Monday, July 25, 2005
FAREWELL, PARIS. His seventh consecutive Tour de France trophy in his hand and his three children by his former wife Kristin by his side, Lance Armstrong waves farewell to Paris from the podium on the Champs Elysees. This is, to me, the most powerful image of this year's TdF.
AT WHAT PRICE? I contemplate this photo and I mean no irreverence or disrespect in the following query. I wonder, at what price does one pursue personal goals and "success beyond success" that put primary relationships and family at risk? Will these children look upon all this fame and glory and someday ask themselves, "Was this the cause of our broken family? If so, was it worth it?"
LOOKING FORWARD. For good or ill, what's done is done. Let the best choices now be made and grace abound. Lance says he is now ready to devote himself to being an available and more ordinary dad in Austin, Texas. Welcome to the club, Lance. Photo credit: AP Photo/Bernard Papon accessed at Yahoo!
Sunday, July 24, 2005
10 to Watch for TdF 2006
AN IMPERFECT INSPIRATION. I am sorry to see the Lance Armstrong era end, but glad it ended so well. I want the podium scene in Paris to linger long in my mind's eye. I wish Lance the best for his future. Lance is imperfect; he is, admittedly, flawed (as extended and extensive public scrutiny has revealed). He is also an inspiration--to me and to many. I am convinced his biggest challenges in life--greater than overcoming cancer and greater than winning the Tour de France seven times--lie ahead of him.
WHO NEXT YEAR? But even as the sun sets on Paris and the 2005 Tour de France, I begin to wonder who will emerge as next year's champion? Here's my earliest possible "short list" of riders I will be paying close attention to throughout the rest of the year that is not consumed by the Tour:
1. IVAN BASSO. Best young rider in 2003, third last year, second this year. He's the total package. This son of Italy may well ascend the next step of the Paris podium 365 days from now.
2. JAN ULLRICH. As Jean Valjean tells the one who would condemn him: "There's power in me yet; my race is not yet run." Ullrich won the Tour de France in 1997 at the age of 23. The German was heir apparent to the Miguel Indurain legacy. This was to be his era, but there was this unforeseen interruption named Lance Armstrong. Ullrich is no mere "also ran." This man is a proud champion. He will be motivated to win the Tour at least one more time before he, like Armstrong, retires.
3. ALEXANDRE VINOKOUROV. Winner of two 2005 TdF stages, a past podium finisher, constant attacker in the mountains, solid time trialist, resilient, persistent, tenacious. Vino, the current Kazakstan cycling champion, will be creating Tour de France fireworks for several years to come. But how will the pursuer lead?
4. LEVI LEIPHEIMER. This American hopeful rides consistently well in all formats, leads the German-based Gerolstiner team, and finished 6th this year. Just once I'd like to see something explosive from Leipheimer. That's not his style, but if Leipheimer is to make the podium in Paris, it seems to me that he is going to have to break out and breakthrough a barrier is now before him.
5. FLOYD LANDIS. This was Landis' first year out from under the thumb of Lance Armstrong and the American rode well, placing 9th overall. He's a great climber and a better time trialist. I don't know whether or not he is a motivating and inspirational team leader. He should be moving up toward a podium finish over the next two years. Maybe Armstrong's apparent insults about him could be grist for the edge to win. I hope so.
6. DAVID ZABRISKIE. He proved he's a great time trialist, like Lance. We didn't get to see Zabriski in the mountains, as he crashed spectacularly in the stage 4 team time trial and had to retire with injuries a few days later. If Zabriskie can avoid injury, he's an up-and-coming American to watch for.
7. ALEJANDRO VALVERDE. After watching the way Valverde all but effortlessly seemed to match LA on the climb to Corchevel, I thought he would be on the podium this year. But he crashed and had to retire from the race. This Spaniard reminds some experts of Miguel Indurain. He may be the next thing.
8. DAMIANO CUNEGO. This young Italian ruled the Giro d'Italia in 2004, overshadowing his team leader Gilberto Simoni. He was injured in this year's Giro and suffered mononucleosis afterward, so he was not at the Tour de France. If he's in the mix next year, he's got the right stuff to win it.
9. CADEL EVANS. Let's put an Aussie in the mix. Evans impressed me in this year's Tour. On the basis of an attack and breakway in a mountain stage, he climbed to an 8th-place finish in Paris today. He's shown prowess in the mountains and he has an attacking capability. He does relatively well in time trials, but he is not currently his team leader. It seems to me that somebody needs to invest in this opportunistic and excellent talent and cultivate a Tour de France champion. Johann, are you listening?
10. PICK ONE: SAVOLDELLI, HINCAPIE, POPOVYCH, OR DANIELSON. These four are all Discovery Channel potential team leaders in the post-Lance era. All are capabale of podium finishes:
- Italian Paolo Savoldelli won this year's Giro d'Italia (and one previously) and a stage in this TdF.
- American George Hincapie has paid his dues and proven himself, trialing well and winning the hardest mountain stage of this year's tour.
- Russian Yaroslav Popovych won the best young rider's jersey in this year's tour and was recruited by Discovery Channel as its future.
- American Tom Danielson did not ride this year's TdF due to injury, but he won the toughest race on this side of the pond--the Tour de Georgia--and should be cultivated as a Tour contender.
AMERICANS IN THE TOUR. Hmmm... I can't believe all the great riders I've left out of the top ten to watch for '06. Obviously, my list leans toward Americans (that's just my hopeful prejudice, I guess). An aside: I think the Tour de France needs to have a growing contingent of Americans, not just as Tour contenders, but as a domestiques. Until and unless American riders are willing to pay their dues in the peloton, it seems to me that European team leaders will be unwilling to put them forward as team leaders. Tyler Hamilton and Levi Leipheimer have shown their ability to lead European-based teams. But both of these guys have proven themselves as faithful and capable domestiques. It doesn't seem to be part of the American cyclist psyche to just serve as a domestique, however; the Americans tend to want to prove themselves in the peloton quickly and then expect to move into leadership.
THREE TO REMEMBER. On the 2005 Tour de France podium, left to right: Ivan Basso (2nd), Lance Armstrong (1st) , Jan Ullrich (3rd). There was not an epic struggle for Tour leadership as there has been in the past, particularly between Armstrong and Ullrich. But Basso and Ullrich did their best to unseat Armstrong in the mountains. In the end, they all end up with something more valuable than a tour victory: profound respect for each other and from all their sport.
