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Active Expert: Bruce Hildenbrand

5 Posts tagged with the columbia_htc tag

It has been a pretty uneventful rest day at the Tour and after two and a half weeks, that is a good thing. Lance Armstrong has come out publicly and stated that his aspirations for the Tour's yellow jersey are over and that Contador is the best rider on the team. I am sure that was not what the Texan wanted to be saying, but it was a classy thing to do. He still sits in second place, but unless he can find a bit more climbing fitness, the podium might be a stretch. There is a 25-mile(40km) time trial in Annecy on Thursday, but that might not be enough to erase any deficits if he continues to struggle on the climbs.

 

I spent the rest day visiting several teams, Columbia-HTC and Saxo Bank and sittting down with some riders for interviews. Here are a few. Look for more to dribble in over the next few days.

 

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George Hincapie is the most popular rider in the US save that guy from Texas. He hold the American record for most Tour starts (14) and finishes (13).

 

Bruce: fourteen Tours de France. That is an incredible legacy. Did you finish every one?

 

George: I finished every one except my first one(1996). I was just a young kid and I was trying to get ready for the Olympics. I rode two weeks of it then had a bad crash and pulled out.

 

Bruce: what's in your future on the bike?

 

George: I am definitely going to keep racing. I don't know if I will do a couple more Tours.  I will probably do another couple of years. I don't know if I will be able to come back to the Tour or not. It is still undecided there.

 

Bruce: How are you feeling?

 

George: I feel good. I definitely had a very big disappointment the other day. I had a big chance to be in yellow. That seems to be standing out more than anything right now. But as far as my riding, I am going quite well. Hopefully, I can pull something out in the last week.

 

Bruce: Let's talk about that moment. It appeared to be a bit of a misunderstanding between you and the Astana guys. It didn't look like they were the ones who were really doing the work. It looks like you got some bad information at the finish line.

 

George: I don't know about that. I have my opinion and I know the facts. I don't really care to comment on what happened and who did what wrong. I have a strong opinion on that and I will keep that to myself.

 

Bruce: You had the yellow jersey for a day in 2006?

 

George: I know it would have been hard to keep it(yellow jersey) yesterday, but it would have been very special to get it.

 

Bruce: What is your role on the team?

 

George: I can pretty much do everything for the guys. I can help them in the mountains. I can represent them in the breakaways. And I can help Cavendish in the sprints. So, I think I have done a great job for the team. This team is amazing. It is the best team I have ever been on by far as far as the depth of the riders and the comaraderie. For sure.

 

Bruce: It almost looks automatic for you guys to win a bunch sprint. Take us through the final 2kms of a field sprint

 

George: That's the thing. That is why I say this team is so good. People watching just think it is automatic.  They see us all lined up, all together, but they don't see how hard it is to stay together and how much fighting that is going on and all the bumping. There are people trying to cut inside you on the corners. It is just real chaos.  But, this team is so good at staying together. We never get complacent. We are always 100% focused and 100% motivated to get Cav to the final 200 meters.

 

Bruce: what's the lineup for the leadout train and how does it function?

 

George: Bernie (Eisel) and (Bert) Grabsch are doing most of the work the whole day. With 5-10km to go Kim (Kirchen) and Maxime (Monfort) take over. Michael Rogers has been taking over with 2km to go. Tony Martin takes over with 1500m to go then I take over with about 1km to go and then Renshaw takes over with 500m to go.

 

Bruce: Obviously, your stage win in 2005 at Pla d'Adet was a huge moment in your career. But, are there any other Tour moments which stand out in your career?

 

George: Winning team time trials. Anytime you get to the Champs Elysees no matter what you have done is a huge accomplishment just to get there. Those are definitely moments which stand out.

 

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Mark Cavendish is the best field sprinter in the business, bar none. Even with all his successes he has been criticized for not getting over the mountains and finishing the Tour.

 

Bruce: You are finally going to try and make it to Paris.  How do you feel about your climbing?

