While bike racing and baseball are both sports, besides that they have very little in common. You rarely see a pro cyclist scratching himself in public and when the rain comes pouring down in a bike race, they don't pull a tarp over the roadway and let the competitors head to the clubhouse to get warm and dry. But, if the stars align and some interesting developments actually develop, bike racing may soon resemble baseball.
Well, to be honest, it is only a momentary resemblance, but if things work out it might just be one of the most interesting happenings in pro cycling since some washed up, has been from Texas announced his return to cycling last summer (hint: Bret Favre lives in Louisiana and his cycling prowess is questionable).
The lineup of dominoes starts with Team Astana. The beleaguered Kazakhastan squad is hoping to get its Pro Tour license renewed for 2010. With the best stage race rider in the world, Alberto Contador, on the team the renewal may seem like a slam dunk. However, Lance Armstrong and Astana Team Director Johan Bruyneel left the team in 2009 and the squad is now being run by Alexandre Vinokourov.
You might remember 'Vino' from his 'exit stage right' performance at the 2007 Tour de France when he tested positive for blood doping. He served a two year suspension and is now back in the sport. But, as we have seen with other cyclists who were caught up in the web of doping, the sport of cycling sometimes finds it hard to forgive certain cyclists. Vino appears to be one such rider.
There is a rumour that because of Vino Astana will not get a Pro Tour license in 2010 setting up a very interesting baseball-like chain of events.
The first event in the chain is that when Astana does not get a Pro Tour license, Alberto Contador will be able to break his contract and become a free agent. The second event is that the new British professional squad, Team Sky, has been salivating over Garmin-Slipstream rider Bradley Wiggins. Not only did Wiggins turn a bunch of heads in finishing fourth at the 2009 Tour de France, but he's British (nothing he can do about that) and that's a very advantageous combination for Team Sky.
The third part of this scenario is that Wiggins has a buy out clause in his contract reportedly valued at $7-8 million US dollars. The last part of this whole chain of events is that Jonathan Vaughters, the head honcho at Garmin-Slipstream, wants Alberto Contador on his team in a very bad way (well, who wouldn't).
So here's how things could work out. Astana doesn't get a Pro Tour license and Alberto Contador breaks his contract. Jonathan Vaughters sells Bradley Wiggins to Team Sky to raise the money necessary to hire Alberto Contador. The only thing missing from this scenario is the 'player to be named later.'
Will this whole secenario play out? Who knows? Both Contador and Wiggins are exceptional riders and wherever they end up, they will continue to excite us all with their exploits. But, it is fun to play a little 'what if?'
Today, September 1, the gag order on discussing rider transfers inside the pro peloton was lifted so a number of riders and teams were able to announce their key signings for 2010. Here's what's up.
Levi Leipheimer has signed a two-year deal with Lance Armstrong's Team Radio Shack. Team BMC made a strong run this summer to try and lure Levi to their team, but in the end Team Radio Shack won out probably based on the fact the Levi has had the best results of his career under Johan Bruyneel.
The Garmin-Slipstream team made a number of signings. To bolster their leadout train for fastman Tyler Farrar, the argyle crew signed South African sprinter Robbie Hunter who has won a stage of the Tour de
To fortify their classics campaign, they signed Johan Vansummeren who was most recently with Silence Lotto. He has finished top ten in Paris-Roubaix twice.
Peter Stetina, son of former US standout Dale Stetina, moves up from the development squad to the Pro Tour team. He rode exceptionally well against the likes of Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer at the Tour of Gila.
Tom Zirbel, the former distannce runner and current US road pro with Bissell brings his considerable time trialing talents to the team.
Fredrik Kessiakoff is a four time Swedish National Mountain bike champion who is currently riding with Fuji Servetto and will be looked on for his uphill talents.
Team BMC has acquired four big European stars, will next year be the year they ride the Tour?
Undoubtedly the biggest name coming to BMC is George Hincapie who leaves Team Columbia-HTC.
Marcus Burghart, who won a stage at the 2008 Tour de France also leaves Columbia-HTC for BMC.
Reigning World Road Race Champion Allessandro Ballan will move from Lampre to BMC.
Karsten Kroon has also been named to the BMC squad.
I have written several times about George Hincapie's narrow miss at the Tour's yellow jersey and the efforts made my Team Garmin-Slipstream to chase him down. One of the interesting side-stories of this whole affair is the fact that in Team Columbia's attempt to slow things down in the peloton so that George would be able to get the yellow jersey, they accidentally created a situation which ended up costing them the green jersey.
Obviously, Columbia didn't set out to lose the green jersey just to get the yellow one. In fact, I would bet that if it would have been know beforehand that trying to get George the yellow would have cost Mark Cavendish the green Team Columbia would have behaved differently. It is just one of those ironies that happens at the Tour. A few years ago, in Miguel Indurain's attempt to win the final TT at the Tour, he went so fast that he eliminated his brother who ultimately missed the time cut. That's irony.
What happened with Team Columbia is that, because they were trying to slow the peloton down, they didn't crank their leadout train into it's normal high gear with Mark Renshaw winding it up inside the final kilometer. Instead Team Columbia tried to run their leadout train in slow motion, so to speak, which allowed a number of riders, including Thor Hushovd to be in contention to sprint with Mark Canvedish as the line approached.