Ride Home: a Poem
Tour de France
rolls toward Paris
road warriors glide
Thru cold rain
the best fall
some wounded go
thru flat stages
on but one back
and climbers surge
up the steeps toward
blindly tempt fate
get caught before
few keep up
and Lance leads them
crowds loom large
to see Lance charge
as Armstrong rides
now Lance can come
TdF Stage 21
HE SPENT HIMSELF. Vino, always an aggressive rider, won my respect during this edition of the Tour de France for his readiness to repeatedly attack the best of the best on the hardest days in the toughest conditions. He earns my first Annual "Guts" Award. He was willing to attack when no one else would. He shook things up in the mountains, taking Lance Armstrong to the limit. While I am sure every rider who crosses the finish line in Paris has given himself extensively, it appears to me that the Kazakh has literally spent himself to the very end. Vinokourov, who will leave T-Mobile at the end of this season to be leader of his own team, should be a top contender in the 2006 Tour, one of a handful of riders who will have the dubious honor of being the first post-Armstrong era TdF champ.
WRAP-UP IN PROCESS. I am working on a Tour de France wrap-up; coming soon. I am never quite ready for the TdF to be over when it's over. I guess that comes with the mania of the event. And this is a double-whammy. It's also the end of the Lance Armstrong era. Many questions and conjectures to come...
VICTORY LAPS. For the seventh consecutive year, Lance Armstrong rides into Paris after 20 days and over 2000 miles with a lock on the yellow jersey. When the margin of lead is significant (and Armstrong's lead over his rivals is quite significant), the 21st stage of the Tour de France is more formality than a day for attacking and jockeying for podium positions. The peloton arrives in Paris and enters the Champs Elysees together. After one lap, the sprinters take over and settle the last points available. For Armstrong, however, it must have been a bittersweet ride: he rides the circuits of Paris as the reigning champ...but for the very last time. Photo credit: Peter Dejong/AP accessed at Yahoo!
Saturday, July 23, 2005
TdF Stage 20
JAN SAILS. Conversely, Jan Ullrich, who crashed on last year's second individual time trial, stayed very focused. The German powered his way into third place overall with a flawless time trial performance, one worthy of a true champion. Jan, who placed second in the stage, will stand on the podium in Paris with Lance one more time. It will be a fitting end to a long-standing rivalry. Let's see, how many times have Ullrich and Armstrong stood on the podium together?
ARMSTRONG HAILS. But the day belonged to rider who began his unlikely and mind-boggling climb to the pinnacle of cycling with an individual time trial victory in the Prologue of 1999. Lance Armstrong churned his way to one last Tour stage victory, padded his lead, and left no doubt about his power among his fellow competitors. Incredible! He will go out the way he came in--with competitors and fans shaking their heads, wondering, "What was that?! Who was that?!" Meet--and say "so long"--to a Texan named Lance Armstrong.
RASMUSSEN'S NIGHTMARE. If ever a professional cyclist had a bad day at the office, Michael Rasmussen had it in stage 20's individual time trial. 2 crashes. 4 bikes. Slipping from 3rd place to 7th place overall. Tough day, indeed. The only consolation for the Dane: he will wear the polka-dot jersey in Paris; even after a humiliating day, no one performed better in the mountains than he.
Friday, July 22, 2005
TdF Stage 19
"TURBO" STILL WORKS FOR THE 35-YEAR OLD. These stages seem to be a set-up for what's left. If one was hoping for fireworks--and I think we all really like fireworks--one would be disappointed. Alas, this is the nature of the Tour de France. But spoils ARE spoils. Guerini won a Tour stage at L'Alpe d'Huez six years ago. Today the Italian perfectly timed an attack on his breakaway companions near the end of the stage. A T-Mobile teammate of Ullrich, Vinokourov, and Kloden, Guerini's win is significant because he is 35 years old; that's old enough to be called "uncle" on the Tour. But he proved that his nickname--"Turbo"--still applies.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
TdF Stage 18
ULLRICH CLOSING IN ON RASMUSSEN. Of particular note in the stage: Jan Ullrich was able to pick up a little time from current General Classification third-place rider Michael Rasmussen. Ullrich, currently in fourth place, is now just 2'12" behind Rasmussen. This is pointing toward a very interesting individual time trial on Saturday. Ullrich is a former time trial world champion and he could very well ride himself into third place--possibly second place--with a great TT. Rasmussen and current second-place holder Ivan Basso have questionable capabilities in time trialing. Basso was 2oth (-1'26" behind) and Rasmussen was 174th (-3'14" behind) in the stage 1 individual time trial.
JUST ONE MORE STAGE, LANCE. Whatever happens with changes in the top ten on Saturday's stage-20 individual time trial, I am looking for Lance Armstrong to best them all and win his only stage of this year's tour and his last stage in any Tour de France.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
TdF Stage 17: Discovery Channel Again!
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
TdF Stage 16: Credit to Cadel
HE'S NO "WHEEL SUCKER." Though his three remaining fellow escapees (can you say "wheel suckers?") did not do their fair share of the work in the final 30 kilometers of the stage, they outsprinted the weary warrior at the finish line to try to grab glory and Euros. But we all know that the credit goes to Cadel, who finished fourth in the stage. He moved up from 11th to 7th place in the overall standings. His hard work moved him ahead of heavy hitters Floyd Landis, Andreas Kloden, Alexandre Vinokourov, and Christophe Moreau. Evans is a Davitamon-Lotto teammate of fellow Aussie Robbie McEwen. Congratulations, Cadel!
TO CADEL EVANS GOES THE CREDIT. This Aussie was the first to top Col d'Aubisque (HC) and put in the hard work to the end of Stage 16 before 3 wheel suckers sprinted past him at the line. No matter; we know who deserves the credit today. Evans moved himself from 11th to 7th in the overall (GC) standings. Not bad for a Tour rookie from down under.
Monday, July 18, 2005
What's Ahead in Week 3
- The polka-dot jersey seems to be sticking with Mickael Rasmussen of Denmark; he's built and guarded his mountain climbing points, as well as kept in the hunt for a third-place finish. Rasmussen, believing he will indeed be crowned "King of the Mountains," has for the last thre stages donned polka-dot shorts and helmet to match his maillot.
- The white jersey is on the back of Discovery Channel's Yaroslav Popovych and the Russian youth is likely to keep it, given his team's dominance.
- The green jersey, worn by Thor Hushovd since Tom Boonen crashed out of the race, is the least secure; I look for Robbie McEwen to try to steal it on the streets of Paris. The sprinters will have a heyday on Wednesday and Sunday.
- As for the yellow jersey, Lance Armstrong maintains more than a 2-minute lead over Ivan Basso...and the opportunities to cut into the Texan's lead in the mountains are all but over. Basso has tried his best to shake Lance. T-Mobile's mountain-climbing triumvirate--Jan Ullrich, Alexandre Vinokourov, Andreas Kloden--has thrown all its ammo at him. But Lance hasn't given an inch. It is surely disheartening as it begins to dawn on valiant maillot jaune hopefuls that their time to shine will be next year.
- Tuesday is the last major mountain stage; expect one last barrage of attacks from would-be podium aspirants looking to salvage their pride and team leadership on the last "beyond categorization" climb of this year's Tour. Show us something, Levi Leipheimer! Out of the saddle, Floyd Landis!
