For the first time in Tour history there are two American teams participating and both are showing well. While Jonathan Vaughters' Garmin-Chipotle squad has been sending riders up the road and getting a lot of TV time, Team Columbia has quietly been leaving it's mark, though as the days progress, that mark seems to be getting bigger and bigger.
Bob Stapleton's squad now holds the yellow (Kim Kirchen), green (Kirchen) and white (Thomas Lokvist) jerseys as well as a stage win by Mark Cavendish which all adds up to an exceptional showing in the first week of the Tour. And what makes the results even more impressive is that Team Columbia is doing it with a bunch of young riders. Cavendish, Lokvist, Gerard Ciolek Marcus Burghardt and Kanstantin Siutsov are all 25 years old or younger and are in either their first or second year at the Tour. Adam Hansen and Bernard Eisel are just 27 and it is the first Tour for Hansen.
This might seem like a coincidence, but it's not. You may remember that Team Columbia started the year as Team High Road Sports which before that was the old T-Mobile/Team Telekom squad. T-Mobile was rocked by doping allegations during the 2006 Tour which left Jan Ullrich out of the race and at the end of the season, the sponsors put Stapleton in charge, hoping that fresh blood at the top could turn things around. Unfortunately, the problems with the team were much deeper than just upper management and 2007 was another year of doping scandals for team.
At the team's training camp this past January, I talked with Bob about the 2007 season. He felt like he had let everyone down, having been brought in to make a difference only to see the same things happen. To be honest, it wasn't his fault.He inherited riders and team management which were still operating under the previous mindset. So, for 2008, Bob cleaned house with major personnel changes both on and off the bike. It was a total overhaul as only two riders from the team prior to 2006 were re-signed.
Also, Stapleton engaged the Agence for Ethics in Cycling(ACE) to do periodic drug testing and monitoring of biological parameters. This is the same outfit which is working with the other American team Garmin-Chipotle. So, now it is Bob's team and the buck stops with the soft-spoken resident of San Luis Obispo in
The team had been enjoying a hugely successful season with Kirchen's win at Fleche Wallone, Siutsov's victory at Tour de Georgia and three stage wins in the Giro d'Italia just to name a few of the teams 70+ wins. To be sure, some of those victories have come from the women's team which has also been having a stellar season. All in all, it really does appear that Stapleton has turned things around and with the recent signing of Columbia Sportswear as the title sponsor, these guys are truly on a roll.
-After a week of watching every French rider in the peloton go up the road (having not won their home race in 23 years must be creating some sort of inferiority complex), it was refreshing to see three Spaniards and an Italian in the the critical move today. As we get closer to the Pyrenees, expect the Spaniards to be even more animated.
-Spartacus(Fabian Cancellara) is having some fun with the race officials. He is wearing unlucky race number 13 which he wears upside down on his left side.
-It was great to see George Hincapie at the front today working for team leader Kim Kirchen. It brings back memories when Hincapie would sit on the front all day for Lance Armstrong. If there was ever a better domestique, well, I can't think of one at the moment.
-Was anybody surprised to see Jens Voigt in the breakaway today going for a stage win? Like Mark Cavendish, that guy is excitement on wheels. He tried and tried in the Giro earlier this year before winning just a few dyas before the finish. I am hoping that he gets another stage win in France. If it happens it certainly won't be for lack of trying.
-Alejandro Valverde looks like an advertisement for the the Mummy Returns. His entire right calf and right arm are wrapped in bandages from a crash on stage 5.The fact that he finished second to Ricardo Ricco on the next days mountain stage is incredible since he was only able to sleep for two hours because of the injury. These guys truly are the hard men of the road.
-the Garmin-Chipotle team continued it's aggressive ways with David Millar jumping into the same breakway as Jens Voigt. With Millar only a minute back from the yellow jersey he probably wasn't warmly welcomed into the move by his breakaway companions, but it was yet another indication that the team weren't just in France to eat some crepes and work on their tans.