Monday, July 31, 2006


So my family, coworkers, and friends, who until now have treated my fanaticism for pro cycling with the indulgent yet slightly patronizing regard of grownups for a puppy chomping on a drooly old sock, are now entranced by the Floyd Landis saga and absolutely thrilled to weigh in ad nauseum (and I am getting quite nauseum at this point) on a sport that is clearly a swirling cesspool of doped-up unsportsmanlike fakery. Which it is, of course--but these people lack *context*. They have no sense of history. They don't understand that no amount of drugs is going to haul your carcass trouble-free up the Alpe d'Huez much less the other 3 cat 1 climbs you are also facing that day or keep you from snapping apart your collarbone on a switchbacked descent or propel you off the right rider's wheel 5 meters from the line when your lead-out men have misjudged the sprint. They have no sense that the strongest EPO king and the weakest Boy Scout in the peloton are suffering at all after six hours in the saddle that take you through melting tar and driving sleet. They don't understand that if Landis is or is not one he is one of a hundred, and that it is highly likely that many of these gentlemen are not getting by on a powerbar and their morning's Ovaltine. They have no idea about problems with the labs and testing and the utterly arbitrary way of who gets caught and who doesn't, or that certain teams may be slightly influenced by their directeur sportifs yet miraculously escape culpability for years on end of scandal, or why a doper who gets caught is canonized when he admits it after the fact, or how a perfect storm of nationalism, team loyalties, personal vendettas and/or crappy or stellar legal advice can all turn night into day. And worse, they will never learn, and they wil never see the beauty and power of this sport beneath the sleazy headlines, because their interest will wane as soon as the baseball playoffs begin or some hulking football troglodyte starts roughing up his girlfriend on the sidewalk. Aarrghhhh!

Sunday, July 30, 2006


It seems to me that Floyd Landis has two problems at the moment: Cyclingnews via L'Equipe is reporting that Landis tested positive for testosterone originating outside the body; and he's hired Roberto Heras' lawyers. The last I heard, Heras had quietly returned to university, which though likely no reflection on the skills of the attorneys over Heras' actual culpability, sure as hell ain't the peloton, and does raise questions about their ability to help Landis weasel out of uncomfortable fact patterns. Not that he ought to be able to, if he even needs to. I'm just sayin'.

In pretty positive news ("pretty" because I am fond of both gentlemen), by contrast, Oscar Freire just barely snagged eternal sprint great/lately-a-bridesmaid Erik Zabel at the line at the former HEW classic. Rabobank, give that boy a major raise! I certainly hope he hadn't renegotiated terms before his Tour stages this year at least. And in contract intrigue, T-Mobile has finally confirmed the rumors and formally bagged its contract with its manager and his company, who had allowed Rudy "the Indiscreet Yapper" Pevenage back to play with Ullrich, in the wake of the immediate pre-Tour fiasco. While they're at it, they might consider refining their strategy anew and perhaps laying down some ground rules in remedial teamwork so their riders aren't constantly undercutting each other in favored stages (which they genuinely do seem to have overcome somewhat in their very fine Tour this year--I'm just sayin').

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Adventures in Press Coverage

Since there's no point in speculating whether Floyd slapped on a testosterone patch--except to note that the ratio acceptable to the hall monitors has dived repeatedly over the last several years with no apparent nonarbitrary reason so in a way it may not even matter--to badly paraphrase the bards, in the summer, a young tifosi's thoughts lightly turn to complete disgust at the most incompetent (noncycling) press coverage I've ever seen on any topic anytime anywhere ever. The day that I'm begging for the return of Al Trautwig for insight, you know things are flat %^&** up. First, Larry King is an idiot. (Not only for this reason, of course, but I didn't mind it at all until now.) Whatever the scientific studies on buckets o' alcohol consumption on near-term testosterone levels say, Landis by all accounts had not been on the Hemingwayeque bender that Larry's dense choice of words suggested, and one beer and a shot of Jack Daniels is not going to propel your #$% 8 minutes ahead of the rest of the perfectly clean and saintly field over 800 cat 1 climbs unless it's also packed with enough amphetamines to fell an ox. To add to the confusion, the only other cyclist anyone in the US has ever heard of (and I don't count Greg LeMond, given that only Today had apparently remembered him), in a total freakshow, was on the line with Larry to weigh in so very kindly about the presumption of innocence and how terrible it is to be treated badly by the suspicious (bitter, socialist, apple-pie hating, hero-less French) press, and how wonderful Landis is and what a treasured member of Postal he was and how dearly Lance recalls his many happy hours of training with the young god before his mentee's much-admired triumph was so cruelly ripped apart by this trumped-up scandal. Clearly, I've missed something here, but this must have been before Landis, in his egregious act of fratricidal betrayal, pulled an et tu, Brute on his brother cyclist, whored himself to fellow Borgia Tyler and to Phonak for the pathetic and hollow rewards of continued athletic growth and ultimate team leadership, and obliged Lance with great regret and no personal motives of his own whatsoever to utterly justifiably behave like a complete throat-ripping werewolf to quiet class act Landis whenever he had the misfortune to pass by in the peloton.

Second, is any else slightly irked by the fact the press, which did to be fair slobber over Lance's genuinely moving story but otherwise completely ignores cycling and doesn't know a peloton from a Pop-Tart, has jumped on this with the tooth-baring frenzy (and thoughtful analysis) of sharks on chum? It's very nice that they're trying I guess (and I'm really, really pushing myself here for something kind to say), but a little context for cycling newbies other than "HELLBOUND FALLEN MENNONITE CHEATS SNOW-PURE FIELD OF TRUE SPORTSMEN" would be both appropriate and appreciated.

Well, I guess while this is going on no-one else will care that a couple of the Astana fallen are back in action in the coming few weeks, and that Gert Steegmans who really did a pretty decent job under the circumstances for Robbie McEwen as his inadvertent lead-out man after Fast Freddy's nasty crash-out is leaving Davitamon to go help back-on-form Tom Boonen over at Quick Step, but I think it's all very lovely. And would someone kindly enlighten those of us who care who exactly is going to be left to ride in the Vuelta besides hopefully at least Valverde and Mayo?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dammit, dammit!