- Wednesday is a flat stage; one for the sprinters to pick up green jersey points. Look for a bunch sprint finish. Is a fourth Robbie McEwen stage win possible?
- Thursday and Friday are diverse and rolling--more sprint points will be available, along with some smaller mountain climbing challenges.
- Saturday is the second individual time trial. Jan Ullrich will try to unseat Mickael Rasmussen for third place in the GC with a mighty time trial. But Lance gives nothing away. He has ruled the individual time trials of the Tour in recent years. This could be Lance's only outright stage win of his last Tour de France.
- Sunday the Tour rides into Paris. Unless something very unusual happens between now and then, it looks like it will be nothing more than a victory lap for Lance, but an all-out sprint-fest to settle who wins the Green Jersey. I'm pulling for the rebellious and irreverant rascal from down under.
TdF Stage 15: By George!
Sunday, July 17, 2005
CAN'T BELIEVE I DID THAT! American George Hincapie can't quite believe he's won the hardest stage of the Tour de France. Hincapie became the first teammate of Lance Armstrong to win a TdF stage since Lance started fielding a team in 1999. Hincapie has been the only rider to be with Lance on all 6 (and maybe 7?) TdF wins. "Big George" was also a member of the Motorolo team, along with Lance, when their team leader and 1992 Olympic road racing champion Fabio Casartelli died in a crash on this stage of the Tour ten years ago. The peloton passed the site of his death, now marked with a monument, during the stage. Photo credit: Roberto Bettini at cyclingnews.com.
Saturday, July 16, 2005
TdF Stage 14: Lead Grows...at What Cost?
LANCE BETTERS T-MOBILE'S ATTACKS. The pace the T-Mobile team set on the lower slopes of Port de Pailheres was blistering. It left the Discovery Channel boys behind and Lance was fending for himself...again. Lance matched Ullrich, Vinokourov, and Kloden for a while. Then he kicked into high gear, shedding Vino and Kloden, and, in the final kilometer, Ullrich. Again, it was only the Italian Basso who stayed with Lance to the Pyrenees peak Ax-3 Domaines.
EXHAUSTED...AND FACING THE TOUGHEST STAGE TOMORROW. Armstrong looked and sounded exhausted after today's game of wits and will played out on the steepest climbs of the tour thus far. The only problem is, the riders are facing the most difficult stage of the Tour de France on Sunday. Stage 15 is the penultimate stage, with four Cat 1 climbs before a beyond category finish. Attrition on Sunday may be severe. Armstrong ended today with a larger lead over all his rivals. But one bad climb, one lapse, one bonk...and the 2-5 minute lead he has over the likes of Basso, Leipheimer, Landis, and Ullrich will evaporate...quickly.
ASCENT TO Ax-3 DOMAINES. Forget the 120 miles and "beyond category" mountain you've already traversed. Focus only on the 7.7 miles ahead--all uphill at over 8% grade--riding among the fiercest competitors in your sport. Worry about tomorrow's stage later. Keep one eye on the wheel ahead of you...and one on the road, ever ascending, up ahead.
Friday, July 15, 2005
TdF Stage 13: McEwen's Hat Trick
Thursday, July 14, 2005
TdF Stage 12: Bastille Triumph
MONCOUTIE SHINES ON QUATORZE JUILLET. David Moncoutie led a group of escapees across the finish line of Stage 12 on his French national holiday--the way it should be! Viva la France!
LOOKING AHEAD. Here are a few Stage 12 observations and notes about the days ahead:
1. There were no significant changes in the top twenty standings, or in any of the jersey competitions. Sandy Casar of France is the only rider to make a big improvement in his position; his participation in the breakaway group catapulted him into the top twenty. Otherwise, it was a routine day at the office (that is if your office is the Alpine foothills of France).
2. Manuel Beltran of the Discovery Channel team is out of the race after a crash on the first climb of the stage. How serious a blow is this to Lance Armstrong as the tour heads into the Pyrennes on Saturday?
3. Italian Ivan Basso is in fourth place overall, less than 3 minutes behind Armstrong. Last year, Basso proved to be the only rider able to stay with Lance on the steep slopes of the Pyennees. Basso has continued to say that the race will be won or lost in the Pyrenees--a region in which he is quite successful at climbing. I look for Basso to close the gap on Armstrong this weekend...also possibly Spaniard Alejandro Valverde.
4. Write Friday off as a flat transfer stage. Albeit, I wish Robbie McEwen the best for winning the Stage 13 and picking up valuable Green Jersey points. With previous poins leader Tom Boonen gone, the Maillot Vert competition is not so far out of the Aussie's reach.
5. But Stage 14 on Saturday looks to me like a real challenge for all climbers. Whereas the Alps are long climbs, the Pyrenees are steep. Choose your poison. Port de Pailheres rises to 2100 meters at an 8% grade after 170 km of riding. Talk about going vertical when you've already been pedaling for three hours! And after Pailheres (HC), there's a mountain finish at Ax-3 Domaines (Cat 1).
6. Stage 15 seems to me to be the decisive day in this year's Tour de France. Frankly, I wonder how many riders will still be in the Tour at the end of Sunday? Those who do not drop out on one of the first four Cat 1, 7.9% gradient climbs, or spend themselves on the last HC spire, may well likely finish so far behind the stage winner that they will be automatically eliminated. All contenders should be saying their prayers for this stage. If they are saving anything, it will be either unleashed or spent on these climbs. This is the day to attack. This is the stage to lay it all on the line. If Armstrong can be beat, this day will show it. If he survives with the Yellow Jersey on Sunday, start carving his name in the trophy. If...if.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
"I Ride" by Edwin Markham
I ride on the mountain tops, I ride;
I have found my life and am satisfied.
Onward I ride in the blowing oats,
Checking the field-lark's rippling notes --
Lightly I sweep
From steep to steep:
Over my head through the branches high
Come glimpses of a rushing sky;
The tall oats brush my horse's flanks;
Wild poppies crowd on the sunny banks;
A bee booms out of the scented grass;
A jay laughs with me as I pass.
I ride on the hills, I forgive, I forget
Life's hoard of regret --
All the terror and pain
Of the chafing chain.
Grind on, O cities, grind:
I leave you a blur behind.
I am lifted elate -- the skies expand:
Here the world's heaped gold is a pile of sand.
Let them weary and work in their narrow walls:
I ride with the voices of waterfalls!
I swing on as one in a dream --
I swing Down the airy hollows, I shout, I sing!
The world is gone like an empty word:
My body's a bough in the wind, my heart a bird!
CLASSIC ALPS. A Devich-taken photo at a hairpin turn reveals the glimpse of the glory of an Alpine stage of the Tour de France. This is from Stage 11 on the climb to Mt. Galibier, the highest peak the Tour will pass this year.
