Monday, July 17, 2006
REST DAY 2: THE ALPS LOOM
LEGEND THAT HAUNTS & EXALTS. The Tour rests in Gap, a gateway to the Alps mountain range. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday contains a plethora of "HC" - "highest category" or "beyond categorization" - mountain climbs. Tuesday's ride includes L'Alpe-d'Huez - a mountain made legendary by past Tour de France feats. This mountain both haunts and exalts. It is not the highest peak, just the one most fabled. A rider has died on this mountain. The crowds are incredible on it. Tour wins have been decided here. Whoever crests this monster first, whether or not he wins the Tour, will have ridden himself into the respect and affection of Tour fans worldwide.
TOP 15. Here are the top 15 placements in the Tour after 14 stages:
1 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears @ 64.05.04
2 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak @ 1.29
3 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance @ 1.37
4 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank @ 2.30
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto @ 2.46
6 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC @ 3.21
7 Andreas Kloden (Ger) T-Mobile @ 3.58
8 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile @ 4.51
9 Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) Agritubel @ 5.02
10 Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance @ 5.13
11 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel @ 5.44
12 Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner @ 5.46
13 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 5.55
14 Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) T-Mobile @ 7.07
15 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner @ 7.08
REALISTIC CHANCES? Of these 15 top places, it's hard to limit even those who are seven minutes down. Levi Leipheimer nearly won the hardest mountain in the Pyreness and appears to be back on his game. T-Mobile riders seem to have the strongest team, but they were nowhere to be found at the end of the biggest mountain stage so far. Big minutes can be gained or lost quickly on HC climbs and stage-ending mountain-top finishes like L'Alpe-d-Huez. One attack at this point can catapult a rider to the top; one failure to respond to an attack can take a would-be contender out of contention.
NO HEROICS...YET. Heroic is a relative term. Every one of these riders is doing something heroic everyday that they stay in the saddle. But in terms of Tour de France heroics, we have not yet seen the kind of put-the-hammer-down climbs or blister-the-competition time trials that Lance Armstrong gave the Tour. We keep waiting for a rider to make a definitive move. But, in reality, these riders are making their moves and playing their hands very carefully. None have yet been able to dominate. Landis may, after a few more stages. Or, Australian Cadel Evans, currently in 5th, has yet to show his outstanding abilities. Heroics, if they are to come, will come in the next three days. Watch closely.