Results tagged “Astana” from spare cycles

Much has been made over the denial of Hincapie's yellow jersey, in part due to Astana setting a high enough tempo to keep the break reachable, and the rest due to AG2R and Garmin vigorously chasing in the final kilometers. In fact, every interview that Versus did this morning focused on this rather than the upcoming explosive stage.

I make less of Astana's efforts -- I do think in Astana's analysis, AG2R was too weak to chase the break down and it wasn't like HTC-Columbia was going to come to the front to set things up for the sprint. I do think that Garmin was a major factor in reeling it in -- Zabriskie and Pate had enough firepower to make up the 5-second difference.

Garmin has offered this reason for the chase: there had been splits in the peloton that cost them GC time in previous stages, so they wanted to ride a hard tempo and keep their guys up front.

Bruyneel stomped all over Garmin's reasoning this morning, instead claiming that the move made no strategic sense whatsoever. While I think Garmin's reasons were bunk (this wasn't a sprint stage, AG2R wasn't going to cause a split in the peloton), I disagree with Bruyneel's analysis: it made plenty of sense.

Sure, HTC-Columbia is a more successful team than Garmin if you count stage wins, but HTC-Columbia has no viable GC contender. Garmin, on the other hand, has two GC guys: Bradley Wiggins and Christian Vandevelde.

So here's my theory as to why it made plenty of strategic sense: if Hincapie had been in yellow, HTC-Columbia would have been forced to defend the yellow jersey today. HTC-Columbia, unlike AG2R, is fresh enough and has the firepower to really put on a show of defense, even if holding the jersey was an unlikely result of the day.

From Garmin's perspective, it's far better off keeping the yellow jersey with AG2R, because AG2R is weak enough that Astana has to keep coming to the front and tiring themselves out. If HTC-Columbia had the jersey, Astana may have been able to keep a couple more cards in the deck for the final assault, rather than spend them keeping any breaks at the proper range.

As it was, Astana really only needed the Contador card to play. Saxo and Garmin set the climb up, but it was Contador who delivered. Nevertheless, Garmin's Bradley Wiggins delivered the GC ride of his life and it's Garmin, not HTC-Columbia, who has the chance at seeing themselves on the podium in Paris.

Contador!

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Alberto Contador - (c) Ken Conley

Contador slayed the field, once again climbing like he was descending and taking the switchbacks like he's cornering in a crit. Andy Schleck was the closest of survivors, but now I think he needs to focus on second. AScheck willl face a good challenge from Garmin's Bradley Wiggins, who was impressive today and has some TT skills to work with as well. Armstrong looked like a rider out of retirement, oddly helping other contenders keep pace behind Contador, and then having to watch them shell him one by one.

I still maintain that Contador now could have beat Armstrong then -- that sort of crushing acceleration uphill is a special skill.

CYCLING: MAR 14 Paris-Nice 2009 - Stage 7

Luis Leon Sanchez won from the break after playing the tactics of the last 3km perfectly, egging on his breakaway companions to chase back Vladimir Efimkin, then launching his own sprint for the line. Sanchez's win should take away some of the sting of losing Oscar Pereiro, who retired from fatigue.

The tactics back in the peloton were more interesting as it looked like Saxo Bank was trying to put Astana's Contador in yellow. It's not often that you see a team trying to put its rival in yellow, though it makes sense: Astana doesn't want to wear itself out, especially with so many "leaders" and not so many domestiques (though Kloden and Leipheimer have moved into support roles). Astana made no secret of the fact that they wanted Nocentini in yellow and I'm sure they were disappointed to see AG2R pay them back by putting riders in all the breaks and not chasing.

Saxo Bank's "Get Contador in Yellow" campaign started when Andy Schleck put in an attack on the final climb, which Levi Leipheimer ably controlled. Sure enough, all the GC contenders made it. The only rider of import left behind was Nocentini in yellow. Saxo Bank certainly doesn't feel threatened by Nocentini, but they continued to press the attack with Frank Schleck. Contador was in virtual yellow.

Astana worked its way back into control of this group and then proceeded to slow it down so that Nocentini could catch back on. AG2R may not be the willing defenders they were looking for, but clearly Astana wanted to use them for one more day.

Levi Leipheimer was impressive as a lieutenant today as he spent a lot of time in the wind today throughout the stage to control the race.

Are we clear yet?

