Sunday, July 26, 2009

Stage 21: Montereau-Fault-Yonne - Paris Champs-Élysées 164km

The final stage is upon us. Actually, it's over. The whole damn thing's over and I get to have my life back. This is good, but at the same time it's horrible. Not because I'll miss 24/7 cycling (because god, I will), but instead because it means that the main cycling event is over. We'll all go through post-Tour withdrawal and depression. But, at least we had this last stage (a replay of which I am watching on Versus as I'm typing this up). And like so many other years it was a mesh of boring crap and an exciting finish.

I know there are plenty of people who like the boring crap. They like celebrating on bikes. They like the goofing off. And sure, it's cute. But I wish I'd been watching cycling when the last day mattered for more than just a sprint. I remember cheering people on, knowing full well that there'd be no way in hell that they'd get the time they needed, but desperately wanting them to anyway. Hell, I'll be honest, I definitely wished Armstrong would crash so that Wiggins could end up getting third. I'm not proud of wishing a crash on someone, but, damn it, I don't like Armstrong.

Speaking of Armstrong, though (and I know, for someone who hates him, I sure talk about him a lot – that's because the whole fucking cycling world seems to be in love with him, or at least most of them), I was not impressed with his use of stage 21 to conduct business. Now, I'm not 100% certain that's what he was doing, but he was certainly chatty as they rode toward Paris. Does he really think people are stupid enough to join his team? Probably. Do I think they are? Fuck yes. Just hopefully not the Schleck brothers. I'm not their biggest fans, but they'd have to be idiots to join Team Radio Shack (and the next person who says Shack Attack is going to get punched in the face). But, yeah, I was not impressed with Armstrong chatting everyone up. He's not the TDF winner and yet he gets 90% of the attention, it's bullshit.

Of course, this was the Tour de Armstrong, right? Wait, what? You mean Armstrong didn't win anything? You mean he only finished third? You're kidding, right? Oh, I forgot. There are 198 OTHER cyclists racing the tour (well, there were when it started) and all we can talk about is Armstrong? I was watching the final stage and there were cyclists racing that I forgot were even at the Tour. Why? Because all people ever talk about is Armstrong this, Astana that, blah blah blah. It gets really old really fast and we're back to the pre-retirement days when it was like no one else existed except a chosen few cyclists who were deemed worthy, and everyone else they talked about just "happened" to win stages.

Now, I know what you're thinking, Versus talked about Columbia and Garmin. They interviewed loads of other cyclists, like people from Lotto, SaxoBank, and Cervelo. Which is fine. I mean, who doesn't like Fabian Enchilada* Cancellara? But the rest of the time they just fall over talking about how much they love Armstrong. There were some stages when I actually turned my music up so I didn't have to listen to their fanboy love. The worst, of course, was the evening programming on Versus. There's nothing worse than listening to Bob and the other guy whose name I can NEVER remember (figured it out: Craig Hummer) try to call a race. Bob can be funny sometimes, but ugh. I'd like some non-biased reporting. I don't mean anti-American (because I love listening to Dave Harmon and Sean Kelly get all giddy about British cyclists doing well), I just mean not as much pro-Armstrong.

Apparently I have a lot of rant built up in me, so I think it's time to go back to talking about the stage. Despite all my bitching, the end of the stage was really fucking brilliant. I started out rooting for anyone but Cav, but that didn't last because there were plenty of people I didn't want to win. I ended up picking Haussler, because you know me. Of course, it wasn't to be. What happened was amazing. Garmin decided to try something different and they were giving Tyler Farrar a great lead out and the other teams had mostly boxed Cavendish's Columbia lead out in and then ... BAM. George Hincapie shifts the line of the Columbia train and suddenly they're leading. And then there's Mark Renshaw. There is not bigger stud in today's stage.

Mark roared ahead of everyone else, leading out Cav and it was amazing. He took a corner ahead of Garmin and the rest of the peloton and that was what gave him that extra kick. Mark was going so hard that I wasn't sure if he'd be able to get out of the way in time. But he did and Cav took off. The best part, even better than the win was the fact that he looked back, so just exactly how big Cav's lead was and he looked back and just knew that Cav was going to win and he was like 'FUCK YEAH' and celebrated before Cav had even crossed the line. It was so hot that I completely forgot I wasn't supposed to be rooting for Cav. I'm watching it again and it's just as beautiful this time. Seriously, Cav is fucking amazing. He's a cocky bastard, but I'll be honest. I love him and against my better judgment, I loved this win.

So, the final stage was exciting. It surpassed my expectations, thank god. Then we had the presentations. Cav got a hilarious gold bird thing for winning the stage. Andy Schleck is kind of adorable in his white jersey. Pellizotti's children kitted out in polka dots were adorable. Thor was lovely and there was a sweet moment when Cav and Thor showed that they didn't really hate each other. And then there was the yellow jersey. I was on the phone with my mom during the stage this morning and when they showed Contador, she was like 'we don't care about him!' and she's so right. I mean, she's not an Armstrong fan, but she doesn't like Contador either.

I can't really care about the GC, except that Andy's hopefully not a doper and I wanted Wiggins on the podium. But none of it matters now because the Tour's over. We'll hear about the positives in the weeks to come, but for now, let's just enjoy the fact that Cavendish is the world's fastest sprinter and that Heinrich Haussler won the stage of the fucking TDF. If only Sylvain had won, then I'd be extra happy.

Well, thanks for joining me as I got my rant on throughout the 2009 Tour. See you all over at my regular cycling blog ... Or if not, see you all next year! Same time, same place.

*for those of you who don't get that, it's a Eurosport joke. Sorry about that. Kind of. Okay, I'm not sorry about it at all. Now go back and finish reading the post.

Stage 20: Montélimar - Mont Ventoux 167km

So, Mont Ventoux. This stage was stuck in there to make sure that the yellow jersey wouldn't be a guarantee on the last couple of days of the tour. At least that was my impression. Of course, it didn't work. Now I know what you're thinking, Contador could have had a bad day. The Schlecks could have been on fire. Armstrong could have worked miracles. You know what, though? You're dead wrong.

As soon as Contador slipped on that yellow jersey, the race was never going to end any other way. I'll be honest, there have been times when I've felt like this was the only way this race was going to end. Maybe I wouldn't find it so irritating if Armstrong had decided to stay retired (the bastard). But come on. For a moment, let's forget my hate and talk about the stage.

It was one hell of a stage, ignoring all the GC bullshit (and that's what it was), it was fun. Mont Ventoux for the sake of being a mountain is utterly brilliant. It's up up up up and then BAM the stage is over. I loved it. What made it almost perfect (as it were) was the fact that the lovely and always (always) adorable former leader of the young rider competition, Ton Martin, was riding extremely hard and it was fucking awesome. I haven't yelled that hard since Haussler and Sylvain were riding their stage together. I desperately wanted Tony to win, but Garate, the Rabobank rider, dropped him and Tony practically killed himself trying and succeeding at getting back. So when they finally got up to the line, he was too spent to even try attacking. Which was so heartbreaking because I really wanted him to win.

Behind the stage winner and second, we were hoping that drama would explode. Turns out that didn't happen. Andy and Alberto decided to try and battle it out and it was ridiculous. Alberto didn't attack for whatever reason and Andy didn't attack and spent half his time waiting for Frank. I'm sorry, I know people like them on the same team together, but what the hell. Frank was holding Andy back. I don't know what would have happened -- maybe the breakaway of two wouldn't have lasted. Maybe the stage would have had a different winner. Though probably Alberto would have still been in yellow. But sadly, we'll never know because Andy Schleck was a stubborn bastard and slightly idiotic.

There's one other thing I want to mention and that's Bradley Fucking Wiggins. Seriously, that guy is amazing. And if it wasn't for Armstrong, he'd be in third (fuck you, Armstrong). Seriously, he's so god damn close to being in third place that it's ridiculous. I had more of a rant yesterday, but I wanted to try to be a bit calmer, since there's no way I'll be unbiased. Like with Gerald on Friday and Tony today, I was desperately trying to will Wiggins to catch up with Armstrong and pass it. It wasn't to be, but thank god he didn't lose his fourth place. It's not as good as third and he should be on the podium. Maybe next year.

Over all, the stage was good fun, even while being seriously aggravating. I'm sad that the tour ends tomorrow, but I'm happy to get my life back. Hopefully the final stage won't be as anticlimactic as in the past.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Stage 19: Bourgoin-Jallieu - Aubenas 178km

I watched this stage on mute at work and I thought about watching it with commentary, but I've gotten be honest, I'm not going to. The result pissed me off, and not just because Armstrong magically gained more time. See, okay, I like Cavendish. I really do, but oh my god. I am so sick of all the Cav vs. Thor bit and I was literally sitting at the desk trying to will Gerald Ciolek to a win. Of course it didn't work. Who was I kidding? It was always going to be Cav in a sprint.

