Photographs trigger memories and emotions within the human psyche that last a very long time, and remind us of where we were, what we were doing, and how we felt at any given moment of our lives. The above image, although still fresh in the time/space continuum, nonetheless brings back happy times for myself.
It reminds me of Australia, of my friends, as we watched the late-night telecast of Stage 8. It reminds me of the banter between us, with one member of the viewing audience vehemently trying to defend the merits of Armstrong’s challenge for an eighth win. He was systematically taken apart with vigour, backed up by the performance unfolding on the road before us.
Astana was on the front of the peloton, with Tiralongo driving a frantic pace as they hit the base of the climb to Avoriaz. There was a dark figure sitting on his wheel, with a look on his face that said he was already well into the red, but knew that soon his time would come to up the intensity a notch further and put the other teams a little bit deeper into the box of hurt. I wasn’t sure who he was, but he was soon to be a new hero when he buried himself for kilometre after kilometre in service of his team leader. Daniel Navarro was a stud that day, and for the days to follow.
The heat of the day was intense, and I commented on how the riders must just be about cooking themselves, with whatever enhancements were flowing through their veins adding to the risk of their blood boiling and their hearts exploding out of their chest cavities. I was excited beyond belief; it was top-fueled racing, almost like the old days. But this time, it was Armstrong who was feeling the brunt of a dominant team working against him. I was almost screaming at the tv as he struggled to keep the furious pace being dished out at the front. “Go on, bend him over and fuck him, like he’d do to you!” is a pretty close approximation of the words I used. Did I mention I was excited?
When Pharmy crashed the first time, he was done. He chased back on with all his old vigour, but you could see that the effort had taken its toll on his aging legs, and when Astana turned up the heat again, his Tour glory days were fading rapidly in the rear-view mirror. By the time the above scene took place, he was a well-broken man, a shadow of his former self, an empty shell going through the motions, taking his team mates down with him as he threw in the towel like he’d never even contemplated before.
I wonder if, as he stood there in the middle of the road, without any urgency or desire to get back on the bike, that his famous words were swilling inside his head; “Pain is temporary, quitting is forever”.