Yep, it's Floyd. I'm hoping that if it's a natural testosterone that the fluctuation is simply a reflection of ordinary bodily ups and downs (as much as any pro cyclist's capabilities are "ordinary"), but if not, then I'm starting to think that I give the hell up. Let's just line 'em all up at the start with a hand mirror, a razor blade, a little straw, and a vial of whatever the hell they want to take that day each, and let 'em snarf away in the open so we can be completely confident they're all equally doped and the best man (or woman) is actually going to win. But I continue to hope that some rider and some race will prove me wrong. Somebody? Anybody?

And yes, if this is true, the sheer stupidity of it--whether it's just Floyd, Lelangue, Phonak or any and all in combination--is mind-boggling. Not that I want anybody to pass a doping control that they shouldn't, and of course things are going to slip under the radar when they're new, but these clowns couldn't figure out how to pass a test with whatever they're using in the off-season before the hounds are let out?

Adventures in Doping

You suck, Spain! I'm glad you've cleared our beloved Joseba, but could you have gotten your act together a little sooner and not stripped him of a chance to continue to regain his form at the Tour since his hideous podium-stripping crash a few years back? (Right, right, it's also nice about the fine young Contador, Davis, particularly Isidro Nozal, and Paulinho for Discovery's sake.) And while I have no great affection for Vinokorouv, particularly since he bushwhacked his own team leader Ullrich last year (though I very much admire his continued devotion to his friend the excellent Andrei Kivilev who died so sadly in a crash, and of course largely blame T-Mobile's leadership for failure to control their boys), it is excruciatingly unfair to him to have taken his likely chance at a podium spot or at least a couple of Pyreneean or Alpine stage wins only to have all of the remaining Tour team he needed to compete retroactively cleared. Also unfair to the fans and the race, which would hugely have benefitted from his appearance in that if nothing else it's a lively day in the peloton guaranteed when he's got his legs under him. And where that leave these five boys with Vino rushing desperately to revitalize and reform a devastated Astana--wouldn't one think he'd be justifiably more than a bit gun-shy of taking them back cleared or not particularly after the benefits he reaped from his spirited defense of Saiz at the start of the scandal? And where does this leave them all for the Vuelta?

Not to say that any or all of these guys are or are not actually innocent, as I'm pretty much convinced that the entire peloton is not riding along solely on the strength of caffeine and power bars. But it does seem unjust that only the stupid (or those with ties to the stupid) are getting pegged--inevitable with any sort of criminality I suppose, and normally the sort of Darwinian culling I might support, but a damned shame nonetheless. Indeed, in that situation, you're distinctly not levelling out the playing field for everybody by eliminating only some but not all or even most of the tainted, which is (in addition to protecting the riders' health, I dearly hope) after all the point, isn't it?

Speculation of course is running rampant as to the A-sample guilty party in the Tour this year--after all the immediate pre-Tour fallout from Operacion Puerto, and the righteous rampages of the various team leaderships, perhaps I'm flat wrong to have said you shouldn't be prosecuted for stupidity--and all the local federations are denying they've been contacted. All I can say is, don't let it be Floyd. Let me retain whatever miniscule naivete I still have about this beautiful sport!

While we're at it, I'd like to take this opportunity to restate my distate for former hero Manolo Saiz's wussbag tactics for so promptly selling we love Heras down the river to Spanish authorities by claiming that if anything happened it was entirely at Roberto's insistence and he was powerless to do anything but his bidding. Like a control freak directeur sportif with a massive financial stake in his team is going to be helpless beneath the bone-crushing influence of one rider who, despite his perfect Vuelta wins, has made the team look egregiously overhyped by ignominiously tanking in the last two Tours? Coward.

Well, allez--I'm sure the Tour's big news will come! Oh and apparently Boonen nailed McEwen in a criterium sprint--nice to see him back on form since apparently the maillot jaune wasn't enough for everybody, and I hope the press lays off him now instead of piling what-ifs on his otherwise magnificent season.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Duck Season! Wabbit Season! No--It's Contract Season!

So Leipheimer's going home to Discovery after Gerolsteiner let him go with his middling Tour. I'm happy for Leipheimer (no hard feelings against Gerolsteiner, who rode the best they could for him and the very fine Georg Totschnig), but what the hell is Bruyneel going to do with him? Send him around to win the short but prestigious multi-stage races at which he excels, like Dauphine and the Tour of Germany? Use his prior great Vuelta and Tour results to commit the team around him as a leader, in the two or so years left he has to be a grand tour contender? Where then does that leave tour-stage-winner/successor-in-residence Popo, and have they doomed George to the role of perpetual superdomestique except in the one-day classics he rides so beautifully and the occasional tt win? And if there's anything to the rumors that Ullrich's been talking to Discovery (and that he'll be able to come back even if they want him, which Leipheimer seems unconcerned about, with damned good reason I think), did Levi ditch team leadership (however rollercoaster the results) only to become a latter-day Hincapie? And will Bruyneel have the ability to craft an actual working post-Lance strategy for next year besides "let's see who doesn't tank too much first?"

So Kessler seems to be in contact with Astana, though everybody's pretty much in contact with everybody at this point I think. I would think that T-Mobile would bust their @#$ to keep him after his breakthrough tour, especially give their crap luck lately. More to come I'm sure!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

T-Mobile's A Class Act

Sporting move by T-Mobile to notify Jan Ullrich of his sacking by fax machine--apes. I don't care if Ullrich was snorting doping products in the start house at the time trial (though I do care that his lawyers are idiots for not even writing some lame letter of self-defense by T-Mobile's arbitrary prove-it-or-lose-it deadline--who gave these schmoes a license?), he's done them a fair bit of service over the years as I recall and they might have fired him with a bit more spine and gentility. And has anyone even remembered that Oscar Sevilla was fired as well? I'm sad about it anyway.

Speaking of doping, was anyone else slightly creeped out by Tyler and his wife's spirited video defense on OLN? He should've just handled it alone, it somehow had that disconcerting Yoko Ono blame-the-bitch feeling. And while I'm at it, can we please take the ridiculous hypocritical redemptive love-orgy around St. Millar down a notch?

