 Domaines Vinokourov, who had been dropped after his earlier attack, rejoined and again tried to get away. This time Klöden brought him back and then dropped him. Now it was Basso, Ullrich, Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Landis. In the final kilometers of the climb it was down to Ullrich, Basso and Armstrong. Shortly before the end Ullrich was dropped and Armstrong jumped for a small gap on Basso to take the stage win and solidify his hold on the lead.

Stage 15 was, without a doubt, the 2005 Tour's hardest mountain stage. 205 kilometers long, it included the Col du Portet d'Aspet, Col de Menté, Col du Portillon, Col de Peyresourde, Col de Val Louron-Azet and a hilltop finish at Saint-Lary-Soulan/Pla d'Adet. On the Col de Menté a break of 14 went clear. Wanting to be up ahead to help Armstrong in the latter part of the stage, George Hincapie made sure he was in the break of the day. As they rode up and over the Pyrenees, one by one the others dropped off . By the time they were on the final climb it was down to just Oscar Pereiro of Landis' Phonak team and Hincapie. Pereiro, understanding that Hincapie was an Armstrong domestique and would not be allowed to help, did all of the work, dragging Hincapie along in his wake. After sitting on Pereiro for nearly the entire climb Hincapie jumped around the Spaniard for his first Tour stage win. Americans who generally loved the genial Discovery rider were enchanted by the win. Pereiro, however, was bitter about doing all the work and losing the stage.

The real race, of course, was back down the road. By the time the peloton went over the Peyresourde the Yellow Jersey group was down to 128 riders and the Hincapie/Pereiro break was long gone, being 14 minutes ahead. On the Val Louron-Azet Basso hit the front hard and gapped Ullrich who struggled back up but it was clear to Armstrong and Basso that the German was vulnerable. On the descent there was a small regroupment, but it was temporary. Early in the final climb Basso accelerated and only Armstrong could go with him, leaving Ullrich alone to suffer more time loss. Armstrong did not contest the sprint when Basso led him over the line. Clearly Basso and Armstrong were riding on a level well above the others.

The General Classification stood thus:

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Ivan Basso @ 2 minutes 46 seconds
3. Michael Rasmussen @ 3 minutes 9 seconds
4. Jan Ullrich @ 5 minutes 58 seconds

Now came a rest day and then a final day in the high mountains. Even though the stage included the Marie-Blanque and the Aubisque, the finish line was over 70 kilometers from the crest of the Aubisque so it was thought there wouldn't be any major change to the General Classification and that proved to be true. But Oscar Pereiro was still burning from his narrow loss to Hincapie. He managed to get into the winning break. This time Australian Cadel Evans did the lion's share of the work while Pereiro sat on and zipped around for the stage win. Selective indignation isn't very pretty.

The year's longest stage was the 239-kilometer run from Pau to Revel with a sawtooth profile of category 3 and 4 climbs. No one was giving up. Discovery's Giro winner Paolo Savoldelli was in the day's winning break and managed to win a very tactical sprint. Back in the Yellow Jersey group T-Mobile was not surrendering. On the final climb Vinokourov attacked hard. This effort was followed by an equally savage pull by Ullrich. The effect of these 2 attacks was to drop Christophe Moreau, Landis and Evans who were caught unawares by the move. To make life still more miserable for the dropped trio, Armstrong and the rest of the remaining Discovery riders went to the front and drove the separated group hard. The result was to move Vinokourov from ninth to seventh place in the Overall. Armstrong collected his seventy-ninth Yellow Jersey, tying Bernard Hinault, but well behind Merckx's closet full of 96.

Stage 18 brought the Tour into the center of the Massif Central. Just before the end was a 3-kilometer climb with a 10% gradient. While the usual break of non-contenders was battling 10 minutes up the road, the peloton was being whittled down by the high speed of the pack as it rode over the region's relentless climbs. Just into the final climb Basso hit the front hard and then there were 4. Only Evans, Ullrich and Armstrong could go with the aggressive Italian. The losers of the day were Michael Rasmussen whose third place was now in jeopardy since Ullrich was only 2 minutes, 12 seconds behind him with the final time trial coming, and Vinokourov who could not go with the Basso move. Evans took back his seventh place, pushing Vinokourov to eighth.

The stage 20 time trial was important because there were so many positions in the General Classification in play.

Going into the time trial the standings stood thus:

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Ivan Basso @ 2 minutes 46 seconds
3. Michael Rasmussen @ 3 minutes 46 seconds
4. Jan Ullrich @ 5 minutes 58 seconds
5. Francisco Mancebo @ 7 minutes 8 seconds
6. Levi Leipheimer @ 8 minutes 12 seconds
7. Cadel Evans @ 9 minutes 49 seconds
8. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 10 minutes 11 seconds
9. Floyd Landis @ 10 minutes 42 seconds
10. Oscar Pereiro 12 minutes 39 seconds
11. Christophe Moreau @ 13 minutes 15 seconds

Moreau learned that his team, Credit Agricole, might want to replace him with Vinokourov as its protected Tour leader for 2006. He knew he had to do well and break into the top 10 in order to have a good negotiating position. Leipheimer wanted to take Mancebo's fifth place, Ullrich wanted to get on the podium. And so far Armstrong hadn't won a stage. He surely didn't want to win the Tour a la Walko (after Roger Walkowiak who won the 1956 Tour without winning a stage. Or, as the Italians say for the same reason, a la Balmamion). The 55.5-kilometer course had a third-category climb and a descent that required care. Ullrich ripped the course, showing again that his preparation is always too late. His move to third place in the standings was aided by Rasmussen's catastrophe. First he crashed early in the stage. He then flatted and got an incompetent wheel change requiring several bike changes before he could continue. To add to his misery he crashed on the descent. Rasmussen finished seventy-seventh that day, 7 minutes, 47 seconds behind the day's winner, Lance Armstrong.

The results of the stage:

1. Lance Armstrong: 1 hour 11 minutes 46 seconds, Armstrong's twenty-second career Tour stage win.
2. Jan Ullrich @ 23 seconds
3. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 1 minute 16 seconds
4. Bobby Julich @ 1 minute 33 seconds
5. Ivan Basso @ 1 minute 54 seconds
6. Floyd Landis @ 2 minutes 2 seconds
7. Cadel Evans @ 2 minutes 6 seconds
8. George Hincapie @ 2 minutes 25 seconds

This yielded a slightly changed General Classification. Note that now only 2 seconds separate Leipheimer and Vinokourov:

1. Lance Armstrong
2. Ivan Basso @ 4 minutes 40 seconds
3. Jan Ullrich @ 6 minutes 21 seconds
4. Francisco Mancebo @ 9 minutes 59 seconds
5. Levi Leipheimer @ 11 minutes 25 seconds
6. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 11 minutes 27 seconds
7. Michael Rasmussen @ 11 minutes 33 seconds

The final stage was a bit confusing because light rain made the streets a bit slippery. Not wanting to have a mass crash changing the final outcome the race, officials announced that because of the wet streets the winner's final time for the General Classification would be fixed when the Tour crossed the finish line on the Champs Elysées for the first time. But the time bonuses for the second intermediate sprint and final sprint were still in play. Leipheimer had to keep worrying about Vinokourov. Vinokourov, not one to ever give up, managed to take a couple of bonus seconds in one of the intermediate sprints despite the best efforts of Leipheimer's team to control the situation. Now he was behind Leipheimer by only a fraction of a second. Then a ruling seemed to come down saying that the stage's remaining time bonuses were cancelled.

In the final kilometer Vinokourov took off and managed to win the stage, securing the 20 bonus seconds which, to the surprise of Leipheimer, turned out to be up for grabs after all.

The final 2005 Tour de France General Classification:

1. Lance Armstrong (Discovery): 88 hours 15 minutes 2 seconds
2. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 4 minutes 40 seconds
3. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 6 minutes 21 seconds
4. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 9 minutes 59 seconds
5. Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) @ 11 minutes 1 second
6. Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) @ 11 minutes 21 seconds

Climbers' Competition:

1. Michael Rasmussen: 185 points
2. Oscar Pereiro: 155 points
3. Lance Armstrong: 99 points

Points Competition:

1. Thor Hushovd:194 points
2. Stuart O'Grady: 182 points
3. Robbie McEwen: 178 points
4. Alexandre Vinokourov: 158 points

The 2005 Tour was run at the extraordinary speed of 41.654 kilometers an hour. This represents an increase of about 4 kilometers an hour over Greg Lemond's 1989 Tour. This 10 percent increase in speed represents an extraordinary increase in rider energy output. Arithmetic increases in bicycle speed causes the cyclist's aerodynamic drag to go up by the square of the speed. Not all of a rider's efforts go into fighting the wind, there are other losses such as chain drag, tire rolling resistance, but the overall effect is to require perhaps a quarter again as much energy to ride the Tour at this higher speed. Better training?