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Disco Posse - (c) Ken Conley

It's Contador's team

Nocentini - (c) Ken ConleyBrice Feillu and Christophe Kern went 1/2 for France from the breakaway as the race transitioned from Spain to France with its stop in the tiny country of Andorra. Cancellara put on a good show of defense of his yellow jersey, but the writing was on the wall as the climb in Arcalis dragged on. No one probably predicted that another rider in the breakaway, Rinaldo Nocentini, would be the one to take it off his shoulders, but that's the rare promise that motivates a great breakaway.

It feels good to put the Astana leadership debate to rest, for now. Contador showed why he can win the Tour by putting in an explosive attack that none of the other GC contenders could chase down. He went so fast it looked like he was descending as he freewheeled around a switchback. Armstrong and Levi were loyal teammates, following the wheels and keeping themselves in a strong position in the GC. Overall, Astana did a great job setting the early tempo on the Arcali, controlling the field up until the moment of Contador's attack.

If there's any doubt that Astana is in the driver's seat, just look at the GC standings:

  1. Nocentini
  2. Contador 0.06
  3. Armstrong 0.08
  4. Leipheimer 0.39
Greg Henderson Leads the High Road Paceline - (c) Ken Conley

Today looked a little like a bit like that -- Columbia hit it as the winds picked up and soon found themselves 30 seconds up the road doing a team time trial. Some important names like Fabian Cancellara and Lance Armstrong (with Popovych and Zubeldia) tagged along. I hope Columbia saved a little for the team time trial, because that was an impressive display. Cavendish, of course, got the win, though his leadout train was a litlte ragged. Renshaw put in an impressive pull to contain a last-minute break and leadout Cav, who proceeded to ride Hushovd off his wheel.

It may pour a little salt in the Astana rivalry as Popo and Zubeldia both helped Lance Armstrong gain time on the field -- with Contador in it. But, given that Zubeldia was doing work, I imagine that the Contador was tranquil -- in the grand scheme of things, Contador is more than 30 seconds better than Armstrong and it may have been a tactical move to put pressure on the other teams not as well represented.

Contador-Armstrong.jpg

It didn't hit me until the middle of this week at the Tour is starting on Saturday. After shooting Lance at the Astana Training Camp, Tour of California and the Nevada City Classic, you'd think that I'd just be counting down the days, but shooting the American Velodrome Challenge and Manhattan Beach Grand Prix in one weekend has a way of keeping you distracted.

When I first saw Lance at the Astana Training Camp I thought, "No way." He looked different on a bike, he looked... fat (for a cyclist). Then I saw him at the Tour of California on a TT bike, and that only reinforced the fact that he looked fat. Then I saw him a couple of weeks ago at the Nevada City Classic and he looked thin.

Does this mean that I think he can win? No. But whereas I thought in February he was certain to realize this and be forced to work for Contador, I now think he's strong enough to cause more than enough trouble for the Astana squad -- with Vino back in the picture, is there any team under more stress right now? Another way to think of it is: Armstrong won his final Tours largely on the strength of the team supporting him; now there's little chance that the entire team would ever support him.

That's not to say Armstrong hasn't been trying to build his own mini-squad. Armstrong has spent a good portion of this year cementing his relationship with Levi Leipheimer, burying himself to help Levi win the Tour of California and luxuriating him in the world of private-jet travel. And he did well enough by Horner than Horner was sniping at Contador for getting left off the Tour squad, not at Armstrong for giving Contador more than seven reasons to think about wanting more allies on the squad.

I still think Contador is the best overall rider of this generation and is stronger than Armstrong, but Armstrong may cause just enough discord to provide an opening. The worst thing that can happen, and could easily happen, is that Lance and Levi beat Contador on Saturday's stage. Levi we know can beat Contador in a TT and who knows what Lance will bring. Or maybe even worse is that Contador overly focuses on establishing his primacy with his team on this opening stage and leaves himself open to harm the rest of the Tour. No other team has as much riding on the very first stage.

As for other contenders, Bjarne Riis is obviously salivating at the opportunity to exploit the conflict and has enough weapons to force Astana to figure out who they're protecting. Silence-Lotto's Cadel Evans is also just boring enough to slip in during all the fireworks and run off with the prize. It's harder to drum up support for Sastre. I feel bad not rallying behind the reigning champion, but as good as Cervelo Test Team has been, can they really help him win the Tour? Not likely.