End of rant. I'm happy that Landis resigned with Phonak, and wonder what's going to happen with Vino and Astana. And goodbye Eki--and thank you!

Monday, July 24, 2006


What a smashing end to the Tour by we love Thor Hushovd, who took out Robbie the Ego in a brilliant and astonishingly powerful sprint in his own right as Robbie made a rare tactical error as well despite a very fine leadout by Horner and co and started out too soon for his legs to take him to the line. It's beyond dandy for Hushovd to sandwich the Tour so neatly with the prologue tt and the prestigious win on the Champs-Elysees, particularly after his nasty slice from a giant green promotional hand and losing any chance at the green jersey due to his crap relegation by the Tour honchos for Eisel's own screw-up in an earlier sprint. Yay Thor! And massive admiration for Stewie O'Grady for coming in third with a cracked 4th vertebra--what a lovely result after his valiant success conquering the Alps. While we're at it, what the heck is going on with Euskaltel in the flats this year, they were right up in the sprint! It could be a very interesting Vuelta.

And I utterly forgot to say what a privilege as always to have Phil and Paul to take us through the Tour, who in their complete knowledge of all things cycling almost managed to negate the nails-on-a-blackboard stylings of the nit Al Trautwig (and I don't think the Bob Roll's done a damn thing to deserve being stuck with him, while we're at it). The only thing I might have done a tiny, tiny bit differently--and since Phil and Paul can do no wrong, I am sure the responsibility for this lies squarely with OLN--is to have explained, while showing the American's overall standings, why they are as they are for cycling newbies, as Horner and Zabriskie in particular were exactly where they should be, and tt god Zabriskie in fact put in a surprisingly strong performance in the mountains this year for Sastre's sake.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

le Tour in Review (mostly)

Well, after a long night's sleep and a couple of cold ones I'm slowly recovering from my post-Sastre depression enough to turn my thoughts to Landis, who really did pull off one of the most phenomenal comebacks and certainly the single most beautiful stage in the history of cycling. If it's the end of his career, and I dearly hope it's not (and I would love to see him come back in a season or two to take Paris-Nice again for his inaugural win on his new hip), it's a great way to go out. And for Make-Out-With-His-Own-Reflection Lance to be openly nice about it the last few days after being such an ass to Landis in his post-Discovery pre-Lance's-retirement career, it must be really be something pretty special after all to win the Tour!

Someone said to me that Landis did really win over a second-string field, not an unfair comment given the loss of Ullrich Basso Vino Mancebo and later Valverde plus poor Mayo's spectacular implosion, but I don't actually think that's why he's wearing the maillot jaune in Paris. It is I think certainly why Pereiro and almost Sastre are on the podium (though not Kloden necessarily), but I don't believe it's got much to do with Landis. There's a million ifs of course and pretty much all of mine have been dead wrong, but if T-Mobile and CSC had actually had to set the pace for Ullrich and Basso (assuming crappy T-Mobile team directorship didn't allow the team to eat its own young again like they did to such disastrous effect last year), Phonak could've laid off and gotten some rest, which I think particularly once the high Alps kicked in they sorely needed, which in turn would have benefitted Landis. And Landis' supremacy in the tt would still have overcome most everybody else who mattered, with the possible exception of Ullrich, and even Ullrich has been known to tank in dramatic fashion under the wrong stage layout--and that's assuming Ullrich could remember what to do without Lance's wheel to aim for for the first time in lo these many years. So I hope Landis doesn't go down with an asterisk by his name--even without the devastation wrought by Operacion Puerto (I keep thinking "Puerco"), he could well have been in yellow today anyway.

Oh, and I'm quite sorry Euskaltel didn't take a stage but admire their persistent breakaways (including their surprising tries on the flats), I sincerely hope Levi's got at least one good Tour left in him and was pleased to see his bold break on Tossatto's stage as I think he's a smashing rider as well a damn good sport sucking it up and not blaming his tt or anything else on anyone or anywhy else, so sorry to have virtually forgotten that Hincapie wore the yellow jersey and I hope that's a fine (and truly well earned) consolation for the beating he took in the Alps, I think it's terribly sad that the very fine Fothen tanked in the tt and Cunego took it over him much as I admire the Italian because Fothen made such a beautiful run in the white jersey, I hope damn near anybody beats McEwen on the flat into Paris (I saw him chatting amiably with O'Grady, which was nice, but O'Grady apparently can't hold a grudge to the same extent that I do--one of the least pleasant qualities to have I suppose), we love Erik Zabel and Gilberto Simoni, wishing Robbie Hunter's ill-timed saddlesore a speedy recovery and a huge "you bite" to the judges for so unkindly disqualifying him on the second to last day of the Tour as a result, I'm so very happy for the French to have taken 3 stages in their own race for the first time in god knows how long and bonus points to Calzati for rooting for Italy in the world cup nonetheless, thank you Floyd for a smashing season, and let's hope the new hip heals fast and smooth. Now, it's on to the Vuelta, and the two guys or so who are going to be left to race it!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Oh no, Carlos!

I know I ought to be all thrilled over Landis' yellow jersey, and I'm sure I will be tomorrow, but the win was decided the other day already, and right now I'm just flat as a pancake over poor little Sastre. No offense to Kloden, who clearly earned it, but Sastre was obliged to rise to the unexpected challenge of team leadership on 24 hours notice, and rode so cleanly and beautifully in the mountains and so consistently throughout the entire Tour, that the thought that he would crack so unusually badly in the tt when all he needed was a typical performance and that Kloden would smoke him so badly and take the podium is just heartbreaking. Forza Sastre--you've still got Spain to show 'em all!

However, I *am* happy for Pereiro. The Spanish have been just kneecapped the last few weeks (even if it's largely their own fault), and it's nice to have some good news for them ahead of what will seem like a both tainted and decimated Vuelta (from afar, as I believe OLN won't carry it again over the comparative ratings blockbuster of some stupor-inducing bass-fishing tournament), and of course, I always love an underdog. Yay Oscar! And by the way, Phonak was still right to give him the mileage in the breakaway.

