Catch Frankie Andreu's final podcast from the 2008 Tour de France. Quick Step's Gert Steegmans sprints to the stage win on the Champs-Elysees (though he wasn't Frankie's sentimental pick) and the powerhouse team of CSC Saxo Bank celebrates Carlos Sastre's ascension on to the podium in yellow.
Frankie says goodbye for now, talk to you in 2009.
On a day when Stefan Schumacher swept the '08 Tour time trials (St. 4 in Cholet and today's St. 20 from Cerilly to Saint-Amand-Montrond), the big story is Cadel Evans not being able to handle the pressure of overcoming Carlos Sastre.
Polka-dot jersey wearer Bernhard Kohl also surprised with a great time trial to keep himself in third overall. And Christian Vande Velde had a fantastic ride to move himself into fifth.
Frankie is looking forward to a bunch sprint tomorrow to see who the fastest guy after three weeks is. Who do you think has the legs?
It doesn't matter if you are part of the written press, television, or even a cyclist, the Tour is a moving circus. The constant shifting of position each and every day wears on everyone. The riders race during the day and the media compound travels by night to set up each and every finish. At the finish I get the privilege of interviewing the stage winner and all the jersey wearers. I don't talk with all of them because Versus does not like to do the translation thing, so we target the English speakers.
Behind the podium is the protected area where there are three camper cars for the riders to wash up in before they come meet the media. One of the sensations of this Tour has been Andy Schleck, who many say will win the Tour de France in the next three years. Andy not only has been one of the strongest in the climbs, but his willingness to speak with many of the media is also unmatched.
At the bottom of l'Alpe d'Huez it was chaos around the CSC bus with Carlos Sastre in yellow. The road was too narrow, the buses too large and every time a team car had to pass everyone would get squashed. Once Carlos stepped out of the bus the little streamers they use to keep people back were torn off as everyone rushed in.
As we head to Paris I'm glad the Tour has ended. I have enjoyed the excitement of the Tour this year and in a way it was an easier Tour then previous years. The teams were more accommodating, the riders more willing to speak, and the mountains not as draining to get through. The next few months will be critical for cycling as ASO and the UCI work out their problems. The riders and teams will also have to work out their own rules, between themselves, involving the next races and disappearance of the Pro Tour.
I hope everyone enjoyed the podcasts and the articles. I enjoyed bringing you the excitement of the Tour de France.
The real excitement of Friday's stage was the anticipation of Saturday's individual time trial--53km from Cerilly to Saint-Amand-Montrond. Frankie Andreu reports that Carlos Sastre is "calm and ready" while Cadel Evans is...difficult to talk to (listen to the podcast to get a "head's up" from Frankie on another Evans youtube video).
Meanwhile, Paul Sherwen receives an award for 30 years of covering the Tour and Wim Vansevenant may be on the verge of setting a Tour record of his own.
Even though today's stage lacked the action and drama of yesterday's l'Alpe d'Huez thriller, Marcus Burghardt is still one happy camper. Listen as Frankie Andreu reveals CSC's real plan for Sastre's breakaway, and why the results weren't what they expected.
Also, Frankie ranks Sastre's 39-minute-and-change climb among the times of past years' l'Alpe d'Huez winners; and the French police search the car of Andy and Frank Schleck's dad.
Frankie Andreu reports from the mountaintop finish of l'Alpe d'Huez, where questions abound: What will CSC do in the next few days to gain time for Carlos Sastre and Frank Schleck? Can Christian Vande Velde make it 11 years in a row that an American is on the podium? How much wattage was Sebastian Lang producing on his breakaway yesterday?
And why was actor Michael Douglas helping Carlos Sastre put on the yellow jersey?
Frankie Andreu reports from Jausiers, where Cyril Dessel prevailed after a crazy descent that saw John Lee Augustyn, the first to reach the summit, launch off the road and slide down the mountain. Also during Stage 16, CSC rode like a team on a mission, keeping Frank Schleck in yellow despite a virtual change in race leadership during the race.
Tomorrow is the queen stage--up L'Alpe d'Huez. "It's the last chance for Frank Schleck to get rid of Menchov or Evans, or he is going to lose the Tour."