Try as I might, though, I just couldn't bring myself to get excited about the stage. I had a brief thrill when I saw Sylvain was in the break, but I knew in my heart (ha) it wasn't to be. Short of a miracle break tomorrow or perhaps something special on Sunday, I've resigned myself to the fact that Sylvain's not going to win a stage this year. I imagine Quick Step must be extremely disappointed with this year's Tour. I also think they probably made a wrong choice, taking Boonen, but that's a topic for a different time.

I wish I had more to say about this stage, but I don't. Though I do have a bit to add. For example, whoever thought that road split right before the 3k to go banner was a good idea was completely wrong. It was ridiculous and dangerous and I cannot believe there wasn't a single crash (that I know of) . Usually this feeling of apathy is reserved for the Friday before the tour ends, and today was no exception. Though instead of an ITT to look forward to, tomorrow we have that mountain that shall not be named (shut up, I saw HP recently) but first we had to get through today.

Once the break was whittled down to nothing and people were attacking off the front, I had to decide what I was going to root for. Eventually I decided that I wanted the peloton to step up the pace and reel in all the attackers. I like sprints. I wanted a sprint, but I didn't want Cav to win. I don't think he, any more than Thor deserves any more glory. I know that it's not going to happen and I know they'll never behave like grown ups, but I'm allowed to be pissy at them and I am.

Hopefully tomorrow will be high on another sort of drama. I will be waking up at 7 am to find out! Sorry for the crappy post, but I gotta say, the stage wasn't much better.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stage 18: Annecy - Annecy (ITT) 40.5km

I know that I said I wanted Wiggins to win the time trial, but by the end of the stage, I just wanted the damn thing to be over. Basically, I spent much of the stage hoping to get to see Sylvain (I was in luck, the live Versus stream and then the tv itself, showed him for me). Otherwise, what the hell was that stage. Like I said on Twitter: fuck you, Armstrong, GO BACK TO TEXAS. I’m sorry, but I’m so over his bullshit. There was an interview on Versus yesterday that basically implied that because he saw that Mont Ventoux was back on the route for this year’s tour, even if he hadn’t already come back, that would have been enough to bring him back. So, whatever with your cancer awareness bullshit. Yeah, I think Livestrong is really good for cancer research, but stop pretending that you’re back for reason other than just to see if you’re still good enough.

I suppose, in a way, he’s proved that he is. But I’m so tired of him. If he’s still on the podium in Paris, I don’t even know what I’d do. Like my friend Sarah, my “ideal” (since we know Sylvain won’t ever win the whole thing) podium would probably involve Wiggins, Contador and Andy Schleck. But if I really had to choose from the top ten, instead of the top five, it’d be Wiggins, CVV and maybe Schleck or Contador. But, honestly, ignoring CVV and Wiggins, I cannot honestly say I care about the rest of the top 10. They do nothing for me (well, if Le Mevel were to suddenly be totally awesome, that’d be nice! But I’m not stupid, he is French after all).

Sylvain rounds out the top 20 on GC, which makes me so happy for him. I’d like it if he was higher, but I don’t need to lie to myself. I am happy when he finishes the tour (so, Sylvain, plz to be finishing it!). He also finished 14th on the stage, which is so fucking awesome I don’t even have the words. I am SO proud of him (and he did better than LA, SO TAKE THAT, BUDDY). As for the stage itself. Whatever.

My I’m a bad person, but Contador winning the stage just irked me. The tour is no longer a contest for the yellow jersey. He’s all but wrapped it up which, whatever. I know people are looking forward to Mont Ventoux, but I think they‘re wrong. Anything short of Armstrong sabotaging Contador (I don’t know that he’d do that, but …) and he wins the tour. I just hope that Armstrong’s not on the podium come Sunday. I also feel terrible for Fabian Cancellara. This should have been his stage. But, yet again, a Saxo Bank rider falls just short of the mark. Though this wasn’t as bad as all the crap that’s happened to Columbia. My pick for the stage was David Millar, who came in a very respectable 4th, following by Wiggins in 5th. But, you know, Wiggins is 4th on the tour. FOURTH. He is 11 seconds behind Armstrong. This is not fair and, well, ridiculous. I really, really hope that over the next to days that changes and it’s Wiggins third and Armstrong fourth (or lower).

I know there are lots of people who like Armstrong, but I don’t. I’m not going to pretend not to be biased because I am. I don’t like him and I’d like nothing better than for him to fail completely on Mont Ventoux. I might be a horrible person, but that’s fine. I feel what I feel and I miss the days without Armstrong in the peloton.

Tomorrow will probably suck, unless someone in the break is someone I like. Otherwise everyone will conserve energy for the big mountain on Saturday. Such is the tour.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stage 17: Bourg-Saint-Maurice - Le Grand-Bornand 169.5km

It’s called the Queen Stage for a reason. It was fucking brilliant. Yeah, the yellow jersey still belongs to Contador, but it was almost worth it to watch Contador and the Schleck brothers work their way up that mountain. Who knew that it would be so dramatic? Who knew that there would be so many time differences between everyone on the course? Probably some people will claim they saw it all coming, but I’m going to tell you that they’re wrong. Sure, they might have said ‘oh, that Fränk Schleck, he’s totally going to win a stage’ but they didn’t know which one. And I’ll be honest, I definitely figured it’d be Andy who won, not Fränk.

But anyway, the stage itself. There was a breakaway that included, among others, KOM leader Pellizotti and my boy, Sylvain Chavanel. Of course, neither of them was ever going to win the stage. Hell, it was only going to be one of the top 10 who would take the win. The Col de Romme and the Col de la Colombière were always going to be the center of any attack and it was no different. What was odd, well not odd but different, was that there were only three riders strong enough to do anything. Others tried, and Contador said in his post-race interview that he desperately wanted Andreas Klöden to get the stage win (which is a whole different story related back to when Armstrong was trying to give Landis the stage win on the same mountain and Klöden attacked and almost took the win, but Armstrong was having none of it and beat Klöden to the finish). It should have been payback, but that was not to be because Klöden, for whatever reason, just couldn’t keep up.

So, in the end, everyone else was dropped except for the two Schleck boys and Contador. Which was especially sad for me, because Wiggins just couldn’t get going. I suppose that’s less fuel for his detractors, because obviously he’s no perfect. But he’ll kick ass tomorrow on the ITT. So the rest of y’all can suck it. The GC did change, though not the yellow. Instead of Armstrong (who lost a bit of time, but did attack as well – there’s apparently some drama here, but I don’t give a fuck about it, so whatever) in second, it’s Contador, Andy Schleck and then Fränk. Not my ideal podium, but not bad either.

I know I should have more to say about the stage. Because it was pretty fun to watch, because it was kind of awesome. But like the previous stages that have ended with Contador in yellow, it felt a bit like déjà vu. It was like this was supposed to happen this way – not that the race was fixed (because, come on, really?), but just that I felt that I’d been there, done that already. But whatever. What’s done is done and tomorrow on the ITT we’ll see just how good people are.

With luck, Wiggins’ll win. But it’s the Tour de France and almost anything can happen (and usually does).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stage 16: Martigny - Bourg-Saint-Maurice 159km

This was one of those mountain stages that ended up being a breakaway stage instead of a moment of truth stage. I kind of like those, because unexpected things tend to happen. But, to be honest, this stage was mostly unremarkable. I think this was partly because of all the pre-rest day drama. We’ve been so burnt out on yellow jerseys and George Hincapie and Cavendish vs. Hushovd that anything else would just be a disappointment. That’s not to say that this stage was disappointing, far from it. But there was no high drama, as it were.

We did find out a couple of things: Astana, in spite of so-called in fighting, is pretty fucking strong (sigh). They did well to keep Contador safe and show the rest of the competitors which team was in charge. Also, we learned that neither of the Schleck brothers is scared to attack. The other thing we learned is that Contador is going to win the Tour, barring a bad day on any of the next couple of stages.

The important bit, at least to me, was that breakaway. It was really in two parts, the KOM boy, Pellizotti with his two-man breakaway partner, Karpets and then the 16 man breakaway full of chasers. Gomez Marchante (Cervelo Test Team), Van Den Broeck (Silence-Lotto), Voigt (Saxo Bank), Ten Dam (Rabobank), Verdugo, Astarloza, Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Casar (Française des Jeux), Fedrigo, Laurent Lefeve (Bouygues Telecom), Velits (Milram), Moinard (Cofidis), Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel), Yury Trofimov (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), and Roche and Stephane Goubert (AG2R). These guys were gunning for the win, or in the case of Saxo Bank and Cervelo, they were up there in case their team leaders needed help. What happened was something out of the ordinary.

The break was descending hard and by the time the drama (yes, drama, but not that kind of drama) started, we know they’d probably stick it out. But then came the crash. It was one hell of a crash and poor Jens Voigt had the road (yes, the road) take him out of the Tour. It was possibly one of the worst crashes I have ever seen. See, the thing about Jens is that no matter what, everyone seems to like him. He’s funny, entertaining and he’s so passionate that he’ll just do whatever it takes. But sometimes you just can’t go on and he couldn’t. It was horrible, it was heartbreaking and for several hours, none of us really knew what was going on with him.