 

Mark: I am not suffering in the grupetto. I am just sitting in there. I don't ned to try and climb with the front riders. What I need to do is save as much energy when I am not climbing with the front riders. I was never going to get dropped from the grupetto, anyway. At least now I can recover and save energy rather than having to go full gas to try and stay in the grupetto.

 

Bruce: are there any opportunities to try and get back the green jersey?

 

Mark: It's not happening. The green jersey is gone now. Eighteen points on Thor is too much.

 

Bruce: let's talk about the rest of your Tour. You won four stages.

 

Mark: I said "if I don't win a stage I have failed." So, you have to be content with one stage at the Tour. It is the Tour de France. I set two goals, one to win a stage, the other goal was to reach Paris. I won a stage. I am close to reaching Paris. That is successful. Getting to wear green for the first time in my career. Tony to wear white. We still have all nine guys in the race. It has gone perfect for us, actually.

 

Bruce: let's talk about your new book 'Boy Racer'. What is the part of your personality that you haven't shown publicly that is in the book.

 

Mark: If you buy the book it explains why I am emotional after a stage. If I wina race I am elated. If I lose a race I am destroyed, angry, aggressive. It is easy to sum up a person fifteen seconds straight after a race when all that emotion that is pent up has spilled out. That's fifteen seconds where you can make the right or wrong decision about a person. If you read the book it shows that there is much more to me than just this Jekyl and Hyde a$$hole, really.

 

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Jens Voigt is on the powerful Saxo Bank team which has two riders in contention for high placings in the overall classification.

 

Bruce: What will the plan be for Saxo Bank be for the Alps with Andy Schleck riding so well.

 

Jens: Andy sits in fifth place overall so there is room to improve on that. He got the white jersey which was his first objective achieved, but of course we aim high and we would like to have one of the Schleck brothers on the podiium. It looks like things are pretty simple from the way I see it. We gotta move. We got to try and make the race hard and give Frank and Andy a chance to shine in the mountains. We gotta get past Wiggins. We have to drop and gain more time on people like Tony Martin, on Kloden, on Armstrong, the good time trialists.

 

In the ideal scenario we would, two days from now, start the time trial with Andy being comfortably ahead of the good time trialists, especially Wiggins who is an awesome time trialer. We have to look into getting him(Wiggins) into trouble

.  Our strength is that we have two really good, strong climbers and we have to work with that.

 

Bruce: what will your role be in the Alps?

 

Jens: to just make life hard for the others. It is probably the best for me to create chaos. That's good. That's what I am best at. Just make people suffer and have tactics such that they never know if you go now or go later. To put constant pressure on the others (rivals).

 

Bruce: pleast fill us in on what happened when you flatted out of that breakaway on stage 14 to Besancon. That was a Jens Voigt-type breakaway.

 

Jens: I am sure that the poor fellow tried (to change his wheel) as quick as he could. It is just complicated to change the back wheel. Then there were the whole circumstances. They had to come running to me to see, first of all, do we have a front wheel or back wheel. By the time we got the bike changed it was too late.

 

Then you have this rule that you are actually allowed to go behind the group with the yellow car to get back to the group where you had the puncture because you didn't puncture because it was funny. You have been punished enough by that (getting a wheel change).  I tried to talk to them, but the commissaire quickly said "No, no. This isn't going to happen here. There is no helping."

 

So, I was out there all by myself and quickly calculated my chances. Twelve strong riders swapping off in the front and me alone and I figured out that is next to zero that I am going to see them again.

 

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Italian Vincenzo Nibali finished third behind Alberto Contador in Verbier. His is a young rider with a lot of potential. Italian is my fourth language after English, Spanish and French, but I managed to get several questions out to the Liquigas rider at the team bus yesterday at the finish.

 

Bruce: It was a good day for you?

 

Vincenzo: Yes, it was a good day, but Contador was much better. He was so much faster than the rest of us. But, yes, it was a good day for me and my team.

 

Bruce: is it possible to finish top 5 in the Tour?

 

Vincenzo: yes, I hope it is possible for me to finish high in the general classification. I feel good and I feel very strong.

 

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This was a work of art just on the retaining wall just as the riders entered the town of Verbier. Pretty cool!

