As much as Michael Phelps 8 gold medals puts him in the running for the greatest Olympian ever, all the hype probably hurt him when it comes to the overall Olympic moment. On my meter, Usain Bolt jogging to a new world record in the 100m was simply indescribable. Some really big names were saying that if Bolt hadn't started celebrating in the final 20m he would have run 9.5x and I believe them. I can't even get out of bed in 9.69 and this guy is waving his arms and thumping his chest. Oh baby! Frankly, I think Michael Johnson's 19.32 200m record is in jeopardy unless Bolt, who will be about 30m in front of his nearest challenger as he nears the finish line in the 200m final starts playing the air guitar and humming Bob Marley tunes.
OK. We had to give citizenship to a Kenyan to get an Olympic contender in the men's 1500m. But, not just some Kenyan, a guy who won silver in 2004 and is the reigning World Champion. C'mon man, the USA was drafting a ringer! Then the ringer fails to make the finals in the 1500m. What happened? Is citizenship revokable? Hopefully, Lagat will redeem himself in the 5000m, but frankly he looked flat and that graceful stride and potent kick were nowhere to be seen.
I said this once an I will say it again. They should just toss out judged sports from the Olympics. We know Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt are the best because they were first across the line. Forget the doping, the judging is the biggest blight on the Olympics. It just sucks big time to see all the bad calls.
In case you were wondering, I made it back from France in one piece, but as the Olympics are full-on and I am a self-confessed Olympic junkie, look for me to be blogging on the 2008 Beijing Olympics site of Active.com and not in my usual location as an active expert. That doesn't mean I can't send out kudos to Kristin Armstrong for her gold medal ride in the Women's time trial and also to Levi Leipheimer who road a gutsy race to bring home the bronze in the men's TT. Honorable mention to Christine Thorburn who was only four seconds out of the bronze medal in the women's TT, but she had to settle for 5th. Chapeau.
Anyway, check out my Olympic blogs and chime in on your Olympic and non-Olympic moments.
You can say what you want about the hype of Lance returning to competitive cycling with his participation in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race, but when the gun went off and rubber hit the dirt, the Texas Tornado delivered. Let's be frank and honest. He didn't just deliver, he arrived, he stomped, he kicked butt. Pick your favorite metaphor for an incredible performance and that will probably still come up short when trying to describe Lance's phenomenal ride.
What makes Lance's performance even more incredible is not that he beat long-time friend Chris Carmichael to the finish line, it is that he hasn't raced a mountain bike since three or four forays in Colorado and the East Coast way back in 1999 after he won his first Tour de France. You can have a huge engine, but there are definite technical skills needed to master to go fast on a mountain bike lest you crash or break something and either limp home or have to drop out.
Lance's engine was an unknown factor. He hasn't raced a bike at this level since the Tour de France three years ago in 2005 and his hectic schedule clearly is prohibitive of long enduro rides. He told me last year that he loves doing the six-mile loop in New York's Central Park when he is living in Gotham City, but that is a far cry from 100 technical off-road miles.
Before the event, Lance seemed to have it all in proper perspective, noting in a pre-race press conference that his goal was to finish within an hour of David Wiens. Well, not only did Lance finish within an hour of Wiens, he finished within three minutes of Wiens. It doesn't take a mathmetician to figure out that if Wiens broke the course record by over 10 minutes, Lance was also under the old course mark. Whoa!
OK. If Lance can keep it in persective, we can do the same. This was an incredible ride by an incredible athlete, but it was really just a competitive guy finding a new way to race a bike and have fun. I think that was a smile on his face at the finish line.
Lance Armstrong is, once again, racing a bike. No it's not in France it is in another garden spot, Leadville, Colorado, where the annual Leadville 100 MTB endurance race takes place this Saturday. While anytime Lance throws a leg over a bike it is interesting, what is most interesting to me is the reaction by local bike racers and fans.
Some people I have talked to about Lance and Leadville can only say negative things about the Texas Tornado citing rumours that he has hired a lot of riders to pace him on the course and also wondering why he is doing the race in the first place. OMG. I just don't understand why many people in this sport don't get the big picture and seem h3ll bent on keeping this sport in the backwater. One only has to look at the bike industry and the general popularity of the sport to realize that the post-Lance years have not been great for cycling.
Lance transcended bicycling and put our passion on the front page of every major newspaper and magazine in the US. Then there were the TV news and sports shows and that translates to a huge win for our sport. The guy was gold and we all benefited from his presence on a bike. In recent years, his absence from our ranks is noticeable and I, for one, welcome him back, Kate Hudson or no Kate Hudson.
Welcome back Lance and as I would say to anyone who is about to embark on a race, I hope you meet your goals and have fun doing it.
Pollution, heat, humidity and a difficult course all conspire to make both the men's and women's Olympic road races potential death marches of the highest order. Add to that the fact that every country is sending their best athletes to Beijing(well, duh, it is the Olympics!) and 'epic' is the only word that comes to mind to describe the events which will unfold this weekend.