It was clear, watching the TV coverage, that Cavendish was trying to figure out where Hushovd, his only rival for the green jersey, was during that slow-mo sprint. Unfortunately, when Cavendish looked over his right shoulder to see Hushovd, he moved slightly to his right. This is a normal occurrence when riding a bike.When you look over your right shoulder, especially if you have stiff arms, then you move to the right. The same thing happens if you look left except that you drift left.
So, what happened to Cavendish was a pretty normal reaction. Unfortunately, it looked to the judges that Mark intentionally moved right, in what is called "hooking", to impede Hushovd's forward progress. I have seen enough "hooks" in my day to know when a rider is "hooking" another rider. What I saw Cavendish do to Hushovd just didn't look like a hook. But, that's not the way the judges saw it and they relegated Cavendish to last place in that sprint, costing him enough sprint points to ultimately cost him the green jersey.
If Team Columbia had ridden a normal, full-speed, sprint then this problem would never have occurred. Cavendish would most likely have beaten Hushovd that day and also for the green jersey. One of the things I admire about Team Columbia is that they never publicly regretted their decision to try to help George get the yellow jersey even if it did end up costing them the green jersey. They realize that the Tour is full of ironic(as opposed to iconic) moments and this was one of them.
Interactive Learning Moment - on stage 3 Team Columbia and Lance Armstrong put the hammer down in the crosswind and took 41 seconds out of all of Lance's contenders for the yellow jersey. These precious seconds were the difference for Lance between the podium and fifth place.
Follow the Leader Moment - the stage 4 team time trial course in and around Montpelier was a twisty, turny, technical affair. Several teams such as Skil-Shimano and BBox Bouygues Telecom saw their TTT trains derailed by one, very fast, decreasing radius right turn. I should know, I almost when off the road on that turn while riding the course with the Garmin boys in the morning before the stage.
Never Give Up Moment - in the era of race radios it is a rarity that a breakaway will succeed when the peleton is smelling a field sprint. On stage 5 of the Tour, Frenchman Thomas Voeckler proved that not only can you fool the peloton, but you can do it solo. Chapeau Tom!
What Was He Thinking Moment - Cadel Evans' crumble in the third week of the Tour was well documented, but what about his attack near the summit of the climb out of Andorra when the peloton had almost 100 miles and two major climbs left to ride. There's strategy and then there's desperation. Wait, there is also bewilderment.
What Were They Thinking Moment - well, this moment actually occurred long before the Tour started when the race organizers decided to put the iconic Col du Tourmalet so far from the stage finish that even I had a chance of getting back on before the line.
NRA is Alive and Living In Europe Moment - I have been covering the Tour for over twenty years and I have never, ever heard of a rider being shot during the race. In what is clearly a very sad moment, guns have made their presence felt in the world's greatest bike race.
Why Can't We All Get Along Moment - it appeared to be purely out of spite that Garmin-Slipstream chased down the breakaway containing George Hincapie, keeping him out of the yellow jersey. I like the guys on the Garmin-Slipstream team and am still wondering why it was so important to keep an American on an American team out of yellow. A rising tide floats all boats.
Life Just Isn't Fair Moment - Jens Voigt is one of the most likeable guys in the pro peloton. His crash descending the Petit Saint Bernard was pretty horrific and put one of the most exciting riders out of the race. Check out Jens addressing his fans from his hospital room (thanks Andrew!): http://www.saxobanktakingthelead.com/?p=1217
The Mind is a Terrible Thing Moment - we will probably never know what Alberto Contador was thinking when he attacked, against his director's orders, on the final slopes of the Colombiere. However, given his pithy post-race comments about Lance Armstrong, the fact that his attack knocked Andreas Kloden off the podium making a place for Lance probably has even Alberto wondering what he was thinking.
The Winds of Change Moment - too bad the riders were subjected to very strong headwinds on the upper slopes of Mont Ventoux. The winds most likely muted the effects of the Giant of Provence and blunted Frank Schleck's chance to jump over Lance onto the podium.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that, while Alberto Contador has the yellow jersey well in his grasp, the second and third places on the podium will be determined on the slopes of Mont Ventoux. Barring a complete meltdown, Saxo Bank rider Andy Schleck's 1'30" lead over Lance Armstrong, Andreas Kloden, Bradley Wiggins and his brother Frank Schleck should be enough to give him the second step of the podium.
So, Lance, Andreas, Bradley and Frank, who are separated by less than 40 seconds on the overall classification, will be riding hard, digging deep and generally throwing caution to the wind in an attempt to be top three in Paris.
Of those four, Frank Schelck has been climbing the best and appears to have the upper hand. However, this is the last difficult day in the Tour so no rider can claim to be holding back to be able to fight another day. It is "another day" when we get to Ventoux and because the stakes are so high, the attacks and the emotions will be at near chaotic level.
The climb of Ventoux from the quaint village of Bedoin is split into three distinct sections. The first 2.5 miles (4km) are flat or very gentle(3-4%) climbing. The meat of the ascent is the next 6 miles(10km) where the road is very steep (9.5-10%) average grade, the terrain features are a monotonous forest of trees and the road winds uphill in a seemingly unending series of shallow turns. There are no switchbacks to break up the monotony, only the pain.
When the climb reaches Chalet Reynard (House of the Fox) the terrain escapes the forest and enters a lunar landscape for the final 5 miles (8km) to the summit. The gradient kicks back to a manageable 8%, but above the trees it can be hot, windy or both. Overall the 13-mile(22km) ascent climbs 5300'(1600m).
