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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