Monday, July 17, 2006

Les Pyrenees

A Brief Guide to the Mountains: Yesterday was monstrous and here’s why. Mountains are divided into Categories, 1 through 4 or 5, with a Cat 1 being a brutal beastmaster and a Cat 4 or 5 only enough to mildly zonk out even the hapless sprinters. Then there are the rare but fearsome ‘hors categorie’ (beyond category) climbs, which make pretty much everything else look like a blessed descent. Yesterday, they started out with the legendary hors categorie Tourmalet, then, having crushed their legs already, were treated to total muscle destruction on 4 straight Cat 1 climbs. The time cutoff (the point at which you get eliminated from the Tour for being too slow) was I think 46 minutes back yesterday, and I gather there was quite a panic among the particularly large ‘autobus’ (the a&^-end of the riders) as they barely made it in with about 2 minutes to spare before nearly getting kicked out en masse.

Stage Report: Landis wails; Leipheimer recovers; Hincapie tanks: Landis looks so calm and is riding so smoothly it’s hard to tell he’s putting in any effort at all, but I rather imagine he is, and with only one Phonak boy to help him most of the day he dragged the last two remaining breakaway riders up the final 5km of the Pla de Beret and took, though not the stage, the yellow jersey. I can’t imagine he’ll keep it til Paris but he doesn’t particularly need to, either, so long as he keeps an eye on everyone else in GC contention. Meanwhile—Leipheimer, where was this version of you in the tt? He’s back to himself, assuming he is really back on form overall and didn’t just blow himself completely to bits for the rest of the Tour yesterday—still utterly out of GC contention for good but nearly, so nearly, took a stage win. Allez Levi! Denis Menchov though (horridly took the 2005 Vuelta from Roberto Heras by default after Heras was busted for EPO, like Menchov’s just getting by on a hearty breakfast I suppose—free Roberto!), with the beautiful bone-crushing assistance of Dutch national champ/venerable oldster Michael Boogerd who helpfully destroyed the bulk of the lead group, outsprinted Levi with just plain more power and took the stage fair and square (so far as I know). Props to jailbait rider de la Fuente, who took about 4 of the mountains (the last one or two alone) before getting taken up then spit out by the bedraggled field but still rightly managed to take the King of the Mountains jersey.

Meanwhile, Hincapie flat-out tanked after a promising start, along with most of Discovery—I personally think this is not only due to the fact that with 7 years of obedience to the Cult of Lance these guys just don’t have the independent experience to take control individually, but that team director Johan Bruyneel seriously miscalculated by not having the guts to pick a damn team leader and make these guys work for him until the chosen boy proved the couldn’t handle it, in which case, fine, back your next man instead. Anyway, Hincapie didn’t have the legs and is out of GC, barring…well, I’m not going to curse the few people left in GC contention that I like. Might as well go with Jose “Ace” Azevedo at this point, who had a fine day relatively speaking; alternately brilliant and struggling Savoldelli is like many Italian riders truly meant for the Giro and not the Tour I think, though as a perfect descender could still take a stage and should still place okay overall.

Oh, Iban: Poor Spanish climbing genius/failed wonderboy Iban Mayo of Euskaltel/Euskadi, who as I noted yesterday was abandoned by him team to suffer alone at the end of the field (in Spain, no less, where he desperately wanted to make a good show to the orange-clad Basque cycling fanatics), again got left behind almost immediately on the Tourmalet, was again ignored by his team directors, and finally abandoned the Tour entirely in humiliation. He’s said for the past few days he’s been having a throat problem, which I sincerely hope is not code for “completely emasculated by my team and the press and my morale is dead”. Anyway, no thanks to the obnoxious TV moto, which pleasantly stuck a camera two inches from Mayo’s face for 2 mountains filming his miserable rocking on the bike and zooming in on his suffering face for the voracious and disparaging Spanish sports press and encouragingly waiting for him to croak and abandon, causing Mayo to finally give in to his shame and yell at ‘em. Ungentlemanly by the press; Mayo I think ought to be forgiven completely and immediately, not least because he’s unhappy enough having disappointed the entire Basque region, and he is after all a great champion and prior Tour stage winner having taken Lance out in the mountains in I believe ’03 or is it ‘04.

GC: who the hell knows at this point, frankly. I’m putting Landis, Aussie Cadel Evans (though support/omnipresent stage threat Chris Horner in a rare off day choked yesterday, and had better recover to haul Evans’ a%^ up the Alps), and Rabobank’s Menchov on the podium, but this Tour’s such a freak show that Tom Boonen could take the king of the mountains for all I know.

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