TdF Stage 11: Vino Rebounds
DEFENSIVE DISPLAY. I was hoping for more fireworks on this day that included a Cat 1 and two HC mountains. But Discovery Channel controlled the peloton, rode defensively, and contained most attacks. Discovery Channel's power is demonstrated in the fact that they had 5 riders in the chasing group at the end of the stage. I suppose we can count on the "Disco Boys" to do more of the same in the stages ahead. I think the fireworks are over...for a few days. But wait until Sunday.
A few notes from Stage 11:
- Christophe Moreau moved into third place overall. Good to have a Frenchman in the mix for the podium in Paris. France is long overdue for a Yellow Jersey champion.
- Colombian Santiago Botero moved into 6th place.
- Vinokourov erased 1'15" from his deficit to Armstrong and moved up from 16th to 12th. He still has a lot of time to make up if he is to be on the podium in Paris.
- Mickael Rasmussen continues to hold a solid lead in the mountains competition; he may well wear the Maillot Pois into Paris.
- Tom Boonen keeps the Maillot Vert...even though he crashed again and is more banged up.
- Alejandro Valverde, yesterday's stage winner, keeps the White Jersey of best young rider; he also keeps pace in 5th place.
ARMSTRONG IN THE ALPS. The Yellow Jersey, surrounded by his Discovery Channel teammates, climbs the winding roads to the top of Mt. Galibier in today's Stage 11. This shot by Javier Solano of AFP hints at the grandeur of the Alpine stages of the Tour de France. Read my daily updates on the TdF at "The TdF for the Rest of Us" -
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Stage 10: Alpine Attrition
LIKE A MACHINE. Each Discovery Channel team member took a turn at leading the peloton and, when spent, peeled off to let another team member take a turn at the lead. Finally, Yaroslav Popovych peeled off, launching his captain toward the peak. Lance Armstrong led three unshakable hangers-on into Corchevel--Mickael Rasmussen, Alejandro Valverde, and Francisco Mancebo. Valverde was the only one who could match Lance today; the Spaniard nosed ahead of the American at the line for the stage win.
KING OF THE HILL. Armstrong left no doubt today who is king of the hill. At times it seemed he was toying with his rivals. In the end, none were able to stay with him. The main contenders for the Tour de France championship could only try to limit their losses. Here's where the top 25 in the General Classification stood before Stage 10 and after the stage:
B = GC position before Stage 10
A = GC position after Stage 10 (with time behind Armstrong after Stage 10)
1 72 Jens Voigt (Ger) CSC -29'23"
2 4 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole -2'42"
3 1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel
4 2 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank -38"
5 16 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile -6'32"
6 17 Bobby Julich (USA) CSC -6'37"
7 3 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC -2’40"
8 8 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile -4’02"
9 18 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC -6'37"
10 32 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel -12'15"
11 9 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile -4’16"
12 10 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems -4’16"
13 23 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Illes Balears -9'03"
14 14 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel -6'25"
15 11 Santiago Botero (Col) Phonak -5'20"
16 6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner -3’58"
17 37 Jose Azevedo (Por) Discovery Channel -13'03"
18 21 Joseba Beloki (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Würth -8'31"
19 28 Oscar Pereiro Sio (Spa) Phonak -10'35"
20 51 Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Spa) Phonak -19'41"
21 36 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Würth -12'59
22 52 Dario Frigo (Ita) Fassa Bortolo -20'32"
23 12 Jörg Jaksche (Ger) Liberty Seguros-Würth -5'33"
24 5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Illes Balear -3’16"
25 13 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto -5'55"
27 7 Francisco Mancebo (Spain) Illes Balears -4’00"
A few notes in the wake of Stage 10:
- Alejandro Valverde moved from 24th to 5th with his winning performance in Stage 10. He is a highly-acclaimed Spanish rookie; he now wears the White Jersey of the best young competitor. His ability to match Armstrong pedal for pedal to the top today demonstrated his abilities. Can he match Lance again...and again? Teammate Francisco Mancebo also catapulted himself from 27th to 7th position with his effort.
- Mickael Rasmussen of Denmark finished in the lead group and consolidated his grip on the Polka-dot Jersey. Now, he might also be looking to finish at least third in the GC in Paris.
- Ivan Basso did the best at limiting his losses today; in fact, he moved into third place, 2'40" behind Armstrong. In the mountains, that's not much time to make up and Basso has proven to be the only who who can hang with Lance in the Pyrennes.
- Jan Ullrich and Andreas Kloden survived, distantly, but fell to over 4 minutes behind Armstrong. Their outspoken and once-hopeful teammate, Alexandre Vinokourov, faded from contention with his collapse on the drive up to Courchevel; he is now 6'32" behind Armstrong. The idea that this "trio" could isolate and assault Armstrong on the mountains has not yet worked. Operative word: "yet."
- Americans Levi Leipheimer and Floyd Landis kept their podium hopes alive. They are in the top 10 and remain within a 4'30" striking distance of the lead. It is relatively safe to say the competitors who are over 4'30" behind the leader at this point are not likely still in contention to win the Tour de France.
- There's a whole lot of mountain climbing to do. Tuesday's Stage 11 takes the contestants over two "HC"--"beyond categorization"--mountains, with the Galibier being the highest peak in the Tour. One mediocre day for Armstrong, one great day for any contender within striking distance, and the complexion of the 92nd Tour de France changes. Anything can happen. Stay tuned.
Monday, July 11, 2005
Rest Day - Lull Before the Storm
ALPINE MOUNTAIN STAGES. Tuesday and Wednesday include four of the highest mountain passes the Tour de France serves up. Cyclists confront two long Alpine climbs on Tuesday. Col Cormet-de-Roselend rises 1967 meters (6453 feet) over 20.7 km of roads at an average 6% grade; Col de Corcheval rises 1730 m (5676 ft) over 22.2 km of roads at an average 6.2% grade. On Wednesday, the riders face the Madeleine and Galibier--two "beyond categorization" mountains--as climbs that will surely leave most riders suffering and may well serve up the eventual Tour winner. Thursday is another mountain stage, though not nearly as challenging as Tuesday and Wednesday.
INTO THE PYRENNES. Friday is a flat stage--a breather--taking the riders from the Alps to the area of the Pyrenees. Saturday is another heartbreaker: Pailheres (HC) and AX-3-Domaines Cat 1) are steep--gradients on each average more than 8%. Sunday: Perhaps the most difficult stage of this year's Tour--four Cat 1 climbs and then an HC finish. Shall I go on?
YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET. Suffice it to say, before the next rest day on Monday, July 18, the best cyclists in the world will have tested themselves against perhaps the most grueling series of mountains the Tour organizers have ever put together. Some will not survive. Others will barely hang on. Unknowns may thrive. Well-knowns may suffer. Mettle will be tested. Heroes will emerge. Others will fade. You ain't seen nothin' yet.
Sunday, July 10, 2005
TdF Stage 9: Armstrong Yields Yellow...for Now.
