Friday, July 21, 2006

floyd landis

you'll have to forgive this writer, dear reader. with a week's vacation ahead and no plans to check in on this page, and with quite frankly little interest in any news that emerges from cubdom that doesn't involve firing staff or acquiring prospects, the stage was here set to simply do something else.

sometimes, watching the cubs, it's easy to forget what sport is supposed to be about. all the exasperating horseshit that goes on around the worst major professional organization in all of sport anywhere in the world is enough to denude one of the sensibility of what sport can be. when you are stuck with flailing and failing morons like macfail, hendry, baker and the rest of the clown car, it's easy. losing becomes expected -- a habit, as the cliche goes, even for the fans.

but once in a while, one can go outside the stupid and worthless sphere of cubdom and catch a glimpse of what real fire underlies the entire concept, how exactly the discipline and perseverence and work and passion can come together to affirm life in homage to the highest states of the human drama.

one doesn't imagine that anyone else who reads this page watches professional cycling at all, but if anyone does they do so this month. july is the season for the three-week, 2,000-mile-long tour de france. and this year has been the most shocking, surprising, amazing in memory. befitting the first race after the retirement of the sport's great champion, the unexpected has constantly enveloped the tour from the eve of the start when involvement in a doping scandal removed three of the favorites. (cycling, unlike baseball, takes its drugs problem seriously.) this put a number of teams who would otherwise not have been in any contention within a sniff of the yellow jersey -- and the result has been maximum effort and maximum chaos. largely unheralded riders like cyril dessel and oscar pereiro have put in the races of their lives, and the leader's yellow has changed hands virtually every day.

a number of american riders were hopefuls before the start, but many have simply wilted under the powerful glare of expectation in a sport which is a huge spectacle in much of the world, particularly in europe. but the drama of their failures have nothing on the adventure of floyd landis.

riding in secret but intense pain over the last four years on a degenerative hip that will require replacement surgery immediately after this race -- quite probably reducing his abilities significantly and threatening his cycling career -- landis has been a man possessed this season, focusing completely on the goal of winning in this race his sport's highest crown. a calculating and intelligent rider, he has raced strategically throughout to save himself and his hip -- so much so that some have said he lacked the "panache" to be champion.

all question of that ended yesterday.

some days ago in the 13th of the twenty race stages, landis -- in the yellow jersey -- intentionally gave up the lead to ride a very slow and conservative day for his team, allowing pereiro and a small group to take back 30 minutes (an immense amount of time), putting him in the lead. many questioned the tactic, but fine climber landis claimed the be confident that he could take back the lead in the looming alpine stages. this he did in the 15th stage, racing brilliantly up the legendary alpe-d'huez.

however, the 16th stage met disaster, as landis -- clearly suffering from the very start -- cracked and uncharacteristically dropped off the pace, laboring to the finish well behind pereiro and the other overall leaders. this effectively ended his chances to win the tour. he fell some eight minutes behind, and no one would make the same mistake with him as he had with pereiro. or so everyone believed.

in yesterday's 17th and final mountain stage, however, a reborn landis left the pack of leaders on the first climb, some two-and-a-half hours into the five-and-a-half-hour day. such was his acceleration that the leaders, understanding what could be at stake, attempted to follow -- and could not, dropping away. and so landis departed in one of the greatest solo rides in the history of the sport, destroying the field, resurrecting years of effort and sacrifice and a career mortally wounded just the day before on the force of his will alone.

With a blistering 80-mile attack over three mammoth Alpine passes, Landis won the final mountain stage of this year’s Tour by nearly six minutes, regaining much of the time he lost when he had a near-total loss of energy on a steep, final climb Wednesday.

No less an expert than the longtime Tour director, Jean-Marie Leblanc, called Landis’s performance “the best stage I have ever followed.”

“I remember the ride of Eddy Merckx in 1969 in the Pyrenees, when he went alone for more than 100 kilometers,” or more than 60 miles, Leblanc said. “Today was the same with Floyd. One day before, he was the leader, then he was defeated. But he was no coward, and thanks to his great heart, it is a very great performance.”

Paul Sherwen, a former professional cyclist who is now a race commentator for OLN, which is televising the Tour in the United States, said that he could not recall a performance like that of Landis.

“I’ve been on the Tour for 28 years, and I’m racking my brain trying to think of something I can compare it to,” Sherwen said. “I think many people would also think of Claudio Chiappucci” — the Italian cyclist who became part of race lore largely thanks to long breakaways in the 1990 and 1992 editions of the race.

Sherwen particularly recalled Chiappucci’s performance in one long breakaway to the Italian town of Sestriere in 1992.

“But Chiappucci hadn’t lost 10 minutes the day before,” Sherwen said. “He hadn’t gone to the brink of exhaustion and he hadn’t seen himself lose the yellow jersey and go from first place to 11th.”

here's a ticker commentary, though it cannot compare to the intensity of seeing it. watching last night on tape delay was the most hypnotizing and exhilirating bit of spectator sport this writer has seen in years. the drama, the suffering, the triumph and redemption -- landis has not yet won the tour, though he is now once again the favorite, but will enter into the heroic annals of the tour de france regardless. and deservedly, for what he did was truly heroic.

it is truly powerful and affirmative episodes like this which this outhouse ballclub deceives and deprives its battered and deluded fans of with all its drivel and incompetence.

what landis has done is worthy of the highest praise, for it affirms all that is best in human life and achievement. what he did was impossible. but he did it. with everything on the line, he did it.

what macfail, hendry and the cubs do, year in and year out? not fit to be pissed on. not sure why anyone watches or cares.

No comments: