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.

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