 

I don't know if you can tell by this photo, but former yellow jersey rider Rinaldo Nocentini (87) has his saddle pointed slightly downward.

 

Ah, the joys of getting something from the publicity caravan.

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Bunch finishes are usually explosive affairs, but not today into Besancon as Columbia-HTC found itself in one of those weird situations that has marked the 2009 Tour. With teammate George Hincapie off the front in a race-long breakaway the time gap back to the peloton was just about enough to put the American in the yellow jersey. But, if Columbia-HTC geared up their leadout train to try and reclaim the green points jersey for Mark Cavendish, their acceleration might just close that time gap and deny Hincapie the yellow jersey.

 

So, the bunch sprint appeared to happen in slow motion with Columbia-HTC riders all over the front, but trying to delay their leadout until the last possible moment. In the end, Cavendish won the sprint, but he beat Hushovd by only one place and one point so the green jersey stays on the Cervelo Test Team rider's shoulder. And Hincapie's gap proved to be a handful of seconds short so Rinaldo Nocentini will wear yellow tomorrow in to the Alps in Verbier.

 

In one of the strangest incidents I have seen in my 20+ years of covering the Tour, two riders were shot during stage 13. Spanish rider and triple World Champion, Oscar Friere, and Garmin-Slipstream rider, Julian Dean, were struck by lead pellets apparently fired from an air rifle while the descended the stage's penultimate climb. Friere had to have the pellet removed from his thigh by his team doctor. Julian Dean was struck in the finger with the pellet glancing off. There are no suspects and nobody saw anything as the peloton was in a dense forest.

 

This is a scary situation as Lance Armstrong has pointed out many times that the peloton races on open roads with crowds able to interact with the riders, hopefully not in any negative ways. But who can forget the fan who punched Eddy Merckx in the stomach in 1975 while he was climbing Le Puy de Dome. I don't know what can be done to tighten security on the open roads. It is a pity that the riders have to endure additional stress when they are trying to relax and save as much energy as possible to be able to perform in a three-week race.

 

I guess Jens Voigt was listening a couple of days ago as he slipped into the star-studded break at the beginning of stage 14. Unfortunately, he flatted and received a very slow wheel change from the Mavic neutral support car. The new rear wheel appeared to be rubbing on his brakes so he had to stop again to adjust it. Then, to make matters worse, the support car refused to help him get back up to the breakaway by providing a bit of draft. Jens had some choice comments for the occupants of the car and then pulled over to answer the call of nature and wait for the peloton which was already over five minutes behind. Talk about your missed opportunity.

 

And just when you thought things couldn't get any stranger, an imposter, clad in a La Francaise de Juex racing kit tried to jump onto the Tour podium.  The badger himself, Bernard Hinault, forcibly removed him from the stage.

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Jean Paul Van Poppel is a former green jersey winner at the Tour, beating Davis Phinney among others in 1988, and is one of the director sportifs of the Cervelo Test Team. Interestingly, when the Tour finished here in Besancon in 1988, Van Poppel won the stage. I spoke to him about Carlos Sastre's chances in the overall classification.

 

Bruce: Carlos Sastre has a reputation as a third week rider. Is the plan to get through the first two weeks and then go hard in the Alps?

 

JVVP: The third week is very hard and it is in his (Carlos) system to get better during a stage race. I think his strength is the third week and if it works out. Yeah. He could give them (peloton) some surprises. We hope.

 

Bruce: Ventoux is a tough enough climb that taking back two to three minutes is not out of the question.

 

JVVP: Taking two to three minutes on the best riders? I don't think that is going to happen, but you can take time in the last week over more stages (than just Ventoux).

 

Bruce: Team Astana is looking very strong. Is there something you can do to take them on?

 

JVVP: We have to see what is going to happen. They work a lot(at the front) so maybe in the last week the team is a bit used up, but I don't think so. Not really. You have to look at what is happening at the moment and if it happens there comes a situation that you can benefit with other riders to go full gas then I think we should do that.

 

Bruce: who on the team will be there to help Carlos in the mountains.

