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Yellow redux

Posted by MDugard on Jul 3, 2006 5:25:12 AM

Wow. Here it is, the second day of the 2006 Tour, and an American is in the yellow jersey. George Hincapie, Lance Armstrong's top lieutenant for about as long as anybody can remember, made a heads-up tactical move with less than six miles left, sprinting hard to grab a two-second bonus. Well, they call it a bonus, but it really means that those seconds were subtracted from his overall time. This pushed him over Thor Hushovd into first place overall. "It's still the Tour de France," he noted, reveling in the moment but reminding listeners that there were still three weeks to go. "You still have to race hard to win."Cool seeing George in yellow. Not because he's an American, but because he subordinated his career to Armstrong's for so many years. That sort of selflessness is rare in life, and particularly unique at the Tour de France. It was so hot today. It was the kind of day where only crazy men and professionals get off the couch. The wind wasn't any help, either. It blew hard and hot, like a blast furnace door was being opened with every gust. Hincapie says he wasn't thinking about 1998 as he sprinted for the banner. It was his near-miss in the prologue that propelled him forward. "I thought about the disappointment of yesterday," he said later, "and how mad and frustrated I was." Make no mistake, George Hincapie is now officially Discovery's team leader. That may all change with a bad time trial Saturday, but that's not likely. Hincapie has never publicly lobbied to be Discovery's team leader, but it's a role he has long coveted. On a lesser team, his track record as a great classics rider, and now a great climber and time-trialist, would make him an obvious choice for team leader. Now that he's in yellow, his team won't work that hard to defend the jersey (the lead is only a couple seconds , and defending against the reckless breakaways we're going to see over the next few days would punish his teammates' legs unnecessarily). But he will have the advantage of sitting in their protective draft each day rather than riding out in the wind. Waiting for the race to finish, I walked into a small cafe on the Rue de Republique for a sandwich. The television was on, meaning I could watch the race on the flat screen or turn my head to the left and see the actual course right outside the open window. I always think moments like that are pretty cool. Anyway, I asked what kind of food they had. I spoke in English, and the guy behind the counter spoke a sort of Turkish French. There was no way we were going to communicate. I spoke slower, thinking it might help (why is that always the first thing I do in a foreign country?). He spoke slower, too. I tried my bad French. He looked at me like he couldn't understand a single syllable. Finally, he blurted out, "chicken or beef?" Immediately, I told him I wanted the chicken. He shook his head. "No chicken, only beef." Now that we were safely in Belushi country, I knew where all this was going. So I got the beef, really not sure what sort of meal I was getting. Turned out to be strips of sauteed steak stuffed inside a thick pita-style bun, then covered with spicy mayonnaise. Not only was it fabulous, but it only cost me three euros, which I considered quite a bargain. No one has quit the Tour so far. The field still stands at 176 riders. Tomorrow is actually a fairly tough stage. As the riders move north and east into Luxembourg, the terrain will test their legs. Two third-category climbs and three fourth-category climbs lay in the 141 miles between Obernai and Esch-sur-Alzette. The toughest is the Col de Pandours, which rises for 7.8 kilometers at a 4.1% gradient. Back home, a climb like that would be killer. Here it's just an excuse to pedal hard. Never been to Luxembourg. I don't actually keep track of how many countries I've been to, but it's always nice to cross the border into a new one. It signifies some sort of new adventure even if it's just tiny Luxembourg. Esch-Sur-Alzette, site of tomorrow's finish, is one of those really old European with nothing but past. It dates to the 11th century, and was once ruled by John the Blind and, later, Louis XIV. It was hotbed of the resistance movement during World War II, and is known for its cultural diversity (French, Belgian, German, Polish, Italian, and Portuguese populations) and rich local forests. Cool.Alright. It's late. The day has been exciting, and the race is taking shape (did you notice that none of the upper echelon teams like Discovery, Phonak, CSC, and T-Mobile sent riders off on breakaways? They're saving people for later). I'd say I'm off to get a glass of wine someplace, but this area's only known for that sweet stuff only my brother-in-law drinks. Then again, swet or not, a tall glass of wine sounds pretty good right about now. Talk to you tomorrow.

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