I took a few photos that didn't fit into the earlier blogs(OK, how does something not fit into a blog, you ask!) so here they are with appropriate comments.
Will Frischkorn was the star of stage 3 of the Tour de France initiating a 200km+ breakaway with three other riders and almost winning the stage. For his actions he was rewarded the most aggressive rider for that day. Will was also off the front for over 200km in the season's first classic, Milan-San Remo. Hopefully in 2009, Will gets to stand on the podium.
Ryder Hesjedal has ridden at the highest levels in both professional road cycling and mountain biking. He is totally capable of winning one-day and stage races, but during the 2008 Tour de France he was a super-domestique for team leader Christian Vande Velde. Ryder was there on that critical day on the Col de la Bonnette to help Christian limit his losses when he was dropped halfway up the massive, 6000-foot climb. Unfortunately, Christian crashed on the descent and lost a further two minutes which ultimately cost him a podium place. Ryder's crucial role was all but forgotten, but he did his job well. As did Christian!
Christian Vande Velde's father, John, was also an elite bike racer. He was a member of the 1972 Olympic team as part of the team pursuit squad. BTW, Jim Ochowicz was also on that team pursuit squad. However, John is probably best remembered for his role as one of the four Italians on Team Cinzano in the Academy Award winning movie 'Breaking Away.' John wasn't the one who put the pump in Dave Stoller's spokes; that was Eddy Van Guyse. A devoted track racer, John had a portable board track constructed nicknamed the 'Vandedome' which was used for a few European-style six day races throughout the US in the 1980's. John sold the track for $5 to another passionate cyclist and word is that it might be re-assembled for some races in New York next year.
While the actual 2009 Garmin-Slipstream jersey has yet to be unveiled, here is a look at what might be very close to the final design. Note that long-time sponsor Chipotle is still part of the team, they are just not one of the primary sponsors so are not included in the official team name. Those of you worried about the departure of argyle need not be concerned. The power of the argyle is still strong!
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.
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.
Team CSC-Saxo Bank gave everyone a primer in bike racing 101 and setup one of the most exciting finale's in recent Tour history. With only two climbs, albeit big ones, on the menu, Bjarne Riis' boys managed to coax their two biggest engines over the monstrous Col du Tourmalet in the lead group of 25 riders the result being that it was game on for all the contenders at the base of Huatacam, the 8-mile, 3700' climb to the finish. And when pre-race favorites Alejandro Valverde and Damiano Cunego were dropped on the Tourmalet, the spearhead by CSC not only reeled in the early breakaways, but put an insurmountable 3 minute gap on the Spaniard and Italian virtually eliminating from overall contention.
Team CSC had three contenders, Carlos Sastre, Frank Schleck and Andy Schleck, in the lead group and when the ascent of Huatacam was underway, they all took their chance with Frank's surge providing the winning move. Two Scott-Saunier Duval riders Leonardo Piepoli and Jose Cobo Acebo came along to duke it out for the stage win, but it was Schleck who stood to gain the most with the yellow jersey in the balance.
The chasers included Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov, Carlos Sastre, Riccardo Rico and Christian Vandevelde, a formidable group from which the Tour podium in Paris will undoubtedly be filled. Evans, who as the heavy pre-race favorite, had the most to lose did not respond. He can put minutes into Schleck in the final 50km time trial so there was no urgent reason to chase. In the end, that group stayed together and while Schleck finished about 1:49' ahead of Evans, he missed the yellow by a scant second.
Not to be a homer, but I was most inpressed with the ride of Gamin-Cbipotle rider Christian Vandevelde. He held onto his third place overall with a gutty ride that at times had him on the ropes only to see him claw back the Evans group. Before the start of the stage, his team director, Jonathan Vaughters, remarked,"this is the crux day of the Tour for Christian. He always rides stronger in the third week of a grand tour and you know he will do well in the final time trial."
Team Garmin-Chipotle power guru, Dr. Allen Lim was asked, after Christian came up short in the big mountains of the Giro, how would he fair in the big mountains of the Tour. "We used the Giro only for training. It was hard enough that just riding it for training was very hard."
What a great day for the Tour and all the contenders. Frank Schleck has finally begun to fulfill the potential he demonstrated when he won the l'Alpe d'Huez stage in 2006. Cadel Evans dons his first ever yellow jersey, and Christian Vandevelde emerges from his role as domestique to prove that he is a true team leader who can deliver in the time trials and also the mountains.
I talked with yellow jersey wearer and Team Columbia rider Kim Kirchen before the start. I asked him what was the difference between his climbing in the Tour of Switzerland when he struggled in the high mountains and his performance in the Tour, where he finished with the lead group on Stage 9 over the Peyersourde and Aspin and retained the jersey. "I had a bit if trouble on the climbs yesterday but, today(Stage 10) are the real big climbs. We will see how I do today," he replied candidly.
For those of you into power and performance numbers, I chatted with Dr. Allen Lim about the fantastic climbing performance by Riccardo Ricco on Stage 9. Dr. Lim noted that Ricco was climbing at around 6.5 watts/kg, very close to Lance Armstrong's legendary 6.7 watts/kg, while the rest of the leaders were at abot 6.0 watts/kg. That's almost a 10% difference. Ricco's Vertical Ascent in Meters per Hour(VAM) was about 1790M(5950') while the leaders chasing him were at 1650M(5500'). Wow!
