Monday, September 11, 2006

St. Millar, and More

Vuelta News, Of Course: Redeemed and repentant ex-dope-fiend David Millar just snatched Saturday's key individual time trial over CSC's we love Fabian Cancellara, and nicely smoked the rest of the field as well, upon which Millar promptly delivered a near-tearful Miss-Americaesque speech praising the virtues and just rewards of clean living as the press fair spasmed in admiration and delight. You really did ride beautifully. But please, I beg you, shut the hell up already! First, if you're testing clean, you're only testing as clean as the rest of the peloton, and we all know from recent events how perfectly the current doping control system is working. And second, if you're testing clean, and you're testing as clean as the rest of the perfectly clean peloton, then you're only doing what you're already supposed to be doing, so just shut your yap and do your job without making such a self-massaging fuss about it. Man! In other time trial news, Vinokorouv didn't take half the chunk out of Valverde's time gap that he and pretty much everyone else was expecting, and absolutely apropos of nothing I completely and utterly swear I note that Valverde joins Roberto Heras and Ivan Basso in a long fine line of riders whose time trialing has suddenly exploded exponentially. Speaking of whom, the great Miguel Indurain, who ought to know, has pegged Vino as Valverde's only real remaining serious threat, and basically given we love Carlos Sastre the kiss-off (and even I, though not conceding defeat by any means, do think that unless Valverde cracks, and I don't think he will, Sastre, brilliant as he is, will have a hell of a time shaking Valverde in the mountains, if only because Iles Balears will not let him go whether Valverde's personally up to sticking on his wheel or not). Venga Sastre anyway!

Oops! Yesterday's flat-to-downhill sprint stage ended dramatically when, after yet another Relax-pleasing breakaway by one of their boys in red, it became clear that Milram was setting up its lead-out not for Erik Zabel, but for a finally-resurgent Petacchi, though neither they nor Thor Hushovd's Credit Agricole nor Bettini's Quick Step boys could outdo Giro-ulimate-stage-winner Robert Forster of Gerolsteiner in his powerful and canny run to the line. Where's the drama, besides the ordinary liveliness of a bunch sprint? Why, it's in the tender bone-bashed hand of poor Alessandro Petacchi, who, after Rainbow Brite-clad Danilo Napolitano apparently cut him off in the sprint, thereby destroying the chance for a season-salvaging win for which he'd worked so long and valiantly after his pre-Tour crash-out, went off to the Lampre bus in search of said boy for an amiable chat, and, failing to find him, promptly (if not incomprehensibly) punched the team bus quite firmly, breaking his hand and taking it and the rest of him right out of the Vuelta. Smooth? No, but given that any sprint without Petacchi on form is always something of a what-if letdown, and that he was so cruelly robbed of most of this season by sheer stupid fate, I'm really quite sympathetic, even if to Forster's eyes it did look in the sprint as if Petacchi was putting the moves on Napolitano and not the other way round--perhaps he just caught the tail end of the dispute, after all. Plus, Petacchi did apologize (to his own team of course, not to Lampre that I heard), so bonus points to him for belated sportsmanship, if not for spot-on self-control. Anyhow, an unfortunate end to an unfortunate latter season for a most excellent sprint god. Get well soon, Petacchi!

Finally, Cancellara has sadly if sensibly left the Vuelta after Saturday's disappointment to prep for the Worlds, with Paolo Bettini presumably soon to follow as the course looks to suit him well. Tomorrow, it's back to the high mountains where the Vuelta belongs, and beyond past time for we-love-but-are-deeply-exasperated-by Iban Mayo to reward our felicity and fatten his next-year's Euskaltel paycheck with a stage win. Allez, Iban, already!

T-M, the Impossible Team: It turns out that T-Mobile's fine Andre Korff bailed out of the Vuelta not for the stomach problems previously claimed, but for the noble cause of being best man in Ullrich's recent wedding, with the courtly blessing of T-Mobile no less. Not to scare the poor boy, nor to dismiss T-Mobile's sporting gesture, but has anyone told Korff what happened to the last guy to openly support Jan Ullrich? Speaking of whom, T-Mobile is still trash-talking poor Andreas Kloden for inexplicably refusing the team leadership they offered him so warmly to instead set up shop as Vinokorouv's downtrodden superdomestique over at Astana. Now, true, it's been a bit since I've seen the replays, but as I recall Kloden looked actually rather happy standing repeatedly on the Tour de France podium, and the idea that he would gleefully bail to play some hapless Dean Martin to the still-relatively-unTour-tested Vino's Frank Sinatra not due to any action of T-Mobile whatsoever is perplexing, to say the least. I'm sure, though, that the weeks of public slagging to the press in the face of Kloden's persistently fine season results really, really, made Kloden feel welcome. As usual, management, fine work!

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