Sunday, July 27, 2008

Stage 21 - Sunday, July 27: Étampes - Paris/Champs Élysées, 143km

Well, that's it. Three weeks later and Spain rules the world (duh). I don't think anyone expected it, in fact as I said yesterday, most people thought it would be Evans on that top step of the podium. But it wasn't. It was hard working Carlos Sastre and he deserved that win. As an aside, his two kids? Absolutely adorable! I liked how during the presentation with the top three, both children had lions. And his son was just hilarious during the team presentation and the trophy presentation. I love it when they bring their children up and I was sad that Sylvain did, though I don't know if his family was there (thought they really must have been).

Back to the stage. I'm going to do a brief recap of the stage, followed by my thoughts on the tour as a while. So, it was the slowest start to a stage every. I was doing a bunch of different things, so not paying too close attention. There were some hilarious moments, like the two Cofidis riders trading helmets with the motorcyclist and his passenger. All the joking around in the peloton, Cancellara drinking the champagne in one go and more. It was really fun to watch all of that. And then they hit Paris and the race began. It started hard and fast and it never quit, right up to the line.

It was one attack after another, with a couple of small breakaways trying to gain hold. Of course they didn't last, but we never expected them to. What was fun was being on the phone with my mother and talking to my friend Dorte about the stage as it was going on. We were yelling and shouting (well, they weren't and I was) and it was great. And, of course, my two boys did the obligatory attacks. Philippe Gilbert attacked far too early, but went out strong and gave it a great go. I was so proud of him to see that he didn't give up, no matter how many times he crashed. And, of course, it wasn't a stage until Sylvain attacked. And he gave it everything he had left. I think he timed his attacked just a little bit too late, he went at 3k to go instead of 2k, but who knows what would have happened.

It was, ironically, Sylvain's new team next year who eventually caught his break attempt. Quick Step finally got it together and strung out a decent enough train. Without Boonen and Bettini this tour, they looked lost. It showed every time they were in a sprint finish. Except, of course, for today.
1 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Quick Step 3.51.38 (37.04 km/h)
2 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Columbia
3 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank
4 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Silence - Lotto
5 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole
And, somehow, they were strong enough. My guess is taht Steegmans was sick and tired of not winning a stage and he wanted it more. I was extremely happy to see Gerald Ciolek challenging for the win, and was a little disappointed when he didn't win. It was also super nice to see Freire up there. And what can you say about McEwen? It wasn't his tour, nor Hushovd's. And that's how the race ended. It was a fitting end to a crazy and wonderful tour. We didn't know who was going to win on that first day and we didn't know who was going to win today.

That's as good a transition as any, so now I'll move to the tour as a whole.

There have been complaints that this tour has been boring (people writing into Eurosport, mostly). And I have to disagree. It was anything but boring. Over at Podium Cafe, they ranked the past several years of the tour. I mostly agree, 03 is number one and 08 is number two. Which, yes, objectively that is completely true. But to me? Not in the least. This tour, the 2008 edition, is the best. And yes, it is because of Sylvain. I have waited for five years for him to win a stage of the tour, I have defended him repeatedly to people who think he's just not good enough. And in the end, I was right, which I always knew. I had faith in him and I'm glad that he proved me right, though I never doubted him. And see him on the podium in Paris as the most aggressive rider? One of the best things in the world.

But as a whole, this tour has been different than every other tour. Sure, there are some things that are the same. Several of the boys in the breaks were familiar faces, there were stages we'd seen before and dopers were caught. But on a whole, there were new players. One team that has been around for a while finally proved their dominance. No other team was as strong as CSC. They proved that they have the best team in the peloton. With so many national champions (Luxembourg, Denmark and Norway), plus the ITT World Champion, and two of the four jerseys (yellow of course, and the young rider). The only other team who was close to dominating was Columbia, with their five stage wins (four by Cavendish and one by Burghardt).

It was a good tour for American teams. And it was a good tour in general. Even with Evans' flaws, the podium is a strong one. Hopefully next year we'll see Christian Vande Velde on there. And, one last thought, I expect that it'll be Andy Schleck on the podium in yellow, not Frank. While Frank is a good cyclist, I firmly believe his brother is better.

I'll leave you with the top ten and a picture. Until next year!
1 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC - Saxo Bank 87.52.52
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto 0.58
3 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner 1.13
4 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 2.10
5 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30 3.05
6 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank 4.28
7 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 6.25
8 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia 6.55
9 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 7.12
10 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) AG2R La Mondiale 9.05

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Stage 20 - Saturday, July 26: Cérilly - Saint Amand Montrond (ITT), 53km

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: I didn't see the end of this stage. Why? I had to go to work. Carlos and Frank did not race fast enough, so I had to leave with either 2k or 1k to go, I can't remember which. But, that's okay, because by that time I knew a) who was going to win the stage and b) who was going to ride to Paris wearing yellow.

So, on the second to last day of the 2008 Tour de France, we know several things (in no particular order):
  • Oscar Freire is going to win the green jersey competition
  • Bernhard Kohl is going to win the KOM jersey competition
  • Andy Schleck, riding the ITT of his life, is going to win the young rider competition
  • Sylvain Chavanel (!!!) will win most aggressive rider
  • Team CSC Saxo Bank will win the the team competition
  • Spain is the dominate nation in the world
Oh, wait. That last one should read Carlos Sastre will win the 95th Tour de France. I might have gotten a little ahead of myself, but I'm right (just remember: Nadal and Spain being Euro 2008 champions). My mother made this comment on the first day of the tour, except she was referring to Alejandro Valverde and not Sastre. Who knew that three weeks later, she'd be mostly right? I don't think anyone believed that. Hell, no one thought Sastre would hang onto the jersey today.

Everywhere you looked, people were saying Evans was going to win. And, if we're all honest, no one really thought that Evans wouldn't win. Well, okay, some people did, but it seemed almost a given. We all knew that Sastre wasn't that good with time trials and Evans was. Plus, the course suited Evans, but it wasn't to be. And I, for one, am pretty damn grateful. Evans was never the winner that I wanted. I am disappointed that he's even on the podium, but athletes shouldn't be barred from competing just because I think they're jerks. That being said, there are some wonderful things to take away from this ITT, just like there are shitty things.

Bernhard Kohl recovered from what could have been a disastrous start to his ITT. He fell (we think) off of the starting ramp, recovered and for a time, looked like he might just right himself into the yellow jersey. Of course that didn't happen, but he (like Andy Schleck) rode the ITT of his life. It was brilliant and I am so proud of him. Third place and the KOM jersey, what a good job for team Gerolsteiner. And then there's CVV, better known as Christian Vande Velde. He also rode one of the best ITTs of his life, but not only that, he was fourth best on the day. Better than any of those contenders. It's too bad it wasn't enough to put him in the podium. The day belonged to Stefan Schumacher, and let's take nothing away from his brilliant ride. He deserved that stage win just as much as any of the riders in the top ten.
1 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner 1.03.50 (49.817 km/h)
2 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC - Saxo Bank 0.21
3 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia 1.01
4 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30 1.05
5 David Millar (GBr) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30 1.37
6 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 1.55
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto 2.05
8 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner 2.19
9 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner 2.21
10 George Hincapie (USA) Team Columbia 2.28
Just take a minute to look at that top ten. Numbers two and five were expected to place high. After all, Cancellara is the reigning World Champion. CVV was brilliant and Menchov almost did the impossible. And look at that, four riders from American teams in the top ten, two Americans in the top ten. It's great, and good for all the teams, especially Gerolsteiner, with three riders and in search of a sponsor. Let's hope those Red Bull rumors are true, these boys need wings. ;) Sorry, couldn't resist.

There were two bad things that happened on the stage, well, three if you count Kohl. First, Evans lost the Tour de France today. He rode himself out of it, but into second place. Which leads directly into the second part, which is that he rode Kohl out of second place and down to third place. Kohl, in my opinion, deserved second place, but it was not meant to be. And then you have Frank Schleck. His ITT was terrible, probably the worst one of his life. Maybe Frank's not destined to be a TDF winner, maybe it's Andy we should be looking out for. Because he's definitely a lot more consistent than Frank. But either way, it was heartbreaking to watch Sastre riding his ITT and looking up to see Frank in front of him. And the catch and pass was just so sad. It was bad when Armstrong used to do it and it was even worse now, if only because Sastre was passing his own teammate and former yellow jersey wearer.

So, tomorrow is the last day. The boys will ride into Paris and the sprinters will (in theory!) have their day at the line. I refuse to predict a winner and hope from some fireworks, but we all know how the final stage really ends. Let's hope that the disaster that was the 2007 final when they lost video of the finish doesn't repeat itself. I can't wait for tomorrow and at the same time, I don't want it to happen again. I've loved this tour and I do believe it's been one of the best I've seen (which isn't saying a lot, but there you go).

Stage 19 - Friday, July 25: Roanne - Montluçon, 165.5km

"It's the first time I've managed to take one of my breakaways on this race all the way. It just shows, if you keep at it you can succeed."

"Now, I race for myself, for my own pleasure, and I don't listen to all that anymore. I'm sure that many of my fans today were really happy for me and that I made their day today. That's what counts for me."


I have spent most of the day yesterday, since the stage finished obviously and some of today thinking about what to write about this stage. Normally I'd talk about how interesting it was that there were two breakaways on the day, the first one being pulled back after 69k. And then, 72k into the race Sylvain attacked and was later joined by Jérémy Roy. And they rode, and rode and rode some more. And I sat at my desk at work and tried to will Sylvain to win.

I never gave up hope, but I thought, this is going to be like every other breakaway he's had. He'll give everything and then, with 1k to go (remember the stage when he went away with Chris Horner, who then sat up and kind of screwed him over? well, I do). Except the peloton couldn't pull them back. Sure, they upped their pace, they were racing hard and yet Sylvain and Roy stayed away. They kept losing time, but not in that 'oh, this break is doomed way' and then I began to think that it might be possible.

Then 1k from the finish, I thought, 'oh my god, he might just do it.' And then we had a similar finish to stage 18. Roy was behind Sylvain, biding his time, or so it looked. I kept thinking, 'oh, god, Sylvain's going to do it all wrong.' And I willed him to just sprint ahead, but what the hell was I thinking? He'd tried that repeatedly this tour and failed. Luckily he was thinking clearly and knew he could take Roy in the sprint, and that's exactly what he did.

I know there are other things to talk about, like how the jerseys didn't change and everyone's excited about the time trial tomorrow. But, I'm sorry, I don't think I can talk about anything else except Sylvain. As I told my mother, I almost posted 'Sylvain won, what more is there to say?' because, to be perfectly honest, that's how I feel about it. He did what I've been waiting for five years for him to do. What he's been waiting eight years (probably more, since he is French) to do. It's a great way for him to leave Cofidis, but an even better way to shove it back in the faces of everyone who said he couldn't do it.

To me, this is better than anything else this tour. Stage 19 was the best stage of the Tour that I have ever seen. Better than Armstrong's seven wins. Better than anything else that's ever happened in the Tour. I know that technically that's not true, but it is to be. Seeing him cross that line was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had as a fan. It doesn't get any better than this. And while I know that it's just one stage, it's one stage of the Tour de France. And it's in France. And it's Sylvain. I couldn't ask for anything more. I would have been happy with him for finishing the tour.

But this? Winning the 19th stage? Is better than anything else. I'm proud of him. Proud to be a fan of his. And damn proud to be a fan of cycling.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Stage 18 - Thursday, July 24: Bourg d'Oisans - Saint Étienne, 196.5km

Let me get one thing straight, most of the stage was boring. Not bad, mind you, just boring. There were four groups on the road, the main breakaway (two riders, Marcus Burghardt and Carlos Barredo), the chasing group of three (Romain Feillu, Christophe Le Mével and Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau), the peloton, and Team Lampre.

Lampre was spending a hell of a lot of time helping their former team leader. What happened to him? Well, basically a tragedy. About 28k into the race, long before we started watching, there was a crash. Philippe Gilbert (sadface) and Damiano Cunego went down. From what I can tell, and you can see from this picture, it was pretty bad. He hurt his chin pretty badly and scrapped up the front of his chest, ripping up his jersey.

No matter how you feel about Cunego, you have to feel sorry for him. Nothing's gone right for him this tour. It's just been one big mess. He hasn't been able to do anything in the mountains or the flat stages and then bam, he goes down in a pretty terrible crash. There is a real possibility that he won't even start the race tomorrow. And if he doesn't? I won't blame him. There comes a time when you should just call it quits.

Back to the race. Once that crash happened, the rest of the race, until about 5k to go, was pretty mild. The countryside was beautiful, as usual, and at one point the tour passed a flock of ostriches on a farm (in the middle of France, who knew?). Even the live blogging over at Podium Cafe was pretty dead, mostly it was people discussing Cunego being 22 minutes behind the peloton and transfer news (let's not talk about Chavanel, shall we?). There was some thought that Evans or maybe Kohl would attack Sastre's yellow jersey lead on one of the few mountains, but that never happened, which turned out to be a good thing.

Why? Because we wouldn't have had one of the most hilarious 5k rides to the finish I have ever seen. Hilarious in a good way, that is. There weren't any crashes or anything like that, it was just two men, boys really, fighting it out to the finish.

I was going to say that it all started with Barredo attacked, but that's not really true. It started much earlier on. 63k into the race, Barredo attacked and it stuck, eventually Burghardt stepped up his racing and caught up. This is when things really began. You knew something was going to happen when Burghardt were kind of wary with each other. And then, 5k to go, it got worse.

Worse as in awesome. It was Barredo who began attacking first, knowing that Burghardt would be far too strong a sprinter if they came to the line together. What he hadn't bargained for was that Burghardt would just be too strong all around. Every time Barredo attacked, Burghardt was right there. Eventually Burghardt got fed up with Barredo's near-constant attacking and attacked himself. It was almost hard enough to get away, but it didn't work. Again they were back together.

And then came the best part. You can see it in the video above, sorry for the crap quality, it was the best I could find. You see the attacking and then you seem them practically crawling up to the line. Burghardt leading Barredo because neither of them wanted to attack each other. Hilarious stuff! I love it when this kind of thing happens, because it brings such personality to the tour. Barredo was right, and you can see his anguish after they both cross the line. He has every reason to be upset, because he was right, Burghardt was the stronger sprinter. But this is a clear example of what makes cycling so great. You know what you have to do, you do everything you can and you do it just right and you time things perfectly and you can still lost. Why? Because sometimes cycling is a sport of individuals. And, in this case, it was Barredo who lost out.

Not that I mind, because I'm rather fond of Burghardt. He did a great job, gave some great interviews and had no problems being frank about what happened and how the last kilometers played out. I hope tomorrow's stage, which I'll be watching on tape delay, ends up being as fun (let's hope all of it is fun, instead of just the end!).

Both Gilbert and Chavanel finished the race, losing more time, but they crossed the line. I doubt Gilbert will attempt to fight for a stage win, no matter what he wants to do before leaving for Lotto. As for Chavanel? You never know. I keep my fingers crossed.

Stage 17 - Wednesday, July 23: Embrun - L'Alpe d'Huez, 210.5km

So, let's start by looking at the top 15 riders on GC:
1 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC - Saxo Bank 74.39.03
2 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank 1.24
3 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner 1.33
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto 1.34
5 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 2.39
6 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30 4.41
7 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 5.35
8 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 5.52
9 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) AG2R La Mondiale 8.10
10 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale 8.24
11 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia 8.35
12 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank 10.15
13 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas 12.13
14 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre 12.26
15 Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux 17.08
What about them, you ask? Well, a lot of people think that it'll be Sastre, Evans and Kohl as the top three. I am not down with that. It's okay as it is now, but personally, I'd like to have Schleck, Vande Velde and Kohl as my top. But that is definitely not going to happen. That ship, as they say, has sailed. Now, ignoring that, look at how awesome the top 15 is, ignoring Evans. You've got a Euskaltel rider in the top ten. Three riders from Luxembourg, three from CSC, a French rider and two (yes two) riders from American teams! And one of them is an American, one that no one would have expected to do well. There are other interesting things, like who would have expected Cunego to only be 14th and twelve minutes back.

But that's enough about the results of this stage. Let's talk about the whole thing.

A lot of people believe that this was the defining stage of the Tour and they might well be right, But it certain wasn't to me (though apparently to everyone else) the best stage. I think stage sixteen was the best stage. But back to the point. Today was a reaffirmation of what I talked about on the previous -- team CSC is strong. Really, really strong. In fact, I would not be surprised if they win the yellow and the team competition. The real question is can they keep the yellow jersey, will the smaller mountains on stage eighteen be the bane of the team's existence? Will the riders blow up on the ITT? Obviously we'll find out soon enough. But come Saturday, team won't be enough.