 

JVVP: Jose Marchante is a super climber. He had some bad luck starting the season when he broke his arm. He came back in good shape and in the Tour of Catalonia he was in good form, actually a litle too good so we slowed him down a bit for Tour of Switzerland. For now he is at a good level and also he can get better like Carlos does.

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Australian Brett Lancaster is a teammate of Sastre's on the Cervelo Test Team. I chatted with him briefly about is team leader.

 

Bruce: Is Carlos getting ready to unleash himself against Astana in the third week when we get to the Alps?

 

Brett: They are a really strong team (Astana). Carlos is pretty reserved and keeps to himself.      I don't know what he is thinking or what he is going to do. He just keeps that to himself. In the last week it will be typical Carlos standard.

 

Bruce: Carlos is all about the third week.

 

Brett: Yeah, Yeah. That's right.

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For those who know of the Tour de France only from the Lance era it might be difficult to imagine that as far back as 1980, no American had ever ridden the Tour de France. In 1981, Jonathan Boyer, became the first US rider to particpate in the Tour. He went on to represent America well, finishing as high as 12th place though he rode for a French team. It wasn't until 1986 that the first American team, the 7-Eleven, squad rode the Tour.

 

A little known fact in Tour history is that in 1981, a squad of Americans was poised to become not only the first Americans, but also the first American team to ride the Tour. They received and invitation in late 1980 from the Tour organizers; Mike Fraysee was to be the team manager and he quickly set about trying to find riders.

 

It must be remembered that back in 1980/81 there were only three riders in the European pro peloton, Greg Lemond, Jonathan Boyer and George Mount. Unfortunately, all three were under contract to other teams and therefore unavailable. So, Mike Fraysee had to look to the strongest US amateur riders to stock his team. The riders would turn pro and be paid $5000 to start the race and $5000 if they made it to Paris.

 

Lindsay Crawford, who was a pilot for United Airlines, held several US cycling records and was one of those srong US amateurs who was capable of riding 100-150 miles a day with the European pros for three weeks. It was a dream come true for the Northern California-based rider and he adjusted his legendary 400-500 mile/week training program accordingly.

 

Unfortunately, for circumstances that are, to this day, still unknown, the Tour organization withdrew the team's invitation several months before the start. There is a bit of a silver lining in this whole mysterious affair. Lindsay Crawford went on to ride a stage of the Tour as part of the Etape du Tour cyclosportif. The Etape du Tour selects one stage each year, usually one of the most mountainous, and 8500 riders take to the course. Winners in each age division receive a yellow jersey and Credit Lyonnaise lion just like a Tour stage winner.

 

In 2003, Lindsay, then 62, won his age group and finished an amazing 200th overall out of the 8500 starters. He continues to ride the Etape each year and has recorded another podium finish in his 60-69 age group. These days, at age 68, he still routinely logs 400+ mile weeks in the Santa Cruz mountains. He recently won the 65+ year age group at the Spanish cyclosportif Quebrantahuesos, very similar to Etape du Tour, by over 30 minutes.

 

This year's etape du Tour is this Monday (7/20) and does the stage which finishes at the top of Mont Ventoux. You can read Lindsay's accounts of his pre-Etape training and post event-commentary at www.bikeradar.com

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George Hincapie was almost in yellow for the second time in his career (he wore yellow briefly in 2006).

 

Mark Cavendish has made himself available to the French public despite all the stress of fighting for the green jersey on a daily basis.

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While Mark Cavendish won his record-tying eigth career stage win for a Briton, Garmin-Slipstream's Tyler Farrar came disappointingly close to beating the Manxman in the dash for the line. Heading into the final two hundred meters the order was Cavendish, Hushovd, Farrar. Unfortunately for Farrar, Hushovd was unable to hold Cavendish's wheel and Tyler had to take the long way around to the left in an attempt to keep contact with the Columbia-HTC rider.

