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Friday, July 29, 2005

Friday Notes: Cyclassics Fever!!

I'm getting close to the end of the list of TdF deconstructions, but first, in the category of the-show-must-go-on, live from Hamburg, the Pro Cycling Tour brings you the tenth annual HEW Cyclassics race. The race is significant in that it is the only one among the classics that has to include the word "classic" in its name to assure that cycling fans don't misunderestimate its significance. It also helps us answer the question, who on Earth has anything left in the tank after the Tour?

Of course, the answer really is, the guys who didn't race it, plus a couple of Tour riders who mistimed their peak (do I have a picture of Ullrich around here someplace), along with random freaks like, I dunno, Basso? It's pretty difficult to get my hands on any sort of start list, so speculating on who might be there in the finish is especially tricky.

What we do know is that the race organizers have managed to shake up the course, adding a zillion small climbs and one or two that might put some folks in difficulty, like the 16% Waseberg (600 meters). So although the race's short history has seen a number of pure sprinter types in the end, including the last two winners O'Grady and Bettini, this year I wouldn't expect to see a big train leadout at the end. That does it for Petacchi and O'Grady and Hushovd, presumably, leaving...? Bettini can climb, so mark him down. He's also pretty rested. Ordinarily I'd make Boonen a prohibitive favorite, but apparently his knee isn't there yet. Look out for Van Petegem too, and homeboy Ullrich if he's not too exhausted. Just wondering, but whatever happened to Nico Eckhoudt?

[Somewhere in me is a column on the Tour also rans, including a nasty rant against Vinokourov. But not today, it's Friday and the sun is shining...]

TdF 2005: It's a Wrap (thankfully)

Just about any Cycling fan will happily acknowledge that the Tour is the event they wait for all year. Yes, the Classics are great, but they aren't televised live here, and even in Europe, each individual race comes and goes in a day. The Tour is three weeks of exquisite plots and subplots. It's also an even grander stage than the great Classics, with far better fields than its respective Giro/Vuelta/Rundfahrt counterparts. Notwithstanding all that, here are five reasons why this year's Tour was almost a complete dud:

1. Lance
2. The other jerseys
3. The route
4. The subplots
5. The hosts

The first problem can be dispensed with quickly: Lance showed on day one that barring a horrible disaster, the competition for yellow was over. What fun is that? Seriously, name one team besides CSC that was interested in Yellow after day 1. T-Mobile? Not really, I always thought Ullrich was eyeing the second step; Kloden wasn't all there; and Vino just wanted to attack to get attention (and a contract). Gerolsteiner and Phonak folks spent the entire race talking about "improving our placings," the Belgies focused on green, and Rabo and the Spaniards went hunting for stage wins. Meanwhile, as late as the start of the third week Lance's lead was a paltry 38 seconds, then 2.40 or something. But because it was Lance, and there was a 55km time trial waiting, nobody acted as if there was a Tour to contest. Rightly so, of course, but next year it will be refreshing to see teams playing their hands.

The lesser jerseys, i.e. green and polka dot (I don't count the white jersey, a kind of a kiddie, "thanks for playing" prize, scarcely more prestigious than the red number or team classification) totally lacked suspense. Richard Virenque has ruined the KOM competition for the time being, by showing the field that if they can spring one guy on a solo breakaway on the first stage with multiple KOM awards, they can end the competition before it really starts. Rasmussen racked up 56 points in his long win in the Vosges to Mulhouse, so all he had to do from there was mark Moreaun and try to score a few points occasionally. As for the green jersey, the judges completely loused up the competition when they docked McEwen out of contention for a fairly innocuous maneuver. Not that he didn't deserve it, but what fun was left? Watching Boonen, of course... but fate intervened on that one, and we were left with a battle between two guys, Hushovd and O'Grady, who didn't win a single stage. Begging the question, what skill is it that the green jersey celebrates... the ability to consistently hang around?

The route was lovely, if you are considering seeing France by bicycle. Seriously, the Atlantic coast, the Loire valley, the lesser Vosges and Massif Central ranges, a dip into Deutschland for some riesling and wienerschnitzel... talk about a great vacation. I'd even recommend driving it. But whoever drew this up as a course for the Grand Boucle should be fired, docked their last year's pay, and banned from the sport of Cycling. A mere three mountaintop finishes of any consequence, along with two other pseudo mountain stages ending in descents and mass groupings of absolutely no consequence. A slew of mini-mountain stages where an enterprising climber could gain 5 or 10 seconds on his rival (yawn), but which also had the effect of ending the fun of green jersey sprints on stage 13, making the post-Pyrenean stages a complete snore. On the bright side, this was THE year for teams hunting for stage wins, but you know, there's a reason the Pro Tour only gives one point for stage wins... because nobody gives a flying f#ck! The Amaury people have regularly tried to flatten the course to keep Lance in sight of the other GC players, so they get what they deserve here.

The subplots... as already discussed, the maillots jaune, vert et pois were barely contested. The stage wins were hotly contested, but often among a bunch of complete nobodies, plus Pereiro and Vinokourov, and the only real fun was when those guys got bested by Discovery riders completely out of their element. That leaves GC placings. The battle for the Chicken's podium spot was dramatic for about a half hour, when the inevitable got hurried along by four crashes and an unprecedented 17 bike changes. And podiums are nice, and top ten placings are nice too, and I understand there's a lot of cash involved... but seriously, are you going to scroll through the DVD to revisit the moment when the judges decided to award time bonuses on the Champs sprint, vaulting Vino from 6th to 5th?

Finally, the hosts... I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Tour needs French Cycling!! Which means Cycling needs French Cycling. This year was especially pathetic, with the only result of consequence being David Moncoutie's stage win (see prior post on stage wins), which was really just the same scripted nonsense we see every year on Bastille Day. Oh, and Christophe Moreaun's heroic near-miss of the top 10, accomplished while simultaneously whining about how his team was trying to replace him with Vinokourov, which eventually didn't happen. Oh, and the fact that the Norwegian green jersey winner was in fact riding on a French team (is it fitting then that he won the sprinter's jersey without winning a sprint?). Seriously, are all the strong, under-160-pound athletes in France playing soccer now?

Ah well... next year promises the most exciting Tour in several years, and if McEwen and Boonen are battling it out for green, while seven or eight others still think they have a shot at yellow, and Amaury puts the fun back in the race... maybe we'll have a reason to buy the DVD again. And maybe it'll be worth blogging at 6am again.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Ahem... anyway, CyclingNews is reporting that tifosi-actor-uberhunk Matt Damon is prepping to play Lance in a dramatic film based on Lance's first autobiography, It's Not About the Bike. Begging the question, who is the world's top manufacturer of women's road bikes, and where can I buy their stock?

Adios Amigo!

And now we must say goodbye to our conquering hero. In my last post I pontificated on his Tour wins, in this one I want to cover the rest of the Lance territory.

First, let me recap that I am not arguing he is the best rider ever; it would be preposterous to compare anyone's record to Merckx. My point is that he is as great as a rider can be in this era, where the spoils are divided among three distinct categories: grand tour riders, flat classics, and hilly classics. Yes, there are crossover riders, but for the most part you have the big guys like Van P, Boonen, Hincapie and Backstedt for Flanders-Ghent-Roubaix week, then the lineup changes over to the rouleur-climber types like DiLuca, Vino, Rebellin, Boogerd, Lance and Tyler for Amstel-Fleche-Liege week. Then everyone disappears and the Grand Tour teams assemble, the Italians and foreign B-teams at the Giro, and the A-squads at the Tour. Whoever is left standing contests the summer classics, Vuelta and worlds.

Gone are guys who compete throughout. As long as Cycling is constituted this way, we will never see another Merckx... who won multiple Tours and Giros, who won multiple times during the Flanders and Ardennes weeks. It is simply unthinkable for a modern rider to even attempt this, the way competition is now. So given the triumvirate alignment, I say the grand tour riders are the creme, making Lance the obvious creme de la creme. That's all.

The dark side of Lance has been explored a lot too (now that officially no stone is unturned in this guy's life), and it's a mild turnoff for me to know that he's a hard-ass guy who turns on people he views as disloyal. He acknowledges that his tough, fatherless upbringing left him angry, which manifests itself in some unpleasant ways, but that's a common ingredient in life: bad dads make for troubled youth. I don't know the guy, am willing to cut him some slack, and frankly think it may be overblown, once he settles into what he intends to be a peaceful retirement. Recent interviews make it sound like he's ready to dispense with the demons and enjoy life. I hope he does... it will put him yet another peg above Greg LeMond.

Lance is, in my mind, the perfect machine with the perfect controls. His body, determination and preparation gave him an unfair advantage in the two big disciplines, and since guys like this are a rarity, it was fun to see what they look like, for a while. Of course, they win repeatedly to the point where they are counted on to win, making them over time somewhat conservative and defensive, not to mention less fun. They also blot out the competition to the point where we start to long for challengers, unexpected problems, or some other (reasonably benign) force to come along and shake up the status quo... but Lance defeated the forces of nature too. In the end, nothing less than his retirement could restore the joy of the Tour. So he gave us that one too.

