Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Rest Day 1 - Monday, July 10: Bordeaux

Rest Day Number One. The biggest news, of course, is Zidane's head butt. Oh, wait, no. Wrong sport. The biggest news of the Tour de France is Floyd Landis. The NY Times reported that Landis will most likely be having hip replacement surgery after the tour.

» Landis's Hip Will Need Surgery After Bid for Tour
CH├éTEAUBOURG, France, July 9 — Second over all in the Tour de France and a strong favorite to win the race when it ends July 23, Floyd Landis confirmed on Sunday a report that he had been riding in severe pain for four years because of a degenerative hip condition he had kept secret. He said he was planning to have his right hip replaced in an operation.
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Eric Gaillard/Reuters

"If I hadn't had a bicycle-racing career, I would have had the hip replaced two years ago because I don't really want to deal with the pain," said Landis, the 30-year-old American leader of the Phonak team from Switzerland.
It rings a bit of the whole Armstrong cancer thing, but whatever. It's kind of interesting because it's like American cyclists need something like this. I pick Saul Raisin to come back and win the tour in a few years. Okay, the fact that he's alive is pretty damn awesome, so we'll just leave it at that.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. The past two years I've done a top ten of the tour so far (and then later, between rest days) and this year is no different. So, here it goes -- 5 good things and 5 bad things.

1. The wide open tour. Everyone, including myself, believed that the doping could signal the end of the Tour as we knew -- something fun and exciting. Little did we know. It turns out that I haven't had this much fun watching the tour since I started watching (which, I know, is that long ago -- but seriously, 2003! It's been three years, you'd think ...). Not only has Armstrong retired, but almost every single true favorite (I know, people picked Hincapie and Landis and Valverde, but they weren't serious) couldn't start and we have an amazing and exciting. It really makes me happy and it's doing good things for cycling as well. The show WILL go on and not just because it has to.

2. Time trials. The first was just a prologue and it established, though temporarily, that Hincapie was here to fight. And Hushovd impressed, but I'll get to him in a moment. The second time trial shook everything up. Not only did it put a Ukrainian on top, it totally filled the top ten with cyclists from German teams and exposed the weaknesses in all of the favorites -- and the rest of the peloton. Instead of asserting their dominance, as Armstrong had done for so many years, they fell to the side. This is not, in any way, a bad thing.

3. Breakaway on Stage 8. I know there have been others and exciting things have happened, but there was just something about the stage eight breakaway that was magic. It's not just that they lasted (in whatever small form) but the winner was French and he won alone. And then the second and third place riders gave everything they had to make it and they did, with 10 seconds to spare. It just really made me happy to see it.

4. Thor Hushovd. I know, there are other stories, but I'm a big fan of Hushovd (I've got a thing for Scandinavians). He took the opening prologue and it was amazing. I was so proud of him and he was in yellow and he beat out Hincapie (who I'm not a fan of) so it was just wonderful. And then disaster struck, and yet Hushovd finished the stage and showed just how badass cyclists are. And then went and took the yellow jersey the next day. And he's still racing. How is he not awesome?

5. Competitive nature of the jerseys. This is just general and I couldn't use 'fans' twice, because I'd just be redundant. It seems that this year, more than ever, everyone is out to get jerseys. It's really kind of awesome. You've got a tough fight for the yellow, a big battle for the green and then you have the two other jerseys. The KOM cause a mini-fight and once we get into the mountains, who knows who is going to happen. I'm hoping Rasmussen will find a way to get the jersey -- but you never know. And, of course, that leaves the young rider. It's not a tight competition, there's a minute or so between the leader and the second place, but all one of those young riders have to do is get in a break. Or Fothen, in his first tour, will just crack. It's all wide open and a lot of fun.


6. Doping. This goes without saying. So I'm not going to say much except that it sucks but at least it didn't completely ruin the tour. Yes, my team couldn't race and I lost two favorites (Davis and Contador, though Contador is denying any doping charges and I believe him because he's my boy), but at the same time my favorite rider is still racing and tour is still going on. That's cycling, I guess.

7. Crashes. They have been horrible and tragic. First with the incident about Hushovd's arm. Then Dekker and Rodriguez. And, of course, the loss of Valverde. Of course it doesn't end there and during the time trial on we lost Bobby Julich. While not anything close to a favorite of mine, his crash was horrible. Hopefully the rest of the tour will be low-crash, but I don't hold out hope.

8. Americans. They've sucked. There's no doubt that Landis is the best of the bunch, but in a race when they were supposed to be proving themselves, they've fallen flat. From Hincapie to Landis to Zabriskie to Leipheimer. Of course, I'll go on to say that of course that's why I don't pin my hopes on the Americans at the Tour. But my pick for a winner (since Vino's gone) is Landis, so I can't say that. I don't know what their problem is -- maybe too much pressure to "replace" Armstrong (stupid, stupid, stupid). Maybe just too much pressure in general with the doping business. But that's cycling and all of them should know better. We'll just wait and see what happens. Landis is the best placed and the most composed, I believe. He had to go through this last year with Hamilton anyway, so he's been there. It's just a bit of bad luck that he's not in yellow, I think.

9. Weather. It's been hot. Disgustingly hot. And then it'll rain a bit and go back to being hot. Hopefully it'll sort itself out in the mountains, but I don't hold out much hope. It's not an excuse (like England with their we can't play in hot weather crap), but it's there. These guys are tough, though. The crashes just happen more when it's hotter.

10. Fans. I wanted to say that they were good. They helped when Dekker and Rodriguez crashed, but that's it. They were the reason Hushovd's arm was cut up and they caused Sandy Casar to crash. I cannot imagine what might happen with the thousands of fans in the mountains. I hope that they learn to behave themselves. This year, more than ever, it seems the fans are causing more problems than before. Or maybe it's just that they are doing it more visibly this year.

Whatever happens, though, I think this tour is pretty damn awesome. I can't wait for the next two weeks.

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