Thursday, July 14, 2005

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.

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