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Sunday in Strasbourg

Posted by MDugard on Jul 5, 2006 8:56:48 PM

I ate dinner last night in the shadows of the gargantuan Cathedral de Notre Dame, a sandstone structure that towers over the local skyline and took four centuries (11th-15th) to build. The brasserie fronted a cobbled courtyard, and among the pigeons and cyclists was a very drunken English soccer fan that somehow convinced five very angry gendarmes that he should not be arrested, despite the fact that they were very close to doing just that. Just then, in a moment straight out of Casablanca, a loud crowd of Frenchmen began singing the French national anthem at the top of their voices. The France-Brazil game World Cup game was about to get underway, and patriotism was in the air. A few quick highlights from the advertising caravan that precedes the Tour each day: The studly Aquarel water fireman spraying the crowd suggestively with his hose; the sacrilegious Aquarel priest dousing the crowd with "holy water"; and, the Prodir Pens cars, which have six-foot long fiberglass replicas of the company's product bolt to the top. On first glance, however, they don't look like pens, but like enormous red penises. The appearance is somewhat alarming. Just thought you'd want to know.Today's stage is 114 miles long, and makes a big lazy loop around Strasbourg. The weather is extremely hot. There's no wind here in the city, but the riders should see a fair amount on the open road, particularly after pedaling across the broad Rhine and into the open roads of Germany. They soon cross back into France. The finish is actually just a mile from the starting line, and the riders cycled past the flame rouge, that red triangle indicating the start of the final kilometer, as the race began. It hung from a blue banner over an empty side street. In a few hours, that street will be packed, and they'll all be pedaling with what can only be called more intensity. George Hincapie, who is racing in the green jersey today, was noticeably looser this morning, and he admitted it. "I'm a little more calm," he said as he wheeled his bike up to the starting line. "It was a good ride." Last night, however, Hincapie was angry with himself for losing the prologue. "I was very disappointed, but when I thought about it, I realized it was a good ride. Maybe I could have shaved another second off by riding harder through the turns or not pedaling in such a big gear at the finish, but maybe he winner Thor Hushovd could have taken off a second somewhere, too." Floyd Landis was late for the start yesterday because of a cut in his rear tire. He noticed it at the last minute, and immediately ordered it changed. Dave Zabriskie (Shy? Reticent? Stoic? Aloof? Discuss) wasn't saying much at the start. Never a big talker, Zabriskie leaned over his bike at the starting line, content to let all the media attention be showered on Floyd Landis and Levi Leipheimer, who straddled their own bikes just in front of him. Life on the Road 101: I felt an abrupt pang of remorse this morning because I forgot to moisturize my face. Crazy, but true. This, perhaps, shows that I have finally become domesticated after years of being a cave man. To make matters more interesting, I actually debated whether it was OK to use the tube of body moisturizer in my pack because it was, you know, body moisturizer and not facial moisturizer. I am told there is a vast difference. Just to let you know that I haven't fully evolved, when my hair was doing funny things this morning I used a spot of sunscreen to push it back off my forehead. UV 30. I thought it did the job rather well. My Strasbourg moment this morning: Walking the stone pathway along the leafy banks of the Ill River, shortly after the stage began. A tourist barge plied the slow green waters, while classical piano played softly in a nearby home, the sound flowing delicately out the large open windows. I was instantly calmed. I stopped to let the scene wash over me. Strategy-wise, here's what should happens this week: Lots of breakaways. It's a week for glory and riders who don't usually get much of a chance to shine. And though the sprinters' teams will work to control the pace in hopes of snagging the green jersey, this is also a prime opportunity for a young unknown rider to go off the front in the hopes of snagging the maillot jaune. After this week, the door slams on such an opportunity. The Tour pecking order will be properly established during Saturday's time trial, and the gap between the front-runners and the rest of the peloton will be measure in minutes. Now, with that gap mere seconds, the brave and the foolhardy know that if they charge out there alone, ride a hundred miles at breakneck speed with little or no help from other riders, and somehow manage to hang on for the win, they will end their day atop the podium. A pretty French model will hand him a stuffed lion, kiss him on both cheeks, and then, as the music swells, five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault will slip the yellow jersey over his shoulders. That's the sort of moment most of these guys have dreamed of their life. This week is their chance to see that dream come true. Talk to you after the stage.

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