I rooted for Lance all the way through, even this year, even while lamenting his dominance... because we may never see another one like him, or at least not an American one. Because he did so much to glorify and popularize the sport I love in America, a country that is generally ignorant and downright hostile toward Cycling. He took the sport to the highest heights; he made America a cycling nation with strong international teams and individuals competing in every major discipline. His success got the sport on TV here, which in turn broke down all but the most determined forces of ignorance, at least in the states I've lived and/or rode in. He had a huge impact on the sport everywhere, and even parlayed that into heroic progress in the fight against cancer.

So one last time, I want to say thank you to Lance Armstrong. A great athlete, and all things considered, a great human.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Seventh Story

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I want to defend Lance's record of seven victories vigorously as an incredible achievement in modern cycling. The principle argument against his achievement is that Lance only raced once a year. This is the favorite argument of people who know nothing about Cycling but still feel like complaining, or at least sticking their foot in their mouths. "Lance only races once a year, whereas other cyclists now and in history raced more."

It's not exactly true. Lance has traditionally raced a slate of spring races, especially the Ardennes classics and some Spanish races, before skipping the Giro and getting ready for the Tour with the Dauphine, Midi Libre, and/or occasional Tour-Giro-Rundfahrt de Suisse/Svizzera... you get the point. He also tended to win the Tour and go home for the year, other than some cameo appearances in the U.S and honorary post-Tour crits... but the lack of post-Tour races obviously has little bearing on his form in July.

So Lance tended to be selective about his number of race days, keeping them low and reducing his chance of injury, though he was in Europe for a decent chunk of the spring. And he raced Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege to win, even if his only success was La Fleche Wallone earlier in his career. He skipped the Giro throughout his career to focus on the Tour, with his post-cancer routine consisting of riding Tour stages in May and June, somewhat obsessively.

But are the Cycling Gods offended by guys who skip the Giro to ride the Tour? Miguel Indurain only rode three Giros during his eleven years of riding the Tour. Merckx won the Tour in 1969 and 1971 but is nowhere to be found in the rolls of the Giro. This needs to be researched, as does my recollection that Fausto Coppi skipped the Giro once or twice to focus on the Tour, and I'll try to do this shortly. My point is, skipping the Giro to focus on the Tour is an ancient practice for Tour contenders.

In addition, Lance's victories would only be tarnished if the guys he rode against had been racing themselves exhaustively while Lance cruised to the Tour start line, something that is blatantly untrue, particularly as teams caught on to the need to prioritize all-out for the Tour. At last look, we saw Ullrich, Leipheimer, Mancebo, Kloden, Landis, Evans, Vinokourov, and probably a handful of other "contenders" skipping the Giro to peak for the Tour. It's the way of the world now: unless you're Italian (look under "basso"), if you want to win the Tour, you should seriously consider skipping the Giro.

Some of this mentality is attributable to Lance, but he neither invented nor monopolized the concept. Numerous riders and teams are willing to give up large chunks of the season to take their shot at Tour glory, not because they want to imitate Lance but because the Tour is that much more important. In fact, the worst you can say about Lance's focus on the Tour is that he rated its significance even higher than the other racers. Lance is American, many/most American fans only know the Tour, Lance's sponsor was American... even if the U.S. Postal Service saw a marketing benefit in showing their logo in Italy, the fact is that they likely wouldn't see that benefit as worth the risk of losing the Tour.

Finally, for all the arguments as to how Lance supposedly gamed the system, nobody ever acknowledges how the system was gamed against him. As an American with an American family, with kids who need stability and a homegrown upbringing, Lance was (and other Americans and Australians still are) asked to make sacrifices the European riders are not. Ullrich can sleep at home in Switzerland the same night after racing Fleche Wallone if he wants. Ditto for Basso, Klodi, and all the other Europeans. Armstrong has managed several residences, which is cause #1 of his failed marriage; he's been away from his kids for months at a time; he can only get back to Girona, not Austin, after a day's racing. I'm sure some of the single or at least childless non-Europeans love their lives over there, but in Lance's case it was always a hardship. He mitigated this hardship somewhat by cutting back on his race schedule to spend some time with his family. Does this tarnish his accomplishment?

I would rate his seven Tour wins as the greatest achievement of all time, with the caveat that he was a creature of his era, as opposed to previous eras where people didn't focus on the Tour as much. In previous eras cyclists weren't paid that well and had little control over their schedule, so they raced everywhere, all the time. Comparing the modern era to the 1950s is like comparing Sammy Sosa's homer totals to guys from the dead ball era... the differences practically outweigh the comparables. But Lance cannot race against different eras, only his own, and in that time he dominated the world's greatest race like nobody else.

Monday, July 25, 2005


The last three weeks have been hell on Cycling bloggers, a grind not incomparable to the event we've been covering. There is a steep price to be paid, as I can attest: I have suffered estrangement from my family, terminal exhaustion, decreased productivity at work, slight dizziness, and loss of appetite. So in order to recover in time for my next peak, I offer the following schedule.

This week: deconstruct the Tour, Lance, Sheryl, Vino, Ullrich, Basso, the maniacal Bjarne Riis, Dutch riders, podium girls, and the cycling blogosphere. Oh, and change the colors on the margins and headings to something other than yellow. By week's end, there should be space opening up for occasional Pro Tour coverage as the incredibly tedious HEW Cyclassics race kicks off the summer classics. Then we set the cruise control on "open thread" until the Vuelta starts, or something big happens, or both.

In the meantime, here's a picture of Tom Boonen's ride.

Don't Forget About Me
posted by Pete

Here's a name for the '06 Tour, Tyler Hamilton. If he wins his appeal in
September (I know this is a big IF), where does he stand? In '03 he was
a broken collarbone away from the podium and last year he had a great
season until he crashed in the Tour. Is he too old now? Has his
suspension caused him to lose his form? Would Phonak or any other team
re-instate him? If he is allowed to race again, I know he is going to be
super motivated (and I guess he's been keeping very fit). And even
though he will be 35, he is a young 35. Thoughts?.........


Don't worry, it's only 33 days til the Vuelta starts.

And 6 days to the HEW Cyclassics!!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Powering Up, One Last Time... LIVE!

We're coming to you live this morning from the DP Pavilion where the satellite is beaming in the signal from the Tour. All the heads of state are on the course, and we can say a few things:

1. The Chicken is just about cooked;
2. Lance is flying; and
3. But for Vino, this would be an American wipeout.

The Chicken's crash was sad to see, and DP Official Spouse Stacey now reports she is rooting for him out of sympathy. French TV is saying that Ullrich has pulled back 1.12 from Rasmussen at 15 KM, meaning his job is about half done already with only a quarter of the course covered.

Sastre goes in seven seconds behind Vladimir Karpets for 2nd overall, after besting Karpets at all the past time checks. If it comes down to the last few KM for any placing, it'll be the guy who remembers to save something for the difficult last 5 KM.

Ullrich now only needs 56" to cook the Chicken...

7:39 PST
We've got our first Basso sighting, but with little to report. Meanwhile Leipheimer lies 9th at the 17 km checkpoint... does he suck today, or is he saving it for later? We'll find out after checking in at what five pounds of body fat looks like, as well as six more visits from John Basedow and his breast implants.

Ullrich clocks the best time of the day so far at 17 km, 25.58 to his Kazakh teammate's 26.09. Lance looks good, although apparently he always spends an inordinate amount of time tugging on his shorts.

Ullrich needs 27 seconds to fry the chicken.

What's up with the crash? Rasmussen had a disc wheel. I've never ridden one before, so I can't appreciate how hard to turn they are, but apparently that's what caused the crash, or at least contributed to it. Maybe Basso can ask him when he passes Rasmussen in a moment.

Julich clocks the best time at the finish! 1:13.19 puts him 1.32 ahead of Karpets, a far bigger gap than had been reported at earlier checks; he picked up speed at the end. Great ride by an cool guy!

Basso tops Ullrich at 17km! Do we have a 2006 winner now? Depends on what he saves for the end. But he's up 6 seconds now.

Speaking of 6 seconds, that's what Rasmussen still has in hand over Jan in the GC.

First Lance check in another minute or so.

Hincapie goes over second, almost a minute back of Julich.

Lance lies second at 17 km by seven seconds!! Ah, but he knows how to finish...

Basso passes Rasmussen who is standing still fixing his wheel!! He got a wheel change on the climb, probably lost at least 25 seconds, along with his rhythm. He's barely moving as he resumes, and is talking to his team car. Oy, this is really sad to see. The Chicken has been a great protagonist and survivor, he deserves to lose with at least a shred of dignity here.

Speaking of dignity, last time we saw Cadel Evans he was third at 17 km. That's probably 6th now, but still quite respectable for a guy who can climb like that.

Is it just me, or are others having a hard time imagining watching Survivor knowing who won? Didn't CBS sequester the participants in solitary confinement until the last episode aired to prevent leaks? Anyway...

OLN keeps giving us estimated arrival times, based on the 17 km check. A virtually worthless stat... the assumption underlying intermediate checks is that this is how they could finish if nothing changes. Multiplying the number by 3.8 does nothing.

Lance keeps pulling on his shorts. Apparently he wants to retire without saddle sores.

The Chicken changes bikes again, alas. Maybe the third or fourth time? Even my brother hangs on to bikes longer than that.

Vino is first at the Col, 40.2 km. Evans was fourth at the prior check, about the same as Vino... but Vino picked it up.

Ullrich looking awkward through the turns, but third is completely in hand, and second is out of the question unless Basso bursts into flames.

