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The Yellow Pages

Posted by MDugard on Jul 3, 2006 1:03:06 PM

After every stage of the Tour de France, a small army of Tour interns swarms through the press room, handing out pages of official results. Some, like the overall standing and a profile of the next stage are on simple white paper. But those dealing with the race for the jerseys are color-coded. So the sprinter's results are on green paper, because they're chasing the green jersey. I think you can guess what goes on the yellow paper. I keep staring at the yellow sheet which has just been placed in front of me, not quite used to seeing George Hincapie's name near the to top of the rankings. In fact, if he had pedaled just a breath faster, Hincapie would be the man in yellow after today's opening prologue instead of Thor Hushovd.  The prologue course was a 4.4-mile wind tunnel. Gusts rocked the riders, pushing hard on their solid disc wheels as they cornered, and pushing into their faces as they accelerated back up to speed. It was a day that heavily favored sprinters like the 28-yearold Hushovd, because their heavy preponderance of fast-twitch fibers were vital to accelerating out of the tight turns. But Hincapie, a grinder, finished just .073 behind the Norwegian rider, suddenly making the world aware that he is serious about trying to win this year's Tour. A single prologue does not a Tour make, but Hincapie is riding aggressively and confidently. The knock against him is that he can't accelerate in the mountains, putting forth the sort of instant surge that was once the Lance Armstrong trademark. That may or may not be true. But Hincapie has improved immensely as an all-around cyclist in the last couple years. He time-trials with the best, and his tour de force on the Pla D'Adet last July showed that he can definitely climb. Maybe he never showed the ability to surge because he's never had the chance.  Floyd Landis decided to make a last-minute wheel change and was late to the start. He finished ninth on the day, nine seconds behind Hushovd. His best friend and training partner, Dave Zabriskie, finished third. It was Zabriskie who won last year's opening time trial in Fromentine, then crashed during the pivotal team time trial and dropped out of the race soon after.  Hushovd is riding his sixth Tour de France. He won the green jersey last year, and now has 37 career victories to his credit.  Agritube, the new sponsor of a French-Spanish squad, makes bovine feeding tubes. They actually travel with a sponsor's van that has big pictures of cows grazing. It looks rather odd.  I'm trying to let this doping issue play out, not writing too much about it until more details come forth. After all, those riders who were kicked out of the Tour on suspicion of blood doping are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, though lately it's been the other way around. But when I ran into Frankie Andreu about an hour ago, I couldn't help but think about it again. Both Frankie and his wife testified in court that Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. Now, I don't know whether this is true, and I don't want to venture a guess, but just seeing Andreu made me think of doping. What I'm trying to say is that we have reached a point in cycling where drugs and the sport are synonymous. Obviously, this is not a good thing.   Today's hot weather is expected to continue tomorrow, meaning that the 115-mile stage which begins and ends here in Strasbourg should be a tad uncomfortable. The stage is relatively flat and fast, winding across the Rhine into Germany's wine-making region before heading back into town. A footnote to all this, strangely, is sauerkraut. The Alscace region through which the riders will be pedaling is the known as the epicenter of sauerkraut. It is the cornerstone of the local diet. No less than Alexander Dumas referred to is as "the Alsation specialty." Just thought you'd want to know.  In talking with the riders today, everyone looks oddly fit and confident. The usual pre-Tour nerves were everywhere, but all the top contenders appear to be healthy and strong. There's an eagerness to the proceedings, a very optimistic sense of hope.  Now that the prologue is done, I'm looking forward to a week traveling through northern France (and Belgium, and Luxembourg, and the Netherlands). It will be a different kind of Tour than any I've ever covered, because without Lance Armstrong (and Ullrich and Basso) in the peloton, team directors will be free to use an entirely new set of tactics. Should be rather exciting.  Talk to you soon.

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