Sunday, July 10, 2005

Stage 9 - Sunday, July 10: Garardmer - Mulhouse, 171 km

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(all pictures from espn)

There is so much to talk about today and this is the first time I've really ever had any time at the computer, which is okay. I've thought a lot about what I wanted to say about this stage. It comes down to a few things. It was definitely not as exciting as stage eight, but then again I doubt much will compare to that stage. Nor was it as depressing as stages four and five. So, what was it? Completely satisfying and at the same time, quite sad.

I'll start with the sad. There were quite a few DNFs today, most of them resulting from crashes. A few in particular were horrible to watch. The Spanish boy, Jose Angel Gomez Marchante, of Saunier Duval-Prodir crashed horribly. From cyclingnews' live report "14:26 CEST 88km/83km to go: There's a crash in the feed zone, it looks like a Saunier Duval rider has broken his collarbone - Gomez Marchante." It was just miserable to watch. He fell apart (of course) and could barely move. The same with Igor Bonzalez de Galdeano. Again, from cyclingnews: "12:25 CEST 6.5km/164.5km to go: Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano has to abandon, in all probability. He looks to have damaged his lower back in that crash." Try as he might, he just couldn't get back on the bike. It was suggested he broke his pelvis, but I honestly have no idea.

The saddest in many ways was, of course, the abandonment of Dave Zabriskie. "My body's not working well enough to be able to compete at this level. It's unfortunate, but there's nothing you can do about it," said Zabriskie (daily peloton). On cyclingnews, it's mentioned that he abandoned due to stomach problems, but I'm sure it was more than that. When asked by OLN why, he didn't really have an answer. He just looked miserable. He mentioned how horrible it was, especially having all the cameras around. Poor boy. But he was able to laugh (a bit) and joked that he'd be at the Vuelta. Then, of course, said he was joking but that he seriously hoped to contend at the World Championships. And can I just say that it would be awesome if he won it.

Okay, enough of the depressing. Other things did happen on the stage (yes, I know, Jan Ullrich fell, but he seemed to be fine, so there's no need to go into it). In fact, it was one hell of a fast stage (at least to me), though I think it might have started earlier than normal. My coverage started at about a quarter to seven this morning (I was quite awake) and was finished by about 10:30 am (all times est). The post-show ended at 11 am. The coverage was pretty good and we were able to follow the progress of Michael Rasmussen and Dario Cioni, as well as that of the chase group.

For all but two of the climbs, Rasmussen and Cioni battled on, though not really with each other. Rasmussen had made it clear that he wanted the KOM jersey and he was going to take it. Cioni was on, maybe for the stage win. Except that the last two climbs did him in. Previous, Rasmussen had waited, knowing he needed Cioni's help. But on the Col de Bussang, enough was enough and Rasmussen left Cioni on. Eventually he was caught and passed by part of the break they had originally been a part of. Rasmussen was never caught. At one point, his lead on the peloton was 10+ minutes (or nearly that) and it was tossed out that maybe he would be in yellow come the finish. Of course, though, it wasn't that easy.

Chasing Cioni and Rasmussen were several cyclists, including two very experienced riders, Jens Voigt and Christophe Moreau. They rode with their break until the Ballon d'Alsace, when they attacked. But they didn't come close to catching Rasmussen and at one point, Rasmussen put even more time between Voigt and Moreau and himself.

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It then became a battle for who would wear the yellow jersey. Would Rasmussen have enough time on the Armstrong's group? Would Voigt? Would Voigt and Moreau get caught? The answers to those questions go a little something like this: no, yes and no. Rasmussen was gone, never to be seen until the end of the race. Voigt and Moreau did end up losing time to the yellow jersey group, but it wasn't close to enough. He needed a minute and the peloton finally crossed the line about three minutes after Moreau and Voigt (six minutes behind Rasmussen).

It seemed that Moreau and Voigt had a talk about who would cross the line first. I like to think that since Voigt was pretty certain he was going to be in yellow (perhaps, in a way, to make up for Dave's DNF), he agreed to let Moreau get second -- and something out of the stage. Both men, though, appeared to be quite pleased with the results.

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Possibly the coolest part of the stage was watching Rasmussen fight all the way to the end. It was almost like watching Richard Virenque (without all the history that Virenque has) as Rasmussen climbed the mountains. He almost flew over them and he did it so well. I liked how Cioni tried so hard to keep up, but in the end Rasmussen's grace on the bike was just too much. He made it look easy until near the very end of the stage. And then when he crossed the line? So amazing. He was so emotional and it was quite clear to see how much this meant to him. As much as I wanted Fabian Wegmann in the KOM jersey, I think that I wouldn't mind seeing Rasmussen wear it all the way to Paris. Let's just hope he can get those legs going again after the rest day tomorrow.

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And, of course, the most important (in some ways) event of the day. Jens Voigt in the yellow jersey. Before the start of the stage, Armstrong told OLN that he wouldn't complain if he wasn't wearing yellow by the end of the stage. Why? Because he knew that if CSC (or whoever) got the jersey, they'd have to work hard to protect it. And, well, who better than CSC, really? On the day that their yellow jersey cyclist abandoned due to poor health, they managed to pull back on that yellow jersey. I do wonder, though, if Bob Roll was right. He's gone on and on about how he thinks that CSC screwed up and, well, essentially caused Zabriskie to abandon. He thinks that had they let another rider stay with Dave when he fell, he'd still be in the tour. I don't know, it's possible (and maybe I'll write about it later), but really, who knows? I like to think CSC is better than that. But anyway, Voigt is in yellow and he's never looked happier.

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Just as a side note, the top three men on today's stage are over thirty. The winner of stage eight? Twenty four. How's that for age differences? Those "old men" certainly can ride well.

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