Monday, July 10, 2006



AFTER NINE DAYS. It's been nine days since the 2006 Tour de France started with a Prologue in Stausbourg, Germany. The 170+ riders have made their way up through Luxembourg and into the Netherlands. They've passed through Belgium and charged westward across the north of France. It's been a week that featured the sprinters. Yes, a few small categorized climbs have been crossed--but these are ant hills compared to what the cyclists will face in the next two weeks in the heights of the Pyrenees and Alps.

REST DAY REFLECTIONS. After a rather surprizing Individual Time Trial on Saturday followed by another flat stage on Sunday, it's time for a rest. Today's rest day offers a brief respite and you can imagine the riders are thinking both about the week past and the weeks ahead. A few things I'm thinking about regarding the Tour thus far:

1. The list of contenders for the Yellow Jersey in Paris is narrower than it was a week ago...but not by much. No less than 31 riders are within 4 minutes of the current leader (who is no mountain climber!). Even riders who did not fare well in the Individual Time Trial can, with a mountain-climbing breakaway, recoup their losses. Four minutes can disappear in the mountains very quickly for an opportunistic and aggressive rider. Come on, Levi Leipheimer! Take a risk! Go for it!

2. American Floyd Landis is in second place and has the opportunity to take--and keep--the Maillot Jaune in the mountains this week. Will Landis make his move on Wednesday and Thursday in the Pyrenees?

3. American David Zabriskie is in ninth place and could move into podium contention in the mountains, too.

4. Look out for Andreas Kloden of T-Mobile. The German has proven himself in the mountains in past Tours and he's well-placed at the moment.

5. I hope Robbie McEwen continues to make hay in the remaining available flat stages and bunch sprint finishes. There's a great opportunity on Tuesday's flat stage. The Australian is in the Green Jersey and only a miraculous recovery/resurgence by Tom Boonen will challenge him.

6. I hope George Hincapie recovers his heart from his mediocre ride in the ITT. I want to cheer for George and Floyd. I'm pulling for a friendly American duel in the Alps. But, George, you've got to shake off Saturday. You can do it!

Photo: The ever-present "El Diablo" encourages the riders during Sunday's Stage 8. Didi hasn't missed a Tour de France stage in many years; he's a roadside fixture. This year he's been sporting soccer balls on his horns and the banners of France and Italy on his pitchfork--in honor of the World Cup match on Sunday.

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