“Armstrong leaves his rivals gasping,” trumpeted the Herald Tribune this morning.
“Armstrong — horseman of the apocalypse,” said French paper, Le Figaro.
“A judgement without appeal,” said L’Equipe, awed by Armstrong’s strength on the final climb to Hautacam.
Yesterday’s pyrotechnical ride by defending Tour champion Lance Armstrong appears, on the surface, to have already decided this year’s Tour de France.
Of course, the champion himself would say that is a simplistic assessment, but as procycling’s Tour correspondents sleepily watched highlights of yesterday’s coup by the Texan, in their hotel late last night, the shortcomings of his rivals seemed all too apparent.
None of Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani, Alex Zulle or Richard Virenque could match the American’s focussed determination, or his explosive acceleration. Defeat by a rider that they all knew had to be attacked in the mountains if he was to be beaten, crumbled the morale of Armstrong’s leading rivals.
At the finish yesterday, Ullrich, his illusions shattered by the US Postal leader’s brutal ride, was in a state of near collapse, shivering and shaking, while the exhausted Pantani could only grit his teeth as he crossed the line, shaking his head in disappointment.
Pantani, expected to be the man of the day, was distraught, “incapable of taking the wheels of Nardello, Baranowski or Verheyen,” said L’Equipe. A “black Monday” for Pantani, said the French sports daily. Maybe for some — but not for Lance Armstrong.