What will the podium contenders do on the climb? Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck should just follow the wheels of Armstrong, Kloden, Wiggins and Frank Schleck. Andy might do some work to help his brother get on the podium. Likewise, unless he goes off the reservation as he did in the final few kilometers of the Colombiere, Alberto Contador is in the unique position to help an attack by either Lance or Andreas Kloden succeed by helping set tempo.
The gap between the four contending for the final spot on the podium is small enough that they can wait to attack after reaching Chalet Reynard. Attacking during the steep section below is risky because the chances of blowing up and losing contact is very real.
However, since there are four riders so closely bunched, the guy who wants to stand on the third step of the podium will, most likely, have to drop all three of his rivals. It might be possible to drop one or two, but dropping all three will require either a vicious attack(s) or a very fast tempo and that might only be able to be accomplished by attacking early, on the steep section, and not on the slopes above Chalet Reynard.
My prediction is that Frank Schleck, aided by his brother, will attack on the steep section. He is behind the other three timewise so he has to drop them all. He is climbing well and is probably the best of the four at going for a long attack.
Since Lance is ahead of his three rivals on time, he just has to mark all three of them and make sure nobody gets away. He has said that, after Verbier, his strategy is to not go with sharp accelerations, but to ride his pace and try to "diesel" up to the attackers. I think Lance will have to respond directly to any attacks on Mont Ventoux. He cannot afford, both physically and mentally, to let any of his rivals go up the road.
Bradley Wiggins is the big unknown. Undoubtedly, the whole Garmin-Slipstream team will be working to set him up. He has climbed very well in both the Alps and the Pyrenees, but I think he will really have to go to some places he has never gone before in his cycling career to get the third spot on the podium. Somewhere in his soul is the key. Will he find it?
Andreas Kloden is the big unknown. Obviously, after Contador's needless attack on the Colombiere there is some new disharmony on the team. It is unclear where he will be headed next year, but if he is on the short list to join Lance's new team, he may be asked to ride in support of Armstrong.
But, heck, forget all the speculation and just bring on the race. I can't wait.
No one will ever say that Italian professional Eros Poli was a great climber. At 6'4" and 195lbs he was built for power on the flats witness his Olympic gold medal in the Team Time Trial. But, in 1994, Eros tried something that which few have ever been successful. Poli tried to beat all the Tour's best climbers up and over Mont Ventoux. It was going to take a unique strategy of Eros was to lead over the Giant of Provence and then then 20 miles of flat roads to the finish in Carpentras.
Bruce: you needed to get a huge lead to be able to be first over Ventoux.
Eros: At the base I had 24 minutes. When I escaped it was 100 km of flat to the base of the climb. I said to myself 'if you want to win you need 24 minutes' because normally I lose one minute per kilometer and the climb is 22 kilometers so I will lose 22 minutes. So, I thought I needed another two minutes to be sure
to the finish. I had four minutes lead at the top on Pantani. With five kilometers to go I had a five minute advantage on the peloton so I said 'OK. It is done'.
Bruce: what was it like climbing Mont Ventoux? The steep section in the middle is very hard.
Eros: It is very difficult. I did it this year with a group of Scottish guys and I thought "how could I do it that day? How could I go up that mountain?" It is so difficult. There are no switchbacks, no corners. Just up, up, up in almost a straight line. There is no possibility of a rest. No possibility of recuperation. It is long. It is an incredible mountain. It is the biggest mountain in the Tour de France.
Bruce: Now that you are retired what are you doing?
Eros: I work in insurance. Sometimes I organize holiday trips by the bike near where I live. I live in Verona near the beautiful Lake Garda. I organize trips, especially for American people and Australians.
Alberto Contador continues to demonstrate that he is the best rider in the 2009 Tour de France. After dominating in the mountains, he proved that he was equally capable in the time trials as he bested all his rivals by an impressive margin. While he narrowly beat time trial specialist, Fabian Cancellara, by three seconds, the first GC rider in the standings behind Contador was Garmin-Slipstream rider Bradley Wiggins forty three seconds back. Lance Armstrong ceded 1'30" to Contador, but moved up to third place overall.
Undoubtedly, the biggest surprise of the day was Saxo Bank's Andy Schleck who, while finishing 1'45" behind Contrador, was only a minute back of Bradley Wiggins and 15 seconds arrears of Armstrong. As a result, Andy has solidified his second place overall and given how he has been climbing, looks good for the podium and the white jersey in Paris.
The final place on the podium will be a tight battle as four riders, Armstrong, Wiggins, Kloden and Frank Schleck are all within a 34 seconds going into the rendezvous with Mont Ventoux. If you go on racing form alone the nod goes to Frank Schleck, but don't count anyone out when the podium is in play.
Robbie Ventura is one of the two on-the-scene interviewers for Versus TV. I sat down with Robbie to talk about his job.
Bruce: what is the hardest part of your job?
Robbie: it is stressful, but also exciting to do course reports. When the camera is on it looks a lot easier than it actually is. You are standing out on the course and there are fans who are hoping that you screw up. There is a little bit of stress there but it is also the most rewarding getting through the stress and putting out a good product.
Bruce: Does it help with the interviews that you were once a professional bike racer?
Robbie: Yeah, I think so. They respect that I have been a professional before. I think that makes it easier to talk to them. But, also just understanding what they are going through and being sympathetic to that, I think they can see that and feel that in me as a reporter. I am very fortunate that most riders have welcomed me so far. The ones that you don't know that well are obviously challenging to talk to. Definitely it is a big help knowing the riders a bit and creating relationships.
