There are moments when commentary on even the most marginal events rises to such shrieking hyperbole that we're compelled to see what the fuss is all about. Today, Stage 18 of the Tour de France, was one of those days. Total. Freakout. Perhaps this is not unexpected from veteran Versus cycling announcer Phil Liggett, who gets fluttery when the lads start "dancing on the pedals" in any ol' race, but this was different. From the moment the heavily favored Andy Schleck began a 60-kilometer solo breakaway to finish first atop the fabled Galibier pass — the highest-altitude finish in Tour history — a protracted tantric orgasm shuddered through the cycling universe. Poor Liggett's going to need some Brandy and a Coumadin to settle down from what he called "one of the greatest rides in modern Tour times." But even the professionally nonplused gents on Eurosport (the Versus network's relatively ghetto competitor, but the most reliable free streaming option) were hollering that Stage 18 "will tell you everything you need to know about this sport."
So what happened? Until today, the Tour de France has been a particularly vanilla event (this despite the presence of the first black dude in Tour history). No heroes, no villains, which is to say, no Lance Armstrong. The only thing that had made this Tour notable was the somewhat surreal carnage, which, with the barbed wire and torn spandex and everything, had begun to look less and less like a bike race and more and more like snuff porn. Today, Luxembourger Andy Schleck broke the race open with good tactics and the kind of grit one does not normally associate with natives of a grand duchy. Last year's winner, all-around bad ass Alberto Contador, was torched. A French underdog, Tommy Voeckler, held onto the overall lead by a scant 15 seconds. And the rest of the peloton was pretty much wasted. There are three days left. Here are the riders to watch and how to know what's what.