NOTE: I've decided not to do my normal Tour link roundup this year around, and my summaries may be infrequent. When I first started blogging about the Tour in 2003, there weren't that many sites out there blogging about it, there was no Twitter or Facebook, and I had not yet embarked on my cycling photography career. Perhaps I'm faking my memories, but back then I felt it was necessary to blog about the Tour because it was a beautiful event that needed many more voices in the up-and-coming blogosphere. Now there are many voices out there and the return of Lance has turned the dials back up to 11 for this event. I also find that I'd rather shoot bicycles and ride bicycles than write about bicycles, so look for me this month at events like the San Rafael Twilight Crit. Rest assured that I will still be up every morning at 5am to watch the Tour.

What a (Gila) Crock

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Leipheimer and Nydam - (c) Ken Conley

Where Lance goes, the rulebooks and stupidity follow...

First, Astana and BMC are caught up in the UCI's sudden desire to enforce a rule that says that ProTour teams cannot race in national events. If there was an epidemic of ProTour teams deciding that they would rather rack up wins at local races than, say, the Tour de France, I would understand, but with events like Philly and Tour of New York facing cancellation, the US Open, Lehigh, Reading, Tour de Leenau, Oregon Pro, and Priority Health Classic cancelled, and the Tour of Gila itself saved from extinction by SRAM, do we really need to be kicking race promoters in the gut by telling them that Lance Armstrong can't race in their event? I mean, Lance is like a Magical Money Unicorn -- you gotta spread that around!

There's a reason why that rule isn't generally enforced: it's bad for cycling! SRAM steps into save a race and the biggest team they sponsor can't race it? Stupid!

Now, of course, the UCI has 'compromised' and will allow three Astana riders to race (Lance, Levi, and Horner), without their Astana kits. This isn't too big a deal for Astana, but poor BMC now has to send five riders home and follow the same rule interpretation. We'll have to see if the UCI will now follow BMC around for the rest of the season and wreck havoc on their ability to race.

Levi Leipheimer - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

The Solvang course is Levi country. It has yet to deny him, even with strong competition from Dave Zabriskie this year.

I have to head out as the transfer today is quite long. My photos from today are fairly terrible. I attempted to go big with my Levi and Lance photos and fell on my face instead. I took some safe shots earlier and should have stuck with that, but with the Prologue in the bank it was time for something new.

Tour of California Stage 6: Solvang

Astana Camp II

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Astana Camp-55

Astana Camp-14I woke up at 5am this morning to head up to Santa Rosa and shoot the Astana team training camp. Levi has been choosing the routes as its his home turf and today he selected a six-hour route for the"Queen Stage" of the training camp. Levi's BMC pal Scott Nydam even showed up -- a little late, so he had to draft up to the group using Liz Kreutz's moto. Casey Gibson was also out on moto today. Graham Watson was on scene but I think he may have stayed in, having just flown in from the still-in-progress Tour of Qatar (now that's a pro schedule).

They rode up northwest from Santa Rosa, down to the coast on Meyers Grade, and then back to Santa Rosa via Coleman Valley. I joked that Levi was punishing the media by choosing a course with virtually no passing opportunities for the official media day. Then again, the coast was absolutely gorgeous with giant twisty descents, so we were well rewarded with the few photo opportunities we had -- about six photo ops for the entire six hours, barely better than an actual stage race.

I rode mostly in the back of a pickup truck driven by Phil from Road Bike Action. It's thanks to his bold driving that we had as many photo ops as we did. I learned that shooting from the back of a pickup truck can be tougher than shooting from a moto, even if it's more comfortable. The bed vibrates and bounces quite a lot, especially on bumpy country-side roads. I had to shoot at 1/1000th to avoid camera shake and still lost photos to busted compositions or focus issues.

Astana Camp-60The group seemed to stick together for most of the ride. The big attack came on Coleman Valley. We weren't far behind, yet the group was already shattered by the time we first got a glimpse of them. Lance, Levi, and Contador were already way up the climb. Apparently Contador won the climb, but only by seconds. So yeah, Armstrong's fit.

Astana Camp-2Even if it was Levi's turf and even with Grand Tour Triple Crowner Contador in the house, it was hard not to feel that everything revolved around Armstrong. Perhaps it was the bright yellow kit that made Armstrong impossible to miss in any photo. Or maybe it was his custom-painted bike put out for display (different from the Tour Down Under Bike). But it probably wouldn't matter if he rode with a bandanna-mask like Contador and rode in the middle of the pack. It's Lance Armstrong and he's back.

Astana Camp-36

Astana Camp-8

Reverse Armstrong Twitpic

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Astana Camp-49 Astana Camp-11

We have company on the ride today! on TwitPic

Astana Camp Photos

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Astana Camp-52

Astana Camp-65

Just got done processing photos from the Astana Camp. If I have time I'll write more, but now it's time to hop in the car and head home.

