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.
Here is a report card for a number of the Tour's higher profile riders. Please feel free to add your own comments.
Alberto Contador - Grade A-
Contador would get an A or even an A+ grade because he showed that he was the bet rider in both the mountains and the time trials, but his less than perfect display of strategy and tactics knocks him down half a grade. Not only was his attack on the final kilometers of the Colombiere unnecessary and against team orders, but it had an unusual side affect. In his post-Tour comments, it is clear that Lance Armstrong is not Alberto's favorite rider. However, by attacking on the Colombiere and causing his teammate Andreas Kloden to be dropped, Alberto took Kloden out of contention for the Tour podium and put his 'friend' Lance in that position in Paris.
Andy Schleck - Grade A
Andy Schleck struggles in the time trials so he has to try to make as much time up in the mountains as possible. That's exactly what Andy and his brother Frank did. Also, Andy rode an impressive time trial in Annecy to maintain his podium position. Basically, Andy did the most he could with his talents.
Lance Armstrong - Grade A
For the first two weeks, Lance rode a pretty consistent Tour. But, when the Tour reached the Alps, his performance in the final week was inconsistent. But, as erratic as it was, he was consistent enough to move up to third place overall. I am bumping him up half a grade for getting into the move on the crosswinds of stage 3 that was the difference between Lance and his closest rivals for the podium.
Bradley Wiggins - Grade B+
Wiggins was definitely one of the revelations of the Tour and I was first thinking of giving him a grade of A. But, he underperformed in the last three critical stages (Le Grand Bornand, Annecy TT, Mont Ventoux). This minor meltdown could most likely be explained because Bradley was learning what he was capable of doing in the third week of a grand tour. If Wiggins is a fast learner the rest of the peloton better watch out.
Andreas Kloden - Grade B+
Andreas rode consistently well, save for that one day in the Alps to Le Grand Bornand. Kloden will always be a threat for the podium in a grand tour. He still must be wondering what Contador was thinking when he attacked on the Colombiere.
Frank Schleck - Grade B+
For Frank Schleck to be in position to get on the podium in Paris going into the final stage says a lot. Frank was clearly one of the best climbers in this year's Tour, but his time trialing leaves a bit to be desired. Frank climbed well enough to make the podium. If only he could time trial.
Christian Vande Velde - Grade B+
Christian almost deserves a grade of A given his horrific crash in the Giro and how quickly he was able to get back into racing shape. Unfortunately, his return to top form was not totally complete. Luckily, his teammate, Bradley Wiggins, needed help in the mountains and Christian, ever the team player, was happy to give assistance.
Mark Cavendish - Grade A+
It is not just Cavendish's six stage wins that gets him the highest grade. The fact that he was able to climb over a category 2 mountain and win stage 19 is a bug step forward in his development as a rider. He also managed to get to Paris completing his transformation to a true green jersey contender. In fact, if he hadn't been screwed out of his placing on stage 13 into Bescancon, he would have won the green jersey. The Boy Racer is turning into a man.
Thor Hushovd - Grade A
Purely on his sprinting prowess, Hushovd deserves a grade of B+ or A-. But, because of the way he pursued the green jersey, climbing well in several stages to snag some extra sprint points he earned the higher mark.
Tyler Farrar - Grade B+
Tyler was the only sprinter to truly challenge Mark Cavendish. Unfortunately, Cavendish was at the top of his game and Farrar really only came close on one occasion. Tyler is going to need to get a touch quicker and the Garmin-Slipstream team is going to need to bolster it's leadout train a bit to win a bunch finish.
Cadel Evans - Grade C
After two years on the Tour podium, this was a disappointing race for the Australian. Part of the problem can be traced to his team and their lack of ability to adequately support him, but ultimately, Cadel is responsible for the makeup of the squad and his riding. Hopefully, he will be able to figure out what went wrong. First off, he needs to get the director sportif and not the CEO of the title sponsor to call the shots and run the team.
Carlos Sastre - Grade B -
Carlos tried to make his presence felt in this year's Tour, but he just could not sustain his efforts on the climbs. Maybe he was trying too hard to prove his overall win last year was well-deserved, but whatever the reason, the climbing form we saw with his two stage wins at the Giro never made it across the border into France.