"AU REVOIR" TO THE YELLOW JERSEY. Lance Armstrong and the Discovery Channel team worked well together all day to control the pace of the peloton after permitting a few escapees to gun for a moment of glory. Mickael Rasmussen of Denmark brokeaway near the start and stayed clear all day to win the stage; he solidified his hold on the Polka-dot Jersey. Armstrong yielded the Yellow Jersey to German Jens Voigt and a a handful of seconds to Frenchman Christophe Moreau; the Texan is in now in third place...and in the catbird's seat.
LULL BEFORE THE STORM. Monday is a rest day. In this case it may well be the lull before the storm. What follows are 10 days of intense climbing in both the Alps and Pyrenees.
Holding Back or Moving Forward?
A CALCULATED RISK. Vehemently, no--to both questions. Armstrong and the Discovery Channel team permitted the breakaways of Mickael Rasmussen, Christophe Moreau, and Jens Voigt, then controlled the pace of the peloton as the escapees finished ahead of the pack. The team calculated that Voigt, though a top-flight rider, is not strong enough to lead through the upcoming Alps and Pyrenees mountains. They also removed the pressure of defending the yellow jersey as team. Not having to defend it will give them some "rest" in the peloton. They will also be able to plot their best way to recapture without the pressure of being the target of every team and attacker.
Saturday, July 09, 2005
TdF Stage 8: Discovery's Disappearing Act
PHOTO FINISH; WEENING NIPS KLODEN. In what may be the closest sprint finish in a Tour de France stage,24-year old Pieter Weening of the Netherlands nipped Andreas Kloden of Germany by .0002 seconds to win Stage 8. Notes from this first mountain stage:
- This was the longest stage--231.5 km (143.8 miles)--so far; the longest, Stage 17, occurs on July 20; it's a 239.5 km (148.8 miles) mountain monster.
- The average speed today was nearly 46 km/h. The Tour is being ridden at a record-setting pace. Is the pace is wearing riders out prematurely? Are they saving anything for the real race in the Alps and Pyrenees?
- Lance Armstrong finished in a group of 32 leading contenders 27 seconds behind Weening and Kloden; he maintains a 1-minute lead over his closest rival.
- However...none of his Discovery Channel teammates were in the "group of 32" who dropped the rest of the peloton on the Cat 2 slopes of the Col de la Schlucht (remember, there are two higher categories of difficulty for the mountains the riders will face). Armstrong was isolated on the mountain climb. Some experts are expressing concern for Discovery Channel's ability to adequately guard their captain. While Discovery Channel teammates dropped back, the CSC and T-Mobile squads were well represented and worked together on the climb.
- On the other hand, it must be observed that Team Discovery worked hard at the head of the peloton all day; they did their job, sacrificing themselves so that Armstrong could maintain a substantial lead on what could have been a day of substantial loss of time.
- Stage 8 shook up the top ten in the standings. Jens Voigt, with a 4-second bonus for finishing 4th place in the stage, moved into second place overall, just 1' behind Armstrong. No other top-ten riders gained time, but they moved up as all Discovery Team riders but George Hincapie (now 8th overall) fell out of the top ten.
- Andreas Kloden's effort moved him from 24th to 9th place overall; the German who placed 2nd in last year's TdF is 1'50" behind Armstrong.
- Looking at the "Group of 32" who finished with Armstrong included most pre-Tour contenders: Jan Ullrich, Alexandre Vinokourov, Ivan Basso, Roberto Heras, Joseba Beloki, Iban Mayo, Floyd Landis... The cream is rising to the top as the mountains begin.
Top 20 after Stage 8
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 28.06.17
2 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team CSC -1.00
3 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team -1.02
4 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC -1.07
5 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC -1.26
6 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team -1.36
7 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC -1.36
8 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel -1.47
9 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile Team -1.50
10 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems -1.50
11 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne -2.13
12 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel -2.14
13 Santiago Botero (Col) Phonak Hearing Systems -2.18
14 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner -2.31
15 Jose Azevedo (Por) Discovery Channel -2.35
16 Joseba Beloki (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Würth -2.43
17 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole -2.48
18 Oscar Pereiro Sio (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems -2.54
19 Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems -2.58
20 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Würth -2.58
A FEW OBSERVATIONS:
- All top 20 riders are within 3 minutes of the lead after 8 stages; this is very small heading into mountain stages.
- There are four Americans in the top 10; five in the top 15.
- Even with the time losses in Stage 8, there are still 4 Discovery Channel riders in the top 20.
- There also 4 riders in the top 20 for CSC and Phonak.
- There are 4 riders in the top 10 for CSC; 3 for CSC in the top 5.
- There are 3 riders in the top 10 for T-Mobile.
- The presence of teammates Joseba Beloki and Roberto Heras in the top 20 is significant.
- Not in the top 20, but moving up significantly: Iban Mayo (Spain), Chris Horner (USA), Stephano Garzelli (Italy), Jorg Jackshe (Germany), and Bradley McGee (Australia).
Friday, July 08, 2005
Tdf Stage 7: Aussie Wins Again
33-YEARS OLD...AND NO SLOWING DOWN. He did it again. Robbie McEwen, aging sprinter that he is, proved he still has the legs over his younger sprinting rivals. McEwen adds Stage 7 to his Stage 5 win thus far in year's Tour de France. The outspoken Aussie continues to bounce back after a demoralizing disqualification for apparent head-butting at the finish line in Stage 3. Today, McEwen simply out-powered the world's other elite sprinters to the finish line on German soil after 228 km of riding. They'll be a waltzing Matilda down under tonight! I add McEwen as a nominee for my "TdF 'Guts' Awards."
CAPTURING AN ESCAPED GERMAN. The day featured Fabian Wegman, a German riding for the German-based Gerolsteiner squad, escaping from the clutches of the peloton on the first climb of the day. Wegmann went on a 140 km solo breakaway, building up over an eight-minute advantage and crossing into the motherland before being reeled in. The peloton caught Wegmann with 28 km to go, but his effort was not without reward: being the first rider over several small climbs, he gained enough points to wear the polka-dot jersey as the current "King of the Mountains."
ARMSTRONG 53rd AND STILL WINNING--GO FIGURE. Every day my 12-year old son, Sam, asks me who's winning the Tour de France. He's anxious to know how well Lance Armstrong does each day. He's disappointed when I tell him that Lance finished a stage in 32nd or 53rd place. "You mean he's not winning?" he protests. "No, he's winning," I try to explain, "He's winning right now by staying safe in the pack. He, along with every other rider in the peloton who finishes in the pack attached to the first cyclists across the finish line, receives the same time as the stage winner." In the relatively flat stages, he ends the day with the same advantage over his main rivals as he started. He doesn't even hav to win a stage to win the Tour de France; he just has to have the best time of all other riders.