Astana Camp Photos

Armstrong returns to save Georgia?

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Well, not really, but he might return, and it could save Georgia. Given that the race was informally known and popularized as Armstrong's Tour de France preparation, it seems only fitting. It would definitely turn the Tour of California into an absolute circus as well -- something I'm actually not looking forward to.

The rumor has been swirling for awhile and was given greater credence when Dirk Demol returned to Astana. It's unclear what the motivation here is -- is Armstrong mad enough at the TdF organizers for excluding Astana? Is he a little too bored on the MTB circuit? Who knows, though I do feel a little bad for the other Astana riders knowing that they will have a different spotlight shining on them.

Horner trains with fallen rider on back

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horner-ccc-everydayathlete.jpgWhile browsing Podium in Sight I read this Cascades Stage 5 story that's so good I have to pass it on:

Chris Horner Gives Fallen Rider (and bike) a 2k Ride to the Finish

Follow the links to read Everday Athlete's account and see some photos. Jonathan Devich of CyclingNews also got a photo and there's footage from from KTVZ. Horner's feat is about 3:09 in.

I'm sure all of us would do the same as Chris Horner, if we were Chris Horner. Maybe that's just how they ride in Bend.

Greg Henderson Gets His Second Win - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Atlanta - (c) Ken Conley

High Road - (c) Ken Conley Breakaway - (c) Ken Conley Tom Danielson - (c) Ken Conley jerseys - (c) Ken Conley Chechu Rubiera - (c) Ken Conley

Tour de Georgia Stage 7 Photo Gallery (in progress)

The final stage in Atlanta was a rugged urban stage with plenty of potholes to send riders off the back in search of new wheels. The field let a break of 12 get away, including Tom Danielson and Rhys Pollock, but High Road, with Big George Hincapie at the front, kept the lead manageable throughout the ten laps. Rock Racing, despite having already lost a couple of riders on the course, worked to bring back the break going into the final laps, but the day was meant to be all High Road: Greg Henderson beat out JJ Haedo on the uphill sprint as High Road successfully defended its overall and sprint jersey. Jason McCartney's KOM jersey was already sewn up for CSC yesterday, and the sprint finish meant that Trent Lowe's lead in the young rider competition was never threatened. Astana had to settle for the Best Team award, which is a great accomplishment, but probably much less than they had hoped for. The Overall Most Aggressive Rider went to Rory Sutherland, the big Health Net rider who showed off climbing legs as well as a daring attack on Stage 3.

Tour de Georgia Stage 7 Photo Gallery (in progress)

Stage 4: Slipstream!

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Slipstream TTT - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Slipstream TTT - (c) Ken Conley Top Secret Helmet Covers - (c) Ken Conley

Tour de Georgia Stage 4 Photo Gallery

Today was the start of the Tour de Georgia overall: more fans, more reporters, and the appearance of the head honchos: Jonathan Vaughters, Bob Stapleton, Michael Ball, and Johan Bruyneel all showed up to watch their teams do battle.

Teams did four circuits of the Road Atlanta speedway that proved to be fast and viscious. Nearly all the teams shed riders in their attempt to stick to the sub-five-minute-lap pace required to win. Slipstream set the mark to beat. Astana followed with an ever-increasing pace that landed them only 4 seconds short of victory. High Road was last on the road and came out blazing, beating the splits that Slipstream had set. But they lost time in the second half and ended up 6 seconds down.

Just Go Harder - (c) Ken Conley

The Slipstream riders were spurred on by "Just Go Harder" labels on the back of their seatpost, a reference to Tim Duggan's Web site. The labels were added by team mechanic Tom Hopper as a sign of respect for Duggan, who crashed hard in yesterday's stage. The team opted to not go with the "Top Secret, Allen Lim Edition" aerodynamic helmet covers, though they did make a brief appearance on Zabriskie's head before Jonathan Vaughters jokingly told him to hide it.

Mechanicals and snafus were impossible for riders to overcome and Tom Zirbel, JJ Haedo, and Fuyu Li were among the riders that saw their teammates quickly speeding away. I was riding moto behind JJ Haedo as his foot came out of the pedal on the first climb. His team was far away by the time he clipped back in.

Tour de Georgia Stage 4 Photo Gallery

More Stage 7 Photos: Champagne Fight and More

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Champagne Fight - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Champagne Fight - (c) Ken Conley Slipstream - (c) Ken Conley Levi and Odessa - (c) Ken Conley Christian Vande Velde - (c) Ken Conley Champagne Fight - (c) Ken Conley Dominique Rollin - (c) Ken Conley Tom Zirbel - (c) Ken Conley Champagne Fight - (c) Ken Conley Alexandre Moos - (c) Ken Conley

Levi was relentless when it came to the champagne fight -- I've never seen such a bleary-eyed podium. Dominique Rollin also tried to score points with the Rock Racing girls by handing them flowers, David MIllar showed patience in opening his champagne even as Levi sprayed him, Christian Vande Velde was smart enough to hand-off his baby before the champagne fight began, and Zabriskie was even smarter to use the giant check as a shield and then run off the stage with it.

Hincapie Wins - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

George Hincapie - (c) Ken Conley George Hincapie - (c) Ken Conley

Stage 7 Photo Gallery

Team High Road got redemption today as George Hincapie delivered from the breakaway. After misjudging Dominique Rollin in Stage 4 and losing victory in Stage 6, High Road can at last celebrate. You had the feeling that there were many in the peloton content to see if Hincapie or any of the other riders in the break could pull one out for their teams. Tom Zirbel had the boldest move, surviving several laps off the front, Michael Creed made a go for Rock Racing, Rory Sutherland put his Most Aggressive jersey to use, and Jason McCartney tried to bookend the ToC for CSC, but Hincapie had the best legs.

It's only fitting that the 2008 Tour of California end with soggy conditions, though more severe snow and flash flood conditions were avoided. As if tuned to race time, the sun and a rainbow emerged for Levi Leipheimer to gaze upon as he accepted his second straight overall victory. Leipheimer used the platform to continue to argue for Tour de France entry, as well as spray David Millar and Christian Vande Velde with champagne.

Slipstream-Chipotle has made impressive gains in just a year. With second and third place overall, best team, and Steven Cozza animating the breaks, it looks like they will be a team to watch on the international stage.

Millcreek Summit Descent - (c) Ken Conley

Millcreek Summit Descent - (c) Ken Conley Cavendish Takes the Bunch Sprint - (c) Ken Conley

Stage 7 Photo Gallery

Stage 5: Levi Wins in Solvang Again

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Levi Leipheimer - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

David Millar - (c) Ken Conley Christian Vandevelde - (c) Ken Conley

Dave Zabriskie - (c) Ken Conley Fabian Cancellara - (c) Ken Conley George Hincapie - (c) Ken Conley Podium - (c) Ken Conley

Stage 5 Solvang Photo Gallery

Today started off ominously -- the skies poured rain off and on before the stage start and the navigation dial on my camera, which has the important duty of selecting my autofocus point, was only recognizing two out of its nine directions. Riders were stilled dazed from yesterday's efforts: Danny Pate talked about only being able to put down 1000 calories yesterday on a day he burned 5000. There seemed to be a lot less riders taking warmup rides than last year. And then it got better, much better. The roads dried off. Blue skies rolled in. My camera started working again.

Levi Leipheimer and Astana were the big winners on the day as Levi once again defended his overall lead in Solvang. Slipstream had a banner day as well -- they weren't able to beat Levi, but they took second, third, and sixth places. CSC took fourth and fifth, but Cancellara wasn't pull off his best effort after a rough week in the rain.

Stage 5 Solvang Photo Gallery

Gesink Wins - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Stage 3 Photo Gallery

Mount Hamilton was a big addition to today's stage, but the results were eerily familar -- so much so that Fritz of Cyclelicio.us was able to pull one of my 2007 photos for his stage 3 summary. Last year it was Levi, Voigt, and Gesink over the top of Sierra Road. The trio survived and Voigt easily took the sprint. This time around, Levi and Gesink were lucky to leave Voigt behind and negotiate a rider's agreement: Gesink took the stage, Levi the overall lead. From comments Leipheimer made after the stage, it sounds like Astana and Rabobank had worked this possibility out the night before.

With Farrar being a sprinter, it was well expected that the overall lead would be up for grabs. This came sooner than expected, however, as Farrar dropped out with a stomach bug. Farrar had hoped to transfer the jersey to Danielson, but Danielson was already far behind on the Mount Hamilton climb. Millar and Zabriskie had good rides and are both within striking distance to take the lead at the Solvang time trial. Fabian Cancellara also rode in with Millar and Zabriskie and sits in a close second at 13 seconds back.