Luckily, he’ll be okay eventually. But at the time it was horrible. The stage win felt unimportant, not unlike the stage when the woman was killed. Sometimes there are things that are just more important than a stage win. But there was a stage to be won, and much to my chagrin, none of the riders I picked won. What happened was that Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Astarloza finally got his coveted stage win. It was good tactics and he took the stage in a fantastic victory.

Though the GC didn’t change, I was disappointed because the lovely Tony Martin had a crap day and lost out on the white jersey for good. Tomorrow should be interested because it’s time for some really big mountains. Maybe the GC’ll mix it up a bit. One thing I would like to add is that I’m so proud of Bradley Wiggins and hope he ends up on the podium in Paris.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rest day: Verbier

The Good:
1. Heinrich Haussler
This one is obvious. I mean, who else would it be? His stage win was brilliant. It was so much fun to watch, even while the tension was killing me. I'm still so very proud of him and so happy that he won. It's great to read interviews with him where he talks about how he lives, in Germany, near where the stage took place and how he was familiar with the roads. I also like how he mentions that he didn't really think he'd win a stage, but the chance was there and so he took it. I also liked that he raced with Sylvain, that he respects him and that he waited, twice, before he realized that Sylvain really wasn't doing that well. That's the sign of a good rider, a smart rider. And like, I said, I love it.

2. Mountains
They haven't given us the best kind of excitement, not that we're really used to, except a bit on Saturday and Sunday. But they have been beautiful, and sometimes that's the kind of thing we really look for on the Tour. The racing can't be 100% exciting all the time and there have to be things that fill up the other space. Sure there are interviews and whatever, but it's the scenery that really makes the Tour so good. I know that both sets of commentators I listen to feel the same way, unfortunately, we don't get all the best pictures most of the time, if only because there are so many commercials.

3. Drama drama
It can't be a Tour without some sort of drama and the 96th tdf is no exception. In this case it's infighting, between members of Astana, between Astana and Columbia, and between Columbia and Garmin. Cervelo sprinters vs Columbia sprinters. Who knew that the TDF would be like high school? While I put this in the good side of the list, it's also in the bad, but more specfiic. What drama does is make things on the road even more interesting. We're lucky that it hasn't, at least not yet, causes any real damage. Mostly it's all a result of things that happened which is just fine with me. It's way more fun this way.

4. Jersey competitions
When did these things get so exciting? First it was KOM switching every day or two. Then it suddenly Cav and Thor were fighting over Green. Now Tony's trying to get back into white, which Andy Schleck took from him. And then there's the yellow jersey. While it hasn't changed that much, it's come awfully close. I forgot what this kind of TDF could be like -- and to be honest, I can't really remember a TDF I've seen that's been so wild when it came to all the jerseys. I mean, there've been green jersey fights (Baden Cooke vs the rest of the sprinters) and KOM (Rasmussen vs other climbers) and white jersey (Thomas Voeckler losing everything). But all there in one TDF? Awesome. I know it could be better, closer, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun, BECAUSE IT IS.

5. Bradley Wiggins
I was going to talk about how awesome the breakaways are, but fuck that, man. I want to talk about how much I love Bradley Wiggins (and how much I would LOVE HIS BOOK, argh, maybe I'll go have B&N order it for me). Moving on. I think Brad is so awesome. I am really, really happy for him. I know people have been talking shit about him and possibly doping, but I cannot believe that. I know he's worked really, really hard and lost a lot of weight and he's trained himself to ride in the mountains. There've been a couple of interviews with him where he talked about how lazy he's been in the past and how he's finally applying himself. I really, really hope he ends up on the podium. I know he's not going to win, but wouldn't that be just fucking brilliant? Yeah, it would.

The Bad:
6. Security
I don't know what else to say. Two riders got shot during the race. SHOT. How the hell does this happen? Of course, this is such a public event, how do you stop people from doing shit like this? How do you keep people from tripping up cyclists on the road. But at the same time, there have been fans who have helped cyclists as well. But we never remember that, because the bad tends out outweigh the good. It's all ridiculous, but two riders being shot NEVER should have happened.

7. A death at the tour
I don't have much to say about this because basically it's the worst possible thing to happen. There are two lessons to be learned. First is that everyone at the tour, regardless of if they are fans or police or cyclists, HAS to be care. Second, something has to be done about the fans getting in the way. This was the worst thing that could have happened at the tour, even worse that doping positives, but at the same time, she crossed the road at the wrong time. So, something not right if they're not educating people on how to behave at such big stage races. I truly hope this will never happen again.

8. Hincapie drama
Out of control, out of line. I've basically said all I want to say on this in an earlier post. But come on. No favors at the Tour. No one's going to be nice to you just because you're a nice guy or you think you deserve it. Also, holding grudges doesn't do ANYONE any good. Get over it, George. I like you a lot, but grow up. This is a bike race, not high school romance.

9. Cav/Thor feud
Again, let's grow up. Here's my take on things: Thor is bitter because Cav is basically faster than he is. Cav lets himself get drawn into ridiculous feuds. Cav does something that's possibly, but not 100%, questionable. Thro completely overreacts and throws a hissy fit. Cav says stuff in the press. Thor says stuff in the press. Now they hate each other because all sprinters are divas. Boys, either kiss and make up or do something. This name calling shit has GOT to stop.

10. Sylvain Chavanel
My baby broke my heart, but I'm okay with it. I know what happened, I know he didn't have the power. I know I desperately wanted him to win. I know that I adore him no matter what. I also know that if anyone other than Haussi had won the stage, I'd be so angry. I liked that he never gave up, that he gave everything he had. This is why I love cycling. This is why I adore Sylvain. Never give up, bb. NEVER. But even so, it's really fucking depressing to watch your second favorite cyclists hit a wall and crumple under it. Maybe he'll try something this last week, but maybe not. Oh, SYLVAIN.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Stage 15: Pontarlier - Verbier 207.5km

So, then that happened.

As I said to several people, the stage was exciting but at the same time it was predictable. It was almost as if I was experience deja vu. I wanted to be like 'didn't this already happen?' only have I no idea where or when. There was a breakaway with some promise, but as mountain stages go, you knew it wasn't going to last. There were bright spots, Simon Spilak, Ryder Hesjedal, and Fabian Cancellara in the breakaway. But, no matter how much effort they put in, they were doomed. And that's exactly what happened.

The final climb of the, all 8.8k of the Verbier, was not long, but it was always going to create problems for the riders. Maybe, though not me, expected it to be Armstrong who surged ahead. I was with those who imagined that Contador would be the one to step it up for Astana. I was hoping, especially when wee adorable Simon Spilak attacked (and he was justly rewarded with most aggressive rider), that something magical would happen. Of course I was wrong. And that's about when Contador attacked.

I know that in previous tours with Armstrong, they'd talk about how easy it looked. Well, I've to tell you that they're so fucking wrong. Watching Contador climb makes it look like anyone could do it. He flows up the hill and it's like he's not even breaking a sweat. He almost reminds me of watching Roger Federer play tennis. You know he's putting shit loads of effort into it, but you cannot for the life of you see that on his face. It's simply amazing and while I might not like him, his effort is one of a kind. If he's not doping, he really is fucking amazing.

Once he attacked, no one else was ever going to win the stage. Try as he might, the adorable Andy Schleck went after him, but never managed to catch up with him. In the end, he had to ride by himself, caught in no man's land behind Contador, but in front of his brother and two others. It was a valiant effort that landed him in fifth place, 2:26 behind Contador – the new yellow jersey. But what was even more important to me was the group with Andy's brother, Fränk. That group, who were trying to catch up with Andy, but never managed to, was composed of three riders: Fränk Schleck, Vincenzo Nibali and ... Bradley Wiggins! Of all the cyclists to ever ride the tour, it was Bradley fucking Wiggins who was riding his ass off. God, he was awesome.

Oddly enough, there were several more attacks after Fränk, Nibali and Wiggo went. Sastre had ridden himself out of trouble ended up coming in sixth (Nibali was 3rd, Fränk 4th and Wiggins 5th) after nearly dropping out of contention completely. Behind him was Cadel Evans (surprise!) who I totally thought had been dropped repeatedly, then Andreas 'I'm the only rider on Astana Sarah even pretends to care about' Klöden in eight and then ... Lance Armstrong. Yes, Armstrong was dropped by everyone, even his own teammate(s)! Bloody fucking brilliant, if you ask me. Also, I totally believe that, until he finished today's stage, he completely overestimated his fitness and the other riders in the peloton, including Contador. It was, well, great to see. I'm a bitter, grudge-holding fan, what can I say? A little schadenfreude never hurt anyone.