I keep getting off on tangents, I'm trying to stay on point. While I didn't think this was the best stage ever omg!!11!!, I did think it was good. And it did what I asked -- gave the yellow jersey away again. I wasn't pleased, because I kind of like Fränk Schleck and to see him after the stage looking so sad was heartbreaking. I mean, it's hard enough to lose the jersey to a rival, but to lose it to your teammate? That's just depressing. I know people would say it's better, but I disagree.

It was a wild stage and Carlos Sastre, no matter what I think about him, deserved the win and the jersey. It was just too bad that more people couldn't stay with him. I was also annoyed that Fränk Schleck couldn't shake Evans and that Vande Velde couldn't manage to put some time between him and the other riders. Maybe tomorrow, with the smaller climbs. It won't be easy, but maybe if we're lucky (which I know we're not going to be).

As for Sylvain and Philippe? They survive to fight another day, emphasis on survive. They just lose more time, but that's okay. I still have high hopes for them to sneak in a break or a least, make it through to Paris.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Stage 16 - Tuesday, July 22: Cuneo - Jausiers, 157km

Stage 16 was awesome. And now, I'm not even kidding. I don't know that any stage could live up to 16. It had everything, sadness when Seb Chavanel abandoned, joy at all the breaks and attacks, beauty with the mountains, excitement with all the near misses and, of course, fear with the crashes. The four things you take away from this stage:
1. Mountains are really, really hard.
2. CSC is dominate, they love and they are extremely good at it.
3. Descending is a fine art that will catch even the most experienced rider out, not to mention the youngest.
4. Sometimes it's awesome to be French.
So, first off, those mountains. I know, the big one (so to speak) is tomorrow. But I have to tell you that these were exceptional mountains. Not only that, but the views were beautiful and the descents were amazing. But, back to the mountains. During the Armstrong years, they always talked about how important they were, but I don't think that they were as important as they are in this tour. The riders go out each day and basically sacrifice themselves, regardless of who they are and where they are in the standings. And I think these mountains bring out the best in some of these riders.

Speaking of bringing out the best ... How about that Team CSC? They are completely spectacular. I mean, they've always been if you remember. But this year they're doing it the way US Postal, but I think they're actually better. USPS was all for Lance all the time, but CSC is fighting for a couple of things and they are seemingly doing quite well. We'll know for sure in the next few days (especially the final ITT), but right now, they completely deserve their lead in the team competition.

They, unlike Evans' Lotto team, have exceptionally well trained and reliable domestiques. All of the riders seem to put in the right amount of work and while I don't really like them, I completely admire what they're doing with the team. It also makes it fun to watch, mostly because they control the peloton in the mountains like no other.

So. Descending. What the hell was up with the descents on this stage? They were hellish! Hellish in an awesome way, but only because everyone escaped alive. Everyone will remember what happened with that poor South African, John-Lee Augustyn. I've seen the crash more times that I care to think about and ... I don't know. It's shocking every time and I really don't know how it didn't end up worse him. He really was a lucky boy. As he said himself, it could have been a ravine he went into. Luckily for him, it wasn't. And, well, thank god for that fan who helped him back up.

And, last, but certainly not least, let's talk about the end of the stage. It was fast. And when you try to visualize this, before watching the video below, imagine bicycles going fast down hill and then imagine it faster. Because that's how fast that win was. It was amazing, I cannot remember seeing anything else like it, though there must be finishes like it in the past. It was a miracle that there weren't more accidents -- and there were a few, but nothing like Augustyn's.

Cyril Dessel was absolutely brilliant. He timed everything right, whether on purpose or just with luck. And even though I wasn't especially rooting for him (I have a soft spot for Sandy Casar), his obvious joy was totally infectious. A great, exciting stage. Hopefully tomorrow will live up to these expectations.

CSC Photo (c) sean's jawns at Flickr.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Restday 2 - Monday, July 21: Cuneo

A little late, but the rest day ten is here.

1. Mountains
This is where it all began. Even on those early mountains, but really, it was Sunday's stage when things really got going. It was attack after attack on the yellow jersey and really, it was just amazing to watch. I really hope that the next two days in the Alps will be just as good.

2. King of the Mountains
See, I should be bitter about Sylvain, but I'm not. Instead, I am totally thrilled about Sebastian Lang being in them for a couple of days after Ricco got sent home. I'm a little sad that Kohl is in them now, but in the end it's not necessarily a big deal. It was really nice to see Lang in the jersey after all the hard work he did, only to have it stolen away by Ricco.

3. Mark Cavendish
There isn't much to say about this kid, except that he is fantastic in every way. He seriously is the fastest guy in the peloton, well was. And to be perfectly honest, I don't care that he didn't finish the race. What he did do is prove that people should take him seriously. And that his team was really dedicated to helping him win. And, well, he might be arrogant, but it's not like McEwen and I like that.

4. CSC
It's been a long time since they were successfully like this. They had three men in the Sunday Yellow jersey group and two of them were competing to win the overall tour. They're strong, powerful, and not offensive (like USPS/Discovery have been).

5. Danny Pate
Just based on the break away on Sunday. It was pretty great to watch him work hard. And to hear him after the stage talking about how bad he was (he wasn't) and you want more riders like him. They give all they have and then more and almost win. I really, really wanted him to win, but he didn't. And he still deserves to be up here.


6. Doping
Again I waffled about where to put this, and again it's in the bad side of things. Why? Because it's doping. I don't know how much more clear I can make it. It's bad, cyclists (hell, any athletes) shouldn't do it. And yet they do and people are surprised when people get caught. It drives me crazy because of course people still dope and of course some of them will get caught. They'll never catch anyone, but that doesn't mean we should just give up. Ahem. Climbing off my soap box now.

7. Crashes
Some people have crashed several times (Wegmann), some people have had horrific crashes and come out okay (Sven Krauss), and some people have had terrible crashes that it was a miracle they survived through (Oscar Pereiro). Sunday there was a really nasty looking crash around a roundabout that ended with most of the Garmin riders going down, it was pretty bad. I just hope that the next stages result in fewer crashes.

8. Cadel Evans
Yeah, I don't really have anything here except I dislike him a lot. I was glad he lost the yellow jersey and I hope he doesn't get it again, much less win the whole thing.

9. Sylvain Chavanel
I could have put him in the good half, but I'm kind of disappointed with his attacking. It's been consistent and he's done basically nothing with it. Hopefully he can slip into a break, but for some reason the peloton doesn't like to let him go. I get that he can't wait around to attack later, but sometimes I question his tactics.

10. Fans
Sure, the fans on the road that get in the way of the peloton, that wave flags in the rider's faces, etc. But also fans that seem to think that no cyclists dope ever and throw a fit when one tests positive. Or those who just quit being a fan because someone who was rumored to be doping tests positive. But also, those people who are so easy to dismiss Mark Cavendish and other sprinters for dropping out of the Tour. Sometimes it happens, people. They aren't slackers. If you want to get upset at someone for leaving early, be annoyed at Christophe Moreau -- even now, no one knows why he quit.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Stage 15 - Sunday, July 20: Embrun - Prato Nevoso, 183km

I might be a slacker, but to my credit I'd been up since 5:45 am Sunday morning and driven 4+ hours in 85 degree weather in a car with no AC. I'm allowed to be a slacker. Moving on.

I didn't get to see the middle of the stage. I saw the beginning and the end live (it was weird, we went out to breakfast and came back and it was still on). And, damn, that race was fantastic. I want to say some of those cliches, like, this is what we've all been waiting for. But I can't, because I keep saying it! And then things get better, so I'm just going to acknowledge that we all believe these clichés and now the stage.

It was fun to see how the stage began, I always like those things. The pouring rain was wild and kind of scary. I did like how Sylvain managed to attack with a couple of other French riders, but obviously it didn't go anywhere (sigh). There were more attacks that didn't last and then we left as they were working their way toward the first climb. Eventually, though, there was a break, several crashes, and by the time we got home, I was rooting hard for Danny Pate.

For a brief moment, it looked like something special was going to happen. Well, okay, Gerrans winning was pretty special (and how adorable was that braces grin?), but Danny winning would have been, well, pretty damn awesome. Of course, it was not to be and that interview after the stage was just heart breaking.

