Luck plays a role in Tour

Arm­strong, un­lucky this year, has had his share of good for­tune

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Suzanne Hal­libur­ton

GAP, France — Lance Arm­strong has talked about luck many times this week. How it rode on his wheel for seven tri­umphant years. How it de­serted him this year af- ter the Pro­logue in Rotterdam, ex­pos­ing him to punc­tured tires and mul­ti­ple crashes and turn­ing him into a Tour de France af­ter­thought.

If he needed a re­minder of how luck once fa­vored him, this Alpine cross­roads where stage 10 ended Wed­nes­day could pro­vide it.

“Talk­ing about Gap, that’s one of those ex­am­ples of luck be­ing with you,” Arm­strong said. “What if

that open­ing in the field hadn’t been there?”

The year was 2003. It was acid hot that af­ter­noon in the Alpine val­ley near here. Arm­strong had seized the yel­low jersey, but his lead was thin and the chal­lengers were at­tack­ing.

Alexan­dre Vi­nok­ourov, then a tal­ented rider for Team Telekom, was go­ing for the stage win on a sharp, dan­ger­ous de­scent into this city of 40,000 at the base of the Alps.

Arm­strong and Span­ish star Joseba Beloki were chas­ing Vi­nok­ourov. The two worked in tan­dem through­out the de­scent, each speed­ing along at more than 40 mph. They took turns rid­ing in front so that the other could draft and con­serve en­ergy.

They were about 21⁄ miles out

2 of town. It was Beloki’s turn to lead. The tem­per­a­ture on the road sur­face was 125 de­grees. Nei­ther cy­clist knew the as­phalt was turn­ing to goo.

Beloki’s back wheel stuck in the tar. He wob­bled mo­men­tar­ily, stayed up­right, then jerked for­ward through the air, land­ing on his right hip.

Arm­strong in­stinc­tively veered into a grassy field to avoid Beloki, then con­tin­ued through the deep brown grass, split­ting the switch­back to re­gain the road. His tires, which can so eas­ily punc­ture, stayed in­tact. He stopped, picked up his bike, jumped across a ditch to the road and re­joined the con­tenders chas­ing Vi­nok­ourov.

Beloki lay in the road cry­ing. A team­mate had stopped and was try­ing to com­fort him. He had snapped his right fe­mur, hip and el­bow and, in a prac­ti­cal sense, his elite cy­cling ca­reer was over.

A three-time podium fin­isher to Arm­strong, Beloki tried the Tour once again in 2005. He fin­ished 75th.

Arm­strong re­mem­bers, and it helps keep per­spec­tive now.

“I’ve had some bad luck this week,’ he said, “but I’ve had an aw­ful lot of good luck at the Tour.”

Chris Carmichael, Arm­strong’s long-time per­sonal coach, wrote a col­umn this week on how luck and mind­set fac­tor in win­ning a three­week race.

“You have to stay out of trou­ble and avoid mishaps, not only be­cause of their in­di­vid­ual dan­ger, but be­cause they tend to mul­ti­ply,” Carmichael said. “Why is it that once a rider be­gins to have prob­lems with

‘I’ve had some bad luck this week, but I’ve had an aw­ful lot of good luck at the Tour.’

LANCE ARM­STRONG

Cur­rently in 31st place in what he says will be his fi­nal Tour de France

punc­tures and crashes, that those prob­lems of­ten seem to linger or get worse?

“Part of the rea­son is that these prob­lems cause a slight change in a rider’s mind-set. When ev­ery­thing is go­ing great, you’re strong, and you have all your skin, you feel like you can do no wrong. And as a re­sult, you don’t give the risks as­so­ci­ated with cy­cling any thought. You just ride and fo­cus on the com­pe­ti­tion, not the minu­tia.”

Arm­strong rode calmly Wed­nes­day. All of the top rid­ers took it easy. There was no move­ment in the over­all stand­ings.

At the end of the stage, Arm­strong was cel­e­brat­ing be­cause team­mate Ser­gio Paulinho won the stage. Paulinho is a do­mes­tique for the moun­tains. He was as­signed to fol­low any break by a rider with Caisse d’Epargne, which is com­pet­ing with Ra­dioShack for top squad hon­ors in the Tour.

Paulinho won by the width of his tire. And Team Ra­dioShack was be­hind by only 31 sec­onds.

“I am con­vinced we can win more stages,” team di­rec­tor Johan Bruyneel said.

Per­haps this visit to Gap turned good for­tune back to Arm­strong and his team­mates.

Bruno Fablet 2003 AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Lance Arm­strong rode through a grassy field af­ter veer­ing to avoid a fallen Joseba Beloki near Gap, France, dur­ing the ninth stage in 2003. Arm­strong’s re­ac­tion kept him ped­al­ing to­ward the ti­tle.

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