July 18 – It would take a freak accident to stop Lance Armstrong from winning his seventh Tour de France,two race commentators agree.
The only thing that could take Armstrong out of the race would be “an accident,an illness or not feeding himself properly,” said Phil Liggett,a Tour commentator for more than 32 years. “He is equal to or superior to anything anyone can throw at him.”
Paul Sherwen,a seven-time Tour de France participant and cycling commentator for nearly15 years,said Armstrong “is really running the best tactical race of his career … We felt that he was going to win this race.”
Both are covering the race for the Outdoor Life Network,now in its fifth year of comprehensive Tour de France coverage. They spoke in a phone interview from France as the bicycle race contestants rested Monday in Pau after 15 race stages.
Armstrong has led for 11 of the 15 racing days,including the last six. He holds a roughly 2 ½ minute lead over second-place contestant,Italian Ivan Basso of Team CSC.
Armstrong is “a pretty solid leader,” Liggett said. “If he can retire in the yellow jersey on July 24,it will be the greatest victory I've ever seen in the sport of professional cycling.”
Team T-Mobile Captain Jan Ullrich,of Germany,is seen by some as Armstrong's toughest competition,despite the strong competition from Basso and Mickael Rasmussen of Team RAB from Denmark,who is in third place.
But Ullrich,who is fourth overall,has been having problems.
The winner of the 1997 Tour has crashed twice,once on July 1 into the rear window of his manager's car during a training session,and again July 10,breaking his helmet after being knocked down by a gust of wind.
Sherwen said he plans to cross his fingers for the next six days that Armstrong will not share Ullrich's crash misfortunes.
“If you look back at Lance's victories,he's had very good luck,” he said.
Liggett was quick to say that,although Armstrong leads Ullrich,the German is not to be discounted as a competitor. “This year,for the first time,we've seen the fire in his belly to really win this.”
Ullrich has had two rest days from his most recent crash to recuperate. If he hopes to catch Armstrong,he'd better do it soon – only 600 miles remain until cyclists cross the finish line. The riders face a course with hardly any flats,and extremely hot weather to boot.
As Sherwen said,“May the best man win.”