Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Stage 9 - Tuesday, July 11: Bordeaux - Dax, 170 km

Aren't you surprised? I'm posting on the correct day! Mostly because I have to work tomorrow and will only be able to catch the stage up until 9:30 in the morning (but I am getting up at 7 to shower and such so I can watch straight until then). But anyway, back to the stage.

Over at Podium Cafe, someone mentioned that they found this stage (and I don't know if it was just today's or flat stages in general) to be boring. And, honestly, I can see where people who feel this way are coming from. Just like I understand that not everyone likes cycling. But while I get it, I don't agree. Sure, crazy things happen to the GC on mountain stages and people get sent out the back and breaks are exciting. But, there's something soothing about flat stages. I love them because they lull you into a false sense of security and then BAM something happens (a crash, a breakaway, a few riders going for points or a time bonus) and you have to pay at least some sort of attention because things happen. Especially when you don't think they will.

And then, of course, you have the sprint. A lot of times I find the finale of a mountain stage to be a huge letdown. All the excitement has already happened and there's nothing left to do except finish the stage, but flat stages are completely different. There are brief moments of action and mostly just riding. And then, suddenly, the pace starts to move faster. The peloton is on edge and if the riders are lucky, everything falls into place. What's made this tour even more exciting (and dangerous) is that nothing is falling into place. The sprinters' teams have to battle hard to get into place and there's no one there to really control it. Sure, some might except T-Mobile (because they've got the leader on their team) or Discovery or Phonak to control it -- but they won't. Not yet, at least.

So it's up to the other teams and they try. They constantly throw riders up to move the peloton, especially if there's a break to be caught. And when they are caught (in all but one of the flat stages so far this tour), chaos ensues. And it's amazing. We get dramatic wins and surprises and crashes. This is what makes flat stages fun. It's all about the rush to the finish. When a flat stage concludes, something has happened. And that's how it makes me, the viewer feel. I can understand how someone could find it boring, but I think they're just missing the point.

Flat stages are wonderful. Of course, that being said, I cannot wait for Stage 11 on Thursday. But, back to flat stages. Today's was one of the flattest stages of this year's tour (or at least I think so, I haven't compared them that closely) and the end was completely fitting. And it really made me happy.

Not much really happened, not even that many crashes. There were a few assorted problems, and everyone kept their jerseys. But there was a break, made up of three riders who fought hard and worked together but, as luck would have it, were eventually caught. I actually watched the last hour of the stage twice, which was fun. Especially because I knew who won and it pleased me.

The buildup was good and multiple teams sent men to the front. But, due to the lack of a train like Petacchi and Cipo had in the past, the front of the peloton was a mess. Of course there was a crash and people lost time, but luckily everyone seemed to get back on their bikes and finish, which was good. But while those who crashed were trying to catch up/hang on, the sprinters were blowing my mind.

It looked, several times, like at least five different sprinters would win. I yelled a few times for Zabel and Hushovd and Freire. I saw Boonen and at one point I thought he was going to win it. And then all hell broke loose. McEwen was boxed in (again!) and everyone was battling and then suddenly, out of nowhere it was Freire and McEwen. And everyone knows I can't stand McEwen, but today I was completely and totally impressed (and I was able to be because of the stage result). He just fly around the other riders and came out of nowhere.

And, of course, he didn't win. Instead it was Oscar Freire. And man, that totally made me happy. It was really fun to see Freire beat McEwen to the line. But I agree with what everyone's said, had the finish line been a foot further, McEwen would have taken the win. But he didn't, and that makes me happy. Freire and Boonen are closer to the green jersey, but I don't know if they'll be able to take it before the final stage (I hope, but I am not holding my breath).

It was a good stage with a great finish.

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