Monday, July 21, 2003

Lance Armstrong broke the Tour open this afternoon on Luz Ardiden. He didn't break it open by much, and he even hit a spectator and crashed, bringing down Mayo with him. But he did manage to pull away from Ullrich and Vinokourov and win the stage. He has an advantage of well more than a minute over Ullrich, in second, almost three over Vino in third, and more than five over Mayo and Zubeldia in fourth and fifth. Barring total disaster for Lance tomorrow in the time trial, or an absolutely spectacular performance from Ullrich, the Tour is Armstrong's. Tyler Hamilton continued his fine performance and is still in the top ten, which I imagine must be his goal at this point. Just finishing is a tremendous achievement for him. One American rider, Fred Rodriguez, dropped out of the race today.

I saw a few jerks in the crowd flipping Armstrong off as he passed, but the great majority of the fans are sportsmanlike and cheer for everybody. All those people dressed up in orange waving the flag that looks like a green UK flag on a red background are Basques. It's the ikurrina, the Basque flag. It is the symbol of all Basques no matter their politics. If you see anyone with a UK-looking flag but in rainbow colors, though, it's the pro-ETA flag. The orange shirt is the color of the Euskaltel team, all of whose riders are Basques. Those wacky Basques are just plain nuts about sports, especially bike racing.

One Tour de France custom is that the fans paint messages on the road surface, hoping their favorite rider will see their message and feel spurred on or hoping that they'll get their message on TV. There weren't too many "Gora ETA" or "Presoak Azkatu" signs painted on the pavement, though there were a lot of hardcore Basque nationalists waving "Euskal Presoak Euskal Herria" signs. Tomorrow the Tour goes into the French Basque Country. We should see triple the Basque paraphernalia tomorrow as we saw today.

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