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Stage Two, Part Two

Posted by MDugard on Jul 3, 2005 2:03:43 PM

The eyes of France were on Thomas Voeckler, hoping against hope that his four-man breakaway group could pull of a stage win and put him in yellow. And though he pulled it off last year, the baby-faced national hero was unsuccessful on this blistering Sunday afternoon. The peloton slowly but surely reeled in the breakaway. They seemed to be in no hurry, content in the knowledge that the gap between them and Voeckler's bunch was too small to be a threat. They were right. Tom Boonen got the win in a sprint breakaway.Voeckler's day, however, wasn't a total washout. Thanks to a time bonus awarded the first cyclist to pass the stage's 150-kilometer mark, he now wears the polka-dotted jersey.  This is awarded to the best mountain rider. Today's "mountain" was the renowned 230-foot peak, Chateau Guibert.Lance Armsrong, Dave Zabriskie, Alexandre Vinokourov, and everybody else in the top 10 finished without worry. Which is not to say there wasn't tension. The TV feed showed a telling moment when Lance's Discovery Team shadowed Zabriskie's CSC squad. The two men made eye contact; just Lance's way of reminding Zabriskie that he considers the yellow jersey to be on loan.We still don't know a lot about Zabriskie. He comes across as – let's put it right out there – boring in interviews. Friends say he's just extremely shy, and that in person he's one of the sharpest, wittiest people you'd ever want to meet. He gave brief evidence of that in his post-race press conference, telling journalists that the survival course team manager Bjarne Riis insisted CSC undertake in the off-season "made a man out of him." OK, not that funny, but at least it was better than yesterday's awkward interviews, when he could barely mumble more than a sentence at a time. One other thing: The Utah native resides in Berkeley when he's not in Europe. His girlfriend is just finishing up school there.A new rule in effect this year gives the same time to every rider that finishes within two kilometers of the winner. This is designed to minimize those sphincter-clenching sprint finishes and the all-too-frequent catastrophic crashes (kissing the pavement at 35 mph is a singularly horrid sensation) that have defined the Tour's early stages in years past. That's why the gap between the sprinters and the peloton was several hundred yards at the finish today.Floyd Landis averaged 200 watts of energy expenditure today. On his scale of 1-10, that's about a 4. His training rides often see him average 250 for six hours straight, so Landis was pretty much just kicking back today. Don't ask me how this watt thing works, but I'm told it translates to about 3200 calories burned. Though that doesn't sound like much for a 115-mile ride, consider this: Landis didn't even have to pedal 16% of the time. He just flowed in the slipstream, sucked along by the riders in front. This, of course, is the same tactic Lance Armstrong has used so successfully on his way to six victories.Had a talk with Alan Lim, Landis' coach. The Discovery Team has scoffed at Landis's chances in the coming mountain stages, but Lim says those will be Landis's forte. Over the past two months he has climbed more than 350,000 vertical feet in training, an average of 7-15,000 feet up the Pyrenees each day. Lim says that Landis was up to the constant climbing, but that the clutch on the rental car used as a chase vehicle was so trashed they had to get a new one. To work on his time-trialing skills, Landis would switch to his TT bike whenever he rode through a valley. "Some people think you need to train long, some people think you need to train hard," says Lim. "Floyd thinks you need to train long and hard."Not that Landis is bitter about his time with Discovery, but the free-spirited Mennonite couldn't be happier at Phonak. He felt stifled at Discovery (then Postal Service) and was bothered by the team's rigid class system, which had every rider working for Lance, at all times.   Chris Carmichael of Discovery is openly doubtful that Landis can be a team leader this year, calling him a "top 15 G.C. (general classification, or overall finish) candidate at best." Lim, however, says that Landis is "one of the toughest people you'll ever meet." Not that either man is biased…Last on Landis, for now: Interestingly, he and Dave Zabriskie, the man in yellow, are roommates and training partnerss. Though they race for separate teams, Landis and Zabriskie share an apartment in Girona, Spain. They ride 80-150 miles per day, averaging 30 hours of training per week. For those in the know, that's the same Girona where Lance lives and trains while in Europe. He's not too forthcoming on his training mileage.A little bit of Tour trivia: It's a year-round corporation, sponsoring events other than the Tour. The official corporate uniform is a dark brown blazer, tan pants, and brown shoes. Bernard Hinault is fond of breaking the dress code on hot days by removing his blazer before making the post-race podium presentations.The press room today is a mile from the finish. It's housed in a school gymnasium with a wood-beamed roof and those retractable basketball backboards (six, in all) winched up to the ceiling. The air is thick with cigarette smoke and the air hums with cell phone rings,   a French show called "Velo Club" on the flat screen monitors, and journalistic debates in a half-dozen languages that somehow blend together into a single international thrum.   A woman with a bored expression circulates up and down the long rows of tables, passing out the day's results and a half-dozen other press releases, most of which are worthless. I would like to say that we all smell like lavender, but there is no air-conditioning and I sweat sitting still.   Just thought you might want to know...I like my history, so I'm looking forward to the next two stages. As we work our way westward up the Loire Valley, leaving the salt marshes and oysters of the Atlantic region behind, the towns possess are sometimes more than a thousand years old. My favorite tidbit from the Tour guidebook revolves around the city of La Chatagnerie, where the riders begin tomorrow's stage: "Local resident Francois de Vivonne was the tragic hero who fought a duel with the Baron de Jarnac in 1543. Vivonne lost, and Jarnac severed his hamstrings as he lay bleeding." Off to Tours to spend the night this evening and tomorrow night. It's the site of the third stage finish and the starting point for the fourth, that all-important individual time-trial.  Lance Armstrong and the Discovery Team, continuing their tradition of lodging as far as humanly possible from the race (and the press) as possible, are staying an hour further up the road in Chambord.Tomorrow's stage is just over 120 miles long. The terrain is rolling throughout, on country roads lined with pastures and irrigation canals. The high temperature today was 95 degrees, and more of the same is expected for tomorrow. Good news for the riders is that showers are expected in the middle miles, providing a brief respite. Talk to you then.

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