Armstrong retired from professional racing after crossing the finish line in Paris. I think it is sufficient to say that he had done what no man in the Tour's 92 editions had been able to do, win 7 Tours and win them consecutively.

2006. Armstrong had really retired. The giant who had dominated the Tour for the better part of a decade would not be on the line in 2006 to contest the Tour. The Tour organization seemed to be acutely aware of the new era. Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc had taken the doping accusations against Armstrong to heart and made it clear that he believed them to be true. When the 2006 route was unveiled he and his successor, Christian Prudhomme, said, "On the 24th of July we turned a page on a long, very long chapter in the history of the Tour de France. And one month later, current events made it clear to us that it was just as well that this was so." Leblanc was even more blunt in a later interview with the Associated Press, saying that "[Armstrong] was not irreproachable in '99. EPO is a doping product. So this tempers and dilutes his performances and his credibility as a champion." Armstrong replied with his usual vigor, saying, "Jean-Marie Leblanc says the Tour deserves a better fate, I believe it deserves a better leader." The dispute between Leblanc and Armstrong aside, Leblanc had done a wonderful job resuscitating a moribund Tour. Leblanc was responsible for remaking the Tour into an event that gave Armstrong his glorious renown.

Leblanc himself had been planning to retire for some time, originally hoping to turn over the reins of Tour leadership after the 2003 Tour. Daniel Baal, who had been the deputy director of the Tour, had been groomed as Leblanc's successor. As Leblanc hung on year after year, Baal finally resigned. Christian Prudhomme, a television journalist, was brought in as the new deputy to Leblanc with Leblanc now scheduled to retire after the 2006 Tour.

There were several men who looked to make the Tour perhaps the hardest fought race at least since 2003.

Jan Ullrich seemed to have banished his eating and training demons. He kept his weight under control over the winter and applied himself to his training with rigor. In spring he had a knee inflammation that kept him off his bike for a while, but he was recovered enough to ride the Giro for training. During the Italian Tour he never pushed himself except in the stage 11 individual time trial which he won, beating an on-form Ivan Basso by 28 seconds over the flat 50-kilometer course. He then went on to win the Tour of Switzerland, doing much better in the climbs than he had in the mountains of the Giro. Probably for only the second time since he had won the Tour in 1997, Jan Ullrich was in shape and really ready to contest the Tour. He was the only former Tour winner entered.

Ivan Basso had been maturing, showing that in 2005 he could stay with the best on the climbs. His 2006 Giro win was so complete that he made it look almost effortless. Backed up by the strongest team in the race he was able to pick his moments and deliver blow after lethal blow to his competitors. He reduced 2-time winner Gilberto Simoni to petulant accusations of Basso's trying to buy a stage win, accusations which Simoni later withdrew. The big question going into the Tour was whether Basso could hold his magnificent form over such an extended period of time.

Also a big question was Phonak's Floyd Landis. He had enjoyed a superb spring, winning 3 big stage races, The Tour of California, Paris–Nice and the Tour de Georgia. His trainers insisted that Landis had such an abundance of strength that he didn't have to dig too deeply for his spring victories. Landis had been part of the Armstrong machine for 3 years, but after the 2004 Tour Landis left the Discovery team for Phonak. As had happened with other riders who had gone from being his domestiques to competitors, Armstrong reacted to Landis' team change with bitterness and invective.

Considered a serious challenger in 2005, by stage 11 Landis was already 4 minutes behind Armstrong. Some attributed Landis' final 12 minute, 44 second deficit to the psychological war Armstrong waged against him, an argument Landis says is wrong. But Landis seems to have lost a lot of his legendary fighting spirit after it became clear that the 2005 Tour podium wasn't to be his.

There were others waiting in the wings of what might be a wide-open Tour. Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, who showed he was a world-class climber, had matured and grown stronger. 2004 Giro winner Damiano Cunego rode a poor Giro but perhaps his preparation was just a bit late. He announced that he was just riding the Tour for the experience. But could a former Grand Tour winner and former world-ranked Number 1 rider resist the call of the Yellow Jersey? Alexandre Vinokourov had moved from T-Mobile in order to have a dedicated team behind him, but his climbing and inconsistency (as well as the doping scandal that enveloped his Würth team) kept him a dark horse.

And what about the Discovery team? They no longer had Armstrong, but they were brimming with talent, talent that could help a great rider win the Tour. But were any of the remaining riders up to the task? Discovery didn't seem to have a Grand Tour man except Paolo Savoldelli who was probably still cooked from riding the Giro. Discovery director Johan Bruyneel refused to name a protected team captain. Instead, he said he would see how the riders performed as the race progressed.

The 2006 was a counter-clockwise race starting with a 7.1-kilometer Prologue individual time trial in Strasbourg. With 116 total kilometers of individual effort, the 2006 Tour placed a strong emphasis on time trialing. The race was loaded with big mountains at the end of the race with stages 15, 16 and 17 being very tough days in the Alps. With only 3 hill-top finishes, there were fewer opportunities than in some previous editions for the pure climbers to deliver a coup de grace.

Going into the Tour, once again the pall of a doping scandal hung over everything. On May 23, after a months-long investigation involving hidden cameras, the Spanish Civil Guard arrested 5 men who were accused of an assortment of doping crimes. Among them were the director of the Liberty Seguros team, Manolo Saiz, and José Ignacio Labarta, the assistant sports director of the Comunidad Valenciana squad. Immediately the Liberty Insurance Company withdrew its sponsorship. Because this was the team of Alexandre Vinokourov who was from Kazakhstan, a group of Kazakh businessmen replaced the missing funds and the team became Astaná-Würth. Not being a Pro Tour team, Comunidad Valenciana was riding the Tour at the invitation (a Wild Card) of the Tour organization. With the doping scandal looming, the Tour organization withdrew the Wild Card invitation. On the other hand, because the UCI had done nothing so far to change the status of the Astaná-Würth team, Vinokourov's ride in the Tour looked to be safe.

The weekend before the start of the Tour is the traditional time for the National Championships. The countries' various champions can ride the Tour wearing their newly acquired national flag jerseys. On the Sunday morning of the Road Race Championships a Spanish newspaper leaked major details about the ongoing investigation, called Operación Puerto, showing that the riders and the teams had a deep involvement in systematized doping. The Spanish riders—as usual feeling that doping was their business and outraged at the publicity the story showered upon their illicit practices—staged a strike and refused to ride the Spanish Road Race Championship. Note that, as usual, the riders weren't outraged that there were cheaters amongst them. The anger was at the publicity. Nothing but the drugs themselves had changed from 1998, or 1962 and the Wiel's affair for that matter.

It seemed that the second through fifth place finishers of the 2005 Tour were going to return in even better form than ever and fight an extraordinary struggle to be the first post-Armstrong Tour victor. And then on the Thursday evening before the Saturday, July 1 Tour start the Tour organization gave dossiers to the team managers, documenting a lot of the growing case against the riders involved in the Spanish doping scandal. The Team managers and Tour organization met and decided that since the Pro Tour code of ethics said, "No team will allow a rider to compete while under investigation in any doping affair," the riders who were part of the inquiry would have to be excluded. Ullrich was in the team bus on the way to a Friday pre-Tour presentation when he was informed of his suspension by the team. CSC director Bjarne Riis had to tell Ivan Basso that he would not be able to ride the Tour. The other riders who were not allowed to start the Tour were Francisco Mancebo, Oscar Sevilla, Joseba Beloki, Isidro Nozal, Sergio Paulino, Allan Davis and Alberto Contador. For the first time since 1999 there would not be a former Tour winner on the start line.

Alexandre Vinokourov was collateral damage. Even though he wasn't suspended, his team lost too many riders because replacements weren't allowed when a rider is excluded for doping problems. Tour rules require 6 riders on a team and Vinokourov's Astaná-Würth squad was now down to 5. In a stunning admission of a failure to perform even the most elementary due diligence,Vinokourov said that he only learned after he had signed for the team that team owner and boss Manolo Saiz had an ongoing war with the Tour. In 1998, at the height of the Tour's crises, Saiz pulled his ONCE team out of the Tour in order to...No, what he said he was doing to the Tour is unprintable. But Saiz had surely set up himself and his team for a fall by striking at the Tour at its greatest moment of difficulty.

The start list was now whittled down to 176 starters, the smallest field since 1984's 170 riders. First through fifth place of 2005 would not be competing. The highest-placed 2005 Tour finisher entered was Levi Leipheimer, sixth in 2005 at 11 minutes, 21 seconds.