In the post-stage press conference, Cadel was asked how his horrific crash on yesterday's stage affected his performance today. He basically said that he has some bruising and swelling, but the team doctor has worked with him for years and got him ready to ride after which his team did an good job of delivering him to the final climb.
Cadel acknowledged that he doesn't have the strongest team in the race and when it comes to deciding how to defend the yellow jersey, the team would have to do some strategizing on the first rest day to figure out what to do.
Today was the first big test of the 2008 Tour de France, an 18-mile (29.5 km) time trial in Cholet, and there were a few surprises both in the stage winner and the holder of the yellow jersey. Well, the same guy won both with an inspired ride which left heavy favorite Fabian Cancellara in fifth place. It all goes to show the up and down nature of cycling. Last year 'Spartacus' as he is known to his teammates, was winning against the clock and in the front of the whole peloton.
But, this is not about those who didn't deliver, this is about those who did. And, Gerlosteiner's Stefan Schumacher did just that making the post-race trip to the podium for both the stage win and to get the maillot jaune. My guess is his failed bid to win stage one is all but forgotten and it was a bittersweet victory for his team who is losing their title sponser at year's end. Maybe that is a valid reason for sipping champagne tonight at dinner instead of the sponsor's bottled water.
Schumacher wears his teams lowest number which means that he is the designated team leader, but few believe that even though he has won hilly classics like the Amstel Gold Race, he will not be up with leaders in the big mountains. Hey, but that doesn't mean he can't enjoy the yellow jersey while he has it. In fact, not having to worry about defending it in the mountains probably takes a lot of pressure off both Stefan and his team.
The next big test is the stage to Super Besse on Thursday. There are two moderately big climbs one right after the other for the first authentic mountain-top finish of this year's Tour. Schumacher might just be able to climb well enough to hold onto the jersey, though if he does succeed, the Pyrenees loom two days later. What's a rider to do?
In the chase for the overall title, Cadel Evans and Denis Menchov were right there, but all their challengers, Cunego, Valverde, Sastre, were closely grouped about a minute back. That's bad news for those three, but it's good news for us as there will clearly be some fireworks when we reach the mountains.
How about those Garmin-Chipotle boys? Millar and Vandevelde rode exceptionally well to put both of them top ten on the stage and top ten overall. In fact, Millar was a hair's breadth of taking the stage, a second top-three finish for the team in two days.
The other American squad, Team Columbia, put three of its boys in top ten as well with Kim Kirchen, George Hincapie and Thomas Loqvist. The Swede also claimed the white jersey as best young rider while Kirchen wears the green sprinter's jersey. Not a bad day for America if you are keeping score.
I am still rooting for Mark Cavendish to win a stage. Tomorrow is an excellent opportunity before then next sorting out on Thursday. Now that France has both a stage win and held the yellow jersey, maybe they will settle down and quick flying up the road at every opportunity. Not!
The 2008 Tour continues to provide an E-ticket ride through France and today's stage was just another day of thrills and spills on the way to Paris. The thrills were provided by Garmin-Chipotle rider Will Frischkorn and his three breakaway companions who beat the odds and held off the peloton to win. They were undoubtedly aided by a horrific crash with about 20km remaining which split the peloton into three groups and put a huge dent into the overall hopes of several riders.
On the positive side of today's stage, what can you say about the ride of Will Frischkorn? His is his first ever ride in the Tour and many questioned the selection of the 27-year old for the team. If you remember this spring's Milan-San Remo, Will is no stranger to long breakaways in the biggest races in cycling, but to attack initiate an attack and go off the front on day three in your first ever Tour takes some pretty big stones. And the Tour officials agreed, awarding the Boulderite the 'most combatitve' rider award for the stage.
It has been a long road for Will to the Tour. I remember him in 2001 as a 19-year old pro on the short-lived Mercury-Viatel team and then his transfer onto the TIAA-Cref development squad a few years later. Will was still in his early 20's, but he had been a pro for so long, that he was considered one of the team's veterans. In 2005 he almost made the big jump to Europe when he was offered a contract on Team CSC. But, as frequently happens in the pro ranks, his place on the team was given to another rider and Will remained stateside.
Honing his skills, he took a more senior position on the TIAA-Cref team which made a few forays to France in 2005, 2006 and 2007 to contest some races such as Criterium International. The learning curve was incredibly steep, and there were many days when just finishing and not giving up was the most optimal outcome.
On the negative side of today's stage, there were more crashes, the most serious and important occurred just when the peloton was in full flight trying to bring back Will's breakaway. Ricardo Ricco and Denis Menchov both missed the split and lost a bit over a minute to the likes of Valverde and Evans. As we all know, crashes are a part of bike racing, but it still makes it hard to swallow when mishaps shape the outcome. Hopefully, Menchov and Ricco can rebound and maybe this will make the mountain stages a bit more exciting as the two try to take backtime.
But, the day belongs to Will Frischkorn and even though one of his breakaway companions won the stage and another one got the yellow jersey, Will's ride might just be the breakthrough his career needs to ratchet it up into high gear. I hope I don't sound too much like a homer but, for me he was the real winner today.
What do you think about Will's ride?
ps - today France not only got the stage win, but also the yellow jersey. The Frenchies have been all over the front for the past three days trying to restore some French pride to their home race. Unfortunately, it will have to be stages and short stints in yellow as they have absolutely no hope for the overall win.