Results tagged “Discovery Channel” from spare cycles

Disco Fire Sale

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hincapie_bike.jpgTrek may have just signed with Astana, but there's still plenty of Discovery Team Madone road bikes, TTX bikes, and TT helmets for sale on eBay -- including those of George Hincapie. If you don't have $10K+ for a bike souvenir, you can always pony up for a $250 TT helmet. It looks like the riders that made the Astana transition are keeping their bikes, so sorry Leipheimer and Contador fans.

via tdflr

Dominguez Wins
Photos by Ken Conley

Hincapie Wins the Overall

Stage 6 Photo Gallery

Ivan Dominguez won convincingly in the final sprint to take the stage win and green jersey while George Hincapie finished his career with Discovery in yellow. Dominguez's wins bookended the inaugural Tour of Missouri while teammate Justin England bookended the Tour in a different way by finishing in the honored last place. Team Slipstream locked up the Team classificiation in a sign that they will be the next USA team to dominate on North American soil.

Dominguez Wins

Brad Huff crashed in the finish but was able to ride across the line. You can just make out him on the ground behind Dominguez while his bike flies off to the left.

Farewell Discovery

Johan Bruyneel Johan Bruyneel Johan Bruyneel

Johan Bruyneel looked on the verge of tears when they brought present and former Discovery-lineage (Motorola-current) players on stage at the end of the race.

Mike Friedman St Louis St Louis Peloton Hincapie Wins the Overall Overall Levi Leipheimer Hincapie and Frishkorn

Ivan Dominguez Navigators Farewell Discovery Peloton

Stage 6 Photo Gallery

Levi Leipheimer
Photo by Ken Conley

Levi Leipheimer Alberto Contador George Hincapie

Alberto Contador

Stage 3 Photo Gallery

I took many photos of riders on the road, except of George Hincapie -- I managed to bump the manual focus switch on my camera as I raised it for the shot, leaving me to only get the one you see above. I tried to get another shot of Hincapie and Levi as they drafted the back of my car on the descent from the finish line, but driving and no-looks photography don't mix. Levi himself was difficult to photograph, in that he showed up 'early' due to the fact that he passed six riders on the road.

I don't have too much to say about the race itself. Most of the details were filled in as I watched the award ceremonies and attended the press conferences. Levi did say that it wasn't his best time trial, so he was happy to win anyway. Hincapie was a bit tired from the break yesterday and was simply happy to have beaten his breakaway companions.

Levi Leipheimer

George Hincapie won the final sprint from a breakaway group of 12. With a gap of over 14 minutes on the rest of the peloton, it seems fairly certain that Hincapie will take the overall -- there's no Brasstown Bald's in this state. That's not to say that the Tour of Missouri is flat. Having spent much of today driving from Kansas City to Springfield, I can attest to the fact that there is nothing flat about this state. Rather, it is... rolling, with lots of roadkill armadillos. Personally, I would be driven mad riding up and down for 120 miles past roadkill.

I hate to see a game-over stage happen so early, much like occurred in this year's Tour de Georgia, but with most of the other teams represented in the break, it seemed a given that the stage was theirs to contest. That said, I'm surprised the other riders let Hincapie up there with them. Once I heard he was in the break, I figured it was his stage for the taking.

Update: I just read on VeloNews that a dead armadillo caused a crash and broken collarbone for BMC rider Dan Schmatz. I wasn't kidding about the large quantities of dead armadillos folks.

Hincapie to T-Mobile

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hincapie.tmobileHincapie seemed to just be waiting for news of the official demise: Hincapie Officially Joins T-Mobile. Neil@ROAD got the scoop from Greenville.

It will be weird seeing him wear the T-Mobile pink instead of the Discovery black and blue, though he'll be riding alongside Michael Barry once more. Maybe he'll get another national champion jersey and it will be the same.

Discovery's disbanding

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Update 2: Tailwind/Discovery clarifies -- they had a sponsor, but decided that the current doping/ASO/UCI/ProTour/infighting climate was too much to risk. Armstrong: "The guys at ASO are talking about taking the Tour back to national teams like they did in the olden days. If something like that would happen, someone's $15 million investment is worth zero. Issues like that are too unknown. It's too risky to ask for that kind of money. There are too many questions within the sport."

Update: Hincapie to T-Mobile is confirmed

Despite eight Tour de France victories in the past nine years, including first and third place this year, Discovery Channel is disbanding. This comes in the heels of T-Mobile announcing that its sponsorship will continue and on the same day that Contador was busy professing his innocence in Madrid with Bruyneel at his side.

Comparing and contrasting the two teams, Discovery's disbanding comes across as a bit mysterious. Discovery's disbanding was not based on "a failure to find a new sponsor," according to Tailwind spokesman PJ Rabice. Armstrong added, "clearly things need to improve on many levels, with a more unified front, before you would see us venture back into cycling." T-Mobile didn't have the difficulty of finding a new title sponsor, but one wonders then what it was that caused Discovery/Tailwind to cease. The most obvious candidate would be doping-related. T-Mobile has a anti-doping test program; Discovery does not. In spite of this, Discovery never had a rider test positive for doping, whereas T-Mobile had Sinkewitz high profile Tour de France case; T-Mobile also dismissed Honchar earlier in the year as a result of its internal testing. Discovery was hardly squeaky clean: perhaps their big mistake was to poach from the ranks of Operation Puerto: Basso, Contador, and Davis. Basso obviously cost them and Contador is now in the crosshairs.

