Sunday, July 25, 2004

Stage Twenty - Day Twenty Three


The 2004 Tour de France will always be remembered as the tour where Lance Armstrong won his sixth tour. Ullrich's performance, Basso's, even Andreas Klöden's shocking second place, will all be afterthoughts. Virenque's seven KOM wins will be relegated to a footnote. All because Armstrong won his sixth tour in 2004. If he wins seven? Six will still be remembered in all the glory and fanfare.

Of course there were other stories. The unknown Frenchman, the young Thomas Voeckler. The boy who may be the next big thing for France. The Fassa Bortolo team that won without Petacchi. Cofidis' much needed stages wins. Jakob Piil and Jens Voigt in all of those breaks. The ever-changing green jersey competition. The fighting for the white jersey. These things will be remembered, but none so much as Lance's sixth tour victory.


As for the 20th stage? The first part of it was pretty much like all other 20th stages. The only real difference was Dominia's Simeoni who decided to attack at least three times throughout the day. None of them were effective, for one reason or another. But other than that, the race to the Champs-Elysées was less than exciting.

The real racing began as the peloton started onto the Champs-Elysées. The pace started to speed up and a few breaks went off the front, but none of them were successful. At least until a group of about ten men, including Thomas Voeckler and Axel Merckx, gained what eventually ended up being a 40 second lead. They lead for most of the circuits, until Jan Ullrich and T-Mobile took over the pace making. But the break kept fighting capture, and then Juan Antonio Flecha jumped off the front. His attacked was the last straw for the peloton and they were captured. Eventually Flecha was too, right before the line.

The race for the green jersey was magnificent. The first sprint was won by Robbie McEwen, the second by Thor Hushovd. The final sprint to the line was at least sixteen sprinters long and, in the end, it was the young Belgian, Tom Boonen, who powered himself to the win. In a few years, maybe even next year, he'll be a real contender for the green jersey.

(cbs sportsline)

Boonen was part of the 'revolution' of young riders at this tour. From Fabian Cancellara taking the prologue and the first yellow jersey to Thomas Voeckler riding for 10 days in yellow to the 23 year old Russian, Vladimir Karpets, who not only earned the white jersey, but ended up 13th in the final general classification, to all of the young riders making it through those 23 days. This tour has given the cycling world something to look forward to.

The 'old men' are still around. 37 year old Scott Sutherland (Alessio-Bianchi) was in the Champs-Elysées 10-man break and Lance's team mate, 38 year old Viatcheslav Ekimov, finished his 14th tour. But this tour was all about then young guys. Aside from Lance's victory, the most inspiring story is that of 25 year old Thomas Voeckler. I know I've waxed poetic about him, but he deserves it. He proved us all wrong, he proved that a little known French cyclist and his team without a strong leader, could dominate, in one way or another, the peloton. Sure, he didn't make it to Paris in yellow -- but then again, he didn't need to. At least, not this year.

This tour was exciting in it's own way. Sure, last year's was closer, but this year had a lot more tension. Lots of crashes, lots of stories and lots of records breaking or almost breaking. If Zabel had won, he would have held the record for the most green jerseys. But, in the end, it turned out that everyone who came in wearing one for the four jerseys completed the race with them.

(cbs sportsline)

Robbie McEwen managed to keep his green jersey, in spite of all of the competition. Lance, of course, is in yellow. Record breaking Richard now has seven KOM wins to his name. And the new boy on the block, Karpets, took the jersey from Voeckler in spectacular fashion.

It was fun writing about the tour these 23 days. I can't wait until next year to write all over again. Perhaps one of these days, I'll be in France and reporting from the 'front lines.' But until then, I'll be watching on my TV.

As for next year? Lots of questions remain unanswered. Will Ullrich finally have the team he needs? Will Basso improve his time trialling skills enough to compete on every stage? Will the tour be dominated, as it nearly was this year, by the young guns? Will Voeckler be the next tour winner for France? Will Virenque retire or try for eight? And, of course, the real question. Will Lance be back for a seventh win?

Who knows, but next year promises to be just as exciting.

(cbs sportsline)

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Stage Nineteen - Day Twenty Two

One more stage left.

(cbs sportsline)

It was certainly more exciting than yesterday's stage. The weather started off poorly, but unlike last year the weather completely cleared for the top half of the classification. What happened? Well, barring disaster, Lance will be riding into Paris in yellow. He'll be breaking that record. But enough of that talk, he said in an interview with Craig from OLN that there's still one stage left. My guess? He'll be fine. But you never know.

As for the stage, well, there were a lot of impressive rides today, many of them from the Americans. Although the rest of the USPS team, as well as Jens Voight, Vladimir Karpets, Andreas Klöden, Ivan Basso, and Jan Ullrich (among others), were amazing.

The top 15 looked like this:
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal p/b Berry Floor 1.06.49
2 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team 1.01
3 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile Team 1.27
4 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal p/b Berry Floor 2.25
5 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC 2.48
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 2.50
7 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team CSC 3.19
8 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Illes Balears - Banesto 3.33
9 Jose Luis Rubiera (Spa) US Postal p/b Berry Floor 3.40
10 Jose Azevedo (Por) US Postal p/b Berry Floor 3.49
11 George Hincapie (USA) US Postal p/b Berry Floor 3.56
12 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Rabobank 4.06
13 Santos Gonzalez (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems 4.17
14 Aitor Gonzalez Jimenez (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 4.33
15 José I.Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Illes Balears - Banesto 4.53

Although USPS had a high number of riders in the top 15, they're still 2 minutes and four seconds behind T-Mobile for the team classification. I suppose since Jan won't make it onto the podium in third, the team win will have to do. Oddly enough, the same thing happened to Tyler Hamilton last year. He was fourth behind Vino and CSC won the team classification. I wonder how common that is.

As I said before, there was some amazing riding. Although Christian Vandevelde (Liberty Seguros), didn't make the top 15 (he was 24) he started the American "take over" of the time trial. But, aside from Lance, the two most impressive rides of the day were by Bobby Julich and Floyd Landis, who appears to have the potential to go win stages, maybe even next year. Bobby was the first man that broke the one hour and ten minute mark. And then Floyd flew through the course and blew away all of Julich's times. For a brief moment I thought Floyd might have a chance to come in second or third.


But, of course, the four strongest men of the race still had to finish. And Lance, Jan and, surprisingly, Andreas sent Landis down to fourth. Which, all things considered, is still excellent.

Speaking of the top four, Ivan Basso's time trialling skills were much improved, even compared to earlier in the tour. I think he should have been praised for coming in as high as he did. I thought (and secretly hoped -- as I wanted Jan on that podium) that he was going to lose a lot more time. Instead, he just slipped (by a few seconds) into third. I have to admit I was rooting for Lance to catch him, but in the end it didn't happen.

As for the man who is now in second? Andreas Klöden continues to impress me, as well as live up to the national champion jersey on his back. He is being heralded as the new leader for T-Mobile, but (as I said in the previous entry) that's something I'll talk about later. His ride today, though, was just beautiful.

(cbs sportsline)

Near the end of the stage, I thought (as did Phil and Paul) that Klodi was going to overtake Jan. He didn't, which is probably good for both of them, but it was close. 26 seconds between Jan and Klodi. I had no idea he was that good of a time trialist. But it was obvious he'd set his sights on second and he wasn't going to stop until he got it. And somehow he did. Although he is six minutes and thirty eight seconds behind Lance, he's only twenty one seconds in front of Basso. It was some ride that Klöden did today.

Richard Virenque came in at a respectable 36th and will ride to France tomorrow with his seventh (record breaking) KOM jersey. As for the green jersey? We'll see where that leaves us tomorrow. I'm pretty sure Robbie with take it, but you never know. The race is tight. Thor could surprise us all.

