Thursday, July 22, 2010
STAGE 17: EPIC
It all came down to this. The two main rivals, the two Tour de France leaders, dueling it out alone in the mist and fog during the last ten kilometers on never-before contested steeps of fabled Tourmalet.
All the other contenders seemed to know this was not about them. Their best efforts would be minutes short of what was taking place up the road from them.
No other cyclists witnessed what was going on between Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador. Just the fans. Just jubilant, frenzied, crazy, cycling-loving fans. Pressing in on the two leaders, running alongside them, waving flags, shouting encouragements, thousands of fans fueled the tandems' energy.
Schleck and Contador steadily, painfully threaded the human gauntlet. Schleck led the way, repeatedly looking back at Contador to see if there were signs of weakness, assessing how he might vanquish his rival. Contador did not waver.
Contador attacked. Within a hundred feet Schleck was at his side, glaring into Contador's eyes, and then leading again with Contador on his back wheel.
On that incline, after so long a climb, neither rider seemed capable of pulling away. Contador followed Schleck across the finish line, as if being dragged, just as he had been dragged by the Luxembourger the entire climb.
And then the magnanimous act. Schleck reached out to put his arm around his rival. And Contador reciprocated. Moments later, off their bikes, they hugged. Perhaps new mutual respect?
Schleck won the stage. Contador survived it.
Schleck proved his dominance in the mountains. Contador will, in all likelihood, go on to win the Tour de France, if by a handful of seconds.
At the end of this day, one has to simply pay homage to two great contenders who battled to the end and then shook hands.