Sunday, July 09, 2006

Stage 7 - Saturday, July 8: Saint-Grégoire - Rennes ITT, 52 km

It was supposed to be a day when the contenders would be exposed. When everyone would know who the top riders at the tour were. What happened was completely unexpected. The worst, of course, was poor Bobby Julich. He crashed horribly (took a corner far too fast) and that finished his tour. Such a sad result. Another big surprise, Levi Leipheimer completely underperformed, while a few of his teammates did surprisingly well. CSC's Dave Zabriskie also didn't do that well, finishing a disappointing 13th. And to completely the disappointment for the US, Discovery did not get a single rider in the top ten of the stage.

George Hincapie, one of the so-called favorites, failed to show anything like the form he had during the short prologue at the beginning of the tour. Hincapie finished fourth, and the best placed Discovery rider was Paolo Savoldelli in 19th.

Not everyone was disappointing. Six of the top ten were from German teams (T-Mobile and Gerolsteiner). One of those, the seventh place finisher, was the young Marcus Fothen in his first Tour de France. His teammate, Sebastian Lang, also road well and held the lead for most of the stage.

But hope was not completely lost for the Americans -- or me. Since the dismissal of Vino's team, I'd been search for a new "favorite." I'd settled on Landis or Valverde, but with Valverde out after a horrible crash, I was left with Landis or a fantasy (aka Chavanel or Gilbert -- impossible). And so when Landis was reported to have had a flat, I was about to throw my hands up in the air in despair. Of course, I should not have.

Instead of letting the flat ruin his time trial, Landis decided to step it up. For the second time trial in a row, Landis lost significant seconds but proved that he is something else. He fought and fought and finished the stage in second place. I know a lot of people said that had he not had the flat, he wouldn't have fought so hard, but I don't know. And honestly I don't think it matters. He went all out and made up a lot of time. And while most people are at least a minute and several seconds back, Landis is exactly a minute behind the man in the yellow jersey.

The man, of course, is Serguei Gonchar. The Ukrainian T-Mobile rider (and former world time trial champion) rode a superb time trial and settled himself comfortably into the yellow jersey. Of course, he's not known for his climbing and therefore it unlikely he'll remain in yellow.

But everything isn't bleak for T-Mobile. There are five Germans in the top ten of the general classification, and of those, four are from T-Mobile. Gonchar is obviously in first, but following are Mick Rogers in third, Patrik Sinkewitz in fourth and the man most likely to lead T-Mobile, Andreas Klöden. If Klöden is on form, and it's hard to say -- we haven't seen a lot of him so far, he could definitely be up there fighting it out with Landis.

Another surprise is the fifth place on GC for the young Marcus Fothen. He established himself in the white jersey yesterday and, if he can, plans to keep it. Of course, his goal is now to work for his teammates, but you never know.

There are no French riders in the top ten so far. The closest is Christophe Moreau, but he's in 12th. Of course, we have yet to hit the mountains and it's likely everything will change again.


trx0x said...

actually, landis didn't have a flat; his aerobar broke. the mechanics were forced to make an adjustment on it before the start, because of the UCI regulations stating that the bars must be in the same plane as the saddle. UCI said the angle of the bars was too steep. but they believe that the change in the bar position was not the reason the bar failed.

sarah said...

Yeah, but at the time I wrote that I thought it was a flat. Thanks for the link, though.