Taut and supple as Gumby, he is an indestructible, real-life Spider Man whose heart is three times larger than a normal one and whose legs pump like pistons at 200 strokes a minute. He has withstood more trials than Hercules and, like him, keeps coming back for more. By the time you read this, Lance Armstrong should be wearing his favorite color-yellow, the sign of the winner-en route to winning an unprecedented sixth Tour de France.

The race is a curious athletic event, covering the broad span of an entire country with an occasional wiggle into a neighbor. The Tour takes almost a month to complete and tests much more than strength or speed or even an athlete’s grit to succeed. Winners do not win alone. They win as part of a team. Like drones to a bee queen, eight support riders protect, feed and cosset their leader. They surround him to shelter him from harm and take turns riding in front so he can save 40% of his energy by slipstreaming off their wheels. When he’s ready to charge, his team drives a wedge through adjacent riders so he can emerge safely to conquer a day in the race.

Unlike drones, every one of these riders is a champion in his own right. Some are brilliant sprinters, others are mountain men with extraordinary endurance. The fascination is watching them work together to shepherd their charge to the stage lead. When one of the teams loses its leader to injury, as several have done this year, all its riders struggle to find fresh pacing and allow a new one to emerge. Leaderless, they will all fail, regardless of how many records each one holds in individual events.

The great body of 200 riders that makes up this year’s Tour acts the same way. Called the peloton, masses of fifty or sixty riders stream along together, pedals almost touching, mile after mile until they deem it is their team’s time to breakaway and seek a stage win. And, all the while, the French countryside whirrs by at car-touring speed, wrapped in fields of golden sunflowers or dappled by the well-disciplined lines of trembling plane trees that edge the lanes.

As a spectator sport, the Tour is a visual and visceral thrill. And, if you’ve never watched, tonight and tomorrow are days you’ll want to recount to your grandchildren. The show is on the Outdoor Life Network several times a day, including a prime time showing at 8 p.m. This is the last year that Armstrong’s sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service, will be involved in the race and Armstrong says it will be his last attempt. So watch one for Lance. And, go Posties!



Serves 4

Souffle, which means “to puff” in French, seems appropriate for the cripplingly long struggle up the Alpe d’Huez. It’s the Tour’s steepest climb and it comes at the end of a long day pedaling half-a-dozen lesser Alps. The journey to the top takes riders past ancient villages straight out of Heidi, where cowbells still echo through the valleys. The stage actually visits a town affectionately called ” The Cow.” What better meal to cap off a breathless day in the cheese country than with a crusty crown of puffed-up cheese?

Souffles are easy now that stand-up mixers beat the eggs to a hearty froth and food processors shred a mound of cheese in minutes. Just obey simple rules-preheat, don’t peek and eat. Never leave a soufflé waiting-it won’t.

5 Tbs. butter

2 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese

3 Tbs. flour

1 pinch cayenne

1 cup milk

3 egg yolks

1 cup shredded Gruyere

2 Tbs. snipped chives

4 egg whites

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Melt a half stick of butter and whisk in flour until it turns golden. Whisk in milk and cayenne until a paste forms. Cool slightly in a large bowl.

3. Whisk in yolks, cheese and chives with half the Parmesan.

4. Generously butter a soufflé dish and coat with remaining Parmesan.

5. With whites at room temperature, beat until stiff. Stir a big scoop into the cheese mixture, then quickly fold in the rest. Plop into the baking dish.

6. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake until it poufs, about another 10 minutes.

7. Serve immediately.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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