Meanwhile, I would love Horner to live up to his promise of last day last year and take the stage, but I suppose I can't have everything. Like dear little Sastre, on the podium, where he belongs. Dammit!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Oh, Floyd! (Deux)

Unbegoddamnlievable! After optimistically promising to fight on at the post-race conference yesterday, at which time he was promptly if discreetly written off by the sympathetic press anyway, Landis attacks on the first climb, smokes the field, decimates his most conspicious prior GC threats, and makes up most of his time to be within spittin' distance of the yellow jersey if he can put in his usual time trial. Dear little Sastre (nicely set up by Voigt smacking around the field again--can you imagine what this guy could do if he *were* on dope?)is the only one who can even come close(ish), nearly takes the maillot jaune, and Pereiro, discounted as usual, valiantly surges back though left virtually alone by his team to retain it by a squeak.

I am about to keel over from the roller-coaster, and running on no sleep and total tour-induced disorientation barely have any idea what the hell I do for a living, much less who's going to take the next 3 days and then the Tour. It oughta be a bunch sprint today, but with Quick Step having lost their man and Daniele Bennati out, that pretty much leaves just Hushovd McEwen and maybe Zabel's boys to control the field, and if I were as far behind as Menchov with the KOM in the bag already and still dreaming of the podium, I'd attack today, and who the hell knows if Phonak and Landis would be any shape whatsoever to go after him. God, can the peloton get it together to do anything in some coordination anymore without Johan Bruyneel and Discovery to boss them around?

We love Floyd for his great comeback no matter where he ends up in Paris. And Sastre, who after being so accustomed to selflessly killing himself for Basso in the mountains in everything but the Vuelta has so gracefully adapted to his unexpected team leadership. I have no idea who will be on the podium but am now hoping brave Pereiro is on it as well. And I hope Levi's got one more good year left in him--I'd like to see him live up to his prome of the last few years. Oh and poor Fothen--I'd utterly discounted Cunego in the running for best young rider because it's been 2 years already since he won the Giro and I'd forgotten he was such a baby when he got it, but that's that I suppose.

Forza Floyd!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Oh, Floyd!

After a brave early ride up the HC Galibier and Croix de la Fer, and without any teammates around him, poor Floyd tanked horribly by the Toussuire and was chewed up and spit out by the other shocked if cannily opportunistic GC contenders to the tune of 8 odd minutes back. He wasn't hungry; he wasn't sick; he just plain didn't feel good, and Phonak's weaknesses were in high evidence as they were utterly powerless to help (save for Axel Merckx, who despite bearing perhaps the heaviest inherited burden of anyone in the peloton is one gracious hardworking guy). A lousier day couldn't have happened to a finer rider. I hate to say it, but I think this may be it for Floyd for Grand Tour contention, and I'm abandoning my hopes for Zabriskie in the tt to root for Floyd to take this stage (or perhaps, dare I wish it, the last in the mountains?) instead. He gets his hip replaced. He needs time to recuperate out of the peloton, then to recuperate in the peloton, then maybe he's 32 before he gets back to form and at the start of the tail end of prime years for Tour supremacy. I just can't stand it. Forza, Floyd--prove my worst fears wrong today and in the year(s) to come! Big love to Oscar Pereiro for being a gentleman about getting the jersey back this way, and to Sastre for being the only one able to attack anywhere within range of the new polka-dot jersey --I would love to see either of them in yellow or on the podium in Paris--and good karma to Rabobank for letting twiggy mountain goat Rasumussen off the leash after his stellar work for Menchov the last couple of days when the latter clearly didn't quite have the legs. By the way, I may actually pass out with shock (though due admiration) if Dessel ends up on the podium, and I imagine the French would as well--who even saw this guy coming?

And can Floyd please not get any crap for his decision to give the maillot jaune back to Pereiro, and for giving him the almost-30 minutes in the first place? He was right, and it's not why he's losing the Tour. Phonak needed the rest, and that it didn't do them any damn good in the end anyway when it counted doesn't change that. Plus with Floyd so badly in the tank, all Pereiro needed to do was barely hold on--even Oscar's naysayers couldn't have expected less of him.

While we're at it, come on, Levi. It's nice to see you back at last.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Wrong Again!

Forza Italia: So it’s CSC youngster Franck Schleck, not Carlos Sastre (who usually uses Schleck to help him, but didn’t quite have the legs), to take the stage after he was propelled out of a 25-then-15-man break by Dave Zabriskie and Energizer Bunny Jens Voigt in the final run up the legendary Alpe d’Huez, after valiant surges by Giro-winner-at-22/boy-wonder-in-recovery Damiano Cunego and another prior Giro winner not to be messed with in the high passes Stefano Garzelli. Yay Italy, and it’s nice to see Cunego back on form after his miserable schlep through the Giro. Meanwhile, c’mon Gibo, you rather sacked out yesterday, pull it back together and redeem your Giro today!

GC roundup: okay, I was right that Landis would take back the yellow jersey (like every idiot who’s ever watched a race easily predicted), but hooray for Oscar Pereiro for not tanking in the first Alpine challenge as everybody swore he would and only losing it by 10 seconds—if he’s going to be a podium contender out of nowhere, that would be fantastic for hard-luck Spain given that only like two of its riders (plus Euskaltel) haven’t been busted for doping this year. Sastre, whom we love, is in a very solid 5th but I can’t imagine he can hold up against Landis in the tt; Leipheimer worked hard, did well, and is in a respectable if too-far-back I still think 9th, and Menchov and Cadel lost time but are still in decent shape. Oh, plus Gerolsteiner’s apparently being whacked en masse by the flu in a spectacular fit of bad timing, so so much for helping Leipheimer the next two days unfortunately.

Poor Tom: gacking his way up the climb, Boonen finally called it quits, which means the freakin’ Belgian press are still going to have the cojones to go nuts gleefully slagging somebody who wore the maillot jaune for 4 days (Boonen rarely needs defending, especially after crushing everybody including Petacchi all season, but in a rare tactical shift I’m supporting a winner here), and unfortunately it’ll be left to just Hushovd to try to take out Robbie the Ego in the sprint run-up to Paris. Crap! At least he’s got the prologue.

