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Active Expert: Bruce Hildenbrand

50 Posts tagged with the team_astana tag

With all the recent broken contracts in the sport of pro cycling you would have thought that they were printed on toilet paper using invisible ink. First there was half of Team Astana heading over to Team Radio Shack. Now, Bradley Wiggins has left Garmin-Transitions for Britain's new pro squad, Team Sky.

 

There are a couple of issues here. First off, are all contracts created equally? Should all contracts, regardless of the circumstances be honored? Are there any extenuating rules or laws that affect whether a contract is valid or not?

 

First off, it is not clear that all contracts are created equally. By this, I mean are some contracts easier to break than others. Some contracts include 'opt-out' clauses that allow a contract to become void if the team doesn't meet certain conditions. One 'opt-out' clause would be to allow a rider to leave if a team loses it's Pro Tour status. Clearly, if a contract has an 'opt out' clause it can be broken if the clause is met.

 

Secondly, are there any extenuating circumstances that might make breaking a contract OK. In the case of the contract breaking at Team Astana, it must be remembered that the riders on that team were not paid for three months during the middle of the season. And, though the situation was finally resolved, it took a lot of pressure and potential exclusion from the Tour de France to finally get the paychecks rolling again.

 

Since the riders on Astana are pros and they do this to put food on the table for their wives and kids, I fully support the riders' decision to switch teams. Team Radio Shack is run by a management group with a record of paying it's riders so that is a huge incentive to head for more security.

 

In the case of Bradley Wiggins leaving Garmin-Transitions, there are no concerns about being paid. This was just the case of a rider wanting to leave his contract early for a team where both the rider, Wiggins, and management, Team Sky, wanted him to be. I don't support this type of behavior. Wiggins is a pro and he should have honored his contract with Garmin, especially since that team was responsible for his breakthrough season.

 

In fact, it is kind of ironic when you think about it. Garmin were the ones responsible for Wiggins becoming a bona fide Tour de France contender. Team Sky has a stated goal of having the first ever British winner of the Tour de France within five years. So, Garmin created the problem that caused Wiggins departure. Before you start feeling sorry for Jonathan Vaughters, it must be remembered that there was a buyout clause for Wiggins to go to Team Sky. Vaughters might not have Wiggins in 2010, but his bank account is definitely larger.

 

The third point is that there are some other factors which affect the validity of contracts. Not only am I not a labor lawyer, but we are are also talking about European Union labor laws and that makes things even more complex. I believe there are some laws which state that you can't force someone to work for someone if they don't want to. That's a pretty nebulous statement and, to be honest, I don't know the full ramifications of such laws. Suffice it to say that there may be more to honoring contracts in Europe than meets the eye.

 

Bruce

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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?'

Bruce
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Chris Horner's run of bad luck this season continued at the Vuelta as a crash on stage four into Liege resulted in a fractured wrist and his premature departure from the race. It was a huge crash caused by a rider touching the wheel in front of him as the peloton went through a roundabout with about 2 kilometers remaining. The crash occurred right at the front of the peloton which caused over a third of the riders to go down with the remainder caught behind the carnage. Only six riders at the front were still upright and able to contest the finishing sprint.

 

Chris's misfortune is yet another setback in a season beset with bad luck. Chris injured his knee in a crash in the Tour of California. He returned to racing at the Tour of Basque Country only to break his collarbone in a fall when the teammmate he was following broke his chain. Through all of this, Horner persevered and came back in super form for the Giro. He was the only rider on Team Astana who was able to keep pace with Levi Leipheimer on the climbs and was clearly a critical player for the team's overall hopes. However, on stage 10, he crashed on the descent of the Monte Cenis and broke his leg.

 

His Giro crash put him off the bike for twelve days, but again, his determination saw him accompany Lance and Levi to Aspen for a pre-Tour training camp. Long miles at altitude saw Horner regain his Giro form, but politics kept him off the team and he was denied the Tour de France for a second year in a row. Most likely in response to his Tour snub, he was given the team leadership role at the Vuelta. He was clearly headed for a top ten finish at the Giro; single digits at the Vuelta was clearly in the realm of possibility.

 

Horner is one of the nicest guys in the pro peloton. He is always available for interviews and gives frank and insightful comments. It is an unfortunate side of professional cycling that there seems to be a lot more bad luck than good. Obviously, you can't win all the time, but if you have paid your dues like Horner, you should get your chance to shine in the sun. Hopefully, Chris will be back in form for the Giro di Lombardia in early October, a race where he has been top 10 several times.