Mario Cipollini - (c) Ken Conley Scott Nydam - (c) Ken Conley Gesink Podium - (c) Ken Conley Gesink Podium - (c) Ken Conley Gesink Podium - (c) Ken Conley George Hincapie - (c) Ken Conley

Stage 3 Photo Gallery

2008 Tour of California Teams

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Tour of CaliforniaThe teams were announced today and the list should provide many storylines: polar opposites Slipstream and Rock Racing, Hincapie leading Team High Road against Leipheimer/Astana, Gerolsteiner in its final year, Health Net defending their NRC crown, Scott Moninger directing Toyota-United against his former team BMC, etc...

  • Astana (LUX)
  • Bissell Pro Cycling Team (USA)
  • BMC Racing Team (USA)
  • Bouygues Telecom (FRA)
  • Crédit Agricole (FRA)
  • Gerolsteiner (GER)
  • Health Net Presented by Maxxis (USA)
  • High Road Sports (GER)
  • Jelly Belly Cycling Team (USA)
  • Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast (USA)
  • Quick Step (BEL)
  • Rabobank Cycling Team (Netherlands)
  • Rock Racing (USA)
  • Saunier Duval-Scott (ESP)
  • Team CSC (DEN)
  • Team Slipstream Powered by Chipotle (USA)
  • Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team (USA)

Last year the Tour of California overall was been dominated by Discovery vs. CSC, but with the spread of Discovery's American talent to High Road and Slipstream, as well as the CSC's loss of Zabriskie and Vande Velde to Slipstream, this should be a more balanced competition. This could even be the year of Slipstream's ascension in American tours.

Press Release

O Captain my Captain: Kashechkin has furthered damaged Astana's credibility by testing positive for homologuous blood doping, just like Vino. Given that Astana is composed of former Liberty Seguros and T-Mobile riders, could we have expected more?

Contador is planning a Friday announcement with Bruyneel by his side -- prepared statement, no questions. The hush-hushness of it all would seem to imply that it has something to do with Operation Puerto allegations that are rearing their head once more.

Welcome to the post-Astana order

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Dopers SuckWithout Astana in the standings and assuming that Vino is stripped of his wins (still no B-test yet, so speculative):

...Cadel Evans gets his first stage win for the Stage 13 TT.

...Kim Kirchen gets his first stage win as well for Stage 15.

...In the overall, Sastre is now a top-five rider and Valverde and Popo are once again top ten:

1 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 69.52.14
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 2.23
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor - Lotto 4.00
4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 5.25
5 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC 6.46
6 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 7.27
7 Kim Kirchen (Lux) T-Mobile Team 8.24
8 Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 9.21
9 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 10.41
10 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 12.29

...Astana had a 3.24 lead in the team competition -- the top four is now more compact:

1 Euskaltel-Euskadi
2 Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 1.27
3 Team CSC 1.55
4 Caisse D’epargne 2.32

DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

Contador took the stage win on a great day for Discovery -- and me, as I got my pick :). It was a battle of the skinny boys and Contador's white jersey was lighter on the shoulders than Rasmussen's yellow. Rasmussen and Contador initially worked well together to get separation on an elite group of Leipheimer, Sastre, Evans, and Soler. That cooperation shutdown with a couple kilometers to go as Contador took advantage of Rasmussen's need to defend his yellow jersey. Contador grabbed a hold of Rasmussen's wheel and didn't come around until the final meters for the victory. Rasmussen can't be too disappointed: he put lots of time into strong TT riders like Kloden and Evans, and he defended both the yellow and polka dot jerseys.

Astana and Discovery traded roles today. Yesterday Astana finished 1-3-4 while Discovery finished 6-7-9. Today Discovery finished 1-4-10 while Astana finished 6-8-9. Discovery is also now 2-4-10 in the GC. Contador only got eight seconds closer to the yellow jersey, but he did leapfrog Cadel Evans for second place. Leipheimer did a great job of riding to finish in 4th -- he yoyo'd with Sastre quite a bit as they were both unable to match the frightening accelerations of Rasmussen and Contador. Leipheimer's time gains moved him past Kloden in the GC into 4th and he closed his gap on Evans. Popovych was Discovery's hero today: fighting to bridge back after the Port de Pailheres to bring bottles up to his teammates, then setting the tempo on the Plateau de Baille that whittled the field down to eight riders. And he finished in 10th. Hincapie did similar work to bridge back after the Pailheres and was in the driver's seat on the lead-in to the Plateau de Beille.