And what does that leave us with? The sad story of former race leader (and French darling) Thomas Voeckler and the white jersey. He had 45 seconds to lose and he did, in dramatic and heart wrenching fashion. His two closes rivals, Sandy Casar and Vladimir Karpets, beat him to the line in spectacular fashion. Casar came in six minutes and four seconds behind Lance, Karpets was three minutes and thirty three seconds behind Lance. Thomas came in nine minutes and forty one seconds behind Lance. It's not fair at all, but Karpets certainly deserves that jersey.

As for Thomas? There's always next year, for yellow anyway. And I'll be there (at least metaphorically), cheering him on.


Friday, July 23, 2004

Stage Eighteen - Day Twenty One

Today's stage was possibly the least interesting stage of the tour. I was a really bad fan and only paid half attention, I don't plan to repeat that tomorrow or Sunday. But today? I don't know.


There was a break that eventually ended up almost 12 minutes ahead of the peloton. For a brief moment, before OLN's coverage began, Lance Armstrong and Filippo Simeoni (Domina Vacanze) bridged the gap to the break for reasons that I don't quite understand as I'm not sure of the complete story (more can be found at cyclingnews) and then sat up and waiting for the peloton. We saw tape of the two catching up with the gap, but that was about it. Apparently one of the riders in the break asked Lance to drop back, and he said he would, only if Simeoni (who is suing Lance) did. And eventually they were captured.

That was, of course, the most exciting thing until the final sprint for green jersey points. The scenery was nice, but the stage didn't really catch my interest, except for a few times. Of the boys in the break, only Sébastien Joly (Crédit Agricole )and Marc Lotz (Rabobank) caught my interest. And, of course, neither of them won. Instead, Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step-Davitamon) beat out the more experienced José V. Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears - Banesto) for the stage win. Acosta just got caught in a bad position and Mercado moved at just the right time. He sat on Acosta's wheel and then launched himself. It was a somewhat exciting win.


I'm not sure how many wins Quick Step has now, but it's at least three. Tom Boonen won, then Richard and now Mercado.

About six minutes later, Sandy Casar attempted an attack off the front of the peloton. He wanted to gain time for the white jersey on both Thomas Voeckler and Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears - Banesto). It was an excellent attempt, but Karpets' team put pressure on the front of the peloton and brought Casar back after a few minutes. Then the sprinters' teams took over and there was a short race to the finish.


I was screaming for Zabel, of course. But once I saw he'd gotten himself boxed out, I was yelling for Hondo, Stuey, and Hushovd. Thor did, in fact, take the highest sprint points. But he was followed by Robbie, Hondo, Stuey, Carlos Dacruz (FDJ) and Zabel. Unless something horrible happens to Robbie, his teammates will probably protect him well enough on Sunday that he'll ride away with the jersey. But the numbers are close enough that it will be exciting.

Robbie: 238
Thor: 227
Zabel: 221
O'Grady: 215
Hondo: 201

Thomas still has his 45 second lead for the white jersey, but anything can happen tomorrow. My fear is that Karpets is going to wipe Thomas off the charts during the time trial. But we'll just have to wait and see. And, of course, Lance is still in yellow. And, barring disaster, I believe he'll remain in yellow tomorrow and wear it into Paris. As for second and third? It'll be Jan and Klodi, I just don't know which order.

It is time for the time trial yet? I'm so ready.


Thursday, July 22, 2004

Stage Seventeen - Day Twenty

Three more stages left.

I was reluctant to post right away for three reasons.

One: There usually aren't a lot of good pictures so soon.
Two: My emotions were running high and my personal bias would have shown through a lot stronger that I would have liked.
Three: I was (and still am, for the most part) completely exhausted. Yes, I woke up at six am to watch live cycling. Granted, it didn't start until 6:30, but that's another story.

Anyway, I'm finally ready to tackle this stage.


My personal bias was/is related to Andreas Klöden ('Klodi'). I don't know why, but as soon as the final group was thinned to Landis, Armstrong, Ullrich, Basso and Klöden; I knew that Andreas was going to do something. I actually pegged him for the stage win, and I really thought he had it. Then again, I thought Carlos had it, too. And, even earlier, I thought either Gibo or Richard was going to get it (or even Christophe if I was lucky). Turns out I was wrong on all counts.

It was really disheartening and I was kind of annoyed with Lance, but I've since overcome it.

People have been calling Lance selfish and I am not sure what my feelings are. Sure, he just won four stages, but Jan Ullrich himself said that "Lance is too strong" (BBC Sport). Again, I have to confess that I really wanted Andreas Klöden to win. I'm not sure why (thought I've provided April with a bit of fun -- she's been calling me a traitor the past two days), but I think it has something to do with my irritation with Jan Ullrich (although that's changed -- something I'll probably address in Wannabe at some point in the near future). Also, part of it was the whole 'he's finally going to be able to prove himself' idea. But, in the end, it was Lance who pounded out the win.

Not to say that I wasn't impressed. Or that I would have been happy of Landis (or even Ullrich, really) had won the stage. Just not Lance. I almost feel bad saying -- especially since I think the final time trial will determine the winner of the tour (not as tense as last year, but it'll be something not to miss) that. But it's true, I would rather have seen someone else win the stage. Anyway. There were several men of the day, including Gilberto Simoni and Christophe Moreau (and Richard, but I'll talk about him later), but the man who impressed me was Floyd Landis.

In the past week, Jose 'Ace' Azevedo has been the man at the front of the peloton. He's been the guy driving the pace, keeping up with Lance until the end. Today? It was none other than Floyd Landis. I have never seen him ride so well, and it was my impression that neither had anyone else (with the exception of Lance and the other Posties, of course). Before Andreas made his move, we (my family and I) were all rooting for Landis. It would have been amazing if he'd won, and I'm still a little upset about that as well. I know Lance wanted him to win.


But he didn't. Though it was incredibly nice of Lance to dedicate his win to Floyd, and the rest of the team. They deserve the phrase.

This morning I loved OLN. Why? Right at 6:30 am I got to see cycling. Live cycling, none of the Bob and Al show for at least 20 minutes. And not only that, but it was the first mountain. And then? I got to watch the amazing wonder that is Richard Virenque. The man is amazing. He and Christophe bridged an almost six minute gap to get to the leading group. And, although Simoni tried hard and shook up the break, there was no stopping Virenque.

I have to say that when people ride with Virenque, they do amazing things. Watching Virenque, Simoni and Christophe riding up those mountains was like watching art in action. It was also interesting to compare the styles of those three to non-climber Rolf Aldag. The three climbers were sleek and smooth, graceful even. But Aldag? Not so much. He was struggling and you could see it in the way he rode. I was impressed, though, that he stayed with them for so long. But, in the end, they proved stronger and the mountains did him in. It wasn't enough to help Team CSC in the overall classification, but I hope that changes tomorrow. Since I predict T-Mobile will get two podium places.

Back to Virenque for a moment. One of his most impressive feats of the day was being able to ride up the Col de la Madeleine and fight the points out with Simoni. I am a tiny bit sad he didn't win them, but he's pretty much wrapped up the KOM, so it's all good.


And last, the saddest note of the day. Thomas Voeckler was only just able to hang onto his white jersey. The Russian Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears - Banesto) is 45 seconds down from Thomas. Sandy Casar is a minute 56 down. I'll keep my fingers crossed, but tomorrow's not necessarily easy either. Though certainly not as hard as today's stage. It was nice to see that Thomas didn't get dropped too far back. And the scene between Casar and Virenque sharing a water bottle was nice. But, oh Thomas, I want you to hang onto that jersey.


Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Stage Sixteen - Day Nineteen


That picture illustrates what might end up being the defining moment of the 2004 Tour de France. Lance, after starting two minutes behind Ivan Basso, flies past him. He climbs that mountain, all 10 miles of it, in just under 40 minutes. The man is insane. And if anyone is going to win six, Lance seems like the guy to do it.

Not that I'm counting out the others. Basso is only down 3.48, Klöden - 5.03, and Ullrich dropped down to 7.55. So you never know, tomorrow, after all, does bring more mountains. I have to say the rider of the day, after Lance of course, was Jan. He never looked like he was riding well, he looked, as Basso did, like he was laboring up that hill. But those time checks obviously told a different story. He, too, was flying up those mountains. And it landed him in a quite respectable second for the stage.

But, the real surprise of this tour (besides the French darling, Voeckler) was Andreas Klöden. For those of you not watching OLN, every time Andreas shows up on the TV, Phil or Paul mention how he did so well when he was younger (he's not that old, born in '75) and how he's just never done well. They always seem shocked to see him.


Me? I think the jersey he's wearing must mean something.

Overall, the stage was exciting. I managed to tape all four hours of it for April and then had it shipped next day (via USPS). It was that good. And exciting. Although I was kind of annoying by the sporadic coverage of the riders. It seemed as if we were only watching five or six riders for long periods of time. And the only time we got to see a lot of the others was when they were crossing the line. Now, I know it's hard to show everyone, but this seemed to be a little strained to me. Oh well, maybe it'll improve next year.

I do agree with Lance, though. The stage seemed dangerous. I know he (Lance) suggested that some German fans were making the trip up hard for him, but I didn't really see that. Granted, we didn't see all Lance the whole way up. But it wouldn't surprise me. Lots of drunk and loud fans. I was worried someone would get hurt, but thankfully that didn't happen. Even the sprinters (including both Thor and Robbie) made it across the line. Robbie even had the energy to do his trademark wheelie. It was amusing. But I'm still rooting for Erik.

My favorites? Mostly didn't fair so well. Matt came in dead last -- well, not completely. Only after Davide Bramati and Aart Vierhouten didn't make the time cut. Sylvain was 25th - which was good, but as CN said, he looks exhausted. Richard came in 38, which was good, but not great. He didn't even look winded when he crossed the line. Probably saving himself for tomorrow. And as for that boy in white? He came in 88th. Struggling and pushing and getting one of the loudest cheers.


Here's hoping he can keep the white jersey. He's 3.33 ahead of Vladimir Karpets and 4.24 ahead of Sandy Casar. I hope he can find the last bit a strength to fight his way through the mountains tomorrow. I want him on that podium in Paris.

Can Lance do it? Or, has he done it already? I know lots of people (Phil included) have suggested (or outright stated) that it's over. That Lance has taken the sixth and the next few stages are but a mere formality until Sunday. I don't know. I think he's probably won his sixth, but I'm not being preemptive. There's still a long way left to go and another time trial. I think that Lance got the boost he needed and the USPS camp can sleep easier tonight, but I don't think the race is over yet.

I'll give you my final predictions, and I have two.

1. Lance
2. Andreas/Jan
3. Jan/Andreas

It all depends on the time trial.

1. Lance
2. Jan
3. Ivan

This one is less likely, as Basso doesn't appear to have the strongest time trialling skills, especially compared to Lance. Either way, I'm happy with Lance on top and Jan second. But we'll just have to wait and see.


Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Stage Fifteen - Day Eighteen

I am not bitter, I promise. Just a little sad. I know, maybe I was disillusioned, but I really wanted, as Phil said, to see Thomas start last for the TT tomorrow. But it was not to be. Instead, he finished a full nine minutes and 30 seconds behind stage and new race leader, Lance Armstrong. Thomas somehow hung onto the white jersey, even though Sandy Casar crossed the line ahead of him. That boy never gives up. I hope we see him in white all the way to France. He is by far the best "rookie" on this year's tour.


Maybe next year, Thomas.

The stage itself. Well, I called it. Even if he didn't make up much time, he started to climb up the classifications. Who, you might ask? Why, Jan Ullrich. Yesterday in my rest day recap, I suggested that T-Mobile might be playing us. And I was right. Everything appeared to be set up for Andreas, but really? It was for Jan. And, get this, I actually feel bad he didn't do better. Although, he needs to learn how to descend a mountain better. I was worried, at least twice, that he was going to go off and down.

I really hoped Richard was going to get his second stage win. But Jan, man, once he got going, there wasn't much anyone could do. I think that's partly why Thomas lost the jersey. The pace was tremendous and most of the peloton was struggling to keep up, most were just barely hanging on. I am most impressed, though, by Levi, Jens, Carlos and Andreas. Andreas not as much, because we've seen what he can do. And Carlos did some great rides last year. But Jens and Levi? After all those breaks, I still can't believe how much energy Jens had to help out USPS chase Ullrich and his mini-break down. And Levi. I keep hoping he'll do better. He was the other person I wanted to win the stage.

But, alas, it was not meant to be. Lance played it safe, although he managed to scare Phil and Paul when he dropped to the back of the leading break near the end of the stage. I figured he was there for a reason, and he was. Just waiting until the right moment. And then he just shot by Basso. It even impressed my father, who doesn't like cycling. As much as I wanted Thomas to win, it was fun to watch Lance. The man is just amazing.

Tomorrow. Almost as bright and early as Saturday, but not quite. I'm excited, but I think the OLN staff is even more excited. They've already put their "Alpe d'Huez TT" commercials out in full force. It's kind of scary, really. It should be interesting, especially if the weather's bad. I hope that Thomas has the ride of his life and stays in white. And Lance? Now that he's in yellow, I want him to stay.

As for the green jersey? I'm not evil, really, but if Lotto's worried that Alpe d'Huez might take out Robbie, then who am I too complain about that? Stuey, Thor or Erik for green. And, of course, Baden for Paris - "Mission Paris" as the FDJers are calling it.

I think this picture sums up the day. I wish it was Thomas in yellow.


Monday, July 19, 2004

Rest Day Two - Day Seventeen


My top ten (since I really did ten last week as well) list:

1. Thomas Voeckler
Oh, come on, like you totally didn't see that one coming. He was first on the previous rest day as well. Why? The kid (even though he's just about a year younger than I am) is amazing. He never quits. Watching him climb those mountains -- especially on Saturday, was amazing. Inspiring as well. Even Richard Virenque agreed, he said something to the effect of Thomas 'putting ants in their [French cyclist's] pants.' He's proving to be a strong rider. And, of course, now Thomas (and Sylvain) are going to the Olympics. What a way to round a good year.

And, of the record, I knew who Thomas was before this tour.

2. Brioches La Boulangère
Again, not really a surprise. They're called the 'baker boys' for obvious reasons, but really? They're just damned impressive. Over the past week and a half or so they've been working harder than any team out there -- even USPS at some points. They know how to drive the peloton. And they know how to support Thomas. Especially (and I know I wax way too poetic about him, forgive me) Sylvain Chavanel. He is Thomas' right hand man, and he is almost always there. And if you look at the results for those two mountain stages? Sylvain comes in right around Thomas' time (either before or just after). Why? Because he's right there, helping. I said it before (and if someone can find out where I read it, I'd really appreciate a link) and I'll say it again, Sylvain said he'd give everything to keep Thomas in yellow -- and he is. The whole team is. It's a pleasure to watch.