 

Bruce

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Lance Armstrong returned to the Leadville 100 mtb bike race and simply crushed both his competition and the course. Not only did he set a course record by seventeen minutes(6:28), but he beat his nearest competitor by over twenty eight minutes(6:57). If there was ever any doubt that Lance could ride a mountain bike, no one is expressing any concerns after Saturday's race.

 

While many have claimed that Lance's amazing second place in last year's Leadville 100 was the impetus for his comeback, at the Tour this year, his coach, Chris Carmichael told me that Lance let Chris know about his comeback on July 22nd of 2008, over three weeks before the Leadville race. Regardless of the date and reason for Lance's comeback, the fact remains, the man is back and he is flying.

 

Lance used his new digs in Aspen as a training base for the Leadville 100; he was very clear in his goals for the race, win and set a new course record. Last year, he was a close second to David Wiens who set the then course record of six hours, forty five minutes(6:45). This year, Wiens was there to defend his title as was racing legend Tinker Juarez and a strong contingent of strong riders from Aspen and the Colorado front range.

 

There was pre-race talk that Lance would use pacers, much like in a running race on the track, to attempt to set the course record, but a cold rain which forced Wiens to stop and put on a jacket and a mechanical for Tinker Juarez saw Lance go solo for the last 60 miles of the 100 mile event.

 

This is a high-altitude race like no other. It starts at 10,000', climbs to a high point of over 12,000' and never drops below 9000'. Not only does a competitor need to be acclimated to the altitude, but any weather, like a good old Rocky Mountain thunderstorm, at this height almost certainly means that it will be cold.

 

Lance's next race is on some skinnier tires. He will lead Team Astana in the Tour of Ireland which starts on Friday.

 

Bruce

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The verbal sparring between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador is making big headlines. Since the conclusion of the race in Paris on Sunday the sparks have been flying as both riders have taken off the gloves and are airing their feelings on the past few weeks with stunning candor.  It is clear from the remarks that one, they will not be riding together on the same team next year and two, there must really have been a lot more tension within the team at the Tour than was evident during the race.

 

My analysis of the situation is that Lance is upset that Contador has not given more credit to his team, Astana, for his win. Lance was always about the team, but Contador has been less than forthcoming on his appreciation for the efforts of his teammates. It may well be that Contador feels he won the race on his own or that there was so much disharmony on Team Astana that he just can't bring himself to pretend that everyone on the squad was supportive of his quest.

 

Contador's comments about Lance probably have root in the same soil especially if Alberto believes that Lance was trying to turn the team against him. I could see some manoeuvering inside the team for support early on in the race, but as the Tour progressed and it was clear that Contador was the stronger rider, the team should have been more committed to Alberto.

 

This situation is similar to the Greg Lemond/Bernard Hinault affair in the 1986 Tour when the two teammates were rivals. The difference is that in 1986, Lemond and Hinault were first and second place. If either faltered (and not both) then the team still rode into Paris in the yellow jersey. In 2009, the situation, while it appeared to be similar was significantly different.

 

I think one of the reasons Contador may have felt betrayed is that Andy Schleck was positioned in second place between Alberto and Lance. Andy was far enough ahead of Lance that if Contador had faltered and Schleck inherited the jersey, he could have kept it all the way to Paris. My guess is that even though Andy Schleck was looking very strong in the mountains, Lance always believed that he could take significant time out of Schleck in the Annecy time trial. That made the gap between the two not as big as it appeared.

 

The result was that Lance probably always felt that Contador was his main rival, even when Andy Schleck was ahead of him in the mountains. However, the climb of the Cote du Bluffy from the south was a much more difficult ascent than first thought. This meant that Andy Schleck's climbing prowess was able to offset some of his weakness on the flatter portions of the time trial. So, in the end, Schleck was a worthy rival and Lance was not just battling Contador for the yellow jersey in Paris.

 

It is unfortunate that Lance and Alberto have been carrying out their post-Tour war of words in public. Lance's third place was an incredible result for him especially considering that he was somewhat inconsistent in both the mountains and the time trials. As I said in an earlier posting, if Lance hadn't taken those 41 seconds in the crosswinds to Le Grande Motte way back on stage 3, he would have finished fifth place overall. Lance should be celebrating his podium finish. He probably is happy with his finishing position and his comments about Contador are just a response to Alberto not giving enough credit to the work by the team.