Legal Eagles: In a page taken right out of an amateur-hour legal-intern playbook, Ullrich’s lawyers are telling him not to take a DNA test (and good for Voigt incidentally for supporting a DNA bank, particularly on the express grounds that his wife would kick his @#$ if he messed with any of that stuff), and Basso’s attorney insists Basso couldn’t possibly be the man whose dog’s name was used as an identifier in Fuentes’ extensive written doping records (don’t even get me going on that stupidity), because he personally repeatedly observed Basso’s toddler daughter calling their dog by a different name entirely, which proves that Basso (and his dog) are innocent. Jesus H. Christ, 2 year olds routinely stick Legos up their noses, and you’re going to call one to the stand as an expert witness in canine identification?

Too Much Information: Can OLN in the future kindly spare us yesterday's orgy of TV footage of the boys in the peloton heeding calls of nature? I love and strive to understand cycling in all its flawed, prickly glory. I want others to love and understand it too. And I esteem the sacrifices, like hours of suffering up the most fearsome climbs in the world with a complete lack of access to sanitary facilities, that these brave athletes make every day. But I'm eating dinner for god's sake, and there's some aspects of these fine gentlemen I'd just as soon not see. Isn't there something more pleasant they could show us instead, like a moto running over a spectator or the latest stage-stopping French agricultural rebellion? Thanks, OLN.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

le Tour--this is it, baby!

Today or tomorrow are going to decide who is on the podium and where in Paris, and if it’s close, the time trial later this week will seal the deal and if it comes down to that Landis can take it all. Today—an epic finish (after the hors-category Col d’Izoard, and a cat 2 schlep up the Col du Lautaret) up the infamous hors-category L’Alpe d’Huez—the proving ground for everyone from Ullrich to Armstrong to Basso. Historically, if you’re in yellow at the top of Huez, you’ve got a colossal chance of being in yellow in Paris. If today doesn’t blast the weaker GC contenders out of the water, tomorrow will.

On the Teams’ to-do list: Phonak has to keep Floyd Landis up front and out of harm’s way, control the pace, and get the yellow jersey back. Davitamon-Lotto’s American bulldog Chris Horner’s got to recover from his throat problem and take Aussie Cadel Evans up the mountains in the top five or so to keep him in podium contention (barring a harmless breakaway by a non-GC threat). Rabobank’s gotta protect Denis Menchov—he’s close enough to Landis not to have to win today but he has to make up time and soon because Landis is gonna smoke him in the final time trial. CSC, de-Basso-fied, needs to take Carlos Sastre up for a stage win in the next couple of days to get him within reach of say 3rd on the podium, though in the end there’s no one else on the team stronger in the mountains than he is so at a certain point, he’ll likely be left alone, not good. And Gerolsteiner’s not only got to hope Levi Leipheimer is up to the challenge, but that someone else important tanks to get him on the podium since he’s 5-odd minutes back.

Stage Fighters: Discovery (Popo, Ace, Hincapie), T-Mobile (ex-Ullrich lieutenant Kloden), Euskaltel-Euskadi (any of em, though they like the sharper Spanish climbs better).

This is it—anything can happen!

Monday, July 17, 2006

le Tour--a quickish note on the Phonak controversy

So there’s a colossal hoo-ha in the press over whether Phonak (Landis’ team) was right tactically to deliberately give up the yellow jersey to the talented Spaniard Oscar Pereiro, who won the jersey (though not the stage) the other day after a 28-odd minute breakaway. While I was surprised by Phonak’s decision, I gotta say the press should lighten up. First, Pereiro’s exceptionally fine and deserves the honor he won, but he’s not an Alpine specialist, and didn’t look great the first day or two in the Pyrenees either, so it’s not unreasonable to think he won’t hold the yellow jersey once the really high passes kick in. The timing also wasn’t unreasonable, since Phonak may have (incorrectly, it turned out) expected to be able to take a couple days off from pacemaking with the sprint teams having a strong interest in positioning their men for stage wins between the Pyrenees and Alps—which they didn’t, whether due to disorganization, disinterest, or exhaustion was hard to tell though all seemed to have been factors at various points, so Phonak ended up doing a fair bit of work anyhow just to keep Floyd safe up towards the front of the main field, but you can’t figure out everybody perfectly. Second, Phonak is in the unusual position (since Lance’s reign began anyway) of having the strongest rider but one of the weaker teams in the Tour, no disrespect. So they do need to save themselves for the Alps, which are going to make or break the GC contenders (to the extent there really are any left besides Cadel and Denis Menchov). CSC, though badly hurt by the loss of Bobby Julich and down to only 6 boys (including a sprinter, no help on high), still has the formidable Jens Voigt to help proven stage winner/humble mountain genius Carlos Sastre, plus support Christian Vande Velde has really been kicking a%$ this Tour and I think will be more helpful than previously thought. And T-Mobile has a hell of a team as always despite being decimated by the pre-tour loss of mountain monsters Ullrich and Oscar Sevilla, and if the faltering prior-podium-sitter Andreas Kloden gets his legs back in time for the Alps, may try to break the field apart for at least a stage, and I wouldn’t want to be Phonak trying to cover either CSC or T-Mobile without something left in the tank. Leipheimer is 7 minutes back and it’ll be tough for him and Gerolsteiner to get it back so Phonak ought not to sweat them too much. In sum, lay off the boys in green, and let Pereiro enjoy his glory before he loses it! Of course, the yellow jersey tends to inspire a team, so there’s certainly the chance I’m wrong and that Landis and Phonak will be crying like babies in Paris. In which case, there’s always the final TT for Landis to take time out of Pereiro so long as he doesn’t totally crack in any given stage in the Alps. Allez!

rats--forgot to mention...

that poor Discovery ex-GC-but-still-stage-hopeful Paolo Savoldelli, whacked with allergies in the Giro, also got whacked sort-of-a-la-Sandy-Casar with an idiot spectator, and had to withdraw with a pack of stitches in his face after a dizzy next morning. Apparently, he and some others decided to descend the pla de beret at the end of the day in the post-race madness instead of waiting for the team buses, and met up rather fast and hard with a Tour fan. Having descended a mountain after a Giro stage at only about a mile an hour on a bike in the middle of a thousand zooming motos, assorted campers and autos, amateur cicliste and approximately nine million tanked pedestrians, I can't imagine what the hell these boys were thinking, but then of course I'm not a cyclist, and these are pros who can routinely zip at 60 mi an hour without blinking down humungous Alps in the middle of a pack of other race gods gunning for stage wins without killing themselves, but I suppose it just goes to show even they can never underestimate the reckless stupidity and sheer bad placement of a fan (and I say this fondly, having been one.) Can Discovery have any crappier luck this Tour? Notwithstanding Popo's triumph-- bad question.