On paper, the Olympic Road Race course looks pretty darn tough. The men will climb over 11,000 feet and the women will climb over 4000 feet meaning that it is highly unlikely that a sprinter will be wearing the gold medal in either event. And the teams seem to agree with only a few of the them bringing anyone with fast twitch muscle fibers.
Actually, the course is split up into two distinct parts. The first section, which both the men and women will ride, is about 55 miles of mostly flat riding, designed by the Chinese to showcase some of their national treasures such as the Great Wall. The second part of the course is a 15-mile loop which contains about 1500' of climbing most if it coming in a 6-mile, 1250-foot climb. Following the ascent is quick down and up and then a long, gradual 8-mile descent back to the finish line. The men will complete seven laps for a total of 150 miles; the women will do two laps on the circuit for a total of 75 miles.
The US Men's team is headed by now 5-time Olympian George Hincapie who is joined by Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie and Jason McCartney. George, Levi and Christian will be the designated leaders with Zabriskie and McCartney riding in a supporting role. The US Women's team includes two-time Olympians Kristin Armstrong and Dr. Christine Thorburn who will be joined by first-timer Amber Neben.
Both squads are definitely medal-capable especially if they ride as a team. It is difficult to put personal ambitions aside especially since the difficulty of the course will clearly make this a race of attrition. But, teamwork will be key especially if the heat and humidity are oppressive and the designated leaders need a lot of water to stay fresh.
In the men's race, Spain looks to be the biggest threat. They are sending a hugely-talented squad which includes Alejandro Valverde who just won the Classic San Sebastian, Tour winner Carlos Sastre, Giro winner Alberto Contador, Tour green jersey winner Oscar Friere and Sammy Sanchez. Italy always seems to ride well in big races and they can't be counted out especially with defending Olympic Champion Paolo Bettini and one-day specialist extraordinaire Davide Rebellin. The tiny country of Luxembourg looks very good with the Schleck brothers and Kim Kirchen all who rode well in the mountains of the recent Tour.
In the women's race, Germany is always powerful with defending Olympic Champion Judith Arndt and Ina Teutenberg. Holland with Marianne Vos brings a strong team as well as the Swiss and Great Britian.
The men's race is Saturday, August 9th the women's race is the next day on the 10th. Look for both competitions to be action-packed once the races hit the finishing circuits. The pollution coupled with the heat and humidity will make it prohibitive to attack before that.
The Tour de France is history, but one potential cure for PTD is the upcoming Beijng Olympics. Well, that is debatable if you have to watch the games on American network TV. My guess is that for every hour of TV time there is about 15 minutes of actual competition the rest being taken up by "Up Close and Personal" segments on the athletes, personal commentary segments by TV presonalities who have never been an athlete and have no real connection to the competition side of the Olympics (where did they find Jimmy Roberts?) and inane drivel by talking head anchors who feel the need to explain everything to the viewers in agonizing detail. Yeah, let's face it, watching the Olympics on US TV sucks!
Lucky for us American's we have veteran cycling commentators Paul Sherwen and Craig Hummer to call the road and time trial events. Let's just hope the big wigs at NBC decide we Americans want to watch cycling if Lance isn't in the picture. Also, good news is that the US Men's and Women's teams are very "medal capable" with riders like Kristin Armstrong and Christine Thorburn good chances for hardware in the Women's time trial and Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer ditto in the men's TT. With only three women and five men for each nation on the road race team it is really hard for a team to control a race which means that the races are usually wide open and it usually results in strategies and tactics being thrown out the window and whomever is the strongest in the closing laps has the best chance to win.
Amber Neben will join Armstrong and Thorburn for the Women's Road Race while George Hincapie, Christian Vandevelde and Jason McCartney round out the men's road team. All in all, both squads are oozing talent and defintely have the chance to suprass the three medal tally (gold,silver and bronze) of the American team in Athens.
So, either follow the Games on the Internet or get a lobotomy so you can tolerate NBC's coverage, but however you do it, do watch the Olympics. They only come once every four years and the competition will be intense.
Last year I gave out a few awards after the Tour de France to deserving individuals and teams so we're back in 2008 with another round of acknowledging what made this year's event so memorable.
Biggest Fashion Faux Pas - white bike shorts. Unless your team bought a case of Oxy Clean from late-night TV huckster Billy Mays white shouldn't be worn below the waist even before labor day when you are talking bicycles. Ugh! I don't believe in coincidences; Team CSC Saxo Bank wore black shorts and took home the yellow and white jersey plus two stage wins. Team Columbia was in black and won five stages.
Nicest Domestique to turn into a Team Leader - this is a three-way tie between Andy Hampsten, Miguel Indurain and Christian Vandevelde. Since we are talking the 2008 Tour, the award goes to Vandevelde he is one heck of a nice guy.
Teen Heartthrob - Mark Cavendish. He looks so young and at age 23, he is young. His boyish good looks should be giving the girls of Britain fits especially now that the Harry Potter series is winding down.
