Posted: Friday July 22, 2005 2:40PM; Updated: Sunday July 24, 2005 9:59PM
Robbie McEwen (right) felt using his head was the best way to slow down fellow Australian Stuart O'Grady during Stage 3.
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CLERMONT-FERRAND, France -- Checked into the quaint Garabit Hotel on Thursday night around 10:30. It sits in the shadow of the magnificent Viaduc de Garabit, conceived by Gustave Eiffel, who would go on to design a famous tower in Paris. I waited for the elevator with a Lampre-Caffita rider who, even though he had but one flight to climb, opted not to take the stairs.
That's where we are in the Tour: With just a single road stage and a time trial before Sunday's ceremonial promenade down the Champs-Elysées, the riders are husbanding every last morsel of energy, just barely hanging on. Most of them, anyway.
Lance Armstrong, who told reporters after Tuesday's final Pyrenean stage that he "had no chain today" -- meaning he spun his pedals effortlessly -- hasn't looked particularly put out since then. Despite his polite suggestion Thursday that Jan Ullrich is the man to watch in Saturday's time trial, Armstrong is the clear favorite.
Hard to believe it'll be over -- this Tour and Armstrong's career -- in two days. Rather than recap Friday's inconsequential Stage 19 from Issoire to Puy-en-Velay (won by Ullrich's mountain escort, Giuseppe Guerini) let's count down the year's top 10 Tour moments (so far):
10) Mengin's Folly
Christophe Mengin practically could taste the glory. After spending the bulk of a rainy, 125-mile Stage 7 in a small breakaway, he held the lead in the final kilometer of a Tour leg that ended just a few miles from his hometown. Desperate to hold off Alexandre Vinokourov and Lorenzo Bernucci, Mengin took far too much speed into the last turn, barreling into the barriers and causing the 2005 Tour's most memorable pileups. Bernucci took the win; Mengin abandoned two days later, unable to see through a shiner he'd incurred in the crash.
9) The Hook
What was Robbie McEwen thinking? During the anarchy of a sprint finish into Tours, the bantam rooster from Australia leaned over and slowed countryman Stuart O'Grady ... with his helmeted head! The only person in the world who disagreed with the race jury's decision to relegate him to last place in that stage for that bad behavior was McEwen. Feeling wronged, McEwen went on to win three stages. He had a superb Tour.
8) Mr. Sand(bag) Man
Before the start of Stage 13 in Miramas, Chris Horner told anyone who'd listen that he was shelled, having attacked in the Alps. His grandest ambition on this day would be to "sit on the back and spin." Right, Chris. The next time I looked up, he'd joined a breakaway about 20 minutes into the stage. In the final two kilometers, with an angry peloton roaring down on Horner, Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel tried to get Horner to take the lead. Horner refused, knowing Chavanel simply would jump on his wheel, then outsprint him at the line. They were overtaken 100 meters from the line.
Why hadn't he pulled when Chavanel wanted him to? "Cause I'd have lost," he said, laughing. But you could've gotten second! "Second or last -- it's all the same."