For Floyd Landis, today his Tour victory journey comes to an end. Cue Daniel Powter's "Bad Day."
Today was one of the two monster stages of the Tour de France, including two climbs I've ridden in the past, the Col du Galibier and the Col de la Croix de Fer. Both are HC (hors categorie) climbs, so difficult they are beyond categorization. And those were just climbs to set the stage for the two finishing climbs, the Col du Mollard and La Toussuire. In the punishing furnace of the French summer, Tour cyclists had to ride through a couple of circles of Hell today.
Floyd Landis found his limits today on that final climb. In cycling parlance, he cracked. First Dennis Menchov attacked, and Landis could not follow. Though T-Mobile paced Klöden and Landis back, the blood was in the water. Carlos Sastre attacked, and down went Landis. By the end of the stage, won by that albino praying mantis Michael Rasmussen, Landis had dropped to 11th overall, 8:08 behind Oscar Pereiro. In just over 13km, or the final 8 miles and change, Landis's Tour hopes evaporated as quickly as water off the pavement.
He's still probably the strongest time trialist of the podium contenders, and from day to day, one's legs can feel remarkably different, so Landis can still reach the podium. But he can't sit back and mark his opponents anymore. He has to attack.
The day I climbed the Col du Galibier, I also climbed the Col du Telegraphe first. They are companion climbs. I was riding with another guy on the bike tour, and up and over the Telegraphe, I felt decent despite near 100 degree temperatures and a stifling humidity. I had enough energy to stand up to accelerate through the switchbacks. But on the short descent down the other side, I did not have much time to recover. Before I could catch my breath, the road leaned back into me again on the way up the towering Col du Galibier. About halfway up, my speed dropped down to about 14 km/hr, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not push past that ceiling. I had redlined. My buddy waited for a bit, and then I waved him on. The rest of the climb was a long, lonely delirium of suffering. I spent much of that ride trying to detach my mind from my body so that I could displace my pain, compartmentalize it. I tried to think of my body as merely a machine to which I issued commands.
But despite many hours spent toiling up the Alps and Pyrenees of France, I've missed it these past few summers. Whenever July rolls around, I long to be on my bike, fighting gravity to ride uphill. There have been few times in my life I've felt more alive.