 

Frankly, if Tyler, and not Hushovd, had been on Cavendish's wheel, I think Farrar could have taken the stage. Even after having to go the long way around, Farrar came oh, so close. It is only a matter of time before the Garmin-Slipstream team get a stage win from this rising star. If Cavendish fails to make it through the Alps, look for the argyle to be at the front on the Champs-Elysees.

 

Hats off to the race officials for reversing their decision yesterday of calling a split in the peloton and docking a huge group of riders 15 seconds. This certainly is turning out to be a Tour of surprises. As a result, Levi Leipheimer is back in fourth and Bradley Wiggins is back up to fifth. If you don't think 15 seconds can make a difference, remember 2007 when Levi missed the second spot on the podium by only eight seconds. Then there was the 1989 Tour when Greg Lemond beat Laurent Fignon also by eight seconds.

 

In today's stage, Garmin-Slipstream rider Ryder Hesjedal suffered a bad looking fall with about 40 km remaining. He got up shaking his wrist much like Robert Gesink about a week ago.  Hopefully, Ryder is OK as he will be much-needed in the Alps.

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The Skil-Shimano team received one of the wild card invitations to the Tour de France. They lined up in Monaco against 18 Pro Tour teams and have been battling ever since. I talked with rider Koen De Kort on what it like to be the smallest budget team in the Tour and to be riding against the top squads in the sport.

 

Bruce: What does it mean for a team like Skil Shimano to be in the Tour de France?

 

Koen: It is great for us, obviously, to be able to ride here. It is the biggest cycling event in the world. It is more than just a race. It is a complete, big media event. There are so many people around all the time. It is great for us to be here. I think before, everyone saw us as the smallest team, but, especially in the first week, we proved that we belong in this race. I think we have done a good job so far. 

 

Bruce: Do you feel like the team has upped their game a level to be here?

 

Koen: Yeah, absolutely. I think we all have got pretty good form going into this race and really we got to show ourselves in the first week. We don't have any real climbers so we are taking it easy for these Pyrenees stages. After that we have some nice stages for us, again and you will see Skil in the front line for sure.

 

Bruce: How has your reception been in the peloton with the Pro Tour teams?

 

Koen: Most of the boys I have known for years. It is my fifth year as a professional so most of the guys I have already seen and talked to. They know what we are like and we've actually had really good comments on how we have been riding in the first week especially the day (stage 3) with the echelons where we had so many guys in the first group. That really got us a lot of respect from the other teams.

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Obviously, sponsorship dollars are critical to keeping the sport alive. When Bob Stapleton re-launched the old T-Mobile team as Team High Road Sports in 2008, it was an indication that he had yet to secure a title sponsor. However, just before the 2008 Tour, Columbia Sportswear signed up as a co-sponsor which caused the team to scramble to get their new sponsor's logos on all their team equipment.

 

The team was named Columbia-High Road indicating that there was space on the jersey for another co-sponsor. Well, just before the 2009 Tour, the Asian cell phone manufacturer, HTC, signed on and the scramble was on again. I caught up with Bob to talk about the events.

 

Bruce: What was it like putting together the HTC kit at the last minute?

 

Bob: It is a good thing we had the practice last year with Columbia. We have been super busy. We started talking with HTC in April and signed in June and have been busy branding buses, getting new kits and literally tomorrow's-clothing-arrives-today sort of thing on the team kits.

 

Bruce: What are the details behind the committment from HTC?

 

Bob: it is three years. They are committing as a co-sponsor. I am very optimistic about them. They are one of the top mobile electronic companies in the world. They design and build the Google phone and a number of really leading edge devices. Now, they are launching their own brand, HTC, internationally and we are a part of that strategy.

 

Bruce: Word is that they decided to go with cycling instead of sponsoring a Formula One team. What was behind that decision?

 

Bob: As you know cyclists are quite affluent. They are big consumers. They are very technically sophisticated. That is similar in other countries, but I think they felt that cycling fit the lifestyle of many of their potential customers and that was an instant emotional connection they could make with their brand. I think that is very smart marketing and I think they are going to be rewarded for their confidence in the sport.

 

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I took some photos of ex-Tour riders.

 

Laurent Jalabert is doing race commentary for French TV off of a motorbike.

