Well, I thought the small hills at the end might lead to a successful break-away. Several tried, but the last lone break-away, Max Kessler from T-Mobile was caught about 100-150 metres from the finish. Ouch. There was a major crash 2km from the finish which gave the sprinters some room to maneuver. Robbie McEwen once again came out of no where, sprinted, and won.
Thor Hushovd, riding with a huge bandage over the stitches in his arm, sprinted for some intermediate sprint time bonuses to put himself ahead of Hincapie in GC. He was very well placed in the final sprint, but he was too tight into McEwen and when McEwen drifted towards him, Hushovd jinked hard and his foot came off the pedal. He had to settle for third, and regaining the Malliot Jaune. Not bad for a guy who lost a lot of blood yesterday.
BTW: The race organizers have banned those stupid foam hands from the last 2km of the race. I had a good look at them in the earlier parts of the race – they aren’t the big fat ones you can put your hand in like you see at USian spectator sports, they’re quite thin. It’s easy to imagine getting a paper cut from one of those – especially if it slaps across you at 70km/hr.
Tomorrow sees Hushovd in yellow, McEwan in green. Tomorrow is going to be another “lumpy” stage with some small category 3 and 4 climbs. It crosses through Belgium over the same territory as the Liege-Bastogne-Liege spring classic, and finishes in the Netherlands up the same hills that the Amstel Gold spring classic finishes up, so maybe one of the Dutch riders will go for it. But more likely it will end up with another mass sprint, with McEwan, Hushovd and Boonen battling it out.
Today was a flat stage, favouring the bunch sprinters. True to form, a break away formed, stayed out front for most of the day, but got caught in time for the sprinters teams to try to get lead-outs organized. I find these types of stages pretty unexciting except for the last 10 minutes or so. Today there were two highlights:
- George Hincape saw a chance when most of the break had been caught leaving only one guy up ahead, and sprinted for the last intermediate sprint point. Somebody from AG2R saw him go and beat him to the line, but George ended up with a 2 second time bonus for being third to that line. He was gambling that Thor Hushovd and the others within a few seconds of him in GC would end up out of the time bonuses at the finish, and he was right – his quick thinking and quick peddling landed him in the Malliot Jaune for the first time in 11 years of riding the Tour.
- None of the sprinters teams got really organized for the final sprint, and Tom Boonen made a really bad mistake, but Thor Hushovd got caught without a good line, so he tried to push along the barricades. Evidently one of those green foam hands that one of the sponsors were handing out to all the spectators caught him edge on and slashed his arm open. He crossed the finish looking fine but then collapsed with blood all over him. It looked awful.
I don’t expect Hincape to keep the yellow for very long – one of the sprinters will get some time bonuses and push past him. The GC never starts to sort out until the first individual time trail, and doesn’t get decided until the mountains. The biggest hills and the last TT are in the last week, so it might be a tense race towards the end.
They’re saying that Hushovd’s cut isn’t that bad and he’ll be fine to ride tomorrow. Hope that’s right.
Tomorrow’s stage might bring some surprises. There are a few small hills towards the end, and that might help a small break away escape and not be caught up at the end by the sprinter’s teams like happens on the flatter stages. I expect the break away will feature “also-ran” teams that don’t have a good GC contender or a good sprint contender. We’ll see.
With so many of the big names out, I would put Floyd Landis as one of the favourites. But not if he has bad luck like he did today in the prologue. The prologue is a timed start, and you get used to seeing riders in the start house while you hear “bleep bleep bleep bloop” and the rider starts off. But when it was Landis’ time, you heard “bleep bleep bleep bloop”, with no Landis. A few seconds later he rides up into the start house, looks around, and finally realizes he’s supposed to have started and rides off. The announcers figure he lost 7-9 seconds. And then ended up finishing 8 seconds behind the leader. That 8 seconds isn’t going to be significant for the GC. After the race they announced the reason he was late is because he got a flat tire riding to the start house. Bad luck.
The winner of the prologue is Thor Hushovd, the Norwegian sprinter, former green jersey winner and one of my two favourites to win the green again this year (with Tom Boonen).
Second place by 0.73 seconds was Discovery’s George Hincapie, who rode with Lance Armstrong for most of Armstrong’s career.
George is a sentimental favourite, he deserves to win for all the work he’s done for Armstrong, but I didn’t think he’s really got the talent for it. Maybe this Prologue is a sign that I’ve underestimated him.
I got an email from GreatBigSea.com saying that there are some tickets available for their show at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto on July 8th. By an amazing coincidence, Vicki and I were going to be near Toronto at my parent’s and daughter’s place. A bit of negotiating, and it looks like we’re going to have the full crew – Vicki, me, Laura, Alyssa, Liane, and Liane’s boyfriend.
The tickets aren’t great – 400 section, which is assigned seating but not under the roof. I haven’t been there since they tore down the Forum, but I saw some great concerts out there on the grass. Pray it doesn’t rain.