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Stand On It

Posted by MDugard on Jul 12, 2005 8:27:16 AM

Here's how it's going to shake out today: Discovery Team will ride in a tight scrum around Lance Armstrong. He's the obvious favorite to win this year's Tour, so other teams will try to wear them down by sending individual riders off on long breakaways. The primary stipulation is that the rider who goes off must be a threat to Armstrong's Tour hopes.Each squad has a team leader. The other eight riders all work for him, sacrificing their chances of victory so that the leader and the team will be victorious (this is the guiding philosophy behind all Tour teams, but especially Discovery Channel). Often the gap in ability between the team leader and the other members is vast. But several teams at this year's Tour have a second or third rider capable of not just being team leader, but winning the entire Tour de France. Those are the teams that will attack Lance Armstrong. The tactic they will use works like a bait and switch. A team like CSC, for example, will send a secondary rider like Bobby Julich on a breakaway. It will probably take place in the 25-mile valley between the day's two climbs (Cornet de Reselend and Courchevel). Because Julich is currently close to Lance Armstrong in the overall rankings (and a definite threat to win the entire Tour if he develops a three- or four-minute lead), Discovery Channel must chase him down. They have no choice. The extra effort will weaken the legs of Discovery and Lance. Meanwhile, CSC's top rider, Ivan Basso, will tuck in behind them and ride in Discovery's draft. So will all his teammates. The end result is that Discovery gets tired, Julich either wins or gets caught, and Basso's legs remain fresh for another day.CSC isn't the only team who's thinking like that. T-Mobile could send either Alexandre Vinokourov or Andreas Kloden (thereby protecting Jan Ullrich), and Phonak could send Botero (protecting Floyd Landis). All these attacks may fail. But Discovery must cover them all. The cumulative fatigue on their legs could prove overwhelming.Bjarne Riis, team manager of CSC, is known for his pragmatism. He's also known for being extremely traditional. And though it would be unwise for his team to help Jens Voigt keep the yellow jersey for another day (despite the fact that Voigt can't climb, is a modest time-trialist, and has absolutely zero chance of winning the Tour), Riis may do so, simply because Tour tradition mandates it. This would be the stupidest thing for CSC to do, but it may come to pass. Or not. Riis is aware that other team's known this weakness. He may change his tactics to exploit their knowledge.The start this morning was in Grenoble, a city of narrow streets that were laid out with utter disregard for logic. It is not as clean as the other cities I've seen so far this year. Even when I headed out of town for a trail run, the path was lined with broken beer bottles and smelled of fresh dog droppings.  I headed out of town before the start, almost getting run over by a trolley in the process. It's not that I didn't enjoy my time in Grenoble – I did – but I'm more comfortable in the coutryside. As Grenoble faded into my rearview mirror and I turned off the autoroute onto the smaller N90, it felt good to be driving through the Alps on a sunny July morning.I was eating dinner at a bistro across the street from my hotel last night, when I ran into Matt Ford. He's the owner of Rock `n' Road Cyclery, my hometown bike shop. Matt had flown in for the next three days as a guest of Look (I think). Great to see Matt, who's an exceptional cyclist in his own right.Turns out the press center in Grenoble was famous for more than just housing the city velodrome. During the 1968 Olympics, the building hosted the figure skating competition. That was the year Peggy Fleming won. Kinda' cool to be at the scene of that bit of history.Flash forward a few Olympics, to the 1992 Winter Games. They took place in Albertville, which lies at the base of the climb up here to Courchevel. The same jagged Alpine peaks the riders will ascend were the scene of the skiing and ski jumping competitions. The press center was the scene of hockey.  Again, great history.Spectator mania has increased every day. That trend continued today. Just a phenomenal number of national flags, cycling tour groups, beer-drinking Germans, and generally rabid individuals in all manner of dress. The sun is out but the air is cold, and rain is forecast for the finish. This is one of those mountains that never seems to end, and more than once on the drive (dodging bikes and people the whole way) up, I thought I had reached the summit. But then I would round a curve and see that the actual summit was still five miles higher.  The final push is steep and near the tree line, a demanding pitch that will see some very tired riders battle wind, weather and mountain before the cross the line It's a cliché, but today the race will go the rider who wants it most. If you want a dark horse candidate for stage winner, think Levi Leipheimer or Floyd Landis. I know I keep flogging the Landis bandwagon, but he seems to fit and mentally sharpTalk to you later. The race is about to start.

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