So, wow does the current GC look? It'll blow your mind, I promise. Here they are:
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 63:17:56
2 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:01:37
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:01:46
4 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:02:17
5 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:02:26
6 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:02:30
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 0:02:51
8 Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC 0:03:07
9 Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux 0:03:09
10 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:03:25
11 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Cervelo TestTeam 0:03:52
12 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Slipstream 0:03:59
13 George Hincapie (USA) Team Columbia - HTC 0:04:05
14 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto 0:04:27
15 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Team Columbia - HTC 0:04:38
Yeah, I wasn't kidding. I know you see Armstrong there in second and think, OMG HE MIGHT DO IT. But you know what? You're wrong. Absolutely wrong. Plus the best thing about the top 3? BRADLEY FUCKING WIGGINS. I know there were other things to talk about, like Nibali pushing into second in the young riders and Andy Schleck ousting Tony Martin (SADFACE) into third for the lead in the same competition. Or the fact that Astana is back in full force, but in the race lead and the team competition. But, whatever. Bradley Wiggins is in third place and if he stays there and Armstrong doesn't win the tour? I might even be happy about the results.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Stage 14: Colmar - Besançon 199km

This was the weirdest, most fucked up stage ever and most of it didn't even happen until after the stage. It started out simply enough with a breakaway that was decent sized, though not large. What was pretty awesome was that George Hincapie was in the break and the virtual yellow jersey on the road. If he managed to keep the jersey at the end of the day, it would have been awesome. Except there was this little thing called hardcore drama going on. There were three bizarre events that happened.

1) A 60 year old woman was killed when she crossed the road on the Tour route. Apparently she crossed after the breakaway, but before the peloton, came through. First of all, let me say this was absolutely horrible and the last thing anyone would want to happen. Especially since after the police motor bike hit her, it slid into two other people, injuring them both. But let me just add that the only thing worst than crossing the road in front of cyclists is to cross between the peloton and the break. I really, really wish that that didn't happen. I also don't like the fact that the cyclists were forced to ride by her body by the side of the road (not only do I know that this happened because some cyclists were twittering about it, but also because there were pictures of her body – which is completely horrible – being passed by cyclists). It's a horrible accident that overshadows the rest of what I'm going to write about this stage.

2) The sprint finish that my friends and I are calling The Mark Cavendish Incident. Basically, the sprint for points after the rest of the breakaway crossed the line or was caught was dramatic on every single level. Columbia did a little train for Mark (which I will talk about later, but not how it relates to the Green jersey) and things got weird and basically it looked like Mark was boxing it and then interfering (?) with Thor's chances at the sprint. I don't know if anyone complained (though I think Cervelo must have) or if the race officials decided to look at it again, but it's seriously hard to tell what happens. At full speed and from the front (aka, looking to the sprint from the finish) it's almost impossible to see what made the official DQ Cav (docking him points and giving Thor the Green). When you look at it from above, it kind of looks like Cav glances back, sees Thor (in Green) and then moves over in front of him. They have a brief argument, but again, it's hard to know if it was Cav, Columbia, a Cervelo (not Thor), the barriers, or some combination of all of those that forced Thor ... toward the barriers, since he didn't crash. I think it was unfair to DQ Cav, but what's done is done and I'm not the Tour expert.

3) Five seconds from glory. Seriously, all he needed was five more seconds and then George Hincapie would have raced Stage 15 in yellow. Except, of course, he lost five seconds. As I mentioned earlier, George was in the breakaway that stuck together up until the very end. He crossed the line 16 seconds behind the Russian stage winner and then played the dreaded waiting game. It's what happened after that's strange. First off, let me just say that George's tactics in break weren't the best (and I think he's admitted that). He didn't attack either at the right time or hard enough, I'm not quite sure. Which meant that instead of winning the stage, he came in fifth or whatever and lost those 16 precious seconds. But then what happened next was odd. Astana had been doing tempo for most of the stage, but once it seemed like George might end up in yellow, AG2R took over the work. As happens in stage races, when one team goes, the rest have no choice but to follow. It looked like Columbia, George's team, was doing it's part to slow things down, but it wasn't working. From what I can piece together, Garmin started working with AG2R and so did Astana and eventually Columbia. Armstrong himself blames AG2R and Garmin, and Columbia a little, for making George not get the yellow. I call bullshit, though.

Here's the thing. No one, not anyone deserves to be in yellow. Yes, when someone gets the jersey, pulls it on in the podium, we can say 'oh, he did all the work today, he definitely should be and deserves to be in yellow.' But first and foremost, this is a RACE. As in, team against team and rider against rider. I don't care what anyone says, there was no reason for Astana and Garmin not to race. There was no reason for AG2R not to race (George did not complain about them, because he's not entirely stupid), after all, it's their boy in yellow. But for people to point fingers and blame Garmin or Astana or whatever for not racing to put a cyclist NOT ON THEIR TEAM in yellow is completely ridiculous. I'm sorry, but you don't win races by being nice. Garmin's tactics were to make sure they didn't lose time. Astana's were to make sure they didn't lose time. AG2R's was to make sure that the yellow jersey stayed on their team. All of those things happened because that's what happens in a stage race. You don't look out for the other guys in the peloton. Sure, you might do nice things for them occasionally (see: Fabian Cancellara and David Millar), but that doesn't mean that your teams work together, nor does it mean that you try to get someone else in the yellow jersey – someone not on your team.

I don't care what Armstrong or Matt White or Johan Bruyneel might have said, because they are wrong. Sure, you might want George in yellow after the stage. Sure, you might be able to claim that you didn't do anything to stop him from getting yellow, but during the stage that's not the case. You react because that's what you do. The whole point of the Tour de France is to RACE THE GOD DAMN RACE. I don't care what kind of history you have with George, there are no favors in cycling. And as much as I adore George, and as much as I think he has a right to be angry about those five seconds, it's no one's fault but his own and maybe Columbia's.

As for Columbia? I have no idea what's going on with them. They had a terrible day. George didn't win the stage, missed out on yellow, while Cav was busy getting DQ'd and all but losing the green jersey.

All in all it was a wild stage. Perhaps stage 15 will be just as wild, but who knows.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Stage 13: Vittel - Colmar 200km

I almost didn't make it up in time for coverage to start. I didn't oversleep, but I definitely contemplated staying in bed a bit longer. For some reason I did and I was compelled to check the cyclingnews live ticker, because I was curious to know about the break. I don't know that I had a feeling that something good was going on, but I certainly felt the overwhelming need to check it. So I did.

And then I promptly flipped out. Anyone following me on Twitter immediately noticed this because I totally lost my shit. My two favorite riders, in a break together? What more (at that point) could a girl ask for!? I knew that chances were that if the break stayed away, one of them was going to win. The question became different of course, Sylvain being my favorite, did I want him to win? Or, because Sylvain already won a stage of the Tour, did I want my second favorite, Heinrich, to win a stage? Turns out I wanted Sylvain to win, but if for whatever reason he couldn't/wasn't going to, then I wanted it to be Heinrich. Little did I know what the stage held in store for me.

I know there were other things going on, like a battle for the King of the Mountains and struggles with the weather (plus two riders being shot with air guns), but at the time, none of that mattered. And, save the shooting incident, all that other crap doesn't matter to me in the least. The things that matter are Sylvain and Heinrich, they are the only things that matter to me. Anyway.
As much as I loved the fact that for a good bit of the stage the two boys were riding together, this stage was hell on my emotions. I'm one of those live and die by my teams/favorite athletes and both Heinrich and Sylvain ran me ragged (drove me?). Before we knew that Sylvain just didn't have the power in his legs (I kind of thought Paul & Phil might be right, but upon further reflection, Sylvain's not stupid enough not to eat enough), I was kind of freaked out because Heinrich was taking all the risks and Sylvain was taking none.

It turned out that Sylvain hit the wall. I knew he didn't really like the rainy/cold weather (even though previously he'd said as much and has won several races/stages of other races in shit weather), at least not as much as in the past, so that probably contributed to his mediocre (though not poor) performance. But no matter what he did, eating/drinking/etc, he just couldn't catch up once Heinrich dropped him. It broke my heart to watch him struggling so much. But he finished the stage (he later gave credit to the DS in the care, saying that without him, he didn't know how he'd've finished the stage).

And then there was Heinrich. Turns out the boy loves the cold, rainy weather. Someone, Renshaw maybe? Said on twitter that Haussler looked more Germany than Australian, because Aussie's hate the cold weather. I thought that was hilarious, though I've no idea if it's actually true. Not that it matters, really. Anyway, the point is that Haussler put the pedal down and never really looked back. His post-stage remarks were fasicnating. He confessed that he had no idea, until about 1k to go, or maybe a bit more, that he really didn't know he was going to win the stage. He also said he felt great and once he figured out that Sylvain wasn't going to give chase, he just went for it.