3. Ivan Basso
Phil (or Paul) said that Lance and Ivan are some sort of friends. And Ivan, like so many others in the peloton, is wearing a yellow bracelet. His mother apparently has cancer, so that win? Must have been so amazing for her. Like Thomas, Ivan is young (26) and really just coming into his own. Part of why he's so high up is because of his DS, Bjarne Riis. I swear that man works miracles. Just look at Bobby Julich (well, not now -- poor guy and his wrist). And now, Ivan. Taking full advantage of his talent. I know why so many riders flock to CSC. Working for Bjarne seems to be really rewarding. Part of me thinks Tyler never should have left. But anyway, back to Ivan. It was really fun to watch Lance and Ivan fight out both wins. I don't know if Lance gave Ivan that stage win or not, nor do I care. It doesn't matter. It was fantastic to see someone else up there, pushing right up next to Lance. I hope Ivan can take second on the podium (that is, if Thomas can't keep himself in yellow).

4. Lance Armstrong
I don't know if you've heard of him ... Doping scandal aside, this man is amazing. Just watching him (and USPS) pushing up those mountains blows my mind. And it makes me smile to think that people kept saying "Lance is so far down, he'll never make up that time" and then he flies back up the classification in just two days. I know, not surprising to most cycling fans, but still fun to watch.

5. Breakaways.
Every single one. Even if they don't make it, don't play it just right, or if they win the stage. Regardless, they're usually a pleasure to watch. It's always fun when they do win. Like Phil says, when they've been out for that long -- you feel they deserve to win. And it's always sad when they all can't win the stage. Some of the best sprint-finishes have been in breaks. But I must confess that my favorite break was the one with Virenque. He took charge and dropped poor Axel and then won the stage. My kind of break.


6. Tyler Hamilton
All I really have is 'poor Tyler.' Those photos of his back hurt to look at. Sometimes I wonder if he'd been better off with CSC still, but we'll never know. I'm so sad he had to abandon. I was hoping he'd make it all the way through. Next time, as I think I said before, Tyler needs to fall before the tour. Maybe next year, Tyler.

7. Iban Mayo
Those Euskaltel riders like to ride in the mountains, it's too bad we didn't get to see it. One of the most heartbreaking scenes as Iban when he wanted to quit. And then, when his teammates, fans and riders from other teams pushed him along? One of the most amazing sights ever (just like when people were helping Thomas up the mountains). As April said to me, one day they'll have their tour. Just not this year.

8. Jan Ullrich and T-Mobile
Obviously Vino was a huge loss, as was leaving Cadel off. I don't know what's wrong with Jan -- perhaps nothing. After all (again as April said), he's only down by about seven minutes. It's not the end of the world. Sure, Andreas is doing well, but whose to say this isn't just a ploy? Get everyone thinking that Andreas is team leader and then, when they're not paying attention, Jan will come creeping back up the classification. Don't count that boy out just yet.

Some many problems with the team. Lost form, losing riders, sickness and, well, Bernhard has a problem with his bottom. At least Sandy's doing semi-well. I'm still (as I bet they are, too) hoping Baden'll pull out a win. Paris it is, I guess. It's hard to watch and think about last year. They did so well (even though Matt didn't make it past stage 11) and Baden won the green. And this year? Not their year. I'm crossing my fingers, though. At least Matt's still riding.

10. Everyone who has abandoned so far.
From Sven to Haimar (Zubeldia) to Jakob (Piil). Nothing's harder, I guess, than abandoning (or not staring). Of course, Sven's was the hardest, emotionally. He broke down by the side of the road. Sebastian Hinault and Rene's were the hardest to actually watch. Major crashes always are. I wish everyone speedy recoveries.

The good, the bad and the painful. I am looking forward to the last week of tour. Then I'll pack up my room and move out. I'm heading to an apartment without OLN, such a travesty. I think I've accepted my fate of missing la Vuelta. Hopefully I'll have OLN in time for the Giro next year. I've enjoyed my cycling watching and don't intend to be without for that long.

Stage Fourteen - Day Sixteen


For the first time I'm actually bitter that OLN doesn't cover the whole stage. Most of the time I'm just grateful that I can watch it at all. But today's stage? I hear the best part was the first two hours. Of which we so absolutely nothing of. Not even (that I can really recall) the little flashback things that they use when someone crashes. Nothing! Not that I minded watching the last two or so hours, but still.

Lots of Thomas and Sylvain. I like to see the boys having a good time on the stage. And it was nice that there wasn't a lot of pressure. The break that finally worked was interesting to watch, but I really would have liked to see the earlier attempts -- and not just because Matt was in one of them. But OLN decided, for whatever reason, that we didn't need to see it. So we watched what seemed like five minutes of then ten minutes of commercials. Eventually, near the end of the stage, the amount of time they spent showing the race seemed longer than the commercial break.

Sad day for me, though. I'd picked either Christophe Mengin or Peter Wrolich to win. But for some reason, once Aitor Gonzalez got away, the Euskaltel riders seemed to stop helping the remaining 7 members of the break try to catch up to Gonzalez. In the end, he had too much of a lead out for Mengin and Nicolas Jalabert. Jalabert came in second, even though Mengin gave it a good go to the line. Very good riding in the break, but I'm still surprised that Gonzalez won. Perhaps the Euskaltel riders stopped working on purpose, or maybe they were just exhausted from keeping Mayo in the stage yesterday. Regardless, Gonzalez road well for the win.


And then we had to wait thirteen minutes for the peloton to catch up. Six of those minutes were spent watching commercials. Then about two minutes of racing, more commercials, then the final sprint. Way to go, OLN (when I said I was done complaining about them? I may have lied.). Anyway. I was pulling for O'Grady or Zabel (or even Hushovd or Hondo). That Robbie McEwen, though. He just comes out of nowhere and takes the win.

The sprint was exciting. Especially the beginning of it, because no one was quite sure what was going to happen. Robbie had a great lead out, then Stuey had one. Thor was pushing himself up, as was Hondo. And I still think it looks like Hondo beat them both to the line, but it seems I'm wrong (not surprisingly).


All in all it was an uneventful (compares to both the mountains and the first two weeks) stage. Good for Armstrong, Basso, and, of course, Thomas. Rest day tomorrow. And then the Alps.

> What do I think will happen?
Jan will try his comeback, Lance will take yellow and Thomas will do well in white.
> What do I want to happen?
Thomas, Thomas and Thomas.

We'll have to wait and see. Enjoy the jersey, Thomas. You deserve it.


Saturday, July 17, 2004

Stage Thirteen - Day Fifteen

No more pretense, I was all out cheering for Thomas. I know he can't hear me, in fact my TV can't even hear me, but that didn't stop me. I am totally biased, I wanted Thomas to keep that jersey. I probably would have been upset if he hadn't. My story of the day is Thomas and, of course, Sylvain. There are others and I'll talk about them, but first, Thomas and BLB.


He deserved it. 22 seconds isn't a lot and he probably won't keep it in the Alps, but you never know. I'm not about to stop cheering and, flat/windy stage or not, I can't wait for tomorrow. Thomas worked so hard and part of me I kept thinking "this is it" while waiting for him to crack completely, but he never did. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew he could do it, I had faith. And, well, he did.

I woke up at ten to seven am this morning to watch this stage on OLN. And for someone who (for a variety of reasons) doesn't usually get up until nine or ten, that should tell you how much I love this sport. I didn't turn on my computer until about one pm, so I had no idea Sylvain was in the break. It was a really great surprise. I was really sad when he started to crack in the break -- for two reasons.

One: I wanted him to win the stage and take more mountains points.
Two: If he's out of energy, how is he supposed to help Thomas?