Bruce: Versus goes out to a wide audience. What kind of slant on cycling is versus trying to bring to its viewing audience.
Robby: I think a big part of it is education. I think the more knowledge the fans have about the sport, the more they learn about the sport the more they will have the passion and excitement that we currently have for the sport. In Europe the fans are more knowledgeable about the inner workings of the sport, the teamwork, the bikes, the technology. If we can bring that amount of knowledge and information to the fans in the United States our audience will continue to broaden.
That niche group of hard-core cycling guys who only want to talk hi-techie slang which is fun for me to talk about as well, but unfortunately sometimes we are kind of handcuffed and we want to make things as simple as possible for 90% of our audience who don't understand the complexities of the sport.
Bruce: who is your favorite guy to interview?
Robby: I love Vande Velde. I think Vande Velde is funny. He gives great answers. He is really honest. He doesn't always give that kind of like perfect answer. He talks from the heart. You can tell he's an emotional guy with a lot of passion.
The third stage in the Alps produced a massive shakeup in the overall classification. While Alberto Contador solidified his grip on the yellow jersey, the Schleck brothers unleashed the attacks everyone expected from them. Astana and Garmin-Slipstream were the only team who were able to respond save for Liquigas' Vincenzo Nibali.
On the penultimate climb a four man group, the Schlecks, Contador and Kloden formed and put a minute on four chasers, Armstrong, Wiggins, Vande Velde and Nibali. On the final climb when it looked like Astana had the race under total control, Contador attacked which immediately dropped his teammate Kloden and then when he realized the error of his ways, he sat up and let the Schlecks catch up. Unfortunately, the eleastic had snapped with Kloden and he would ultimately lose over four unneccessary minutes (see the interviews below discussing Contador's attack).
While the Schlecks and Contador fought it out for the stage win, the nod going to brother Frank, Lance attacked Wiggins one kilometer from the summit of the final climb to take a precious 58 seconds from the Garmin-Slipstream rider. The top three on the overall classification going into tomorrow's 25-mile (40km) TT are Contador, Andy Schleck and Frank Schleck. Lance is in fourth; Kloden fifth and Wiggins sixth.
Kudos to Christain Vande Velde who, realizing after the stage to Verbier, that his teammate Bradley Wiggins was on better form, selflessly sacrificed his chances to ride Wiggins back into contention. He actually moved up from twelfth to eight overall. A nice prize for his efforts.
I tag-teamed an interview with Lance with the folks at Versus.
Q: After all the attacking on the Col du Romme thing settled down and you were in the second group. Are you happy with the way things shook out?
Lance: yes and no. I tried to be conservative on the Col du Romme and I didn't go with those initial attacks. Then I kind of got caught stuck behind. Once you are thirty seconds back there is nothing you can do... just sit on.
I was a little concerned with Bradley Wiggins in the TT so in the last KM of the Colombiere I decided to jump away, but it felt pretty good.
Q: You took a minute out of Bradley Wiggins in the final 16-17kms. You are a minute and thirty seconds behind Andy Schleck. Is that doable in the time trial tomorrow?
Lance: I don't know. We will see. I am going to do my best. It would be nice to get on the podium so I will go as hard as I can. I will go up the Ventoux as fast as I can.
Q: Interesting attack by Contador five KM from the top of the Colombiere. Do you have any idea what that was all about?
Lance: No. I don't know. I wasn't really paying attention. I was just staying with Wiggo and with Christian. I am going to bite my tongue on that one.
Q: how does it feel to be a 37-year old man in the Tour de France?
Lance: It feels good man. I am out here volunteering. Having fun.
I also tag-teamed an interview with Johan Bruyneel with the folks at Versus.
Q: Where you happy how things shook out on the final two climbs?
Johan: I was happy until four kilometers from the top of the Colombier. That was a really perfect situation for us because we knew that the Schlecks would go on the Col du Romme to try to get rid of Wiggins. That is also what we wanted to do because the time trial specialist he is, he was the real danger.
And so we were happy with that. At the moment the two Schlecks went, Contador and Kloden went with them so for us it was fine. We knew the two Schlecks would go to the finish because they wanted to get rid of Bradley Wiggins.
The attack from Contador three km from the top... I had advised him not to go because he didn't need to go. He didn't need to attack because it was clear that the two Schleck brothers would go full gas to the finish. I told him you don't need to have to attack to win the Tour de France today because of the difference(time gap) was there with Wiggins.
So it is a bit of a pity that Kloden couldn't hang on afterward because we could have been first, second and third today on GC and now we are first, fourth and fifth.
Q: was it the plan to have Lance attack with a kilometer or two to go before the finish to try and get time on Wiggins? Do you think if he had launched a little bit earlier he might have sealed it up?
Johan: No. A rider has to know when he has to attack and Lance really judged that attack. I know he had a hard time in the last few kilometers because it was a hard stage. It was an impressive attack. That was the plan. I said to Alberto and Andreas (Kloden) just stay on the wheels of the Schlecks and I told Lance in the final kilometers of the Colombiere try and go away from Wiggins. Then we are one, two, three.
In the end you cannot want it all. Our purpose is to win the Tour. I think we got a big step forward today and we have to be happy with that. If we want everything we can end up with nothing.
Q: At the end of the day, Lance is 1:30 behind Andy Schleck. Can he make that up tomorrow?