 

Bruce

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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.

 

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The details of Lance Armstrong's new team are surfacing. The primary sponsor will be Fort Worth-based Radio Shack. Details are forthcoming. Check out www.teamradioshack.com

 

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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.

 

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I shot a few photos of the riders coming through the final kilometer of the time trial.

 

This could be George Hincapie's last Tour de France. He crashed yesterday in the rain and is toughing out some major shoulder and arm pain.

 

Bradley Wiggins was one of the favorites to win the time trial, but came up a bit short. Still, he was the best-placed of the GC contenders behind Contador.

 

Andreas Kloden rode a good time trial and is now in fifth place overall. Notice the different equipment used by the members of Team Astana.

 

Lance's effort was a bit less than he had hoped, but his consistent riding throughout the Tour has kept in third place.

 

Alberto Contador was going so fast, my camera couldn't keep up:-) He now leads his closest rival, Andy Schleck by 4'11".

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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.

 

What a day in the Alps!

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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Lots of text today so here's an interesting photo of Bradley Wiggins' bike. Note the asymetric chainring and the Shimano Di2 electornic shifting battery pack.

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Whoever wears the yellow jersey into Paris will definitely earn it as the drama expected in the high Alps didn't disappoint. As Jens Voigt predicted in my interview with him yesterday, Team Saxo Bank came out firing and launched a number of attacks to try and climb onto the podium at the Tour. Schleck's accelerations succeeded in dropping Cadel Evans, Christian Vande Velde, defending Tour Champion Carlos Sastre and Lance Arsmtrong.

 

But, in clearly one of the biggest highlights of this Tour, Armstrong erased a 30+ second deficit on himself to the Schleck/Contador/Wiggins group and put saved his current second place overall. It was a display of climber prowess that we were used to seeing from the Texan during his record-setting seven Tour wins, but frankly, many had felt that after his performance to Verbier, those accelerations were a thing of the past.

 

Garmin-Slipstream's Bradley Wiggins continues to look casual climbing with the leaders and kudos to teammates Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie for regaining the yellow jersey group on the climb of the Petit Saint Bernard. Zabriskie is finally regaining the climbing form we saw him display in the 2005 Giro when he rode exceptional tempo for his team leader Ivan Basso.

 

One negative moment was a horrific crash on the final descent by Saxo Bank rider Jens Voigt. It is unclear what caused the crash, it just looked like his front wheel slipped out on a white center line which can be slick if wet. In this case it was dry conditions so the mystery remains for the rider who is known as one of the best bike handlers in the pro peloton. Personally, I really like Jens. He always has time for my interview requests and give honest, heartfelt if not a bit humorous interviews. The Tour has lost some of its enjoyment for me as a result of his crash and abandon. Heal quickly Jens!

 

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I talked with Astana director sportif, Johan Bruyneel, before the start of today's stage.

 

Bruce: what is the strategy for the team in this third week?

 

Johan: From now on we just want to bring the yellow jersey to Paris. We know it is going to be difficult today and tomorrow.  We expect attacks. A lot of attacks. We will just wait and see what happens and keep our team together and defend the jersey.

 

Bruce: is everyone working for Contador now?

 

Johan: Well, we want to win the Tour. Anything else we can get we will try to get itm but not at the cost of the potential of losing the Tour de France.

 

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I spoke with Garmin-Slipstream director sportif, Matt White, before the start of today's stage and asked him about Bradley Wiggins and the team strategy for the third week.

 

Bruce: Is Bradley Wiggins climbing better than you expected?

 

White: Not really. A little bit better, but the level we saw at the Giro he has improved and that was the plan. We had some goals at the Giro. One was to win the team time trial and the other was for him to win the final TT in Rome. We came second in both of those.  After the second week of the Giro we deliberately eased him off so he would be able to perform here and it certainly worked.

 

Bruce: What is the strategy for the third week?

 

White: We are not here just to ride.  That's for sure. We have Bradley in third place on GC and we are going to just take that day-by-day. It is the perfect place for us to be.  Last year Christian did a great finish in Paris on his own. He had to play off of other teams. Now we have two cards to play.

 

Bruce: Wiggins is an exceptional time trialist. With the TT coming up in Annecy in two days, does this put extra pressure on his rivals?