We have entered into the last week of the Tour de France. Is this a good thing? For the riders, I'm sure they are happy. For the cycling fans, I'm sure it's a bad thing. For the sport, I'm sure it's a good thing.
No other cycling race is covered more then the Tour, and when there are problems, that coverage just escalates. This TdF, the sport has had its problems and we hope that they are over, but honestly we don't know. I want the last week to be about bike racing and the final day to be remembered as a great finish to an exciting Tour de France.
Right now it's shaping up that way, with the top 6 riders all within fifty seconds of each other. That's crazy close, and with two huge mountain days coming up the pressure is on. No one has shown their dominance in the mountains. CSC is strong but they have three guys to gang up on poor 'ol Cadel. Denis Menchov is strong, as well as Bernhard Kohl, but only at the right moment can any of them drop each other.
The gaps only open when they look at each other, playing tactical games, trying to force the other to chase. Cadel will continue to follow and close tiny gaps; all he has to do is stay close to clobber everyone in the final time trial. Menchov will follow some of the leaders but he is a big guy and will struggle on the super long climbs.
CSC's Carlos Sastre and the Schleck brothers (Andy and Frank) will have the advantage to play off each other. Kohl and Christian Vande Velde can play off this CSC tag team as well. If a CSC rider goes then either Kohl or VDV should follow. You know the CSC riders in the back will just sit on and not work. It's not about who wins the stages, it's about time gaps. The more time on Cadel and Menchov the better and for Cadel and Menchov, the less time lost the better.
At the start of stage 15 I noticed a do-it-yourself homemade portable pump. This was out in front of the Liquigas bus to top off the riders tires in case they needed it. What the pump didn't have was a gauge, so I have no idea how the mechanic knows what he's doing. The mechanic just took a portable drill and changed the end to add a valve.
Monday's rest day was in Italy. It was a well-deserved rest day for the riders and everyone else. Stage 15 was pretty much a nightmare doing the transfer from the start to the finish. I had to drive 1.5 hours to the start, then from the start to the finish took five hours. I arrived at the finish when the riders had only 10km left to race. I then ran out onto the course to do interviews and then after the race we were stuck in traffic at the top of the mountain and that took three hours to get to the hotel.
The reward was the rest day, and a great Italian breakfast. I polished off that 5kg barrel of Nutella.
Though a valiant effort from Garmin Chipotle's Danny Pate during today's breakaway, he came up just a bit short. Listen to Frankie Andreu explain how tough it is to secure a stage win at the Tour de France. Stage 15 also saw great riding from Team CSC Saxo Bank, Carlos Satre and Christian Vande Velde.
Plus: Oscar Pereiro's crash, Sastre's extra components and more...
It's been a rough week for the Tour de France. For starters, the French anti-doping police have been targeting questionable riders and coming up rather successful in their quest to rid the peloton of cheaters. Now, I'm sure that target list has help in being made from ASO; it's far from random testing.
The biggest star to fall was Riccardo Ricco. The double stage winner was remarkable to watch in the mountains but proved no match to the neon-vested medical control personnel that swarmed around after each finish. On the Hautacam stage alone they tested the first nine riders. On the time trial stage they tested up to fifteen different riders. There is no UCI here so the French Federation can adjust and do what they want to make sure that they have a clean race. I figure this is the way it should be done and they have made fast business in cleaning up the Tour.
The above picture shows just two of about ten neon-vest people that run around every day. They are standing in front of the mobile drug-testing trailer where each athlete is required to give their sample when their number is requested.
As for bike racing, no one can catch Mark Cavendish. He has won 4 stages, the most of any British rider and has a burst of speed that no one can match. Each time in the final 50 meters, you can see him switch gears and accelerate past everyone. He also gives a pretty good interview, unlike some other riders who seem to have no personality at all.
I actually have a nickname for Cavendish: "the horse." This is because every time I interview him he is always moving his head from side to side looking beyond and glancing back. I have to move my microphone all over the place just to keep it near his mouth to hear his words. Pay attention next time, or go back and look at some of the early days.
Speaking of dull, what do you think of Cadel Evans? A rider with a ton of talent that follows wheels, almost never attacks, and has a voice that some people find shrill. Speaking of shrill, check out youtube and type "Cadel Evans don't touch me." It's funny and scary.
