He does not come in a can, nor is he amused by the question. Prince Albert has, however, come from Monaco to the Tour de France for the last several years, since his buddy Lance Armstrong made a habit of winning it. There was the prince emerging from the shotgun seat of the U.S. Postal team car after Sunday's 14th stage, congratulating team director Johan Bruyneel on another fine day at the office.
Having bid the prince adieu, Bruyneel bumped his head on one of the team bus's side mirrors—his only mistake since this Tour started. With seven days left, the blue train of USPS had put Armstrong in an ideal spot: second place behind a young rider who could not hold him off much longer. Armstrong, 32, was 22 seconds behind Thomas Voeckler, a 25-year-old Frenchman who admitted he almost certainly wouldn't be wearing the yellow jersey at the conclusion of Wednesday's individual time trial up the Alpe d'Huez, 9.6 searing miles against gravity and the clock. If Armstrong is in yellow atop the alpe, odds are he'll be wearing it four days later on the Champs-Elys�e.
Armstrong admits owing much of his success to the blue cocoon in which he is so often enveloped: a highly disciplined team whose varied gifts were on full display the first fortnight. In the rain-drenched countryside of the first nine stages, he was kept out of the wind and near the front of the peloton, safe from the crashes that claimed many rivals. It's beautiful to watch: the Texan tucked in behind climbing specialists Chechu Rubiera or Jos� Azevedo, the lieutenants turning the screws on the rest of the peloton, lifting their tempo up endless switchbacks with obscene gradients, methodically shedding rivals until they themselves fall away like spent rocket boosters, leaving the boss to reach the heights alone. After Armstrong's gooseflesh-inducing stage 13 win last Saturday on the Plateau de Beille—six hours and 127 miles into it, he outsprinted Italy's Ivan Basso to the line—Armstrong was rewarded first with an embrace from his paramour, Sheryl Crow, then with double busses from the podium girls. He was followed onto the podium by Voeckler, who donned a fresh yellow jersey and smiled the smile of a man who knew he was only borrowing it for a while.