If I can wax poetical for a moment, I’d have to say that today the Pyrenees are littered with the broken dreams of the riders who thought they had a chance to win this year. It was a killer stage – an HC (Hors Categorie) climb, then 4 Categorie 1 climbs, the last summitting 2km from the finish line. A killer, but evidently not the “Queen Stage”, which is what the announcers call the hardest stage of the race – they’re probably reserving that designation for next Wednesday’s stage, which has two HCs and then finishes on a Cat 1.
Mayo was the first to go – he was dragging his way up the first mountain well behind the pack, yelling at the camera motorbike to stop following him, although the motorbike was there because they could tell he was going to abandon. He eventually did in the feed zone between the second and third mountains.
On the first mountain, Leiphiemer, Cunego, Simoni and many others were getting left behind. But those three at least regrouped enough that on the second last mountain, Cunego was actually able to attack off the front for a while, although he cracked badly. But Leipheimer stuck with the group that was about 18 strong on the second last mountain, containing Landis and a bunch of other GC hopefuls. On the final climb, that group went down to 5, including Leiphiemer and Landis, and then Leiphiemer attacked and suddenly it was just him, Floyd Landis, and Denis Menchov. There is a string of little groups trailing behind them, then the “peleton” with AG2R trying to protect their yellow jersey, and some of the former GC hopefuls. But strung out behind them, some more GC hopefuls cracking hard.
Landis lost the sprint to the finish to Menchov and Leipheimer, but his time bonus for third place puts him 8 seconds up on Dessel and into the yellow.
Euskatel is leaderless with Mayo abandoning. Since the finish is in Spain, near the Basque region, this is a huge disappointment for the fans.
Discovery totally melted down. Azevedo was the only bright spot, only losing 4:10 to Landis. Popovych, one of the candidates to lead the team, was over 6 minutes down. Hincapie and Salvodelli melted down entirely, losing more than 20 minutes each. I hope Hincapie and Salvodelli like carrying bottles because they aren’t going to be leading the team for the rest of this race.
Rabobank and T-Mobile are surprising me with how well they are organizing and delivering their good riders to the front of the race on the mountains. T-Mobile arrived at the tour without their leader and their best “super domestique”, so seeing them with 3 guys in an 18 man lead group is pretty amazing.
AG2R is another surprise – they worked like hell today to keep Dessil in yellow. I wonder if AG2R will work to get Dessil back in yellow for the next couple of days.
Phonak is a surprise and a disappointment. The one rider they had with Landis on the first mountain, Robbie Hunter, is not their best climber, and it was expected that their mountain specialists would stick with Landis but they were nowhere to be seen. Mind you, last year Discovery did the same thing – leaving Armstrong alone whenever he was attacked on the mountains. Maybe you don’t really need help if you’re good enough.
The next three days are “lumpy” stages, which might end in bunch sprints if the sprinter’s teams are not too tired from trying to get over the mountains. Small break-aways might succeed because of that and because of the small hills on the day. Hopefully Phonak won’t tire themselves out trying to defend the yellow jersey. The next important mountain stage is Tuesday which finishes up L’Alpe D’Huez.
Cyclingnews.com says that they purposely didn’t have the mountain stages on the weekends this year because they were getting too crowded with spectators and the organizers were worried that there were going to be more crashes and more spectators interfering with riders.