Comeback Shane Award - Team Gerlosteiner title sponsor is leaving at the end of the season. They won both time trials with Stefan Schumacher who also wore the yellow jersey and with Bernhard Kohl took home the polka-dot climbing jersey and a spot on the podium as well. Maybe with all the success at the Tour a new title sponsor can be found. If not, and the team disbands, some other teams are going to get some great riders.
Missing Person Award - Australian ace sprinter Robbie MKewen usually wins several stages at the Tour and is an ex-winner of the green, sprinter's jersey. He was nowhere to be seen in this year's Tour. I wonder what happened?
Missing Team Award - what's up with Silence Lotto? Cadel Evans looked pretty lonely in the mountains and Robbie MKewen looked lonely as well in the field sprints. Where were their seven teammates? I hope Chris Horner is getting a good laugh out of this one. Silence Lotto traded him in for Yaroslav Popvych. Yeah, like that was an upgrade.
Best Stage win by an Australian - Simon Gerrans victory at Prato Nevoso. The fourman breakway was off the front the entire race and he still found the energy to drop his companions for a convincing win up a difficult climb.
Best Stage win by an American - well, uh, um. Honorable mentions go to Will Frischkorn, Danny Pate and George Hincapie for almost making it happen.
Next Frenchman to win the Tour - he hasn't been born yet. Look for the 23-year drought to continue. The big question is can a Frenchman win before the last winner, 53-year old Bernard Hinault way back in 1985, exits this planet?
I Don't Get It Award - Sylvain Chavanel and Sandy Casar can incite a riot among the French fans just by going up the road for five seconds. I guess they are the current French hopes, and even though Chavanel won a stage (which they showed over and over and over and over again on French TV) 14th place isn't even close.
My Bodyguard Award - Cadel Evans brought a bodyguard to the Tour. OK, Lance had one during his Tour years, but he had to deal with death threats. I would have had a better chance getting an audience with the Dali Lama and he is in exile. Cadel's bodyguard used physical force to protect Evans from "threats" and I have first-hand experience of that. Everybody deals with the pressure of being a favorite at the Tour in their own way, but Cadel, leave OddJob at home next year and spend a little more time with the press. It will help improve your image and take it from me, you need it when it comes to the journalists.
Thank You Very Much Award - to team Saunier Duval. I have known Team Director Mauro Giannetti for almost twenty years and one of my favorite jerseys is an old white with blue and red Team Saunier Duval. Now when I wear it I get jeers of "doper" from the usually adoring French public. I have never used drugs and I have the performances, or lack thereof, to prove it. Thanks a lot!
Where Were You During the Big One Award - in the 2008 Tour the French attacked more often than in the entirety of World War II. That aggression was rewarded with a host of stage wins. Bravo. Now, you just have to figure out how to climb and time trial.
Best Team not at the Tour Award - Astana. Lest we forget the team of that other great Spanish rider and Levi as well. Next year they better be in the race.
What awards do you want to give the 2008 Tour de France. Post up!
First there was PMD (post mountains depression) now there is PTD(post Tour depression). To be honest, for most of my fellow journalists it is about time this three week rolling circus ends. The final week in the press room is like a funeral wake with all the scribes just about done in by long drives to their hotels, trying to interview the riders, Cadel was especially tough for some reason known only to Cadel, and writing endless stories. By my count, at any one time, there were only about ten Americans in the press room following the Tour which is way down from the hordes which descended on France during the Lance years.
Also, the crowds along the roads seemed less than in past years. It was most noticeable on the mountain stages though the Alpe did not disappoint. All in all, I would say that the Tour is in limbo. The organizers and the teams, for that matter, need to really get a handle on the doping problem. This year, ASO, the organization which runs the Tour, picked all the teams unlike in the past few years when they took all the teams (save Unibet) who were in the UCI's Pro Tour. So, ASO had to answer for any teams which had doping problems in 2008.
Because any negative publicity would have reflected directly back on ASO, they were not as heavy-handed as last year. That is a bad thing as the teams need to get the message that doping is a not tolerated. ASO should have tossed all the teams with a positive result like they did last year, but again, it would have reflected negatively on their selection criteria so they didn't.
Both the UCI and ASO need to start requiring valid, up-to-date biological passports for participation in their races. Only if this requirement is made will the teams follow the lead of Team Garmin-Chipotle, Team Columbia, Team CSC Saxo Bank and Team Astana and pay for an out-of-competition anti-doping program such as Agence for Cycling Ethics(ACE) or Damsgaard.
On a positive note, both American teams, Garmin-Chipotle and Columbia, rode exceptionally well and exceeded everyone's expectations. Here's hoping they can continue their successes. It would be nice for Team Columbia to hire a few more American riders, but head honcho Bob Stapleton has said that he will continue to sign the best racers regardless of what it says in their passport. To be fair, he has given a chance to two US up-and-comers John Devine and Craig Lewis, but there are a few other US-based Americans who could be riding in the European pro peloton such as John Murphy of the soon-to-be-defunct HealthNet-Maxxis squad.
