And Armstrong attacks!

The benefit of living on the West Coast is being able to get up at a semi-reasonable hour to catch the extended OLN coverage of the key mountain stages. This morning that meant crawling out of bed bleary-eyed at 5:30am, still somewhat woozy from the weekend bachelor party, to catch the key stage of the Tour, Stage 15.
This stage included two of the most famous Pyrenean climbs, the awesome Col de Tourmalet and the Luz Ardiden. And again, it was, like the rest of this year's Tour, one nail-bitingly suspenseful and dramatic race. I've never seen any sporting event like this--just two weeks of one shocking event after another.
First we witnessed the early attack by young French rider Sylvain Chavanel, an attempt to lead the race nearly wire-to-wire. Brave, but unlikely given the difficulty of the stage profile. Chavanel will remember this moment, though. He is regarded as the heir to Laurent Jalabert as the smartest and bravest French cyclist and has a great future ahead of him. Virenque is the macho but somewhat brainless French rider who always wins with his cojones, but Chavanel looks to be a true podium contender.
Then Ullrich attacked on Tourmalet and put Armstrong into a bit of difficulty. Were we witnessing the end of the Armstrong era? For a brief moment it looked to be so, but Armstrong has managed to keep his cool this entire race, despite his difficulties, and he gradually covered the attack. Ullrich continued to press, but Armstrong had locked onto his wheel.
And so the lead group came to the bottom of Luz Ardiden, the punishing final climb. Knowing that he had lost 1' 36" to Ullrich in the last time trial, and only leading by 15", Armstrong had to open up a time gap on this final climb if he wished to feel safe going into the final time trial later this week. The lead group consisted of Ullrich, Mayo, Hamilton, Moreau, Rubiera, Basso, and Zubeldia, among others. This pack of about fifteen riders was going to decide the day. Ullrich's teammate Garmendia took point for a while, and then Beltran and Rubiera. Soon Armstrong and his rival Ullrich were side by side, and the showdown at high noon had begun. Who would attack first?
It turned out to be neither of them. Iban Mayo took off down the right side of the road, cutting past Ullrich. And Armstrong followed a split second later, to Ullrich's left! Finally, Armstrong showed the spring in his legs that we'd come to expect after his previous four victories. Ullrich immediately moved to cover.
And then Armstrong crashed! Going around a righthand turn, Armstrong hooked his right brake hood on a spectator's musette (feed bag souvenir) which yanked his bars around and dropped him on his left side. Mayo, right behind him, crashed as well, and Ullrich barely avoided them with a sharp swerve to the left. I nearly coughed up a lung. Armstrong was down. Was his bike damaged? The rest of the riders rode past as Armstrong gave his bike a once over and struggled to get back into his clips. Could it all be over in this instant?
Up the road, Ullrich kept looking over his shoulder, trying to understand what was going on. Rubiera went back to help his team captain Armstrong. Fueled by an incredible surge of adrenaline, Armstrong and Mayo flew back towards the Ullrich group.
And then Armstrong came out of his right clip and nearly did a chest plant on his top tube! Mayo decided it was safer to not follow Lance and cut over to the right side of the road. Was Lance's pedal permanently damaged? Had his cleat come loose? No one knew, and it added to the suspense. It was likely too late for Lance to swap bikes, so if his equipment was damaged, he might not be able to keep up or attack. Chechu had faded back, and he gave Lance a hand signal to indicate, "Keep your cool, I'm here to take you back to those guys."
Ullrich sat up to allow Armstrong back, a display of sportsmanship in a sport that has more unwritten than written rules of etiquette. Armstrong had once waited for Ullrich when Jan fell over a mountain, and now the gesture had been repaid. Who says sportsmanship doesn't pay? A perfect case example for game theorists everywhere. In another display of comraderie, former Armstrong teammate Hamilton had ridden up to the lead group and told them to slow down, especially a feisty Mayo. Attacking when the lead dog has suffered a mishap is not honorable. Hamilton has been a good friend to Lance this entire race, despite being a competitor, and I'm sure Lance will remember that. I'm a bigger Hamilton fan than ever.
As soon as Armstrong pulled up alongside Ullrich, the race essentially reset and started from zero, like going into overtime. Armstrong had lost a portion of the course on which to attack, so he didn't wait long before launching another attack. Mayo followed, but this time Ullrich had no answer. Armstrong caught and passed Chavanel, giving the young French rider a congratulatory pat on the back for his courage, and kept motoring on. This was the type of attack we'd been waiting the entire Tour for, and Lance had finally had the legs to oblige.
In the end, Lance ended 1' 07" up on Ullrich in the overall GC standings. What a day of racing. It was barely 8am and I'd already had a two and a half hour aerobic workout.