But, see, the exciting part was that the stage win wasn't the end of the race. Instead, the rest of the peloton was just getting started. The question of the day was could Cadel Evans hold onto the jersey. No one knew the answer, not even after the favorites had crossed the line. But it was what happened on that final climb that really blew our minds (you think I'm kidding, but I'm not). The attacks were relentless and no one was immune from them, least of all Evans.

My favorite attack was by Bernhard Kohl, he was not my favorite rider and he would take the KOM jersey from Lang, but he's not Evans. My mom and I were cheering him on, but mostly we were cheering on a lot of people. We both gasped with shock when Menchov went down, I have to say, that man is badass. To come back from that fall (basic bad luck on his part) and power all the way back to the group and then get in that mini break was pretty amazing. Luckily he had a rest day today, so he probably had time to recover. Otherwise, I think he'd probably have lost his chance at the tour.

But it was the Schleck brothers who were the highlight of the stage. Two boys, two similar styles (though markedly different at the same time) and they never gave up. Just when you thought Andy had blown up, he hadn't. He was basically a roller coaster on wheels, lots of ups and downs. And then there was Frank. I had a feeling that Frank would end up in yellow, I wasn't sure how I knew, but I did. Even so, I was rooting hard for Christian Vande Velde. I don't know how it happened, but somehow I'm cheering for Garmin Chipotle (and thanks to Phil, I keep wanting to say Chipotle wrong).

I'm not too upset with Frank Schleck in yellow. It's nice to see CSC doing well and it's better than Evans. Stage 16 should be awesome, at least I hope it is. And, my final disjointed thought. Sylvain and Philippe's results. Before I post them, I would like to say that I saw Phil doing some hard work in one of the chase groups. Good for him and I hope he keeps it up.
73 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 1.14.56
122 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux 2.05.15

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stage 14 - Saturday, July 19: Nîmes - Digne les Bains, 194.5km

Another stage, another abbreviated viewing day. As I am writing this, I am watching the two-hour replay of the stage because this is the only time I'll be able to watch it. Again, I know what's going to happen because April texted me while I was out having brunch with family. But it's kind of fun to watch this shortened version, it's like the mini-highlights, without all the crap you'll get from the prime-time showing.

The best part of the stage hasn't happened yet. They've gone over the first climb and are heading toward the second and then the finish. It should be interesting to see how the capture takes place, then the attacks and eventually the win. The scenery today is fantastic, not quite as great as yesterday and definitely not as good as it will be in the Alps.

Also, is it just me, or is this the Garmin-Chipotle Versus Tour de France. Not that I really mind, because I'm cheering for Vande Velde, but there seem to be a lot of stuff related to the team. Both them and Columbia, but again, I like it. I think it's probably because both teams have the four Americans on them, plus a lot of English speaking riders.

The riders in the break, all four of them, decided to attack each other, one got away, but it's clear that they're doomed. Especially because the gap went down to under a minute. Also, today was not a good day for a lot of the sprinters, mostly because it was so hot and the climbs, while not massive, were pretty hard. Poor Cavendish really gave everything he had on stage thirteen, because he just kind of ended up at the back of the field. But, hey, it means he's human and that's really what we like to see.

With about 25k to go, the peloton started chasing the breakaway, trying to reel them back in. It all really started up at the start of the climb. The capture was totally anticlimactic, probably because it was just Gutierrez on the front. And the other reason was because Versus had video and audio in Columbia car and we discovered just how bad things were going for Mark. The team was telling Thomas Lövkvist that the stage wouldn't be too hard (ha), but that if Mark started to struggle, Lövkvist was to go work for Gerald Ciolek. I love that inside look of team tactics.

Props to Gutierrez for not giving up. He kept on attacking up the climb, but it was inevitable that he was going to get caught. For me watching this for the first time was kind of interesting because I knew what was going to happen, but I was just waiting to see it, and hoping that they wouldn't pull away for a commercial, which sometimes it feels like that's all Versus is good for. The crowds were great, and then the attacks began, even with Gutierrez of the front. First it was good ol' Voeckler and then they caught Guiterrez, because a couple of riders went with Voeckler, including a nameless (lol) Lampre rider.

One attack after another and then we got that great view of the back of the peloton where all the riders (sprinters, etc) just cracked. And then we got the view of poor Mark Cavendish, sad but mildly amusing. Paul and Phil were rooting for him to keep with the peloton. It was nice to see Liquigas on the front, even if I was irritated with them for not picking Kjell for the tour. The attacks were fun to watch, lots of teams mixing it up and still I am waiting for hasn't happened and then ... a commercial break.

And when we get back, it's what I've been waiting for. I know what happens, I know Sylvain doesn't make it, but it doesn't matter because he's trying and this is what I want. I would be so happy with a win, but this. This is good enough for now. One of these days he's going to cross that line first. But hell, he's not going to give up. But, well, it wasn't meant to be. And so Columbia picked up the slack, working for Julian Dean. Of course, I knew who was going to win, but holy cow. That was the most confusing finish I have ever seen. Nice for Oscar and therefore none of the jerseys changed hands and Freire probably solidified his lead in the green jersey.

Tomorrow, though, will probably work to sort out the KOM competition. It'll be Lang vs his teammate Kohl, who are separated by one point. Frank Schleck is in third, but there's no way the peloton would let him get any KOM points because he's also second overall. Hopefully the jerseys will change hands tomorrow, I could do with a knew leader in the young rider and yellow jersey competition.

Oddly, Sylvain moved up a place in the GC. He'll never win the tour, but it amuses me that he went from 80th to 79th in just one stage.
79 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 1.08.44
123 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux 1.44.24

Stage 13 - Friday, July 18: Narbonne - Nîmes, 182km

My viewing of the next two days of racing is totally abbreviated because I'm at a family reunion with spotty time spent in front of the TV and online. I watched the first part of today's stage before I left and then I got to my destination in time to see Sylvain attack the peloton. I knew, thanks to April texting me while I was driving, that the attack hadn't been successfully, but my parents didn't know (they'd gone to visit my grandmother before the stage was over). So that was amusing when I told them – I also knew who was going to win, but I didn't tell them.

So we got to watch the end of the stage, the best parts of it so it seemed. After Sylvain attacked, and it was a damn fine effort. But, not surprisingly, he attacked just a little bit too early. He did make the peloton give chase, which actually was pretty amazing. And, I think he inadvertently helped the sprinters' teams because they started to organize, just like the previous day. Except the teams were much more organized and the lead out teams. It was great to see Quick Step, Liquigas, Columbia, Milram and a few other teams mixing it up.

And then Sven Krauss had a massive crash. He and a road sign met head on and, well, none of the bike, the boy or the sign came out unharmed. The sign was bent over, Krauss' bike was literally split in two and he somehow managed to get back up again. Not only that, but he finished the race, albeit 15 minutes behind everyone else. At least he crashed close to the finish line, so he didn't have to worry about being eliminated.

But back to the race. In the end, it was always going to be a sprint day. The break of two (then three) riders didn't last and really wasn't going to, even though they were apparently ahead by 10 minutes at one time. Then Sylvain's attack was doomed, which just gave more proof to the idea that the sprinters' teams were going to take over the race and, as I said above, that's exactly what they did. But unlike the 'old days' of Petacchi and Cippolini's trains, these mixed it up and different riders ended up working for both their sprinter's and others as well.

And it worked out great for everyone's favorite sprinter, Mark Cavendish. He was, yet again, completely and utterly fantastic. He did a spectacular job and his team pulled him through the stage. During his interview, he said he was exhausted and looked it, along with being totally thrilled about winning. I wouldn't be surprised if he retired on one of the next two stages.

As for my boys? Except for Sylvain's attack near the end, they just road out the stage. Philippe Gilbert was spotted on the front doing some hard work, probably for Sebastian Chavanel. Here are their final standings on the GC.
80 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 1.08.27
131 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux 1.44.24

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Stage 12 - Thursday, July 17: Lavelanet - Narbonne, 168.5km

I'm not going to talk about the Ricco thing here, I'll do it over at Wannabe, mostly because I have some things to say and I don't want them to taint my thoughts on the stage. I will say just one thing, Ricco being dismissed and Saunier Duval-Scott leaving the tour meant that Gerolsteiner's Sebastian Lang moved into first place in the KOM competition. This makes me very happy.

As for the stage itself? Sometimes it felt like there was nothing going on, but that was not the case. The peloton was probably in a slight state of disarray, but it ended up working out in their favor. How? It allowed two (eventually three) riders to breakaway and that gave the peloton the ability to relax a bit and sort themselves out. And since the Tour was going through some truly beautiful country (though this is almost always true for bike racing) so it wasn't a big deal -- plus, my parents were here so we spent a lot of time talking while the race was going on.