In the next few days I will be rolling out my 2008 Tour de France awards, here is an example.
Rider Who Needed a Plan B - Cadel Evans. He who lives by the time trial dies by the time trial.
I am hoping that you all can come up with a few of your favorites so put those thinking caps on and sharpen up your funny bone, you have been warned.
The Tour is finally over, but what a Tour it was. From Cavendish's blazing sprints to Sastre's blistering attack on the Alpe it was a great race. I wrapped it all up yesterday so today, while the peloton celebrates its arrival in Paris I though I would post up some photos of the l'Alpe d'Huez as it typifies all that is the Tour. From rapid fans to suffering riders the Alpe has it all.
It is great to see US fans on the Alpe. They clearly know their riders and want to show their support.
Each turn on the Alpe is numbered and also has the elevation. The winners on the Alpe have their name on one of the signs as well beginning with the first victory by Fausto Coppi in 1952 who adorns the first turn at the bottom(turn 21) along with Lance Armstrong who in 2001 was the 22nd rider to win on the Alpe.
Andy Hampsten was the first American to win on the Alpe in 1992. His name is on the sign for turn number 5 which is five turns from the summit. The press room had a number of banners celebrating the victories on the Alpe and this one was particularly special.
'Dutch corner' is turn 7 and is always a huge party. Every rider gets encouragement, but at this particular moment, the Nederlanders are performing some sort of sing along with folding chairs in the mix for effect.
These three guys are paying homage to the three main jerseys of the Tour in their own special way.
Cadel Evans had lots of Australian fans on the Alpe. Some rode up the climb with inflatable kangaroos on their back.
What can you say about the ride of Carlos Sastre? When he needed to put it all together and defend the yellow jersey he did just that. Teammate Jens Voigt described Carlos as a 'peaceful warrior' and that is exactly what we saw. Unlike his pursuer Evans, who was all over his bike, mouth agape, searching for speed, Sastre seemed to be at ease and pedaled smoothly to keep the maillot jaune. It was a graceful show of strength and class and Carlos will ride into Paris a very deserved winner of the 2008 Tour de France.
Clearly, Cadel Evans did not have his best time trial. As all my fellow journalists spent the past several days reminding their readers, on paper, Evans had the cred to not only take the yellow jersey, but to also win the final time trial. Maybe it was fatigue, maybe it was nerves, but the Australian finds himself on the same step of the podium as last year. For many, this will be viewed as a failure, however, this was an extremely open Tour with a lot of attacks from a number of contenders. Maybe if Evans had attacked sometime during the Tour he would have found that extra minute, but he seemed to be content to follow and not lead banking on his prowess in the time trial which failed him in the end.
It is fitting that the rider who launched the biggest attack on the biggest climb should win the Tour. And it is also fitting that the team who schooled everyone in both the Pyrenees and the Alps should have the yellow jersey. Carlos and his team CSC Saxo Bank put on a racing clinic in the final two weeks. Look for Bjarne Riis coming to you soon in a late night infomercial. Buy the book and the DVD. Unlike all the other get rich quick schemes on TV, it will be worth it.
I just have to remind you all that I predicted that Sastre could hang on to the yellow jersey in the time trial citing the power of the yellow jersey and giving the Floyd Landis/Oscar Pereiro dual in 2006 when Floyd took over 4 minutes out of Pereiro in the first time trial, but when the yellow jersey was on the line could only manage a little over a minute in the finial time trial. I am by no means taking credit for Sastre's ride, but it just goes to show that sometimes statistics and calculators don't count for much, especially when the yellow jersey is on the line. As Obe Won once said "the power of the yellow is strong."
Chrsitian Vandevelde rode exceptionally well, finishing fourth in the TT and moving up to 5th overall. Save for the day to Jausiers in the Alps where he lost 2'30" he would be on the podium in Paris. It just goes to show that you can't have a bad day at the Tour on a critical stage and expect to be on the podium. Having said that, this is an incredible result for Christian and his Garmin-Chipotle team. As I said in an earlier blog (titled Christian Vandevelde) he has toiled as a domestique for many, many years and it is great to see him step from the shadows and become a bonafide grand tour contender. The boys at Garmin-Chipotle have more than enough reason to pop the champagne. Chapeau Christian!
How about the rest of the Garmin-Chipotle team in the final time trial. With Millar (3rd), Vandevelde(4th) and Ryder Hesjedal(13th) and Danny Pate(14th) in the top 15 these guys rocked! To be able to perform at that level in the third week of the Tour shows these guys are the real deal and totally deserved to be here. And those guys have also finished the Giro as well! Double chapeau!
During the time trial there was a camera and microphone in the Silence Lotto car following Cadel. Evans was getting a lot of information from his team director as to which side of the road was the most advantageous for the wind, reminders of upcoming tricky corners, etc. I am guessing that the riders on the other teams get the same information which helps them go as fast and safely as possible.