A Disastrous Day

Shades of Beloki: in a crash gasp-inducingly reminiscent of the 03 Tour where surprise GC contender/beloved quiet Spaniard Joseba Beloki wiped out on some softening tar and forced bike-handling god Lance to dodge across the field by the switchback then leap over a ditch with his bike on his shoulder to avoid the crash and rejoin the race--a leg-shattering crash after which poor Beloki never recovered his form, so he ought not to be blamed *at all* for his alleged implication in the current Spanish doping scandal particularly if control-freak Saiz was riding him--a promising six-man break (Mario Aerts, Salvatore Commesso, Rik Verbrugge, Pierrick Fedrigo,Matthias Kessler, David Canada) in a rolling stage 5-odd minutes out with the peloton still organizing the chase broke apart when normally-steady-Eddie Rik Verbrugge apparently hit some hot tar on a descent, wobbled a bit as his wheel caught, lost his line, then went straight over the guardrail into a ditch. Hard to tell through the blood all over his arm, which looked like the most prominent problem initially, but it turned out poor Rik's real problem was that he'd broken his leg quite badly and was taken to hospital, out of the Tour. Meanwhile, it looked like Canada, actually a fair bit back in the group of six, overreacted a bit to avoid the problem and skidded out hard into (though not over) the guardrail, busting his collarbone and taken to hospital along with Verbrugge. Reacting to Canada and right on his wheel, Kessler almost managed to avoid the fray but flat-out ran out of roadway on the turn, smacked head-on into the barrier, and went head-over the bars over the guardrail and into the ditch as well. Despite having the wind absolutely knocked out of him, tough-guy Kessler was astonishingly otherwise largely undamaged, and got back on his bike to finish a wholly impressive 12 minutes back. He's the man of the day!

Meanwhile, the peloton frankly choked. With only 3 guys left in the break--who were flipped out mentally no less by the carnage in their midst--then promptly two as Aerts bonked, and even with Commesso and Fedrigo slowing down playing tactical games, the group still couldn't quite pull it together in time for a bunch sprint despite some aggressive work by Liquigas and one hardy boy (no pun intended) from Milram. Anyway, Commesso, typically a stronger sprinter than Bouyges' Fedrigo, was nonetheless caught out leading it too much too soon so Fedrigo zipped around and took the stage, with CSC great-final-pick Christian Vande Velde jumping off the pack for third, nice news for the French who are smokin' this year but a bummer for Italy and Commesso who really had worked harder to keep off the peloton.

Americans: the GC didn't change so Landis and Leipheimer are fine ("fine" in the sense of "I don't know how the hell he's going to take 7 minutes off Landis unless he completely cracks in the Alps, but it's lovely to see Levi back on form"), and Hincapie seems to have his legs back which is great, but if usually rock-solid Chris Horner doesn't get his by the day after tomorrow I feel sorry for Cadel Evans having to haul himself up the Alps without him.

The road ahead: a rest day tomorrow thank goodness, so you're all free not only of the Tour but of my nattering on, then three straight days in the Alps--Alpe d'Huez as the piece-de-resistance on Tuesday after a bucket of earlier hors-category and cat 1 climbs. If the first day doesn't destroy someone in contention for GC, there's two more days which will likely slaughter one or more of em, and the time trial will resolve any remaining uncertainty before a couple of flat and rolling stages (go Freire and Hushovd! and at this point I wouldn't mind seeing Boonen win a stage, since apparently 4 days in the maillot jaune isn't enough for the snarky Belgian press, and he's such a brilliant sprinter ordinarily) and on to Paris. And while we're at it, vai Gibo! I'd love to see him take a stage despite his unkindly saying Basso offered to pay him for a stage in the Giro (and exactly how the hell does one say something like that "mistakenly" anyway?), since he did rather redeem himself calling him an extraterrestri, which will be proved or disproved in due course I suppose but anyway the line between whiner and uber-skilled trash-talker is enjoyable to watch and Simoni is such a great champion it would be nice to see. I don't imagine I'll get my wish though particularly after his rough day today--but then, anything can happen and in this Tour it pretty much has.

Anyhoo, on to the Alps, and let's hope poor Verbrugge doesn't meet Beloki's fate and wishing Canada a speedy recovery as well.

le Tour, of course

Discovery Recovers Some Dignity: Having imploded en masse in the first day in the Pyrenees, and completely blasted themselves out of GC contention (part of which as I said I think is at least partly Bruyneel's fault, but even he can't give his boys legs if they flat-out haven't got 'em, and he finally capitulated to the death of the GC dream and told them to focus on stage wins), Discovery finally had a redeeming stage in the person of prior young-rider's-jersey-winner/good hard worker/Discovery man of the future Yaroslav Popovych, who put himself neatly into a break then took off alone and got the stage with time to spare. Whew! I'm hoping Hincapie recovers enough from whatever doldrums he's currently in for the Alps, but considering he only won the stage last year because he'd been sent ahead in the break in case Lance needed him which he didn't when the chase never caught up, and he sat on another wheel not doing any work most of the way before he got the okay to work for himself, I'm dubious despite his formidable talent because I just don't see how a big classics boy (literally and figuratively) is going to take on one of the little mountain goats in peak form, particularly because Hincapie is now a marked man because of last year's mountain win anyway. Nonetheless, allez George, and yay for Popo!

