Luck plays a role in Tour
Armstrong, unlucky this year, has had his share of good fortune
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.’
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.
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.