Rasmussen flips into a ditch. I think Stacey is going to cry, this is so terrible.

Moreaun is across the finish, 6th overall but with the heads of state to come. All of France celebrates! Will an American win the Boston Marathon before the next French yellow jersey winner? Will a Kenyan win the Tour before the next French Yellow Jersey winner?

Basso was looking cautious on the hills, and it shows: he's now second to Ullrich at the second time check. Ullrich needs to pull back another 2:30 on Basso for second on GC!!! Basso is tanking on the descents! But with little to lose or gain, maybe Bjarne is telling him to play it safe. Either that or he's a crap bike handler.

The Chicken, meanwhile, has spent less than half the race on his bike. I can barely discuss it anymore. Stacey has gone downstairs.

Lance is 19 seconds better than Ullrich at the second check! We're on course for a repeat of pretty much the last 12 Tour TTs.

At 40 km it's Ullrich, Vino, Julich, Landis and Evans. Lance and Basso still to come, of course. Not sure the Chicken will make it in time to avoid elimination.

Armstrong creeps up on the Chicken. He's passing him now.

Vino comes over the line first overall! Julich has probalby accepted reality anyway, but he's put up a hell of a time.

Lance looks comfy enough. Doesn't seem to be much doubt about the stage win, given his history, but Ullrich's times are close enough to keep the suspense high. He's coming to the summit of the Gachet.

Basso trails Ullrich and Vino at 40 km. Paul says that in Liverpool they'd say he's lost his bottle. I'm sure that when they dub in Al Trautwig for the nighttime replay he'll use that phrase no less than 45 times.

Evans comes over 1:13.52, fourth overall Nice job.

Lance posts the best 40 km time by 32 seconds over Ullrich! 15K to go.

Official Spouse Stacey stops by with a double soy latte. She is making a serious run at Spouse of the Year. The word "pancake" is mentioned, but some treats are beyond reason. Gotta keep my strength up, but my fingers syrup free.

A Leipheimer sighting!! He's having a mediocre day as he hits the line 10th overall, whereas Mancebo has been riding about 6th. So no improvement on his overall today. Not that French TV has covered either of them, since they've provided almost no action for the cameras.

Here comes Ullrich to the line, looking completely fabulous. 1:12.09!! Far better than Vino's time, 53 seconds slower. But reality is coming up the road in yellow.

They keep showing Basso in the turns, looking very awkward. Paul thinks he burnt his matches in the first 17 km. He's got a lot to learn still. But his second overall isn't really in jeopardy.

Lance comes through the same turn like a falcon. And gets out of the saddle sprinting!! With 5km to go, he's flush with power. At 49 km his lead over Ullrich hasn't changed much, giving us some idea about the amazing ride Jan is having. I'm going to miss these battles, and it's too bad Ullrich didn't come ready to win more often. These are the two titans of cycling of the last decade.

Lance is inspiring to watch. OLN now showing that I'm watching "All Star Barbecue Showdown". I had to restart the tape. Does any network experience steeper declines in programming than OLN?

Basso comes over at 1:13.40, he'll lose a half minute to Jan but that doesn't matter. Lance is coming in now.

LANCE WINS!!!! 1:11.46, he's left it all on the course, even giving back a couple seconds to Ullrich. A great ride, a fitting win, one he desperately needed for his legacy. Without a stage win up to this point his last Tour was a bit tarnished, but now that he's bagged the time trial, plus the TTT, his performance looks up to par for a winner. His failure to win a mountain stage had more to do with breakaways he didn't feel like chasing than anything else, so the lack of a stage win before today was a bit arbitrary. Now we know: he was the best in 2005, better nearly every day than Vino, as good or better every day than Ullrich, and better than Basso when it counted. Definitely a champion this year, just like the last six.

In comes the Chicken at 1:19.33. For all my critique of Leipheimer, he has shot through the back door to his coveted Top Five placing, with Rasmussen holding it open for him. I'm guessing Rabobank still think they've had a good Tour, but the Chicken's self-immolation will surely ruin the post-stage team party. Two podiums are better than one, alas.

Lance's kids (with Sheryl!) and his mom at the finish. It's his day for sure... but once again, if Lance hadn't been there, we'd all be marvelling at the incredible ride by Jan Ullrich. I can't wait for next year, and I really hope Ullrich is in top form. He's great and I wish he'd win. Phil and Paul just tipped him as the favorite next time.

That's all from the DP Pavilion. Hope you enjoyed it, wherever you were.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Three To Go

Elvis is about to leave the building... Lance's imminent retirement is about as hard to come to grips with as the Red Sox celebrating in Yankee Stadium last October. Sure, it happened, but it still doesn't fully register. Anyway, Lance is doing his best to have fun every day, driving yet another chase at the close of yet another seemingly innocuous stage that secretly had some significant grades and thus opportunities for the GC guys to change places.

Clearly Cadel Evans is establishing himself as a pre-race favorite for next year's Tour podium, behind Basso and Ullrich but perhaps no further back. We will see Saturday how far he has to go with his time trialling, and his team will never offer the same support that T-Mobile or CSC or Discovery will offer a contender for the overall (both with lieutenants and TTT performance). But I expect him to be one of the guys animating the mountain stages a year from now.

Where is Levi Leipheimer going? He's within shouting of 5th place, a nice improvement and realization of his pre-race goal... but so what? It's pretty hard to find information on the top five in previous Tours -- the podium has only three steps -- and it's also hard to see him improving. He's perfectly good in the two key disciplines, but he's never, ever a protagonist, never starting an attack, never winning a TT. I suspect that's because he knows his limits and to exceed them would be pointless. But maybe he'd be better served going for the win in the Giro or Vuelta, instead of a high but anonymous placing in the Tour.

The Green Jersey comp really fizzled, didn't it? I had expected that the final week would include a resumption of hostilities among O'Grady, Hushovd and McEwen, but of course that's because I know absolutely nothing about the Massif Central. None of this week's three stages has been a sprinter's ride, nor will tomorrow's it seems, and Saturday is the TT. Right now, Hushovd is as good as green. I wonder if the people involved knew that the competition for the jersey was over early in the second week?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

When Maillot Jaunes Attack...!

Lots of speculation today about why the Discovery Channel boys were seen hammering home on the final ascent and descent into Revel, with the popular choice being an order from Lance to put Floyd Landis into difficulty and cost him a couple spots on GC. If so, the strategy sorta worked, right? I mean, those 20 seconds Landis conceded were worth two spots on GC. And with a 55 km time trial coming up, Landis will never be able to get those seconds back.

Um, yeah. I can't see dissing Landis as a good enough reason for even someone as odd as Lance. First, putting 20 seconds into him doesn't mean a thing, Landis is an excellent time trialist and figures to gain at least a minute or two on some of his closest GC contenders, save for Lance and Ullrich. Also, it's apparent that Disco want the team category, and by accelerating at this juncture they were working against their own interest. Lacking any reporting I will offer another explanation: he wants his rivals working hard in the days leading up to the time trial. Maybe, just maybe, Lance is betting that he can recover better than Ullrich and Basso and the Chicken, so if he makes them wind it up, they get more diminished heading into Saturday than he would. Just a theory. The Landis theory seems just too ridiculous to not at least consider something else.

I'm watching the rebroadcast of today's stage. With 15km to go, the break is doing a textbook double paceline. Even Sevilla is taking his pulls, despite the fact that this break is driving T-Mobile from the top spot. Those Germans, they're too nice for their own good. Or maybe Sevilla is auditioning to become the next great Spanish lieutenant....

Meanwhile, over at VeloNews, it's all Thomas Prehn all the time. Prehn is the author of Racing Tactics for Cyclists, a strategy book that's getting a lot of play on my team's email chatter. At VN he's writing columns on the day's tactics and joining the live update crew to give his armchair DS point of view as the race proceeds. Anyway, today he blessed George Hincapie's victory as good tactics and none of the ethical violation or crime against humanity that Oscar Pereiro was screaming about. A lot of this is obvious, so I'll be brief. Basically, in a breakaway you work if you want it to succeed, as long as the success of the break is in question. Well, until he got the green light Hincapie was not trying to help the break succeed, he was looking after Lance's interests, and later when he started racing the question of the break's chances had been settled. [Contrast this with stage 13, when Chris Horner got understandably tired of dragging Sylvain Chavanel's carcass to the line and chose, however foolishly, to trade a two-up sprint for a 50-man knife fight.] Also, Prehn points out that Pereiro wanted Hincapie to pull on some of the climb, but drafting is nearly worthless on a steep grade, and only provides some sort of psychological carrot to the trailing rider. And finally, once a break is away and coming to the finish, it's every man for himself. So Pereiro's whining about who should've been doing what is merely the frustration of losing after a long effort. Fair enough, but he's got no business dissing George's well-deserved win.

As for the day's transfer news, the big one concerns Vinokourov's decision to leave T-Mobile for some undetermined destination. Bruyneel squelched the Discovery rumor when he said Vino is incapable of winning the Tour. Personally, I like the idea of Vino going to a French team. They need each other: the former Soviet riders have been migrating to St. Etienne for several years now, and given their success it's fair to say their adopted home has been kind to their cycling careers. And the French teams are desperate for any inspiration whatsoever, something a determined rider like Vino can provide. The other transfer is Juan Antonio Flecha to Rabobank. Makes sense: the way he rides in April, he's an honorary Belgian... except the Belgian teams have plenty of authentic ones, so slipping over the border to Rabobank is probably the next best thing.