Well, I was wrong on both counts. He didn't win the stage, but he did everything he could to help Thomas. And it worked. He spent a lot of time after the break taking care of Thomas, mostly letting him draft. But still, it was amazing. I'm so proud of both of them -- and so glad I got to watch it. And those last four minutes and 42 seconds were agonizing. But when he (and we) finally figured out that he was going to keep that jersey (if only by 22 seconds) it was all worth it. I just don't really have the words. I'm so completely involved in the tour this year. Even more than last year, when I got all worked up about Lance and Tyler.

Speaking of Lance and Tyler.

For me, this day was fabulous. The only way it could have been better is if Sylvain (or Thomas) had won the stage. But hey, sometimes I can be realistic. And we all know that I would be happy with either Thomas or Lance winning. So watching Lance take Basso almost to the line was exciting and fun. The crowds though, man. They are always something else, makes the stage even more stressful to watch. But, yes, such a great day for me.

Not so much for my friends, April and Katie, though. April's boy, Fabian Wegmann, abandoned and then Tyler Hamilton -- Katie's favorite -- did as well. My favorites? All still there. It's not fair, but then again neither is life.

I don't know exactly what happened to Fabian. April mentioned that he was having breathing problems. I imagine he's not the only one, poor boy. I hope he gets better soon. As for Tyler? I feel horrible for him. I was shocked, but someone mentioned that earlier in the stage Tyler was riding and holding his lower back. And then when someone working for OLN (I think) interviewed him, he said that he couldn't ride well because he couldn't really use his lower back. He also said that he had never once thought of abandoning, but once someone mentioned it, he realized (and I'm paraphrasing big time) there wasn't really any way he could go on. I mean, how do you ride without your lower back? Honestly.


Cyclingnews pointed out that "Somewhat ironically, Hamilton's abandonment coincided with the day that the Tyler Hamilton Foundation arranged for movie theaters across the USA to screen today's stage live." If it wasn't so sad, it'd be funny. Ahh, Tyler. You should have crashed harder before the tour. Toughened yourself up.

Other things? Matt came in (with the autobus) 42 minutes later. He's now 2.02.03 behind Thomas. At least FDJ's not the worst team and Sandy Casar is doing okay. He was 21st in the stage -- the kid is good. Iban Mayo. After Tyler's abandon, that was probably the most heartbreaking thing to watch. He was off his bike, ready to quit, and they talked him back onto it. They being teammates, DS, and fans. Then, as riders streamed past him, they'd put hands on his back to push him along. I agree with Phil when he says that it's more mental with Mayo than physical. He wanted to do so well and everything has just gone wrong. Speaking of things going wrong, poor Roberto Heras. Crashed and lost even more time. What a way to be a team leader, sometimes the pressure is just too tough.

Good things? That Ivan Basso is damn impressive, as is T-Mobile's potential new leader, Andreas Klöden. As long as Klöden keeps staying up front, the more I believe he earned that National Champion jersey. Other impressives? Gerolsteiner's Georg Totschnig, who is now in 6th, 6 minutes and .02 seconds behind Thomas. And, after Thomas, one of the most impressive rides of the day was done by Christophe Moreau (Crédit Agricole). He had that flat on the mountain (I think it was the Plateau de Beille, actually) and had to change tires with a man on his team. The tire didn't seem to fit right so they spent about 30 seconds (probably -- it did seem like longer, though) adjusting his bike. And what'd he do? Road himself into eighth, 2.51 behind Lance.

Of course, Thomas will remain the most impressive to me. He just doesn't quit. But a lot of credit has to go to BLB for taking really good care of him. Walter and Sylvain have spent themselves on him and I'm sure they'll keep doing it.

Teams. Whoever said (either Paul or Phil) that Lance had the best team in the tour was right. They've got it figured out and you can't even tell that they lost Roberto. Jose is amazing. He just cranks the pace -- turns the screws -- and the rest of the peloton -- what's left of it -- just collapses. Except for Ivan Basso. But today? Lance was having none of that. He said he couldn't shake Basso, and it certainly looked like it, even though Basso seemed to be suffering a lot. But then again, it was the Plateau de Beille.

I was happy when Lance finally blew away (not that it was that far away) from Basso for the win. I was thinking "it's about time!" And then I started watching the seconds tick by. Fingers crossed. Waiting for Thomas. And he came through, much to my delight.

So, Thomas is still in yellow -- for at least one more stage. And Lance won the day. I wonder what's in store for next week. I'm excited.


Friday, July 16, 2004

Stage Twelve - Day Fourteen

Almost every article you'll read this afternoon/evening will state that the man of the hour is Lance Armstrong. Some will even include the stage winner, Ivan Basso. But I am not one of those people. I'll admit that this stage was extremely exciting to watch and I expected Lance to pull out all the stops and take the win. Of course, I wasn't really surprised when he didn't. After all, today was all about gaining time.

People will also be saying that stage twelve was when the 'real tour' started. And, in a way, I agree. But not because USPS, in the end, couldn't pull Lance over the top. Not because Ullrich, Hamilton, and Mayo were all but dropped. Not because Ivan Basso beat Lance for the win. And not because Lance gained five minutes -- although that's probably the most realistic reason I can agree with.

What, you might ask, have I learned from this stage? Well, lots of things and most of them have to do with racing in the rain, cameras and helicopters, and how to break apart a peloton. But, what I learned, what ended up being most important to me was the fact that I learned who I'd really like to see win. And, much to my suprise, it wasn't Lance. But, watching Thomas Voeckler struggle up that mounting, I was yelling like the Basque fans, for him. "Go Thomas!" and "Allez Thomas!" were a few of the cheers that my TV (and my parents) had to endure. I was also yelling at Sylvain Chavanel for not helping Thomas (but, it turns out that wasn't the case. Sylvain finished -- though about a minute back from him -- next after Thomas. He was there.). I learned that while I think it would be cool for Lance to win, Thomas -- the little French boy who came out of nowhere -- is the one I want.

Now, I know that's not probable, and I'm almost certain he won't be in yellow after tomorrow's stage. But it didn't stop me from caring more about him than Lance. It didn't stop me from wanting to know where he was, even though everyone else was watching Lance and Ivan. Even while I was cheering for Lance (because, if not Thomas, then Lance) I was worried about Thomas.

What I learned from today is what kind of fan I am. Something I've known, but occasionally forget. I get lost in the all the hype of Lance on OLN ("only lance network") and forget that I'm the type of fan who goes for the underdogs (with a few exceptions -- Richard Virenque being one of them as well as, tennis-wise, Andy Roddick -- I still don't understand that one). And while many people believe Lance is the underdog, I do not. He is the clear favorite and I believe he'll win. But that doesn't mean I have to constantly root for him. I was all about Vino earlier. Anyway, I'm completely off my point. Today's stage proved to me that I take cycling personally, that I love this sport, and that, when it comes right down to it, I know where I stand. I want Thomas to win. I want to keep that jersey. To keep going. It's part underdog and part the fact that he's just working so hard.

So. The men of the day for me? Richard Virenque and Thomas Voeckler. Why Richard? It's easy. Even though he attacked a few times, he, too, was dropped. He ended up in a small group with Thomas. What did he do? Attack? No. He talked to Thomas, he spent a lot of time -- more than he needed, more than he was ever obligated to do -- helping Thomas. He tried hard not to let Thomas lose too much time. And that, right there, that impressed me.


Ok. I feel better. Now, for the rest of the stage. No big crashes, but man, the weather was shocking. It was really sunny, then Phil and Paul started talking about thunderstorms and about 10 minutes later bam the tiny breakaway of four were covered in rain. And, before we realized it, so was the peloton (and, of course, the autobus -- chugging along). As I said before, this is what people like to call the 'real tour's' beginning. But I have to confess that I've really enjoyed the past fourteens days, especially stages 5 through 11 12 where Thomas Voeckler has worn that yellow jersey. Not that today's stage wasn't exciting or that Ivan Basso wasn't riding like a man possessed, because he was.