The effect of the exclusion raised the hopes of many riders who were dreaming of only a place on the podium. Leipheimer, winner of the Dauphiné, voiced his feeling that he could win the Tour. Others such as Cadel Evans, Andreas Klöden and Bobby Julich were now thought to be potential winners. Damiano Cunego, who was originally said to be coming to the Tour to learn also said that he thought he now had a chance.

The opening Prologue had no surprises. Big, strong Norwegian Thor Hushovd (2005 Green Jersey) won, keeping George Hincapie out of Yellow by only three-quarters of a second. Just before the start of his ride, mechanics discovered a slash in Landis' rear tire. Not wanting to take a chance, they replaced it, forcing Landis to roll up the ramp late and take off immediately. The misfortune probably cost him 8 seconds.

After the Prologue, Discovery was the Team General Classification leader and in an effort to make that competition more visible, they were given yellow back numbers for the start of stage 1.

Stage 1 took its first casualty. Danilo Di Luca, overall 2005 Pro Tour winner, had been tormented with a prostate infection. Given a course of antibiotics, he was better, but was unable to stay with the peloton in the day's final high-speed kilometers. With a loss of over 2 minutes in the first stage, his chances of a Tour win were finished and he withdrew that evening. Riding right next to the crowd barriers while contesting the sprint, Yellow Jersey Hushovd was cut by a giant promotional cardboard hand being waved by a spectator. He finished the stage but television viewers were horrified to see blood gushing from his arm as he lay on the road after the sprint. The wound turned out to be minor and with some stitches he was able to start the next day. Earlier in the stage George Hincapie had bagged 2 bonus seconds in an intermediate sprint. That clever move was enough to give the likable rider his first Yellow Jersey in 10 Tour attempts. Maybe Discovery was starting its first post-Armstrong Tour well.

The next day Discovery director Bruyneel showed that he was looking for more than an early capture of the Yellow Jersey when he chose not to defend Hincapie's lead. He didn't want to exhaust his team chasing a short-term goal when what he really wanted was Yellow in Paris. That would require patience and a willingness to give the jersey up for now. Which he did the very next day when Hushovd retook it.

Stage 3, another Northern European stage with some final category 3 and 4 climbs in Belgium and Holland, surely affected the outcome of the Tour. Several riders suffered race ending injuries, most notably Alejandro Valverde, a sure podium contender, who crashed and broke his collarbone in the final kilometers of the stage. The intense heat (35°C) and high speeds made for a fatigued peloton with riders susceptible to moments of inattention.

Laurent Fignon, who has replaced Bernard Thévenet as the race commentator of the France 2 television channel, explained why the carnage in a professional race crash can be so great. When a compact peloton (and the pros do ride closer together than amateurs) is racing hard, all the rider sees is the back of the rider in front and a peripheral view of the riders to his side. He really doesn't see much of what is going on up ahead as he fights to maintain his position while riding all-out. Then, when the helicopters following the race come down low and close to the bunch, if there is a crash, the riders can't hear the squeal of brakes and the riders' shouts and the sounds of folding and crashing bikes. The din of the helicopter's engines and rotors drowns that all out. So, the riders just continue down the road and into the waiting mess, blind and deaf to the carnage that awaits them.

The Spanish doping scandal continued to roil the waters. Würth pulled its sponsorship of the Astaná-Würth team and the Comunidad Valenciana also withdrew its sponsorship. French sports minister Jean-François Lamour accused the UCI of failing to attack doping seriously. UCI president Pat McQuaid bristled in response, basically saying that the current state of the drug detecting art could not catch a modern, sophisticated doper.

This is true. This is why the riders caught up in Operación Puerto had never been caught in a drug test. As Lamour had said, only the naive get caught in drug tests.

As the Tour moved across Normandy and into Brittany, the Tour remained the plaything of the sprinters. World Road Champion Tom Boonen wasn't able to win a stage, but by virtue of his consistent high placings and their attendant time bonuses he was able to secure the Yellow Jersey after stage 4 and hold it until the seventh stage 52-kilometer time trial. Boonen was the first man since Greg Lemond in 1990 to trade the Rainbow Jersey of the World Champion for Yellow.

The time trial in the Brittany town of Rennes was filled with surprises and heartbreak. The general expectation was that American riders or those sponsored by the American Discovery and the Danish CSC teams would emerge at the end of the day dominating the standings. Midway through the stage this hope received its first blow. CSC, which had already lost its premier General Classification man Ivan Basso to the Spanish doping scandal lost another of its best riders when Bobby Julich, a superb time trialist, crashed out of the Tour as he had in 1999. This time, going through an "S" curve at nearly full speed, he hit some gravel and went flying. David Zabriskie, usually one of the fastest men in the world against the clock, lost almost 2 minutes. Levi Leipheimer, who had won the Dauphiné only a couple of weeks before, was unable to find the strength to power his bike and lost 6 minutes. Barring a surprise, his quest for the podium was over. The Discovery riders, who are usually towers of power, lost out as well. George Hincapie lost 2 minutes, 42 seconds. Paolo Savoldelli, who depends upon his superior time-trialing to make up for weakness in the mountains, lost over 2 minutes.

The emergent winners? T-Mobile put 4 men in the top ten in the stage with Ukrainian Sergei Gonchar—pounding a monstrous 55-11 gear—winning the day and the Yellow jersey. T-Mobile ended up with 4 men in the top 6 of the General Classification (Gonchar, Rogers, Sinkewitz, Klöden). Floyd Landis again had a late start. This time officials forced him to modify the placement of his aero bars. After he started they came loose and he had to change bikes. Still, he came in second, losing only a minute to Gonchar. Discovery had no riders well-placed in the either the day's stage placings or the General Classification.

The General classification after the stage 7 time trial:

1. Sergei Gonchar
2. Floyd Landis @ 1 minute
3. Michael Rogers @ 1 minute 8 seconds
4. Patrik Sinkewitz @ 1 minute 45 seconds
5. Marcus Fothen @ 1 minute 50 seconds
6. Andreas Klöden s.t.
7. Vladimir Karpets @ 1 minute 52 seconds
8. Cadel Evans s.t.
9. Denis Menchov @ 2 minutes
10. David Zabriskie @ 2 minutes 3 seconds

After he had seen the results, Discovery's director Johan Bruyneel said, "It's lucky Jan Ullrich is not here, otherwise the Tour would be over."

Behind the scenes of the Tour, the UCI and the Grand Tour organizers had been holding ongoing talks to see if the disagreements over the Pro Tour could be bridged. Patrice Clerc, spokesman for the Tour, announced that at this point the talks were dead and that the owners of the races would not participate in the Pro Tour.

Until stage 8 the sprinters' teams had been controlling the breakaways perfectly, letting a small groups of non-threatening riders go clear and bringing them back into the fold just before the end of the stage. In stage 8, their plans were foiled. With a bit more than 30 kilometers to go from the finish in the Brittany coastal town of Lorient, Sylvain Calzati jumped away from what remained of his break. Despite a vigorous chase, Calzati was able to stay clear, finishing over 2 minutes ahead of the peloton.

Now the Tour had a rest day and a transfer to Bordeaux for the run-in to the Pyrenees. During the rest day Landis announced that after the Tour he would have to undergo hip replacement surgery. Landis had broken his hip in 2003 and it had never healed correctly. The resulting extremely painful condition, avascular necrosis, prevented proper blood flow to the joint.

With the resumption of racing on Tuesday, first there was a flat stage to Dax, birthplace of the great sprinter Andre Darrigade. This time the break was caught just in time for a thrilling sprint, won by 3-time World Champion Oscar Freire.

Stage 10, from Cambo-les-Bains to Pau featured 3 major climbs, the third category Col d'Osquich, the hors category Soudet and the first category Marie Blanque. It was rightly predicted that with the finish line 40 kilometers from the crest of the Marie Blanque, the day would be one of careful watching and perhaps one of attrition as the accumulated kilometers took their toll on the rider's legs. T-Mobile decided to do some work defending Gonchar's Yellow Jersey, thus giving Landis and the other true contenders a free ride. Two riders, Juan Miguel Mercado and Cyril Dessel got completely clear on the Marie Blanque and drove their break all the way to the finish. They had been granted so much freedom that Dessel, who had been adventuring for climber's points, had gained enough time to take the Yellow Jersey. In the final kilometers Mercado tried to make a deal with Dessel, telling him that since Dessel would gain both the Yellow and Polka-Dot Jerseys, he should let Mercado take the stage win, a not unusual sharing of the spoils. Dessel was so sure of his strength and so desperately wanted the stage win that he refused the offer. Mercado immediately stopped working, forcing Dessel to pull the pair over the final 5 kilometers. Mercado easily won the sprint and Dessel took the Overall lead. Dessel's choice will have interesting consequences.