See you in the morning. Thursday's stage should be interesting.

Discovery Wonderland

Well, we are officially through the looking glass now, right? First, the Disco boys win the Tour's toughest mountain stage by sending a sprinter up the road, then they employ a two-time Giro d'Italia champion to come around a legitimate sprinter for the victory in the flats today. In fairness, Paolo Savoldelli is not exactly your prototypical Pantani-style flyweight mountain goat Giro winner; he's more of an all-rounder and only seems to be truly recognized for his descending skills. But Kurt-Asle Arvesen has a sprinter's pedigree and frame, and to be overtaken by a guy who won a mountain stage in the Dolomites two months ago is a shock.

The tiny margins by which these races are so often decided makes one wonder whether or not the combatants are really making very fine, intricate calculations, or just guessing. Surely Arvesen knows he has a power advantage over Paolo, Seb Hinault and the AG2R rider in there, but rather than waiting for the last 100 meters, he feels he can just as easily break these climber types with a hard acceleration from 1500 and coast home. Well, but for Savoldelli, the ensuing confusion and inability to respond would have proven Arvesen right. However, Paolo digs deep and just by the slimmest margin manages to catch back on, barely in time to take a couple breaths and hit the gas for the final sprint. Meanwhile, Arvesen overestimated his own closing ability by about 100 meters, and can't sustain the attack quite long enough. Given that the characters involved here don't see many such finishes (this isn't Petacchi vs. McEwen) leads me to believe that it was all a big guess.

Anyway, Paolo Savoldelli is definitely the cagiest rider in the Pro Tour for 2005, if not longer. He has now won an entire grand tour and a shocker of a stage of the Tour on brains and nerve, along with some measure of hard work and talent. He might be my favorite guy out there right now.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

TdF Roundup

With only five days remaining in Lance Armstrong's professional cycling career, we are drawing closer to that time when we offer our tearful farewell. But not today. Still, I was riding home from Portland today giving in to the talk radio temptation, where the Fox chumps were checking in on the Tour and offering their admiration of Lance. They also polled their listeners on whether he or Tiger Woods was a more impressive individual athlete, in terms of their accomplishments (no comparison physically, of course). This being Fox, there were the usual number of idiots making terribly uninformed comments, the subtext of which was either "I like golf," "I'm too fat to bike," or "I am easily threatened by anything European." And yet, there were no shortage of callers who clearly knew and appreciated cycling. One woman called to refute an assertion that Lance only races once a year by explaining the significance of the Dauphine Libere. It struck me, awareness of cycling in this country, though still low, has gone through the roof in the last seven years. I also called in and explained Lance's two-discipline dominance... only to be asked about the guy in Enumclaw, WA, who apparently had sex with an animal.

Anyway, it sounds like Kloden won't finish this year. Messed up his hand in a crash yesterday. We always hear about collarbones and hips, but hands can get pretty thrashed in a pileup, and even if you're not weighting it, those little bones and nerves can hurt like HELL. Anyway, it's too bad, he was a good teammate to Jan this year.

Speaking of good teammates, Oscar Pereiro is on better behavior after his win, which apparently Landis et al. signed off on. CyclingNews had a great summary of why Hincapie had every right to be where he was Sunday, and Hincapie's own explanation -- that you couldn't pass on the last climb through the swarming Basque fans until the final KM, when he had no interest in leading out -- makes plenty of sense.

As for this week, Wednesday looks uneventful, but Thursday could be interesting with the final 3.1 km climb up the 10% Col de la Croix Neuve, i.e. New Cross Pass. In theory this could be an opportunity for the heads of state to make hay. But don't look for too many of them, especially Armstrong, to tire themselves out two days before the St. Etienne ITT. Friday is relatively undulating but shouldn't enliven the main contenders as they conserve energy, and Saturday is the farewell party. I'm sure you know Lance hasn't won a stage yet, and you can be certain that winning the ITT is his entire goal. What has ever stopped him before??

Oregon Report

By now many of you know that a rider, Charlie Christiansen, died in an amateur event last week in Portland, Oregon. Apparently this is the first death in an amateur race in some twenty years. It has been bothering me, and I'd assume a lot of other riders who didn't think that death was any more a part of racing than, say, getting struck by lightning. I've been debating writing about this. But last night I visited the race where it happened, and have some thoughts to offer.

The race is a circuit race run on the Portland International Raceway, a formula 1 race track 1.9 miles long. The start/finish is on a long straightaway with some gentle curves at the turns and on the backside. The rider who died was sprinting for the line with his head down, not looking (so they say; I've got only third-hand witness info), and crashed directly into a barrier. The course is lined with barriers, but where the incident happened there is an opening in the barriers for cars to enter the track. Presumably a rider looking down would have a sense of the course's edge as long as there's a barrier in his peripheral vision, but since there is a 20-foot gap he may have lost that sense of where he was and rode off the course into a wall.

If you were as shaken as I was by the news, perhaps there is some value in knowing that this incident was so unusual, unexpected, and unlikely to be repeated. I go to Portland a lot, and ride this race maybe once a month; I raced there last night. I always considered it about as safe as a bike race could be, and really it is: tons of space, easy turns, Kansas-flat. About the only risk seems to come from people letting down their guard and getting sloppy. So while this kind of thing is one of those flukes that can happen anywhere, it's particularly odd for it to have happened here.

Anyway, last night the starter mentioned the death, and that there was a riding ceremony planned for tonight, but otherwise people seemed to be talking about anything else. One UNAT rider asked me during the race where I thought the incident happened, like he was looking for chalk lines or a pool of dried blood. I told him pretty clearly I had no interest in having the conversation, especially during the race. The race was lively and fun, and the sport goes on. We accept risk every day simply by walking out the door, and although at some point the risk level gets too high to swallow, that wasn't the case here.

Which leaves us with the most important message from this:

Charlie Christiansen, you and your family are in the thoughts of cyclists everywhere.

TdF St. 15: Baby Gets Bottle

Oscar Pereiro Sio (can someone explain the third name to me? I'm not from Spain) won today's stage by maintaining the aggressive form he showed Sunday, getting away with a few climbers before winning a three-man sprint in Pau. According to the live updates (I'm in an OLN-free hotel), he refused to take pulls in the last few KM, which is a winning tactic if not a glorious one. Cadel Evans was the unwilling leadout, and Pereiro went around him in the last 200 meters.

Pereiro clearly has a stick up his ass about Sunday, when Hincapie went around him for the win at Pla d'Adet. It's true that Hincapie did very little work -- he was policing the original break for you-know-who, fairly obviously. He didn't have winning ambitions, and even considered waiting by the side of the road for Lance until he got the green light. He's also a sprinter, a subject we've already covered with adequate incredulity, meaning he knew he had Pereiro all the way and had no incentive to lead Pereiro out. Pereiro has since been talking about Hincapie like he robbed his house, kidnapped his kids and ran over his dog. I'm incredibly biased here, but Pereiro has been totally ridiculous about this -- Hincapie had no obligation to do the work and no strategic reason to lead Pereiro out. Right???

Anyway, Pereiro lied to the media when he said he'd go back to helping his team captain Floyd Landis, and set off with about 110 km to go. It's OK, I suppose, Landis didn't particularly need him since the race only cost him a spot on the GC that was lost to Cadel Evans, who was in the break with Pereiro. Some teammate. Apparently Pereiro is making a late play for the maillot pois, and with the stage win at least Spain can now say that someone from that country has done something besides carry Lance's water.

Strange note: Carlos Sastre turned around during a climb and descended, going to find the race doctor after getting a bloody nose from a fan. See the post below and associated comments for what we think of overly involved fans.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Retraction of the Year!

Last week I called Dario Cioni an as*hole for being caught doping a second time... but in fact it was Dario Frigo. An understandable mixup, I guess, although these guys aren't nobodies. And I never want to slap a doper label on the wrong guy. So apologies to the Cionis, and f*ck you Dario Frigo.

Rest Day Recap

Rough schedule this week, so I'll post when I can...

* Yeah, Oscar Pereiro did more work, but I had no problem rooting for Hincapie in yesterday's closing meters when Georgie went around him for the most improbable mountain stage win in my memory. I defy you to name an instance where the Tour's hardest climbing stage was won by a guy who got on the podium in Paris-Roubaix in the same year. I'm guessing Merckx is the only guy to accomplish this incredible "double". Anyway, I doubt you'll see Maggie Backstedt or Tom Boonen celebrating victory at some Pyrenean ski station any time soon. And though Pereiro was deserving enough, I can't think of too many people more worthy of a moment in the sun than Hincapie, the super-domestique who has compromised his own winning form in the sprints/flats to become capable of wearing out the peloton in the Alps, in service of his team and champion teammate. Few riders of his stature subvert their desires as dramatically, and few riders of his body type can accomplish such an amazing makeover, while still retaining much of their natural strengths. George Hincapie strikes me as one of the hardest workers in a sport littered with unfathomable grinders.

* Speaking of hard workers, 36 minutes after the sprinter Hincapie crossed the line in Pla d'Adet, Iban Mayo and Roberto Heras slinked over the stripe, hiding from their fans in the anonymity of the first autobus. I know I've dissed Stefano Garzelli's status as a putative grand tour contender, but at least he tries. These guys better both be on the podium in the Vuelta, that or some mysterious illness are the only possible excuses for such lack of luster.