Denis Menchov - Grade C -
Not much to say here except that doing the Giro-Tour double still remains a huge proposition. A completely rested Menchov would not have beaten Contador, but the podium was definitely a possibility.
Every French GC rider - Grade D
The drought is 25 years and growing. When will a French rider win the Tour? Probably not in the Contador/Schleck era. Things are looking bleak. Thank heavens they can still win the flatter stages.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The flat profile of stage 10 provided another spring board for Mark Cavendish and his leadout train to prove they are the best in the business. Thor Hushovd and Tyler Farrar rounded out the top three emphasizing that this was a stage for the sprinters. The rumoured strike over the ban on race radios was averted when ASO agreed to remove the ban for stage 13.
All in all it was a pretty uneventful day. But why, then, did Bradley Wiggins drop from fifth to seventh overall? Because he got caught in one of the most unfair situations in professional racing which continues to plague stage race riders. While the peloton was virtually intact approaching the line, a rider, 10 places ahead of Bradley, let a small, usually only about five-feet, gap open up so the race officials counted that group as the second group over the line. Since Cavendish had crossed the line 15 seconds before that group, Bradley was given the time of the second group.
I can assure you that if you watch the finish on TV, while the gap will be visible, it is not like the riders in Bradley's "group" (for lack of a better word) got dropped, more than likely someone just sat up and stop pedaling. It is just that a small gap opened up in front of the rider who sat up and the officials do, as officials like to do, called it another group. It is kind of like if you give a referee a whistle, he/she feels obligated to blow it. And in this case, the UCI race officials blew it.
Levi Leipheimer was also caught in the "second" group and dropped from fourth to fifth overall. Ironically, if either Wiggins or Leipheimer had been caught in a crash within three kilometers of the finish, they would have been given the same time as the winner. I am not advocating the riders start taking lessons from soccer players on how to take dives, but there is some food for thought here.
The problem is that Wiggins finished 64th and Leipheimer was 77th indicating that they were both in the first half of the main group. I really don't think you should force the overall contenders to mix it up with the sprinters just so they don't get "gapped" so to speak. It is really dangerous up front and that is a risk Lance, Alberto, Christian, et. al. should not have to take on the bunch sprint finishes. Certainly, some of the GC contenders were up near the front and did not lose any time, but if they had gotten caught in a crash becasue of it we would be signing a different tune.
The UCI needs to come up with a way to take the time of the riders more fairly. I have been asking them to consider this for the past few years. I have been proposing several solutions. One solution is to make the gap much larger, like 30 feet (10 meters) before a split is made. Obviously, this would only apply to bunch finishes. Another solution is to take the time of the riders as they cross the red kite with 1km to go. Nobody is siting up, creating gaps at that point.
When I talk to the UCI officials, they just don't seem to understand what the problem is. Maybe they are just too busy trying to blow their whistle.
Team Columbia-HTC rider Tony Martin is one of the revelations of this year's Tour. We saw him ride well earlier this year in both the Criterium International and the Tour of Switzerland, but nobody expected the 23 year-old German to be wearing the white jersey of best young rider. I talked with Tony's Director Sportif (DS) Rolf Aldag about the plans for Martin as the race progresses.
Bruce: Rolf, where did you find Tony Martin? It seems like every year Team Columbia finds another new star?
Rolf: we can't take the credit for Tony. Honestly, the world of professional cycling realized him in 2004/2005 when we had a mountain time trial and this guy won by a minute. I myself was sixth. He was 18 years-old and I knew he was going to be good. We battled in the Reggio Tour in Germany and I think he finished fifth and I finished sixth.
I think it was a big battle who gets him. I know that Gerlosteiner was interested and finally we managed to get him. We are happy to have him, but I think the good thing is he decided on which team based on who will help best in his career. We have a good program and we promote that to the riders and I think that is what makes the difference so we can get them.
Bruce: How will you ride for Tony in the Tour? Will you ride for him to defend the white jersey or will you have him play off the other teams.
Rolf: For the moment he just has to follow. Today (Col du Tourmalet stage) I don't expect the GC guys to make a big race. They will follow each other. So we will bring him through that. After the rest day, we will be concentrating on the sprint stages for Cavendish.
