Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stage 16 - Wednesday, July 19: Le Bourg-d'Oisans - La Toussuire, 182 km

I am writing this at about ten pm (est) while I watch (for the third time today) the end of stage 16. Usually I try to be vague with when I write reports, just because it makes me feel better for slacking. But today, I don't know. Today was awesome (aside from the crashes – one in particular). I ended up writing the race report for again, it turned out all right. And as with the last one, it made me think really hard about the stage.

I started out the stage annoyed at Michael Rasmussen because he was on his way to taking the king of the mountains jersey from David De La Fuente (I know, I totally lauded him yesterday). But as the stage went on and as Rasmussen just kept staying out there (a la Virenque), the more I supported him. Last year I was a huge supported and I just had to be reminded why. Thank god he's not a GC contender because I don't want to watch him time trial like he did last year. Horrible and upsetting. But that's not the point. By the end of the stage I wanted Rasmussen to win and I was willing to yell at my TV if it helped (it did because he won. Obviously!).

Before I get to the yellow jersey competition, I'd like to talk about what was possible the worst moment of me being a fan of cycling. Sure, doping sucks and it especially sucks when cyclists I care about are accused or suffer because of accused riders. But today something worse happened. My favorite rider, Sylvain Chavanel, crashed. It was not one of the most horrific crashes in that there was blood everywhere. But it was horrible because he was curled up against a metal barrier and he didn't really seem to be moving. Not that I thought he was dead, per se, but definitely knocked out. Luckily, he wasn't. But what he did have was a huge gash on his neck, completely hidden from the world by his jersey.

But as I sat there, hands over my mouth at about 8:15 in the morning, I thought he was horribly hurt. I thought this was it, he was out. But, thank god, he got back on his bike. As, Eurosport maybe, said, he looked a bit wobbly. And he did, wobbly and stunned and in a lot of pain. And, much to my delight, he finished the stage with the autobus, about 44 minutes behind Rasmussen. I hope he is fit enough to start tomorrow, otherwise he should just rest up and kick ass next year.

And now, for the most exciting part of the stage. The final climb. Landis talked a lot about he wanted to race conservatively. And, well, he went a bit too conservative today and he lost the lead and eight minutes. There was attack after attack and Landis, for whatever reason (and I'm not going to go into them because I don't really care) couldn't keep up with them. In fact, he went backward instead of forward. It was really heartbreaking.

But what wasn't heartbreaking was Oscar Pereiro. That man makes me so happy. Somehow he's ended up being the person I'm rooting for. Sure, I like Landis and I'd have liked to see him attack today and do well, but it didn't happen. And, even before then, I found myself rooting for Pereiro. He won me over the other day in the break where he got the yellow. And today he just sealed my being a fan of his. Not only the way he didn't give or break, but the way he finished the stage. There is nothing quite watching a rider who wasn't even supposed to be a team leader sprint to the line for third. THIRD. He went to get the time bonus and get it he did. I was completely impressed with his bike handling.

The rest of the contenders, with the exception of Denis Menchov (who also lost it like Landis), fought hard. It seems like those riders on teams that had lost team leaders (due to doping or crashes) are the ones who want to win most. Not to take anything away from the other teams, but Phonak has their leader, Discovery lost no riders and Rabobank has their leader (I can't recall if they lost anyone). And, really, Gerlosteiner fits in there as well. Aside from Landis wearing the jersey for a few days and Hincapie wearing it as well, they've done almost nothing. It's CSC, Caisse d'Epargne, and T-Mobile who are stepping it up.

And I think that's what makes this Tour so exciting. There is no real leader. There is no one to dominate and the teams aren't as strong as in previous years. Perhaps it's because their leaders are gone or because this is a "we must act clean" tour or something. But whatever it is, I love it. And the fact that T-Mobile, after so many years of having only Ullrich on the front, had three riders, yes three, on the front of the group of 'contenders.' It's just amazing.

I really hope that tomorrow is just as exciting. I'dl ike Pereiro to end up in yellow again, but who knows. Anything can happen. And in this tour? Anything does happen. And it's awesome.

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