Johan: I think it is possible tomorrow. Yes. But, we also have the Ventoux still so I don't know what the final result is going to be. Our main objective is to win the Tour de France and I think we are on a good way to do that.
Q: Is Lance riding like you would like to see him ride?
Johan: Oh, definitely. If we look before the Tour de France I think he is above expectations. He is on a really good level. He doesn't really have that acceleration. I think that is the only thing he is missing from those three years retirement...that acceleration and the possibility to respond. It's a bit on purpose.
After Verbier we chose to not respond to the attacks; to let people attack and then ride your own pace.
But, today he was caught in the game of having to be the ideal teammate. This morning we said that the biggest danger for the Tour is Bradley Wiggins because if he stays where he is and with the good time trial he has he could be a big danger. So we diefinitely accomplished that objective. We got rid of Wiggins today.
Q: There was disharmony in the team early on in the Tour, but with Contador the undisputed team leader is there more harmony on the team now?
Johan: Yes, there is. Well at least there was. We will have to see how everybody feels about what happened on the Colombiere. That (team harmony) is something we don't have to think too much about or say too much about. The main objective is to win the Tour and things worked well today to make the race hard to try to distance our main danger which was Bradley Wiggins so we have to be happy with that.
Second and third was never a goal. That's fine, but we can't go after that because you have to make sacrifices and the main goal is to win the Tour and I thikn we are close to getting it.
I talked with Garmin-Slipstream team manager Matt White about his team's efforts on the stage.
Bruce: how did the team ride today?
Matt: the team was super today. Christian was there for Bradley until about four or five km of the last climb.
Bruce: how do you feel about Bradley's performance today?
Matt: Sensational. That was one of the hardest, if not the hardest days of the Tour and to only lose that amount of time was a very, very solid ride.
Bruce: for Christian to be the designated team leader before the Tour, but to work for Bradley Wiggins on the climbs, what does that say about Christian?
Matt: He is always thinking of others. He's 100% for the team. He is coming here with a very disruptive preparation, but I am super-proud of Christian. He proved what a super-teammate he is for sacrificing himself for Bradley.
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.
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.
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.
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
A general lack of cooperation among the sprinter's teams allowed a group of seven riders to stay away to the finish, but the first rider across the line, Saxo Bank's Niki Sorensen didn't wait around to sprint with his breakmates. His solo attack in the closing kilometers brought Saxo Bank it's second stage win after Cancellara's victory in Monaco.
I was a day for opportunities as the AG2R-La Mondiale team had to spend most of day at the front riding for their man in yellow, Rinaldo Nocentini, as the sprinter's teams just couldn't coordinate a chase effort to bring back the breakaway. While Nocentini kept the jersey, it was a lost day for the Cavendish, Farrar, Hushovd, et. al. as the stage profile clearly called for a bunch finish. But, that's why they ride each day, just to see who has been reading all the journalists' prognostications.
Clearly, Mark Cavendish is the class of the sprinters and my guess is that the other teams with sprinters such as Garmin-Slipstream and Cervelo Test Team decided not to do any work at the front just so 'Cav' could get another win. With two riders in contention for the overall, I can see why Garmin-Slipstream might have chosen not to ride, but it is a bit of a pity as their fastman, Tyler Farrar, came oh, so close to winning yesterday. But, the third week of the Tour is, as Lance Armstrong put it 'sinister', and as we reach the Alps in just three days maybe all eyes are looking at the mountains.
Jens Voigt are you listening? This is your opportunity to go for stage win!
Nicolas Roche has some big shoes to fill being the son of Irishman Stephen Roche who won the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and the World Road Championship all in the same year, 1987. He is riding his first Tour, and sporting the jersey of the Irish National road champion, for AG2R-La Mondiale team who just happen to have the yellow jesey. I talked with him about his Tour experience.
Bruce: what is it like riding for Rinaldo in yellow?
Nicolas: for me it is a fantastic experience. It is my first Tour and straight away I have the opportunity to ride for the yellow jersey. Some riders never do that in their whole career. Of course, that puts a big stop on my own personal motivations, but it is my first Tour so everything is going all right. I had my chances in the first week in the sprints. Now there are two more weeks to go and lots of chances to get into the breakaways.
Bruce: What is the biggest thing you have learned so far?
Nicolas: I suppose that when you are riding the Tour you are either riding to be top ten in GC or the most important thing is to try and save you energy for the next day to give it a go in the breakaways. You can't win the sprint because of Cavendish and there are too many other good sprinters. If you wait for a mountain top finish there is Contador, Armstrong and so many others. There are not many possibilities to get a stage win which is the dream of everybody who comes to the Tour, I think.
While Serge Borlee is currently Cadel Evans' bodyguard, he has preformed the same duty for Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and Alexandre Vinokourov. I thought there would be a bidding war for Serge's services when Lance announced his comeback, but it didn't happen. Hopefully, we are buddies now and he won't hurt me!
Bruce: what are your duties as a bodyguard?
Serge: Every morning I bring him to the start line for the sign in. I make sure nothing happens to him before the race starts.
Bruce: some people don't know your background. You are an ex-Belgian policeman.
Serge: I am not an ex, I am still a policeman. This is my holiday. I take my holiday to do the Tour de France.
Bruce: Cadel is a bit different this year than last year. He is more friendly.
Serge: Last year they put too much pressure on him to make him win the Tour de France and it was too stressful for him. But, this year I think he is in better shape than last year and he's looking good.
