The Prophet had never been dropped by anyone in a race-threatening situation during his entire Grand-Tour career. But he was dropped on this, a relatively minor climb to Pra Loup due to a combination of circumstances involving a chest injury, overconfidence, and savvy Frenchmen who could read the road surface well enough to understand what side of the road to attack on.
He had never lost the Tour, but Merckx was dropped on the short but steep climb to Pra Loup and refused to quit the Tour in 1975 because you don’t quit the Tour de France. He would rather lose than quit. These are the sentiments of a champion who has not only known, but become intimately accustomed to, the sensation of victory: reverence for the race he once dominated and the one he can not quit.
He came second, and thereby legitimized Bernard Thevenet’s victory. Reverence.
For non-Velominati Americans, Cycling is the Tour. From Greg LeMond – the only American to win the Tour three times, to Lance Armstrong – the only American to lose the Tour seven times all at once, to Floyd Landis – whose legacy was too short to excite the American Public but long enough to take down the greatest legacy in Sports History.
Tejay Van Garderen was sitting solid in 3rd place when he fell ill and had to quit the Tour de France, something no rider does with a light heart. So long as your name isn’t Mario Cipollini. Dropped every time the ride pointed uphill, he had little choice but to climb off. I have had races ripped from my grasp when I was at my peak for reasons I couldn’t control and, to this day, they are there when the Ghosts of 2am come knocking. I can only imagine what Tejay is thinking tonight.
Nothing feels as good as winning, and nothing haunts you as deeply as quitting. To quote a legendary cheater, “Pain is temporary, quitting is forever.” Which just goes to prove that just because you’re an asshole doesn’t mean you’re wrong.