Special to Page 3
While following Lance Armstrong's camp over the Pyrenees mountians or waiting at the finish line, Page 3's Carrie Sheinberg shares some behind-the-scene moments from the Tour.
C'est la Tour -- or so they love to say.
This race is both mad and chaotic. In a moment that could only be described as a scene out of "Forest Gump," I found myself smack in the middle of the peloton as the riders gathered behind the start line.
"Please don't let them catch their handlebars on my shoulder bag," I prayed.
The pack was buzzing, their legs twitching, and the atmosphere was completely electric. I glanced to my right and Lance was signing autographs even seconds after the start bell rang.
Hours later in the television compound at the finish, I overheard rock star Sheryl Crowe talking to her boyfriend, the "man of the hour" on the phone.
"Did you see me? The guys in the car told me to stand up and wave as we went by. I didn't distract you did I?
"The whole peloton saw you honey."
Of course, I found out that there is one rule among the riders on the Tour. According to one of Discovery's team leaders, there are no girlfriends or wives allowed on the Tour, not even at the start. That is, unless your girlfriend happens to be a famous rock star or your initials are L.A.
C'est la Tour.
The race has begun:
For Lance, the question is not if he will win, but more, dealing with the minutias. A few days ago, he found out that his son's passport expired two days before the five-year-old was scheduled to get on the plane. Luckily, Armstrong knows a few people in the right places and Luke and his sisters are on their way.
Sheryl seems tired of taking pictures of her boyfriend. The other day in the finish area, she made Lance take a picture of her with Thor Hoshovd, the Tour's current sprint leader.
But really, as she has been carrying around a copy of her photo album (and close-to-finished new album, "Wildflower"), the real question for the rock star is where the couple will head for vacation after her man makes history.
Around France, plans are being made to accomodate the requisite celebrities attending the Tour -- John Kerry at the time trial in St. Etienne, Robin Williams and Tom Hanks in Paris, to name a few.
Serge and Erwin, Lance's bodyguards, are placing bets on who will cry first when Lance takes to the victory stand on Sunday for the final time. But what I still can't figure out is, how Lance can be first when he hasn't won a single stage yet?
Week Two & Three:
We ventured up the day before the riders would and drove past scores of RV's and tents, campfires, family card games, banners supporting people's favorite riders and of course, there were bicycles everywhere.
All of us, reporters and fans alike, stood staring at Lance hammering up the final kilometers of that climb on the big screen hanging over the finish line. And even though he was climbing past hordes of screaming fans, there was not a peep from the crowd of thousands up at the finish. We stood silent trying to believe what seemed completely unbelievable.
It wasn't until we saw the team come across the finish line that reality set in and finally, the disbelief turned to cheers and celebration. Needless to say, the rest of the day was total mayhem. A traffic jam so formidable ensued, that even Mr. Armstrong himself took his bike off the roof of his car and rode home to his hotel 6 kms down the road.
Not only were people camped out everywhere, perched on the most precarious cliffs at the top of the Col de Galibier, but there were bikers absolutely everywhere. The scene was intoxicating.
My personal favorite -- while stuck at a 45 minute dead stop 1 kilometer from the top of the pass a relay of cheers came from the hill. A man easily in his late seventies, dressed in a jersey almost as old, and on a race bike circa 1939 with just ONE gear, came pedaling by on his way to the summit. People cheered as loud for him as they would for the riders who came by hours later.
Vive le Tour!
Suddenly, I saw them approaching in the distance. I heard the bikes buzzing like beetles on a summer night. The breeze on my face grew stronger, the noise grew louder and then, in a technicolor blur, they went whizzing by. Even though they were 150 strong and moving at 40 mph, it was easy to pick out Lance in yellow.
Hard to believe I was there to see it.
And then I saw it again, and again and again. I knew the last day's route included laps in Paris, but I had no idea they just ride up and down the same street for an hour. It's a little hokey, not to mention completely anti-climatic.
The drama didn't begin for me until the race was over.
Watching Lance trying to absorb the enormity of the day and sharing the moment with his friends and family. I snuck up into the presidential seats and watched the trophy presentation alongside Senator John Kerry, Ron Howard and Michael Keaton.
I could see from the look on his face as he crossed the finish line for the final time that this was all happening too fast. He had a slack-jawed look of shock that comes from realizing there is no way to slow down a moment, no matter how big it may be.
When he emerged for the ceremony, flanked by his children, girlfriend and parents, the look on his face said he was already sinking into his next stage of life's adventures.
I'm proud to say I didn't cry. But nobody really did, not even Lance's bodyguard Serge, the sensitive Belgian (who had told me earlier he often chokes up when Lance is on the podium), looked up at me in the stands to show me he was dry-eyed.
After Lance came down off the podium and did a few interviews in the media pool, he was shuffled through the hordes of autograph seekers and in a quick minute, the greatest bike racer hopped on his bike and rode off to his hotel. You could see the yellow jersey well off into the distance with a crowd of people running after him.
It was too perfect an ending.
Carrie Sheinberg is an Olympian and three time national ski racing champion. Also known as "The Angry and Bitter Olympian" she was the top American finisher in the alpine slalom event at the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. She also covered the Athens Olympics for ESPN.com. This is her first Tour de France.