Bruce: have you ever had to take somebody down while protecting a rider?
Serge: In 2005 I got in a fight with the police in Paris when I was protecting Lance. Put my name in YouTube and you will see.
Bruce: of all the riders you have worked with, who was the best to work for?
Serge: Cadel. It is less stressful. He's a nice guy.
Last time I talked with Rabobank Director Sportif (DS) Erik Breukink was in Rome during the final TT of the Giro. The team was on a definite high as they were just hours away from wining the Giro D'Italia. Here at the Tour, their luck has been going in the opposite direction. As I predicted, I didn't think Menchov could recover from the Giro and he hasn't. The their hope for the white jersey and possibly the overall, Robert Gesink(pronounced Hesink, just like Houda not Gouda cheese) crashed and had to retire with a broken wrist.
Bruce: with Gesink out and Menchov apparently not recovered from the Giro are you looking to stage wins?
Erik: a stage win is important, for sure. Gesink for the mountains was our guy. Menchov is getting a litle bit better, but it is difficult for him to move up on GC because he is so far behind. Stage wins are important now.
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.
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.
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.
After Christian Vande Velde's fourth place finish in the 2008 Tour, much was expected from the team leader of the Garmin-Slipstream squad. Then he had a very serious crash in the Giro and everything changed. A so-so performance in the pre-Tour warm up, the Tour of Switzerland, was a cause for concern. But, as the Tour left the Pyrenees, those concerns appear to be unfounded as Vande Velde was climbing well with all the the heavy hitters. I talked with him after the first mountain stage to see what's up.
Christian admitted that he was beat up pretty badly after the crash and had a slow recovery. "I was kind of in denial of how bad I really was," said Vande Velde noting that he tried to come back too early and had to take three to four days off as a result.
There is no place to hide at the Tour. How did Vande Velde feel going into the race? "It has been stressful these last couple of weeks leading up to the Tour not knowing where I stand and what's going on(with my conditioning)," said Vande Velde. But, Christian rode well in the opening time trial, the team time trial and the first mountain stage adding that he 'felt great' on he final slopes of Arcalis.
Last year, Christian only had Ryder Hesjedal in the mountains and that was only on one, albeit, critical stage. This year, Olympic Gold Medalist, Bradley Wiggins has come over from Columbia-Highroad. Wiggins lost a reported nine pounds to be lighter to help Vande Velde in the mountains. Vande Velde see a lot of similarities to his situation last year. "He (Bradley) has no idea what he can and cannot do. He could definitely have attacked more today. It is just going to be a process of him knowing his body."
Christian wasn't sure exactly what the Garmin-Slipstream team could do to take on the super-powerful Astana team. On the climb to Arcalis, there were four Astana riders in the lead group and Contador was off the front. "They didn't even go at full guns today so I don't know," said Vande Velde.
Tomorrow's stage 10 and Friday's stage 13 will be unique in that the Tour organizers are banning the riders and their team directors from using radios. The radios have been in use since 1993 when Team Motorola introduced the Peloton Communication System (PCS). Back then, I wrote that I didn't like the radios and received some interesting comments back from the folks at Motorola. But, regardless of my protestations, the radios were here to stay and are now a critical part of a team's equipment.
Those in favor of the radios say that they increase the safety of the riders by first, warning them of dangerous situations up the road, and secondly, eliminating the need for riders to drop back to the team cars to talk to their directors.
Those opposed say that race radios turn the riders into nothing more than robots who obey every command given to them by their directors. This has made the racing boring and predictable. Do you ever wonder why the peloton almost always seems to catch the breakaway at the last possible moment?
What is interesting is that while most team directors support radios (well, duh), the riders seem to be split on the issue both sides citing the concerns noted above.
On Monday, at the Tour's first rest day, the teams were supposed to meet to decide what to do about the ban. Clearly, many team directors see it as a safety issue and believe that banning radios put their riders at risk. Fourteen of the twenty teams present at the Tour have signed a petition opposing the ban and there is a rumour of a rider strike at the stage start on Tuesday.
Personally, I am still opposed to race radios. The riders have to drop back to the team cars to get bottles and they don't seem to be crashing right and left. If the gendarmes do their job, upcoming road hazards should be handled properly.
I remember the days when it wasn't just power output, but one's ability to read a race that was considered an asset. However, being a realist, I realize that radios have become so integrated into the team's strategy and tactics that it will take a real paradigm shift to go back to the old ways. There is no doubt the racing would get more exciting without the radios.
Here's another suggestion to increase the excitement of the big races. Include some big dirt climbs like the Col du Grand Parpaillon and the Col de la Moutiere near Jausiers and the Col du Areche near Aime in the Alps. In the Pyrenees, you can climb another four miles and 1200' on a good dirt road from the top of the Col du Tourmalet. The Giro has included a few dirt roads in its race, how about the Tour?
The Col du Tourmalet is one of the hallmark climbs of the Tour de France. It was first climbed in the Tour almost 100 years ago when the road was little more than a goat track. Since then, it has produced it's fair share of Tour champions and in the unfortunate case of Eugene Christophe in 1913, one of the greatest legends of the greatest of races(more on that later).
For all these reasons it is really a shame that the race reached the top of the iconic pass with over 35 miles of downhill and flat riding to the finish. Last year the Tour climbed to Hautacam just down the valley, the Tourmalet playing a key role in the split in the peloton which produced the stage winner and a reshuffling of he overall contenders.