Hincapie is rumored to be heading to T-Mobile. It will be interesting to see where Levi, Contador, and Danielson end up. Devolder is being sought by CSC, Quick Step, Predictor-Lotto, and Rabobank. Perhaps we will see some more Slipstream announcements, if there's anything left in those coffers after David Millar, Dave Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde, Magnus Backstedt, Julian Dean and Christophe Laurent. Slipstream could also make a play for Discovery's Pro Tour license, but that might be too much too soon for Slipstream.

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.

Note: travel/vacation day, limited coverage

It was an amazing finish with all three of the top riders delivering the time trials of their careers. Levi Leipheimer, who's ridden near the top but never ahead this Tour, started almost a minute behind Cadel Evans. Levi delivered a smashing time trial, winning the stage and having us audience members thinking that he might have closed the gap with Evans. Evans rode strong over the final distance, pulling on the handlebars in the final straight to just save his second place podium spot. Alberto Contador, climber not time trialer, saved his yellow jersery and held off both Evans and Leipheimer.

Discovery Channel had an amazing day with Lance in attendance. They finished 1-4-5-7 on the stage and will head into the final Paris stage tomorrow in 1-3 overall. Levi will start 8" behind Evans, so the final standings are not settled yet. Contador has a 23" lead and should be able to cruise to the top podium spot tomorrow.

Preview links:

Discovery hit Rasmussen with everything they had, isolating Rasmussen early on the slopes of the Col d'Aubisque. Levi and Contador launched attacks back and forth, but in the end it was Rasmussen who launched the final attack in the final kilometer to take the stage win. Rasmussen rolled through to a chorus of cheers and boos.

Discovery's game plan was near perfect, but Rasmussen was not to be broken. Popovych went to the front to set a blistering pace after Rabobank's Menchov cracked. Boogerd was quickly shed as well, leaving Rasmussen all by himself. Soon it was just six riders, with three of those riders from Discovery. Levi launched the first attack and zoomed past Sastre's and Mayo's breakaway. Levi and Contador exchanged attacks on Rasmussen until it was just Contador and Rasmussen together, with Levi and Evans chasing. Levi was able to chase back up and setup the final selection for the day: Leipheimer, Rasmussen, and Contador.

Levi led Contador and Rasmussen up the slopes of the Aubisque with Evans dangling behind. Rasmussen was in control, worried more about waving off TV motos than Leipheimer's and Contador's efforts. He even took the time to encourage Levi's effort at the front to move onto the podium over Evans. The attacks from Discovery were over and as the final kilometer kite dangled overhead, Rasmussen left Contador and Rasmussen in his dust. Levi jumped for second to take the 0:12 time bonus and a 0:43 gap on Evans. Evans fought valiantly to keep his losses to a minimum, even pulling back some time before losing most of it in the final kilometer. Levi pulled to within 0:56 of Evans, so Levi will have to ride the time trial of his career to finish in third -- he seems motivated to do it, but Evans is the unofficial winner of the first time trial.

Sastre tried to make it his day by attacking on the very first mountain and being joined by Mayo and Soler, but by the Aubisque their lead was less than a minute -- it didn't last very long with Discovery's assault on Rabobank. The break was worthwhile for Soler, who took most of the KOM points on the day to move into the KOM lead (he no longer has to wear a borrowed jersey from Rasmussen). Soler moved into the tenth overall.

Valverde moved into seventh place while Kirchen dropped to eighth. Astarloza lost his top-ten placing.

The stage was harsh on the peloton today. It was whittled down to 25 riders on the very first climb and many riders spent their time chasing back on the descents.

Also:

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.

Noval

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Noval - FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

The bandages tell the tale of his run-in with the BT car yesterday.

Team Disco resigns from AIGCP

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Johan Bruyneel apparently didn't like the latest meeting of the Association International Group of Cycling Professionals (AIGCP) and has removed Discovery from the membership rolls:

"I no longer feel confident that this group can lead our sport and represent our Team in a positive manner. It became clear at our most recent meeting that the goals and objectives among the teams are very different and I do not want to continue to be a part of such contentious and unprofessional meetings," said Sport Director Johan Bruyneel.

Hard to know what precisely pissed off Bruyneel, but the VeloNews summary of last week's meeting does narrow it to the Puerto elephant in the room. VeloNews also had this quote:

"Any team not respecting the ethics code will be excluded from the AIGCP," said Patrick Lefevere, president of the professional teams association.

Quitting is one way of not being excluded. Perhaps Bruyneel was worried because Discovery is still carrying three Liberty Seguros/Astana riders on its riders: Sergio Paulinho, