Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Stage 21 - Sunday, July 24: Corbeil-Essonnes - Paris Champs-Elysees 144 km

I have been putting this off for long enough. I think it's about time to finally post about the final stage. It was, if nothing else, not predictable -- though it seemed to be at first. It was like every other final stage for Armstrong. The mini party on the bike, the pictures and laughing. Then they got down to a bit of racing for time, it was fun to watch Vino and the Gerolsteiner riders fight for time. And then things got a bit crazy.

The weather decided not to co-operate and suddenly it was decided that the time would stop the first time the peloton crossed the finish. That was okay, I guess. It sort of ruined the chances of Vino getting fifth, but there were still time bonuses, or so we thought. As they were rounding a bend, three Discovery riders went down (and blamed it on Phil Gilbert of FDJ) and it was decided to cancel time bonuses -- at least that's what we were told.

So instead of a wild sprint to the end with Vino and Levi clashing with the sprinters, it'd just be the sprinters. Okay, I thought, this will suck. And then the attacks began. They were ruthless, nothing comes between a cyclist and his will to win. But nothing was really solid until Brad McGee went off the Front. Vino followed close behind. And I was screaming for Brad, I wanted him to ride faster. And then suddenly there was Vino and I couldn't believe it. I was yelling for Vino (GO GO VINO BIKE! as my sister suggested I say, she regretted it afterward) to and he did. And, honestly? Two days later, I still can't believe it.

I thought the stage was going to suck, what with Armstrong having won his seventh and the fact that Robbie would probably win the stage and take the green. But sometimes things work out a bit the way I want. And this stage made up for all of that. I am so proud and pleased that Vino won the stage. I just hope that he can find it in him to win the tour.

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Just amazing. So, okay, everything this tour was, in some ways, amazing. The fact that one of Lance's teammates, Yaroslav Popovych, could work for Lance and still win the white (best young rider) jersey, still blows my mind. And then there's Thor Hushovd, the first man from Norway to wear the green jersey. And the fact that he beat out Robbie and never won a stage. And, of course, there's Michael. Amazing and wonderful Michael. He tried so hard, not unlike Voeckler last year. But completely unlike Voeckler, he was able to keep his jersey and he deserved it.

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I suppose I should talk about Lance, but I'm not ready yet. Let's talk about Basso and Ullrich. I am very happy that Basso was second. I think he'll win next year, even though I'll be rooting for Vino. I think he's strong enough and smart enough. He's the only guy who could, the past two years, consistently ride with Lance. But I think he probably has to worry about Ullrich. But if he doesn't win next year, he will win, but only as long as he stays at CSC. I think Riis knows how to get him to win and I'm glad he chose not to go to Discovery.

Now, Ullrich. This man is, as I told my dad yesterday, amazing. He's ridden in 9+ tours and has never, NOT EVER, finished lower than fourth. And in 1997 he won the tour. I am tired of everyone (I know that I'm generalizing, so shush) saying how much he sucks. If there's one thing these seven years of the tour have proved about Ullrich is that he does not, under any circumstances, suck. He never gives up, he has always been there. It'd have been nice if he'd been able to win once, but sometimes it's just not meant to be. Ullrich became a tour contender at the wrong time. If it wasn't for Armstrong, Ullrich would have dominated the tour. I honestly believe that. And I think he has a strong chance of doing it now that Lance is gone. I'm not sure I want that, but I think he will be able to. Especially now that Vino's gone from T-Mobile.

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See the daddies? Or, as cyclingnews called them, 'tour daddies.' So cute.

Now, one more thing before I talk about Armstrong. There is one team that, no matter how many times I think about it, does not scream 'team' to me. There is in fighting and it seems there always has been. Certain riders are left to go on their own and others go on their own. And the past three years of my watching? There's been no real team to support their team leader. And yet, this year? They won the team competition.

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Somehow, T-Mobile beat Discovery by fourteen minutes in the team competition. The most unlikely team to slip past CSC (they were in third) and Discovery. But they struggled had men in breaks and Ullrich, Vino and Kloedi were always near the to ten, if not part of the top ten. But, good for T-Mobile. It's too bad Erik wasn't there, though.

But, now, Armstrong.

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We were all witness to history. Unbeatable history, or that's how it seems. As much as I didn't want him to win, I can't say that I was sad he won. It's nice to witness history, I just wish it wasn't at the expensive of my boys. But then again, that'll always happen.

I must admit that his kids (and Basso's) were darling. I thought it was cute how he brought them on the podium with him. And his speech was nice, though I wish he would have spoken a bit of French, if even to say 'thank you' to the city and the country. But it was nice of the tour organizers to let him speak. I doubt they will ever do it, or have the need to do it, again.

As for the man himself? I don't know. I'm glad he's gone, I'm glad his reign, so to speak, is over. I'm ready for more excitement, a tour de France on part with the Giro or the Vuetla. I'm ready to move on, but I fear the cycling world is not. And in some ways that's okay, because the more Lance does for cycling in the states, the more OLN will cover cycling events.

So, Lance, thanks for your run. Congratulations on winning seven Tours de France. You've proven that you're the best Tour rider ever. Thank you for introducing me to cycling, now go home. I'm ready for someone else to win.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Stage 20 - Saturday, July 23: Saint-Etienne - Saint-Etienne ITT, 55 km

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I suppose this picture of Jan Ullrich sums up the stage for a lot of people. All work and second place. It was, well, possibly one of the worst, stress-wise, stages I've ever seen. Of course, as I've said before, I'd already accepted that Armstrong will win the tour for the seventh time, so that was not my concern.

But I feel like I should have known disaster was going to happen. I'd already spent at least ten minutes being annoyed at the TV for the lack of Sylvain coverage. He's the national time trial champion of France and yet there was all of, oh, two seconds or some crap like that. But they showed him twice and that was better than nothing. And then Rasmussen rolled up to the start.

There were moments of amusement before then (mostly via cyclingnews) and then there was the scare that Savoldelli was going to fall. So right as Rasmussen started, I said something like "please don't fall." I don't, of course, believe that what I say has any effect on what happens, but man. I feel like I shouldn't have said that. It was disaster, almost from the start. My mother and I loved his gloves and socks, all in the polka dots. And then it all fell apart.

I've seen Rasmussen fall and switch bikes more times than I'm willing to admit and I still haven't been able to watch that first fall all the way through. I always turn away at the last second. It hurt too much. It chipped a bit off of my heart. Not completely heartbroken, as it were, but sad. Very sad. I really wanted him to remain in third. I'd almost accepted that it wasn't going to happen, but I didn't want him to lose time like he eventually did. As someone said to me, if it hadn't been to tragic, it would have been comedy. But, oh Michael, I'm so sorry.

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But, of course, Rasmussen wasn't the only story (or even the main one, but I'll get to that in a bit). Ivan Basso wasn't able to keep up his extremely high pace throughout the stage. As much as I don't like to say this, I am inclined to agree with Phil and Paul. I think Basso started too fast, but I suppose no one learns that lesson, except perhaps Zabriskie, who is just amazing. Speaking of amazing, both Bobby Julich and Alexandre Vinokourov were amazing. And had both of them not had to race against Armstrong, I think both would have been higher, if not on the podium.

Of course, Rasmussen's horrific ride benefited several cyclists, including Jan Ullrich. He rode what was probably the best time trial of his life.

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Except that it wasn't enough. I've never said this before, mostly because I never quite thought it was true, but I think that no one wanted to win this tour more than Lance. Sure, Basso and Ullrich want it badly, but not like Armstrong did. He was willing to throw it all away and he did -- and came out on top. As much as I don't like it, I have to respect him. He's pulled it off, like no one else. And, honestly, I doubt anyone else will be able to do it again. But, still, more on that later. Back to Ullrich.

He is not the prettiest cyclist to watch (I think that goes to Paolo Salvodelli), but he is powerful. And he proved today that he still has the ability to win. If it wasn't for Armstrong, he would have. He smashed everyone's times below his. And, after I was able to control my anguish for Rasmussen, he was fun to watch. He just powered his way along. I really hope he keeps racing for at least another year. He will win the tour, I really believe that. Especially once Vinokourov is off the team.

And now, back to Armstrong.

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It's over. Unless something truly horrible happens, this time it's really over. He's done it, seven in a row. No one will even come close, at least as long as I live. But, in all honesty, it doesn't make him the best cyclist around. It just makes him the best Tour de France cyclist. Eddy Merckx will always be the best cyclist, at least to me and many others.

I didn't want Armstrong to win, but I'm not sad he did. He is, and has always been, a pleasure to watch. I might not like certain things about him, but he does flow on the bike. It's like as beautiful as Savoldelli, but it is amazing. I'm glad I got to see it, and I'm glad it's over. Next year will be a lot more interesting, I just hope I get to see it.

As for tomorrow? Thor all the way. At least, that's what I hope.

Stage 19 - Friday, July 22: Issoire - Le Puy-en-Velay, 153.5 km

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In case you were wondering what an almost perfect win from a break looks like, now you can say you've seen one.

I did not pay much attention to this stage. After all, I just finished watching it and it's one am. But there were a few things that caught my attention. Sylvain Chavanel, for one. Like with Paolo Savoldelli, I enjoy watching Sylvain ride. I especially like the way he descends. I am sad, though, that there are so few pictures of him doing the weird mostly off the bike descent thing. If anyone knows where I can get some, hook a girl up, please.

But, moving on. Once again FDJ failed to get a stage win. No matter how hard they try, just like last year, they can't do it. This year I blame the lack of Matt Wilson. Last year I blamed Brad riding too hard in the Giro. And I am sad that Cookie just isn't fast enough, and not doing so well health-wise. I hope that next year they can get it back together again. Or maybe FDJ's time has come and gone, though I certainly hope not.

The stage itself wasn't that interesting to me, I think that's because I had so much going on today that I kept getting caught up in trying to catch up with everything. I did find it interesting how Paul and Phil made sure to mention how Discovery and Lance had no need to catch the break and reel them back in. Not just because I think they're right, but because it showed the lack of Petacchi in the tour. Not just his team around him, because a lot of them are there, but Petacchi himself. Even though he didn't usually make it this far into the tour, his team usually set an example of how to catch a break and sprint to win. So, even at the end of the tour, teams were able to pull it off. This year, though, it's failed at least half of the time, if not more.

So now we're left with an extremely close green jersey race.

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Current standings - Points classification"

1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole 175 pts
2 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone 160
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 154

Any of them have a chance. Today just opened the field a bit more with Robbie taking the points ahead of Thor and Stuey. Who do I want to win? Thor, of course. Who do I think will win? Robbie. I can't imagine it any other way. He did it last year -- against Thor as well -- and he's just as fast. As long as he doesn't do anything wrong, he'll ride away with the stage win and the green jersey.

The rest of the jerseys seem to be knit up quite well. No one can challenge Rasmussen any more.

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He'll be in the KOM jersey on the podium in Paris. Now he just has to worry about keeping third. Tomorrow will definitely determine that place. I don't think that Basso will be able to gain any more time. And, barring some sort of accident, Lance will be in yellow come Paris. Tomorrow will be all about time, of course. I really, really hope that Rasmussen will be able to keep his third, but I honestly don't know if he can. He's good in the mountains but has said that he's not that great on the time trials. We'll find out tomorrow, I guess.

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The younger rider's jersey is another no-challenge contest. Discovery's Popovych has run away with it. He had a few really brilliant days up at the front and has pretty much taken over completely. The top two:

1 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel 81.38.12
2 Andrei Kashechkin (Kaz) Credit Agricole 7.47

At one point Kashechkin trailed by only a handful of seconds, but has since lost a lot of time. And the next closest? He's 41 minutes behind. Discovery will have at least one of the jerseys in Paris. And, well, I guess that's a good a way as any to transition.

While they won't win the team competition, they are 15 minutes behind T-Mobile (oddly enough), they will have put two men on the podium in Paris. Lance will, unless something horrific happens (which is highly unlikely) ride into Paris in the yellow jersey. I have accepted this and moved on, my concern, as stated above, is with third place. And, of course, what will happen next year. I think Basso will probably win, or maybe Ullrich. But not Vino, unless he finds a team who can keep up with him.

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But back to today's stage. Giuseppe Guerini was amazing. He surprised the rest of the men in the break and took off. It was perfectly planned and a lot of fun to watch, even though I'd already read who won today's stage. It was also really good for T-Mobile, who hadn't won a stage since '03 and now they've won two. And the team competition, and maybe if they're lucky, Ullrich will race himself onto the podium and they will have proven that they are, as always, a team to reckon with.