If the contenders had been keeping their powder dry, it was for stage 11. With the Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde, Portillon and a hilltop finish at Pla-de-Beret, we would now have the clarity that had been lacking because of the best riders' conservative riding. On the penultimate climb, the Portillon, T-Mobile massed at the front and increased the tempo. The effect was to shell many riders who had been struggling all day. Over the top Klöden, Landis, Evans, Denis Menchov, Michael Boogerd, Michael Rasmussen, Cunego and Simoni were among the survivors. For Discovery, the news was bleak. Only Azevedo had been able to stay with the leaders. Hincapie, Savoldelli and Popovych had been dropped. Dessel, the Yellow Jersey also came off and he set himself to minimize his losses and hopefully, save his lead.

At the base of the final ascent, Rabobank had an embarrassment of riches with Rasmussen, Boogerd and Menchov having made the cut. Menchov told his teammates that he was feeling very good. In response, Boogerd and Rasmussen went to the front and set a pace that few could withstand. Only Evans, Landis, Leipheimer, Sastre and Klöden could stay with them. After Rasmussen sat up, depleted from his efforts, Boogerd continued to drive hard and dropped Klöden. The T-Mobile General Classification hope had cramped under the pressure of the withering heat and high speeds. With 8 kilometers to go, the lead group was down to Landis, Menchov, Leipheimer, Sastre and Evans. Leipheimer mounted 2 attacks and reduced the leaders to Menchov, Landis and himself. Menchov won the stage and Landis took the overall lead. But it didn't have to end that way. Dessel punished himself, racing for the finish line with all he had and ended the day 4 minutes, 45 seconds behind Landis, the exact difference in the General Classification times. Landis' 8-second time bonus for third place gave him the edge in time and levered him into the Yellow Jersey. If he had cooperated with Mercado the day before, Dessel would surely have arrived at the finish more than 8 seconds sooner and would probably have been in Yellow at least until the L'Alpe d'Huez stage the following Tuesday.

After stage 11, the General Classification stood thus:

1. Floyd Landis
2. Cyril Dessel @ 8 seconds
3. Denis Menchov @ 1 minute 1 second
4. Cadel Evans @ 1 minute 17 seconds
5. Carlos Sastre @ 1 minute 52 seconds
6. Andreas Klöden @ 2 minutes 29 seconds

That was it for the hard Pyrenean stages. The next day Discovery's Popovych got into the winning break and soloed home for a bit of salve on the open wound of the team's general collapse. That savvy move lifted Popovych to tenth in the General Classification, 4 minutes, 15 seconds behind Landis and made him the best-placed Discovery rider in the Tour.

And the Spanish doping investigation continued. A German newspaper alleged that the records of Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the heart of the scandal, showed that Jan Ullrich took insulin, various hormones including testosterone, cortisone as well as a unit of his own blood, in preparation for the 2005 Tour. If the allegations turned out to be true, it would put a nail in the coffin of the riders' defense that they were clean because they had passed every drug test. Ullrich had never had a positive drug test except for his out-of-competition test which had turned up the drug Ecstasy while he was recovering from knee surgery in 2002.

The relentless heat baked the riders. Saturday's stage 13 was the longest at 230 kilometers and possibly the hottest day of the 2006 Tour. A break of 4 strong riders low in the standings was allowed to gain a half hour. It appeared that Phonak wanted to let another team take and defend the lead. Oscar Pereiro of the Illes Balears team, who was the best-placed rider in the break, was perfect. He had lost a lot of time in the Pyrenees (he was sitting in forty-sixth place at the start of the stage) and could be expected to dutifully suffer badly in the Alps and surrender the lead, at this point only 1 minute, 29 seconds. Surely the Yellow Jersey was an unexpected development for the Spanish team and they would work like dogs to keep the lead for the next stage so that they could bask in it during the rest day. Phonak could take a rest and be ready for the real fight, Tuesday's stage 15 day in the Alps.

Indeed, Pereiro's team did work hard to defend his lead during stage 14, a transitional stage with 2 fourth category and 2 second category climbs, giving the Phonak team the planned bit of rest.

Stage 15, with the Izoard, Lautaret and hilltop finish on L'Alpe d'Huez, was the first of 3 days in the Alps. As was usual, a break of non-contenders went clear early while the General Classification men stayed together until the base of L'Alpe d'Huez. T-Mobile started things rolling by sending their men to the front to whip up the pace. Then a Phonak rider went even harder and almost instantly it was down to Landis, Menchov, Evans and Klöden. Landis accelerated and dropped all but Klöden. But then others, including earlier dropees Leipheimer and Sastre regained contact. A later surge by Klöden dropped Sastre and Leipheimer. Up ahead, Luxembourger Frank Schleck, who had been away most of the day, managed to hang on to a slim 70-second lead for the stage win. Landis emerged from the stage back in the Yellow Jersey with a 10-second lead over Pereiro.

The General Classification after stage 15:

1. Floyd Landis
2. Oscar Pereiro @ 10 seconds
3. Cyril Dessel @ 2 minutes 2 seconds
4. Denis Menchov @ 2 minutes 12 seconds
5. Carlos Sastre @ 2 minutes 17 seconds
6. Andreas Klöden @ 2 minutes 29 seconds
7. Cadel Evans @ 2 minutes 56 seconds

After Landis' masterful performance in stage 15, the even more difficult stage 16 should have been a platform from which he could solidify his hold on the Yellow Jersey. The day included the Galibier, the Croix-de-Fer, the Col du Mollard and then a first-category hilltop finish at La Toussuire. Michael Rasmussen, who had such a disastrous final time trial in the 2005 Tour, took off from an early break on the Galibier with Tadej Valjavec and Sandy Casar. The peloton, knowing that worse than the Galibier was in store for them that day, continued to ride tempo. At this point Landis looked quite comfortable. On the Croix-de-Fer, Rasmussen was off alone, riding powerfully, having gained a 7-minute lead on the peloton.

When the Croix-de-Fer started to really bite, T-Mobile went to the front and lifted the pace. This attack cost Landis most of his team. For the first time, Landis was sitting further back in the peloton instead of his usual place near the front. On the second-category Col du Mollard, Landis rode at the back, starting to look truly uncomfortable. When the peloton arrived at the base of the final climb there had been some regrouping. The only teammate Landis had with him was Axel Merckx. Carlos Sastre, feeling good, took off on a solo flight. T-Mobile now lit the fuse in the largely diminished peloton and Landis's legs exploded. After displaying weeks of mastery, he was unable to stay with the leaders. He was soundly dropped and in the final kilometers to the summit, lost about a minute per kilometer.

Up ahead Rasmussen crossed the line first after being away for 173 kilometers. Sastre had been closing fast, but came up 1 minute, 41 seconds short. The big surprise was Oscar Pereiro, who came in third and retook the Yellow Jersey. Landis limped in twenty-third, 10 minutes after Rasmussen.

At this point, it was assumed that Landis' quest for the overall win was over. As to why he suffered a défaillance on this most crucial of days, Landis was less than candid, saying 'I had a very bad day on the wrong day'. Experienced riders like Bernard Hinault speculated that he had suffered a terrible hunger knock. In a later interview, 1988 Tour winner Pedro Delgado said that he had advised Pereiro to ride his own race and not let Landis dictate the terms of the contest. He told Pereiro to attack on the descents, which he did. That constant pressure kept Landis from eating, causing his stage 16 disaster.

That evening, instead of giving up, Landis and his team planned on getting back in the race. Eddy Merckx told Landis that the race wasn't over. Word got out to the other pros that he was going to do something spectacular early in the stage. Some of them asked him not to be so foolhardy. He told them to get a Coke because he was going on the first hill.

If possible, stage 17 was the hardest stage yet, with very few kilometers of flat road. It was almost all rising or falling terrain. For their final day in the Alps the exhausted riders had to climb first the Saisies, then the Aravis, followed by the Colombière, the Châtillon and finally the hors category Joux-Plane. A break went clear in the first kilometers. On the Saisies, Landis' teammates massed at the front and drove hard. Klöden and Landis attacked and only a few could go with them. Then Landis attacked again and no one could hold his wheel. Up the Saisies he flew, riding as if he had never suffered any trouble at all the day before, lending credence to Delgado's explanation as to why Landis had collapsed the previous day.

Indicative of how complete Landis' recovery was, he ascended the 6.4% Saisies in the big ring. By the time he crested the Saisies he was over 3 minutes ahead of the peloton and within 3 minutes of the front break. He descended the Saisies hell-bent to make up his previous day's losses. He caught the remains of the front break on the lower slopes of the Aravis. He didn't wait or rest, but went right through them. Only Daniele Righi and Patrik Sinkewitz could stay with him. Over the top of the Aravis Landis had built his lead to 4 minutes, 31 seconds. Back in the peloton Pereiro was down to 1 teammate. By the base of the Colombière, Landis' lead was 5 minutes, 30 seconds.

