When this year's Tour de France began I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Not only was Lance going to go for his historic 6th consecutive win, but American Bobby Julich had escaped relegation to history to compete again as a serious Tour contender; American Levi Leipheimer was back from a devastating injury that took him out of the Tour and the season last year to try to best his earlier 8th place finish; and Tyler Hamilton, who had stunned the world by placing a fantastic 4th and winning a stage last year, all with a broken collarbone, was looking in great form to shoot for a podium finish this year and maybe even put some pressure on Lance. I think I was most excited about the prospects of that last bit. Tyler won my heart and my support last year with his amazing performance.
But right away things went horribly wrong. The Tour route packed the first week with long, fast, narrow stages full of jittery riders. Crashes were inevitable and devastating, although their full impact wasn't necessarily realized right away.
And then poor Tyler - his dog Tugboat died. Tugboat was the Golden Retreiver who faithfully rode around in the car on his training rides, was there for him at the end of stages, and who shared Tyler's glossy magazine spreads in biking magazines. He'd been sick right before the Tour, but he seemed to have gotten better. It was after the Tour started that it turned out he'd had to be put down. Hearing the news I felt so sad. And I don't even like dogs. But Tyler did what he needed to do and kept going.
Until a few days later when the extent of his injury ended his race. He'd been caught up in one of the terrible crashes and had landed on his back. He'd kept going, finishing that stage and doing a few others, but landing on one's back at high speeds is not a healthy thing to do. The damage it caused affected his ability to ride competitively and so a few days later he had to withdraw.
I was so crushed, I couldn't even watch the Tour for days or read anything about it. In the list of interesting things going on in this year's Tour I suddenly realized I was most excited to watch Tyler. Without him in the race, I didn't seem to care.
But worse, if I was so crushed, I couldn't imagine how he must have felt. He came into the Tour with such high hopes and expectations. And then to lose his dog and his race... Tyler keeps an online journal that I'd been reading but I had to avoid all mention of it. I felt sure when I saw his next post I'd see someone wallowing in disappointment and self-pity, and reasonable as they'd both be, that's hard to read.
But this is why I feel motivated to post, because when I did finally get the courage to see what he wrote, instead I found a post full of maturity, dignity, classiness, and optimism. No shrinking violet, he explained he withdrew because serious damage had been done to his back. Not only did it affect his ability to ride fast, but it required immediate healing in order that he could ride future races, like the Olympics. Instead of being devastated, he was making future plans.
Including to be up in Paris to greet the rest of his team when they arrived. That was maybe the best thing to read, because it gave me the permission I felt I needed to be able to keep watching the rest of the Tour.
Edit: Date changed. Was posted on 7/21.
Edit 7/23/04: And yet another reason. I dare you to read this without tearing up...