THINK OF THE TdF AS A "SERIES." This likely computes, but it doesn't satisfy typical American tastes for winning at sports. That's why most Americans are a bit confounded about following the Tour de France. We are used to one-day events and high scores. There's a winner at the end of the day. It would help if we would see the TdF as a "series" of 21 different games. The racer with the best overall score from all the "games" (stages) on July 24th wins. Like the Nextel Cup Series in NASCAR. Does this help? Or mislead?
Thursday, July 07, 2005
The War Within Lance
LANCE'S WAR. I've watched and listened to author Daniel Coyle interviews a few times now; I also read the book review in Sports Illustrated. Though I have not yet purchased or read Coyle's recently-published Lance Armstrong's War, I've read numerous other books by or about him. Coyle's comments seem to be fairly consistent with my impression as a reader and outside observer over the years.
ENIGMA WITH A CHIP ON HIS SHOULDER. Even with my considerable admiration for Armstrong, "enigma" seems to be a good word to describe Lance. He is a fierce competitor with a chip on his shoulder...maybe that is one edge he possesses in this field of intense competition. It shapes the nature of his approach to the tour. He doesn't sound like a nice guy to try to get close to, but at the same time he is obviously gracious and generous in other ways.
FATHER FIGURES. Armstrong grew up essentially fatherless. The father figures he had were lacking, at best. One husband of his mother was a fundamentalist Christian who made the family go to church and was strict...then committed adultery. I suppose that effectively innoculated him against the possibility of considering authentic Christian faith in his foreseeable future. I imagine the father thing figures significantly as essential fuel for Lance's continuing "war."
TOUGH MINDSET. Lance's mind and heart seem to be fully focused on himself and on the only things that he sees have served him well through it all (so far): ruthless self-determination, unquestioning loyalty of select friends, tight control over all variables, nothing but the best resources, intimidation of his rivals, the power of suffering, self-doubt, anger, and (last but not least) public adulation for his efforts.
LOOKING FORWARD. These behaviors and priorities may have served him well to this point. But as of July 24, win or lose the Tour, Armstrong's post-TdF life begins. In my eyes and the public's eyes, he will be an admired cycling champion for life, considered one of the greatest athletes of his generation. But I sense that the behaviors and priorities that he thinks have garnered him 6 (maybe 7) Tour de France championships will not likely continue to serve him well in life post-TdF. Maybe cancer isn't the biggest battle he will face in life.
Mengin's escape & fall
AFTER THE FALL. In this AP Photo by Pierre Lablatiniere, Christophe Mengin receives medical attention after crashing in the final turn on wet pavement in the final kilometer of today's stage. Mengin survived a breakaway that lasted over 150 kilometers; he didn't survive the last km or last turn. A valiant effort by Mengin. He's a candidate, along with David Zabriskie, for my TdF "Guts" Awards, to be awarded to 10 riders on July 24th.
TdF Stage 6
MENGIN'S EFFORT...AND FALL. The fiesty French rider broke away from the peloton early in the stage and was joined by three other riders in his escape. His group built a lead of over 8 minutes on the peloton. Mengin managed to stay clear of the peloton after the other three were gobbled up by it. Though being chased by a group led by Alexandre Vinokourov, he was still ahead by a matter of seconds within the last kilometer...when he crashed in a turn on wet pavement. Most of the hard-charging sprinters crashed into him; Vino was hindered but continued while Bernucci was unhindered--he crossed the line unchallenged.
CHANGES IN THE GC. The extent of injuries to riders who went down on the wet pavement at the end of Stage 6 is not yet known. Armstrong remains in the Yellow Jersey, though Vinokourvo, with his attack near the finish, cut into Armstrong's lead by 16 seconds. Vino's effort also moved him up the standings from 7th to 3rd. He is now 1'05" behind Lance. David Zabriskie's wounds from his Stage 4 crash are telling now; he struggled today, losing three more minutes to the race leader. I hope he recovers enough to stay in the race and perhaps contend for the second individual time trial in two weeks.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
An Australian in Montargis
McEWEN WILL NOT BE DENIED. Twice earlier denied at the line and penalized for a perceived infraction on Monday, today sprint gladiator Robbie McEwen beat the best to win Stage 5 of the Tour de France. The Aussie was clocked at over 39 mph at the uphill finish line. They'll be a waltzing Matilda down under tonight! Photo credit: Fotoreporter Sirroti on cyclingnews.com.
TdF Stage 5
LOOK OUT FOR GEORGE TOMORROW! There is no change in the General Classification (overall race leadership) standings. Lance Armstrong still wears the Yellow Jersey. Tomorrow is another flat stage. Watch for American George Hincapie to try a breakway either tomorrow or Friday (Friday's stage may be more suited for big George); the Discovery Channel team leadership has reportedly given him the green light to try to capture the Yellow Jersey for a few days...his reward for seven years of hard work in service to Lance Armstrong.
ZABRISKIE UPDATE. American David Zabriskie, who crashed spectacularly--however else you describe or define it! (see earlier comments)--almost within site of the finish line line in Tuesday's Team Time Trial, was declared fit to ride today; he has bruised ribs and his skinned up badly, but no broken bones or internal injuries. He finished today's stage in the peloton and maintains his position in 9th place, 1'26" behind Armstrong. I am remembering that Tyler Hamilton broke a collarbone in the early stages of the '03 Tour and came back to win one stage on a breakaway and finish just off the podium in Paris. Might Zabriskie survive the next week or so and shine again in the second individual time trial?
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
In the Aftermath of Stage 4
- Lance Armstrong (USA - Discovery Channel)
- George Hincapie (USA - Discovery Channel) - 55"
- Jens Voigt (Germany - CSC) - 1’04"
- Bobby Julich (USA - CSC) - 1’07"
- Jose Luis Rubiera (Spain - Discovery Channel) - 1’14"
- Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine - Discovery Channel) -1'16"
- Alexandre Vinokourov (Khazakstan - T-Mobile) -1'21"
- Benjamin Noval (Spain - Discovery Channel) - 1'26"
- David Zabriskie (USA - CSC) - 1'26"
- Ivan Basso (Spain - CSC) - 1'26"
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE OTHER CONTENDERS? With each rider accepting the overall time of his team in the Team Time Trial, several of the pre-tour "top contenders" have lost some pretty significant time to Armstrong. Above, you see those who remain within 90 seconds of the champ--Vinokourov, Voigt, Basso (Note: Even though Zabriskie and Julich are faring well, they not considered contenders to win the Tour; they are riding in support of team leader Ivan Basso). Here are the placements and times behind Armstrong of other contenders.
14. Jan Ullrich (Germany - T-Mobile) -1'36"
18. Igor Gonzalez Galdeano (Spain - Euskaltel-Euskadi) - 1'44"
20. Floyd Landis (USA - Phonak) - 1'50"
27. Santiago Botero (Colombia - Phonak) - 2'18"
28. Andreas Kloden (Germany - T-Mobile) - 2'29"
29. Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland - Fassa Bortolo) - 2'30"
30. Levi Leipheimer (USA - Gerolsteiner) - 2'31"
31. Joseba Beloki (Spain - Liberty Seguros) - 2'43"
36. Roberto Heras (Spain - Liberty Seguros) - 2'58"
CAN THEY MAKE UP THIS TIME? Good question. Two or three minutes can be recovered...but not until the mountain stages that come on Saturday and Sunday. The current standings will likely remain the same until the weekend as the next three stages are relatively flat--a paradise for sprinters, none of whom are contenders for the overall victory.