Can the Schleck brothers improve their time trialing or will this be their achilles heal? The two Luxembourgers rode so well in the mountains it is a shame that their time trialing abilities are so disparate with their climbing. If they were diminutive Spanish climbers I could understand why they come up short. On the other hand, Carlos Sastre is one of those smallish Spaniards. Hopefully, somebody can figure it out and make them faster.
Bernhard Kohl rode the time trial of his life to get the third step on the podium. It was an inspired ride and one that just might signal the arrival of another bonafide contender for the Tour. BTW, his Gerlosteiner team is disbanding at the end of the year. I hope Bernhard has an agent!
I hear word that a German-based super team is in the works. Both Kohl and his teammate double time trial winner, Stefan Schumacher, are good candidates for that squad, though Kohl is actually Austrian.
Team Columbia rider George Hincapie also deserves special mention. George crashed badly on the Galibier a few days ago and was sporting some really awful looking road rash on both his left arm and leg. He has been soldiering on toward Paris on a day-by-day basis. He finished 10th in the time trial to go with his other top 10 in the first time trial. He is one tough (and fast) dude.
PMD or "post mountains depression" is something that afflicts all Tour junkies. After two or three days of non-stop excitement, the race exits onto the plains of France and it is back to watching the French riders try to regain some respect for their countrymen. The peloton is by now extremely tired and those who still have some strength left are trying to conserve for the final time trial. It is kind of like dogs fighting over table scraps. Don't get me wrong, to win any stage of the Tour is a huge accomplishment. It is just that after watching all the heavy hitters take shots at each other in the mountains it just seems a bit anti-climactic.
Over the past few days I have been keeping my eye out for anything interesting that you might not see on TV, below are some things I hope you will enjoy.
Raymond Poulidor, or 'Poo Poo', never won the Tour, but while his countryman, Jacques Anquetil, was winning five Tours with surgical precision in the 1960's, Poo Poo's many second place finishes endeared him to French fans who saw his courage and most likely identified with his struggles. While Anquetil got the yellow jerseys, Poo Poo won the hearts of the French. He had another nickname, 'the Eternal Second', due to his many near misses. These days he works for the Tour organization doing PR at in the start village. I asked Raymond whom he thought would win the Tour and he picked Cadel Evans.
With the probable demise of the Pro Tour, Floyd Landis could be back racing in the European pro peloton next year. One of the rules of the Pro Tour was that any racer convicted of a doping offense had an additional two years added to his suspension. With the Pro Tour headed south, Floyd should be cleared to ride when his suspension ends in January 2009. Let's hope Floyd gets that chance to return to competition as have lots of riders who have served out their suspensions.
Cadel Evans had a problem with his front wheel just before the start of yesterday's stage to St. Etienne. It appeared that the wheel was rubbing his brakes, so he got a change, but he seemed unhappy with the new wheel as well. My guess is that when you are the favorite to wear yellow into Paris and it is only a few days away you start getting pretty nervous about everything.
Sometimes at the sign-in there is a group of young cyclists who get a chance to meet the stars of the Tour.
There is a lot of action in the start village. One of the daily acts is a trials rider who keeps us all entertained with a whole host of tricks that if I tried to do myself would put me up in the hospital.
An artist paints a portrait each day. Here he is working on his next creation.
Tomorrow's 53km (33 mile) time trial will determine the victor and the podium of the Tour(well, duh). Most pundits are tipping Cadel Evans to move from fourth to yellow figuring that he will take about 2-3 minutes out of Sastre. If you remember the 2006 Tour, Floyd Landis beat Oscar Periero by about four minutes in the first time trial, but when the yellow jersey was on the line, Landis only took a little more than a minute out of him in the final time trial. The power of the yellow is strong. Don't count Sastre out.
It will be critical for Sastre to pace himself and not go out too hard. Evans will be starting three places ahead of him which is about 10 minutes. That should allow Sastre and his Team CSC Saxo Bank the ability to guage what they need to do to ride a more controlled time trial. Evans on the other hand won't be getting time checks on Carlos until possibly halfway into his race. This is all pure speculation as most riders will tell you that they don't ride a time trial against their competition. Rather they set a schedule and try to do their own ride. We will see.
Denis Menchov looks to be in the best position to claim the final spot on the podium. However, while he is fast against the clock, he can also be inconsistent which opens the door for somebody like Christian Vandevelde who has an outside shot at the podium. Christian seems to get stronger at the end of the third week of a grand tour compared to his competition. He rode exceptionally well in the final time trial of the Giro and if he can repeat that feat he may claim third.
One thing I have learned from my many years as a journalist is that, especially at the start and finish of race stages, I should only ask a few questions and the total interview should be around a minute. This is for several reasons. First off, there are other journalists who also want to talk to the riders. If I tie up a rider for five minutes, when time is really critical, not only do I keep other journalists from getting their story, but I risk having competing journalists evesdrop on my interview and then I loose a bit of exclusivity. So to be fair and to keep my interview as exclusive as possible I get and get out and let others do their work as well.
