Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!
The 2005 Tour de France is shaping up to be an epic battle. There is no shortage of men who would like to go down as the cyclist who knocked Lance Armstrong of the podium's top step, and this is their last opportunity to do it. T-Mobile has assembled a particularly strong team with Jan Ulrich (when he exploded onto the Tour de France scene eight years ago I doubted we'd see anybody other than him win the Tour de France for the next five years at least), Andrei Vinikurov (one of the most explosively and tactically savvy cyclists ever), and Andreas Kloden (second place in last year's Tour). Their strategy is going to be fascinating to watch.
Other contenders will include Ivan Basso (the only man who could stick with Lance in the mountains last year), Roberto Herras (a former teammate of Armstrong's), Floyd Landis (a Lance protogee who he no longer gets along with), and Levi Leipheimer (another strong American who once rode for US Postal).
There are a lot more guys who are going to be to be fun to watch including Santiago Boterro, Chris Horner, Iban Mayo, and Vladimir Karpets. I can't wait for the racing to begin and for things to start sorting themselves out.
Even with all these contenders, it's tough to bet against Armstrong. Some say his motivation is suspect, but he sounds awfully intense to me. I'd be more concerned about his early season results. He's raced very little this year, and hasn't yet won anything (a first for him since his TdF run began six years ago). Still, anybody who has watched Armstrong for long knows that he wouldn't take the start if his preparation hadn't been meticulious and his fitness where he wants it to be. Armstrong is, in my opinion, the mentally strongest athlete in history. I can't even think of anybody who comes close. I expect to see him prove that yet again in his final tour. He'll have to endure a boat load of abuse if he's going to win this race, but those are the conditions that Lance Armstrong thrives in. If you bet against the guy, you'd better make certain it's money you can afford to lose.
Tour de France time also means that I'll get numerous opportunities to provide analysis on radio and TV. If you're interested, please take a look at the July dates on my Author Tour page.