 

White: It does put a lot of pressure on the other teams because Bradley is one of the world's best time trialers and will be in contention for the stage win in Annecy.  So it does put a lot of pressure on them and give us a bit of a buffer zone on the mountain stages. 

 

Bruce: How do you prepare Wiggins mentally for what is coming ahead?

 

White: One thing that is Bradley's forte is his mental strength. You don't win three Olympic gold medals and five world titles with luck. He has a very, very strong belief in himself and it is a new place for him to be in, but one of his big, big strengths is that he believes in himself. What result comes of that, time will tell. But, he has a big faith in himself and he has had that for a long, long, time. You don't acheive what he has achieved with luck.  That is for sure.

 

 

Bruce: the team was riding for Tyler Farrar in the sprints and now will be riding for Bradley Wiggins on the climbs. Is this a cohesive team?

 

White: Tyler is definitely not on vacation in the mountains. He is on survival mode until we get to Paris. All the team is helping out as much as they can. Julian and Tyler are coming back for bottle. We have a very tight team and it has shown here at the Tour de France.

 

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Bart Knaggs is one of Lance Armstrong's closest friends. He is currently working on helping to put together Lance's new professional team for 2010. Look for information on that development near the end of the Tour. I asked Bart about how he felt Lance's 2009 Tour was progressing. He is pictured here with his daughter Caroline.

 

Bruce: Lance looked a bit vulnerable on the Verbier stage. Was that just a one-day thing or was his form a bit off?

 

Bart: I think he is getting better week by week by week. I think if the Tour had been three of four weeks further away he would be better still.  I think the shoulder hurt, the broken collarbone.  You forget that you come back to 90% pretty quickly. To get back to that 99-100% take racing; it takes time for the edge to get sharp. I think that is what we are seeing.  He is just not quite right on the edge when he wants to be.  But, he will be better day in, day out from here to the finish, too. 

 

 

Bruce: Lance has stated that he can't win the Tour and will be working for Alberto Contador. Is he really going to work for Contador?

 

Bart: I think you are going to see Lance recognizing team strategies and hierarchies and the way cycling works.  First and foremost the objective of this team was always to win the yellow jersey. I think he very good about what he has done. I think he would like to be a little sharper sometimes. In one year to come from where he was to where he is and to be one guy, who is your teammate, out of first place is impressive.

 

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I shot some photos early in the stage.

 

Here is the original two-man breakaway. In the front is Katusha's Vladamir Karpets with polka-dot jersey wearer Franco Pellizotti.

 

In recognition of his crash, here is my last photo of Jens Voigt in the 2009 Tour de France. He will be sorely missed.

 

Team Astana was on the front for the first climb and descent setting tempo for Alberto Contador in the yellow jersey.

 

Lance leads Alberto who seems a bit distracted at 35+ mph.

 

Stage 9 winner Brice Feillu leads Garmin-Slipsream's Bradley Wiggins and Martijn Maaskant.

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If there was any doubt who was the team leader on Astana that is pretty much a foregone conclusion as Alberto Contador siezed the initiative once again by attacking Lance Armstrong and the lead group with 5.5km remaining to the ski station at Verbier. The Spaniard was first across the line with Armstrong 1'35" back in ninth place. In the race for the overall, Contador is now 1'37" ahead of second-place Armstrong with Garmin-Slipstream's Bradley Wiggins in third just nine seconds arrears of the Texan.

 

In fact, while everyone expected Contador to climb well, the biggest surprise was Wiggins who looked comfortable both following and initiating attacks in the final three miles (5km). His teammate Vande Velde was about 1'30" seconds back of Wiggins and is now in twelfth overall 3'59" back of Contador.

 

Tomorrow is a rest day before two tough days in the Alps, a 25-mile individual time trial and the ascent of Mont Ventoux remaining on the program. While Contador looks very good, the Tour is far from over.

 

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The biggest buzz after yesterday's stage concerned the negative remarks George Hincapie made about his former US Postal/Discovery Channel teammates, now on Team Astana, working at the front of the peloton to rob Hincapie of the yellow jersey. By dissecting what actually happened both on the road and in the media we can see that it was all a big misunderstanding.

 

The problem began when the Versus TV commentators made the remark that Team Astana's work at the front of the main peloton had cost George Hincapie the jersey. Using this information, the Versus post-stage reporter asked George, on TV, what he thought about his former teammates working to keep him out of yellow. George, obviously frustrated at losing out on the yellow jersey after being off the front of the race for 100+ miles, just reacted to the question without knowing what really happened.