I hope that next year will be exciting, now that Lance will be gone. The field will be open to everyone, though I hope that people will avoid 'the next Lance Armstrong' comparisons. But, that's not for another year. So, here's to tomorrow. I hope that it's as exciting as the first tour that I watched (though that was only '03 and I was actually rooting for Lance). While I am not happy he won, I am not sad, either. If anyone proved that one cause build themselves up to win just one stage race, it's Lance. He'll never be Eddy Merckx, but then again, that was never his goal.

I look forward to the last two days, to updating my blog two more times. And, of course, I look forward to the rest of the season. My boys will still be racing and I'll still be following them.

But, now for tomorrow. I do love time trials.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Stage 18 - Thursday, July 21: Albi - Mende, 189 km

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For some people (aka Armstrong fans) this was not a stressful stage. Not even when Armstrong, Basso, Ullrich, and Evans were pushing toward the end of the stage. But for me, it was exceedingly stressful.

Why? Ullrich was in that break of four and he's fourth, not far behind Rasmussen. And we all know that I want Rasmussen on that podium in Paris. He ended up losing 36 seconds when Basso started the attack. I know Rasmussen worked hard, trying to get Vinokourov and Leipheimer to work. Eventually they also gathered up Mancebo, from where I don't know. But still, 36 seconds is a lot in the tour. Especially since Rasmussen isn't a time trialist. I mean, sure, he's got the KOM jersey, but I wanted him to be third. I'll just have to cross my fingers.

Back to the rest of the stage.

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It started like yesterday's, with a bunch of little attacks. And then Carlos Da Cruz finally made one stick and was eventually joined by 10 other cyclists (including Axel Merckx and Xabier Zandio).

At one point, Zandio was up to 20th place, but the breaking of the peloton bought back a bit of time and so he ended up 21st instead. But, good news for T-Mobile. Kessler was in the break, so T-Mobile is, oddly enough, leading the team competition. Or maybe it's ironic that they are, considering they've lost Kloden and Vino is off on his own. But I guess it's all about things adding up and not if you're actually functioning as a team. But I'm not actually bitter about that, just observing. Discovery (wow, I almost typed Postal and then USPS, huh) had it last night because of their two men in the break, but it's nice for T-Mobile to get something (since I'm hoping Ullrich doesn't make the podium) and I hope they keep it to Paris.

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The break was fun to watch. A lot of boys in it that I hoped would win. Sadly, none of them did. But that was okay, because this was Marcos Serrano's eight tour and his first stage win. And his team, Liberty Seguros could always use the win. And it's always nice to see how happy some of the cyclists get when they win stages. Serrano was no exception.

So, over all, I wasn't disappointed in the break. And they didn't really have much of an effect on the overall GC, except for Zandio moving to 21st over all. But the GC did shift a bit on the last third category climb. Those attacks messed with things a bit and along with Rasmussen losing points, Vino did too, I believe. The top ten ended up looking like this:

General classification after stage 18

1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 77.44.44 (41.664 km/h)
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 2.46
3 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 3.46
4 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team 5.58
5 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne 7.08
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 8.12
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 9.49
8 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team 10.11
9 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems 10.42
10 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole 13.15

During the stage Vino went from 8th to 7th and back to 8th again. Evans moved a few places and Landis slide back. We'll see if tomorrow's stage has any impact, though I doubt it will. Perhaps a sprinter's day, finally. Or maybe we'll have another breakaway. I won't know until the evening, though, as I'll be out of town.

The real damage, I imagine, will be done during the time trial on Saturday. I hope it's exciting. I doubt Lance will lose the jersey, but you never know. It is the tour, after all.

And, of course, I hope this boy is on the podium in Paris. Not to be biased or anything.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Stage 17 - Wednesday, July 20: Pau - Revel, 239.5 km

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Well. Today's stage made up for yesterday's. It wasn't that much different, in that it started with a break. But it was the fact that the break was so far ahead, even at the end (the biggest time gap was near 30 minutes and at the end, it was about 22). And of course the fact that there were two Discovery boys were in the break.

Again, though, there isn't that much to talk about. The biggest move of the day was Oscar Sevilla, who was in the break. He moved up to 15th place. There were a few moves at the front of the peloton, long after the break had crossed the line.

Vinokourov, of course, attacked (after all, he has nothing to lose now) and there were a few more. But eventually Armstrong, Hincapie, Popyvoch, Ullrich, Basso, Rasmussen and several others had powered their way off the front. Among those left were Evans and Landis (which sparked a lot of discussion and it seems Armstrong did very few interviews, I guess he didn't want to answer questions about his history with Landis leaving the team -- but I don't really know). It was kind of fun to watch them ride against each other, fighting their way to the finish.

There was also a small crash involving one of my boys (of course), Francis Mourey. But he seemed to be okay (I do hope he is). T-Mobile lost a man, sadly Kloden retired because of his broken hand. Sad to see him go, but as my sister can attest to (she broke her little finger) there's sometimes not a lot one can do right away. I hope he, and everyone else (especially the Australian women's cycling team) recovers fast.

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Today was supposed to be a sprinter's stage. We were all expecting big things from Thor and Robbie and Stuey (among others). But the break, and the poor chasing of the peloton, ruined that. So there were no truly thrilled peloton sprints to the line. The most interesting thing involving Thor was watching him ride across the tracks as the barriers were coming down.

Of course, I was really happy with the reason the sprinter's day was spoiled.

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As much as I am not a fan of Lance or much of Discovery, I am unabashedly a huge fan of Paolo Savoldelli. I was rooting hard for him during the Giro and was completely thrilled that he won (not that I've rambled on about that before or anything). I find him to be darling and I really love to watch him ride the bike. So seeing him in the break was really exciting.

I'd gone to work by the time the stage was over, so I didn't know he won until I got home. And let me tell you, watching him win was pretty fun.

I know quite a few people have compared his win to that of Hincapie's, but I disagree. Hincapie sat on the back most of the way to the line, but Savoldelli did not. He did quite a lot of work, and not just in the main break. He and Hinault did a lot of fighting to catch up with Kurt-Asle Arvesen. And while Savoldelli did wait a bit on the back of Kurt, it was more that he finally caught him, then caught his breath, and finally sprinted for the win.

