Tour de France Stage 11

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.

Surprises today:
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. 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.

Tour de France Stage 10

First mountain stage, and it was worth the wait!

As predicted, the peleton fractured into pieces on the first mountain. There were 20 or so riders back in the “sprinters bus” including one of the GC favourites, Iban Mayo. I guess his dreams of GC are over. Other riders who didn’t seem to have what it takes in the mountains but who’ve managed to get back into the peleton on the long flats include Levi Leipheimer and yellow jersey wearer Sergei Gonchar, and my hero from the Giro a few years back, Cunego.

Gonchar is definitely *not* T-Mobile’s preferred leader – his team was setting tempo on both of the major climbs in spite of the fact that it was causing him to drop off the back of the peleton. If he’d really been the leader, they would have either slacked off or sent somebody back for him. Instead, they had him carrying bottles, and made him take a pull up front for part of the downhill drag into the finish. I guess they’re dedicating themselves to Kloden or Rogers.

Cyril Dessel took yellow by being one of two survivors of a group that got way ahead and stayed ahead – the two man break-away was leading by nine and a half minutes with 5km to go, but they were fighting each other for the stage win and so ended up finishing 7:23 up on the peleton. He’ll also have the polka dot jersey for the “King of the Mountains”. He’s likely to lose both of them in the next two days as other opportunistic breaks go up the mountains.

Freire, Zabel and Bennati are in the peleton while McEwan and Boonen were in the sprinters bus, so yesterday’s stage winner and those others will gain some ground in the green jersey competition, but not enough to wear it yet.

Tomorrow is another mountainous stage, but this time it finishes up a long climb. The announcers don’t seem to agree with me, but I would expect the GC contenders to have a go at getting some time on each other tomorrow, since it finishes with a long climb. An attack on the mountain, but with no downhill to recover and regroup, would be a great opportunity to stir things up. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are not so much flat as “lumpy”, but nothing great is going to happen to the GC on those days. Monday is another rest day, and then Tuesday is a mountain stage that finishes on the famous Alpe D’Huez.

Tour de France Stage 9

Another flat stage, another 3 man break-away caught with a few km to go, and another bunch sprint. All as everybody predicted. The surprise for me was Oscar Freire winning his second sprint of the Tour. Robbie McEwan was about 5cm behind in second. Robbie made an amazing cut as he was boxed in behind Boonen and Zabel on the right side of the road, and suddenly zipped over behind 5 riders, and attempted to come around Freire. In spite of the extra distance he had to do to make that zip, he nearly made it too. Aging former sprint star Eric Zabel spoiled Tom Boonen’s day by coming in third just ahead of Boonen, so Boonen ended up getting 6 fewer points than McEwan rather than 4.

McEwan’s lead on the green jersey competition is now 23 points. We’ve got a couple of days of mountains now, so he’ll get to sit at the back of the race in the “sprinters bus”. The “sprinters bus” is a pack of riders whose only aim on the day is finishing before the cut-off time so they don’t get disqualified.

Tomorrow’s mountain stage has an HC climb, then a Cat 1, then mostly downhill for 40km to the finish. The climbs will probably break the peleton into chunks, with the main GC guys watching each other and a few opportunistic breaks going up the road (and the sprinters falling off the back). I wouldn’t be too surprised if the long down-hill means that the chunks will re-coalesce into bigger packs – maybe the lead couple of breaks will get away or maybe not, but you can bet that Landis, Gonchar, Hincapie, Salvodeli, Kloden and the rest of the GC contenders will finish together.

Tour de France Rest Day

Ok, I didn’t think I’d be posting about the Tour today either. But today I have another reason to respect Floyd Landis.

Floyd has been doing great this year – he won 3 major races before the Tour, and now he’s a minute out of the yellow jersey after a great performance in the first individual time trial. He’s always had a reputation for hard work and for never making excuses or complaining. But now I find he’s a fellow chronic pain sufferer. He’s just admitted that for 4 years he’s been suffering from osteonecrosis in his hip, and he’s going for hip replacement surgery soon after the Tour (to maximize his recovery time for next year’s Tour). The New York Times has two stories, here and here. (Registration required, use BugMeNot.)

One of the interesting facts I learned from the articles: his extreme forward position on the seat on his time trial bike was chosen to create a wider angle between his trunk and his femur to help his hip work.

Some of the quotes from the articles:

He walks with a limp. He sits as often as possible and cannot cross his right leg over his left. He takes elevators instead of stairs, valet-parks at the shopping mall and sometimes has difficulty sleeping. Running is out of the question. Like many of the 216,000 Americans who will receive hip replacements this year, his life is defined by chronic, debilitating pain.

Yeah, I can relate.

Later, back at his house, Landis would finally open up a little about the pain. He would say: “Everybody thinks you can overcome pain if you want to enough, and let me tell you, you can’t. This isn’t some Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, where somebody can get shot in the leg and keep going. There’s pain that makes me stop, makes everybody stop.”

Here’s hoping you don’t have to stop, Floyd.

Tour de France Stage 8

Ok, that was a surprise. The stage was flat enough that the sprinters teams *could* have controlled the field and made a bunch sprint. But it looks like Boonen decided that his team had done enough work this week and waited for another sprinter’s team to step up, and none of them did.

Instead Phonak, Floyd Landis’ team, acted like the “senior team” like US Postal/Discovery has in the past, and made pace most of the day. But Phonak wasn’t concerned with catching the six man break away, so they didn’t go any faster than they had to. Eventually some of the sprinter teams started to step up, but it was too late – with 30km to go, they started to close the gap, but Calzati attacked off break-away, nobody went with him, and he stayed away and won. Two more of the break-away tried to bridge up to Calzati but they left it too late and couldn’t make it.

The surprise of the break-away is Kessler, who won off the top of the Cauberg a few days ago. He was in the break-away, but just sitting on, never taking a turn at front. And yet, he didn’t use that energy to chase either of the attacks off the break-away and ended up being absorbed back into the peleton along with the other two.

Behind the two break-away groups, there was a bunch sprint and once again Robbie McEwan out sprinted the rest of the sprinters and got some more lead in the green jersey. No significant change in the GC.

Tomorrow is a rest day, then Tuesday is another dead flat stage on the coast of Bordeaux. Wednesday is the first mountain stage, although it has a long downhill finish.