It was fucking brilliant to watch. He took risks on the descents and later I learned that he actually had no idea that Sylvain was in a bad way. He said something like he thought Sylvain was playing with him, some sort of cat and mouse game I think. But he wasn't having any of it (even though Sylvain was just really suffering) and that's when he let loose. It was so much fun, especially when he finally figured out he was going to win. Aside from Sylvain winning races, I have never been happier about a cyclist winning a stage. Watching Haussler cross the line in tears was a beautiful thing. I'm so proud of him and I'm not ashamed to say I cried.

Stage 13, not unlike Stage 19 last year, is my favorite of this tour. I just hope there's another one – this time when Sylvain's the winner.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Stage 12: Tonnerre - Vittel 211.5km

I finally got to see most of a stage! The first time since Sunday, which isn't really saying much because the last time was Sunday. Regardless, it turned out to be a fascinating stage, tactically speaking. What we didn't see live was that Evans and A. Schleck attempted to join a breakaway. I know, I know, they're doing it to try and gain time, but REALLY. I do not support such things because it's not fair to the boys in the break. Yes, I know that they had to true, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. But, moving on now.

The breakaway was eventually seven riders, including the stage winner, Niki Sörensen. The stage wasn't that eventful, except for a crash or two(?) with a dog. I don't know any details, though. When the stage started, the Versus commentators all agreed that it was likely going to be a stage for the sprinters -- in that they all picked sprinters to win. But, amusingly, that's not what happened. This break of seven kept on racing hard, pushing as much as they good to see how the peloton would react and ... it barely did. Eventually it seemed clear that if the peloton didn't step up, the break would survive, and that's exactly what happened.

Which meant that we turned out focus to who, out of those seven riders, was going to win. It turned out to be a joy to watch because Niki Sörensen, who was a bit late joining the break early in the stage, did everything right. He attacked the breakaway near the end of the stage and just took off. He played at tactics and held everyone off. All remaining six breakaway riders finished before the peloton, which eventually came in almost 6 minutes later. What surprised me, and ended up making me really happy, was that Columbia changed their tactics.

Cavendish took eight place, in front of Hushovd and a Lampre rider, which might have been a surprise (attacking without the chance to win the stage, really, Cav?), except for one thing. Early on in the stage, at the 32k mark, Cavendish attacked briefly to win a six sprint points. It was then that it seemed pretty obvious that Columbia and Cavendish had decided to keep the Green jersey by any means necessary (within reason, of course). This pleased me greatly, and so when we got to the finish, I was a bit anxious. Would Cav attack? Would Farrar or Hushovd try to steal the points? In the end, it was Thor who tried to out smart Cav, but as Columbia has proved, time and again, they are definitely the strongest.

Cav gathered another sixteen points head of Thor, giving him a bit more lead on the Green jersey. When the Versus reporter interviewed Cav after the race, he was asked if he was worried more about getting through the mountain stages or about winning on the Champs-Élysées. Cav's answer was hilarious. He basically said he'd have no problems with the mountains and was only worried about winning the final stage. It was so totally a Cavendish response that I completely loved it. Hopefully he's right, because I want to see Cav in green on the final day.

Nothing changed with any of the jerseys, except that there were a few more points added in both the green and kom competitions. It was a fun stage, especially the end. Tomorrow is the start of the Alps and I am so ready for those damn mountains. Hopefully the stage won't run too long, as I've got to leave for work at 11:30 am ET. It should be exciting!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stage 11: Vatan - Saint-Fargeau 192km

I didn't see much of this stage live and I've watched the sprint finish twice. Again, it was just a flat stage, but this one had a couple of pretty bad crashes (which I have not seen and I don't care to see, because ugh, really. The pictures make it look like total carnage and I don't need to see that). AG2R was doing a lot of work for their yellow jersey boy, though as Phil said either yesterday or today, perhaps that's not for the best because they should let the sprinter's teams do the work. I don't think that's necessarily the case, if only because they probably know they'd don't stand a chance to keep the jersey once we hit the next set of mountains. At least this way, maybe they'll make some allies and get themselves a lot of TV time. Also, AG2R is currently leading the team standings and that's just awesome.

The race was basically a chance to bring back a breakaway of two riders, then there were the crashes and ... then we got to one hell of a sprint finish. Not only did Cav win, but that Tyler Farrar is edging closer and closer to taking a stage. It almost looked like he'd have a win today. But what was really awesome as that Cav just barrelled through and not only did he win the stage, but he also took the green jersey from Thor. This really makes me happy. I'm really happy that he took the jersey, especially after his hilarious Versus interview before the stage where they tried to ask him all these questions and he was brilliant and playing coy.

The Columbia train was too strong for the break to succeed and Cav, well, is just. Cav broke a bunch of records (broke or tied), something about tying for the most stage wins for a British rider and the quickest number of wins in the shortest amount of time or something. I liked his post-race interview where they were like 'can you be in green in Paris?" and he's all 'I'm totally not thinking about this at all!' which I have to say, is the best answer ever. Who knows if he's thinking about it? I don't care, because I want him in green in Paris, but if he keeps not thinking about it and then winning stages? I'm not complaining.

Nothing else really changed on the stage, which was fine. Tomorrow is a bit more of an up and down stage, but again it could be for sprinters or maybe a breakaway. Let me just add that if this doesn't seem to make sense, it's because I've only had 5 hours of sleep and I'm basically sleep walking through this post. Hopefully tomorrow will be awesome. Sylvain Chavanel, how about another go at a break? That's my hope for tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stage 10: Limoges - Issoudun 194.5km

I saw the start of the coverage of Stage 10 on Versus and then the end of it. I missed basically everything in the middle. And, from what I can tell, I didn't miss a damn thing. I have to say, that's not really a good endorsement of the Tour. Up until today, it's been pretty fun. But to hear that people are describing this stage is kind of ridiculous. I don't think I would have minded it too much, if only because I don't mind just watching riding. It's fun and soothing and I enjoy that. But I had an appointment I couldn't miss.

I got home just in time for the good stuff, which was the sprint. What I'd missed was the breakaway: Thierry Hupond (Skil-Shimano), Benoit Vaurengard (Francaise des Jeux), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) and Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha). They wanted to win, three of them especially since it was Bastille Day. It was odd that there wasn't much drama, because the dreaded radios didn't do much except piss off the riders before and after the race. They kept the break within a reasonable distance and when the time came to step up the chase, it worked perfectly. Well, the capture was perfect. The real problem was the sprint finish.

It was a lot steeper than most of the teams realized, except for Columbia. This turned out to be because Columbia decided to do their homework. From what I can tell, Cav is apparently the kind of guy who likes to research his finishes and therefore, Columbia sent Zabel to scout it out. He reported back and said that the finish was more uphill than the race bible (as it's called) stated. Thus, Columbia knew was was coming and was able to propel Cav to the finish, while everyone else struggled. Happily for me, Cav won and he came within two points of Thor's green jersey. It was kind of obvious that Cav wants green again, and I'll be honest, I want him in green again.

The most interesting thing that happened was that there was some sort of 15 difference between two groups of finishers and Bradley Wiggins apparently lost 15 seconds and moved from 5 to something like 7th or 8th. It was odd, because if you watch a replay of the sprint finish, you can barely see the separation and it seems kind of odd that the Tour with indicate that as a 15 second difference (between the time Cav crosses the line and the time the 'leader' of the second group cross the line, not the front of the second group and the back of the first). I thought it was ridiculous and apparently so did the Tour jury, because they overturned the 15 seconds and Wiggins and LL are back where they were when the stage started.

It was kind of a wild stage and I'm glad things were sorted out in the end. Tomorrow is yet another sprinter's stage and hopefully another win by Cavendish -- with him picking up the green jersey, maybe?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rest day: Limoges

10 things about the rest day:

1. Columbia
Okay, so. they have the sexiest, most kick ass train EVER. Seriously, they're the best train since Petacchi's silver bullet or whatever the hell it was called. I could watch Columbia lead about Cav forever. They are tough and awesome, and they seem to work really, really well for each other. I love it and that's what a train should be like. So, other sprinter's teams? Y'all can SUCK IT.

2. Weather (mostly)
It's been hot, but it's been pretty beautiful if you're a fan. There've been a few occasions of shitty weather, but it's been really great for watching. I don't have much to write about, except that no matter how much I like the good weather, bad weather brings drama to the race, which is also fun. Hopefully the weather stays good, but if it doesn't I hope it causes good, non-injury drama.

3. Bradley Wiggins
Yeah, I'm not even sure if I like him and yet I really do like him. I like that Garmin's all about him and trying to help both Wiggo and CVV do well and protect them. I like that they can divide their time between those two and Farrar (who I'd like to be able to win a stage, just one). Anyway, Wiggins is awesome and I hope he ends up higher when the race gets to Paris.

4. Lack of a real contender
This is awesome. I know we're supposed to think that LA and Contador, et al are contenders. But, seriously, no one is really trying to dominate, which means that the races are way more interesting. I know people thing they are totally lame, drama wise. But, for the most part, I love it. It's fun to see different people win.