When we get to the Alps it will be time to decide what we are going to do with him. He does have a free role that's for sure. He does have support. He is protected on the team. But, he is not the only team captain (for the overall) at the moment because I think that would put a lot of pressure on him. If we expect him to do the result instead of Kim (Kirchen) I don't think it would be fair to Kim and it would not be fair to Tony to say 'you are the man now and you better be in front.'
So, if he really, really struggles one day and loses a lot of time there's nothing to lose for him anymore. He won so much. He defended his white jersey so long. It is his first Tour de France. We just come back and do better next year. That's a good situation for him. He doesn't have any pressure. He has a free role and support and we will just see how it goes.
Here is what the scrum for interviews with Lance looks like at the Astana team bus after a stage. Luckily, when I talked to Lance two days ago it was just the two of us as I am by no means a rugby player.
If this guys comes up to you after a stage finish it means that you have been selected for doping control. His job is to escort the racer directly to the medical trailer to protect the integrity of any biological samples the rider may have to give. Lance has been seeing this guy a lot during the Tour and has passed all his tests.
If you wonder how the race organizers and officials can tell the position of the riders during the race, it is because the racers have these nifty little transponders which must be mounted on the chainstay a specific distance in front of the rear hub axle. The number "22" on this transponder corresponds to rider number 22 which means this is a shot of Lance's bike.
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.
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
Even though stage 3 of the Tour de France turned into another sprint win for Mark Cavendish it was anything but another long, boring trek through southern France. When the race turned south with 30km to go, the peloton encountered a heavy westerly crosswind. Team Columbia used the winds to drop the hammer causing a split at the front of the peloton as 30 riders went clear.
Leading up to the split, the race had been marked by a general lack of cooperation among the teams as to who would work to chase down an early breakaway that contained four riders and reached a maximum time gap of 13 minutes. For the first hour the peloton managed a meager 17-18mph.
Team Columbia-HTC owner Bob Stapleton commented on the situation. "It was frustrating. I thought Garmin would come up and do some work for Farrar, but they were basically saying 'We are not going to do any work. We are betting all our chances on the team time trial.'" "I think their chances of beating Astana are small. I am disappointed they didn't ride today. Tyler showed a lot of quality yesterday. They should have supported him today. He maybe could have done something."
"I think Saxo Bank got no support either and they basically said screw it. We basically said screw it. Let's get super agressive and see if we can make something happen," added Stapleton.
Second place on the stage, Thor Hushovd echoed Bob's sentiments. "It was a big game during the whole stage. Saxo didn't want to control the race the whole day. They wanted to save their legs for tomorrow. And Columbia didn't want to do the work alone. It was just a big game the whole day."
Team Columbia was aided in their efforts by some intel from a former team member. "Erik Zabel came through this morning and had a look at the last 30kms for us. He gave us all the technical info. It was very good," explained Columbia Team Director Alan Peiper.
At the finish, six Columbia riders powered the lead group to a forty-one second advantage. Lance Armstrong proved that he hasn't lost any of tactical abilities. He was the only overall contender to make the split and has moved up to third place. If Astana wins the team time trial tomorrow, as expected, and can take more than 40 seconds out of Cancellara's Saxo Bank squad and 7 seconds out of Tony Martin's Team Columbia the Lance could be in yellow at the end of the day.
This guy could be in yellow tomorrow!
Thor Hushovd looks pretty thin probably so he can climb in the mountains and fight for the green jersey all the way to Paris.
Cadel was on the wrong end of the split and lost 40 seconds
The Cervelo Test Team was launched in 2009 by the original founders of the Cervelo bike company Phil White and Gerard Vroomen. While they do not currently hold a Pro Tour license, they are the number one ranked professional team in the world based on their results in the biggest races including four stage win a the recent Giro d'Italia. The team includes 2008 Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre and Tour green jersey wearer Thor Hushovd, but recruits such as Heinrich Haussler, Serge Pauwels and Simon Gerrans have also performed well.
I caught up with Phil White and rider Simon Gerrans at the team bus after the Blockhaus stage.