Astana's 6-8-9 was a bit of a mixed bag. Kloden did well to finish in sixth, despite being the main rider dropped by Popovych's pace making. Colom and Kashechkin both fought to keep Kloden's losses to 1:52. The big hurt for Astana is Vinokourov. Vino appears to have left it all on the line with yesterday's TT victory: Vino was already in trouble on the Port de Pailheres and lost gigantic time on the Plateau de Beille.

CSC had a so-so day. Sastre managed fifth place and moved up a spot in the GC to 6th, but Schleck was far behind. Whereas Discovery had three riders in the final selection of eight, Sastre had none and found himself at a big disadvantage. Levi was able to just sit on Sastre's wheel because of Contador's place up the rode and Soler sat on as well.

Soler was a surprising rider to make the selection. He took enough points on the Pailheres to move into the KOM lead by 10 points, but Rasmussen's second place finish regained his lead by 2 points. After impressive moves on the Pailheres and the lower slopes of Plateau de Beille, I was a bit disappointed by the way Soler rode in the end -- he didn't have a good excuse like Levi to sit on Sastre's wheel and then he had the nerve to launch a big attack to get the third place KOM points.

Saunier Duval is probably in a sour mood. Millar and others did a lot of work up front on the Pailheres to set things up for Mayo, but Mayo didn't have the legs today and performed disappointing for his team.

Valverde had a second-straight awful day. Perhaps its because he's used to bowing out of Tours at this point, but he picked two of the worst days to be off, especially after having look so strong in the first week. Valverde actually managed to move into the top ten despite his weak legs. He can thank Arroyo and Pereiro for forming a train for him as well as Vino and Kirchen for plummeting.

GC Shakeup (previous position holder in ()'s ):

1 Rasmussen
2 Contador 2.23 (Evans)
3 Evans 3.04
4 Leipheimer 4.25 (Kloden)
5 Kloden 4.38
6 Sastre 5.50 (Kascheckin)
7 Kashechkin 6.58
8 Astarloza 8.25
9 Valverde 9.45 (Vinokourov)
10 Popovych 10.55 (Kirchen)

Tour de France '07 Stage 13: Albi TT

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Vinokourov - JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

13 was a lucky number for Astana as they turned their disasterous Stage 5 on its head: Vinokourov first, Kloden third, and Kashechkin fourth. Vino's effort jumped him from 19th to 9th place in the overall standings, 5:10 behind. Kloden is 4th and Kashechkin is 6th, giving Astana several weapons in the GC.

Evans broke up the Astana 1-2-3 by finishing in second, 1:14 behind, but he will be disappointed that he didn't take the yellow jersey with his effort: Rasmussen did the time trial of his career and even passed Valverde on the finishing straight. Valverde's poor 47th-place finish dropped him out of the overall top ten after starting in second.

Discovery didn't have an Astana day but put in a respectable 6-7-9 in the standings with Popovych (despite crashing), Contador, and Leipheimer. Contador appears to be taking over the leader status from Leipheimer as he finished 0:21 faster and moves into third in the overall, while Levi takes fifth. CSC, as expected, couldn't deliver a strong effort with Sastre or Schleck, but Sastre was able to stay seventh overall.

Early rain saw many riders finish with wet and bloody skinsuits. Cancellara put in a good early time check but quickly fell from the standings after he crashed and appeared to hurt his arm. Wiggins instead had the top early mark on the day, which stood until Vinokourov put in a shockingly fast TT: 2:13 faster than Wiggins. Gusev was putting in a good time until he crashed into a roundabout and went skidding over the curb.

Despite drying road conditions, none of the riders who started later than Vino could match his pace. Kloden nipped at his teammate's heels but lost time when he crashed in a wet, slippery corner.

Pozzato wins - FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Filippo Pozzato called his own shot today and won the stage in a mass uphill sprint finish. Freire, Zabel, Bennati, and Hincapie were in the mix, but Pozzato had the best line to the finish line. Zabel lost the stage but he must still be very happy: he took the green jersey from Tom Boonen, who was dropped from the front group.

It's not exactly the finish that I expected as the breaks were relatively contained. Sylvain Chavanel used an early 4-man break to catapult into the KOM lead by taking all but the last climb. Various riders attempted to get a gap on the final ascent and descent, but things remained tight. Popovych had his chances ruined as he overshot a turn into the grass, quickly followed by Cancellara who was putting in another impressive defense of his yellow jersey.

thumbe.getty-tdf2007-cycling-vinokourov_11_53_25_am.jpg
JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
The biggest news on the day is that Vinokourov lost over a minute on the day after crashing and now sports a big welt on his right butt cheek. The peloton was busy chasing down the break, so Vino quickly found himself far behind. All of his teammates except for Kloden came back to help him chase and he ended up burning them all to try and catch back on, eventually using the Astana team car as his final teammate. Still, Vino could only catch onto one of the rear groups near the top of the final climb and didn't get much help in the finale.