5. Sprinters
I know, they're in both categories, sort of. I know Cav seems to be dominating, but Thor's won a stage and has the Green jersey, and that's kind of awesome. Not because I don't want Cav to have it, because I do. But just because it's all about spreading the love around, and I adore that. As long as the sprint finishes stop being so dangerous, this is only a good thing.

6. All Lance All The Time
Yeah, this basically speaks for itself. Sometimes it feels like all they do is talk about Lance. It's ridiculous. It makes coverage lame and it's seriously irritating. I don't have much else to add, except that he's not in yellow and it'd be nice if people stopped pretending he was. Ugh.

7. Astana
Why won't they implode? Why do they insist that there's no infighting? Why does LA seem to think he'd be okay with Contador winning, when it's pretty fucking obvious Contador doesn't feel the same way. Why does everyone toe the party line? WHERE'S THE DRAMA? Seriously, this team should be overflowing with it, and yet nothing. Also, why are they there? They just piss me off.

8. Crazy Sprint Finishes (could be good, but ...)
Too many crashes, no enough people paying attention. They're dangerous and I doubt they'll get any less dangerous. At the same time, this makes them exciting, but I hate crashes and so this is totally a negative. I don't know if I want to blame the race organizers or the cyclists, so we'll just say the blame belongs to both.

9. Tom Boonen
Yeah, where are you, Boonen? I might not like you, but the worse you are (and god, you're so bad), the more annoyed I am that you took Allan Davis' spot. You're a waste of a Tour rider. You do nothing, you've crashed, your team is non-existent. You're probably ruining Sylvain's chances of doing anything because all you do is have issues. Go back to Belgium.

10. Mountain stages
Yeah, whatever happened to fun time attacking? Why didn't anyone put in any sort of effort? Why is that AG2R boy still in yellow? Does no one have the guts? Do they just not care? Is it really true that no one wants to work for the jersey yet? Way to make a sucky race, guys. Of course, if it keeps the jersey away from Astana, well, that's mostly a good thing.

Your TDF blogger is bitter. I'd apologize, except I'm just not sorry.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Stage 9: Saint-Gaudens - Tarbes 160.5km

I spent much of this stage wondering what the hell was going on and why no one was attacking. Which meant that as awesome as these mountains were (are), the stage was just like yesterday. No change, no attack, no excitement. Well, there was a few bits of excitement, especially when they got to the Col du Tourmalet and the crowds went crazy and for a bit I was worried that they'd get in the way. Luckily that didn't happen and all the riders made it through all right. The descent was kind of crazy, no guard rails ends up being dangerous. There was only one crash that I know of, Laurens ten Dam (Rabobank) went down, scraped himself up, but made it back to the peloton and finished.

The stage itself didn't get really interesting until about 70k to go (give or take). There were two breaks by the time the riders got to the flat part of the stage. There was a small group of seven or so and then two riders ahead of them. Versus has a camera that spends some days in Columbia's car and some days in Garmin. Today was a Columbia day, and so we had an interesting look into the car when Columbia was told to attack and drive the peloton to capture the break. For a bit, everyone was wondering if Cav was in the main group, but it turned out he wasn't. I'm not really sure what Columbia were going for, but whatever it was (aside from a bunch sprint for ... someone, I don't know who). In the end, it was Caisse d'Epargne who did most of the effort and still couldn't pull the break in.

By the time the cyclists got to about 5 k left, I was rooting really hard for the break to work. The more French riders who win stages, the better it is. And the more the GC doesn't change, the better. Unless it's to put Brad Wiggins in yellow, that I could totally support. But back to the point, I was cheering Pierrick Fedrigo (BBox) on so hard. He's not a favorite of mine or anything, but I really wanted more French rides to win, and more glory for BBox and that's exactly what I got! How awesome. And then we had a decent non-sprinters sprint for the remaining places (oh, right Franco Pellizotti came in second. Take that, Pellizotti, who did NO work and Fedrigo gave him what he deserved).

Oh, and there's great news for the Basque team (one of my mother's favorites). Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Euskaltel - Euskadi) is now the new KOM! How lovely! Otherwise, there was no change in any of the other categories. Including Tony Martin, which on further reflection, might have been the reason why Columbia were attacking. A surprise Tony win? I was hoping Sylvain would come out of nowhere to take the stage, but he finished 13th, which wasn't bad at all.

Monday's a rest day, then Tuesday's the first of the no-radio stages (which I'll not be watching as I have yet another doctor's appointment in the morning). I am curious as to how people will do tomorrow. Anyway, today's stage was a waste of mountains, but gave us a fun finish, so there's not too much to complain about. Hopefully there'll be more excitement this coming week.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Stage 8: Andorre-la-Vieille - Saint-Girons 176.5km

I'm sure that, aside from the scenery, there were many exciting things that happened on this stage. But, to be honest, I missed some of the stage due to cable problems (which eventually sorted themselves out) and not only that, the winner of the stage was definitely not who I wanted. I'll get to that later, though. On paper (the web, whatever) the stage looked like it could be both awesome and have an impact on the yellow jersey. In the end, it didn't really do any of those things, save the beauty of the scenery, but you'd be hard pressed to find a TDF stage that didn't have amazing mountains or buildings or fields or plants or whatever. But there's something about the Pyrenees that just makes you feel like this stage will be a defining moment.

It ended up being a bit of a letdown. Just a bit, because the GC didn't change and while I don't always like it when people dominate, almost anything's better than Astana in yellow. I don't really know what I was expecting on the stage, maybe more attacks. Especially after what happened during stage seven. I mean, there were three mountains, who wouldn't attack? But I forgot that people tend to attack more when the stage is a mountain top finish instead of what stage eight was all about.

The stage basically consisted of yet another breakaway and yet another breakaway winner, which to be honest, wasn't that bad. There were a few people in the break who I really supported, especially George Hincapie and Sandy Casar. For whatever reason, Hincapie sat up (much to my dismay) and that left me yelling at the TV for Sandy to win (and then my mom called and we were both yelling at him). Sadly, he didn't win the stage and it turned out that Spain would get their stage after all. It's not that I really have anything against Luis Leon Sanchez (I liked him when he was on LS), but I really like Sandy Casar more. I think it's partly because Casar is always in the break, always fighting hard and he never gives up, not even after he's won his stage (which I hope he does this year, though not at the expense of, say Sylvain).

It wasn't a dull stage, it just didn't light up any excitement and the darling Nocentini is still in yellow. One big, and slightly disappointing, change is that Thor Hushovd is now in green instead of Cavendish. Thor was briefly in the break, took two of the three sprints and thus took the green jersey from Cav. Disappointing, but not heart breaking because if Cav can make it through the mountains, I'm almost certain he can take it back.

Tomorrow is the last stage before the first rest day. There are two huge mountains that could prove exciting, but this year, you never know.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Stage 7: Barcelone - Andorre Arcalis 224km

I had no idea that today's stage would be such a soap opera. Let me first say that I have never fast forwarded through so much crap on a stage as I did today -- and I'm not just talking about the commercials. I don't know why we have to have six million commercials, six million interviews and five million little specials (about Armstrong). Really, I just. Don't. Care. I want to watch cycling, I don't want to hear what people have to say about the stage. I know this is the curse of cycling (shut up, it's not boring, I don't care what you think). I know that they try to give us what we want (we being not me, but a lot of casual cycling fans), but I'll be honest, it's irritating. The other irritating thing is just how much Versus loves Armstrong. I don't mean all the specials, but the way they talk about him, the way they try to justify what he does. I'm sorry, but shut up. I don't want to throw things at my TV, but I came close on several occasions. It's absolutely ridiculous. I get why they love him and why they use him (and he uses them), but I still hate it.

Um. Right, about the stage? So, it was a mountain stage that started in Spain and ended in Andorra (of all places! Awesome). Our coverage started with the breakaway already in full force. It didn't contain anyone I was particularly interested in or bothered about, but as usual with such breaks, it was fun to watch (even though I knew the end result). The boys worked hard and I was pleased to see that they wanted to stay away and that the peloton, at least at first, had no intention of catching them. I didn't have a favorite because I already knew the result, but it wasn't disappointing in the least. What did bother me was how Paul and Phil kept talking about how Spain would be disappointed that it was a French 1-2 and how this was the biggest win for France in ages and I was like, seriously. What. Okay. Because those previous French victories (like the one TWO DAYS AGO) didn't matter at all? Right. NOT THAT I'M BITTER OR ANYTHING. Done shouting, for now.
Anyway, so Brice Feillu (Agritubel) won the stage (and was adorable when he forgot to zip up his jersey), Christophe Kern (Cofidis, aw) was second and the yellow jersey goes to ... (just trying to bring the suspense, much like Paul and Phil did by accident) Rinaldo Nocentini, it Italian from AG2R. While that excitement was going on, there was even more drama behind them. The peloton realized, far too late, that they totally screwed up the capture of the break, so they did what they do best, they attacked each other. Granted, there were some crashes (OF COURSE) that managed to throw chaos into the mix, but really, it was that attack by Cadel Evans that threw everyone into motion. There were more, none successful, until Contador decided he'd had enough. For reasons that I'll never understand and don't actually care about, he attacked and put time on his teammates and the main rivals.