* Flash forward to 2006: an in-form Jan Ullrich survives two weeks of the tour without nearly slicing his jugular on the back window of a team car or driving himself into a ditch, and is two minutes behind maillot jaune Ivan Basso heading into the final time trial, a 42 km course of some difficulty. Is your heart beating yet? With all due respect to Lance, and I know I will be emotional watching him demolish his last time trial next Saturday, I absolutely cannot wait for the post-Armstrong Tour de France!

Lance's Brain

I was sent a chat about Lance that I found interesting. Since it wasn't intended for publication, I'll just paraphrase a bit. Basically, a few people were trying to diagnose Lance Armstrong's mental state from the rather candid look we get at him in Lance Amrstrong's War, Daniel Coyle's excellent book on the US pros working in Europe, primarily focusing on Lance, of course.

Anyway, what is clear from the book is that he sees things in black and white (is there something in the Texas water?), is disgusted by failure or anything less than all out effort, keeps people at bay, and is unnaturally sensitive about how others perceive him. The pop diagnosis is that absent fathers are a big deal, and like kids of single moms he grew up feeling protective of his mom, which leads to anxiety to match, which he turns into aggression to mask the problems. Having cancer made it worse, since he nearly died despite being so naturally strong, etc., etc. What we have left is the shell of an historically great champion, containing a rather fragile human.

[disclaimer] I don't know Lance, you don't know Lance, and none of us has much of a right to peer into his soul, except in the limited way that public figures are necessarily exposed. [/disclimer]

My view of Lance, like most people who've read the book, is that he sounds really hard to like on a personal level. He rides herd on everyone around him, and anyone who pushes back is immediately and irreversibly cast as an enemy. Not fun. He is even embroiled in nasty litigation with people he was formerly close to. But I will never call him a jerk, for two simple reasons. 1) He has done more for the sport I love, and in turn me, than any other individual; and 2) he is apparently playing the hand he was dealt: all aces on the physical side (after disregarding one joker, if we can torture this metaphor some more), and something far less on the emotional side. Despite my disclaimer, the effects of parental rejection are not a complete mystery, and, well, the explanation provided above is at least convenient to the uninformed like me... and perhaps of some genuine help.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Friday Fly-by

* Very entertaining finish today. I watched it but thanks to stupid work I haven't been able to catch up on the post-race recriminations. Horner and Chavanel seemed to work together about as constructively as their respective governments currently do, and with about the same result (overcome by events). It struck me as kind of a rookie mistake, one Horner should be above. Would he rather be beaten at the line by one guy or swarmed by the pack? I'd guess he'd be better off taking his chances one-on-one, and maybe even getting Chavanel to jump too soon. But what do I know, I'm not a breakaway specialist.

* Tomorrow it all goes down. Actually, the Pailheres is the one real leg-cruncher, so it's possible the final ascent won't see huge time gaps. On the other hand, even if Discovery is saving it for Sunday's pass by the Casartelli monument, plenty of other riders will not be, and will attack Lance if they get any chance at all. If.

* With Valverde's withdrawal (Phil says it's tendinitis), we can officially say that the Spanish contingent is the biggest disaster of the Tour. Mancebo is the only remaining GC contender, a rather pedestrian seventh at 4'00 back, while the other alleged contenders like Zubeldia (10'07), Heras (29'09), Beloki (38'54) and Mayo (48'51) are sliding toward oblivion if not already there. Sure, the upper realm of the GC is littered with Spanish lieutenants like Sastre (6'37), Pereiro (16'50), etc., but that's not likely to generate the publicity their sponsors wanted. They have no points contenders, no KOM contenders, no stage wins (for perspective, Rabobank have two) and Valverde just ceded the white jersey to a couple former Soviet citizens. The good news is that everyone is so far back heading into the Pyrenees that someone from this list will likely be permitted a stage-winning break -- on Saturday. [On Sunday, Lance is winning for Casartelli.]

In fairness, the Spanish are pretty much screwed every year, and especially this year (start date is Aug. 27) by the fact that the Vuelta is so soon afterwards. Worse still, the Worlds are in Madrid, so the average Pro Cycling Tour-qualified Spaniard will still be going hard into October. At what point do you reel it in in July and save it for home? In the Armstrong era, with its diminished hopes for everyone this side of Big Jan, is it as soon as Lance confirms his condition (the prologue? by the TTT? after the first climb?)?? At least with the Italians, they can go for their home tour, then hope they have enough left in the tank for a respectable ride when they line up in France. Spanish teams in France but eyeing the Vuelta have a more complicated, difficult choice. When they moved the Vuelta to September, the organizers saved the race from its own oblivion, but killed off the chances for most Spanish riders in France. Anyone not named Indurain at least.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

TdF on the Silver Screen

Across the nation Saturday moviegoers will be treated to something far more dramatic than the usual Hollywood drivvel: Stage 14 of the Tour de France!! DP reader Amy Jane from NYC points us to the Bike Cafe website which gives the background, times and locations around the nation for watching the Tour on the Beeeg Screen. It'll cost you a sawbuck, but apparently the Tyler Hamilton and Davis Phinney foundations are the joint beneficiaries, with proceeds from the theaters going toward the development of young cyclists with really friendly personalities or something.

[According to OLN's coverage, at least some of the stages are aired live in Times Square, for you NYC'ers who don't mind standing on the sidewalk for hours with the, um, entertaining inhabitants of Times Square.]

Here in Seattle, there is (naturally) an outdoor version of the same thing: local touring network Cascade Bicycle Club is showing the stage at Magnuson Park, in what's becoming a growing tradition on the North Side.

And the best news for all the organizers is that Saturday will probably decide the Tour.

Joyeux Jour de... Quartorze Juillet!

Alors! don't quote me on the grammerisms. So David Moncoutie is this year's national mascot, with a nice little jump from the day's inevitable break to win for the glory of France. On this site I have spared no opportunity to belittle French Cycling -- because it is in truly horrible shape, and this fact is inexcusable, akin to the struggles of the US Olympic basketball team. The sport needs the French, possibly more than any other nation (besides Flanders). Considering that the Tour de France towers over the sport, it's a shame that the host country is such a non-factor. Spanish cycling is pretty healthy, but those guys mostly save it for the Vuelta (and I have a post in me somewhere ridiculing this year's "efforts" in the Tour). Ditto for Italian cycling and the Giro. Belgies are laser-focused on the Classics. Which leaves the Tour largely in the hands of less traditional cycling countries like the US, Germany, Denmark, Holland, Australia, Norway, etc.

This is fine, good cycling is the main point, but missing are the subplots even I can remember, from the 80s, when Greg LeMond was duking it out with National Hero Bernard Hinault or the more enigmatic Laurent Fignon, not to mention Charly Mottet and a few others. It was easy to care more when you knew how much the French cared. It was just that much more riveting. But nowadays the problem has gotten to the point where it's been so long, the pressure on any up-and-comer to dig France out of its cycling rut has an inevitable depressing effect. Not that there are even many guys who show potential. Has the entire nation turned to soccer since the 1998 World Cup?

Anyway, here are the lyrics to La Marseillaise, abbreviated in French and translated so you can fully appreciate its carnal quality. Follow the link provided for the full six-hour version.

Allons enfants de la Patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'étendard sanglant est levé
Entendez-vous dans nos campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras.
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes!

Aux armes citoyens
Formez vos bataillons
Marchons, marchons
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons

Arise children of the fatherland
The day of glory has arrived
Against us tyranny's
Bloody standard is raised
Listen to the sound in the fields
The howling of these fearsome soldiers
They are coming into our midst
To cut the throats of your sons and consorts

To arms citizens
Form your battalions
March, march
Let impure blood
Water our furrows

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Bomb?

The Tom Boonen Death Watch is fully underway. Word is his knee got worse after today's crash-and-ride, and his start tomorrow is in serious jeopardy. Q: when's the last time a jersey holder didn't make it to the line the next day? It happens of course, probably more with the Green Jersey (mountains and all that) than any other category. But this is still news, particularly where the star power of Boonen is involved. I'll be sorry to see him go, although at this point he's so banged up that even if he continues on, I can't imagine him having the edge over McEwen or O'Grady or Hushovd.

The Chicken Blog

Seriously, he has his own website updated regularly. I kid you not.

Now Where Was I...?

Ah, yes, the Tour de France. I tell you, that Vinokourov, what a hero! His stage win today confirms his greatness and should clinch a successful tour for the German boys in pink and occasionally powder blue or aqua or whatever you call Vino's digs. Yes indeed, it was a great day.

Right... well, a few random observations should help kill some time before the fun begins again Saturday:

* People gotta do what they gotta do, including T-Mobile joining the legions of teams hunting for stage wins (which, as I recall, are worth a whopping one point in the Pro Tour rankings). Of course, T-Mobile has a few GC riders to spare, so sending the lowest placed one off on a stage errand isn't a bad idea, especially when the rider himself was going to take off anyway, regardless of orders. But I for one cannot wait for TdF2006, when probably half a dozen teams will see themselves as still in the fight for yellow up until the end, even if the time gaps aren't much different than this year. Gone will be the demoralizing effect Lance and the blue locomotive tend to have on just about all of their challengers.