I know a lot of people think Kurt-Asle Arvesen should have won. Well, unlike with Hincapie, I think that the right guy won. And I'm really happy it was Savoldelli. Il Falco indeed.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Stage 16 - Tuesday, July 19: Mourenx - Pau, 180.5 km

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I really don't have much to say about this stage. Nothing really happened, aside from the very end of the stage. There were attacks, but nothing happened. The overall GC stayed the same.

There were some strange events, like Andrey Kashechkin being hit in the face and riding backwards through the peloton. And the whole thing with Cadel working so hard and then Oscar beating him, in a similar way to what George did to him on Sunday.

I did have a bit of fun yelling for Phil Gilbert when he was racing to fifth place. But other than that? It wasn't that interesting of a stage. I don't if it was because I was in a foul mood or if it was just a stage where nothing happened. All Phil and Paul could talk about was how this was Lance's ride through the mountains in a yellow jersey. And how we should get our look now, because this was it. And, honestly, that didn't really interest me that much.

Aside from cheering for Pereiro and Gilbert, I enjoyed learning about Xabier Zandio. Not only is he adorable, but he almost won the stage. He started his attack just a bit too late. Not bad for a guy in his first tour.

But back to the stage. It was really nice to see Pereiro win and it was nice to see him so happy to win.

"I am delighted to get this after my disappointment the other day," said Pereiro, his dark brown eyes and big, friendly smile gleaming in the afternoon sun. "I dedicate this win to my wife who is pregnant, where we are expecting a child at the end of October, and also to my family and friends.

Again I say, good for him! I hope tomorrow proves to be more interesting. Although I highly doubt the GC will change at all. And I think that's one of the problems with the tour. This year's Giro was uncertain for as long as it could be and it was amazing, although quite stressful for me. I was rooting for Paolo, of course. But at the same time, it was exciting and a lot of fun to watch. As I've said before, I hope that next year's tour will live up to this year's Giro.

One more picture of Pereiro and I hope I have more to say tomorrow.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Rest Day #2

Another set of the top ten.

1. Michael Rasmussen. He's ... I think, for me, he's given me something to root for. I mean, I really like Basso, but Rasmussen is something else. He's that underdog, not the 'dark horse' but someone known really sees until it's almost too late. He's good in the mountains, and I think he can be better. I think that Paul and Phil keep calling him young because they believe he has more potential in road racing than his age (31) would seem to let him have. I think we'll see him for a few more years, at least. I do hope he stays in third, though.

2. Jan Ullrich. He crashed. And then he crashed again. And then suddenly he's in fourth place. How did he do it? He's Jan Ullrich. I think that answers it. Sure, Lance Armstrong is tough. But Ullrich? He might not even make the podium, but he's been one of the most consist cyclists, especially during this second week of racing. He's managed to keep up with Lance almost the whole, even though he feel extremely hard during one of the early mountain stages. I'd like him on the podium, but not at the expensive of Rasmussen.

3. Georg Totschnig. There's not really a good reason for this. He doesn't lead the tour, his team isn't doing that great -- they're working for Levi, but he probably won't make the podium. But watching him cross that line, it was just amazing. Not just because he's 34. The way he reacted, how amazingly happy he was. It reminded me why I love the sport. And what makes the Tour de France, and all of the grand tours, so special. It's moments like these (and like when Rasmussen won, and even when Hincapie won), when these boys who you never really think about as stage winners cross the line. They remind us what this sport is really about. The joy of riding and the joy of winning. Thank you, Georg, for reminding us.

4. T-Mobile/Discovery. When they work together to attack, T-Mobile almost brought down Armstrong. And that's all I have to say on that until I discuss them again, below. As for Discovery? They have proven, day after day, that they are in this for the long haul, that though they aren't the same team Lance had last year, or the year before, they are strong. Perhaps not as strong, but they don't give up on their leader. It's impressive, as always.

5. Sprinters. I'm sorry Tom dropped (again, more below), but he turned this thing upside down. I like it. I don't like that Robbie is back in it, but I like that it's close and every sprint now really counts. It's exciting and that makes me happy. I hope that Thor wins, but who knows? It's a toss up and that's awesome.


6. Alexandre Vinokourov. I adore him. I really do. I want him to win the tour. But this year is just not his year. Though he was in peak condition, he just hasn't been able to keep his form. And instead of working with his team, he works against them (or so it seems). I think he needs to get out, to leave T-Mobile. I know he's been rumored to have said he'd only go to Discovery. And honestly? As much as I don't want it, I want it. He needs to lead a team, and he'll never be able to do that at T-Mobile. They won't give up Ullrich again. So, if it's Discovery? So be it. Just as long as he has a team to support him.

7. T-Mobile. For yet another year, they lack the team part of cycling. Though they attacked together a few times, they didn't really take advantage of it. And although their riders have, separately, proven that they can ride hard, they haven't accomplished much. If Vino and Kloden had been working for Ullrich, perhaps the top of the GC would be different. But, once again, too many leaders have ruined yet another chance at the yellow jersey for T-Mobile. Maybe next year will be different, especially if Vino leaves.

8. The "Rivals". They are not living up to expectations. Basso has the best chance and yet he's more than a minute back. And then there's Rasmussen, who no one expected. Ullrich is barely hanging onto fourth. And while the top ten has three Americans and a few other 'top Tour de France contenders' it's not at all close. Armstrong has once again seemingly walked over the rest of the field. Perhaps next year things will be different, now that he'll be gone. At least, I can hope they will be. I want truly exciting racing back. A GT akin to that of this year's Giro would be best.

9. Tom Boonen. Such a sad sight. I had wanted him to remain in green, but he, like Petacchi before him, just couldn't make it. Unlike Petacchi, though, Boonen was not brought down by too much racing in a season. Instead, he was brought down by falls and too much back pain and knee pain. Luckily, he'll be okay. I hope he'll race again next year. The tour could certain use him, as he's one of the most popular cyclists in Europe.

10. Doping. I don't have a lot to say on this, except that once again it happens. And I suppose that it will keep happening. I hope that something will change, only I don't know what that something is. But as long as they keep testing, they'll find people because they will always dope. Such is the nature of sport.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Stage 15 - Sunday, July 17: Lezat-sur-Leze - Saint-Lary Soulan (Pla d'Adet), 205.5 km

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This was the hardest stage of the tour this year. But looking at the winner (pictures below) you wouldn't think so. Why? Because for the first time in ten tours, George Hincapie won a stage. He's not normally the kind of cyclist to win stages of the tour or even climb away from everyone. And yet he did it. But, more on that in a bit.