Here are things that didn't change on the stage: the yellow is still Evans' (sigh) and Freire still has the green jersey. The young rider jersey that Ricco wore moved to, ironically, Liquigas' Vincenzo Nibali. I was hoping it would be the younger Schleck brother or Thomas Lövkvist, but that was not the case. One last note before I talk about the sprint finish. The most aggressive rider was FDJ's Arnaud Gérard, the boy I said I'd cheer for if the break lasted (even though we knew it was doomed).

Now, how about that sprint?

It was, in all honesty, pretty damn awesome. Before I even go into any detail, I'm going to state that I was cheering for Thor (because I like him and because he's on my fantasy team), Mark Cavendish, and (on the off chance ...) Sebastian Chavanel. Now that that's out of the way, let's get onto why I loved this sprint so much.

First off, it started really early, there was no fast paced scramble of domestics right before the finish line. Instead, there were trains. Actual, visual team-loaded trains. There was Milram for Zabel, Quickstep for Steegmans, Credit Agricole for Thor and, of course, Columbia for Mark Cavendish. I was shouting pretty loudly, just as my parents who were watching (amused) with me.

I really thought that Columbia had gone too soon, especially at the roundabout when half the peloton went the other way and lost places and time. But somehow everyone was brought back together and the trains began attacking each other. Milram, I though, they're strong. And then it was QS. I never really thought CA had much of a chance, but Mark Renshaw was powering his way for Thor. But, in the end, after Columbia had done their work, Mark took over. He sat behind two QS riders (at which point I yelled something like 'LET THEM LEAD YOU TO THE FINISH, MARK'). But that, of course, wasn't going to last. And then things got dicey.

We had a overhead shot, and then a front shot and it was all mixed up and you couldn't tell who was who and which riders were attacking and then suddenly, you knew. Mark just roared to life and launched himself perfectly (there's no other word for it) to and then across the line. He beat everyone in a style that is uniquely his. But, even more exciting (to me) was that second place finish. Here, I'll spell it out for you.
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia 3.40.52 (45.77 km/h)
2 Sébastien Chavanel (Fra) Française des Jeux
3 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Quick Step
4 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram
5 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank
6 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Liquigas
7 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole
8 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone
9 Julian Dean (NZl) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30
10 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Gerolsteiner
Yes, that's Sylvain's little brother. How awesome is that? I believe it was the Eurosport commentators who said that Sebastian, given 10 more meters, would have won the stage. And they are right. He was on fire and I really, really hope he can mix it up in the next bunch sprint. I think it would be great for France, FDJ and, well, fans who like cyclists that never give up. And then Cavendish gave the cutest interview ever to the Versus guy and was so adorable about the Green jersey and ... It's obvious that he's the real thing. I hope he wins more stages (and not just Tour ones) and his events in the Olympics.

Stage 11 - Wednesday, July 16: Lannemezan - Foix, 167.5km

I don't have much to say about today's stage. I mean, I'm writing this the next day, but I can barely remember who won. It was one of those stages.

A breakaway took hold of the race and pretty much never let go. The break was a good one, made up of a bunch of decent riders:

Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom), Kurt Asle Arvesen (CSC - Saxo Bank), Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), Alexandre Botcharov and Dmitriy Fofonov (Credit Agricole), Martin Elmiger (AG2R La Mondiale), Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Koos Moerenhout (Rabobank), Marco Velo (Milram), Benoît Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux), Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) and Amaël Moinard (Cofidis)
And the stage was basically raced like a post-rest day stage. Which was exactly what it was. I was rooting for Ballan, but only because he's on my fantasy team or Fabian Wegmann because I just like him. But once that little Frenchman went out ahead, I was rooting for him (Amaël Moinard). And by the time they caught him, I'd really wanted him to stay away and take the win. Unfortunately it was not to be, luckily he did get most aggressive rider.

It was the sprint to the finish that was really exciting. I did not expect Kurt Asle Arvesen to win, but I'm not disappointed that he did. And I love it when the winners are so close. And his muted celebration was hilarious, because he obviously thought he'd won, but wasn't 100% sure. Not that I blame him, really. Too many other cyclists have been burned by celebrating too soon. I did like that they basically said he won 'by the width of his bike' which is absolutely fantastic. It's good for CSC and for Norway, especially since Thor has been so-so this tour.

Then we had to wait for the peloton to come in and it was such a long. In fact, it was over fourteen minutes before the rest of the peloton arrived. And it was Thor who sprinted his way to the finish ahead of the rest of the riders. He only gained eight points, especially since Oscar Freire got five more and he has a pretty decent lead in that competition. But even that sprint, while not for the win, was pretty exciting.

The overall classifications didn't change. Ricco is still young rider and in the KOM jersey, Evans (sigh) is still in yellow and Freire is in green. Tomorrow's stage starts out kind of hard, but then sort of flattens out, but not enough to make it easy. It could be a good break stage, but it might end up being a decent sprint finish. A real one, not one of the weird types we've had so far. Hopefully it'll be more interesting than stage 11.

Before I go, here are the results of Sylvain and Philippe, neither of whom did anything of note yesterday (except finish).
86 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 1.08.12
138 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux 1.42.20

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Restday 1 - Tuesday, July 15: Pau

Here they are, my rest day top five good and bad things of the tour.

1. The Crowds
With all the doping scandals out there, lots of people thought that the crowds wouldn't come. They were wrong. In fact, the crowds are rather huge for this early in the tour. The mountain stages are crammed with people and when the riders go through small towns, it's almost like the whole town is out there (and usually it's close to being the whole town). It's fantastic to see that fans keep coming. I mean, I'm watching still, but I can do that from the comfort of my own couch. But these people have to weather oppressive heat, extremely high gas prices and the drama of the sport they love. And they keep coming. Cycling continues to do something right, no matter what goes on. And I hope they can keep it up.

2. Sylvain Chavanel
I really considered putting him under the bad things, too. But I didn't. Mostly because I'm extremely proud of him. Even though he only held the KOM jersey for one day, I was impressed with his ride. He knew when to stop and when to keep going and didn't press the issue when he sat the day he got the KOM jersey. It's just really too bad that he appears to be suffering, or at least hanging out near the back of the race. My theory is that he's saving himself for the coming stages, and I hope to see him in a break or two as we get into the second week. Another great thing is that he's keeping a diary for cyclingnews. It's fun to read and I hope he updates it soon.

3. Yellow Jersey
We'll talk about Evans later, but aside from him, it's been quite a shocker of a yellow jersey. Sure, the jersey has switched hands previously, but this time it seems a lot more fun than a lot of other years. The jersey keeps changing hands and even when Kim Kirchen had it for four days in a row, I didn't mind. I hope that, come Wednesday, it changes hands again. And yeah, Frank Schleck, I don't mind if you put it on. But I'd rather it be Christian Vande Velde.

4. Mountains (already, yes!)
I've always loved almost all the stage of the tour, even the so-called boring ones. But since the mountains started so early (at least that's how it feels) this year, it seems like the cyclists have been duking it out since day one. And man, they have been totally impressive. Not only because they're spectacular, but because the cyclists are using them the way they're meant to be used in a bike race. They are tools for attacking as well as gaining glory. Whether it's the glory of the win, or being in a break, these mountains leave us wanting more. As they should always do.

5. Mark Cavendish
Last season, this boy annoyed me. I didn't pick him for my fantasy team (and I should have! I even thought about it and dismissed him) and didn't expect to care how he did. But I must say he's really grown on me. Two (well, now three) of the four (well, five) videos I've posted have been related to Mark. Who knew? I never really liked T-Mobile after the whole Christian Werner thing, but I'm liking Team Columbia an awful lot. I hope Cavendish makes it to the finish and can take at lea


6. Philippe Gilbert
I will be happy if he finishes the race, but I'm really not impressed with his performance. I expected a lot more from him. Not a higher place in the standings, definitely not a jersey and maybe not even a stage win. But he hasn't really shown himself yet. No breaks of any note, either. Maybe he's just having a bad tour, but damn. It's depressing.

7. Crashes
These have been pretty bad. They started on day one and they just haven't let up. This picture is of Lilian Jégou after he hit the tree. It was terrible, even though we didn't see the actual crash. We've lost several riders to crashes, including KOM favorite Soler. Two of the big favorites, Evans and Valverde have had really hard crashes, but both seem to be recovering. Every year I list crashes, but they are a part of racing. It just hurts to see them, especially when they happen so early. Hopefully we won't have any mass pileups. And I hope I didn't just jinx the tour by saying that.