 

In reality, we know that it was not Team Astana that caused Hincapie to lose the jersey. Some have pointed the finger at Garmin-Slipstream and their growing rivalry with George's team, Columbia-HTC. But Jonathan Vaughters, the head honcho at Garmin stated that his team was only riding on the front in the final 10km to keep their GC riders out of trouble. He didn't want Bradley Wiggins or Christian Vande Velde getting caught out, as happened to Bradley a few days ago, and lose

precious seconds.

 

So, it looks like a bit of misinformation posed as a post-stage question to a frustrated George Hincapie created a situation that wasn't a situation at all. BTW, when Lance heard about George's comments about Astana, went into overdrive to make sure George got the real story about what happened.

 

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Cadel Evans finished seventh on the stage and dropped to 14th overall. I caught up with him at the Silence-Lotto team bus.

 

Cadel: I think this is the worse day I ever had in the Tour de France when I didn't have a crash. I haven't recovered since yesterday. I don't know why. At kilometer zero I was terrible.  It was one of the most important days of the Tour. If you have a day like this your Tour is over and pretty much your whole season.

 

Q: Was it the cold of the past few days?

 

Cadel: No. I just had various reasons.

 

Q: What are your chances on the general classification?

 

Cadel: it is pretty terrible. I am riding a terrible Tour and I am dissapointed, but not much I can do about it right now.

 

Q: What about the rest of the week?

 

Cadel: I will think about that in 36 hours.

 

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Carlos Sastre usually comes alive in the third week of a grand tour which is how he won this race last year. On the final climb today, he got dropped early on from the lead group, but clawed his way back up to the leaders. He finished sixth, 1'06" back of Contador in same group as Bradley Wiggins and now sits in 11th overall at 3'52". I talked with Carlos at the Cervelo Test Team bus after the stage.

 

Q: How did you feel the first day in the mountains?

 

Carlos: it was a hard day. It was really fast. It was OK. It was more or less what I expected. It has been a difficult Tour de France, but I closed super (in the final KMs) and I was there and I am happy because I did my best. The team was fantastic. Today all my teammates were close to me.  It is an important moment and we are happy. It has been a very successful Tour de France for all of us.

 

Q: You lost the wheel at the bottom, but you came back.  Was that part of the plan to go your own pace and catch those guys back?

 

Carlos: It wasn't part of the plan.  I would like to have the same explosivity as them, but I didn't have the explosivity so I needed to ride more at my rythmn which I did. I came back. I was there. I think for me it was OK. A difficult stage after almost one week on the flats, you know. This kind of fitness I like, but I recognize that there are a few riders who are stronger than me.

 

Q: Are the tough stages coming up in the Alps more Sastre "country?"

 

Carlos: It has been a really strange Tour de France. Everybody is talking about Armstrong/Contador like they are the only (ones) doing this race. I am happy with my condition. I am happy with the team. I am happy with the results. I don't think too much about anything.  I go day-by-day, just do my race and doing everything which is good for me.

 

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Danny Pate is a support rider on the Garmin-Slipstream team. I caught up with him as he was looking for his team bus.

 

Q: What was it like out there today.  Were you trying to set it up for Bradley (Wiggins) and Christian (Vande Velde)?

 

Pate: Yeah. All day we just tried to protect them. We wanted one guy in the break and Ryder (Hesjedal) was perfect to have in the break becasue he can climb out of the break and if they (Wiggins and Vande Velde) needed help they could catch him (Ryder) at the right time and he (Ryder) could help them (Wiggins and Vande Velde) later.

 

Other than that it was the normal thing; protect those guys, help them get to the bottom. Everyone did a little bit to help them get there. Dave and I were the last guys to help them by the bottom and set them up real well to

do their thing.

 

Q: Wiggins had a great ride today.

 

Pate: he was riding great at the Giro and he had really good prep between the Giro and the Tour. The team didn't expect him to do any races or get results inbetween there so he had time to chill out and prepare for this.

 

Q: How will the team chemistry be now with Bradley moving ahead of Christian with a more substantial margin?

 

Pate: I don't think there will be any problems. I am amazed at the ride Christian has had here. After what happened to him at the Giro. He has blown me away at how prepared he was. Wiggo as well.  They are riding unbelievably.