DO THEY HAVE THE RIGHT COMBINATION? Remember, a top contender to win the Tour de France must have a combination of excellence in time trialing, mountain climbing, and team strategy and support. He must also take advantage of rival setbacks and plan on at least one "break out" day--a day in which he takes a risk and out-distances or out-climbs his rivals. The best Armstrong's rivals can do is to (1) plan on out-climbing Armstong in the mountains and (2) to hope he has at least one bad day out of 21.
HANG ON...ARMSTRONG HAS NOT WON. None of the riders listed above is conceding the Tour victory to Armstrong. And no one in America should walk away from the coverage in the assumption that Lance has it in the bag. It ain't over til it's over. There are nearly 1800 miles of competition over some of the most challenging mountain passes in the world ahead of these guys. Anything is possible.
An inexplicable fall?
ZABRISKIE AFTER THE FALL. This AFP photo shows a CSC manager helping American David Zabriskie back on a new bike after an initially inexplicable crash within 1200 meters of the stage finish earlier today. Teammates and witnesses say he accidentally clipped the wheel of a teammate and tumbled into barricades. Whatever the cause, with the fall, Zabriskie loses the Yellow Jersey, finds himself in 9th place, and 1'26" behind the new Tour de France leader--Lance Armstrong. The extent of Zabriskie's injuries are not yet known; it is uncertain if he will or will not line up for Stage 5 tomorrow. Before the fall, Zabriskie was leading his CSC team on a pace that was slightly faster than Discovery Channel. After his fall, they lost the 67.5 km team time trial by only 2 seconds. Tough day at the office, don't you think?
TdF Stage 4
TWO SECONDS. It took a crash within the final 1,200 meters of the stage by Tour de France leader American David Zabriskie to slow down the lightening-fast CSC team just enough to hand the Team Time Trial victory to Discovery Channel. The margin of victory for Lance Armstrong's team? Two seconds. Now I begin to understand the importance of the title of his book with Sally Jenkins: Every Second Counts.
HEADED TOWARD VICTORY, BUT... Do you get this? The Yellow Jersey wearer is leading his team to the best time at every time check along the 67.5 kilometer course. CSC and Zabriskie are 2 seconds better than Discovery Channel at the last time check. They're on course to win the stage...and if they win the stage, Zabriskie keeps and extends his lead over Armstrong. It's just a matter of time...
JUST A BOBBLE. But then Zabriskie--incredibly, unbelievably--clips a barricade and crashes almost within sight of the finish line. The CSC team doesn't stop; they pedal on, leaving Zabriskie behind. They merely bobble...but that bobble costs them the stage win and Zabriskie the Yellow Jersey.
DISCOVERY ESCAPES WITH THE STAGE WIN. Discovery Channel can be said to have "escaped" with the stage win. CSC yielded it to them. But a win is a win. And with the win, the Discovery Channel team has set the fastest average speed for a team time trial in Tour de France history. The nine riders finished the 67.5km course in one hour, 10 minutes and 39 seconds. Their average speed was 57.31km/h.
ARMSTRONG IN YELLOW. The win also gives Armstrong the overall lead in the Tour de France. He likes yellow. Tomorrow will be the 67th day he has worn this color--the color of cycling leadership--in the race. Only three Americans have worn the Maillot Jaune: Armstrong, three-time winner Greg LeMond...and David Zabriskie.
Monday, July 04, 2005
TdF Stage 3
ROUND 2 ALSO GOES TO BOONEN! A second day of a relatively flat and long ride east across the northern plains of France yielded another bunch sprint at the finish line. The peloton chased down three riders who attacked and escaped the group at the 28 km mark--but not until the last kilometer! Then it was a heyday for the world's elite sprint specialists--what Paul Sherwen of OLN TV calls today's Gladiators. Round 2 of the sprint finishes was won--for the second day in a row--by Tom Boonen of Belgium.
THE GREEN JERSEY. For his efforts Boonen wears the Green Jersey (maillot vert) as the points leader for the sprints that are sprinkled throught each stage...and at the finish line. Australian sprint specialist Robbie McEwen has some ground to make up if he is to be wearing the Green Jersey in Paris.
WHERE THE LEADERS STAND. Since he finished in the main peloton with the stage winners, American David Zabriskie continues to wear the Yellow Jersey of the overall race leader (also called the General Classification leader, or GC leader). Lance Armstrong also maintained his position in second place in the GC, just 2 seconds behind Zabriskie.
TOMORROW...LANCE LOVES YA, TOMORROW. Tuesday, July 5th, is a special stage. It is the only Team Time Trial of the Tour de France. Each team of nine riders measure their best time in a 64-kilometer team effort against the other teams. This is similar to the individual time trial in that each team is racing only agains the clock. Every team member must work hard and work together to achieve the best possible time. At the finish line, all riders receive their team's time--whether it was slow or fast--and that factors into their over all--or General Classification--time. A great rider on a slower team will lose time; a fast team can help their team leader move up in the race standings. The Discovery Channel team of Lance Armstrong is one of the fastest teams, from top to bottom. Lance could be wearing the Yellow Jersey by the end of the day tomorrow.
Sunday, July 03, 2005
TdF Stage 2
TOM BOONEN SPRINTS TO WIN. Stages 2 and 3 take the riders across the northern flatlands of France. These stages are set up for sprint specialists to shine. Typically, after pedaling as a group for over 100 miles, a handful of sprinters will blast to the front and try to out-pedal each other across the finish line. Today, Belgian Tom Boonen outdueled Aussie Robbie McEwen across the line. At stake for the sprinters is claim to the Green Jersey, which is worn by the best sprinter in the race. Round 1 goes to Boonen, but I imagine McEwen will wear the Maillot Vert in Paris.
STAGE 2 NOTES:
1. The Maillot Jaune (overall race leader's Yellow Jersey) is still worn by American David Zabriskie; Armstrong is safely in second, 2 seconds behind Z.
2. Frenchman Thomas Voekler, who won the hearts of the French when he spent ten days in the Maillot Jaune in last year's Tour, now wears the Polka-dot Jersey as the best climber. Voekler, 25 years old, was in a breakway in Stage 2 and led the escapees over the two small "mountains" of the stage to grab the first climber's points.
3. When a group of riders cross the finish line in a group, they all receive the same time.
Saturday, July 02, 2005
TdF Stage 1
ARMSTRONG HUMBLES ULLRICH. Stage 1 of the Tour de France, a 19 km time trial, was high drama. First, American David Zabriskie burned up the course at nearly 34 mph to throw down the gauntlet to the other 188 riders, each starting at one-minute intervals. No one else came close...except Lance Armstrong.
