Saturday, July 15, 2006

Stage 12 - Friday, July 14: Luchon - Carcassonne, 211 km

It was another day with a breakaway, and much to my joy, the winner came from that break. Who that winner was might not have pleased me, but I'll get to that later.

The stage was "falt" in that there were not huge mountains, but it wasn't really flat. It was fun to watch, not just because I adore breaks, but instead because I love tactics as well. And one of the things that made this stage so different was that the tactics didn't quite reflect the tactics of the riders in the break. Last year's best young rider, Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery) of the Ukraine, was the highest placed rider in the stage.

Landis and Phonak, theoretically, should have chased down the break. But they didn't, not really. I mean, the time between them was just enough so that Popovych was able to slip into 10th place overall. But Phonak didn't feel Landis was in danger or that Popovych would be able to challenge for the overall lead and so they left the break alone.

The break had a mind of it's own and there were more tactics, of course! In addition to Popovych, Oscar Freire, Alessandro Ballan, and Christophe Le Mevel made up the three other riders. I was rooting for either Freire or Ballan for the win -- especially Freire so he could take more points for the green jersey. I want him to unseat McEwen. But that was not to be, though Freire did gather more points and passed Boonen to take over second in the competition.

What did happen was actually a lot more interesting. Discovery told Popovych that he needed to attack the group repeatedly, and that's exactly what he did. He shook Le Mevel first (who later said he just didn't have the legs, though he'd wanted the win on Bastille Day). Ballan and Freire were hot on his heels, but the more Popo attacked, the harder it was for both sprinters to follow. In post race interviews, Popo mentioned that there was no way he'd have beaten the two sprinters at the line. So he did the only thing he could -- attack. And finally it worked.

Ballan and Freire were left to fight second and third out amongst themselves. Popo, on the other had, road away with the stage win and 10th place over all. While he didn't make up for Discovery losing two riders (Noval and Savoldelli) he did do a lot for the team's moral. I'm not buying that this will turn around Discovery, but I think that it does help. And they definitely needed it.

Nothing much else changed, though. Ballan took second and Freire third. It was Le Mevel bringing up the rear. Four minutes later, Boonen managed to beat McEwen to the line for fifth, which was a nice change.

Stage 13 is similar to 12, flat (oh, you know what I mean, not REALLY flat) and good for breaks.

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