 

Q: So, they will continue to work together as a team?

 

Pate: oh, for sure!

 

Q: After you have put all your efforts into launching Wiggins and Vande Velde up the climb, what do you do to make it to the finish and conserve energy?

 

Pate: today's climb wasn't so bad. It was not a huge climb and it wasn't really steep which makes really good sense why Wiggo did so well today. He's quite a bit lighter than he has been before. But still it wasn't that steep of a climb or really that hard of a climb so it wasn't so bad for me.

 

Q: What is your body feeling like going into the third week?

 

Pate: it depends on who you are. By now you kind of feel the same.  You feel the same in the third week. If you are going to be bad, you already feel bad.

 

Q: So how are you feeling?

 

Pate: I am feeling OK.

 

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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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With the Alps looming all eyes are on the battle expected to commence as the third week of the Tour begins. Actually, it will most likely be two battles in the Alps as first, Team Astana tries to sort out the leadership on its squad and secondly as all the other teams with overall contenders such as Silence-Lotto (Cadel Evans), Cervelo Test Team (Carlos Sastre) and Saxo Bank (Brothers Schleck) try to either take down Astana or at the very least, climb onto the Tour podium.

 

The battle for leadership at Astana has already has already seen two rounds as first, Lance took charge in the crosswinds of stage three then in round two, Contador took the initiative by attacking in the final four kilometer to the mountain top finish in Arcalis. Since then the two pugilists have been in their respective corners waiting for the bell to sound for round three.

 

I expect Lance to take the initiative in the Alps and not wait for Contador to show his ambitions. However, the tricky part is that riders like Carlos Sastre, who seems to get better in the third week of a grand tour, and Cadel Evans, who continues to show the aggression we first saw in the Dauphine Libere,  and the Brothers Schleck to attack, attack and attack.

 

If Astana can't control the lead group and they let riders like Sastre and Evans get up the road, then the advantage shifts to Contador as he is more able to respond to sharp attacks than Armstrong. Having said that, I am impressed by Lance's improving form and he might just be able to match Contador's legendary accelerations by the time the Tour reaches the Alps.

 

One interesting development is that the director sportifs of several of the teams with overall contenders may be waiting to see if the disharmony inside Astana is weakening the team and making them more vulnerable to cracking in the Alps. In talking with those directors, none of them have any answers on how to take down Astana. With three or four strong riders the situation is similar to being  only four shots back on the final afternoon in a golf tournament, but having four golfers in front of you on the leader board. You might be able to beat one or even two of them, but expecting all four to fail is long odds.

 

Clearly, Astana is weaker with the departure of Levi Leipheimer, but Andreas Kloden looks very solid as does Yaraslov Popovych and Haimar Zubeldia. Lance called the third week of the Tour "sinister". With both the battle within Astana and the battle of the best of the rest, it is going to be one of the most memorable finishes in recent Tour history.

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On a very rainy day in the Vosges Mountains, Heinrich Haussler was off the front for over 100 miles, dropping his breakaway companion Sylvan Chavanel on the descent of the penultimate climb and soloing for almost 30 miles to victory. The Cervelo Test Team rider is better known for his sprinting prowess, winning stage 2 of Paris-Nice and almost beating Mark Cavendish at Milan-San Remo. But, today, he proved that once again in this year's Tour, anything can happen.

 

Undoubtedly the biggest news of the days was the non-start of Team Astana's Levi Leipheimer. He crashed on a left hand bend with 2.5 kilometers remaining yesterday, but appeared to be fine at the stage finish. However, the pain in his wrist worsened over night and a trip to the hospital in the morning revealed that it was broken.

 

I saw the crash and it just didn't look that serious. The tumble by Ryder Hesjedal the day before looked way more serious, but Hesjedal was basically unscathed.  Leipheimer was enjoying one of his finest Tours sitting in fourth place overall and looking very comfortable and relaxed on the bike. It is a pity that Levi will not get to show his form in the Alps. In both 2006 and 2007, he was one of the few riders who seemed to get stronger in the third week.

 

The race leaders took it easy in the day's trying conditions, there were no changes to the overall standings other than Leipheimer's untimely withdrawal. Thor Hushovd managed to stay with the GC leaders over all the climbs and took second in the field sprint for sixth place which allowed him to take the green jersey off of Mark Cavendish's shoulders.