* Meanwhile, Johan is going to earn his money this week. The team's toughest task is to control itself for a few days while there is so little to be gained. They're too disciplined to be tempted out by Vino, but what will happen if the Chicken makes a go of it on tomorrow's climbs, where he's ostensibly just hunting for KOM points? And how many matches should Lance burn even in the Pyrenees, when his best chance for time gaps will come in the penultimate time trial?

* Why do people speak in such hushed tones about the Galibier? I mean, 17KM at 7% is a bummer, but the Aubisque is the same, the Pailheres is 15.2 KM at average 8%, and the Pla d'Adet is 10KM at 7.6%, after five other climbs. I know the Alpes are 500-1000 meters higher, but the air must get pretty thin in the Pyrenees too. Someone who's been there can perhaps enlighten me.

* Asshole of the day: Dario Cioni. What's the suspension for a two-time doper? I love the fact that Fassa management turned him in after the police stopped his wife at the border.

* Speaking of Italians, how about that Eddy Mazzoleni, challenging for the time bonuses today and lying in the top 20 overall? If he could time trial, he could possibly push Basso for the pink jersey, awarded to the highest placed Italian in the Tour. Anyway, it's nice to know that someone at Lampre has the guts to ride this thing.

* Tomorrow is a rest day for me in the Grand Boucle of Parenting, so don't look for anything from me of any value. Not before noon anyway. Warning!!! Tomorrow is Bastille Day, commemorating the token victory by local cyclists who stormed the Bastille while foreigners were uninterested and tending to more important goals. Every year the French celebrate by winning the day's stage, and fortunately the Tour organizers understand that French cycling is so irrelevant these days that they had better make the July 14 stage a meaningless one, so as to give the locals a chance to get away without drawing the interest of stronger riders. Should we look for Sylvain Chavanel as the designated sprinter in an early break group? Or will it be a Sandy Casar taking off solo over the day's moderate climbs? Like I said, I'm sleeping in.

Nothing Burger

Obviously a stage like today's is calculated to be what it is: a thigh-melting parade that has almost no impact on the race. The question is... why? Does the Tour really just want to keep things close for a few more days? Do they strategically plant certain stages for breakaway winners who otherwise have little to hunt for? It's fine, I guess... a waste of the Galibier, but if that just makes Saturday more meaningful, I'm OK with that.

But stages like this present interesting choices to guys like Vinokourov who, however deluded, still maintain hopes of yellow or at least a podium in Paris. Discovery knew that they would burn a zillion matches if they cranked it up on the Galibier, with almost nothing to show for it, so they made it plain they were just covering attacks and getting through the day. In other words, it's a rare day in the mountains when they aren't smothering the field, so if you're the field, this is your big chance, right? Yes... if you want to kill yourself for a minute or so time gain.

So now Vino has dug frighteningly deep and pulled back a minute and a half, about a fourth of what he lost yesterday. Congratulations Vino, for one day you won all of Discovery's unwanted scraps. Give that man a case of hot dogs.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Forget working today...

Check out this link to a very interesting site that compiles every entry from a variety of sites, including this one. Especially useful in case you were wondering what the Dutch media was saying. Good stuff!

New Look

It speaks for itself. But in case it doesn't, here's a gratuitous shot of my child. Never fear, the rule as of today is, one child photo a week. Anyway, the yellow doesn't show up too well on the white backdrop, so I'll keep tinkering.

That's Cycling, Eh Vino?

Nice Work Kid

Now let's see what you have left tomorrow...

Post-Stage Commentary: Don't Count Your Chicken

The GC is looking curiouser and curiouser these days... except of course at the very top. As we speculate about the guys within shouting of the podium -- Rasmussen, Basso, Moreau, Valverde, Leipheimer, Mancebo, Ullrich, Klodi and Landis -- our (OK, my) tendency is to wonder who will survive the remaining climbs. All of these guys have decent climbers' resumes, but all of them have their tendencies to disappear on occasion as well, and as Drew reminds me, the Tour is as much about who can bring it five times in a week as who can get over a mountain in the first place. My point is that based on the remaining climbs, you can make about the same case for or against anyone on this list for the podium, and maybe a few others as well. Even the Chicken, sitting at 38 seconds back.

I for one think Basso must have some limits in there, having spent so much on the Giro; otherwise he'd be my other lock for the podium. I also think Leipheimer won't blow up as quickly, if at all, this time. The way he fought back onto the gruppetto today is a good sign. The rest of these guys are complete mysteries to me.

But! None of these guys has a chance at top 3 in Paris if he can't time trial. The 20th stage is a thigh-melting 55-kilometer dash around St. Etienne, more than three times the length of the opening TT where, for example, Lance put 1.50 into Moreau, 2.01 into Klodi, 2.24 into Valverde, 2.31 into Mancebo, and 3.14 into the Chicken. In Kloden's case, perhaps better performances are on the horizon, but the rest of the guys listed here can't be taken seriously for the podium, when they are currently bunched with guys like Basso, Ullrich, Leipheimer and Landis who can really time-trial.

[Is there a better nickname in cycling than Michael "Chicken" Rasmussen? I've always considered "chicken" one of the five funniest words in the English language. It's even funnier when applied to a guy who's so paranoid about weight that he insists his bike only get one coat of paint.]

Brief Interlude: the difference btw Campy & Shimano

OK, as some of you may know, I am now down to one opposable thumb after a stupid, stupid crash yesterday (hook sliding on a wet road). Well, I was on the Litespeed w/ Campy Record, and muddled through a few hours of downshifting the big ring with either my palm or index finger, depending on whether I was in the drops. Today I'm on the Cannondale B-bike with Dura Ace, which shift in both directions by using the index and middle fingers. In other words, Shimano does not require an opposable thumb. Indicating, of course, that they are reaching out to a broader audience.

Coming soon! Stacey and Alwynne, fresh off the discussion of the subject in Lance Armstrong's War, will offer real life tips on butt-checking. Suitable for the home, office, peloton... anywhere!

All Star Game

In some ways these decisive climbs sorta speak for themselves, but this year there are so many players for some position or another that it's still very fun to look through the top of the GC and assess:

* Losers of the day are T-Mobile en masse. They are the only team that could make a serious case for yellow, the thinking being that they could triple-team Lance once the (light) blue train melted away. But all Vinokourov (whom my brain wants to call Pedicurov) did was prove his managers right in tabbing Ullrich as the team leader. Vino can be a great classics rider in his remaining years, and even win some minor tours, but the high mountains aren't his domain. Ullrich and Kloden did about what could be expected, meanwhile... but in order to challenge Armstrong, they needed to shock the world. Not happening.

* Some winners: Leipheimer showed that his form is a notch better this year, top-5 is in reach. My apologies to the Chicken, I didn't know he could climb quite like that. He's talking to OLN now and looks like he just came back from a mellow training ride. Cadel Evans also looked like a top-10 talent, which is nice because we can now count on some colorful Aussie-isms after the mountain stages as well. And the Discovery bench certainly made up for their slippage of last weekend, pretty cool to see Popo on the screws so late in the day, with some road dust on his jersey.

* The podium battle is going to be very interesting. Clearly Valverde and Mancebo have to be considered, and the Chicken could sneak in if he can produce a big time trial. Basso is in danger of missing out, which isn't shocking when you look to see who else in the top 10 rode the Giro. (Anyone?)

* Lance speaking now to OLN... Praises his team for coming back hard and inspiring him... I still don't see the Tour as being over, you never know when Lance is going to discover that at 34 he has limits. How will he feel tomorrow after towing three others all the way up? Not that it matters, tomorrow has a lot of downhill at the end. But there's a long way to go still.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Rest Day Blogging

Right, I know, sorry I'm late. Not a lot of bloggers would attempt the Giro-Tour double, as yours truly has, so I really need this rest day. [Actually, yesterday was my wife's birthday, and the day before that was my annual "hurry up and plan your wife's birthday" day.]

Anyway, the Cycle Sport tour preview has some lovely stage coverage which should lend insight into the last few/next few days:

* According to local boy JP Nazon, the people of the Vosges are very stubborn and determined, which lends color to the race and explains why Hitler took a detour around the area to the north. Although it doesn't explain JP's performance very well.

* Double-maillot jaune winner Bernard Thevenet tells us that tomorrow's stage to Courchevel is no picnic, but that the closing climb is not that steep. And he calls Courchevel "where millionaires hang out," with enough distaste to suggest he isn't one of them. Meanwhile, the editors called holding yellow on this stage "a poisoned chalice," referring to the 95 km of steady uphill CSC will now have to defend, before starting the day's major climbs. The more I watch this race, the more I think Johan Bruyneel is the master puppeteer. What possible good does it do Ivan Basso to have Jens Voigt in yellow? Well, I will excuse Bjarne for now, someone mentioned he is in negotiations for a title sponsor for next year, and CSC has always been run on a shoestring.

* Aside: I still am not ready to bash Riis for leaving Zabriskie alone in his torn yellow jersey at the end of the TTT, what with things happening so fast, but that is a truly tragic moment, and it would be nice if Riis would at least express some regret. Does DZ stay on at CSC, or was the blow to his morale too great? He'll have some suitors, for sure.

