Sunday, July 06, 2008

Stage 2 - Sunday, July 6: Auray - Saint Brieuc, 164.5km

Today's stage was almost the most amazing stage of the Tour in the now six years that I've been watching. Of course, I knew better, because there's always one stage that makes me think 'maybe this time.' Throughout my history of watching sports, there have always days like today, when you think that just this once your team (player, rider, whatever) is going to make it. That today, just this once, things are going to work out exactly the way you want.

And for so much of today, that is exactly what I was hoping. Of course, I knew it wasn't going to work out. I mean, that's the way it always is. But that didn't stop me from hoping. And, to be perfectly honest, it almost worked. Sylvain did everything correctly, stayed out, got someone to work with him. The irony, of course, wasn't lost on me. I remember Sylvain giving up any chance of winning anything during that Tour when Voeckler wore the yellow. He destroyed himself for Voeckler, and got nothing in return. Which isn't entirely true, but Voeckler did lose every jersey he had (yellow and the young rider's).

In the end, Sylvain just couldn't hold off the oncoming peloton. They charged, full steam ahead, and not even a crash could stop them. The only saving grace, for me as a fan or course, was the stage winner, Thor Hushovd. I like Thor and if someone had to win, and if it wasn't going to be one of my favorites, then Thor is as good as any. And, really, better than most. It was an exciting finish and I'll give the riders credit, they didn't make it easy. No one knew who was going to win until the race was almost over.
88 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone
111 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux
In some ways, it was a perfect ending to stage two. It blew our minds, not unlike stage one. But it was a disappointment for myself, and for my two favorites. Chavanel, as I've already said, gave everything and yet again it wasn't enough (though I never count him out). And as for Philippe Gilbert? The burden of second place was just too much. He couldn't keep up and then he got caught out behind the crash near the finish.

Française des Jeux worked their asses off for Philippe, and like so many previous years, it was for nothing. Well, not nothing exactly, because they did get their name out there, but it's not like Phil will be racing for them next year. But I'm off on a tangent now. FDJ gave their most to either make us believe they were strong enough or to protect Phil -- most likely a combination of both. And what happened? Disaster, as seems to happen so often in the tour.

Both Sylvain and Philippe ended up finishing with the same time as the bunch, which leaves their overall GC results as thus:
12 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux
63 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone
Philippe is still just one second back, while Sylvain is a respectable 31 seconds back. Of course, this is at the end of stage two, so none of it really matters. But instead of being second overall, Philippe has lost places and slipped down 10 places. I know, it's not really the disaster I made it out to be, but if you're Philippe, you're probably extremely upset. Either his team wanted to see if they could get him the yellow (everyone remembers Bradley Wiggins in the pink jersey that one Giro) or they wanted to get him some sprint points. And it seemed like a combination of both, especially when he attacked for sprint points on the road. But to work so hard and have nothing ... It's tantamount to disaster.

But this is only stage two and there are still 19 stages left to decide this race. All I ask is that the race lead change hands. Valverde, due to some smart racing, is still in the lead. Chavanel, by the way, did get the most aggressive rider crown, and I am ever so proud of him for that. I fully expect, barring illness or injury, he'll attack again. Not on the flat stages, but ones similar today and perhaps some of the mountain ones.

Sad news, though. Poor Soler, who wore the KOM jersey last year, fell hard yesterday and we watched him suffer through today's stage. He was 179th (last position) and who knows if he'll even start tomorrow. As for tomorrow, I'll be watching a tape of the stage in the evening. Hopefully the outcome of tomorrow's stage is more to my liking. But, of course, I don't promise anything.

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