Over the crest of the Colombière, Landis had an astounding 8 minutes, 30 seconds. So far, T-Mobile, CSC, Davitamon-Lotto and Ag2R, teams with riders in the hunt for the Yellow Jersey, had been playing a dangerous game of poker, depending on Pereiro's now 2-teammates to perform the chase. It wasn't working, but still they did nothing while Landis continued to ride away with the Tour de France.

On the descent of the Colombière Landis pushed his lead to 9 minutes. Finally the other teams woke up. CSC started to work to protect Sastre and eventually T-Mobile helped. That effort cut the gap. By the time Landis reached the base of the steepest climb of the day, the Joux-Plane, he still had 7 minutes, 25 seconds. Sinkewitz, who had been sitting on Landis' wheel all this time as the only one who could stay with the rampaging Phonak rider, was finally dropped. Landis was now alone. Behind, Sastre left the peloton and climbed strongly.

At the top of the staggeringly difficult Joux-Plane, Landis led Sastre by 5 minutes and Pereiro's group by 7. The descent down the Joux-Plane to Morzine is very technical and dangerous, perfect for a man with Landis' excellent descending skills. He dropped down the mountain as if his hair were on fire and extended his lead by another 30 seconds. He crossed the line 5 minutes, 42 seconds ahead of Sastre and 7 minutes, 8 seconds ahead of Pereiro. In addition, by virtue of his stage win, second intermediate sprint win and climber's bonuses for being the first over the mountains, Landis accumulated about 30 seconds in time bonifications. He was back in the race after performing an exploit that has, to the best of my knowledge, only 4 parallels:

1. Charly Gaul's 1958, stage 21 solo trip through the Chartreuse Mountains that left the Yellow Jersey, Raphaël Géminiani, in tears.

2. Hugo Koblet's 1951 stage 11 solo ride with Coppi, Bobet, Ockers, Robic and Bartali chasing for all they were worth, to no effect.

3. Gino Bartali's extraordinary 1949 stage 13, 14 and 15 rides in the Alps. When he soloed away on stage 13 he was over 21 minutes behind Louison Bobet. At the end of the day he was only 1 minute, 6 seconds down. Bartali then repeated the exercise in the next 2 stages, ending up with the Yellow Jersey and an 8-minute lead.

4. Lucien Buysse's epic 1926 stage 10 solo ride over the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde in conditions that can only be described as horrific. Through freezing rain he rode on muddy roads for hundreds of kilometers. He started the day 22 minutes down. He emerged from the hellish day that had begun at 2:00 AM with a 26-minute lead.

That was how extraordinary his ride was. Some compared Landis' ride with Coppi's 1952 stage 11 ride and Merckx's 1969 stage 17 ride. Both were amazing, but both riders had the lead at the time and had already demonstrated their superiority to a cowed peloton. Landis, like Gaul, Koblet, Bartali and Buysse before him, had performed his magnificent exploit when the Tour was in play. Chapeau!

The new General Classification:

1. Oscar Pereiro
2. Carlos Sastre @ 12 seconds
3. Floyd Landis @ 30 seconds
4. Andreas Klöden @ 2 minutes 29 seconds
5. Cadel Evans @ 3 minutes 8 seconds

The next day, anticipating the crucial 57-kilometer individual time trial, the contenders pulled back their claws. This would be settled on the penultimate stage.

T-Mobile announced that they had fired both Jan Ullrich and Oscar Sevilla. Both men had been given 30 days by the team to establish their innocence. Ullrich equivocated, refusing to take a DNA test that would exonerate him if he were innocent. His argument was that a man doesn't have to prove his innocence, others must prove his guilt. True in court, false in cycling. T-Mobile made it clear that even if Ullrich were eventually cleared, he would have to find employment with another team.

The Tour was settled during the final time trial, or so it seemed. While time-trial specialist Sergey Gonchar set the fastest time, over the first 14 kilometers Landis was only a second slower. But not wanting to blow up or worry about matching the speed of a man who was 2 hours down on the General Classification, Landis continued at his own pace. The surprise was how tenacious Pereiro was, losing only 10 seconds to Landis at the first time check. By the second time check at 34 kilometers, Pereiro had relented, giving up a full minute and the lead. There were 2 surprises: Sastre's meltdown costing him his podium placing, and Klöden's brilliant second-place ride, moving him up to third overall. Landis had now regained the lead with only the promenade to Paris left to go.

There were no surprises as the remaining 139 riders blistered the Champs Elysées. Thor Hushovd took advantage of the disorganization in the peloton from a series of hard attacks by the Discovery team. Without the lead-out trains keeping things together, it was every man for himself. Green Jersey Robbie McEwen was beaten by a stronger and faster Hushovd who had the distinction of winning both the opening Prologue and the closing sprint.

Final 2006 Tour de France General Classification. Landis' win made 11 American Tour victories in the past 21 years :

1. Floyd Landis (Phonak): 89 hours 39 minutes 30 seconds.
2. Oscar Pereiro (Illes Balears) @ 57 seconds
3. Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile) @ 1 minute 29 seconds
4. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 3 minutes 13 seconds
5. Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) @ 5 minutes 8 seconds

Climbers' Competition:

1. Michael Rasmussen: 166 points
2. Floyd Landis: 131 points
3. David de la Fuente: 113 points

Points Competition:

1. Robbie McEwen: 288 points
2. Erik Zabel: 199 points
3. Thor Hushovd: 195 points

That about seemed to be the end of it. On Monday the Spanish teams engaged in mutual recriminations over who should have taken the responsibility in reining in Landis during stage 17. Cyrille Guimard thought that if Dessel's team had ridden with greater intelligence Dessel could have won the Tour. The newspapers were filled with stories of the man with the bad hip who had tamed the European peloton. The other news about riders transferring to other teams and upheaval in T-Mobile was the usual sort of post-Tour fodder.

Then on Wednesday it was leaked that a rider high in the General Classification had tested positive for dope. Moreover, the positive, called an "adverse analytical finding", was for stage 17. Speculation was rampant as reporters tried to find out who the rider was. Because the national cycling federations are notified of a doping positive, riders from Germany, France, Spain, Italy and France could be eliminated when their federations said that they had not been so notified.

Reporters started to home in on Landis when he failed to show up for 2 lucrative post-Tour criteriums, races where he was to receive $100,000 each in appearance money. On Thursday, with Landis still missing, his team confirmed that indeed he was the rider in question. Immediately, near hysterical reactions in the press filled the newspapers and the airwaves. By the next day there was some calming as people began to understand that the test that tripped up Landis measured the ratio between testosterone and epitestosterone and that Landis had shown an elevated level of the testosterone. The problem with this test as an absolute arbiter of intake of exogenous substances is that human variation renders this test nothing more than a guideline. Top pro bicycle racers, being by definition genetic freaks, regularly exhibit characteristics that are well off the far edge of the bell curve. So some have extraordinary hematocrits, such as former Giro winner Damiano Cunego's 53. Others have very high testosterone levels.

Landis surfaced Friday and began a series of public appearances, begging for patience while he mounted a defense to show that he had not cheated. The definitive test, called "Carbon Isotope Ratio Analysis" would have to be made to determine if the statistically excessive testosterone in Landis' system were synthetic or naturally secreted.

The test was performed and synthetic testosterone was found to be in Landis' system.

2006 Postscript. Landis mounted a million-dollar defense of his Tour title, forcing an arbitration hearing that was held in May, 2007. Landis argued that the doping lab's procedural errors were so substantial that his positive for testosterone was invalid.

It seemed as if things could not get worse. Then they did. Greg LeMond was called to testify in the arbitration hearing. The night before LeMond was to take the stand Landis' business manager made an anonymous call to LeMond, pretending to be LeMond's uncle. He threatened to reveal the secret of LeMond's childhood sexual abuse. Earlier, trying to convince Landis to admit to doping, LeMond had told Landis about being abused, telling him that holding secrets like this is very destructive.

The call was traced and the sordid episode came out. It turned out that Landis was present when the threatening call was made. Part of Landis' argument as to why he should be believed when he said he wouldn't cheat to win a race was that his character made him above that sort of thing. This episode certainly put that argument in a dim light

On September 21, 2007, the arbitration panel ruled 2 to 1 that Landis had doped. The Tour stripped him of his title and awarded the 2006 Tour to Oscar Pereiro. As of this writing (winter 2007), Landis has promised to make a final appeal to the Court for Arbitration of Sport in Switzerland.