Now, see, I don't care for or about Contador. I don't want him in yellow, if only because he rides for Astana, but better him than Armstrong. What bothered me the most was the fact that the commentators just kept making excuses about what Armstrong did or didn't do, why Contador attacked, etc. As if they needed to defend Armstrong. WHATEVER GUYS. You don't need to suck up to him all the time, it's okay not to. As someone I follow on Twitter said, it's okay to say that you're wrong. You can admit it, it's okay! It's just like when Versus/OLN denied that there was doping in the peloton. It's okay to be wrong, really. I mean, come on, I'm wrong all the time! Okay, not all the time, but you know what I mean.

Anyway, so no one in Astana is in yellow and Armstrong lost time. It was an exciting stage, and maybe those were the first signs of the (hopefully) impending Astana implosion, or maybe they really are being good to each other (ha ha ha). Who knows, but regardless, I am definitely looking forward to tomorrow's stage.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Stage 6: Gérone - Barcelone 181.5km

With the way the GC is going, today's stage was a nice break from the drama that comes with the yellow jersey. Of course, it wasn't a relaxed stage. Instead, it was weather drama that turned into disaster, though not as bad as it could have been. The stage started out decently enough with a breakaway I could totally support (yeah, who saw that coming? everyone). Sylvain decided it was a day to be in the break, which really exited me. And up until the break was caught, I held out hope that he'd win. Granted, it was a bit of a stretch, but hey, a girl can dream.

The break established itself well, with three, then four riders. David Millar, along with Chavanel the future KOM leader, Auge and Spanish cyclist Amets Txurruka. They worked extremely hard in their break, but as breaks tend to be, they weren't meant to last. But they gave it the best try possible. It was heart breaking, at least for me, to watch Sylvain and Auge get swallowed up by the peloton. But at least I knew Sylvain would finish reasonably well.

The break wasn't the only drama, and I know I'm leaving out Millar, but don't worry, I'll get to him soon enough. There were crashes. Oh boy were their crashes. They weren't life or career ending crashes, but there were enough of them in a short enough period of time that it was rather stressful (more than usual). The ones that really stressed me were the one where Haussler (who y'all know I adore) went down (I found out later he fell twice which, GAH, not what I wanted to hear, poor kid). At first the Eurosport commentators thought it was Thor, and even though I like him, I'd rather it be Thor than Haussler. Sadly, that was not the case. He went down hard twice, but turned out okay in the end. Mick Rogers also went down hard and we spent much of the stage wondering if he'd even finish. Luckily he did, and later posted on twitter that he'd start stage seven and had no broken bones (thank god).

Then, in the huge crash (I think this is the one that took Haussler out for a second time), Tom Boonen went down. Like, who expects that kind of thing? It was high drama and made the stage chaotic. The weather was shit, though it didn't seem like it was pouring, or even raining that hard, but it was doing something just enough to make life extremely hard for the sprinters and they suffered for it. The best and worst part of the was David Millar. If Sylvain wasn't going to win from the break, I desperately wanted Millar to win. I've liked him, both before and after his confession and I want him to do well. I was screaming at the TV, trying to will him to a stage win and was quite unhappy when he just couldn't hold on. In his post-stage interview, Millar did say that he hadn't even expected to be there, so he wasn't disappointed, which is really good for him, but at the same time. Damn, did it suck to watch him almost win.

Of course, the sprint for the finish was quite interested. Cav was no where to be seen, I don't know if that was Columbia's ploy, or if he was suffering through the mountains or they were just making someone else work, but whatever happened, it made the sprint interested. The winner, who came from being boxed it to drive past Oscar Freire for the win was Thor Hushovd, who I also like (though not as much as some). I like him enough to thoroughly enjoy the win, especially the way he powered past everyone else -- from behind!

Tomorrow are the mountains and I won't be watching that stage live, but it should be interesting. I'll miss the sprints, and mountains can be exciting, but today proved that sprint (flat-ish) stages can be pretty damn exciting, too.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Stage 5: Le Cap d'Agde - Perpignan 196.5km

I'm gonna be honest, I don't really have much to complain about on this stage (well, I do, but I am so over Versus). I missed all of it because I was working, but I did watch my recording of it and it wasn't bad. (Edited to add that as I am writing this, I apparently have a lot to complain about, SORRY!)

It was pretty much billed as a sprinters stage and for the most part, that's what it seemed like. There were attacks off the front and a break caught on and stuck, for longer than expected as the race went on. But for a bit there, it looked like the only excitement was going to be the crashes (poor Robert Gesink) and all the gossipy drama about Columbia vs the other sprinters. Which, actually, I'd like talk about. I was surprise with how diplomatic some of the Versus coverage was of the whole situation. I found the whole thing utterly hilarious, if only because it's almost like they are pitting Columbia against everyone else. While at the same time, that actually seems to be the case. Which, what.

I mean, I think Columbia's argument makes sense. What's the point of racing if no one is going to race with you. But, of course, I think that the other teams have a point too. If Columbia (read: Cav) is winning everything, then why should the other teams work? After all, Sastre said Cervelo's going to "employ a "happy, relaxed" approach" to the Tour (source). Clearly QS isn't doing anything (Boonen, what on Earth are you doing at the tour?) and, frankly, Milram's a joke. I might adore Ciolek, but he's missing as well. So, it's not really like Columbia has much competition. Though I did leave out Garmin, and I guess Tyler Farrar is the only one who has come close to challenging Cav (Thor was second at least once, too). But, of course, this was all a moot point with stage five.

Because the first real surprise of the tour decided to show up today (on a day I couldn't watch live, FAIL). That breakaway? It shrunk down a bit but, somehow, it never disappeared. Which meant that the peloton blew it. There's always one stage where this happens, though often it's on purpose. This time? I don't think so, especially considering the fact that the peloton were closing in fast as the one and only Thomas Voeckler crossed the line. How brilliant was it to see him win? It's been ages and it's about damn time that he won a stage. I'm quite proud of him! He did a good job, both in the break and with his attacks. Plus, it's always brilliant to see a French rider winning a stage of the Tour.

Aside from that, not much else changed. There's still basically no time separating Cancellara from Armstrong (ugh), but Fabian still in yellow and that's the only thing that matters. Tomorrow's stage ends in Barcelona (yay!) and should be interesting, especially if the Spanish riders want to try something special. But, for now, let's all enjoy Thomas Voeckler's win, because it's certainly awesome.Top 10 for stage five, just because:
1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) BBOX Bouygues Telecom 4:29:35
2 Mikhail Ignatiev (Rus) Team Katusha 0:00:07
3 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia - HTC
4 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Slipstream
5 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram
6 Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Team Katusha
7 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
8 Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
9 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank
10 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Stage 4: Montpellier - Montpellier (TTT) 39km

Let's get this out of the way first: I have not seen the whole stage. I missed most of the middle (was at the doctor's office), but I saw the beginning (GOD, CRASHES) and the very end. So, before I actually get to my (brief, worthless) commentary, have the complete results:
1 Astana 0:46:29
2 Garmin - Slipstream 0:00:18
3 Team Saxo Bank 0:00:40
4 Liquigas 0:00:58
5 Team Columbia-HTC 0:00:59
6 Team Katusha 0:01:23
7 Caisse d'Epargne 0:01:29
8 Cervelo Test Team 0:01:38
9 AG2R-La Mondiale 0:01:49
10 Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:02:10
11 Rabobank 0:02:21
12 Quick Step 0:02:26
13 Silence - Lotto 0:02:36
14 Francaise Des Jeux 0:02:46
15 Team Milram 0:02:49
16 Cofidis Le Credit en Ligne 0:02:59
17 Lampre - N.G.C 0:03:25
18 Agritubel 0:04:18
19 BBox Bouygues Telecom 0:04:42
20 Skil-Shimano 0:05:23
Okay, so. WHAT THE HELL. Seriously, what the hell. It's like I said on twitter:
callmecayce Back from Doctor's in time to see that Astana has the good drugs and will probably (disgustingly) win the stage. about 8 hours ago.
Seriously. I don't even know. That team should be imploding. Contador's definitely not towing the party line, LL's spitting bullshit and they're being forced to work for Lance fucking Armstrong who hasn't raced a TDF since he quit. HE QUIT. Why in god's name is he still racing? All it does is piss me off. I know that I'm overreacting, since obviously he doesn't care what I (or anyone else) thinks. But it doesn't mean I think he should be out there or support him, because I definitely don't. Nor do I understand why Astana is, well, winning things. They are a top heavy team, they are just waiting to fall apart. I don't know why they thought this was a good idea, but as of stage four, it's working and that's just disgusting.

