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July 18, 2003

by Bill Hogan


Contrary to what we've been taught, when it comes to sports, there are some sure things. When Edwin Moses was in his prime, it was a safe bet that he'd win every 400-meter hurdle event he entered. When Rocky Marciano entered the ring, his opponent was sure to get pummeled.

When Tiger tees it up in a Major, it's even money that he'll lap the field by Sunday. When Secretariat charged out of the gate at the Belmont in 1973 the question wasn't whether he would win the race but by how much.


You can count on four-hour baseball games, NFL referees blowing a couple of calls each game, Roger Clemens brushing batters off the plate and Pete Rose lurking around Cooperstown on Hall of Fame weekend.

As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, there will be fans that throw bottles onto the playing field, NBA players in trouble with the law and corked bats; multi-million dollar endorsement contracts for teenagers, eye candy on the sideline for Monday Night Football games and really annoying play-by-play announcers.

And just as inevitable as the air conditioner breaking down on the hottest day of the year is Lance Armstrong wearing the leader's yellow jersey after eleven stages of the 2003 Tour de France. (Another kick in the pants for Frenchy.)

Except this year things seem to be different. The last few Tours, Armstrong took pleasure in toying with the other world-class cyclists. Feigning exhaustion and then blowing by them. This year, the fatigue seems to be real. This year, Armstrong's rivals are a little too close for comfort.

Frankly, a 21-second lead after eleven stages has me worried. Armstrong is cycling's version of Moses and Marciano and Secretariat. He's not supposed to be this close to the pack; he's supposed to be a sure thing.

Twenty-one seconds. He's one flat tire away from losing the lead. In years past, he was comfortably cruising along by this point; leisurely meandering through the French Alps thumbing his nose at the jeering French spectators.

There are some things I've grown to expect out of life. My coffee ready when I wake up, Golden Girls reruns on Lifetime 16 hours a day, something of value chewed-up by my dog, my youngest son climbing into our bed each night and Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France.

But there are five riders within two minutes of Armstrong – including American Tyler Hamilton who is trying to complete this grueling race with a broken collar bone. Ever try to do ANYTHING with a broken collar bone? It's hard to sleep, hard to walk, hard to breathe, and if you have to sneeze – fugetaboutit.

Hamilton broke his collar bone when he was involved in a pile-up on the first day of racing. Armstrong was part of that Stage 1 crash and continued the race virtually unscathed. But the incident serves as a grim reminder that anything can happen at the Tour.

In Stage 9, Armstrong had to veer off course and ride through a field to narrowly avoid another bike-wreck and in Stage 10 his ride through Marseille was temporarily halted when a group of wacky protestors marched onto the course.

It all adds up to one thing: bad mugombo. I got a baaaad feeling about this. I hope I'm wrong. I hope – when the peloton rolls into Paris toward the Champs-Elysees on July 27 - Armstrong is still wearing the leader's yellow jersey.

It's like a really good football team letting a really bad team "hang around" for most of the game. You just get the feeling that something is going to go wrong. A game that should have been a laugher can turn on one fluke play because the good team failed to put the game away early.

I'm a big believer in bad juju, bad karma, bad mugombo. Armstrong is one pile-up, one broken chain, one pothole away from second place in a race where second place doesn't matter.

I want Lance Armstrong to win his fifth consecutive Tour de France. Partly because it has only been done once before in the 100 year history of the race. Partly because it's just a great story that a 31-year old cancer survivor can endure and succeed at such a high level of international competition. But mainly because I want to see him stick it to Pierre one more time.


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