The second reason is that these riders have a job to do. Yes, they need to make themselves available to the press, but before or after race stages when chaos and anxiety are at critical levels is not the place to start asking about career goals and how they feel about the war in Iraq. So, out of courtesy, I try to keep it short and simple.
Today at the sign in for the stage from Bourg d'Oisans to St. Etienne I talked to a bunch of the riders who have been lighting it up in the Alps.
Carlos Sastre rolled up in his first day in yellow. BTW, Sastre's time for the ascent of the l'Alpe d'Huez was 39'29" for an average speed of 13 miles per hour.
Jens Voigt has done just about everything in this Tour from pacesetting at the front to climbing to initiating breakaways to super-domestique in the mountains. I asked him if is there is anything he cannot do. "I am really shite on a rainy descent. That's the only thing where I am absolutely hopeless. Apart from that I think I am doing well."
Jens was asked to describe his teammate Carlos Sastre. "He is just a peaceful warrior. He's hard when it comes to it(racing), but he is friendly and loyal. He gives a lot to the team so that is why everyone wants to help him."
Austrian Bernard Kohl of the Gerlosteiner squad will wear the polka-dot jersey into Paris. I asked him about what it was like on the Alpe, where he finished in the lead chasing group and sits third overall 1'34 seconds behind Sastre and one second behind Cadel Evans. "Yeah, it was really hard. It was the hardest stage in the Alps and after two and a half weeks of racing and after 200 kilometers (on that day) the race was really hard."
Who was he keying off of on the Alpe? "I had to look for Cadel Evans. He needed to keep the gap from getting too big for the time trial." Can Kohl defend his podium position or even move up a place or two in the final time trial? "No, I am not really the time trialer like Cadel Evans or Denis Menchov. I am a climber. I will try my best in the time trial and we will see."
Kohl's Gerlosteiner teammate, winner of the first time trial and former wearer of the yellow jersey, Stefan Schumacher, was especially active in the Alps with long breakaways on the stage to Jausiers and also to the Alpe. I asked him if he was trying to make up for his sub-par performance in the Pyrenees. "Yeah, in the Pyrenees I was not so good, but now I have a lot of time(he was way down on GC) so I tried. Also, it was important for the team to ride an offensive race and work for the mountains jersey. Bernard had the jersey and I controlled it at the front."
Danny Pate was in the lead breakway on the stage to Prato Nevoso and in a position to snag Team Garmin-Chipotle's first Tour stage win. I asked him who he was watching on the climb to the finish. "I was just watching the Euskatel guy(Egoi Martinez) because he seemed like the best guy." Both Pate's and teammate Will Frischkorn's breakway moves were big pluses for the squad and proved their worth in the Tour even if they did not win a stage. Also, having a rider contending for the Tour podium isn't half bad, either!
Save for one bad day, the stage to Huatacam in the Pyrenees, Alejandro Valverde would be a heavy favorite for a podium finish come Paris in four days time. I asked him what happened down south and why he climbed much better in the Alps. "In the Pyrenees I had bad luck and my legs were not there. In the Alps I felt better and could climb better as well. I am happy with how things have worked out."
George Hincapie crashed hard on the stage to the Alpe and on the day after he was wearing extensive bandages on his left side which were already showing stains from his wounds. He looked like he was in a lot of pain and confrimed it when he succintly answered my question on how he feels. "Bad." I asked him if he would soldier on to Paris and he replied that he would give it a shot. George is a true warrior and I hope he makes to to Paris for his 13th Tour.
The last of the 150 remaining riders to sign in was one of the true revelations of the race, Garmin-Chipotle cyclist Christian Vandevelde. He was oh, so close to the podium, and has still has a shot, but the emerging star recounted what happened in the Alps. "I had one bad day two days ago but I made up for it yesterday."
Most likely referring to the clinic Team CSC Saxo Bank put on during the past three days, when asked how it felt to leave the Alps, Christian was not convinced that the race had truly left the Alps therefore allowing the riders to rest up for the showdown on Saturday. "It feels good, but we are still in the Alps. We have to go to St. Etienne first."
Its the 20th anniversary since I first rode the l'Alpe d'Huez during the Tour de France. Today was my eighth ascent since that memorable ride up cycling's unoficial monument to climbing on a bike. The Alpe isn't the most beautiful climb, it isn't the most difficult time, but there is a curious amalgamation of history, location and those 21 pesky switchbacks that all mix together to create the most unique experience in cycling.
On every cyclists bucket list should be to climb the Alpe on the day of the Tour. Unless you have climbed the Alpe on a day when common sense and judgment are replaced by wanton craziness, you haven't experienced the full effect. It is nothing short of sheer madness and only those who can let down their guard and join in the celebration will fully enjoy all that is the Alpe on Tour day. The 8-mile, 3700' climb is difficult, especially the first two miles, but if you can get into the spirit of the day, you are almost carried uphill by the cheering fans and all the fanfare that awaits you around each corner.