I thought Cancellara would lose the yellow jersey today as CSC started the day claiming that they wouldn't defend. This tactic seemed to work -- the other teams contributed most of the pace-making early in the day. But CSC was nearly in full force in the final pullback of the breakaway and then it was Cancellara himself who was driving to bring back Popovych's break.

It was an odd day for team leaders: Sastre, Valverde, Zabel, Hushovd, Mayo and Vino all found themselves off the back for mechanical, crash, and other reasons. Also, second-in-command's Kloden and Pereiro were off the back. Perhaps it was a nervous day with the first day of climbing and Stage 7 mountains looming in the distance.

It was a great stage for Astana today. Paolo Savoldelli took the victory while teammate Eddy Mazzoleni took second and moved onto the overall podium. Savoldelli had to give up his overall hopes fairly early in this Giro but quickly transitioned into helping Mazzoleni slowly climb up the standings. Today was the culmination of those efforts as Astana will be on the podium in Milan.

Simoni was unable to defend his spot but Di Luca had no problem holding off Schleck. Schleck put in an excellent sixth-place finish, but not even Savoldelli's finishing time would have been enough to bump Di Luca. Di Luca was able to give a celebratory arm pump on the finishing straight, knowing that all the critics who said he would fade in the second half were dead wrong.

David Zabriskie put in a solid third place effort on the day, unable to best Astana's effort. Zabriskie was hampered by rainy conditions on the latter half of his run, but Savoldelli bested all of his intermediate times from start to finish.

Vuelta Stage 17: Adra - Granada

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Tom Danielson answered some critics today by winning a suprising stage 17 that saw Vino end up in the overall lead. After Danielson and Discovery were unable to defeat the efforts of Euskatel in stage 16 -- the Vino/Valverde battle worked against Danielson's chances -- Danielson this time found himself on the right side of the GC competition. Danielson managed to solo off the front while behind Valverde desperately chased Vino and Kashechkin. Just as Valverde caught the Astana riders, Vino took off and jumped all the way up to Danielson. There must have been some agreement between Vino and Danielson as the two worked together all the way to the finish -- Vino working for the golden jersey and Danielson working to just up the top ten standings and the stage win.

I really didn't expect to see Vino in the golden jersey. The first several stages of the Vuelta made Vino's teammates look as good if not better than Vino, and Vino certainly looked worse than Valverde, but Vino's stage 7 and stage 8 victories started to bring him back into contention. The stage 14 time trial seemed to close the door on Vino's chances, though, as VIno only managed to scrape back 9 seconds on Valverde. Valverde, looking so strong in both the mountains and the time trial, seemed well-suited to hold off an Astana assault.

I meant to keep the Vuelta posts more regular but I've had a bit of trouble following the Vuelta as cycling.tv has been a bit wonky -- I can't wake up early enough for the live broadcast and they've been unpredictable with when they make the stage highlights available. This year's Vuelta has been very exciting with all the battling between Valverde and Vino, with some Sastre punches thrown in. Astana has been amazing with its ability to get riders up at the front of the race and Discovery has been taking their chances ever since Danielson's then Brajkovic's chances were dashed.

ToG Stage 7 and 8: Voigt TT, Everything

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Voigt is a powerful rider, but winning his third stage of the Tour of Germany on a time trial? That's just crazy talk, but Voigt is a crazy rider. With that TT victory, Voigt sealed up his overall win as the final stage 8 only had one climb to get over and ended in a sprint finish.

Everyone was clustered at least a minute back in the time trial, with Leipheimer finishing in fifth at 1:14 back. Levi's time was good enough to stay in the second spot on the podium; Discovery's Gusev was unable to leapfrog Kashechkin for the third and final podium spot -- Petrov dropped to fifth after a slow time trial. Astana didn't get the two stage victories that they wanted, nor did the get the performance from Vinokourov they probably wanted, but Kashechkin's third place overall was good finish for the team that's been fighting back from its Tour ejection.

Voigt considers his Tour of Germany victory above all others, and it's easy to agree. I've never seen him ride at this level, Levi's never seen him ride at this level, and to win three very different stages -- breakaway, mountain top, time trial -- is an impressive demonstration of cycling talent.

On a side note, I find it incredibly amusing that the Tour of Germany plays the Star Wars fanfare when awarding the podium prizes.