* Anyway, Wednesday's alpine stage is the hardest, covering the more treacherous north approach up the Madeleine and the Telegraphie-Galibier double whammy. CS tells us it's a great day for a polka-dot jersey attack, with 55 points on the table and the hills coming sooner rather than later. I am skeptical: if you can get over the Madeleine and Galibier, you should probably be thinking more about the GC. Somehow I doubt the Chicken is gonna get loose again here. A better bet would be the Pla d'Adet stage, with 6 rated climbs and only the last two in the 7-8% range. Anyway, there are 40 kilometers of descending after the Galibier, so I fail to see how someone other than Paolo Savoldelli could get away. Actually, Ullrich is a great bike-handler, so he could conceivably see this day as his big chance.

* I still say nothing will be decided until next Saturday and Sunday. The Pailheres (Sat) is at least 10% most of the time, for 15 km, and the last climb into Ax-3 Domaines is no picnic either. And Sunday is the Queen Stage, by any reasoned guess, with its six thigh-melting ascents. My $.02.

And one more thing... There's something humorous about watching Vinokourov attack on those piddly slopes up the Col de la Schlucht (a truly romantic getaway if the name is any indication). He attacks not because it's a good idea, but because he has to, every fibre of his body is telling him so, like a dog chasing a tennis ball for the 300,000th time. Even our local supermarket flyer reported that Vino was expected to attack on this stage. I know, I know, they did a 1-2 punch and got Klodi free for a half-minute gain. It's not that it was bad strategy at all. I just think it's kind of funny.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Stage 8 Preview

Well, you can look up the numbers yourself, but basically the Tour is heading into the hilly Vosges region. The purpose of this note is terminology: looking at the map, there are a number of peaks named "cote d'__" or "__ Coast," just as you'd see in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. I've always found it strange that the word coast is applied to land forms which have nothing to do with the sea, though I simply ascribed it to Europeans being quirky or drunk or something. Until today: offers the predictable definitions of the word coast, plus one more -- "A hill or other slope down which one may coast, as on a sled." So there you have it. In a land where people like to get drunk in winter and slide their vehicles and possessions down the hill, it is only natural that they should memorialize the landforms as such.

Stage 7: It's a Wrap

But for the border crossing and an occasional rider on the floor, it doesn't get much less interesting than this stage. Tomorrow's mini-mountains come just in the nick of time.

The light moment of the day came when the peloton hit the Rhine. Fabian Wegmann had already broken away to do his little parade into the Fatherland, but Jens Voigt outsprinted the field on the bridge to Germany to be the second rider to hit German soil... and had a cheeky little grin at the other leaders. See, all those years of racing to the next telephone pole paid off.

McEwen's sprint was a bit of a longer one for him. The front was too much of a scrum for anything really cool to transpire, other than to note that when order breaks down, it's the McEwens of the world who take advantage. He made up 6 points on Boonen (7th), and is now some 37 points down, slowly creeping back into the race. And that's the best news of the day.

Still no reporting on why Zabriskie dropped off into oblivion yesterday. Maybe he's got a website or a diary someplace, I'll hunt around at lunch.

And the Winner Is....

3km, FdJ trying to get Bernard Eisel and Brad McGee up there...

Boonen sitting about 15th, not in position yet.

2K to go. Liquigas are dealing now.

Under the banner and Boonen, Kirsipuu and Big Thor are getting ready. Such a nice straight road for a sprint.


Not sure who yet... Two Spaniards, pointing at each other.

McEwen gets it!! Backstedt lost it on the throw to the line. Boonen couldn't seem to get in position.

Sage is trying to close the laptop cover. I think I better go.

Wait for it...

Final 5KM now. The finish is broad and straight, no shenanigans today. I like Boonen's chances for a long run to the line, but who the hell knows? Also, the Boys in Pink are sniffing around for an attack chance, though the Belgies on the front (and Credit Agricole and FdJ) are in charge. Fassa men go to the front for a leadout, out of habit.


About five different people go down simultaneously crossing a 45-degree angled railroad crossing, made slick with rain. One guy lands on his feet without his bike, still moving forward. Peloton splits in two. No big names or injuries to discuss though. correction: Frankie Mancebo went down. But he's uninjured and back in the peloton.

Phil plugs the kids book "Mike and the Bike" as the race crosses into Germany. I'm not sure but I think I just heard his head explode.

German fans are out in droves. You might even say they are massing at the border.

TdFStage 7: Live Update!!

Some German kid has three minutes on the Peloton as they head for the Rhine into das Vaterland. Yesterday I led a lap of our weekly as I paraded by Stacey and Sage. Unfortunately it was lap 4 of 14. This kid is gonna learn the same lesson I did.

Quick Step and Davitamon are taking up the chase in a rather cooperative manner, chatting amiably and rotating pulls. They might as well merge teams. "Quick Step Davitamon"... kind of has a nice ring to it...

Update!! Phil just explained how a quick-release works. In the next segment, not to be outdone, Bobke will take a closer look at the water bottle cage.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Whoa, a Notes Column!

* Cue up your best Vin Scully voice: Today Lorenzo Bernucci won his first victory of his pro career when a FDJ rider, Christophe Mengin, tragically slid out into the barriers on a wet corner, at the tail end of a long break into his hometown. Mengin proceeded to bring down just about the entire race, leaving Bernucci alone for the win. But it was only yesterday when Bernucci was the rider crashing heavily into the barriers... when he was taken out by... a FdJ rider! How about that?

* Zabriskie apparently cracked today, losing 7 minutes. I didn't see anything this morning during the live broadcast, so I'm flying blind until one of the big sites puts up a full report, but I am guessing Tuesday's injuries are a problem. So far he is the tragic figure of the Tour, and frankly his will be hard to top.

* CN reporting Ullrich is feeling back to normal, which is interesting to note, of course... that he was hindered by his bizarre training crash on the eve of the Tour... and that he might have some pretty serious form to show off after all, once the racing gets serious. I certainly hope so, nothing takes the air out of the Tour faster than seeing Ullrich getting gassed on a cat 2 climb. And yeah, he may be too nice to beat Lance, but he's still got some guts, right? Beating Armstrong may be illusory, but in his last head-to-head Ullrich needs to at least make Lance sweat it out.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

These Go To Eleven

According to this interview, the real problem for Davitamon in the past two sprint stages (before McEwen's win today) was not Tom Boonen and his deeply troubling, inhuman condition. No, on Day 1 it was that McEwen's shifter couldn't get into his 11 cog, limiting his closing speed, and on Day 2 it was his leadout man Fast Freddie Rodriguez who couldn't get to the magic #11, leaving McEwen boxed in with (again) too little speed. Someday, somehow, the Davitamon mechanics will discover a way to shift the chain to all available gears. In fact, given today's result, this may have already happened.

Meanwhile, not being a sprinter, I surmised from the telly that Boonen's problem in today's pipping by Robbie was starting too soon, whereas Tom the Bomb says he didn't start soon enough. In other words, had he started his sprint sooner, he would have continued accelerating to a speed that McEwen could not overcome.

This raises an interesting discussion: how many different kinds of sprinters are there? Clearly McEwen is of the variety that sticks to the fastest wheel and zips around at the end -- his wins seem like instant replays of one another -- suggesting he's not equipped to sustain a longer run to the line. Petacchi, meanwhile, starts winding it up from the other end zone and just powers away from everyone. I suspect, w/o knowing, that this is a size thing: Little Robbie can't sustain the momentum like Petacchi -- a bigger rider -- can. Boonen fits the Petacchi mold as well, so perhaps he needs to start early and see if he can get so much momentum that even quick-closing McEwen can't get around him. Damn, it's too bad we couldn't have an in-form Petacchi in France right now. What a battle that would be.

But like I said, I'm not a sprinter, so what do I know? Ten days from now, not being a climber either, I will no doubt predict that Jan Ullrich's slow, grinding pedaling style will be the decisive advantage over Lance in the climb to Ax-3 Domaines.

Master and Pupil

Sage is going to tolerate my blogging for about 30 seconds so I'll be brief. The header here is a bit of an exaggeration; Boonen and McEwen are closer to equals, but McEwen snatched today's stage from Boonen in masterful style, showing that he's still got plenty of fight left. Boonen, meanwhile, undoubtedly learned a valuable lesson today -- again, he's no rube, but he is still qualifying for the maillot blanc -- that he can't just get a two second leadout and power all the way up the avenue to victory. McEwen clearly had his wheel from the last right-hand bend at 500 meters, and when Boonen took off around hapless Baden Cooke, there was simply too much pavement left to cover with McEwen sitting right on him. Perhaps his leadout was poor and he had to go around (whoever that was) or risk losing speed, so he had no choice. But either way, he was only going to win given McEwen's position if he started his acceleration a little later. As it was, McEwen only caught Boonen in the last 10 meters.

McEwen then celebrated his win with some provocative expressions in the direction of the race judges. No retiring wallflower type there... but then I find it refreshing when someone says what they mean, particularly if they can do so using colorful Ozzie idioms. He's a scrapper of the highest order, no doubt.

There was a rather gentle crash inside 3KM on a double-bend, where two riders overshot the second corner and deposited themselves into the padded barriers with no more force or violence than Sage tumbling off his climbing structure onto the lawn. So credit to the organizers for, well, if they have to make it an obstacle course, they at least managed to do so without putting anyone in serious risk, and without disrupting the final approach or impacting the results. The sight of the guys who made it through this section is a thing of beauty, like watching the bullet train accelerate out of a bend.