Obviously, I am also bitter about a) the course. IT WAS DANGEROUS. I mean, seriously, what the fuck. That many riders falling on a dry day on an TTT course is ridiculous. BBox did not, under any circumstances, deserve that. Randomly, for the first time in what feels like forever, FDJ wasn't last in the TTT. Poor Skil-Shimano. Okay, enough of my spewing forth. Even though I only saw them crossing the line, GARMIN. Garmin, Garmin, GARMIN. Seriously boys, if there's another team I could support, Garmin would be it. And just look at that. Second place, awesome, if not ideal. I don't know what kind of drugs Astana is on, but hell.

Columbia didn't have a good day, I don't know what happened and I don't know that I'm even going to go rewatch the stage (though I might) because it was painful enough the first time and I didn't even see it all. So, right. Like I'd want to put myself through that. Plus, this isn't even the real story. See how I did that? Right, I stuck it at the bottom. Because I almost turned off the TV in disgust. On my favorite sport (though not my favorite race, until Sylvain and/or Haussler win a stage or six). Why? Because of Lance fucking Armstrong. I don't want to see him in yellow. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever again. I honestly don't believe he deserves to wear that jersey, not with the way he's been talking shit about the past few years of the race. So, when I saw that Lance might be in yellow, I was about to lose it.

Okay, maybe it wasn't that bad, but I was still pissed off. I don't know what I would have done, and said as much on Twitter. Because what do you do when the guy you dislike (for legitimate reasons, not because he's a winner, but because he's a jerk) is about to get what is possibly the biggest not-really-a-win this year? Yeah, I was not happy. But, by some miracle, that didn't happen. I'll be honest, I don't know how they picked Cancellara as the winner and hell, I don't even like SaxoBank, but I'm not complaining. Anyway, before I get even more bitter, have the GC after stage fail four.
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank 10:38:07
2 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:00:19
4 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:00:23
5 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 0:00:31
6 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:00:38
7 Haimar Zubeldia Aguirre (Spa) Astana 0:00:51
8 Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC 0:00:52
9 David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin - Slipstream 0:01:06
10 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:01:07

Monday, July 06, 2009

Stage 3: Marseille - La Grande-Motte 196.5km

It was always going to be a day for sprinters, but we were never sure just what kind of day. It started out easily enough with a breakaway that was determined to show off, if not stay away. The stage fluctuated for those breakaway riders and at one point, if I recall correctly, they were almost 11 minutes ahead of the peloton. But, of course, the end was inevitable, as it almost always is for breakaways in the peloton. But it was the build up and chase of those riders that really brought the excitement.

Somehow, without any of us really noticing, the peloton split. Suddenly, there was a huge gap between almost all of Columbia and a few other riders from Skil-Shimano, Astana, Cofidis, Milram and Euskaltel - Euskadi. How did this happen? It was nothing more than a fluke. The wind changed and the peloton split and BAM everything changed. Luckily for me, my GC team managed to have all but two riders in the top half of the split. It was totally awesome, to be honest. The Columbia train is probably the sexiest looking train out there and I love it. Yeah, sorry, if you were looking for unbiased TDF coverage, you're on the wrong blog.

As much as I want Heinrich Haussler to win, I know he's there to work for Thor and I like Mark Cavendish a lot more than I like Thor (sorry, boys). It's too bad Columbia's kit is so fug and Cervelo's is kick awesome. But whatever, that's not the point. The thing is, I love Columbia and to have them in that smaller peloton was pretty damn awesome. I am not kidding, I was so excited. Then they caught the break and HELLO MARK CAVENDISH. No one's going to be able to stop that kid, not a single person.

I don't care what they say about Boonen or whatever, because there's no train like Columbia's train. And to watch it in action? It's a thing of fucking beauty. I don't care what people say, because they deserve every win they get. Cav just turns it on and goes and I love it. Every time (unless he's beating Haussi). And you know what else I like? The way he loves his teammates. He appreciates them like no one else. He knows who got him there and he lets them know. Cav's wins aren't just Cav's, they're Columbia's. I know we like to talk about how it was Discover/USPS winning when LA won, but I'm gonna say, right here, that they've got nothing on Columbia. That team has the best chemistry and even if they don't win the TDF (which, Kim Kirchen, I love you and want you to win, I just don't think you will).

So, this stage pretty much sorted nothing about, but Kim got a few (40?) seconds back and all Columbia have left to do is kick ass at the TTT. I know what happened already, even if I'm backdating this post (because I can), but I'm not going to talk about it. I shall just say that when I went to bed, I had faith that Columbia could be awesome. Anyway.

Stage 3 top 10:
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia - High Road 05:01:24 (39.12km/h)
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team +:00:00
3 Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Skil-Shimano +:00:00
4 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne +:00:00
5 Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step +:00:00
6 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank +:00:00
7 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Team Milram +:00:00
8 Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Skil-Shimano +:00:00
9 Maxime Bouet (Fra) Agritubel +:00:00
10 Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Team Milram +:00:00
And, of course, The GC top 10:
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia - High Road 05:01:24 (39.12km/h)
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team +:00:00
3 Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Skil-Shimano +:00:00
4 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne +:00:00
5 Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step +:00:00
6 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank +:00:00
7 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Team Milram +:00:00
8 Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Skil-Shimano +:00:00
9 Maxime Bouet (Fra) Agritubel +:00:00
10 Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Team Milram +:00:00

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Stage 2: Monaco - Brignoles 187km

I didn't get to see as much of this stage as I would have liked because my parents were here and they wanted to watch the Wimbledon final on tv. I ended up going through several different streams with limited Eurosport audio (my audio of choice), so it was interesting. But I did get to see the final sprint, tennis-free (don't get me wrong, I love tennis, but I just love cycling more).

The second stage was, as far as I could tell, a good breakaway stage, followed up by a chaotic mass sprint. Of course, it's the Tour so chaotic sprints are par for the course. As one of the commentators said, it's not the Tour without a crash. The first one (that I saw) ended up not causing too many problems, but the ones in the build up to the sprint seemed to be a bit worse. Though the first rider to leave the race (Jurgen Van De Walle) wasn't involved in a group crash, but apparently something smaller. I hope he's okay.

Moving on. The breakaway battle hard, but were inevitably caught. Which is, predictably, how these things go. I have to admit that I wasn't paying as close attention as I would have liked. Granted, I watched a lot of the tour, but all the commentary I had was mostly tennis. The best part of the break was, of course, Finnish rider Jussi Veikkanen getting the KOM jersey. I always like it when relatively unknowns end up in top positions. Granted, the likelihood of him keeping it is probably slim, but for now, I think it's great. Plus, it doesn't hurt that he looks absolutely lovely in the red polka dots.

Then there was the sprint. Let me first say that there were several problems with the sprint. The first was that the organizers decided to use a route with far too much road furniture far too close to the sprint. So while the riders were speeding along, the peloton strung out, and the pace quite high, they had to navigate these ridiculous roundabouts and what have you. Which, fine, is totally par for the course, but I have to be honest, it seemed like most of the riders hadn't done their homework and were totally shocked about the stuff in the road. I mean, really guys. You're professionals, you should at least know that the sprint is going to be dangerous.

Lest you think I blame the crashes on the road furniture, I don't. I blame it on lack of awareness that lead to a bit of panic which itself led to the crashes. One touch of wheels and you're down. Because it was the final sprint, we didn't have a good angle on what caused the crash. But in the end, everyone (save the early abandon) crosses the line, more or less in one piece. The best part of the whole sprint was seeing a sprint train in action. I'll be honest, not since the days of Petacchi and Cipo has there been such a fantastic train. Columbia more than held their own and it was dramatic and awesome to see.

As so many others have said about this stage, who the hell is going to be able to stop Mark Cavendish from running away with the sprint jersey? I don't know that there's anyone who can. As much as I adore Cav, I'm a bigger Haussler fan, but I don't think he or Thor has a chance. Speaking of people who weren't sprinting well, where was Boonen? Not that I'm complaining too much, but seriously. It was also nice to see a Garmin rider get second today.

I don't know what's in store for tomorrow, and I haven't got any idea when I'll get to watch it. But it doesn't matter, because it's sure to be awesome. It's the Tour, after all.

Top 10 on Stage 2:
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia - HTC 4:30:02
2 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Slipstream

3 Romain Feillu (Fra) Agritubel

4 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team

5 Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) BBOX Bouygues Telecom

6 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram

7 William Bonnet (Fra) BBOX Bouygues Telecom

8 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale

9 Koen de Kort (Ned) Skil-Shimano

10 Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale

Top 10 on GC:
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank 4:49:34
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:00:18
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:00:19
4 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:00:22
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto 0:00:23
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 0:00:30
7 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas 0:00:32
8 Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC 0:00:33
9 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 0:00:37
10 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:00:40