Tour de France Stage 15

Ok, I guess the verdict is in on Floyd Landis strategy a few days ago of giving the yellow to Pereiro. And that verdict is “Good thinking”.

Today Phonak seemed to be doing everything right. They had one guy in the main break-away, Axel Merckx, and they had two guys near the front of the peleton protecting Landis while Periero’s Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears team did a lot of work. Good team strategy for a team I was almost ready to write off as not being strong enough for this task. T-Mobile was essentially playing from the same strategy book, while CSC seemed to be putting major effort into the break-away.

At the base of the last climb, the infamous Alpe D’Huez, the field basically consisted of a 15 strong break-away, and the peleton. There were some interesting names in the break-away group, including Hincapie and Damiano Cunego. As soon as the road tilted up, both groups splintered into little chunks.

A large group of GC men went off the front of the peleton, including Floyd Landis and Andreas Kloden, but NOT including Pereiro. Landis Phonak team-mates immediately attacked to launch Landis, and Kloden’s T-Mobile team-mates counter attacked Kloden. As the attacks came, the group off the front (Groupe Landis) got smaller until the only names of consequence were Landis and Kloden. And then they started picking up people from the original lead group – as they caught up to Merckx, Merckx looked a bit surprised to see Landis up with him, but gave him a bidon (water bottle) and lead Groupe Landis for a few km. But he soon fell off the pace, but then they caught up to a T-Mobile rider Mazzolinni, who did the same for Kloden as Merckx had done for Landis. Various people tried to stay with them as they stormed up the mountain, but ultimately only Garzelli and Lobato could stay with them. Up ahead, the leading group ended up down to just Cunego and Frank Schleck.

Frank Schleck ultimately attacked Cunego and finished a few seconds up on him. Then Garzelli outsprinted Landis for third. The Groupe Malliot Jaune finishes far enough back that Landis is back in yellow, and looking like he has the legs to keep it.

Besides Landis, the great interest today for me was Cunego and Kloden. A few years back, Cunego surprised everybody including his team leader Gilberto Simoni by winning the Giro D’Italia. And Kloden surprised his team leader Ullrich by finishing second overall in the Tour de France behind Armstrong but ahead of Ullrich. Both riders were considered quite young to do so well in major tours, and both of them have done bugger all in the intervening years. It’s great to see that they’ve started to get back that form from before.

In surprising news today, Tom Boonen quit the race early on, citing problems breathing. I think McEwan is pretty assured of the green jersey now.

I think this sets or ties a record for most yellow jersey changes in a race in a long time. Is that just because there isn’t a single dominant rider with a dominant team, or is it because they’re all off their drugs because of Operation Puerto? Either way, this is in many ways more interesting that the last couple of years of Armstrong dominance.