The stage was like all mountain stages. A break got started, but unlike most breaks in the tour, this one had one of the Discovery boys, none other than George Hincapie. The break rode away and was never really caught, at least not in the complete catch sense. They were broken apart as they rode up the mountains. And as the peloton chased after them, they too split apart. But before that happened, the break had at least 20 minutes on the rest of the peloton. It was crazy.

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But, of course, it didn't last. The attacks on the yellow jersey were not quite as put together as yesterday's, but there were strong. And they definitely kept coming. The peloton was splitting just as the break was losing cyclists. As the yellow jersey group kept dropping riders, they'd momentarily pick up one or two strays from the break, then drop them as well.

Unlike yesterday, though, Discovery managed to stick around with a few riders until they finally ran out of steam. Luckily for Armstrong, he was prepared and managed to do everything just right. Ullrich didn't stay with Basso and Armstrong, but he did manage to move into fourth place. And although Armstrong didn't win the stage, he did put time on everyone that mattered (and even those who didn't). The GC looked like this after stage 15:

1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 62.09.59 (42.309 km/h)
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 2.46
3 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 3.09
4 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team 5.58
5 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne 6.31
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 7.35
7 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems 9.33
8 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team 9.38
9 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole 11.47
10 Andreas Kloden (Ger) T-Mobile Team 12.01

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But, of course, the stage wasn't just about putting time on the rest of the peloton. Stage 15, called the 'queen stage' of the '05 tour, went up the same mountain that claimed the life of Armstrong's teammate, Fabio Casartelli ten years ago tomorrow. His family were at the stage today.

Rumor had it that Armstrong would do anything to win this stage, but watching it, I didn't think that was the case. The peloton wore armbands in memory of Casartelli, but it wasn't Armstrong who won the stage. It was, instead, another former teammate of Casartelli, George Hincapie.

Hincapie ended up in the break to help Armstrong, but ended up doing something even more extraordinary. He won the stage.

"I kind of decided on my own to go on my own in one of these breaks, get a gap, and be there when Lance needed me," said Hincapie on his earlier motives. "But we ended up getting 18 minutes and once Johan saw that, he said: 'Listen George, you're probably not going to come back here now, you can do your own race.' From then on, I started thinking about the win and thinking it was possible, and for it to work out is a dream come true." (cyclingnews)

It was, as Paul and Phil would say, quite unbelievable.

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But, of course, my cheering was focused elsewhere. I was fighting a futile battle with Vino. I cheered for him, but of course he spent most of the day helping T-Mobile or struggling to keep up. He did manage to keep in the top ten, but didn't gain any more time. It seems, much to my chagrin, that Vino's chances to be on the podium, much less win the tour, have all but vanished.

But all was not, in fact, lost. The rest of the time I spent cheering on Michael Rasmussen. I know he couldn't hear me, but I was yelling at my TV all over again. I really didn't want him to lose second, but seeing that he couldn't keep up with Ullrich, Basso and Armstrong, I realized that third was going to be his best bet. And so I shouted, sitting on the edge of my bed, and held my breath.

And then the most amazing thing happened. Ullrich had been dropped, eventually to be picked up by his teammate Sevilla, and as they were approaching the finish, the camera pulled back a bit. And who was there, closing in on Ullrich and Sevilla? Michael Rasmussen. He'd ridden with Vino, then past him. Then he'd slowly picked up the pace and there was no way he wasn't going to be in third at the end of today's stage.

"I wanted to stay in the race for the podium, but at first, it was a matter of controlling at not letting any dangerous people get away as far as the [mountains] jersey goes," Rasmussen said after the stage. "It's almost practically impossible that I lose the jersey right now, so yes, I can focus 100 percent on the podium. I'm very happy with the way things are going." (cyclingnews)

I do really hope he can pull it out.

But now all was happiness today. And I'm not talking about all the cyclists who had to suffer through the attacks and road the stage out at the back of the peloton. Instead, I'm talking about the rider who wanted to win the stage almost as badly (or maybe even moreso) than Hincapie. That would be Oscar Pereiro, who Hincapie battled it out with (or, rather, sprinted past) to win. Perhaps it should have been Pereiro who won, as he did almost all the work after the rest of the break faltered around the two of them.

Said a rather pissed Pereiro at the finish line: "I asked him [Hincapie] to work, as we had to collaborate to battle it out in a sprint - but he didn't. Sometimes it's not the strongest that wins. I think I showed I was one the guys that wanted this stage the most. I thought there was victory in it for me, but that's life... I'll continue trying and one day I hope to be rewarded. Now, I'll continue to help Floyd [Landis] get on the podium." (cyclingnews)

I'd be pissed, too. It was obvious what Hincapie was doing, but then again, would Pereiro have done the same thing if he were in Hincapie's position? Probably. As he said, that's life. And, well, it is. I hope that he finds a stage win soon, if only to ease the irritations of this one.

Well. It was a wild stage, not nearly as exciting as yesterday, but just as interesting. Tomorrow is the rest day, then only six more days of racing. I can't wait.

One last thing, probably one of the coolest pictures I've ever found. And so I thought I'd share.

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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Stage 14 - Saturday, July 16: Agde - Ax-3 Domaines, 220.5 km

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Today was, well, quite an interesting day, to put it mildly at least. It started out like any other stage, with a break. But, thanks to T-Mobile, the break didn't last. For a detailed play by play of the stage -- well, not a very professional one -- check out this, which I wrote during the stage this morning.

What did I think of Vino's attack? I assumed he was working for Ullrich, and I still believe that. And while I liked that he attacked on the last climb, I can totally understand those people who think that Vino was not being loyal to his team. I also believe that, even if he wasn't loyal, Klodi and Ullrich should not have chased him down. Perhaps they ought to have left it to the rest of the leaders instead of spending themselves up before the finish.

It hurt Klodi and probably Ullrich. It was hard to watch Michael Rasmussen struggle. I really wanted him to keep up with the leaders. And, though he ended up losing time, he managed to keep second, which was what I wanted.