Not this year. While stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo and his breakaway companion, Franco Pellizotti, stayed away to the finish, the Tourmalet was basically a non-factor. What a pity.
I did a short interview with Lance just before the start of the stage.
Bruce: Are you surprised at just how good your form is at the Tour?
It hasn't been tested that much to be honest. We've had The prologue, TTT, Arcalis. I think the race is tighter than people expected. We'll know in the final week. That's where the form check will come.
Bruce: How did your pre-Tour preparations go?
The Giro was good for leaning out and I felt I got stronger as the race went on there. I was tired at the end so I had to recover from that. June was not a nromal month. Recovering from the Giro, having Max, building for the Tour, traveling back and forth. I think we are finding our legs. Again, the last six days are sinister.
Bruce: Do you have any indication on how you will feel in the final week? Are you still building form?
That's my plan. We'll see.
Bruce: What about the reports in the press about disharmony on the Astana team?
Rabobank rider Laurens Ten Dam crashed hard on the descent of the Tourmalet. Here he is at the stage finish inspecting the extensive damage to his bib shorts.
In May, Franco Pellizotti won a big mountain stage to the Blockhaus in the Giro d'Italia. He was off the front most of the day today, but lost the sprint for the stage win to Pierrick Fedrigo. This is the look of the second place rider.
On a day which didn't change the overall classification one second, it might seem like the race was a bit on the boring side. That was far from the case as a number of the favorites for the overall launched their bids to unseat Team Astana at the top of the heap.
The stage started off with a 14-mile(23.5km), 4200' climb right out of Andorra. Because of the aggressive nature of the Tour this far, a number of riders were seen warming up before the stage, something that rarely happens, especially since the first three miles were neutralized. But, when the flag dropped, the attacks started as the AG2R-La Mondiale team of race leader Rinaldo Nocentini was unable to control the peloton.
There were at least three major groups on the climb at one point and with 5km remaining to the summit of the massive Port d'Envalira, Cadel Evans went clear. Dave Zabriskie covered the move for Garmin-Slipstream. That move was partially brought back, though a group containing Thor Hushovd and George Hincapie did escape on the descent into France(see race notes below).
Things seemed to cool down until the final climb, the Col de Agnes, where Andy Schleck put in a strong attack. All of Astana's heavy hitters were there, but Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre missed the move so even Lance Armstrong took some pulls at the front trying to widen the gap back to Evans.
In the end the fire went out at the front and all the overall contenders were together at the finish. Again, another exciting day at the Tour even if the results at the end of the day didn't reflect it.
The stage victory went to Casse d'Epargne rider Luis-Leon Sanchez. Here is a photo of him celebrating his victory.
For some reason, I seem to be a magnet for stage winners. Sanchez rode right up to me and stopped. I snapped this photo just as the scrum for the first interview began.
I talked briefly with yesterday's stage winner, Brice Feillu. He picked up the polka-dot climber's jersey for his efforts yesterday. He told me he was very happy to have won a stage and have taken the polka dot jersey. He also said that even though he lost the jersey today to Christophe Kern he would fight to get it back.
Because this was a very hilly stage, the organizers had a difficult time deciding where to place the intermediate sprints. These sprints award points for the first three finishers and count toward the green, sprinter's jersey. In the end, the two of the three sprints were only 11 miles(19km) apart. Thor Hushovd, who trailed Mark Cavendish in the race for the green jersey by only one point, broke away before the first sprint. Cavendish's Columbia-HTC teammate, George Hincapie, covered the move, but Hushovd took the first sprint and is the provisional leader in the green jersey competition on the road.
Hushovd beat Hincapie in the next sprint to increase his provisional lead by another six points over Cavendish. The third sprint is after the final two big climbs so most likely neither Hushovd or Cavendish will be contesting that sprint or the stage finish sprint as well. Because of this making the most of these kinds of opportunities is how you maximize your output, but conserve energy. It was a very good tactical move for the Cervelo Test Team. Thor will be in the green jersey tonight.
Garmin-Slipstream rider Bradley Wiggins was a major revelation on the climb to Arcalis in Andorra. Not only was he in the lead group, but even managed an attack with about a kilometer to go. Wiggins, or Wiggo as his teammates call him, has quite the engine as witnessed by his Olympic gold medal in the 4000m pursuit from the Beijing Olympics. He was hired by the Garmin-Slipstream team to help Christian Vande Velde in the mountains and because of this he lost nine pounds in the off season to improve his climbing form.
That Wiggins is nine pounds lighter than last year makes the fact that he was generating a mind-blowing 550 watts during his turns at the front in the team time trial even more impressive. Its one thing to lose weight, but to not sacrifice any power is the best scenario possible. I think we have only seen a brief glimpse on what may be possible for Wiggins.
Yesterday's 135-mile stage from Barcelona to Arcalis-Andorra was medium-tough by Tour standards. It was six hours in the saddle for the riders and two major climbs. Christian Vande Velde burned over 5000 calories during the stage.
Alberto Contador put his stamp on the 2009 Tour, attacking the elite group of overall contenders with two miles(3km) remaining to the finish at Arcalis in Andorra. Many speculated that Contador, in an attempt to keep team harmony at Astana, would only follow an attack by another squad's overall contender such as Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck or Carlos Sastre. But, after Cadel Evans had tested the waters with 2.5 miles remaining and had been easily brought back by both Contador and Armstrong, Alberto launched his convincing attack.