8. Doping (duh)
I actually debated including this in the good half because it's good to catch dopers. But I decided against it because doping is, as we all know (and oh how we know it), a very bad thing. See, the deal here is that Beltran manage to screw up what was turning out to be a wild tour. Of course, we should have seen it coming. Why? Because every time someone says 'oh, this tour is wide open,' people test positive for something (whether it's EPO or blood doping or testosterone). It's just the way things work. Sure, this tour is open, but will we have more positives? Will we ever find out who those remaining nine riders are? While we all hate dopers, I have a secret theory that we like all the scandal and drama. It makes things exciting and makes us appreciate more those we believe aren't doping.

9. King of the Mountains
Though Sylvain wore this jersey for one stage, the KOM competition sinks down into the crap half of my top ten. Why? Because it's been a joke of a competition. Not that it's switched hands, not that I don't think the riders who wore it deserved it. But because it's been a non-contest. Maybe I'm pining for the days of Richard Virenque (if which I am suitably ashamed). But I'm just not impressed with how the KOM competition is playing out. Even the green jersey seems to be more exciting. I think, though, this might be because it's so early in the tour. Maybe, once we get into the end of this week and into the final week, I'll be happier. Only time will tell, of course.

10. Protesters
Normally I support protests. And, to be honest, I don't mind when they briefly stop stages. I don't mind them along the route, or even near the finish. People have the right to have their protests on TV. But I don't like when they get in the way of things. For example, holding up a race for 5 or more minutes? Not cool. And getting in the middle of a podium celebration? Not. Cool. Luckily for Dumoulin, Bernard Hinault is a badass and took care of it. But, seriously, who thought that getting in the way was a good idea? Because they were wrong.

And let me just say, I love modern technology. I like that I can watch the stages on my computer and take screencaps. I like that I can go to youtube and pick out videos. I think it's fantastic how I can use technology in my blog. That's definitely a good thing.

Stage 10 - Monday, July 14: Pau - Hautacam, 156km

It sucks having to watch the stage after it's happened, but that's the way it goes. It was quite a stage, though. Like I said yesterday, it was another one of those 'we've been waiting for something like this' stages. I know a few people even though this was the best stage they've seen in a while. I beg to differ, but not due to lack of talent on the mountains.

What was it about this stage? Well, first off, Ricco was right. During his post-race interview on Sunday, he said he wanted Leonardo Piepoli to win. He said he would give everything to get Piepoli the win, and that's exactly what he did. He also road himself into the young rider's jersey and the king of the mountains, taking it away from his teammate, David de la Fuente. Not really very sporting of him, but de la Fuente was not having the best of days.

The thing about this stage wasn't who won, and there are people who don't even care about Saunier Duval. Personally, aside from Jose Angel Marchante (and he's not even racing), I don't care about them either. But, like I said, the winner wasn't really Piepoli (technically he was, but that's not the point), the real winner was the stage. It proved to be massive in all the best ways. People road harder than you'd ever expected and riders who had previous good days, had a really bad day, which actually made me happy. Not because I like riders suffering so badly, but because it leaves the field open. Luis Leo Sanchez, for example, had a really rough day after winning stage seven. Sure, it's just three stages later, but he gave a huge effort. Of course he should be suffering.

Another thing I liked was the huge break. It gave riders time to gather themselves together before the the mountains and allowed the boys in the break to get some TV time. Though the break eventually, well, broke down, it was nice to see so many people attacking. Sebastian Lang, who gave everything Sunday, was back, proving that sometimes you can keep going. Of course, by the end of the stage, he was 33 minutes back. At least he gave it a good try, though. The important people in the break were Oscar Freire and Rémy Di Gregorio. Freire, because he was looking for green jersey points -- and that's exactly what he wanted. Di Gregorio because he was French.

And, of course, since it was Bastille Day, there's nothing better than watching a Frenchman give his heart and sole for a stage win. But, do to the nature of the stage, there was no way he was going to win. What he did do was go over the Col du Tourmalet first and, well, that was pretty damn awesome. It looked great with all the fans and this Frenchman riding his heart out. And, of course, he won the most aggressive rider award on the day. There was no one who deserved it more.

Eventually Di Gregorio was caught and the race exploded. There was so much attacking that none of us really knew what to expect. I thought that they would attack on the slopes of the Col du Tourmalet, but I was so very wrong. I should have realized that everyone would wait until the start of the Hautacam, but I didn't. Anyway, that's when the attacks began in earnest. Partly this happened because Kim Kirchen just couldn't handle it. Instead of improving from yesterday, he dragged himself along and just barely managed to finish in a respectable 15th place. He didn't write himself out of the tour, but he didn't do himself any favors. Damiano Cunego and Alejandro Valverde, on the other hand, both lost the better part of five minutes and now both of them are 4+ minutes back. Maybe not out, but close enough.

So what did happen with that yellow jersey? Nothing of note. Oh, wait. See, here's the thing, I don't like Cadel Evans. I don't care if he never wins another race the rest of his life. I can't tell you why and I certainly hope he doesn't go to Garmin-Chipotle. I get that he's extremely happy to be in yellow, even if it's just by one second (Go Frank!). But, honestly, I just don't care about him. His emotionally response was just annoying. Plus, as I said to my mom, he used to be on that T-Mobile team with Ullrich and Vino and Kloden. I know I'm probably grasping at straws, but Evans has never impressed me, except when he broke his collarbone three times in one season. I hope he doesn't win and I really just don't care what happens to him. Maybe I'm a bad fan, but so be it.

And, last, Sylvain and Philippe:
89 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 1.08.12
137 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux 1.34.57
As long as they're still hanging on, I'm happy. Not great, but, you know, they're racing and that's all I ask. they both came over 20 minutes back. Gilbert with the autobus and Chavanel about 10 minutes ahead of him. Sylvain's brother, Sébastien, was in the break at the start of the race. Good for him.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stage 9 - Sunday, July 13: Toulouse - Bagnères de Bigorre, 224km

Instead of posting this yesterday, I watched lots and lots of Torchwood and then at 11:30 I realized that I hadn't written anything and decided to finish the episode I was watching and do this tomorrow. As it is now tomorrow, it's time to post this. Unfortunately, I was going to do all sorts of fun things with screencaps, but I forgot to upload them before I got to work (which is where I am not), so I'll add the caps in later. I have a nice sequence of one of the best moves of the day, Ricco catching up to Lang, then capturing and passing him. They're blurry, as screencaps go, but they were fun(ish) to take.

Now, the stage. Well, it was, as a couple of stages this tour have already been, what we were waiting for. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. It had everything, crashes (Cadel Evans), the threat of bad weather that never happened, and drama. There was so much drama on the stage. Schumacher imploded a bit, as did a few of the others, and then there was the whole drama relating to who was going to win the stage. Would Kim Kirchen keep his jersey? And, of course who would take the KOM jersey? The only thing missing was a huge blow up of attacks on the tour leader -- that, it seems, will be saved for stage ten. After all, who can resist attacking on the Col du Tourmalet? Certainly not the boys in this tour.

But back to stage nine.

It started innocently enough with attacks, but as the riders approached 34k to go, it was Sebastian Lang who was the only rider up front. He was battling hard, trying to get KOM points as well as win the stage. Except he was suffering and it was so clear on his face that he was suffering. And, as it turned out, he was doomed. Ricco attacked and he attacked hard. He watched as he crossed the distance between himself and Lang and we had to wonder, was he going to do it? For a bit it looked like wouldn't and then suddenly there the motorbike camera was, watching from behind Ricco and up ahead? Lang's back. And then it was all over. He gave everything, road right up to Lang, and then passed him. It was brilliant.

I am not a Ricco fan, but I have to say that his move up the mountain was just amazing. He gave almost everything he had and then somehow found more to keep riding. He took the stage by storm and he made it look easy. It's been a long time since a rider in the mountains made a stage win look that easily. The people over at Podium Cafe said he reminded them of Pantani, my mom said he reminded her of Armstrong. I think he looked like a little bit of both of them.

It was a great stage, not for Sylvain and Philippe, but in the end, that wasn't important. Instead, it was Ricco's stage win, it was the attacks and the sheer beauty of the stage and the way it was won. It's not often that stages can bring out the best in the riders, but today proved (as have a surprising amount of stages in this tour) that it's still possible. So far, even with the doping issue, this tour has turned into something spectacular. And to think, we have two more weeks to go. How seriously awesome.