The new 2006 Tour de France General Classification podium:

1. Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) 89 hours 40 minutes 27 seconds
2. Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile) @ 32 seconds
3. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 2 minutes 16 seconds
 

2007. Doping news was all anyone could read about in the winter and spring leading up to the 2007 Tour.

Ivan Basso, who had so effortlessly won the 2006 Giro, looked to have skated past any problems with the Puerto scandal. It seemed to this writer that the Spanish judge examining the Puerto evidence was looking for a way to ignore as much of the case as possible and investigate as little of the dossier as would appear seemly. He ended up shelving the case, saying that at the time, while it appeared that doping had occurred, nothing that had happened was against Spanish law.

The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) tried to investigate Basso. Since they couldn't get their hands on all of the evidence from the Spaniards, in October, 2006 they had to pronounce Basso able to sign for a team and ride. This non-exoneration clearance was all Johan Bruyneel needed to sign Basso to the Discovery team. Making matters worse, alone among the Pro Tour teams, Discovery signed several other Puerto riders.

The other Pro Tour teams erupted in fury over this because they had all agreed to avoid signing Puerto riders until the case was closed and the riders truly cleared. Because of this breach in the agreement, many of the teams combined against Discovery during races, making life hard in the peloton for the Discovery team.

It seemed that the Puerto inquiry was going to die, but it didn't. The big break came in early April 2007 when German prosecutors were able to match up Jan Ullrich's DNA with blood bags seized from Fuentes. In late April it was revealed that an Italian prosecutor had blood bags from Fuentes that were thought to contain Basso's blood. From then on, Basso's defenses came apart. Knowing what was coming, Basso requested and was granted release from his Discovery contract.

On May 7, 2007, faced with too much evidence, Basso confessed to being involved with Fuentes, but steadfastly refused to admit that he had ever doped. He said he had planned to dope in the 2006 Tour, but that so far, all of his wins were clean. Skeptical observers wondered why he had been paying Fuentes tens of thousands of euros since 2004. A doping program that really improves performance yet evades detection is very expensive.

The Giro organizers ruled that the 50 or so riders implicated in the Puerto scandal could not start the Giro. This meant Tyler Hamilton, Michele Scarponi and Jörg Jaksche, all potential contenders, would not be able to ride.

It's important to note that the race organizers had to get a handle on the doping and not just for reasons of common decency. In the wake of the Puerto scandal the television audience for the Vuelta fell 30%. When team sponsors Comunidad Valenciana and Liberty Seguros pulled out of the sport, they took millions of euros with them. Sales of racing related books and DVDs plummeted. It was absolutely vital to the economic health of pro racing that the cheating be brought under control.

At the end of April racing was hit with another blockbuster. Former Telekom soigneur Jef D'Hont alleged that during the mid 1990s Telekom team doctors administered EPO to the riders as part of a team-wide systematized program of doping. The usual denials were given. But the wall of silence started to fall. Telekom riders from that era, Erik Zabel, Rolf Aldag, Brian Holm, Udo Bölts, among others, came forward and confessed. They said that with the pressure to win and to beat other presumably doped riders, they had to use the needle or risk losing their jobs.

On Friday, May 25, Tour de France winner and CSC team owner Bjarne Riis held a press conference. He finally came clean. The man who had the nickname of "Mr. 60%" because of his rumored extraordinarily high hematocrit when he won the 1996 Tour, admitted that he had used EPO, hormones and cortisone in his campaign to win the Tour. D'Hont said that Riis had run his hematocrit up to a scary-high 64%. Riis' incredible dominance in the 1996 Tour now became understandable. As more than 1 rider noted, the only way a rider could gain any semblance of competitiveness during the 1990s was to take the same drugs the other riders were taking. The Tour organization reacted to this confession by removing Riis from the winner's list. As far the Tour is concerned, 1996 has no winner.

Riis' confession left an important question unanswered. How could Riis, famous for his hands-on, close and careful management of his riders, not know about Basso's relationship with Fuentes and not wonder about Basso's extraordinary performance in the 2006 Giro, especially in light of his own dope-fueled performances?

The series of doping confessions made it clear that after 1998 many of the teams had continued with their institutionalized doping programs. The wounded denials coming from the accused managers sounded exactly like those that came from Roussel in 1998.

The effect of all this scandal was to create the third Tour in the last 30 years (1999, 2006, 2007) in which no former winner was on the line to contest the Tour. The Tour, wanting to make a symbolic gesture and not having the 2005 winner on the start line, decided not to give any rider the Number 1 back-number (or dossard). The riders' numbers would start with number 11, which was given to Valverde's Caisse d'Epargne team.

So, who was left standing to start the race? First of all, Alexandre Vinokourov was the favorite to win the Tour. At 33 he knew this was his last, best chance to win. His Astana team was superb with Andreas Klöden as part of a 1-2 punch that could be devastating in the hands of a good strategist. While he rode the Dauphiné for training, he showed that his form was excellent when he won the time trial.

With Basso tossed, Discovery fell back on their earlier signing, Levi Leipheimer. Leipheimer was a probable podium finisher, but an unlikely Tour winner, a view Bruyneel seemed to hold.

The 2 other major contenders were Alejandro Valverde and Cadel Evans. Valverde appeared to be riding under a Puerto cloud, but he denied any involvement and no firm evidence seemed to connect him. Valverde had shown over and over again that he was a gifted climber. Yet he had wilted under the assault of Vinokourov and his Kazakhs in the 2006 Vuelta. Evans seemed to quietly prepare for the Tour and made it clear that his condition was looking good when he came in second to Christophe Moreau in the Dauphiné.

The course itself seemed, like the 2006 route, good for a complete rider. The time trialing, at 117.4 kilometers was only a kilometer more than in 2006. There were 3 hilltop finishes. At 3,570 kilometers, the 2007 Tour's length was in line with recent Tours.

For the first time since 1996, the Tour visited Britain. This time, the Prologue was in London, and stage 1 was to be raced between London and Canterbury. Then the Tour was to cross the British Channel for a clockwise (Alps first) Tour. The riders had to confront the Alps earlier than usual, in stage 7 with an ascent of the Col de la Colombière. The next day the riders had to climb 3 first category climbs with a hilltop finish at the Montée de Tignes.The Prologue in London was a smashing success with an estimated crowd of 1 million lining the streets to watch. World Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara won the stage convincingly. Most importantly, none of the major contenders lost any appreciable time. Andreas Klöden finished second, a bit ahead of the others who had ambitions of Yellow in Paris.

Late in stage 1 a crash took down several riders including Robbie McEwen. His team waited for him and agonizingly dragged him back to the fast-moving peloton. As the sprinters started to wind out the final meters, out of nowhere popped an amazing McEwen. He was bruised and battered, but moving far faster than any of the others as he nailed the stage convincingly.

The Tour crossed the English Channel and after a detour in Belgium, made its way south for the Alps. At the end of stage 3, still in Yellow, Cancellara surprised the sprinters who had a slight moment of hesitation before the sprint began. He jumped clear and earned the 20-second time bonus for winning the stage.

Vinokourov, who always seems to have a bottomless well of bad luck at his disposal, was again hit with misfortune, this time in stage 5. First, his teammate Andreas Klöden crashed and injured a previously fractured tailbone. Then, with about 25 kilometers to go, a slipped chain sent Vinokourov to the ground. Clearly hurt, it was a while before he restarted. His team sent back every one but potential Tour winners Klöden and Kashechkin. Finally getting going, his team did all they could to get him back to the peloton. On the final climb Vinokourov left his teammates, chasing the raging pack all by himself. Because there was a break that threatened Cancellara's lead, CSC was at the front of the peloton chasing hard. Vinokourov never did make contact and lost 1 minute and 20 seconds.

After spending 5 hours in the hospital Vinokourov started the flat stage 6. Klöden was also able to start. But the effect of the crashes combined with the ultra-intense racing in stage 5 was to further open the Tour to others who were only dreaming of a shot at the podium.

The day's racing allowed the evergreen Erik Zabel to take the Green Jersey for the first time since 2002. The next day Tom Boonen won the last flat stage before the Alps and took the Green Jersey from Zabel.

Worse for Zabel, as a result of having confessed to doping in 1996, the Tour organization announced that they were stripping him of his Green Jersey for that year.

While I understand the Tour's outrage at the doping culture that has engulfed cycle racing and diminished the Tour, punishing the riders who cleared the air and confessed, no matter what their motivation, is a stupid way to motivate others to do the same. The biggest problem with doping is the code of silence and the Tour's move was surely counterproductive.