 

Charly Mottet is with the organization which puts on the Dauphine Libere race. He finished as high as fourth in the Tour in the early 1990's.

 

Here is a way to get around the start of a stage.

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The flat profile of stage 10 provided another spring board for Mark Cavendish and his leadout train to prove they are the best in the business. Thor Hushovd and Tyler Farrar rounded out the top three emphasizing that this was a stage for the sprinters. The rumoured strike over the ban on race radios was averted when ASO agreed to remove the ban for stage 13.

 

All in all it was a pretty uneventful day. But why, then, did Bradley Wiggins drop from fifth to seventh overall? Because he got caught in one of the most unfair situations in professional racing which continues to plague stage race riders. While the peloton was virtually intact approaching the line, a rider, 10 places ahead of Bradley, let a small, usually only about five-feet, gap open up so the race officials counted that group as the second group over the line.  Since Cavendish had crossed the line 15 seconds before that group, Bradley was given the time of the second group.

 

I can assure you that if you watch the finish on TV, while the gap will be visible, it is not like the riders in Bradley's "group" (for lack of a better word)  got dropped, more than likely someone just sat up and stop pedaling. It is just that a small gap opened up in front of the rider who sat up and the officials do, as officials like to do, called it another group. It is kind of like if you give a referee a whistle, he/she feels obligated to blow it. And in this case, the UCI race officials blew it.

 

Levi Leipheimer was also caught in the "second" group and dropped from fourth to fifth overall.  Ironically, if either Wiggins or Leipheimer had been caught in a crash within three kilometers of the finish, they would have been given the same time as the winner. I am not advocating the riders start taking lessons from soccer players on how to take dives, but there is some food for thought here.

 

The problem is that Wiggins finished 64th and Leipheimer was 77th indicating that they were both in the first half of the main group. I really don't think you should force the overall contenders to mix it up with the sprinters just so they don't get "gapped" so to speak. It is really dangerous up front and that is a risk Lance, Alberto, Christian, et. al. should not have to take on the bunch sprint finishes. Certainly, some of the GC contenders were up near the front and did not lose any time, but if they had gotten caught in a crash becasue of it we would be signing a different tune.

 

The UCI needs to come up with a way to take the time of the riders more fairly. I have been asking them to consider this for the past few years. I have been proposing several solutions.  One solution is to make the gap much larger, like 30 feet (10 meters) before a split is made. Obviously, this would only apply to bunch finishes. Another solution is to take the time of the  riders as they cross the red kite with 1km to go. Nobody is siting up, creating gaps at that point.

 

When I talk to the UCI officials, they just don't seem to understand what the problem is. Maybe they are just too busy trying to blow their whistle.

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Team Columbia-HTC rider Tony Martin is one of the revelations of this year's Tour. We saw him ride well earlier this year in both the Criterium International and the Tour of Switzerland, but nobody expected the 23 year-old German to be wearing the white jersey of best young rider. I talked with Tony's Director Sportif (DS) Rolf Aldag about the plans for Martin as the race progresses.

 

Tony Martin

 

 

Bruce: Rolf, where did you find Tony Martin? It seems like every year Team Columbia finds another new star?

 

Rolf: we can't take the credit for Tony.  Honestly, the world of professional cycling realized him in 2004/2005 when we had a mountain time trial and this guy won by a minute. I myself was sixth. He was 18 years-old and I knew he was going to be good. We battled in the Reggio Tour in Germany and I think he finished fifth and I finished sixth.

 

I think it was a big battle who gets him. I know that Gerlosteiner was interested and finally we managed to get him.  We are happy to have him, but I think the good thing is he decided on which team based on who will help best in his career. We have a good program and we promote that to the riders and I think that is what makes the difference so we can get them.

 

Bruce: How will you ride for Tony in the Tour?  Will you ride for him to defend the white jersey or will you have him play off the other teams.

 

Rolf: For the moment he just has to follow.  Today (Col du Tourmalet stage) I don't expect the GC guys to make a big race. They will follow each other.  So we will bring him through that. After the rest day, we will be concentrating on the sprint stages for Cavendish.

