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Boonen Speaks

Posted by MDugard on Jul 6, 2006 11:37:43 PM

Here's all you need to know about today's stage: It was hot, there were lots of crashes, and a Spanish guy won a tight sprint to the finish, beating the man wearing the yellow jersey by half the length of a wheel. The Spanish guy was Oscar Freire, who races for Rabobank. Tom Boonen, who is aching for his first stage victory of this Tour, rode brilliantly but was denied. However, by finishing up front Boonen will stay in the yellow jersey for another night, probably two. He looks like a surfer dude, all blond hair and goofy Spiccoli grin, so it's weird to hear that thick Belgian accent when he starts talking. He is articulate, though, and strongly disputes the notion that this week has been much less intense than during the Armstrong era. The pace may be off, he says, but that's because of the heat. I talked with Floyd Landis after the stage. For a guy that just rode 140 miles, he looked remarkably fresh. He said that it wasn't a hard stage for his team and they were right next to a very big crash that occurred just before the finish, but no one was hurt. He wanted to know about the crash, and who went down, saying that it sounded horrible. I'm actually considering driving the course the night before Saturday's time trial, in search of people camping out to stake claim to their viewing spot. It all depends upon how tomorrow goes, and how late I wander out of the press room, but I'm tempted to find a fun-loving and well populated section of the course and camp for the night. I want to experience that dedicated spectator vibe. It's one of the things I've always wanted to do at the Tour, and have never gotten around to it. The other thing I want to do is run alongside a cyclist during a mountain stage. I know, I know, the people who do that are the most wretched form of humanity, lower than whale droppings on the bottom of the ocean, and should be banned from all bike races. But I'm kind of curious about the whole experience. It seems there's a certain logistics and physics to finding the exact perfect spot, selecting a rider to cheer, and then exhorting them while running up the mountain, making sure not to trip or make them crash. I think it's harder than it looks. Stay tuned. So I got to thinking about who might win. The top three riders from last year's Tour are not racing in 2006, so it's going to be a total changing of the guard come Paris. Barring injury, I'm going to predict an American sweep. Why not? It's time to be bold, so I'll go out on a limb: Hincapie, Landis, and Leipheimer, in that order. Others to watch: Andreas Kloden, David Millar, and Cadel Evans. Picking Tour winners at this point is like filling out a Final Four bracket the night before the tournament starts: harmless fun that invests you in the race by giving you someone to root for. And maybe, just maybe, a true Cinderella story will emerge, some unknown rider with a heart of gold who will make us scratch our heads and look at the race in a whole new light. Send me your predictions. Put it out there. Take a stand. And don't put Anonymous next to your name. Lance Armstrong says he's not coming to the Tour this year. Makes sense. He'd only be  a distraction, and the team is gelling just fine without him around. But I think he'd have a hard time staying away if George Hincapie wins it all. I'm not making a World Cup prediction, but I'm pulling for France. Three reasons: I'm tired of seeing the Italians take a dive and fake injuries every time someone looks cross-eyed at them; I thought the way Italy beat Australia on such a bit of theatrics was disgraceful; and, I'm in France. I'll be watching the game with a French crowd. I want to see them all go nuts. How cool would that be? After the way they rioted when France won their semifinal game last night, the fans just may burn down Paris if France wins the final. I should add that despite what those AYSO have been praying for since they fielded their first league, soccer will never be a major sport in the U.S., even if we ever won the World Cup. Don't ask me why, but that's just the way it is. We're not soccer people. Heck, we're barely cycling people. A big hello and lots of love to Callie, Devin, Connor and Liam. Well, it's just past seven. Off to find the village of Herouville-St-Clair, and a small hotel whose name I cannot find at the moment. If all goes well, I'm going to get up early and head over to Omaha Beach. Talk to you tomorrow.

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