Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Stage 15 - Tuesday, July 18: Gap - l'Alpe d'Huez, 187 km

It's not every day that a girl gets to watch cyclists ride up the l'Alpe d'Huez. Hell, it's not even every Tour, either. But when it happens, it's pretty damn amazing. And this year was no exception. I, of course, woke up at ten to seven to watch the (moderately crappy but sometimes hilarious) pre-race show. And then we got to our live coverage, which was slightly off at best. I finally figured out that I can't really do anything that requires too much attention while I watch or I miss stuff. It's okay on the flat stages because things happen with enough warning. But apparently the mountains are a bit like football. Things are always happening.

Today's stage started out with so much promise. There was a huge break containing quite a few riders that I just adore. Including David De La Fuente, Dave Zabriskie, Damiano Cunego, and most importantly (to me) Sylvain Chavanel. De La Fuente was there to gather KOM points and oh, did he ever. That boy continues to amaze me. I sincerely hope that he steps onto that podium in Paris. He, more than anyone else in the peloton, deserves those polka dots. Even though he goes out the back at the ends of stages, it doesn't matter. He gathers as much strength as he can and goes off the front and just takes charge. And today he got the best reward he could ever get (aside from stages wins, etc). His team leader, the one and only Gilberto Simoni, helped De La Fuente to the top of the l'Alpe d'Huez. It's rare that you see a team leader do something like that and when my friend Dor and I realized what was going on, we were so excited. Good on you, Gibo.

Zabriskie, on the other hand, was there with Jens Voigt, not for stage wins, but to work for Fränk Schleck. Now, I'm a in between CSC fan. I adore Dave Z and a few of the CSC tinies, and I love to watch Jens work. But most of the other riders are just there. That being said, what Voigt and Zabriskie did was amazing. They blew apart the huge break, thereby leaving only a handful of riders (if that) to fight for the stage win. They lost dropped all the cyclists who were chasing them (and at one time there must have been at least five or six groups or individuals on the road, plus the peloton). If it hadn't been for those two CSC riders, it's doubtful Schleck would have won the stage. And oh, win it he did. It was magnificent.

Chavanel, of course, did everything I expect, which wasn't much of anything. He did attack, but of course OLN was showing an interview with Armstrong because that's important and must be shown as the riders are climbing the mountain. And yes, that is sarcasm. One thing I do have to say for Chavanel is that he didn't completely crumble. Sure, he went out the back of the move, but then so did everyone except for two riders. He managed to cling on to the group containing the new yellow jersey and that's something, at least in my book.

And then we get to Daminao Cunego, or the kid. I just wrote profiles on both Cunego and Schleck for cyclingfans.com and both of these "kids" are great. But I have to say that I really had no idea just how good Cunego is, at least in Italy. He just keeps winning races. 2005 was an off year, but he's back. I will not be surprised if he wins a stage of this Tour. In fact, I'd like to see him win. He was the only rider who managed to stay with Schleck and I think, had CSC not had three rides in the break, Cunego would have run away with the win. I was impressed with his riding and really happy. I know that a lot of people don't like him (rubbish, I say), but I'm happy to see him do well.

Of course, there were other things going on in this stage. Tom Boonen (among others) abandoned. It was pretty heartbreaking to watch. But, like I mentioned to someone (somewhere), Boonen had seemed off this whole tour. There were also quite a few crashes, but the riders, for the most part, seemed all right. We'll find out tomorrow if the young Milram rider who was almost hit by one of the cars will start. They don't need to lose more riders, they've already lost several.

And then, of course, we have the battle for the yellow jersey. Obviously not high on my list of important things. A lot of people I've talked to recently have decide that they just don't like Landis and his tactics. I have to tell you that I feel as though we're watching completely different races. I mean, someone sees it as offensive that Landis doesn't attack but claims to be (though I haven't heard this) the 'boss' of the Tour. I, on the other hand, am extremely pleased that he didn't attack because how lame is it to ride off the front. I don't want a dominating Armstrong-esque rider winning the Tour. Sure, Landis is riding in his own way and he only rides hard enough to get rid of contenders, but isn't that what you're supposed to do? The other thing is the reports that people are writing about Andreas Kloden looking weak. I'm sorry, but the only person who managed to stick it out with Landis was Klodi. He never really (that I saw) looked like he was going to break. Sure, maybe he was running on maximum, but he didn't break.

Unlike Cadel Evans (and I so called that when I was on the phone with my mother) and Denis Menchov. I suppose the biggest disappointment of this stage was Menchov. He totally imploded (and I haven't read any interviews as to why) and it was really sad to see. I know that Rasmussen did his best to keep Menchov in the stage, but there's only so much you can do.

Other good performances of the stage? Cyril Dessel. The man just keeps on going. I'm really proud of him. And, of course, Oscar Pereiro. I know he didn't get the jersey again (and I kind of wanted him to), but he fought so hard. It was agonizing to watch. I was actually yelling at the TV telling him to ride harder. The top three, at the moment, are Landis, Pereiro and Dessel. I would really be happy with that as the final three in Paris. I know it won't happen, and god, tomorrow's stage might see it completely change. There's no accounting for mountains.

Oh, and hilarious moment of the day? The break had two Discovery riders in it and Armstrong was at the stage. And what happened? Discovery totally imploded. That shouldn't make me happy, but it kind of does.

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