Discount Live Blogging!!

Yep, we're coming to you live from the living room, where a poorly-rested 18-month old is nonetheless happily playing with his fire truck, repeating the same unintelligible, if otherwise very meaningful, word. Waiting for me to figure it out. Anyway, the Tour is on in the other room, and the Catch is imminent, setting us up for the usual Boonen-versus-the-world mad dash.

If you want to complain about OLN, there's some low-hanging fruit there, but I for one love them. Especially the new yellow jersey competition they have amongst each other picking the winners. Phil should run away with it, although Paul could win a lesser jersey.

And I love their little factoids. For example, it was just mentioned on the bottom of the screen that Magnus Backstedt's racing weight is 209 pounds. TWO HUNDRED NINE!!! So there is hope...

More shortly.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Zabriskie Files: What Now?

I confess I don't know much about the guy. Now that he's touched the floor, and suffered an otherwise depressing day, the supporters are coming out of the woodwork. "Watch this kid, he's the next big thing," they say. "Great guy, great teammate," says Lombardi. Etc.

I felt really bad for him as he sprawled out on the ground. I know it all happened too fast for anyone to do differently, but I really wish Bjarne had left one or two guys back to help him across the line (did they need more than 5 guys to power the train home another 1.5 km?). As it was, the sight of his yellow dreams all tattered, plus his isolation as the last man on the course, was just sad.

I hope he gets over it, doesn't get depressed, rides on, and after the pain has diminished (or been replaced by forms of pain more common to the Tour) does a kick-ass ride in the Alpes. So we don't all think of him as a one-hit, short TT wonder.

Top Five Sights at the TdF: Opening Weekend

5. Jersey changes, i.e. Saunier Duval nixing the yellow, out of respect, if not acknowledgement that the next time they wear a yellow jersey will be at the HEW Cyclassics.

4. Lance in ... green.

3. McEwen nuzzling Stewart O'Grady in the sprint like a spring lamb. I can't believe they would relegate him for something that cute.

2. Zabriskie's yellow deer-in-the-headlights look after the opening win. Ah, but the cycling Gods are cruel in the end. Also, is Riis the master of the temporary overall lead?

1. Tom Boonen's first victory salute, roaring madly, looking downward at his open, inward-turned palms. An expression and gesture straight out of the "it is alive!" moment of Frankenstein. Question: does Boonen's form raise deeply troubling, philosophical questions?

Lance in Yellow!

The sad part about Zabriskie's fall is multi-faceted. He's free-wheeling home now, a minute or so behind with some nasty blood and according to Phil a large welt on his hip. His dalliance with greatness cost him dearly, like that mythological dude who flew too close to the sun (which I never thought was a good idea). He's been parading around in that jersey for a couple days, trying to look like he belongs in it, and now he's going to be haunted by endless video loops of the yellow jersey going down in the barriers.

Worst of all, had he finished with the team, he and Lance would be tied. I can't even remember what that would mean -- two yellows?

CSC to the tape

It will be close... and they lose by two seconds!!

Zabriskie goes down!!!

What the F??!!??!!

Live Update!!

This morning we're live from my couch, home of the Outdoor Life Network, as the Discovery Boys come home to the line. We've had friends in town and Sage was up til 11pm, so I'm childless until some indeterimate hour.

A lot seems to have happened before I woke up, like Phonak cracking nearly their whole team (though still good enough for third) and the T-Mobile Boys making their statement.

Manolo Saiz can still coach a TTT squad. Gone are the days of ONCE being the team to beat, or being a team at all for that matter. But Liberty Seguros showed up today for third so far.

CSC is the last team on the course... and had a two second advantage over Discovery at the last time check.

Opening Statements

Stars of the opening weekend:

✭✭✭ Tom Boonen
Not only the winner of the first two road stages, but the man who outsprinted McEwen, who himself outsprinted Petacchi in May. By some simple logic, Tom Boonen is the fastest man in the world. But there's another piece of evidence: the powerful way in which he swept past McEwen in the closing meters. Damn! What's his winning percentage this year, 75%?

[Sidebar question: and don't get me wrong, it certainly isn't happening any time soon, but just out of curiosity, has a "sprinter" ever won the Tour? Like, by getting in some long early breakaway and managing to hold on to yellow?]

✭✭ Lance Armstrong
If his goal was to completely demoralize the competition, mission accomplished. I would hazard a guess that a lot of GC guys hang on to hope as long as they see Lance under wraps. Maybe, just maybe, there's something wrong with him. This year the fun lasted exactly 17 kilometers.

✭ David Zabriskie
Don't get me wrong, it is a great story for this youngster from Utah to hold yellow on July 4th (although when you think about it, it's really not much of a symbol -- the holiday represents our independence from Britain, a non-cycling nation; and though you can't find this in any textbooks we actually had a lot of help from France to thank). Anyway, his win was wind-aided, so he's not exactly all covered in glory now, but we can at least say that he was at least a minute better than all the people who started when he did, under the same conditions, which is damn impressive.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

TdF Preview: The Home Team

Last of the preview series, and maybe the shortest. It's quite shocking really that France has gone so long without producing even a half-decent talent for the Tour. Laurent Jalabert was a lesser jersey winner and all-around hard-ass rider who I loved. But he retired at a ripe age three years ago with nobody coming in to fill the void, meaning France's drought actually goes back a decade or more since a new guy came along. I guess a case can be made for Virenque, but although he actually got on the podium in '96 and '97, it was his Festina squad in '98 that brought on the darkness, and Virenque was no bystander. And, when he was second overall it was nine minutes' back of Ullrich. Kind of a footnote, really, even before we have a look at those needle tracks.

Sorry to say, but there's no end in sight. AG2R Prevoyance, aside from this year's title for overall worst name, doesn't seem ready to challenge for anything more prestigious. Samuel Demoulin? JP Nazon? At least Bouygues Telecom, AG2R's main threat in the worst name comp, can boast Thomas Voeckler -- last year's heroic cartoon character quasi-leader before the men showed up -- and newly minted national champion Pierrick Fedrigo. We can't be sure Fedrigo is good enough to do anything in the Tour, but at least we know on some level he's France's best bet.

More mature outfits Cofidis and Credit Agricole at least have some palmares to their credit, and can hope for a few more. Also, when Johan Bruyneel goes looking for a French team to dump the yellow jersey on after the TTT so Discovery don't have to defend this week, he'll no doubt look to one of these more proven squads. Cofidis have some of the bigger French names, like all-potential Sylvain Chavanel and David Mouncoutie, along with Aussie warriors O'Grady and Matt White, and not to be forgotten Cedric Vasseur. If Chavanel gets in a break Wednesday, I'll lay short odds on it succeeding: I can't think of someone who in yellow would deflect more attention from Lance than the next-big-thing Chavanel. Cofidis are trying, god love 'em, but no doubt David Millar's confession is still smarting.

CA, meanwhile, have Laszlo Bodrogi and best-jersey wearer Thor Hushovd to carry the banner these days on the sprints, with Jan Kirsipuu in support, and you can't rule out them snagging one or two someplace. Christophe Moreau is their GC guy, fresh off his fourth place in 1999, so look out there. Sebastian Hinault wears the heaviest name this side of Axel Merckx... even if Hinault isn't who you think (or is he? I can never remember). Anyway, I have to try to find something interesting to say here...

Last but not least are Francaise Des Jeux, which translates roughly to "French of the young ones." And in many ways, they do in fact look like a development squad. Bradley McGee and Baden Cooke rep for this strangely non-French squad, where they collect stage wins now and then, although the way their leadout got swarmed today made me wonder how they plan to win another.

Whew! That's all... enjoy!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Live Notes

Did I say Michael Rich? I think I meant Michael Rogers.

That Zabriskie chap can ride.

Too bad they closed the road so nobody can watch.

A programming note... where the hell is the live radio feed???

Friday, July 01, 2005

Afternoon Notes

As much as I can, I'll try to add little items to a notes section each day throughout the Tour. Today's kicker comes off Cycling News:

* Lance Armstrong was given a random drug test by French authorities today, the only rider in the Tour to be tested, which shouldn't be surprising given that the entire peloton was officially given pre-race tests yesterday. As a consequence, I am now changing my prediction to Lance winning the opening time trial. Pushing his buttons has never been a successful strategy for anyone who opposes him on any level. If LeBlanc wanted a competitive race this year, he clearly needs to put in a few angry calls to the doping control folks today.

* Oscar Pereiro touched the floor during training today, but got away with bumps and bruises. Also, Rene Haselbacher crashed into the barriers outside the Gerolsteiner hotel, in preparation for the week's opening flat stages. Team officials continue to insist they told him he's not in the starting lineup, to no avail.

* Apparently the weather has been wet and miserable. Not that there are any turns in tomorrow's race, but at least for now one Armstrong nemesis -- a heat wave -- is not in sight.

What the...?

Apparently Ullrich went through the rear window of a team car on a training ride yesterday. He sounds fine... but WHAT THE HELL ARE THESE PEOPLE THINKING?!?!?!?! Seriously, can you imagine the scene? "Whoops, I think our GC leader just came through the window." I have almost no confidence in T-Mobile as an organization, to me they come off as a disorganized mess who happened to have some crack riders fall in their lap, primarily because they're German.

On second thought, someone should ask... was Vinokourov driving?

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