Nice Guys Finish First: Amiable giant/self-sacrificing CSC superdomestique Jens Voigt, who's usually slobbering like a Lab at the end of a leash waiting to be set free to take off after a flying tennis ball, out-legged and out-thought the very fine Oscar Periero to take the stage after Milram's youngster Grivko made an ill-timed unfortunate attack on his group of five (already 27something minutes ahead of the main field), which ultimately left him panting lamely 6 minutes back, and left Voigt Periero Chavanel and Quinziato, then just Voigt and Pereiro, and finally just by the line Voigt to take the stage. Voigt you'll recall rightly gave a stage away in the Giro this year after sitting on another's wheel all day, which apparently made Bjarne Riis apopleptic but was, as is typical of Jens, the gentlemanly thing to do, so between that and just how damn happy he always looks when he's allowed to attack, it's beyond dandy to see him finally get to take another Tour stage (the last some years back). It was a quite the nail-biter as Voigt reasonably appealed to Pereiro for help on the way up to the line, as Pereiro was about to take the yellow jersey and Jens was no threat to that, but despite being the far superior sprinter Pereiro apparently genuinely couldn't give a hand despite having just enough juice to sit on Voigt's wheel, and Voigt was left to attack after an already unsuccessful surge or two at the last minute to take the win across the line. Oh, and I gotta say I'm surprised that, after a late, brief, if apparently sincere attempt to reel back in the breakaway so that Pereiro wouldn't win the yellow jersey off of Landis at the end of the day, that Phonak called it a day soon after and didn't just stick it out for the extra minute and a half the chase needed to keep the maillot jaune on Landis, which I don't think would've killed too much of their energy for the Alps but presumably Phonak's much smarter on this and certainly every other point than I am. Well, pressure's off him anyway for another day or two until the serious Alps kick in and Pereiro loses it, so that's good I suppose. We love Jens!

Pissed Off in the Peloton: You won't get this from the OLN commentary by Phil and Paul, who besides their admirable discretion and encyclopaedic knowledge of every rider in every stage in every tour and every race ever are also busy pointing out as a side note how the loveliness of the 13th century chateau on screen has been spoiled by the introduction of a modern outdoor swimming pool, but apparently Robbie the Ego McEwen caused quite a hoo-ha yesterday when he deliberately disobeyed the maillot jaune's order for a, well, mass roadside, um, rest break and continued on apace because he was quite incensed that Landis had given the call right when Oscar Freire was in a breakaway that threatened Robbie's stranglehold on the green points jersey. Cheerful Tom Boonen, whose stage-winless despondency has been sorely aggravated in the last couple of days as by the Tour's egregiously long stages and accordingly rather conflicting demands that no-one dope, and who has the same interest along with the other sprinters besides Robbie in his green jersey standings, went postal about it afterwards on the very fair grounds that everyone else sucked it up and stopped so who was Robbie to jack everyone over, and that the entire peloton hated him. Robbie responded that he had a perfectly friendly dinner with his teammates after the stage, so that's six out of about 180 for Robbie I suppose. I look forward to seeing the headlines about the feud on the next issue of VeloNews. No I don't.

Allez, and hooray for Jens!

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.

le Tour--Landis needs surgery!

American maillot jaune contender Floyd Landis, who snapped his hip in an idiotic training accident a couple of years ago (slipped on gravel), dealt with ongoing rumors by confirming at a press conference yesterday that he’s got progressive bone death in his hip stemming from the accident, his injured femur is now one inch shorter than the other, he’s riding in constant high level pain, and has to have the hip replaced entirely after the Tour! He’s got high hopes about returning to the pro peloton after his hip replacement, but apparently no top-level rider has tried to do anything like this yet so no one knows what will happen.

If he can’t return, this is a major whack to American cycling! He’s only 30, with a couple of peak Grand Tour years left in him, and without Floyd, there’s a gap in US Euro-based cycling with most of the other top Americans either older/on the tail end of their careers (Horner, Julich, Hincapie, Leipheimer), or still too young and inexperienced to be at that level the next couple of seasons (Discovery’s Tommy Danielson, recent crash victim/brain injured but recovering well Saul Raisin). Floyd took two American stage races this year plus the highly presitigious European classic Paris-Nice. That he could do this, much less ride the Tour, much less be a GC contender, with this kind of injury is amazing, even considering cyclists’ legendary capacity for riding through pain beyond the standard Tour-stage agony (Petacchi finishing a Giro stage with a cracked knee, Tyler riding a grand Tour with a busted collarbone).

Poor Floyd (and his upcoming contract negotiations—I guess Discovery won’t be helping his bidding price by going back after him til this shakes out)! And props to him for not whining—he’s had a couple of surgeries and kept his mouth shut for a year. He’s the man!

Today—a sprint stage where depressed dreamboat pinup boy Tom Boonen will hopefully get his game back. Tomorrow, on to the mountains, and the real Tour begins!

Massive Disaster at the Tour!

Key Americans Choke, Injured in Time Trial; GC Up for Grabs: In a disastrous time trial for almost all of the Americans, the GC hopes of American Levi Leipheimer and his team Gerolsteiner were utterly destroyed as he came in a shocking and catastrophic 96th place at 6 minutes back; CSC's time trial god Dave Zabriskie, tipped to win, faded after a hopeful start and came in a demoralizing 13th; big George Hincapie, who has been smoking most of the field in other time trials the second part of this season, could only cough up a lame 24th, putting his chances of actually being named to lead Discovery in the mountains in doubt; and worst of all, Bobby Julich,stalwart CSC class act who once podiumed at the Tour at the start of his career, labored in misery for years afterward, and is enjoying an inspiring end-game renaissance at 34, horribly misjudged an S-curve, skidded his bike out from under him, opened his wrist right down to the bone, and is out of the Tour entirely, just when CSC needs him to join tiny Spanish climbing genius Carlos Sastre in the mountains with team leader Basso ignominiously relegated to Italy due to the doping scandal. No one's got much of any explanation as to why the collective choke beyond vague mechanical, health and course gripes except "this was the worst time trial of my life" and "I don't know what happened." Aaaaaiiiiggghhhh!