Bruce: tell me about Carlos Sastre's win on Monte Petrano
Phil White: It was not scripted, but that was something we wanted to do. We figured that was a stage he could really excel on. It was similar to what he did last year on l'Alpe d'Huez. When everyone else is worn down he's just got more energy and can go longer than anyone else. He's like the Energizer Bunny of cycling.
Bruce: what about Simon Gerrans' win at Bologna?
Phil White: It was a long day. That break worked super well together. There was no scrapping, everyone pulled their weight and it just came down to who the strongest rider was. Gerrans is a strong rider. We saw him win the Tour stage win and that is one reason we got him.
Bruce: how hard was it to build a team from scratch and get some credibility?
Phil White: I think the reputation of the team was initially that Carlos put his name to it then Thor. Those guys brought credibility to the effort, but pretty soon those guys in the classics put their stamp on it and now it is not a team that is relying on two name riders. It is a team that has built its own reputation. Those guys came right out of the blocks and stamped their name on it a the Tour of Qatar. It got the monkey off our back early so we could focus on moving ahead rather than feeling the pressure to win.
Bruce: was it hard to get the respect of the other teams in the Pro Peloton?
Phil White: I don't think anyone gives you respect just by showing up. You have to earn it. Luckily our guys earned it pretty hard and pretty solidly right from the start. In pro cycling there is no such thing as an easy ride. You have to earn your stripes and there is no way around that. We have good guys and they proved early on that they deserved the respect.
Bruce: how are things looking for the Tour?
Phil White: I think we will be right in there for the Tour. The Giro is our grand tour debut. I have a book where I have been making notes, and the sport directors have as well and it is pretty much full of little things we have to fix and improve. That's how we are going to get better by focusing on the things we
can do better.
Bruce: Take us through the finale of your win at Bologna.
Simon Gerrans: I think it was just basically survival of the breakaway; whoever could get to the top first. There was nothing too tactical about it. It was just who could get up the hill the fastest.
Bruce: it looked like the false flat halfway up took you by surprise.
Simon Gerrans: I didn't know the climb so that second ramp up to the finish was a bit of a surprise. Luckily I had a bit of gas in the tank for that.
The 107th edition of Paris-Roubaix was held on Sunday and it totally lived up to all the pre-race hype. The weather was both warm and dry which should have made those darn cobblestones a bit more friendly, but they seemed to dish out bad luck just at the wrong time. While there was strong riding at the front, the stones, or pave as they are called in France, played a huge role in the outcome.
At the finish heavy pre-race favorite Tom Boonen entered the velodrome by himself, calling his third victory the hardest yet. For the second weekend in a row, Tom was heavily marked, especially by former teammate, Filippo Pozzato, but the two-time World Champion showed his class by being in front when it counted and initiating the most decisive move of the race.
It could be argued that Boonen benefited from two untimely crashes which caused his five breakaway companions to lose contact, but Tom was active at the front throughout the last half of the cobbled sections. It was more a situation of creating opportunities than benefiting from bad luck. Boonen shed his final breakaway companion, Thor Hushovd, then the Norwegian was unable to follow him through a sharp, cobbled turn and went down.
Once again, American favorite George Hincapie had bad luck at just the wrong time. You have to hand it to George for trying to play a decisive role. He and his Columbia-High Road team worked very hard to be a factor in the race. When Hincapie missed the Boonen-led winning breakaway, George took it upon himself to drive the chasing peloton in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to bring the move back. One of these days an American is going to win this race and I hope George hangs around long enough to be that guy.
Besides Team Columbia-Highroad's disappointing race, the Saxo Bank squad also came up goose eggs in the finale. Bjarne's boys looked poised for another win with so many of their top riders at the front alongside Tom Boonen with about 40 miles remaining. Somehow, Boonen gave them slip and the team which won in 2006(Cancellara) and 2007(O'Grady) came up unexpectedly empty-handed.
Hats off to Garmin-Slipstream's Steven Cozza who made it into the early ten-man breakaway which lasted far longer than anyone expected. Making it through the cobbles of the Arenberg Forest upright and in the lead group was quite an accomplishment for the 24-year old Californian in his first attempt at the Queen of the Classics. Chapeau.