Had a little wireless problem last night, so the second post didn't go. Today has been a very crazed day (more on that later, but for now all you need to know is that the final climb today is thronged with thousands of drunken cycling fans and that the road is littered with debris in spots. It is astounding how nuts it is. Maybe they're all celebrating the Fourth of July) but here's last night's to set the scene:I'm all turned around. Being from California, I think of the Atlantic Ocean as being east. So now, with the Tour pushing toward the Atlantic, it feels like we're moving east. In fact, we go north into Belgium and the Netherlands, then push west...It's always nice seeing Robbie McEwen win a Tour stage. Today marked his ninth, and he's always so happy to win. That look of utter ecstasy on his face is genuine. Afterward, he's always bubbling over with joy, never looking dour or down at the mouth. Today he lambasted a journalist from the International Herald-Tribune for being overly eager to ask a question. McEwen did it with that biting Aussie wit that can be extremely funny if you're not on the sharp end. But he wasn't mean, and he made it all a rather nice joke that involved a sense of community in a cycling world that has been a little beaten down this month. It was the first time I saw laughter at this year's Tour. The icebreaker was timely, and it was fitting that it came from McEwen. McEwen just turned 34, and said that today's victory was especially nice because sprinters are known to slow down with age. "I haven't slowed down," he said afterward, visibly relieved. I was reminded of how Shaquille O'Neal, who is often held up to the world as one of the greatest living athletes, recently complained that Father Time was catching up with him. Shaq Daddy and Robbie McEwen being the same age, I would suggest that unconditioned Shaq train a little harder. McEwen and Thor Hushovd bumped each other in the final sprint. It was a weird moment. McEwen sat straight up and thrust his arms out as he crossed the line, while Hushovd pumped his fist because he'd just taken the overall lead. But Hushovd was actually angry that he'd been denied the stage win. After looking at the tape he realized that he'd been wrong -- his front wheel had come in contact with McEwen's left leg. Hushovd was scared into rage by the near crash, but enthusiastic about donning yellow again. All this from a guy who was doped up on pain medication in the hospital last night, getting stitches for a finish line accident involving a fan. Hushovd had stomach pains in the morning but chose to ride anyway. Talk about a roller coaster of emotions. I made a bundle of driving errors this afternoon that would have cost me dearly on The Amazing Race. I was feeling all good about myself because I navigated to the start and finish successfully, but then I somehow stopped paying attention. My hotel is in the city of Luxembourg (in the nation of Luxembourg, which can be a bit confusing). I somehow managed to drive almost forty miles past the hotel, sure that I was reading the map properly. I wasn't. By the time I found the Parc Hotel I felt a whole lot like the journalist who, a few years back, got so frustrated with getting lost while covering the Tour, that he began hitting himself repeatedly while driving. When he eventually found his hotel, he had two black eyes. I should note that I ran into that guy in Strasbourg. He was swearing a blue streak. After managing to get a twenty-minute interview with Discovery's team director, Johan Bruyneel, he got back to the press room and learned that he'd forgotten to turn on his tape recorder. Bruyneel, by the way, is on the same sort of mission as George Hincapie. Both of them have labored happily in the shadow of Lance Armstrong for so long that they're eager to prove their worth. Bruyneel looks so completely different from last year's Tour that I though he was a different person. Not just that he looks thinner and happier, but that I actually took a look at him and thought that there was no way Johan Bruyneel could be that calm figure wandering through Discovery's team area, handing out media guides to the press. For so long people have disdained his accomplishments, thinking that any team director could win seven Tours with Armstrong as team leader. I think he quietly -- for he has said absolutely nothing of the kind -- wants to show Tour fans that he is a talented man in his own right. It was Bruyneel who ordered Hincapie to charge forward and take the time bonus that vaulted the American into the yellow jersey. And it will be Bruyneel making several very cagey decisions between now and Paris. This is a Tour that favors creativity, and Bruyneel strikes me as someone who sees the Tour with the loose aesthetic of an artist. Somehow I wound up in the same hotel as four Tour teams: Lampre, Euskaltel, Credit Agricole, and Phonak. Here's how you tell the difference between teams that have a legitimate shot of winning the Tour and teams just happy to endure the notoriety that comes with three weeks of suffering: the room numbers of each rider for Lampre and Euskaltel are posted on a white board in the lobby, for pretty much the whole world to see. There is no such posting for Phonak and Credit Agricole. When I watch cycling on TV, the riders always look so majestic. Some, like the retired Mario Cipollini, actually live up to that image. But in person most riders look like normal guys with great forearm tans. They're skinny right now, but more lean than marathoner emaciated, which they'll be at the end of the Tour. So when a bunch of Euskaltel riders gather in the lobby, or when you walk past an open hotel room door as riders go in and out, they actually look like a bunch of really fit frat guys. They're loud and there's a brotherhood among them. They tend to dress casually but sharp, and there are a lot more girls than normal hanging around the lobby. It all looks very normal. While I was lost in the Luxembourg wilderness on my little afternoon driving adventure, I got to thinking about this first week of the race. I was thinking about that ADD aspect, and how it all feels so unsatisfying to see the race proceeding without a known leader. I came to a few conclusions. First, even after Saturday's time-trial, this year's Tour is still going to have a loosey-goosey feel (I feel like my grandfather using that expression, but you know what I mean). No rider is vengeant enough to impose his will on the others. Too many nice guys. Too many hesitant nice guys. I don't see any rider of winning the time trial by more than a couple dozen seconds, and then following it up thrashing the peloton about the heads and shoulders in the Pyrenees and beyond. The second conclusion I came to was that it's good for the race to be wide open and a little unsettling right now. What's wrong with a sprinter like Thor Hushovd swapping the yellow jersey with a climber like George Hincapie? Hushovd is like that kid in fifth grade who grew too early, but then stopped growing. Five-eight at the age of twelve and not an inch taller. Same with Hushovd. Let him wear yellow right now. Let Robbie McEwen take a go at it tomorrow. Maybe even Tom Boonen. Bottom line is that this is the biggest week of the year for those guys. But when the time trials and mountains begin, their day is done. Having said that, it would be sad if that first stage was the highlight of George Hincapie's Tour. The knock against him is that he's not aggressive enough and can't accelerate in the mountains -- in other words, he's too nice to break another man's will. Time will tell if we'll see Hincapie's -- the Big Hink, as he is nicknamed -- mean streak. The Tour is, by all appearances, one of the healthiest events on earth. But they've gone one better year, banning smoking in most places and selling apples and bananas at many of the concession stands.Once again, tomorrow will be another hot ride. Robbie McEwen says he likes to think of it a as day to get thirsty, drink a lot of extra water, and feel sorry for the domestiques who will be ordered to ride back to the team cars and ferry extra water bottles to the top rider. But Levi Leipheimer thinks the heat is the least of tomorrow's obstacles. In particular, "Dutch roads are known for being narrow and full of obstacles. Let's hope tomorrow the roads are more like French roads than Dutch roads." Levi, who is obviously not considering using the Netherlands as a training base, adds that tomorrow will be a stage to watch. Tomorrow's start is right around noon. If the pace is fast, the Tour predicts a 5 p.m. finish. If it's slow, they think it'll be right around 5:27. I have the feeling it will be the best stage so far in terms of competitive excitement. Can't wait. Talk to you later.