Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Public Has Spoken: No Yellow for Armstrong in 2010

Poll results are in! (See upper right corner of page.) Just to prove how wildly popular Velophoria is, we actually topped our previous number of poll participants, with a grand total of 13. I think the VeloNews people are starting to feel the heat, don't you? Probably thinking about firing their marketing guy about now.

Of course, some of the voters were twisted enough to go for my noise-filter question. No, Neil Armstrong has not been pondering a Michael Jordan-style comeback, slinging his leg over a Trek at age 79 and trying to ride his way into the history books for a second time. But I really do savor the perversity of Velophoriacs: Four of them voted for that. It's you guys that keep me a little bit twisted, y'know? Chapeau!

If we parse for the noise question, the popular opinion here in Velophoria-land is that Lance Armstrong could be wearing yellow in Paris in 2010 -- but also that it ain't likely. I have to say, I learned from the folks who voted that way; I originally voted "No way," because I couldn't shake the picture of Armstrong staring in exhausted despair at Alberto Contador's skinny butt disappearing over Verbier last month. Also, his dejected admission after the stage that AC was now The Man on Astana -- that no one could touch him. (He was obviously right. Armstrong can still sniff out the shifting truth of a race faster than almost anyone.)

On reflection, I have to admit that anything is possible, even a 38-year-old winning the toughest road race in the world. Racer Rob reminded me after this year's Tour that LA had a significant layoff in the spring due to his first-ever broken clavicle, and that, next year, he'll have much more real training and racing in his legs by July. This is all true.

But I still underscore the "long-shot" in the phrasing of that poll question. Next year, Armstrong will be a year older, and he looked none too young this year. The Schlecks will still be striplings, but this time with an extra year of experience behind them and a fresh commitment to breaking into yellow. And Contador will just be entering his prime (hard to believe, given all his palmares) and you can bet that his fiery Latin temperament won't have forgotten the catfights with LA during this year's race. He'll be gunning for El Brazo Fuerte.

* * *

When Jordan himself returned to basketball after that ill-advised, can't-hit-the-curveball fiasco in the minor leagues, he was -- no surprise -- still a great asset to his team, and still fun to watch. But that electric sense that anything was possible at any time was long gone. You no longer expected him to casually toss off at least one anti-Newtonian miracle per game. His godhood had run its course, but instead of retiring to the pantheon and quaffing mead with Aries and Thor, he took the harder road -- the hard fall to Earth and the feet of clay with which we all stumble along here in the land of gravity and time.

Feel about it how you may, I think we can expect about the same from now on from Armstrong. Personally, I like him just a little better now that he can't pretend his chamois doesn't stink like everyone else's.

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