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89th Tour de France - Grand Tour
France, July 6-28, 2002
2002 Tour de France journals
John Eustice, Tour de France International Show host
New Yorker John Eustice is the host of the Tour de France's 2002 International Show, broadcasting to over 30 countries world-wide, with play by play by Phil Ligget. Eustice is covering his ninth Tour De France, his previous eight with ESPN and ABC Sports. In cycling, the 46 year old Eustice was the first-ever USPRO Champion in 1982. Originally from Ivyland, Pennsylvania, Eustice competed in the Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a Espana and World Cycling Championships. When he's not at the Tour de France, the father of two runs his sports event promotion company Sparta, organizers of the Housatonic Valley Classic and the Univest Grand Prix.
Stage 17 - Thursday July 25: Aime - Cluses, 142 km
Stage 18 - Friday July 26: Cluses - Bourg-en-Bresse, 176.5 km
Lance dropped a bombshell on the cycling world during a live interview during on the rest day. It was a bombshell because the press (myself included) is desperately trying to find some sort of drama to pull out of this Tour given the Texan's suffocating dominance.
Ok, if you really love the sport, or are French, Jalabert's attacks make great copy. Virenque, and you have to be French to get in on this one, on the Ventoux is a story as well, but the fight for the Yellow is nil. Postal pulls, Lance attacks, Lance drops, Lance wins.
France 2 host Henri Sennier (who is very good, really knows the sport and gives Thevenet a real tactical run for his money) was interviewing him and Lance was gamely doing it in French, which is tough, especially if your skills aren't very good. And please don't interpret this as a criticism. Lance has always, or almost always been in an English-speaking environment during his European career. He didn't have to "go native" as the earlier generation did, and it is much harder to pick up the lingo if you are not completely submersed in a foreign environment. I find that he's done pretty well with his parlez vous.
During the interview Robin Williams came on and did a bit in French - Sennier came back on and said, "Lance your friend Robin speaks almost as good a French as you do! Ha, ha, ha!"
The guy doesn't realize that Mr. Williams is collecting material for his next HBO special and that any French snobbery like that is pure gold and will find itself on American national television skewered up the rump like a good roast Poulet de Bresse. Sorry, just had to get that in.
Richard Virenque came on and - this was a sort of stars talk to the stars set up - asked, "Hey Lance, when are you going to retire? We'd like to know!" And this is the bombshell, Lance replied, "It might be much sooner than any of you imagine."
Ok let's look at this. He'd just come off the rest day with his family and the thought of leaving them for the wars again was probably hard and so it might have been a bit of that.
But I think that Lance was profoundly shocked on the Ventoux by the virulent reaction of much of the crowd. Drunk fans were screaming "doper!" in his face and hitting him (riders end these mountain stages with black and blue marks on their backs from the fans "encouraging" them) as he was putting in one of the most exciting mountain climbs in the sport's history. Lance, tough and prickly as he can be, is, and this is supposed to be the great secret, actually quite emotional and affected by circumstances. The proof can be found in his 1995 stage win in Limoges after Casartelli's death. It was a powerfully emotional man who pulled that off.
And then there's the on-going French judicial process on the doping issue - it's something out of Alice in Wonderland at this point - Lance's frozen urine being shunted from agency to agency while the UCI the WADA and everyone else wage a nasty political battle for control of international sport though the drug issue with poor vulnerable cycling, the one pro sport that actually does controls, a sitting duck target in their sights.
Simoni is the biggest victim of this fight for my money (Garzelli runs a very close second) - he's been ruined by it and I am sure that when the facts come out it will be found that he has done nothing, but had a Giro taken from him and denied a chance to prove at the Tour what he is. And that form he had can only come once or twice in a life, even if you are even simply a superb rider.
But back to one of the greats in history. So Lance performs, shows his love for the sport, and in return, is menaced by the fans and has buzzing around his head just looking to get him. He will, barring the unforeseen, win his fourth straight Tour, and his name will be up there with Anquetil, Merckx, and Indurain (Hinault never put four together). Does he really need a 5th?
The other secret is that it costs Lance to race. He commands six figure speaker fees and can make much more money giving corporate talks than racing.* He races because he wants to, he does not need to. And the Lance story will have legs, he can keep raking it in and become more involved in his cancer work. So why risk your life and, now, reputation, on a bike once this one is in the bag?
Lance will most likely want to win the 100th Tour, equal Indurain's 5 straight record and then retire a happy man. But he has, given his TV statement, considered stopping and I am guessing that next year will be his last.
*This statement has been disputed since I wrote it a couple of days ago and it might not be accurate. Safe to say anyway that he has a lot of money. A recent corporate survey had Lance in third place after Tiger Woods and one other whom I forget, as the athlete that corporate America would most like to sponsor.