Tuesday, July 18, 2006



TINY COUNTRY, BIG STAGE. Franck Schleck of tiny Luxembourg won on cycling’s biggest stage--the fabled L’Alpe d’Huez. Schleck parlayed his participation in a day-long 25-man breakaway group into victory, out-kicking Italian star Damiano Cunego to the finish line atop the long, steep mountain of 21 switchbacks.

AND THE CONTENDERS… A minute behind Schleck and Cunego were the leading contenders for the Tour de France--Floyd Landis and Andreas Kloden, followed by Carlos Sastre and Levi Leipheimer. A minute later were more contenders--all losing time to Landis but not too severely--Denis Menchov, Michael Rasmussen, Oscar Pereiro, Cadel Evans, Michael Rogers, Cyril Dessel, and Haimar Zubeldia.

LANDIS BACK IN YELLOW. Landis finished over one minute and forty seconds ahead of Spaniard Oscar Pereiro, so the American with Mennonite roots is back in the Yellow Jersey by 10 seconds. Landis did not launch any attacks, he did not put the hammer down, he simply rode with his fellow contenders until all but one--Andreas Kloden--fell behind.

LEIPHEIMER IMPRESSES…AGAIN. American Levi Leipheimer finished 1:10 after Landis and his solid mountain climbing has moved him up to 9th place for the overall lead. Of the leading contenders, only Landis, Kloden, and Sastre finished ahead of Leipheimer today. The Montanan is clearly making a challenge to stand on the podium for first, second, or third place in Paris. I hope he remains steady in the mountains over the next two days. Oh, if he could just take that individual time trial back!

A HUMAN ZOO ON THE MOUNTAIN. L’Alpe d’Huez is a zoo of over 300,000 fans lining the steep road for the last 9 kilometers of the stage. Crowds are within arms length of the riders on both sides, cheering, waving, running, yelling. The riders truly run a dangerous but invigorating gauntlet of (often drunken) humanity. There is nothing quite like it in cycling or in any sport.

WHO’S GOT THE POWER? Heroic efforts on L’Alpe d’Huez are one thing; having power left for solid climbs or attacks over the next two Alpine stages is another matter. The question is: how much energy did the leading contenders expend during Stage 15’s two HC mountains? And how much do they have in reserve to unleash on “highest categories” Galbier and Croix-de-Fer (along with several Cat 1 &2 climbs) on Wednesday and on Joux-Plane (along with several Cat 1 & 2 climbs) on Thursday?

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