Yesterday Floyd Landis was cooked. 10K from the top of the last climb, he looked up the road completely helpless as the group he was riding in rode away from him. You could see in his face and his body that he had no way to follow, no energy left in his legs. The bike practically stood still. He lost 10 minutes in those last 10K, and, it seemed, the Tour.
Today Floyd Landis rode away from the whole race and stayed away for 125Km. At the end of the day, he had regained almost all the time he lost yesterday. I think it’s the most amazing thing I’ve seen in the Tour since I started paying attention to the race 15 years ago, and not only because Floyd was completely cooked yesterday.
Modern bike racing, especially in the Tour de France is dominated by team tactics that allow for great individual performances. The tactics are generally defensive, and designed to conserve the energy of the best riders so that they can win the race in the final climb or the final time trial. What you never see, or at least I’ve never seen, is a rider who can contend for the GC riding away from the Peloton at the start of the day and staying there. The teams always work to bring him back, because the defensive tactics dictate that one must never lose time. The result is that long solo wins tend to only be given to riders who can’t possibly take back enough time to threaten in the GC.
Against this backdrop, what Landis did today is even more amazing. He rode away from everyone, and they couldn’t do a thing about it. The Peloton which had used those same team tactics to crush him so badly yesterday was utterly helpless to stop him today. So, for one glorious day in the mountains, cycling was dominated by an individual performance, not defensive team tactics.
I remember reading a story about Eddy Merckx, the great Belgian bike rider who won every race there was to win at least twice. In the story, Eddy reminisces over a photograph taken of him in a stage of the Tour. He is riding away from everyone at the beginning of a hard mountain stage, and presumably taking huge time on the way to winning the race. “Boy was that fun”, he says, as if he would never witness anything like that again.