Undoubtedly, the best news for us Americans following the stage in Marseilles was that Team CSC rider Dave Zabriskie was no longer the lantern rouge. No one deliberately competes for the honor of being in last place at the Tour, but this event is so difficult and requires such a superhuman effort just to finish that there is no shame in being at the bottom of the standings. In fact, most riders inherit the lantern rouge on the basis that riders below them in the standings drop out of the race!
Obviously, it is the intention of every rider to bring their A game to the Tour. But for some, it just doesn't work out. Look at heavy pre-race favorite Alexandre Vinokourov. Did everyone else see the bandage on his right knee that was dripping puss and blood? It has been five days since his now infamous crash outside Bourg-en-Bresse, but his wounds are still oozing an incredible amount of fluid. One can only imagine how serious those cuts on his knees are, but clearly, they were a major reason for his failure in the Alps. However, when you carry the weight of the whole Kazakh nation on your shoulders, it is not easy to give up! Thanks Borat!
Getting back to Zabriskie, I haven't had a chance to talk to Dave yet, but I am guessing that his heavy pre-Tour racing schedule is at the root of his problems. Remember that he rode the Giro d'Italia, Italy's three-week national tour, in May and it was an exceptionally tough course. Zabriskie followed that up a few weeks later with the Dauphine Libere and its week-long pilgrimage through the French Alps. Dave was climbing like an angel on the hardest stages. He was on the bubble for making the Team CSC Tour squad; his performance at the Dauphine sealed the deal.
As I said earlier, there is no shame in being lantern rouge at the Tour. Having said that, I hope Dave rights his ship and rides well in the two time trials and the Pyrenees. He's a class rider clearly capable of being at the front when it gets tough. I hope we all get to see that before we reach Paris.
Well, as I write these words Dave Zabriskie has withdrawn from the Tour. I was really hoping that he would somehow recover and show us what I know he is capable of, but as we have seen since the beginning, the Tour is a harsh mistress and gives very few gifts. I'll miss you Z-man!
PS: There is nothing worse at the Tour than losing time on the flats. It was heartbreaking to see Christophe Moreau and his teammates trying to bring themselves back to the main peloton, but losing time all the way to the line. Team Astana seemed to be providing a lot of horsepower to keep Moreau from regaining the group. Clearly, they had a lot to gain with Kloden just behind Moreau on GC. However, it might also have been a little payback for Vino losing time when he crashed. Moreau may have lost the Tour today!