Of course, you have to remember that Cadel spends probably over an hour longer than anyone else at the finish because of the media requirements.
The big mountains are around the corner and this will not only be Cadel's first big test in yellow but also his team's first test to defend yellow in the mountains.
In his Stage 13 podcast, Frankie Andreu marvels at Mark Cavendish's speed, discusses Saunier Duval's ongoing woes and notes how the UCI's absence allows the French anti-doping control to target specific riders.
Plus: Alejandro Valverde's super-cool Pinarello Prince and a preview of Stage 14 and 15.
"This morning there was complete chaos at the start line..." Listen to Frankie Andreu describe the scene of Riccardo Ricco being taken away by French gendarmes after testing positive for the use of EPO.
But there was more to Stage 12 than the dismissal of a cheater. Mark Cavendish raced like one of the Team Columbia sports cars. And find out more about the carbon fiber-lined Bell Volt helmets that CSC and Credit Agricole are wearing.
What we have learned from the Tour is that it takes from the strongest as well as the weakest. Many riders have struggled during the first days in the mountains, some because of fatigue or fitness and some because of bad luck.
For Cadel Evans, it was the latter--a matter of the right place at the wrong time. He was riding near the front of the group, paying attention as he should, when one of the Euskatel riders, riding in the first 10, overcooked a turn and crashed about seven riders. Cadel was a casualty of that crash, breaking his helmet in three pieces and shredding his shorts and jersey. In an instant, Cadel went from Tour favorite to a Tour victim.
The first mountain stage went to Riccardo Ricco with a Pantani climbing flare that has not been seen since Marco Pantani's last Tour victory in 1998. Ricco danced on the pedals, accelerated out of the saddle on the climb, and made the tilted roads look easy to pass over. For the others, the Col d'Aspin was a launching pad for multiple attacks, and it provided a great racing day for only being day number one in the mountains.
Kirchen kept the yellow jersey, but he showed vulnerability by riding in the middle of the pack instead of near the front of the group. The Luxembourg rider was weakening right when he needed his strength the most.
The biggest day of the Pyrenees was Hautacam, and it proved to shake things up a bit but not as much as I had thought. Alejandro Valverde had a horrible day, losing contact with the peloton on the Tourmalet and he never caught up. CSC struck out to try and get the yellow jersey, but I'm surprised they didn't attack earlier on the Tourmalet. As it ended up, Frank Schleck only lost the yellow jersey by one second.
Cadel Evans was lucky to get the yellow by the way he and his friends rode up Hautacam. It was a staring contest between Denis Menchov, Ricco, Carlos Sastre, and Evans, while Christian Vande Velde just watched from the corner of the room. For Vande Velde it was a new experience, so he waited for the big guns to make their move--they never did! Finally, Christian said the **** with it and it was his attack that allowed Evans to take yellow. I believe Cadel will ultimately out think himself from the yellow jersey and a win in Paris.
After Hautacam was a nice rest day. It was a beautiful day in Southern France for the riders to rest and train a little before they hit three transition stages before the Alps. Many of the riders' wives and girlfriends were around, and some of the press were treated to Chipotle burritos at a Garmin-Chipotle media event. To say burritos are rare in France would be an understatement.
Of course the news before Stage 11 was the fact that Moises Duenas Nevado from Barloworld was busted for EPO from Stage 4. Duenas and the team doctor were taken to the police station for questioning, and of course the rest of the team endured questioning at the start of Stage 11.
In this next week I believe Saunier Duval-Scott will play a large role in the outcome of the Tour de France. This team is climbing so well that anyone that can hang on or tag along will have a big advantage.
Here at the start of Stage 11 David De La Fuenta and Saunier Duval-Scott had tons of fans cheering them on.
CSC will start to become more visible; since Andy Schleck has lost time, he will be getting in some breaks to put pressure on the teams. What might end up happening is that Cadel, because he has a bad mountain team, will benefit from the Gerolsteiner and Garmin teams working to keep their spots on the G.C., and in the end help Cadel keep his jersey.
This year L'Alpe d'Huez will be as critical as ever. The winner of L'Alpe d'Huez will probably take the yellow and this rider will be the winner of the Tour de France.