One last thing, here were Sylvain and Phil's stage results and then overall rankings.
90 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux
106 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone

96 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 46.07
136 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux 1.04.06
Not great, but not bad. They both finished nearly 19 minutes back, but that's okay. As long as they make it to the end, and at least try a couple of times to win a stage. I'm easy that way.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stage 8 - Saturday, July 12: Figeac - Toulouse, 172.5km

If only I'd picked Cavendish for my fantasy team, but no. Not that it matters, because I love watching him win. In a lot of ways, he powers his way to the finish like Boonen, but it's just better watching him. Maybe it's because I stopped liking Boonen, but I don't think that's the main reason. I think that Cavendish is smaller and he just powers in such a way that blows everyone else out of the water (and blows their mind). Plus, he's so damn happy when he wins. I don't care if he comes across as cocky, because when you're winning stages like he is -- you deserve it. And on such a day, the only way it could have been better is if a Garmin-Chipotle rider had won the sprint.

Stage Eight was wild, not like yesterday, but in it's own way. It was bad weather plus fast race + a break and everyone was just biding their time until the catch. At one point, the peloton seemed worried that they were going to catch the break too quickly and they slowed down. Considering the weather, this was probably a good thing. As you see in the video, the riders took the turns up toward the finish quite slow and miraculously, there weren't any crashes. There were a couple on the stage, but nothing so dramatic as the crash into the tree from yesterday.

In addition to all the rain making the roads slippery, it was dark, which made seeing things harder. I am always impressed with stages that take place during poor weather because the riders seem to almost be ethereal, but also because who wants to ride in shit weather? No one really likes it that much (well, almost no one, I think Sylvain once said he liked riding in crappy weather and I know Armstrong used to thrive on it). But the rain gets on the lens of the video cameras and the headlights of the cars and the cyclists seem to glow. I know it's silly, but for those moments you remember just why you love watching the sport, well, I do at least. And with all the BS that's going on with the doping crap, I need to cling to those moments.

And, okay, let's talk about doping. Well, about what happened yesterday and today. Beltran was kicked out of the tour and suspended by Liquigas. Okay, good, they didn't beat around the bush or pretend it didn't happen, which is good. Do I think that they were right to suspend him? Yes. Do I think that they should be kicked out of the tour? No. Because it's not a rule. Do I think that other teams/fans/press/officials should force them (through 'peer' pressure) out? No. The only way I think they should be kicked out of the tour is if ASO or whatever made a one strike rule (one caught doper and you're out of the tour). Not every team is Cofidis or Astana and the ASO/tour folk need to make sure they don't burn their bridges just yet.

As for those other nine riders? I can't even begin to speculate who they are. I will just hope and prey that none of them are riders I like a lot. Back to the stage, though. Where did my boys finish? Sylvain was 115th and Phil was 157th which, I don't know. Though it was a bunch sprint, so the time didn't matter. Their overall positions are, well, not great. Sylvain did move up three places and Phil just keeps going backwards.
90 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 28.29
151 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux 46.28
They'll sort things out and maybe next time I'll have pictures of one of them winning a stage. A girl can dream, right?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Stage 7 - Friday, July 11: Brioude - Aurillac, 159km

So, my tape of the stage didn't quite work out. It taped blank screen and sound, but luckily there's a replay, so I watched the end of the stage. I had the prime time on, but I wasn't really watching. The end of the stage, though, it was fantastic. I mean, we're only at stage seven and yet the peloton was in shambles. It was fantastic, cyclists imploding left and right. Who knew it would happen like this? Pretty much no one.

It wasn't a good day for the boys I support, not in the least, but I'm okay with that. Why? Because I know they're not here to win the tour, because they're not here to prove that they can make it over the mountains. They've both been there and done that. They have shown the world that they can attack their way to a tour finish. Sometimes just knowing that they're there and giving everything they have (and you have to know that they are) is enough. At least for me.

And it had better be, look at these times:
93 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 28.29
139 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux 43.01
There ain't nothing like the good ol' Tour de France.

Moving on, though. There wasn't a change of the yellow jersey at the end of today's stage. There didn't need to be. Of all the things that happened, that was probably the least important. Most impressive was Luis Leon Sanchez Gil. Yeah, I know, he's just some Spanish rider working for Valverde. Maybe, maybe not. I've been following his career, not like my favorites, but enough to know that he's got something special. And, like Ricco yesterday, he pulled out all the stops. He decided that this was it and he wasn't going to take any more peloton bullshit games and he went for it.

And oh, how he won that stage. Watching him ride up to the line, glancing over his shoulder once, then twice. And you could see the thoughts running through his mind. He wasn't sure, then he kind of was. But then he looked back again and he just had to be thinking 'this is it' and then his arms went up to the sky and we all know. He crossed that line and then he knew for sure, every part of him was screaming victory and the look on his face made it all worthwhile. For him and for us as fans.

Sylvain said in his diary over at CN, that he wanted the race to be exciting. That he wanted more attacks, more hard riding (well, he implied it rather than spelling it out). CN's live ticker said that Sylvain claimed the race so far was lame. I don't think he did, at least not in his diary. But he did have a point, and oh, how the peloton responded. It was a if someone flipped a switch from idle to the highest possible setting. And they flew across the mountains. It didn't matter that Sylvain lost time or the KOM jersey. It didn't matter what happened yesterday or the day before, or what will happen tomorrow.

All that mattered, for the first time this tour, was finding that finish line. It was a real battle, the kind we've been waiting to see since all those so-called favorites fell out of favor and into the disrepute of the doping scandals. Today's stage is what every fan hopes for. Perhaps it's not what the riders wanted, but it's exactly what Sylvain hoped would happen. In his diary, Sylvain said:
I mean, you shouldn't be afraid to take a blow. It's also much more exciting for the spectators: they want us to attack - and if we blow up on the next day, it doesn't matter!
And you know what? That's exactly what happened today. I want more of it, and all I can do is hope that this new doping scandal is just one more step toward cleaning out the race. I hope that the other nine riders who are suspected are people we expect. No more of the 'oh, I cannot believe he dopes.' When Versus says take back the tour, let's hope they mean it.

Because if today's any indication, it's already one hell of a tour.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Stage 6 - Thursday, July 10: Aigurande - Super Besse, 195.5km

Today's stage was something different, and not just because I watched the the last 30 or so k live and the beginning later. I got home just in time to miss Sylvain going over top of that first cat 2 climb. I was okay with that, because I'd set up the VCR before I left in the morning. But the rest of the stage was extremely stressful for me. Especially when I couldn't figure out how many places got KOM points and where Voeckler was and then he crossed the line before Sylvain ...

It might have been a little out of control.

But, moving on. The stage was, well, awesome. Ricco proved what so many people have said, but not really believed. He won a stage, he out-sprinted more experienced riders at the top of a mountain stage. He did what I have always dreamed that Sylvain could do. It's not every day -- hell, it's not even every tour, that we see a 24 year old rider do such a spectacular ride. It's not like he powered his way up the mountain, leaving everyone in his wake. He timed his attack right and in doing so, made sure that no one could follow.

It helped, of course, that there was chaos behind him. And oh, that chaos was spectacular. And I got what I wanted, who knew? I don't care what Stefan Schumacher says, because he has only himself to blame. Sure, Kirchen's bike was in the way, but we've seen it happen time and again without anything like this happening (and we've seen it happen with much worse consequences). Schumacher needs to accept that he screwed up. Maybe I'm being a little harsh, but I am not overly disappointed.

I love that it's Columbia in the yellow jersey. Just like I liked Mark winning yesterday and Vande Velde's attack, even though it didn't quite turn out the way they wanted. I think this stage basically was a shocker for everyone. I quite enjoyed it -- especially because of Sylvain and the KOM. I had no idea that they tally up the type of climbs you go over if the results are tied. I was so worried that Sylvain wouldn't get it -- especially after all the world he put into the climbs. And then he just fell off the front. But I suppose it was all tactics, because he's not going to try to win the tour. He wants KOM and stage wins (which is what I want, too and I've said it before) and I think he can do both this year. He just has to attack at the right times.