And I was quite impressed with him (and Lance, but not so much USPS). I was happy he won. As for Mr. Armstrong? I think he'd rather win the stage to put on yellow (which I believe he'll attempt to do tomorrow) than just win the stage. He would have wasted energy on a win without gaining even more time if he'd tried to take down Basso. So things went.

Oh, Jan. I don't know what Andreas Kloden was thinking. Maybe he got the go ahead. Maybe he was trying to pull Lance back. Maybe he decided to screw Jan over. Or maybe Jan's playing us all. I don't know what to think. And I should probably end this, as it's about to storm here and I don't want my computer to get fried (alas, the storm came before I had a chance to post and then I left town). So a final parting thought and picture, then I'm out.

At the end of the day? It stacks up like this:

General classification after stage 12
1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Brioches La Boulangère51.51.07
2 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal p/b Berry Floor5.24
3 Sandy Casar (Fra) Fdjeux.com5.50
4 Richard Virenque (Fra) Quick Step-Davitamon6.20
5 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile Team6.33

And that boy? That darling BLB boy. He's still in yellow. Good luck, Thomas. I'm rooting for you.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Stage Eleven - Day Thirteen

Before I talk about this stage, three things.

Hey CN, remember this post of mine? Thomas Voeckler is 25, not 24 (look for "Voeckler gets by").

The other two. I mentioned Matthias Kessler of T-Mobile and Sebastien Hinault of Credit Agricole yesterday, and I wanted to follow up. CN posts the medical communique in the evening (EST) after each stage. Here are their notes for Matthias and Sebastien.

> Sébastien Hinault (Crédit Agricole) - Brief loss of consciousness after crash at km 180. Sustained back injury and was taken to the emergency room in Saint-Flour for examination. X-rays revealed a fracture of the fifth vertebrae without neurological complications. He will remain under observation in hospital.

> Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) - Injured back after crash at km 172, taken to Saint-Flour hospital after finishing stage for further examination. X-rays revealed a fracture of the ninth rib on the left side and a bruised lung.

Although Matthias finished the stage yesterday (I still have no idea how he managed it), he obviously couldn't start today. The other "causality" of the day? Magnus Backstedt of Alessio-Bianchi. He abandoned a little over half-way through the stage. It wasn't long, just on the hot side. He hadn't been doing too well since his unsuccessful day in the break (the same break that brought such good fortune for Stuey and Thomas). Now, onto the rest of the stage.

A three-man break again. Phil and Paul and I were all wrong about this one. Phil and I, I believe, both picked Flecha (who as at it again, he must be taking lessons from Jakob Piil and Jens Voight) while Paul (I think) picked Martinez. Flecha attacked Martinez while the third member of the break, Moncoutie (from the bedraggled Cofidis team), seemed to be barely hanging on. Martinez jumped on Flecha's wheel and they settled in. No sooner was Flecha's attack under control, when Moncoutie came out of 'nowhere' and road right by them. He didn't stop, opening up a 30 second gap that eventually ended at just over two minutes when the two Spanish riders crossed the line.

Yet another great day for the French. And for Cofidis, who so desperately need all the good news they can get. It was a really great move by Moncoutie and it caught all of us by surprise.


There were more mountains today, but nothing like what starts tomorrow (everything is a half hour earlier for those of us watching OLN). Even so, Richard got more points and Fabian Wegmann (check out my friend April's fansite for Wegmann), who won the green mountains jersey in the Giro D'Italia this year, put his name on the board.

Voeckler didn't appear to suffer as much as yesterday, and the cows (pictures anyone?) that briefly divided and disrupted the peloton provided much needed entertainment for the cyclists.


BLB had another great day on the front. They pushed the pace when they needed to and kept it in check the rest of the time. There wasn't too much running the peloton into the ground today. Although I don't expect that to last once USPS (color me optimistic) gains control.

Will Thomas keep the jersey tomorrow? It's a good question, I think he might be able to. I certainly hope he does. And if he does? He might keep it even longer. The big worry, though, is that when he finally does (that is -- if he does) run out of steam, it'll be a big fall. Which makes sense, because he's been riding under the weight of the jersey, and if he cracked, that's a lot of pressure on the shoulders of that 25-year-old boy. I'm holding out for a few more days of Thomas in yellow. Then? My guess is that Lance will take over. But I'm not counting Mayo out just yet, or Tyler and Jan, of course.

Tomorrow should be even more interesting, entertaining and fun. I look forward to stage 12. Oh, and one last thing. A year ago on Stage 11, Matt Wilson didn't make the time cut. This year? 164th. Good job Matt!

2004 Tour de France Prologue. (gettyimages)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Stage Ten - Day Twelve

Happy Bastille Day! And I'm finally back on track.

Today's stage? It was fabulous. I didn't sleep through the pre-race (although I managed to get mad at Al again, but I can't remember why. I think it had to do with him implying, yet again, that the first few stages of cycling weren't very interesting. Phil called him on it. Thanks, Phil -- saves me from having to send my letter.). It was fun to see Richard Virenque, who has become a favorite of mine, taking those first few climbs (and, eventually, all of them). And then he, and the great Eddy Merckx's son Axel, were pushing up the mountains. I guess they'd talked about what they were going to do (cyclingnews) but Richard just went for the win and tired poor Axel out.

As bad as I feel that Axel didn't get up to fight for the stage, I'm really happy Richard won. I want him to win the KOM jersey and break the record. Hell, I wouldn't mind Erik winning the green for the seventh time, as long as Lance can win the yellow for the sixth (unless Baden can some how come out of nowhere ...). But now I'm totally off topic. Anyway. It was great that a Frenchman won the stage today.


Not everything was great today. T-Mobile's Matthias Kessler had a horrible crash, but somehow managed to complete the race. He was 168th. Liberty Seguros' Angel Vicioso Arcos retired, it was sad to watch. He was barely even riding and I turned to my mother and said "he should just abandon" in a joking voice and then he did. I felt somewhat bad. But he'd fallen a few too many times. I hope he makes the team next year. Poor Roberto, though, losing a rider just when he'll need it the most. I don't know what happened to Saeco's Mirko Celestino, nor did I see Credit Agricole's Sebastien Hinault crash. But I did see the aftermath of Hinault (Kessler and Hinault were involved in a descent crash, but I don't think it was with each other).

For about five minutes no one, not even the race radio, knew who had fallen. I was worried it was a BLB rider or Mattias again. Obviously it wasn't, but that didn't stop the worry. Poor Sebastien was lying in a ditch (similar to a Fassa Bortolo rider -- Marco Velo I believe it was -- who crashed early on). His bike was not in good shape and neither was he. Eventually the race doctors got him onto a stretcher. Cyclingnews reports that "Kessler had cracked a rib while Hinault had a fractured vertebrae."


Sad day all around.

For me, the most impressive (ignoring Richard's 200+ km break and win) part of the day was watching Thomas Voeckler. I know, I probably praise him too often, but I can't help it. He's only about a year younger than I am and he's just doing some great stuff. He made the break with the likes of Lance, Jan and Tyler. And a lot of his team did too (like Sylvain, who spent a bit of time at the back of that leading peloton helping Thomas out), which was great. But the highlight was watching him attack for time bonuses at the end of the stage. He didn't get them, but he came in fifth, right in front of Lance.

After the stage, Frankie interviewed him for OLN. And, in his lovely English, he was quite humble. He thanked his team for doing so well, but he had this slight bittersweet tone in his voice. Either Phil or Paul remarked that he was probably saying good-bye to the jersey in that interview. It was sad, because I was hoping he'd have it for at least one more day. I'm not holding my breath, but I'm not giving up hope, either.