The gap quickly went out to double digit seconds, but seemed to stabilize at around twenty seconds as Evans led the chase. Garmin-Slipstream's overall favorite Christian Vande Velde signaled his return to top form by launching an attack out of the Evans-led group just under the red kite. He was brought back and he, Evans, Armstrong, Leiphimer and Andy Schleck all finished together 21 seconds back of the Spaniard.
While the race for overall was going on down the road. Brice Feillu of the French Agritubel squad won the stage. He was part of a large breakaway group that had a ten minute lead as the race entered Andorra. He attacked with about five kilometers remaining and held off all his break-mates. As a bit of a break from form, he forgot to zip up his jersey to acknowledge his sponsors as he crossed the line.
One side effect of the large time gap given to the breakaway was that Rinaldo Nocentini, who earlier this year won the Pasadena stage of the Amgen Tour of California, inherited the yellow jersey ahead of Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong. Contador has only a two second lead over Armstrong on general classification, though with the strength he showed in the closing kilometers, he looks to be a tick better than Armstrong on the climbs.
But, after struggling to stay in the lead group at the Giro d'Italia, it is a testament to Lance's form that not only did he finish in the lead group, but he easily neutralized Cadel Evans' attack and looked very relaxed in the drag over the final kilometers to the line. Based on how good he looked, it is a distinct possibility that Lance was playing the good teammate and forcing the others to chase Contador.
It was another exciting stage. Even though Contador appeared to have the upper hand on Armstrong, those who doubted Lance as a true contender may well be silenced. It was also very gratifying to see Christian Vande Velde back up with the leaders after his horrible crash in the Giro. Christian's teammate Bradley Wiggins also climbed well. More on his transcendence soon.
Stage winner Brice Feillu.
Popovych leads Lance and Alberto with about 4km remaining.
Andy Schleck, Bradley Wiggins, Andreas Kloden and Frank Schleck.
Sergio Paulinho has done his work at the front and is now just riding to the finish.
I am probably jeopardizing my manhood, but for this trip to cover the Tour de France I bought myself an auto GPS unit. My sense of direction is pretty darn good, but in some of the older towns in Europe (and the US for that matter) the layout and direction of traffic on the city streets just don't make sense.
Nothing is more frustrating than, after along day of reporting on the Tour, to have to spend several hours driving in circles trying to find your hotel. And just like the riders of the Tour, we journalists need to get a good recovery after our efforts. Accumulating stress and/or losing sleep will make the three weeks of the Tour seem like months. Suffice it to say, anything you can do to make your life easier is warmly welcomed.
So I bought a Garmin Nuvi 265WT not only because it is a highly rated GPS unit, but I also like to spend money with companies who sponsor cycling. I am wearing a set of Columbia Titanium crewneck shirts throughout France. Don't worry, I wash them every night and they are ready to go each morning.
Listening to Garmina (the nickname of the woman who provides the voice commands) tell me where to go is pretty soothing when I have no clue as to where I need to be. But, in celebration of the Tour de France, Garmin, the title sponsor of the Garmin-Slipstream team has a special, free, offer for those who own Garmin GPS. Garmin-Slipstream team director, Matt White, recorded all the words and phrases(and a few more!) used by the GPS units.
Now when I need to turn right, the Aussie voice of the former US Postal and Discovery Channel rider White tells me where to go. And during those long flat stretches where there are no directions to give, Matt pops in with some light comedy to break the boredom. My personal favorite is "Did you remember to put the bikes on top of the car." Along with the voice of Matt White, Garmin is also offering addition vehicle icons. You can choose from a number of different vehicles including both a Garmin-Slipstream team bus or team car. I chose the team bus.
If you would like to add these new features to your Garmin GPS just go to GarminGarage.com. They don't take up much space on your unit and it really does make for a very unique experience. Don't fret, if you start missing Garmina's soothing voice, it is very easy to switch back to have her give you directions. The same goes for the vehicle icon.
A couple of days ago, I promised to post some pictures of my ride with the Garmin-Slipstream team as they were doing there morning warm-up for the TTT. I took some on-the-bike photos, but given the twisty technical nature of the course, the incessant wind, the speed of these guys and the fact that I was trying to cough up a lung about 90% of the ride they came out a bit, well, er, um, fuzzy; kind of luck how I was feeling.
Note that some of the riders were warming up on their road bikes.
The boys are looking good in formation.
This is what happens when you are going 30+mph on a bumpy road in a heavy crosswind trying to hang onto one of the world's best teams.
David Millar is the man. He laid it all on the line on today's stage from Girona, where he and most of his Garmin-Slipstream teammates call home, to Barcelona. The conditions were epic with torrential rains hammering the rides in the final few hours. Millar attacked his three breakaway companions with 12 miles(20km) remaing and looked to be heading for a stage win. Unfortunately, the peloton caught him with about a mile remaining, the look on his face did not mask the disappointment at coming so close.
The final hour of racing was marred by a number of crashes. Painted lines, roads slick with diesel and numerous roundabouts played havoc and caused three or four crashes when the riders were being as careful as possible in the dangerous conditions. Both Tyler Farrar and Tom Boonen were taken down which resulted in the final sprint being a bit of a free-for-all.
The Rabobank team had been setting pace on the front to set up a win for their Spanish triple world champion Oscar Friere, but Cervelo Test Team's Thor Hushovd came by him with about 75 meters to go and took the win. Yet another Tour stage provided a dramatic ending
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