 

When we get to the Alps it will be time to decide what we are going to do with him. He does have a free role that's for sure. He does have support. He is protected on the team. But, he is not the only team captain (for the overall) at the moment because I think that would put a lot of pressure on him.  If we expect him to do the result instead of Kim (Kirchen) I don't think it would be fair to Kim and it would not be fair to Tony to say 'you are the man now and you better be in front.'

 

So, if he really, really struggles one day and loses a lot of time there's nothing to lose for him anymore.  He won so much. He defended his white jersey so long. It is his first Tour de France. We just come back and do better next year. That's a good situation for him. He doesn't have any pressure. He has a free role and support and we will just see how it goes.

 

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Here is what the scrum for interviews with Lance looks like at the Astana team bus after a stage. Luckily, when I talked to Lance two days ago it was just the two of us as I am by no means a rugby player.

 

 

 

If this guys comes up to you after a stage finish it means that you have been selected for doping control. His job is to escort the racer directly to the medical trailer to protect the integrity of any biological samples the rider may have to give. Lance has been seeing this guy a lot during the Tour and has passed all his tests.

 

 

If you wonder how the race organizers and officials can tell the position of the riders during the race, it is because the racers have these nifty little transponders which must be mounted on the chainstay a specific distance in front of the rear hub axle. The number "22" on this transponder corresponds to rider number 22 which means this is a shot of Lance's bike.

 

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Stage 8: More Musings

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 11, 2009

There is way too much going on at the Tour at the moment for one posting a day so I am going to add an additional posting to catch some of the other story lines.

 

First off, for those of you following the Lance and Alberto saga, the headline this morning in France's leading sports newspaper l'Equipe was "Contador is the Boss." Clearly, l'Equipe felt that Alberto seized control by attacking in the final kilometers of stage 7 to Arcalis-Andorra. Lance remarked to the press after the stage that Contador's attack had not been part of the plan for that stage which further emphasizes l'Equipe's point that Contador took the initiative.

 

This is a very interesting situation made even more so by the fact that both Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden are also riding very strongly. While people are focusing on Lance and Alberto, if either one or both of them have a bad day, Levi or Andreas could assume the leadership role. It is a bit of a long shot, but the possibility is there. I am hoping that the Lance/Alberto affair doesn't end up causing the whole team to crumble. They are clearly the strongest team. Does Johan need to step in and lay down some ground rules?

 

Adding to the suspense, both Alberto and Lance were randomly picked for doping control at the end of stage 8. Because of this, they had to sit around together in the medical trailer for about and hour after the stage giving biological samples, usually just urine, sometimes blood. I wonder what they talked about?

 

Each day a team has a plan for the stage. They look at the stage profile and the capabilities of their riders and try to strategize for an optimum output. On stage 8, the game plan for Team Columbia-HTC was to get George Hincapie up the road in the latter half of the stage and then have Kim Kirchen come up on the ascent of the final climb. Hopefully those two would be part of a small breakaway where either Kim could solo off the front in the closing kilometers or if he was brought back, George could win in a sprint. Unfortunately, George covered the Evans attack on the first climb(Port d'Envalira) so that strategy did not play out.

 

You might be wondering what is happening to Michael Rogers. He is becoming the 'Hard Luck Kid'. Two years ago Rogers crashed on the descent of the Cormet de Roselend and had to withdraw with a broken elbow. This year, he crashed on the run in to Barcelona in the rain and while the medical staff at Columbia-HTC were initially concerned with his elbow, it appears that he severely bruised his hip. I was at the team bus when he rolled up at the end of today's stage and it was painful for me to watch him try and climb off his bike. He is one tough Aussie and the medical staff hope that in about two days he will be back at close to full strength. Being hurt in the mountains rather on the flats is back luck.

 

If you are wondering why the cycling pundits are talking more about Andy Schleck rather than his older brother Frank, it can be explained that Frank crashed this spring and hurt his knee. The knee has not really healed and the wisdom in the press room is that Frank might not make it to Paris.

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