He's done incredibly well so far, it'd be a shame if he lost it before the Pyrenees.


Stage Nine - Day Eleven

So, Robbie won. Yeah, I'm not really happy about that. I know I should be, since I'm a big Aussie supporter. But I was rooting for, well, anyone that's not Robbie. Mostly Baden. Well, up until he was caught, I was cheering for the Euskaltel rider who'd never won anything. But, alas, he's still never won anything. And that Robbie, just coming out of nowhere. I slept through the pre-race yesterday so I didn't know that Phil and Paul had tipped him as the winner of the stage.

For a moment I'd thought either Steuy or Thor had won, but upon watching the replay (numerous times) and then seeing the photo finish, it was clear that Robbie had just powered his way to win. I don't know how he does it -- and apparently a lot of people don't like it, including Quick.Step-Davitamon and Credit Agricole. According to cyclingnews, Quick.Step's DS Serge Parsani said "Work doesn't pay. McEwen got a nice present really. Don't work and still win, that's what you should do." I have no comment, really, except that Robbie takes wins when he can and know show to take advantage of other teams. He's a good rider, I just don't like it when he wins. Go Baden.


One of the things I noticed was that the Euskaltel rider accidently got in Tom's way as the sprinters finally caught up with him. And thus Tom wasn't able to contend and his frustration was so obvious. It was disheartening to see him work so hard only to fall short. But I guess when you're a sprinter, that happens a lot. I'm just glad he's got a stage win. But really, how frustrating.

I thought the stage was exciting. I was shocked by the crash near the end (and by Jaan's abandoning, but such is the way of an 'old' tour rider, especially a sprinter) of the stage. I mean, how could you miss the little roundabout thing? The poor rider wasn't paying attention, I guess -- probably waiting until the last minute to decide which direction to go. Poor Kurt, it seems that all he does is fall (and get caught in breaks). Hopefully he'll be able to start (and he did). The rider just ran right into Kurt as both of them crashed and flipped over their bikes.

Good things. Thomas finished the race still in yellow and there was only one really big crash. I guess it's sad when you're happy about having just one big crash.

Tomorrow should be interesting. We'll find out what both Thomas and BLB are made of. As well as how the "big guns," as Al calls them, are doing. Mountains, yay! Not to say that I haven't loved the flat stages, because I have. Exciting all around for me.


Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Rest Day - Day Ten

In lieu of a post about Stage Nine (I'm still a little bummed about the results, so I'll sit on it a bit longer), I'll make up for my lack of posting yesterday.

Ten days of the tour and so far I've found it to be exciting, worrisome and irritating. There are things that tick me off, but I'm not going to go there. I'm sure there will continue to be annoying things and I'll will probably keep complaining about them. But this entry? I'm going to talk about the things that make me happy.

The Top Five:

1. Thomas Voeckler
The 25-year-old French National Champion has won my heart. He didn't expect the jersey, he's fallen for it (so beautifully, I might add) and he's still a little surprised each time he puts it on. As if he doesn't quite believe it's real. That first day, after the amazing break, you could just see how unbelievable it was. He's even quoted as saying that the jersey "just fell into his lap." And, even more impressive, is the fact that his team -- even though they don't have a contract for next year -- has backed him up the whole way. They've done their stint at the front and continue to do it. I'm proud of them.

2. Matthew Wilson
How could I not mention him? After all, he is my favorite rider. The first few days after the prologue were tough. He spent a lot of time helping Brad, even tough, in the end, Brad just couldn't go on. Nothing says teamwork like spending your days at the back of the race helping out your teammates. Then, after spending himself helping Brad, he manages to get up front in at least two of the past four stages. He's been pushing the speed and doing a great lead out for Baden. His positive and optimistic attitude is catching. One of these days, Baden's just going to beat them all.

3. Thor and Tom.
I have to say that they are two of the strongest sprinters out there. Both had caught my eye long before the tour started, but it's been nice to see them both win stages. Especially Tom. I know he badly wanted to win in Belgium and I was sad that he didn't that chance. But it's nice to see the team still working for him, leading him out until they have to start helping Richard.

As for Thor? What a go for the boy from Norway. I was proud when he got the yellow jersey, and then green. And now that he's won a stage? So impressive. I hope he keeps giving Stuey and Robbie a run for their money. A good day for the champion of Norway.

4. Fassa Bortolo
As much as I wanted Petacchi to win one stage, I'm almost glad he's gone. Though I'm not happy that he might not make the Olympics, but that's for later. It gives these young boys a chance to kick it into high gear. But, how lucky for his teammates that they've been able to pull out these wins. Most impressive performances from Fabian and Pippo. There was a great picture at cyclingnews of both boys together. Making FB proud. It would have been nice if Flecha and Kirchen had been able to hold their own for the wins, but it was not meant to be. Such is life.

5. USPS and Phonak
Again giving a new meaning to team (although in my eyes, no one is as much a team as the FDJ Aussies). Both teams have come through when it counted. Both during the team time trial. USPS during the crashes and the cobbles. And, of course, Phonak through the crashes and all of their bike problems. I wish Tyler and Lance and their teams the best of luck. I hope Lance makes it to six and that Tyler doesn't fall off again. Oh yeah, and Tyler is so winning a mountain stage this year.

And that's all, except for the runners up.
6. CSC - Jens, Jakob and the team time trial.
7. Sandy Casar - the boy never gives up. He's giving hope to FDJ. I hope he keeps that white jersey.
8. Rene, Sven, Sam, and all the other crash victims - My heart goes out to them. As for Rene? It turns out he has internal injuries as well. I hope he gets better soon.
9. Paolo (and hopefully Richard) - The KOM jersey looks good on him. I hope it goes seamlessly to Richard. Seven, baby!
10. Paul and Phil - For putting up with all that crap from Al. And for entertaining me endlessly. Oh yeah, and for overusing the word 'undulation.' They must have said it at least 10 times on today's stage.

Well, that's all. I'm sure I'll have an even longer list during the next rest day. And sometime tonight I'll post my reaction to stage nine.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Stage Eight - Day Nine

I've been putting this off all day. I like Thor, I really do, I just didn't want him to win today. I wanted Baden to win, but, more than that, I really wanted the break to work and for Ronny to win. It's about time Gerolsteiner got some good news, then FDJ. So, the capture of the break put me in this grumpy mood.


And Al. Oh, Al. I swore to myself I wouldn't complain about OLN's coverage again. But I lied. I'm sorry, but after the race ended and Paul and Phil went to talk to Bob and Al, the lack of respect for the majority of the cyclists displayed by Al really irritated me. I couldn't believe that he just wanted to talk about Lance and company -- even when people were talking about other things. And how he brought up all that shit about how this first week was really boring. I know I wasn't the only one offended because both Paul and Phil were talking over each other telling him it was exciting. So, this is my open letter to Al.


Dear Al,

I know you'll never read this, but I need to tell you something. There are a lot of us out there who are watching the tour OLN. Some of us have favorite cyclists. And, even though I know you find this hard to believe, our favorite riders aren't always major contenders. In fact there are some people in the states who aren't even cheering for Lance.

Now, I want Lance to win, but I just think you should know that those of us whose favorite riders aren't Lance or [insert other 'contenders' here] have (in spite of all the Lance-centric coverage) enjoyed this first week of the tour. I, for one, while dismayed at the lack of coverage of one of my favorites (Sylvain Chavanel) was happy to be able to see my favorite rider (Matthew Wilson) racing.

Next time, just remember that not every one wants to know where Lance is every second of every day. There are other riders. And it's those cyclists I'd like to know about. I know there are a lot. But really, you have three weeks of cycling. I'm sure you could fit those stories in.