With the Tour scheduled to ascend the tough north-facing slope of the Col de la Colombière in stage 7, the General Classification stood thus:

1. Fabian Cancellara
2. Andreas Klöden @ 33 seconds
3. Filippo Pozzato 35 seconds
4. David Millar @ 41 seconds
5. Oscar Freire @ 43 seconds

T-Mobile's young Linus Gerdemann rode away from his breakaway companions on the climb of Colombière and came in alone after a very skilled descent into Le Grand-Bornand. Gerdemann was now in Yellow with a lead of 84 seconds over Spanish rider Iñigo Landaluze. While the stage may have removed the non-contenders from the top ranks, the day in the Alps had no real effect upon the relative positions of the best riders. The real racing would have to wait for Sunday's hilltop finish.

That evening both Alejandro Valverde and French champion Christophe Moreau said that that Vinokourov should be dealt a coup de grace while he was still suffering from his crash. With a rest day coming after the second alpine stage, the time to strike was now, before the Kazakh could take advantage of the day off to recover.

Well into stage 8, Michael Rasmussen left the peloton on the Cormet de Roseland. He rode away from a peloton that contained almost all of the big men and did so without the slightest challenge or marking from the other riders. They just let him go and go he did. He went through an earlier break and picked up T-Mobile's leader, former world time trial champion Michael Rogers. The fortunes of T-Mobile went from the high of Gerdemann's success the day before to the low of having Rogers crash out of the Tour on the difficult descent of the Cormet de Roseland. Doubling the pain of the injuries, when Rogers hit the railing on the descent he was the Tour's virtual Yellow Jersey, "I could see the Yellow, I could taste it, now it's gone," Rogers recalled.

The descent of the Cormet de Roseland took another casualty, but its true effect wouldn't be apparent until the end of the Tour. Leipheimer had problems with his chain, requiring him to freewheel down the mountain and lose contact with the lead riders. He switched bikes. After restarting he came next to his team car and got a good, long hard push. This probably would have been allowed in 2006 but in 2007 the judges decided to crack down on this abuse. Leipheimer was assessed a 10-second penalty.

Rasmussen continued on, riding powerfully and confidently to both the stage victory and the overall lead.

Behind him Moreau attacked the remnants of the peloton and managed to slightly distance himself from Vinokourov and Klöden. He tried desperately to get the others in his group, which included Evans and Valverde, to make a coordinated effort to get away from the Astana riders while the getting was good. Each of his accelerations was only matched. The others were content, until the final kilometer, to close up to him without helping him on the climb. The result was some damage to Vinokourov, but not the finality Moreau had sought.

The General Classification after stage 8, going into a rest day before the final alpine stage:

1. Michael Rasmussen
2. Linus Gerdemann @ 43 seconds
3. Iban Mayo @ 2 minutes 39 seconds
4. Alejandro Valverde @ 2 minutes 51 seconds
5. Andrey Kashechkin @ 2 minutes 52 seconds
6. Cadel Evans @ 2 minutes 53 seconds
7. Christophe Moreau @ 3 minutes 6 seconds
22. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 5 minutes 23 seconds

Stage 9 had the Iseran and the Galibier. After ascending the Galibier's little brother, the Télégraphe, Mauricio Soler of the wild-card Barloworld team took off and was never seen again. But back in the pointy part of the peloton, the speed on the ascent of the Galibier was too much for Vinokourov, who had to concede almost 3 minutes. This time Astana didn't have Klöden stay with Vinokourov, not wanting to destroy both riders' hopes. With the Alps behind them, the standing stood thus:

1. Michael Rasmussen
2. Alejandro Valverde @ 2 minutes 35 seconds
3. Iban Mayo @ 2 minutes 39 seconds
4. Cadel Evans @ 2 minutes 41 seconds
5. Alberto Contador @ 3 minutes 8 seconds
6. Christophe Moreau @ 3 minutes 18 seconds
7. Carlos Sastre @ 3 minutes 39 seconds
8. Andreas Klöden @ 3 minutes 50 seconds

Stage 10 was a hot day and the baking temperatures only served to make Vinokourov more miserable. He said that during this day he actually considered abandoning. Possibly Vinokourov was not as unhappy as Bob Stapleton, the American brought in to manage the T-Mobile team under a regime of absolute intolerance to drugs. It was announced that T-Mobile's Patrik Sinkewitz, who had quit the Tour a few days earlier after breaking his nose in a collision with a spectator, had tested positive for testosterone in an out-of-competition test. Tired of the doping and fulfilling their threat to stop broadcasting the Tour if the scandals continued, the German public television network immediately pulled the plug on Tour coverage.

The next day there were rumors that some sort of move was afoot. After the feed zone, while Christophe Moreau was at the back of the pack following an earlier minor crash, the Astana team took advantage of the hot winds blowing across the peloton. They massed at the front and just detonated the race with a high-powered attack. The pack broke apart and Moreau, Zabel, and Hushovd were caught napping. Over half the field never saw the lead group again as the Kazakhs furiously hammered the front. The day had all kinds of effects. Zabel's chances for Green were profoundly reduced. Moreau's loss of over 3 minutes probably made it impossible for him to attain the podium in Paris. The Astana team had a new-found morale and had made it clear that they were there to race. The 2007 Tour was at least refreshing in its combativeness. It was turning out to be what old man Desgrange wanted his Tour to be, a contest using both heads and legs.

It was the universal wisdom that the 54-kilometer individual time trial would be Rasmussen's last day in Yellow. Further, it was thought that Valverde or Evans would take the lead. Nothing was going as planned in this Tour. Rasmussen delivered a superb ride, actually catching Valverde, his 3-minute man, shortly before the finish and retaining the lead. Vinokourov won the stage and took back more than 3 minutes, saying that he would set off fireworks in the Pyrenees. I am sure no one in the race doubted the veracity of that promise. The result of the day's competition was a tighter race:

1. Michael Rasmussen
2. Cadel Evans @ 1 minute
3. Alberto Contador @ 2 minutes 31 seconds
4. Andreas Klöden @ 2 minutes 34 seconds
5. Levi Leipheimer @ 3 minutes 37 seconds
9. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 5 minutes 10 seconds

The surprises kept coming. Stage 14, the first Pyrenean stage, ended with 2 hors category climbs, the Port de Pailhères and a hilltop finish at Plateau de Beille. Saunier Duval, preparing for an attack by their Iban Mayo, threw everything they had into setting a scorching pace up the Pailhères. There were notable casualties: Mayo, who later finished the day over 9 minutes down, and Vinokourov. Clearly lacking power, whether from his injuries or from his extraordinary effort in the time trial, he couldn't stay with the favorites. To make matters worse, near the top of the mountain a zealous fan caused a teammate riding with Vinokourov to crash, forcing Vinokourov to land on his damaged left knee. He conceded defeat and lost almost a half-hour. Later Cadel Evans said that Saunier Duval's fast pacemaking left him tired.

The day's final showdown on the ascent to Plateau de Beille was superb, exciting racing. The favorites took turns attacking and counter-attacking. An early victim was Klöden, probably showing the effects of having crashed in the time trial. Fate seemed to be unforgiving in her treatment of the Kazakh team. From the series of savage blows the racers dealt each other, Contador and Rasmussen emerged and finished together in that order. For a while it looked like Evans was going to be able to match them, but he was shelled and lost almost 2 minutes. Valverde's chances for a high placing were over when he came off the Yellow Jersey group with 11 kilometers to go. Contador moved to second in the overall and Rasmussen started to look like a man who might wear Yellow in Paris.

But all was not well with Rasmussen. The UCI said that Rasmussen had missed several out-of-competition drug tests over the last 2 years. Worse, an American ex-racer alleged that in 2002 Rasmussen had tried to trick him into smuggling a box of blood substitute into europe for him. In June the Danish Cycling Union kicked Rasmussen off the National Team, meaning Rasmussen could not contest the World Championship or the coming Olympics. The tardy timing of the release of the news about his missing the required testing made many suspicious about the motives of the UCI, mired its ongoing war with the Grand Tour organizers. It seemed to many that the UCI put out the information about the Yellow Jersey wearer specifically to harm the Tour de France.

As the Tour progressed, the other teams and the Tour organization became increasingly angry that Rabobank, knowing what they did about Rasmussen, sent him to ride the Tour anyway. All of the Pro Tour teams had signed a code of ethics that was clear and unequivocal. The code barred all riders from competing who are even suspected of doping. Rabobank played dumb, saying that Rasmussen had not failed any drug tests and therefore there was no reason to keep him off the team. This explanation satisfied almost no one.

