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Le Tour de la Douleur

08 Jul 2003

I’ve gone into a sort of hibernation — a period each summer where I spend up to three hours a day in front of the television watching Le Tour. This fits into my schedule primarily due to the magic of Tivo, enabling me to time-shift the 6am live feed from France to my needs.

Last week, I wrote of pain and suffering and Lance Armstrong in the Dauphine Libere. The tour is only a couple days old this year, and we’ve already witnessed similar catastrophes.

On the first road stage, a nervous peloton barreled into the city of Meaux at nearly 60kph. As the mass sprint set up for the line, it was clear that no single team was taking the lead out. As the confusion reached its peak, the group hit a bend in the final 400 meters. There was a touch of wheels. One rider went down, sweeping another over him. More piled over them. A wave of wheels and limbs tore through the group ending with some 40 riders sprawled on the pavement.

Brad McGee, yellow jersey on his back, went down. Armstrong went down. The next great American hope, Tyler Hamilton, went down. For 10 nervous minutes, the pile of riders was carefully untangled. Neck braces were applied. Ambulances carted off the wounded. Bloodied riders slowly peddled across the line. (Thanks to a relatively new rule in UCI events such as the Tour de France, all riders crossing the 1k-to-go mark in the main main group receive the same time regardless of the order in which they actually finish. The rule was put in place to try to calm the last thousand meters down a bit, and occasionally it even works.)

Today, a bruised peloton set out for another six hours of racing. Tyler Hamilton was on the course with a collar bone fractured in two places. Jimmy Casper was riding in a neck brace, which he will have to wear for two more days. Fabio Baldato had a a tendon reattached in the operating room at 10pm the night before today’s stage, and then was thrown to the pavement again today 75K out.

“These guys will dig deep into the suitcase of courage just to get to the sacred cobbles of the Champs-Elysees,” said to commentator Paul Sherwin.

Indeed. ​