Turn number 7 is appropriately named Holland corner because each year the Dutch set up a mini-village on both sides of the road and the fun and games go on for days before the Tour passes through. On race day, a corridor of orange-clad fans greet and cheer all cyclists and if you happen to be wearing the orange and blue of the home team, Rabobank, a hundred hands will appear to push you closer to the summit amidst deafening cheers.
I remember back in the early 90's when the Dutch called turn number 1 their home turf and set up shop for their beloved climbing ace Gert-Jan Thuenisse who won solo on the Alpe in 1989 and in doing so created a living legend for the Hollanders. Their chants of Theunisse's name went on, unabated, for 24 hours before his arrival and probably just as long after he had ridden past. But, the party has now moved down the mountain to a much better location for the festivities.
Every year, the Alpe seems to sprout more road graffiti for the current hot favorite. There were very few signs for Luxembourger Frank Schleck when he won on the Alpe in 2006. This year, his name, and that of his brother Andy's, are plastered all up and down the climb and Luxembourg flags are everywhere. One can only imagine how many residents of that country of only 450,000 people are on the slopes of the Alpe. There is a distinct possibility that the tiny country is empty!
What's up with all the crashing on descents? You have to feel for Garmin-Chipotle rider Christian Vandevelde, after getting dropped with about 5 miles to go on the Bonnette, he limited his losses to only 30 seconds at top then crashed on the descent to Jausiers and lost another two minutes to the leaders. Christian is a very good descender, but when you are dropped and the yellow jersey or a podium place is on the line, sometimes you feel you need to take risks on the descent to make up time. It is an awful position to be in, and sometimes, as happened yesterday, a bad situation becomes worse.
On today's stage to l'Alpe d'Huez no fewer than four of the Team Columbia's riders hit the pavement. Again, these guys are very good descenders, but sometimes mistakes happen.
Team CSC Saxo Bank continues to put on a racing clinic. Buy the book and the DVD! To see Fabian Cancellara drive the leaders up the second to last climb, the Croix de Fer, and drop a bunch of noted climbers was nothing short of incredible. The fact that he chased back on on the descent so he could continue to drive it to the base of l'Alpe d'Huez was simply beyond words. I want that guy and Jens Voigt on my team, big time.
The final climb to the summit of the Alpe d'Huez was some of the best mano y mano bike racing we have seen in the Tour in years. Team CSC Saxo Bank pulled an incredible sleight of hand. While everyone was watching the Schlecks and expecting the team to defend the yellow jersey, they sent their best time trialist up the road in an attempt to carve out enough time on Cadel Evans to keep the maillot Jaune all the way to a Paris. That move was clear when CSC pulled their lead team car from behind the Schlecks and took it up to Carlos.
Evans appeared to not realize what was happening until the final 4km when he was forced to go to the front and try to peg back time on Sastre. In the end, Sastre has 1'30" over Evans which is probably not enough to keep yellow, but will probably put him on his first ever podium at the Tour.
Vandevelde recovered brilliantly from all the drama of yesterday's stage and was clearly in the mix and not just hanging on for dear life on the ascent to the Alpe. He is totally capable of uncorking a big effort in the final 50km time trial and climbing onto the podium. Chapeau!
In his post race interview with the press Carlos Sastre said that the team was originally going to start driving the pace on the Col du Galibier but decided to wait until the Croix de Fer because there was a big headwind on the Galibier.
Regarding his attack at the base of the Alpe, he said he decided to attack from the start as everyone was tired from the efforts of the team over the Croix de Fer. He wanted to go early on the climb so the others would not be in a good rythmn and he wanted to surprise them as quickly as possible.
When asked if he thinks his 1'30" advantage is enough to hold off Cadel Evans he replied that for now, he just wants to celebrate the yellow jersey with his team and enjoy the moment. He will worry about the time trial later.
Every year I try to get out on course for at least one, hopefully two, mountain stages to see what's up. Obviously, tomorrow on l'Alpe d'Huez will be nothing short of crazy; it's kind of like the unofficial shrine to all that is the Tour de France. Today, I rode up the Col de la Bonnette to see if there was similar antics on the highest continuously paved climb in all of western Europe.
But, first a bit of history about the Bonnette. For many years, the Col d'Iseran which rises above the ski station of Val d'Isere was the highest continuously paved pass in Europe at 2770m(about 9200'). Then some enterprising Frenchman understanding the tourist aspects of having the highest pass in Europe in his backyard decided to create a loop road starting from the top of the Col de Restefond. Now, the Restefond is a pretty formidable climb in its own right at 2650M(8800'), but by adding 150m(500') to the the height of the Restefond, the Bonnette was born at 2800m(9300').
OK. It is not the first time tourism has had an effect on some sort of 'natural' formation, but for cyclists, it is definitely a drag. Both sides of the Col du Restefond are 5000' climbs but they are very well-graded in the 5-9% range with the majority of the climbing in the 7% range. When the locals added the Col de la Bonnette, they put the 150m of additional climbing in just over 1 kilometer resulting in the final pitch to the summit offering sections of 13-14%. After riding up 5000' of moderate climbing, the last thing any cyclist needs is 14% climbing and at 9000' above sea level none the less.