Please don't stop covering cycling, OLN.

Thank you,


I feel much better now. Moving along. Thor. He won, he was wearing a yellow bracelet. The end. Okay, not really.


I was cheering Kim on, even though Fassa has a lot of wins already. But, I have to tell you, it was kind of fun to watch Thor just fly (kind of like Tom, really) past Kim. And when we got to see the aerial view? There was no way (and Thor actually said) that anyone was going to catch him. When I was actually watching the final sprint (if you could call it that), I was sure Thor had thrown his hands up way too early. The angle (watching as if they're riding toward me) made it look like Kim was a lot closer than he really was.

I am glad he hung on for second though. And I'm also glad that there weren't too many crashes. Although, poor Samuel Dumoulin (AG2r). It was like watching Sven all over again.


IT was this crash at the back (not the one with Cofidis, I don't think. It might have been, but I think that was the second. Though the Cofidis riders always seem to be involved.) and all we really saw was Samuel sitting in the middle of the road and a Liberty Seguros rider off to the side. The Serguros rider got back onto his bike, but Samuel took a really long time, and we followed him as he tried to get going again. It took him an additional 10 minutes, but he finally made it. According to cyclingnews, he has a "serious contusion on left elbow" and "will undergo further examination." I hope he gets better tomorrow.

Not all of the stage was bad, although for a bit it looked like Jakob Piil was gunning for the yellow. But BLB put in a huge effort and kept the chase up. I hope they can make it through the mountains, because Sylvain (who, as I've already established, is a favorite of mine) is reportedly still having problems -- possibly with his back. It makes me sad. I suppose that's also why this stage put me in a bad mood (and the lack of Matt). Sometimes I'm just really picky. I've been good up until today, never really getting bummed when my boys didn't win. But, man. Maybe it's good that tomorrow is the rest day.

It's one day Thomas won't have to fight for his jersey. I hope he keeps it until the mountains. At least it's good to see that he enjoys it.


Saturday, July 10, 2004

Stage Seven - Day Eight

For those of us (by us I mean me) who like flat stages (in addition to everything else) and breakaways, today was another great day. I have to confess that the highlight was watching Matt, after getting stuck in the wrong half of a peloton split, rejoin and then get back up front to work for Baden. If only there had been an actual sprint. Not that 16th is bad for Baden, but still. I was hoping (though I'd picked Erik Zabel for the day, little did I know ...).

The lack of major crashes was good, except it hurt to watch Sven Montgomery. I don't really know what happened, except that it sounded like Sven and a Cofidis (can't they stay out of trouble?) rider crashed. We (the OLN audience) got to watch poor Sven be examined (his collarbone, of course) then get back on his bike, ride for less than a minute, and then wave his hand for the team car. He pulled off the road in tears, unable to continue. It was (to overuse my favorite word) heartbreaking. He's started the tour four times and never finished. Rene and Sven seem to have such bad luck in the tour. Although maybe it's just stage races for Sven, as I believe he also crashed out of the Giro this year.

Well. The rest of the race was fun to watch. I liked CSC cranking the peloton and splitting it with help from the wind. The second break contained (besides Matt, of course) the green jersey, Stuart O'Grady, and I was worried that Stuey wasn't going to make it. But Cofidis and Credit Agricole, with a little help from Saeco (I still can't believe Gibo didn't quit, but that's for another entry.) pulled the peloton back together. And therefore Stuey had enough time over Robbie to keep the green.


I didn't get to see a lot of the early breaks, which is frustrating because I think two FDJ (including Bernhard) attempted. But it was still fun to watch Dekker and Marichal go at it. Although, I wasn't really rooting for the breakaways, not even for Fabian Cancellara's, and I like him a lot. But, eventually, one of the breaks stuck. And there, almost out of nowhere, came Filippo "Pippo" Pozzato. I thought Iker Flores was going to take it (and was all bummed because my mom really likes Euskaltel - Euskadi), but there was no stopping Pippo.


Before I go on, I'd like to point out that Pippo is wearing a yellow bracelet. Mine should be coming in the mail soon, and you all (if you don't already have them) should buy some. When I get mine, I'll write up why I have one. But yes, Livestrong.

Anyway. It was a good finish, not at all dangerous, which made me really happy. I think if the final break had been riding a bit more conservatively, there would have been more risks taken by the peloton to catch them and might have resulted in some crashes. But the weather was good and the peloton, while not organized, it was controlled. Speaking of organized. A lot of the sprinters' teams did a good job, just not enough. CA and FDJ in particular. I noticed Fassa up there too, which made me miss Petacchi even more.

Happy note of the day? Even though he struggled a bit on the short (really short) mountains during the stage, Thomas kept his jersey. I hope he keeps it for a while longer.


PS. Would it be too much to ask for an FDJ stage win? Please?

Friday, July 09, 2004

Stage Six - Day Seven

Good racing, good breakaway, though not good enough. Brioches did a fine job of protecting Thomas and chasing after the breakaway. I was happy that, in the end, Thomas came away in yellow again.


Most of the stage was made up of BLB putting the hammer down and the breakaway trying to be stronger than the peloton. They managed a high of maybe almost 5 minutes, but eventually they were caught. Although, by that time, BLB had secured Thomas in yellow of the next day and were sitting back. The sprinters teams, man. They totally took over.

It was fun to watch the breakaway try to keep away. From six down to four, and they were jumping all over each other's wheels. I would have liked to see FDJ's Carlos Dacruz come away with the win, but the peloton was having none of it. One winning flat-stage breakaway seemed to be enough. And poor Juan Antonio Flecha. He did the same thing last year, though I believe it was on a mountain stage, and ran away with the win. It was not to be, this year. He, too, was eventually caught.

Gerolsteiner, Lotto, Quickstep, FDJ, and others were putting a lot of pressure on the front of the peloton and Flecha's 50 second gap was eventually overcome. In the end, it was a great day for most of the sprinters. Steuy almost came away with his second win, but Tom Boonen just ran away with it.


Sad notes of the day. Cipo and Petacchi both didn't start. Rumor has it that this is it for Cipo. As for Petacchi? He had a hard crash yesterday: "I'm really sorry I can't continue," he said. "It's a big disappointment to me, and basically it's because I just cannot raise my arm. Last year I came here and I was in worse condition but I managed to be a protagonist in the Tour. Now I'll just have to see what happens."

And then, argh. With about 10km left, I was going to tell my mother that I'm glad there hadn't been many crashes (just one at the beginning when Lance fell) but I didn't say anything, I didn't want to jinx it. In the end, though, it didn't matter. The race was almost over when suddenly there were a handful of sprinters (thankfully Baden and Hondo were among them) and no one else. The cameras panned back and there was a massive pile-up. When we finally got to see the replay, it reminded me of the footage of the crash on Stage One last year. Oddly enough, it happened right under the 1km to go, so everyone got the same time. But still.

And the cause of the crash? Most likely the peloton pressing too hard and the poor Gerolsteiner boy (who crashed hard in last year's tour as well), Rene Haselbacher. They have him finishing the race in 179th, but I assume he never really made it. I have no idea how he'd have been able to walk.

From cyclingnews:
Gerolsteiner sprinter Rene Haselbacher crashed hard into the left side of the barriers, smashing his left leg and chest and head at 60km/h. Haselbacher was taken to Angers Hospital after the stage, where a medical exam revealed a broken nose and three broken ribs.


And now I'm caught up and looking forward to tomorrow's stage. I really hope Baden can pull out some wins. Matt's no longer working for Brad, so he'll be able to be the lead-out man. And Baden only needs to win a few stages to catch up to Stuey (in green now, as Robbie crashed and didn't make it to the sprint). Allez FDJ!