The last rider out of the gatehouse and riding like a madman, Armstrong dramatically caught his one-minute man and rival Jan Ullrich, passed him with 3 kilometers to go, and crossed the finish line just two seconds short of Zabriskie's record-setting time.
Armstrong's performance accomplished several things:
1. It served notice to everyone that he is not riding his sunset tour as a "has been"; he is out to win. Clearly, Armstrong's preparation for the Tour de France has been on-target.
2. He put his main rival, German Jan Ullrich, in a tough place regarding morale and motivation. Ullrich may have been suffering from a crash a day earlier, but he will have to redouble his efforts early in the mountain stages if he is to contend. Some are saying that team leadership will pass to Alexandre Vinokourov, who placed 3rd in Stage 1 (51 seconds behind Armstrong; Ullirch is a little over one minute behind the Texan).
3. In this opening volley, he gained nearly a minute or more over all the top rivals. It's a "catch me if you can" situation for the likes of Ivan Basso, Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Landis, Ullich, and Vinokourov.
ZABRISKIE NOTE: Zabriskie's time was the fastest average time for any stage in Tour de France history. He takes over that honor from another American--Greg LeMond, who won the Tour three times in the 1980's. Zabriskie has now won a time trial stage in each of the Grand Tours (Spain, Italy, & France) within a year. He will likely be tagged "the next American champion," an up-and-coming contender, a racer to be reckoned with. Zabriskie rode for US Postal Service last year, but was not included in the 2004 TdF squad; he now rides for the Danish CSC team, which includes American veteran and past TdF podium stander Bobby Jullich.
Friday, July 01, 2005
Race Eve Preview
PART 1: MY, HOW ONE YEAR CHANGES THINGS...
Since the end of the 2004 Tour de France, there's been quite a change in the cast of top contenders. Consider the following changes that impact the 2005 Tour de France:
1. Tyler Hamilton - After abandoning last year's Tour de France with injuries suffered in a crash on a cobblestone stage, American Tyler Hamilton went on to win a gold medal in the Athens Olympics. A month later, he was suspended for suspicion of having had a performance-enhancing blood transfusion. He has appealed his two-year suspension and his case is pending.
2. Gilberto Simoni - Simoni has, at various times, looked to be a possible challenge to Armstrong. But Simoni surprised the cycling world last week, announcing that he is too tired from his May effort in the Giro d'Italia to contend for the Tour de France. In addition, his Italian teammate and fast-rising star Damiano Cunego will not be able to contend-he has mononucleosis.
3. Mario Cippolini - The flamboyant Lion King has never been a contender for the TdF championship, but the sprinter does hold the record for winning the most stages of the Tour. Time takes its toll. Aging and having lost his edge, Super Mario parked his bike after a few poor showings this spring. In addition, Alessandro Pettachi, heir apparent to Cippolini's sprinting reign, is not riding this year's Tour de France.
5. Joseba Beloki - One of the Tour's most memorable moments of the past decade saw Joseba Beloki crash on a downhill in right in front of Armstrong in 2003. Beloki, who broke his leg in that fall, will ride this year's tour, but he has not yet returned to prime form. Beloki has been on the podium in Paris three times.
6. Good-bye US Postal Service; Hello Discovery Channel - You won't see the US Postal Service blue, red, and white uniforms this year. USPS ended its sponsorship of Armstrong's efforts after six years. The new sponsor is Discovery Channel and the team colors are blue-trimmed white. Armstrong and company still ride Trek bikes and sport Nike gear. Professional cycling, like all other professional sports, depends on strong commercial sponsorships.
PART 2: ...AND SOME THINGS DON'T CHANGE
Despite glaring absences of some top contenders and a new look to Armstrong's squadron, some things haven' t changed for the 2005 Tour de France. Such as:
Jan Ullrich - The 1997 winner of the Tour de France is also the man who has finished second in the Tour no less than five times. Jan Ullrich, 31, is said to be in better shape than in the past, he is motivated to defeat his nemesis...and this is his last chance. Ullrich, as strong as he is, has always been a full step behind Armstrong.
Alexandre Vinokourov - A T-Mobile teammate of Ullrich, Vinokourov may be in better shape to catch Armstrong than Ullrich. While the 31-year old Kazakh is committed to support Ullrich, if Ullrich slips at all, Vino will take over the pursuit of the championship. Vino finished ahead of Armstrong in the recent Daphine Libere, the last warm-up to the Tour de France. Also watch for another T-Mobile member to contend - Andreas Kloden finished second in the Tour last year. The T-Mobile trio - Ullrich, Vinokourov, and Kloden - together could do the most damage to Armstrong and Discovery Channel.
Ivan Basso - This rising 27-year old Italian star finished third in last year's tour and gave Armstrong the best competition in the mountain stages. He's had a great spring, winning a handful of stages in the Giro d'Italia. I look for Basso, riding for Denmark-based CSC, to be the strongest competition for Armstrong IF he and his team can perform well in the time trial stages.
Iban Mayo and Inigo Landeluz - Spanish/Basque teammates riding for Euskaltel-Euskadi, Mayo and Landeluz are both strong mountain climbers. Landeluz won the Dauphine Libere three weeks ago (Armstrong placed fourth). Mayo shadowed Armstrong for most of the 2003 Tour de France, but, like Hamilton, was injured on the cobblestones last year.
Floyd Landis and Santiago Botero - After riding in support of Armstrong for six years, American Floyd Landis became the team leader of the Swiss-based Phonak team after Tyler Hamilton was sacked. Landis has performed very well this spring. With Colombian teammate and super-climber Santigo Botero, Landis and the Phonak team could mount a significant challenge to Armstrong and Discovery Channel.
Levi Leipheimer - This American and former Armstrong teammate is as strong a contender as Basso. Leading the German-based Gerolsteiner team, Leipheimer is primed to win the Tour de France. The Montana native finished second in the Dauphine Libere. The issue is: will Armstrong dare let a fellow American--Leipheimer, Landis, or anyone else--steal his sunsetting glory? The sheer will and heart of the Texan will eclipse their best efforts. Maybe next year these Americans will continue the tradition.
Roberto Heras - One more contender needs to be mentioned. Spaniard Roberto Heras, who has repeatedly won the Tour of Italy and is a Spanish legend, may surprise all. As a teammate of Armstrong, he led the Champ up many a mountain in the past, but as a leader of his own team, Liberty Seguros, Heras has had mediocre results. Maybe he's coming into his own in time to challenge for the top of the podium.
A Telling Graphic
THIS POSTER ROCKS. Event posters sometimes capture the essence of their subject. This one does it for the Tour de France like none prior. This year, in particular, the Tour de France will likely be won in the Alps and Pyranees mountains. Great graphic!