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The Armstrong/Contador affair is interesting to watch. I asked Rolf Aldag, DS of team Columbia-HTC, about the perspective from the other teams.

 

Bruce: do you think Astana will destroy themselves with all the conflict?

 

Rolf: I think in the end, they are so strong as a team, that even if they ride against each other they will succeed whoever that will be. If you see how much resources they have. Until now they didn't need Leipheimer. They didn't need Kloden to ride. They still have so much resources that up until now they can easily control it with out making any decisions (about team leadership) so I think it stays wide open.

 

It is interesting to watch (the Armstrong/Contador battle) from the outside. If you don't have a hand in the game there it is really interesting to follow and wonder what are they going to do next.

 

When Lance was in the front in the crosswind there was definitely a big 'chapeau' from our team wondering how he managed that.  Three years off he is definitely physiologically older, he is definitely focused on the race. So it was kind of 'Wow! He made it into that group'.

 

When Contador attacked up to Arcalis it was the same thing to say 'Wow. There is no way for us to go with him.' So we watched it and we were also like 'Phew'. It was a good attack. It was strong how he went to the finish.

 

Right now it is six and eight seconds so it is totally open.  It is so exciting we are kind of like spectators in the first row. It is kind of funny.

 

Bruce: Does Contador need to be strong psychologically to do what he did?

 

Rolf: I think so, but I also think it is kind of a relief for him.  He is as good as he is and he has to show it. If there is any doubt that he is good enough then he will be in bigger and bigger trouble. If he shows that he is good enough, that he is there because when he was not there in the break in the crosswinds, it was a big advantage for Lance. 'See. That is not my mistake that you haven't learned. That might happen to you everyday.'

 

Psychologically he (Lance) had a big, big advantage over Contador, but Contador now responded and said 'See. Even if I miss it I am strong enough to correct it.'

 

It is really exciting to follow that as long as we are not paying the bill which we are not going to do.  Cavendish is no threat to Astana.

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I finally had time to look through all the photos I shot in the past two weeks.  Here are a bunch from the team time trial that I think you will find interesting.

 

There are some fit riders in the Tour.

 

Check out the Cervelo Test Team's motto on their shorts. It seems to be working as they have won two stages.

 

Flatting in a team time trial can cost a GC rider precious seconds and potentially minutes. The mechanics always wipe off the tires just before the start in case a piece of glass has found it's way into the rubber.

 

Tom Boonen packs a gel just in case he needs it during the 45+ minute effort.

 

Because of the logistics between the start and finish of the team time trial, Team Astana decided it needed another bus to park at the finish. Mechanic Geoff Brown got the call the day before and drove the second bus 700 miles (1100km) from Astana's European headquarters in Brakel, Belgium to Montpellier. The speed limit for busses is 60 mph(100kmh) so the trip took over 11 hours. He arrived only two hours before the stage start. He drove the bus 700 miles back to Belgium the next day.

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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.

 

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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?

 

It has created a lot of buzz outside of the http://community.active.com/blogs/BruceHildenbrand/2009/07/12/stage-9-tourmalet-a-nonfactor/team bus.  Obviously, within the team there is some, but most of it is from the exterior. I try to relax and keep it as light as I can.

 

 

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I also talked with Garmin-Slipstream sprinter Tyler Farrar about how he is riding and what are his plans for the upcoming stages.

 

 

Bruce: is your strategy to just survive the mountains and get ready for the flat stages which lay ahead?

 

Pretty much.  I am not a climber. These days (in the mountains) it is just a matter of survival and looking forward to next week when I can take a crack at more

sprints.

 

Bruce: Are these mountains an eye opener for you?

 

I knew what to expect.  I have raced them before in other races. They are hard, but that's just the way it is.

 

Bruce: You seem to be pretty confident about challenging Mark Cavendish in the sprints.

 

I have been having a pretty good season and my sprint has been good. At the Tour so far I have been second and fourth so hope it will go well in the rest of the flatter stages.

 

Bruce: How is the leadout train working?

 

It has been going pretty well. Julian Dean and I have really been getting

it dialed in and we are feeling comfortable with each other.

 

Bruce: what have you done to raise your sprinting up to this new level?

 

It is just different racing at this level than doing smaller races.  You have to get used to it a little bit. But as I said, it has been a really good season for me so I am feeling happy with it.

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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.

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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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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.

 

Photos

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.

 

 

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Race Notes

 

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.

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