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  • Wed July 09 2003
  • Posted Jul 9, 2003
By Don Doxsie Quad City Times Imagine this for a moment, NASCAR fans. It’s the Daytona 500. Biggest race of the year. Coming out of a turn on the final lap, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is involved in a huge pile-up that disables his No. 8 Chevrolet. As other cars scurry to the finish line, Earnhardt jumps out of his car, climbs behind the wheel of Michael Waltrip’s Chevy and finishes the race in the No. 15 car. Huh? What? Can he do that? Would he do that? Even though they’re part of the same racing team, would Waltrip let him do that? No. No way. But such things apparently happen in the sport of cycling. We’ll admit upfront that we never have paid too much attention to the Tour de France. Oh, every few years, something might happen to capture our attention. For a minute or two. Maybe a big crash or something. But we never really thought too much about the idiosyncrasies — or the rules — of the event until we saw the highlights of what happened Sunday. On Stage 1 of the Tour, there was this big pile-up involving four-time defending champion Lance Armstrong and about 30 other riders. In the ensuing scramble, one of Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service teammates, Jose Luis Rubiera of Spain, hopped off his bike and handed it to him so he could peddle the last little stretch to the finish line. Let’s overlook for a moment that the U.S. Postal Service team includes a rider from Spain, which seems odd enough. Why would Rubiera give up his own chance for a decent finish? The official Web site for the Tour de France spells it out pretty clearly in its capsule profile of the U.S. Postal Service team: “When it comes to the Tour, this team is all about one thing — Lance Armstrong.’’ Now, Armstrong is among the most praiseworthy athletes around. How can you not admire a guy who has overcome cancer to win the world’s biggest bike race four consecutive times? But your view of him changes just a bit when you realize that he has a team of eight other riders hand-picked to help him win. These guys would do anything to facilitate an Armstrong victory, including giving up their own ride. Further research into the Tour tells us that Rubiera’s primary role on the team is to help Armstrong dominate the mountainous stretches of the storied 20-stage race. In 2001, he was credited with softening up the lead pack by pushing the pace in the grueling 10th stage to L’Alpe-D’Huez, allowing Armstrong to swoop in and take control. Rubiera did the same thing again last year. He figures to play a key role again when they get to L’Alpe-D’Huez in the eighth stage of this year’s race. In short, it is not Rubiera’s job is to win. If he happens to finish 22nd, as he did last year, or 38th, as he did the year before, that’s great. In truth, it doesn’t matter if he finishes at all. As long as Armstrong wins. By the way, we also found it is not unprecedented to have a foreign rider on the U.S. Postal Service team. In fact, this year’s team includes only three Americans along with three Spaniards, a Russian, a Czech and a Colombian. One other bit of trivia we unearthed in our Tour research: You’ve no doubt heard of the famed yellow jersey that is worn by the current leader, but there also is a green jersey, a polka dot jersey and a white jersey. We won’t go into what all of them mean. It makes about as much sense as giving someone else your bike in the middle of the race. Don Doxsie can be contacted at (563) 383-2289 or ddoxsie@qctimes.com. See the full news article here: http://www.qctimes.com/internal.php?t=Search&doc=/2003/07/08/stories/sports_news/1014652.txt

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