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.