As for the leaders? In the end it was only Basso, Armstrong and Ullrich.

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Yes, that's right. Ullrich. Somehow (I don't know how) he has managed to recover and overcome the crashes and the bad days. Out of everyone on the stage, save Georg Totschnig, it was Ullrich who tried the hardest and, while he didn't gain the most, he did prove that, as either Paul or Phil put it, 'Jan Ullrich is back.' Even though he couldn't stick with Armstrong and Basso (and Basso didn't quite make it, either), he did his best and came in a respectable fourth.

The GC, though, was shaken up a bit.

General classification after stage 14
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 55.58.17 (43.32 km/h)
2 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 1.41
3 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 2.46
4 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team 4.34
5 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 4.45
6 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems 5.03
7 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne
8 Andreas Kloden (Ger) T-Mobile Team 5.38
9 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team 7.09
10 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole 8.37

Vino lost more time, but moved up. Ullrich is in fourth. There are three Americans in the top ten and none of them are Bobby Julich. It's nice that two of Lance's former teammates have proven their worth, to both their teams and the peloton at large. I am very pleased that Rasmussen is second and that Basso is third. I don't think that Lance will lose his lead, in fact I'm almost certain he'll win the tour, but it's fun to watch the others try. I just wait for next year, when everything will be completely different.

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But, of course, the real hero of the day was 34 year old Georg Totschnig.

"Today, I said to my director I wanted to attack and get in a break that would make it the finish. I had a little bit of luck, but also a lot of strength. Today's victory is better than finishing 10th in the [final] classification," he said.

He did exactly what he wanted to do, but I doubt he had any idea that it would be so amazing. The look on his face when he crossed the finish line was worth waiting for. Of all the wins, even better than Rasmussen's -- and that's saying something, Totschnig's was the most emotional. At 34, who could have imagined winning a stage of a grand tour, and the Tour de France, no less? Probably not Totschnig. But now there he is, a winner of the 14th stage.

I was rooting for him to cross that line first. Rooting hard, I might add. He deserved that win more than anyone else. I hoped and was glad I was right, that Armstrong's group wouldn't be able to catch him. And, hard as they rode, they didn't (couldn't?). And, well, that was how it should be.

As a side note, I'm happy to say that today totally made up for the crappy stage that was stage 13. As I am getting up at seven am tomorrow, I expect good things from stage 15, but I'm not keeping my hopes up. This is the tour, after all. One never knows what can happen.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Stage 13 - Friday, July 15: Miramas - Montpellier, 173.5 km

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I don't think I have a lot to say about today's stage. I mentioned in a post at Wannabe that I am really biased about today's stage. As I told a number of people, if it had anyone (with a few exceptions) instead of Sylvain, I probably wouldn't have gotten so, well, worked up. But it was Sylvain and I think he should have, and could have won.

That being said, no one did anything wrong. As much as I'd like to (and do) blame Chris Horner, he didn't do anything wrong (except in my eyes). He just hung onto the back of Sylvain's wheel, slowing him down (and thus preventing Sylvain from winning). He tried to wait for the right tactical moment, but as OLN said, he waited too long. And, in the end, the peloton caught both the original break (which included Thomas Voeckler, in case you were curios) and Horner (who was in that break) and Sylvain. As a side note, it was quite fun to watch Sylvain ride across the break so close to the finish. I can't fault him, he did everything he could.

But, in the end, it was Robbie McEwen who won. And we all know how I feel about that.

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I had hoped that Stuey or Thor would be able to power to the win. But, of course I was wrong. What it proved was that Robbie is probably the strongest sprinter in the field, now that Boonen is gone. I think Petacchi is probably stronger, but obviously he isn't racing. What also impressed me (once I was able to step back) was that Lotto was able to race at such a high pace even after working yesterday. I do wonder, though, if they'd have caught the break a lot sooner if Robbie hadn't made them work so hard yesterday.

But, of course, we'll never know. Up until the last 30 or so kms, it looked like the break would make it. Especially when Discovery moved to the front and weren't working hard. But then the chase started, and for a bit, especially after Sylvain bridged the gap, it seemed that the break might really have a chance. But as usually happens, they were caught. The stage wasn't really that exciting until the end. But I think a lot of my feelings about the stage were muted because of the result. Such is the life of a cycling fan, I guess.

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Even though Robbie won the stage, Thor is still in green. Stuey was second and Thor fifth. I hope that Thor can hang onto the jersey. The current standings are as follows:

Points classification
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole 164 pts
2 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone 150
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 142
4 Robert Forster (Ger) Gerolsteiner 84
5 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team 81
6 Peter Wrolich (Aut) Gerolsteiner 79
7 Gianluca Bortolami (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 75
8 Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros-Wurth 73
9 Baden Cooke (Aus) Francaise Des Jeux 73
10 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Francaise Des Jeux 71

It's suddenly an even closer race. I'm rooting for Thor! The yellow and KOM jerseys stayed the same, but the young rider did not. And that's because poor Valverde had to retire due to a knee problem.

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I hope that he's all right. It seems it's been hurting for a while and with how hard he's ridden, it's not surprising that he retired. Just really sad. Hopefully everyone else will be able to make it to Paris. On Sunday, we'll have one week left. Amazing. Even though I didn't really like today's stage, I do love the tour.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Stage 12 - Thursday, July 14: Briancon - Digne-les-Bains, 187 km

Happy Bastille Day!

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What a day for the French! David Moncoutie won today's stage, Sandy Casar was second and Patrice Halgand was third. The only thing better, I think, would have been if a Frenchman was in the yellow jersey, such as last year. But, of course, that was not to be. Although last year on Bastille Day, Richard Virenque (who was visibly present at today's stage) won the stage and pretty much sealed up his KOM jersey. Not that anyone would have caught him.

It wasn't Moncoutie's first win, he won stage eleven last year.

"Last year's victory was so emotional for me, and today I wanted to feel the same emotions again. I was feeling very bad in the Alps, but I thought today could be my stage."

Well, there's really not a better way to duplicate those feelings than to win on Bastille Day. But, sadly, for much of the media, Moncoutie was not the top story (though he should have been) on the day. Instead it was the crash of one of Lance Armstrong's 'top' men. Manuel Beltran crashed and eventually had to abandon.

