Just before the final climb, his legs still whirring, Armstrong suddenly sat straight in his saddle, limbered up by twisting side-to-side, wiped his nose with his right hand and unzipped the top of his blue jersey. Let the carnage begin.
Led by Hincapie, the Postals stormed into the steep, 9.9-mile ascent like a typhoon. Behind, the trailing pack slowly disintegrated.
Jose Luis Rubiera, a powerful climber riding with his shirt open, took over when Hincapie was spent. Rivals gasped like fish out of water. Fewer than a dozen cyclists continued to cling to Armstrong's group.
And still the Postals had unused reserves. Sunglasses propped on his head, Portuguese mountain-tamer Jose Azevedo stepped in for Rubiera to perform the coup de grace with another burst of uphill pace. First to go: Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour champion who simply couldn't keep up.
When Azevedo peeled off with 5 miles still to climb, only two riders had survived: Armstrong and Italian Ivan Basso, who rode together through the massed crowds. Armstrong beat Basso with a sprint finish.
The stage standings read like a list of wounded. Ullrich, 2:42 back, his Tour all but done. Roberto Heras, who quit the Postals to try to beat Armstrong, 21:35 back. Mayo, 37:40 behind -- nearly 11 minutes slower even than Ekimov, Armstrong's trusted Russian sidekick still going strong at age 38.
Most of the Tour coverage reads like plagiarism run amok. John Leicester's article is different. It really gives some insight into the race.
I know nothing of the Tour, so I can't comment on whether Armstrong has really won. It seems as though there are many ways to lose the Tour, and few ways to win. It is incredible, however, to read of his team -- including Ekimov "the ancient".