Tour de France Stage 7

The first individual time trial. And what a day! Full of personal ups and downs. I was out of town and really busy, so this will be a short one.

Heart ache for Bobby Julrich, the leader of CSC since Basso was suspended – he crashed on a corner and was taken to
hospital with a suspected broken wrist. His Tour is over. I guess CSC will have to rely on Sastre to carry their flag.

Disappointment for most of the “big men”, especially the big Americans, who did badly on the day – Levi Leipheimer way, way, way down, Zabriske not showing his normal TT prowess, Hincapie down about 25th or so.

The two stars of the day where Sergei Gonchar who blistered around the course and won by over a minute, and Floyd Landis who was the best of the rest finishing second on the day and making it look more and more certain that he’s going to be on the podium in Paris.

Landis was told by UCI to change the position of his aero bars just before the start. I’m not sure if that was a factor, but his handle bars broke soon after out on the course and he had to change bikes, losing a good 15-20 seconds. What a machine to have a distraction like that, have to ride in a different position than what you practiced, and still end up second on the day!

T-Mobile is defying everybody who thought that the loss of Ullrich would kill them – they’ve got several people up near the top of the GC now, including Kloden who has finished second overall before. If he’s recovered the form he was showing that year (and hasn’t shown since), he could be back on the podium this year.

Discovery seems to have forgotten how to TT without Lance there, with their 3 top men all 2+ minutes down.

Another sprinters day tomorrow. Boonen worked too hard today, TTing more like a yellow jersey owner than a green jersey hopeful, so I expect Robbie McEwan or Thor Hushovd to win tomorrow.

Tour de France Stage 6

Another flat stage again today. There was a huge break-away, but since it was joined by Thor Hushovd and Tom Boonen, the other sprinter’s teams had to chase it down, and they did. Then three broke away, and were allowed some free reign until they were inevitably chased down and caught a few km from the finish.

Looked like Tom Boonen was finally getting a good lead-out this time, but Robbie McEwan did his usual trick of coming out of no-where and winning. He’s won three of the first six stages, a pretty amazing result. And his time bonuses put him second on GC, but of course that won’t last with tomorrow’s time trial. Boonen retains yellow for another day with a 3rd place finish.

About the most interesting news of the day was that one of the riders had been fined because on Wednesday, in the middle of the peleton, he’d hauled off and punched another rider in the face. I would have loved to know what they were talking about. Jens Voigt said in an interview on a German web site that everybody started yelling at them both because they were in danger of causing a crash, and the guy who got punched went and complained to the race commissionaire. Kind of a different definition of “attacking the field”.

Tomorrow’s individual time trial should be where we see if Hincapie or Landis have what it takes to win. Can’t wait.

Tour de France Stage 5

Another flat stage, another bunch sprint. The biggest surprise of the day for me was the news that Thor Hushovd had been “relegated” for improper actions in yesterday’s sprint. I’d watched it on TV and hadn’t seen anything irregular – he shifted sideways to avoid Dean’s crash, and squeezed somebody else against the barricades. Being “relegated” means that he didn’t receive any points at all for the day, which effectively puts him out of the running for the green jersey – the same thing happened to Robbie McEwan last year, although it was a lot more obvious why that one happened than this one, since McEwan was basically leaning on the other guy.

With Hushovd out of the race, his team didn’t really have any motivation to help the peleton catch back the break-away group, but they did step up near the end. I guess they were trying to get organized, but it appears that there is no dominant team the way Alessandro Petacchi’s team used to make the sprints so predictable in previous year’s Giros.

Out of the massive confusion at the finish, McEwan looked like he had a good lead-out but jumped too soon – he actually let up on the gas, and several people went past. Boonen was looking good, but Oscar Friere took a line up one side with no traffic in front of him, and sprinted for first place, with Boonen nearly a bike length behind. McEwen had to settle for 5th, and Hushovd for 7th.

No change in the GC, except Boonen’s time bonuses put him a few more seconds further ahead, and Freire’s put him tied for 3rd with Hincapie.

Boonen moves within one point of McEwan in the green jersey competition, but nothing is sure there. McEwan seems to have the form so far, but today was the first sign that Boonen still has the form he showed in the spring classics and the world championships.

Tomorrow’s stage is also flat and boring, but it’s the day before the first individual time trial, so the big GC teams will have no interest in chasing the break-aways preferring to rest up for Saturday. So we’ll have to see if the sprinters teams are strong enough to do all the work for driving the peleton or if a break-away succeeds.

Tour de France Stage 4

Another flat stage, another bunch sprint. Tom Boonen might have enjoyed the day in yellow, but he sure isn’t sprinting like a guy who thought he was going to win the green jersey this year.

Boonen’s team controlled the peleton most of the day and reeled back the break-away with 2km to go. But they didn’t get organized to do a proper lead-out. Two days ago, Thor Hushovd pulled his foot off the pedal in the sprint – today his lead-out man Dean did the same and crashed with 400 metres to go. But by that time, McEwan’s “new” lead-out man Stegmans had delivered McEwan to the front, and Robbie did the rest, winning by a convincing margin.

Hushovd got 4th, Boonen 5th. McEwen is back in green for tomorrow, Boonen retains yellow.

Tomorrow is another relatively flat course with a few 4th category hills. Expect another bunch sprint, and not much change in GC. Boonen better get it together and show some of the talent that he showed this spring or he’s going to go home empty handed.

Yesterday, the TV showed a former sprint champion Stuart O’Grady peddling very slowly off the top of the Cauberg long after the rest had finished. Today they’re saying that he cracked a vertebrae and is still in intense pain – but he rode today and finished in the peleton. The difference between a race horse and a bike racer is a horse race has a vet to say “no, racing this horse would be too cruel” and the horse doesn’t talk back.

Tour de France Stage 3

Today the big stories were flat tires and broken collar bones. I think both the flat tires and the crashes were caused by the high heat and long tiring stage, since they mostly happened on flat straight bits.

Out of the race with broken collarbones:

  • Freddy Rodriguez, Robbie McEwan’s lead-out man
  • Erik Dekker, Rabobank’s team leader
  • Alejandro Valverde, a man several commentators though might win overall.

There was the usual long break away that splintered and the last guy got caught just on the base of the last climb, the Cauberg just 2km from the finish. The Cauberg is a feature in the Amstel Gold Classic in the spring, but it was a lot hotter today. Matthais Kessler, the same guy who got caught about 100 metres from the finish yesterday, took off about half way up the Cauberg and managed to hold them off this time, finishing 5 seconds ahead of the rest.

The Cauberg managed to fracture the peleton and some of the top sprinters ended up behind the first major group, including Hushovd and McEwen – but not of course the GC contenders like Hincapie and Landis, whose teams made sure they were kept near the front of the peleton for just such an eventuality.

World Champion Tom Boonen hasn’t been having a great Tour so far, but he was the best sprinter in the front group. says he had a slow leak on the Cauberg and finished on a flat tire, so he wasn’t successful sprinting for second place. He had to content himself with 4th on the day, and ending up in both the yellow and green jerseys (green will be worn by Bennati) for tomorrows start in his home country of Belgium.

Tomorrow will be a flat and long stage. Look for Boonen, Hushovd and McEwen to fight it out for a sprint finish. McEwen will miss Rodriguez a lot, though, and Boonen and his team will have to contend with the pressure of being in yellow, which means setting tempo on the peleton and bringing back the break-aways.