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While it's sad and not good for Discovery, it seems to have overshadowed Moncoutie's win. But, in case you were wondering, Beltran did not actually want to abandon (but then again, who does?), but he was, according to procycling, forced to retire.

"Someone was apparently riding erratically in front of him and Triki clipped his wheel," Bruyneel said. "He rode on for 10 or 15 kilometres but he was obviously concussed. He suddenly had no strength left in his legs and he couldn't even remember the fall. The race doctor said that he had to abandon. He was taken to hospital in Gap for overnight observation and some scans."

It was pretty bad and I feel sorry for the guy. But, I suppose that maybe it's time Discovery lost a rider. They've gone so long without losing one. Of course, he'll probably still win the race, so really, it won't be too much of a loss in the long run. I do hope that Beltran is all right. I can't even begin to imagine how scared he must of felt. Okay, that's kind of a lie. I kind of can, but that was several years ago and I was sick and not riding a bike race, but still. Poor guy. I hope he's okay.

Today, it seems was a day of abandons. It seemed that every few kms there was a retirement. I know that wasn't the case, but it really felt like it. Here's the list from cyclingnews:

DNF Manuel Beltran (Spa) Discovery Channel
DNF Robert Hunter (RSA) Phonak Hearing Systems
DNF Nicolas Fritsch (Fra) Saunier Duval-Prodir
DNF Angelo Furlan (Ita) Domina Vacanze
DNS Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step

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Up until Beltran crashed, Boonen was probably the most unexpected (and yet expected) of the day. He crashed one too many times and just couldn't recover. And it was his abandoned that caused the strangest moves of the day. Thor and Stuey rode across a break to join, among others, Axel Merckx and David Moncoutie. At first the break was stuck at about a four minute gap, this was mostly because Robbie McEwen decided that he wanted his teammates to try and catch the break. His teammates, though, didn't like that idea. There were frequent shots of them talking to each other.

They didn't have any progress, though. It was a steady four minutes for several kms, and eventually they gave up or Robbie called them off. What made it really interesting was that previous Robbie had reported that he didn't care about the jersey anymore and here he was making his team work (for no real obvious outcome) really hard. He wore them out and probably hampered Axel's attempts to win the stage. Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention that not one did he make his team work without a really strong result, but he had a teammate in the break! Not very smart, if you ask me.

Once Lotto dropped off the front, Discovery took up the pace (rather somberly it appeared) and, well, they didn't really care about the break. I believe the break eventually end up around 10+ minutes ahead of the peloton. It was fun to watch the break, they all wanted to win, but no more than the French boys. There were a few early attacks by the time the much smaller break reached 1km to the finish. But it was Moncoutie who finally won the day. And good for him! It was nice to see a French cyclist win the stage.

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But the day wasn't just about the French. Because Boonen didn't start, the green jersey race turned into quite a battle. Not just from McEwen's end, but Thor and Stuey were battling it out long before the finish. I think that it hurt both of them, as they were not able to keep up with the final, smaller, winning break. And, in the end, it was Thor who proved to be the stronger rider, although Stuey gave it everything he had. It'd be nice to see another Australian in green, especially one that isn't McEwen. But I'm not complaining, as I'm a fan of Thor. Though I was sad to hear that Tom couldn't keep on racing, I don't blame him. We've seen it before, crashes sometimes are just too much. And he isn't the first green jersey to retire. Petacchi used to retire in green on many a mountain stage. But then again, he'd beat the rest of the pack earlier in the year at the Giro, so it was a miracle he made it as far as he did.

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In the end, though, it was Thor who finished (and, technically started) the day in green.

Points classification
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole 142 pts
2 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone 120
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 107
4 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team 81
5 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Francaise Des Jeux 69
6 Peter Wrolich (Aut) Gerolsteiner 66
7 Robert Foerster (Ger) Gerolsteiner 65
8 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 63
9 Baden Cooke (Aus) Francaise Des Jeux 59
10 Gianluca Bortolami (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 58

It's nice to see Baden is at 60, but I am beginning to think '03 was just luck. Ah, well. There's always next year!

As for the rest of the jerseys. Nothing changed. Alejandro Valverde is still the young rider, Armstrong is still in yellow and, much to my joy, Rasmussen is still in the KOM jersey.

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Stage 11 - Wednesday, July 13: Courchevel - Briancon, 173 km

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(from espn)

Without a doubt, Alexandre Vinokourov is the story of Stage Eleven. Also worth noting, this was the first win for T-Mobile since 2003 -- when Vinokourov won stage nine that year.

What happened to Vinokourov between Tuesday and Wednesday? Probably not much. He refocused and felt much better than the first day after the rest day. All riders have their off days (even Discovery) and Vino was no exception. He got into a break, and at 6+ minutes down, he wasn't that much of a threat to Armstrong. Eventually the break turned into Vino verses two Phonak riders, Oscar Pereiro and Santiago Botero. What was interesting about both Phonak riders was their ability to fall back (even crash) and then catch up. At many points during the race, we all though that Pereiro had been lost and then Botero and then they were again. But, at the end, Pereiro couldn't keep up with Vino's pace and it was left to Botero to try and reel Vino in and steal the win.

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I was very pleased that he wasn't able to.

I watched this race in three parts. I watched up until Vino was about halfway up the Col du Galibier, then I had to go to work. At about 10 pm (est) I watched until Vino was about seven kms from the summit and then finally finished the race this morning -- before and during the commercials of stage twelve. It was worth the wait just to see Vino cross the line. I can't even begin to explain how happy I am that he won. I was really unhappy last year when he fell. Not only that he couldn't race the tour, but that he fell so hard. I am glad that he both made the tour team this year and recovered from the fall.

Speaking of people recovering. It seems Jan Ullrich is doing a fine job keeping up. He managed to stay with the Armstrong group (no matter how fast they drove) to the finish. And boy did they drive fast. What was once a 3+ minute gap, was dropped down to 1.15 by the time they finally crossed the line. I couldn't believe it, nor was I really happy about it. I really want Vino to find a way to come back, and while I don't know if he could beat Lance (can anyone?), I want him to be able to be on that podium.

I suppose that my ideal podium goes something like this:

1. Vino
2. Rasmussen
3. Basso/Ullrich

I actually wouldn't mind any of those four riders winning. But I don't know what the chances are. Hell, I'd like to see Bobby Julich up there, too.

