It is important to note that Lance Armstrong is not French. Nor is Alberto Contador, Denis Menchov, Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre or Andy Schleck. They don’t have a French bone in their zero fat bodies. Perhaps they might like French lingerie, good champagne, a bit of rabbit pate on their baguettes but there’s no mistaking their total lack of French-ness. This is carefully verified at the pre-race physical. The race doctors check for blood abnormalities and test for nationality. Eh oui, c’est vrai!
So it is with great Gallic joy that in today’s 196k stage to Perignan, France has a French winner. Thomas Voeckler out-foxed an exhausted and heat-stroked peloton, then beat his five breakaway companions in the final kilometers to solo to victory. Despite the suspiciously German-sounding name, Thomas is as French as Pierre Cardin silk underwear. Ze podium girls gave him extra fantastique smooches and he can now walk the streets of Paris knowing the croissants are free and the glass of Chateau Maraux is on the house.
While there is a Paris, Texas, Lance will always be the “cowboy American” to the French. They wrinkle their nose, they shrug their shoulders, they fault him for lacking that “je ne sais quoi” that even they cannot define. If Armstrong admitted that in secret he wears a beret, chain-smokes Gallois cigarettes and watches old Truffaut movies, he’d still be an outsider. Many cheer him on the roadsides but it’s still the Tour de France and any Frenchmen on a bike is the real star. In the 2004 Tour Voeckler himself became a national hero as he held the yellow jersey for 10 days before surrendering it to Armstrong in the Alps.
However, Armstrong speaks French well and today he said “allez, allez” to his Astana team. They rode at the front all day and when Columbia again tried a hard acceleration in the cross winds, nobody was asleep at the bike. The transfer of power from Columbia to Astana will be complete on Friday when the mountains arrive. Good luck to Monsieur Voeckler but look for him at the back of zee pack. No Frenchman has won the tour since Bernard Hinault in ’85. It’s an American or Spaniard who will be donning the maillot Jaune.