Oh well, we all just do it and curse a bit under our breath. It is still one of the great monuments to cycling even if the 'sting in the tail', so to speak, is a bit contrived. On Tour day, for some reason the gendarmes make the cyclists walk the final kilometer which given its steep nature is probably not met with much protest.
Here are a few photos of the craziness on the Bonnette. The Alpe is still king, but there were enough crazys out there to make the ascent worthwhile.
So there I was just standing at the finish line and when stage winner Cyril Dessel came across the line, he rode right up to me(I don't know why) and the next thing that happens is the total media scrum descends around me like a rugby match with me right in the middle of the whole mess. Here are a couple of pics of the moment.
Here's a shot of Frank Schleck in the yellow jersey.
For us Americans, it was tough to see Christian Vandevelde get dropped from the lead group on the Bonnette. He finished about 2"30" behind the overall leaders which is a courageous effort and shows that as a team leader he knows how to limit his losses. We must not forget that Christian is an excellent time trialist and was fifth in the final TT in the Giro. At 50km, it is not inconceivable that he could pull back two minutes plus on everyone save Cadel Evans and possibly Menchov. Barring a total collapse by Evans (and he is looking a bit vulnerable) Vandevelde probably lost his chance at the win, but the podium is still on the table.
George HIncapie of Team Columbia was looking good for the stage win, but the sting in the tail, the final kilometer of the Bonnette shattered the lead group and he was unable to bridge across to the leaders on the descent which he described as 'crazy". Still, it was a great ride by the 35-year old who showed that he has not given up the fight.
Yet again, Team CSC Saxo Bank held a clinic on the final climb. These guys should write a book.
Ryder Hesjedal of the Garmin-Chipotle team finished a very credible 30th on the stage only 4'27" back of the stage winner. We always knew he could climb, it is great to see him up there in the high mountains.
In the town where each stage begins there is the Ville de Depart or start village. Race sponsors set up booths and offer a whole wealth of products and services to VIP's, invited guests of the town, and begrudgingly, journalists. I took a tour of the start village in Embrun, where, for the first time in recent history, there will be two stage starts, one to Prato Nevoso, the other to l'Alpe d'Huez. Below are some of the more interesting happenings.
Race direct Christian Prudhomme is always there to meet and greet with the head honchos of the local organizing committee. Later on, I spotted him giving an interview to French radio; obviously, he feels pretty strongly about something.
Richard Virenque won the polka dot climbing jersey a record seven times. Evan after admitting to using drugs, he remains a favorite of the French fans. Now retired, he works for the French edition of Eurosport TV as a commentator and because of his climbing wins also does some PR for Champion supermarkets which sponsor the polka-dot jersey. Here his doing and autograph signing, but he appeared to be just going through the motions which is too bad for one of the more charismatic riders in French cycling.
You, too, can win a stage of the Tour. Here is active.com's own Rob Klingensmith celebrates a well-deserved win. The overall race leader was not even in sight.
Hey, if you just can't do anything with your hair or you want to try something new, you can visit the stylists right there in the village.
Ever wonder where Credit Agricole's Thor Hushovd got those sprinter legs? Here are his parents, all the way from Norway, to watch him race.
Yesterday, I talked about the scrum around Mark Cavendish as he announced that he was withdrawing from the race. Well, here is a photo of the scrum. Sometimes being a journalist is a bit dicey.
If Team CSC Saxo Bank want to take frank Schleck and the yellow jersey all the way to Paris, they are going to need much more than 8 seconds on Cadel Evans as the final time trial(TT) is 50km and Frank could easily lose 2 minutes to Cadel, or even Christian Vandevelde for that matter. Look for CSC Saxo Bank to have a few more tricks up their sleeves similar to the ones they played yesterday when they set up Frank beautifully. I don't know if it will come on the first climb,the Col de la Lombarde, maybe on the run-up to the Col de la Bonnette as the road from Isola to St. Etienne de Tinne has some ups and downs and a team could push the pace there.
How about Danny Pate almost winning the stage yesterday? By my tally that makes four close calls (Frischkorn on stage 3, Millar in the TT, Vandevelde on Super-Besse, Pate on Prato Nevoso) for the Garmin-Chipotle team. I think they have clearly proven that they deserve to be at this race. No doubt in my mind.
Christian Vandevelde looked good on the stage finish yesterday. That was a very tricky finish both physically and tactically. He held it together and did what he had to do to preserve his shot at the podium.
With six riders within 48 seconds and two mountain stages remaining, look for a lot of attacks. The better time trialists like Evans, Vandevelde and Menchov can wait for the last climb to make their move, but the others are going to have to find a way to take sizeable chunks of time.
Even though the stage to Jausiers finishes with a descent of the massive Col de la Bonnette, I still consider it a mountain top finish because, even though it is a 5500' descent, it goes right from the top to the bottom with no flat riding. All the top guys are good enough descenders to keep any time gaps they gain on the way up.