Stage 15 was still harder than the day before with the Port, Portet d'Aspet, Menté, Balès and the Peyresourde on the day's menu. Early in the day's racing Vinokourov joined a break that was allowed to go. Vinokourov's nearly half-hour time loss the day before meant that the General Classification men didn't have to worry about him. By the Peyresourde Vinokourov had managed to get entirely clear. He soloed over the crest and rode down the other side into Loudenvielle-Le Louron for what was a spectacular win.

Further back, the Yellow Jersey group was content to let Rabobank domestiques Thomas Dekker and Michael Boogerd set the pace. At about 2 kilometers from the top of the Peyresourde Alberto Contador delivered a series of 6 brutal attacks that only Rasmussen could answer. With each acceleration Contador was able to open a gap that Rasmussen struggled to close. It was clear the Rasmussen was weakening, but Contador had opened the hostilities too late in the stage. The 2 went over the top of the Peyresourde together. This made Wednesday (stage 16), the final day in the mountains with its hilltop finish on the Aubisque, the 2007 Tour's probable arbiter.

The next day was a rest day. Rasmussen had tried to avoid a question and answer session with the press, wanting only to play a video of himself. The press angrily rejected the proposal. When he did meet the press with an attorney along with team owner Theo de Rooy, the reporters' questions were given lawyerly answers that again, satisfied no one.

But there was bigger and more tragic news that Tuesday. It was announced that Vinokourov had tested positive for a homologous (from another human being) blood transfusion the day of his time trial win. The news staggered everyone. Vinokourov was out of the Tour and his Astana team was asked to leave with him, which they did.

There was still a race to be ridden, and what a race stage 16 was. But at the morning sign-in, the announcer had to stop talking for a moment when Rasmussen came forward because the crowd was whistling (the european way of showing contempt) and booing so loudly.

Rabobank's super combination of Denis Menchov, Michael Boogerd and Thomas Dekker kept the speed very high on the climbs. By the time the race was 10 kilometers from the summit of the Aubisque (the Tour's sixty-ninth visit to the big mountain), it was down to the Tour's best 4 riders: Rasmussen, Contador, Evans and Leipheimer. Contador tried to get away, but it was clear that he didn't have the same punch he had 2 days before. Rasmussen met each of the attacks and then with about a kilometer to go, soloed away for a 47-second time gain. Again the crowd booed and whistled. Later Contador revealed that he was coming down with a cold that blunted his attacks.

The situation looked sewn up. After the mountains were finished, the General Classification stood thus:

1. Michael Rasmussen
2. Alberto Contador @ 3 minutes 10 seconds
3. Cadel Evans @ 5 minutes 3 seconds
4. Levi Leipheimer @ 5 minutes 59 seconds
5. Carlos Sastre @ 9 minutes 12 seconds

That afternoon, it was announced that Cristian Moreni on the French Cofidis squad had tested positive for exogenous testosterone. He was thrown out of the Tour. In an interesting development that might have positive affects in the future, Cofidis pulled the entire team from the race and withdrew their cars from the publicity caravan.

And then Rabobank sobered up. They pulled Rasmussen from the Tour. It was a strange performance. Before, De Rooy had been adamant in his defense of his rider. Now, he was angry over Rasmussen's missed tests, claiming that the team had been lied to. It was an inexplicable overnight character transformation the sort of which one sees only in half-hour TV shows. My guess, and it is only a guess, is that Rabobank, the team's sponsor and an international financial powerhouse, decided that they didn't need the ongoing horrible publicity that Rasmussen was bringing them. Again, perhaps a good sign for the future.

But, while it was looking like the Tour and cycling was indeed cleaning up, 2 Cassandras spoke up with a hard truth. Both Greg LeMond and writer Joe Lindsey noted that the mountain ascension times in the 2007 Tour were as fast as or faster than Marco Pantani's. It is hard to square that information with a clean Tour.

Now there were 2 flat stages before the final time trial. The new General Classification with the Rasmussen removed:

1. Alberto Contador
2. Cadel Evans @ 1 minute 50 seconds
3. Levi Leipheimer @ 2 minutes 49 seconds
4. Carlos Sastre @ 6 minutes 2 seconds
5. Haimar Zubeldia @ 6 minutes 29 seconds

It looked like the Tour was still in play. In the first time trial Evans had taken about a minute out of Contador. Almost 2 minutes would be a tall order. He would have to take back an average of 2 seconds every kilometer. The bigger problem for Evans would be fending off Leipheimer, a good time trialist who was clearly riding into shape during the Tour. Leipheimer had won 4 time trials so far this year.

The time trial made things thrilling and closer, but the top 5 placings were unchanged. Here are the time trial's results:

1. Levi Leipheimer 1 hour 2 minutes 44 seconds
2. Cadel Evans @ 51 seconds
3. Vladimir Karpets @ 1 minutes 56 seconds
4. Yaroslav Popovych @ 2 minutes 1second
5. Alberto Contador @ 2 minutes 18 seconds

At 53.068 kilometers per hour, Leipheimer had uncorked the fourth-fastest individual time trial in Tour history. This yielded the following General Classification:

1. Alberto Contador
2. Cadel Evans @ 23 seconds
3. Levi Leipheimer @ 31 seconds
4. Carlos Sastre @ 7minutes 8 seconds

While the top 3 were now very close in time, with the Green jersey competition still unsettled, it was unlikely that Evans could grab enough bonus seconds by outsprinting the specialists in the final stage to take the lead. Leipheimer said that he would not "pull a Vinokourov", remembering how the Kazakh had taken a placing from him in the final stage of the 2005 Tour.

And remember Leipheimer's 10-second penalty for the push in the Alps? He was now 8 seconds behind Evans. Without that penalty he might have been 2 seconds ahead. Leipheimer says that the push was necessary to help him regain contact. Without it, he might have suffered a catastrophic time loss.

And that's how the 2007 Tour ended, with the 24-year-old Spaniard taking the victory and the 31-second time spread for the podium being the closest in Tour history. That made the ninth Tour victory for Spain, previous Spanish winners having been Bahamontes, Ocaña, Delgado and Indurain.

The press, perhaps looking to sell papers more than anything else, started calling for a halt to the Tour after Vinokourov's positive, claiming that the scandal-plagued Tour was hopelessly mired in dope. I hope that the patient reader by now understands that the dope has always been there. What the 2007 Tour was undergoing was a crisis generated by a somewhat successful enforcement of the rules. The average speed of the 2007 Tour was 38.98 kilometers per hour, the slowest speed since 1994. The relentless obscene increases in speed that had been going on year after year had been halted, at least for now. I am not so naïve as to believe that this Tour was clean. But clearly there were changes afoot.

For Discovery, it was an amazing turnaround of fortune after their 2006 showing. They captured first and third in the General Classification, the Young Rider (Contador) and 2 stage wins.

Yet, again we had a winner with whom questions remain. There are suspicions that he was involved with Fuentes, suspicions that were not eased by Contador's truculent refusal to give clear answers at press conferences. When asked why he didn't just give the DNA samples that would surely clear him, he gave the tired response that he was innocent and "I don't have to prove everything to everyone." He also gave the meaningless defense that he had passed all of his dope tests.

The Tour organization, furious with the UCI over its continuing attempts to grab power and money from the Grand Tour owners, announced that they would withdraw from the UCI and set up a new cycling organization with the World Anti-Doping Authority. "There can only be one answer for the UCI, either they are incompetent or want to damage the Tour de France," said Tour director Prudhomme after the strange occurrences of July.

Making the UCI's feeling on the subject clear, UCI president Pat McQuaid said, "I don't think the Tour de France belongs to the ASO [the Amaury Sport Organization, owner and organizer of the Tour], I think the Tour de France belongs to the cycling family and I am president of the cycling family. I think in that context they should accept that and we should be sitting down together to work out plans for the future." I'm sure the ASO could feel McQuaid's hand in their pockets.

As the youngest winner of the Tour since Ullrich in 1997 (who was 23), the possibilities open to Contador seem almost unlimited. But the Tour seems to have a way of fooling us. The first winner in this volume, Felice Gimondi, crafted an effortless win in 1965 at 23 as well. He never won the Tour again.

It's clear that a new era of organization governance and possibly doping enforcement is coming. As with any form of change it will be noisy and likely ugly. We'll all be forced to be in the position of watching sausage being made. Let's hope cycling puts something good on our plate.

Final 2007 Tour de France General Classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Discovery) 91 hours 26 seconds
2. Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) @ 23 seconds
3. Levi Leipheimer (Discovery) @ 31 seconds
4. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 7 minutes 8 seconds
5. Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel) @ 8 minutes 17 seconds

Climbers' Competition:

1. Mauricio Soler: 206 points
2. Alberto Contador: 128 points
3. Yaroslav Popovych: 105 points

Points Competition:

1. Tom Boonen: 256 points
2. Robert Hunter: 234 points
3. Erik Zabel: 232 points