Only US positive note: Former Tyler Hamilton lieutenant Floyd Landis, who was idiotically denied the use of his unusual aero time-trial handlebars (which he's been using all season without sanction, and which the judges knew about perfectly well all along) at the last minute by the Tour, was forced to replace em (particularly bad news to change your position unexpectedly on unmaneuverable twitchy tt bikes), the new bars failed then snapped off, then he had to switch bikes entirely, then get back on and go having utterly lost his momentum and a normal rider wouldv'e completely lost his concentration as well, and comes in second handily on the stage only a minute back despite it. Floyd is one cool customer, and the only American left besides maybe Hincapie who has any hope whatsoever for GC--and probably the most likely overall at this point. But given that my every other prediction has ended up cursed, I wouldn't quote me on that, either. A tip of the hat to 36-year-old T-Mobile's Sergei Gonchar, who blew away the field and took the yellow jersey neatly to boot.

Today's stage: a rare successful breakaway on a sprint stage--Zabriskie in the break (but got stung by a bee), Landis had Phonak start to reel it in because of fairly-high-placed-vague-GC-threat-prior-stage-winner Matthias Kessler, then laid off to let the sprinters' teams take control, but with the yellow jersey gone Tom Boonen gave the Quick Step boys the day off and no one else wanted to work, so with Zabriskie and Kessler bonking, Frenchman Sylvain Calzati took off at the start of a hill and left the remainder of the reaction-impaired break and the peloton behind--and since he was rooting for Italy in the World Cup, a doubly fine day for Calzati on his first Tour win ever!

Tomorrow's a rest day. Thank God, because Leipheimer especially and pretty much all of Discovery need it!

Hushovd Got Sc$#@%^d!

Gripe of the Day: Looking at the replay of Wednesday’s sprint, I think Hushovd, who had his green jersey hopes completely decimated by the Tour’s decision to relegate him to last place in the stage for improper sprinting (cutting off F.D’Jeux’s Bernhard Eisel), got absolutely completely jacked and the judges owe him a damn apology. Hushovd is hammering away towards the finish, moving around a bit but not unfairly, when Eisel comes up from behind him, interferes with Hushovd’s line, whacks into him and goes down like a drunken domino as a result. Like Hushovd is supposed to have eyes on the back of his %$^? This is utterly different from last year when Robbie “the Ego” McEwen deliberately head-butted fellow Aussie (and more gentlemanly rider) Stuart O’Grady out of his way right at the line and had his place justifiably stripped.

Yesterday’s Stage: Another sprint, another pack of crashes at the back of the peloton, another near-miss woof by a fast-improving but still slightly off-his-sprint Belgian babe magnet/maillot jaune Tom Boonen. (To be fair, even off his game Boonen is still a formidable opponent, easily the best sprinter in the world right now along with Alessandro Petacchi, and he’s one of the few sprinters I can recall who has earned and held the yellow jersey for so long) Oscar Freire, who I always forget is a brilliant three-time world champion as he’s usually injured or recovering during every other race during the year, launches himself out of nowhere on the opposite side of the road of the rest of the pack a few hundred feet from the line, no one notices until way too late, Boonen jumps but he’s missed the window, and Freire perfectly takes the stage by a bike length—a nice bonus not only for Freire but for his Rabobank squad which just the other day lost veteran Eric Dekker in a tooth-pulverizing crash into a pothole. Yay Oscar!

The Big Boys Come Out to Play: this weekend, after another sprint stage today, the Tour really gets going with the first long individual time trial. This is where the GC contenders are going to show that they’re either out, or they’re in. If they choke here, they’ve got to smoke the rest of the GC contenders in the mountains at some point or they’re in trouble for Paris. For GC, watch for American Floyd Landis, a stellar time trialist who is also very fine in the mountains, for a top 3 finish; big George Hincapie I assume will go for it as well and Discovery’s got some other contenders; Levi Leipheimer hopefully has his legs by now as he didn’t at all in the tt prologue. Among the time trial specialists, I’m sticking with Dave Zabriskie for the win because he has the smoothest position and finest tt bike handling skills of anybody. Other guys to watch: world tt champ Michael Rogers currently second on GC (probably won’t hold it) has his eyes on the maillot jaune for a day or two; and GC contenders Cadel Evans and Iban Mayo need to do well also. Go Dave!

Crashes in the Tour!

Yesterday, a fairly quiet sprint day with a bit of drama--prologue winner/slash victim Hushovd takes back the yellow jersey from American Hincapie by taking an intermediate sprint despite his sore stitched arm (Discovery and Hincapie don't want to waste energy defending it now, they want to get it back in the mountains), Matthias Kessler (a Jan Ullrich teammate) agonizingly swept up by the pack just 50 meters from the line, then Aussie Robbie "Pocket Rocket" (he's quite small for a sprinter) McEwen and yellow jersey Thor Hushovd accidentally make contact just before the line, Hushovd pops out of his pedal and Robbie takes the stage.

Today--disaster!--a major Tour contender out! On a damn hot day (99 degrees, 122 degrees reflected off the asphalt) on a perfectly good road, Robbie McEwen's crucial lead out man and all-around good guy American "Fast Freddy" Rodriguez and Dutchman Erik Dekker (wants the stage win today because it finishes in Holland, also retiring this year so would like the souvenir!) touch wheels for no other reason than sheer fatigue, hit the road hard, bust their collarbones and are out of the Tour--bad news for the Pocket Rocket. Then--even worse!--another tangle in the peloton!--like 5 guys go down--just fatigue and heat again--and brilliant Spaniard and serious possible overall Tour winner Alejandro Valverde, who beat Lance on a prestigious mountain stage win last year, goes down sharp and fast, snaps his collarbone and is out. Rats! On a happy note, dejected Matthias Kessler, who was caught 50 m from the line yesterday, successfully takes it today by just a few meters as the big sprinters misjudge the threat while they're jockeying for position near the line. The yellow jersey changes hands to big sprinter/3 day choker Belgian hearthrob Tom Boonen, when sore Thor Hushovd shleps in a few key seconds behind Boonen's main sprint group. Whew!

Damn. At this rate it'll be like the top 3 Americans and a couple of half-assed domestiques left at the home stretch in Paris!

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. ;-)