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But, speaking of Rasmussen. I spent a lot of time being annoyed with Botero for going after all those mountains. Apparently I've found myself rooting hard for Rasmussen. But I am slightly bothered that he's only 38 seconds behind Armstrong. It really limits his ability to get more points -- not that he need that many more. But still, it's nice to have the cushion. It was also nice to see the peloton (or leaders, since there weren't that many riders left) letting him (so to speak) go off the front to collect more mountain points.

At least he had the stage win. And as a Richard Virenque (shush), I was pleased about that day.

I enjoyed the stage, even though it wasn't that exciting to start with. I was sad that Thor couldn't stay out until the sprint points, but that's the life of a sprinter. I'm glad it ended the way it did, though. Good for Vino and T-Mobile. Let's hope that they can at least keep it going for a few more stages. Maybe make something even better happen.

And, for a bit of a rotten note ...

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Fassa Bortolo Tour de France rider Dario Frigo of Italy, right, his head partly covered with a cloth, as he is escorted to the Albertville courthouse, French Alps, Wednesday, July 13, 2005. Frigo was arrested Wednesday in Courchevel prior to the 11th stage of the Tour de France cycling race, after doping products were found in his wife's car at the toll station at Albertville, police said. Customs officials and local police arrested Frigo's wife Tuesday with about 10 doses of EPO.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Stage 10 - Tuesday, July 12: Brignoud - Courchevel, 181 km

I don't know what to think. I was more excited earlier, but then I had to go to work and so I missed the end of the stage. I stopped watching right when Jorg Jaksche was caught. I did tape it though and I just finished watching it. Well. Lance Armstrong is really amazing. I don't know what else to say (Oh, yay! OLN is interviewing Michael Rasmussen -- what a lovely accent. But, uh, stupid questions much? Oh well. I am just glad they are interviewing him.) about Armstrong. He did as, well, expected. The rest of the group is the real story. Up until he was caught, I was rooting for Jaksche. But by the end of the stage, I was rooting for Alejandro Valverde or Rasmussen.

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(picture from espn)

I have to say that I am no longer impressed with T-Mobile. I don't know if they screwed up the plan or they are just too tired. All I can say is that I hope Vino can get his act back together and win a stage and get back some time. But, of course, he's now 6.32 back.

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(picture from yahoo)

What happened? Lance Armstrong proved that he really is the best Tour de France cyclist (Eddy Merckx will always be the best cyclist ever). He said jump and to be cliche, everyone else said how high and then all but three of them failed. He pushed everyone to their limits and then broke everyone but Alejandro Valverde. It was crazy and I honestly didn't expect it at all. But, of course, tomorrow probably won't be nearly as exciting. Unless, of course, someone does something extraordinary or Armstrong suffers, etc.

I still can't believe what happened. Not just who stuck around with Lance (in addition to Rasmussen and Valverde was Francisco Mancebo), who broke so completely. Ullrich and Klodi somehow managed hang on to eighth (4.02) and ninth (4.6) respectively. But, I don't know. The top ten is so different than anyone expected. It's amazing to see just what the damage was today.

General classification after stage 10
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 37.11.04 (44.934 km/h)
2 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 0.38
3 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 2.40
4 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole 2.42
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne 3.16
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 3.58
7 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne 4.00
8 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team 4.02
9 Andreas Kloden (Ger) T-Mobile Team 4.16
10 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems

Who would have expect Rasmussen in second place? Or Basso in third. 2.40 back. Or how about Ullrich and Kloden? And is Landis now the new leader of Phonak? What happened to Mayo and Vino and Bobby Julich? How about all those other cyclists we expected to be putting up a fight? They're all gone (for the most part) from the top of the GC. Granted, a few of them are in the top 20 -- but that puts them between five and eight minutes back. Five and eight minutes! It's only the first day of the Alps, what do we expect tomorrow? Will Armstrong mix it up again? Or will tomorrow be the chill-out (so to speak) day that today was expected to be? Somehow, though, I doubt that last one.

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I don't know how Armstrong could mix it up again, though. It seems that with the exception of Mancebo, Valverde, and Rasmussen (if any of them are strong enough and, well, not burnt out), could stay with him. If they couldn't do it today, what makes tomorrow different? Although, I'm sort of inclined to think that maybe the rest day had something to do with this. They (Phil and Paul) mentioned that sometimes on the rest day, the body thinks that the race is over, even though the cyclist knows it isn't true. After working so hard, the cyclists have a day of not working hard, well, that is never good. Sometimes it helps, as clearly shown this year by Armstrong, et al. and sometimes all it does is hurt -- as illustrated by T-Mobile.

Tomorrow looks to be even tougher, so no relaxing day (not that there's such a thing in the tour). But will it be as relentless? We can only guess. No one could have predicted how the 'big names' would react. As I was writing my rest day post, I debated putting up final podium predictions, but then decided against it. Why? Because I wanted to wait for the results for today's stage. And now that I have them? I honestly don't have a clue. I assume Armstrong will win, barring any accident. But even so, he isn't a god or superman (no matter what that fan running alongside the four riders near the end of the stage might have though). He's human and they crack, even Lance. But the chances of that are pretty slim, so it's really the two remaining spots that I wonder about. Before, I was thinking maybe Vino and Basso. But now that Vino's slide back, I'm not so sure. It's not impossible for him to come back, but it's going to be hard. Ullrich and Kloden have a better chance at a podium finish.

Speaking of Ullrich, he was certainly impressive. After reading about how he probably bruised his ribs -- which feels like breathing with broken ribs -- to watch him push so hard and managed to stay in the top ten is nothing short of amazing. I know, Armstrong did a lot on the stage, but he's healthy. Ullrich is not, and, well, maybe this will be his year after all. At least, maybe he'll get back on that podium. Or maybe Rasmussen will manage to keep his second place. And don't count Basso out yet, either. He's only 2.40 out.

We're only through stage ten, anything can happen. And, well, it probably will.

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(picture from espn)
Jean-Michel Le Metayer, right, President of the French Farmers Unions, holding a lamb, makes a speech as Tour de France General Director Jean-Marie Leblanc, center, cuddles the lamb's head, and five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault of France, left, looks on, as farmers holding banners, unseen, demonstrate on the Tour de France route in Brignoud, outside Grenoble, French Alps, to protest wolf attacks on their sheep and cows in the Alps.