Friday, July 23, 2010

L'Roi C'Est Mort, Vive L'Roi

"No king rules forever, my son." -- King Terenas Menethil II

For seven consecutive years, Lance Armstrong was able to avoid major trouble. He had assembled a team around him that had some of the world's best cyclists, and he had the experience to avoid problems before they cropped up. But still, seven Tours without a major crash or major mechanical problem is an astonishing run of luck. Even allowing for the fact that much of the time luck results from preparation, staying that good for that long was a singular achievement.

This year, his luck appears to have run out. By the end of the first week, Armstrong's attempt to win an eighth Tour de France was essentially over, after a disastrous series of crashes. Crashes that, five years ago, he'd have danced around almost effortlessly. But five years of age have robbed him of the quickness he once had: the crashes left him bandaged, hurt, and tens of minutes out of contention. It's not a complete loss. He's stayed in, and it looks as if his Radio Shack squad might capture the overall team classification.

Still, it's clear: the crown must now pass to a new generation.

This year, it's a hard-fought race between two exceptional young men. One has won the race twice before: Alberto Contador, who holds the lead by a scant eight seconds. The gentleman on his left in the photo above is in second place going into Saturday's time trial: Andy Schleck. They are almost perfectly evenly matched. Contador has an edge in experience, and has won the last four Grand Tours he's entered. Schleck has strength, endurance, and an increasing amount of poise and confidence. If I were betting ... well, I wouldn't. I honestly have no idea who's going to be stronger tomorrow.

But I do think that Alberto Contador is the dominant cyclist of his generation. The crown is his, if he can ride hard enough to keep it. He's probably good enough to earn another two or three to follow, though that remains to be seen.

L'Roi c'est mort. Vive l'Roi!

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