Probably the dropping back tactic was planned and it did work out. After all, he probably knew where Voeckler was and knew that there were more than 25 riders in that front group, so he would win the KOM. And of course, Sylvain was most aggressive rider, again. But Philippe Gilbert, on the other hand, had kind of a crappy stage. He ended up in one of the latter groups, so no GC (at least not now) aspirations for him.
48 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 6.421
24 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux 21.14
Clearly, not so good for Gilbert. But, hey, if he can get in a break and maybe stick around for a winning one, it might not be so bad after all. Sylvain's a lot better off, but I don't know if he's even going to try for that.

Tomorrow is another stage with another break and more VCR working for me. I hope it'll be as exciting as today's.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Stage 5 - Wednesday, July 9: Cholet - Châteauroux, 232km

Back when they were T-Mobile, after they refused to renew Christian Werner's contract, I didn't want to like them. Even though they picked up Bas Giling (only to refuse to keep him on) and eventually Edvald Boasson Hagen, I still refused. Then the team kind of spiraled out of control and High Road came along and my feelings changed. And then, again, new (better) sponsor and now they're Team Columbia. And I have to say, I am not at all -- not in the least -- unhappy with this result.

Mark Cavendish was a very deserving winner. I throughly enjoyed watching him win -- and how happy he was. Sure, riders win all the time and sometimes they are thrilled. But it's not every day you see a reaction like Cavendish's. I mean, he looked thrilled and completely shocked, not that I blame him. He's a British rider in his second Tour de France and he just won a stage. I'm so completely proud of him -- even though he's not even close to being a favorite rider of mine.

I think what made this win so special, why I harbor no bad feelings for Cavendish for beating out other sprinters I like, is because he's such a great winner. It's nice to see truly genuine reactions from the boy, not only as he crossed the line, but afterward. His teammates just hugged him and he could not stop grinning. It was fantastic.

As for the rest of the stage, it wasn't anything spectacular, aside from the crashes. We only saw a couple of them -- especially the one when Heinrich Haussler crashed near the end of the race. That one was horrible, as was the one where the Saunier Duval rider hit the elderly woman. I hope she's okay, hell, I hope the cyclists are okay too. Sometimes stages are like this. The riders just go so fast and are so focused that things (like old ladies and wheels in front of them) out of their control (mostly) happen. At least everyone (save poor Soler) finished the stage, if not one piece then mostly so.

Chavanel and Gilbert recap? Well, Sylvain was stirring up some trouble. Amusing to me and to the commentators, but less so for the cyclists themselves. I assume he was told by his manager to get up and try to slow the peloton down so his man in the break would win. It obviously didn't work and was a pretty bad tactic, but you can't blame a boy for trying. As I said over on PC, it's the thought that counts.
29 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 2.10
54 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux 3.44
Not bad, but not great either. In the end, neither of them are TDF winners. I know Cofidis likes to think that Sylvain will contend, but I just can't see it happening. Instead, I expect him to slip a few more minutes back and then start going out on breakaways in the mountains. Hopefully one of them will be fruitful and he'll end in the KOM jersey for a bit and, especially this, win a stage (or two). I look for Gilbert to slip back further, but his goal is stages and I think he could take a hilly stage with a long sprint finish. Hopefully we'll get one of those and both my boys will find the way to win.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Stage 4 - Tuesday, July 8: Cholet - Cholet (ITT), 29.5km

Today was a stage just like any other ... Okay, of course it wasn't. No one could have predicted what would happen and not everyone liked it, including me -- and not just for the obvious reasons. We'll get this out of the way, I don't like Stefan Schumacher at all, which is fine, because there are lots of riders I don't like especially (or even hate, but we won't get into that). And it's not just because of his past. But, he does have a history of winning ITTs, so far be it for me to judge him more than I would anyone else.

The stage, though, it was wild and crazy -- and of the best kind. Ignoring the winner and ignoring the Sylvain's result, it was a fantastic and exciting stage. The race lead seemed to change with ever rider that crossed the line, basically blowing our minds. This stage was so riveting that I actually didn't make it to the shower until about an hour and half to go before I had to be at work. I'm not entirely sure why it was so good, it's not like Sylvain was going to win it (no matter how hard I wished).

But that being said, it was fantastic. Sure, Romain Feillu lost the jersey and a French rider didn't win the stage, but none of that matters. What mattered is how hard the race was fought, how fast these boys were going. They were, for all practical purposes, flying down the road. It was better than fantastic. It was the way a time trial was meant to be raced. It was everything we, as fans, could have hoped for, and then it just got better.

Like stage five, a Garmin-Chipotle rider was mixing things up. David Millar (yes, that David Millar) came in third place on the stage. Don't ever let them tell you that riders can't impress without doping. Even though he didn't win, I though his race was fantastic, the second best of the day (yes, the best was Sylvain, I'm sorry, I'm biased). Let's take a moment to look at the GC after today's stage:
1 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner 14.04.41
2 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia 0.12
3 David Millar (GBr) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto 0.21
5 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC - Saxo Bank 0.33
6 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30 0.37
7 George Hincapie (USA) Team Columbia 0.41
8 Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Team Columbia 0.47
9 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 0.58
Kind of shocking, isn't it? First off, five riders from American-based teams, two Americans and a Brit. When was the last time this happened? Not only that, Kim Kirchen? Thomas Lövkvist? Not names normally associated with the top of the GC. Granted, it's only the fourth stage but isn't this great? Three different tour leaders in four stages. I really, really hope this keeps up. As for my boys?

Sylvain did exceptionally well on the stage, finishing a more than respectable thirteenth. Philippe was 91st which was mostly fine, because time trials are not his strength. Their GC results switched, with Sylvain gaining time as Phil lost more.
29 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone
54 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux
Tomorrow is another stage, and like today, we never know what's going to happen. And, I'll be perfectly honest, even though I won't be able to watch it until after work, I'm excited. Hopefully this tour will keep getting better and better.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Stage 3 - Monday, July 7: Saint-Malo - Nantes, 208km

There are four main stories about today's stage of the tour. The least important of these are the protesters. I have yet to figure out what they were protesting and no doubt it's important, but I do not approve of jumping on the podium during a presentation. I don't like them on the route either, but at least it didn't disrupt things too much. And, hey, at least no one is blowing things up along the route (like last year).

The next three stories are all related to the rather fantastic breakaway. The first is William Frischkorn. If you haven't seen this interview, watch it.

I don't really have much to say, except that I'm really proud of Frischkorn and it's too bad he didn't win the stage. But there are 18 more stages left. And this is the Tour de France. You'll never know what will happen.

Story numbers two and three are about France. What about France? Well, for the second day, at least two French riders have been in the break. And what happened today is what I was hoping would happen yesterday, only it wasn't Sylvain Chavanel winning the stage. It was his teammate, Samuel Dumoulin, who took the stage instead. While I would have liked it if Frischkorn would have won, how fantastic was it for the French? This is their race and they had a rider win an early stage! Of course, that wasn't the best part.

What was the best part? Romain Feillu. I know you're asking who is this boy, well. He's a French cyclist (read his wiki entry). He's young and this isn't his first Tour, but it's probably his best. Because, you see, he's got that yellow jersey on. And I'll be perfectly honest, even though the only French rider I long to see in the jersey is Sylvain, I am not at all upset about Feillu. Why? Because this is almost exactly what I wanted.

The finish to the race was fantastic (you can find videos at or Versus), not just because it was a breakaway, but because these three boys fought it out, none of them were going to just let the winner take the stage easily. And, in the end, it was a French rider who won and allowed another French rider to take the stage. How awesome is that? Valverde doesn't have the yellow jersey and no one knows who will get it next. And do I care? Not right now. Because this is the way things should be. Well, mostly.

Disaster did strike the peloton, a few crashes, but the worst being Angel Gomez's crash that split the peloton. Lots of times this doesn't matter because the groups can catch up (unless they're going all out or it's a mountain stage, neither of which was happening), except that the groups decided they wanted to chase. Too late, of course, and my two favorites (I know, you were waiting for this), lost both places and time because they were in the second group (well, third counting the breakaway).
68 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone
51 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux
They are both over two minutes back and I don't know that those are, at least for now, odds that they can overcome. Of course, they are stage winning hopefuls, so you never know what'll happen. As a fan, I just want them to win stages and any jerseys they might take are bonuses. Well, if Sylvain ended up in yellow, I don't know what I'd do.

Tomorrow is the ITT and I can't wait. I should be around to watch most, if not all, of this stage. Then back to taping again on Wednesday and probably Thursday too (because my car isn't completely fixed). Tomorrow, though. Tomorrow I get Sylvain in the French ITT kit and I cannot wait.