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2001-07-27 - 11:30 a.m.

Tour de Lance

Lance Armstrong amazes me.

I've been more interested in the Tour de France this year than in any other. Armstrong is the biggest sports hero in America that nobody pays attention to, unless you live in Austin and spend mornings at local bars watching live coverage on the Tour on the Outdoor Life Network. I've been up most mornings, turning to channel 54 to watch the live coverage across the roads of France. It's exhilarating to watch someone dominate as Armstrong does, do what's expected of him. Like when you knew Michael Jordan would score 50 with the Bulls absolutely needing a playoff victory. Or you knew Joe Montana was going to find John Taylor in the end zone in the 1989 Super Bowl. Or you knew Mark McGwire was going to hit a home run.

Early in the Tour, Armstrong's name came up next to 15th place, minutes behind the leaders. But everyone knew the mountains were his strength, and he proved it again, storming ahead in the Alps and holding on from there. He even feigned exhaustion, appearing to labor up the hills at times, merely to dupe his fellow riders into thinking this wasn't his year. The next day, he took the lead.

Now, after another high finish in today's time trial (I didn't notice his exact place), he's all but locked up his third straight Tour victory. The announcers said that German Jan Ullrich, Armstrong's main competitor, will finish second for the fourth time. On Monday (or is it Sunday?), I'll watch Armstrong make another triumphant ride into Paris and again establish himself as the world's least-famous best athlete.

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