Monday, July 17, 2006

Tour de France upsets!

My guy for the time trial prologue (the first day), American Dave Zabriskie who took it last year, came in third by 4 seconds—said his legs didn’t feel great, took the turns a bit tentatively probably remembering his still-unexplained crash in last year’s team time trial--and big Norwegian sprinter Thor Hushovd (most of the sprinters can’t time trial for squat) took it in an upset. I love Hushovd so I can’t complain—he took the green (sprinter’s) jersey at the Tour last year, isn’t necessarily as flashy as the others, but sometimes comes out quietly and surprises you. Incidentally, Dave Zabriskie once rode up to him randomly during a race and asked “How does it feel to have the coolest name in the peloton?” ;-) Then American Floyd Landis could actually have won or tied for 1st, but he discovered a slice in his tire just as he was supposed to start off, so he missed the first 8 seconds of his run getting an emergency wheel change (they could’ve taken a chance the tire would hold, but Landis is a contender for the overall so they can’t risk him crashing so early) and came in 8 seconds back.

Then first stage, which was a sprinter’s stage (the day after the time trial—the actual first day is called the prologue because it is basically a way to get someone into the yellow leader’s jersey for the first “official” stage), another shocker! Hincapie craftily surges out from the pack unexpectedly to grab some intermediate sprint points—these are time bonuses of one to several seconds you can get by crossing a certain line at various places during a stage—which will give him the leader’s jersey only if there’s a colossal surprise screw-up at the sprint finish—and there is! Italian Alessandro Petacchi, arguably the greatest sprinter of his generation, is out of the Tour this year because he busted his knee at the Giro. Belgian Tom Boonen, his main rival, doesn’t have any teammates with him to lead him out—basically meaning, to give him a wheel to draft off of, and to protect him in the madness of the sprint—and gets caught out front too soon, meaning he is physically in front of everybody else too far away from the line to power himself across ahead of the other sprinters. Then Thor Hushovd, in the yellow leader’s jersey, gets him arm sliced wide open at the line by an idiot fan leaning out flapping a giant cardboard hand that sponsors give fans to wave and gets thrown off balance, bleeding like hell and keeling over in pain right after he crosses. Aussie Robbie “the Pocket Rocket” McEwen, who has been known to head-butt rivals out of his way (not allowed!), is uncharacteristically unable to sneak by like usual, so a Frenchman Jimmy Casper with basically no expectation of taking any sprint away from these gods, and only a few wins in his entire career, takes the stage! It’s really prestigious to win the first stage, and the French cyclists have had a lousy several years in their own race, so now this guy no one remotely considered (including himself) is National Hero No. 1. I love underdogs. ;-)

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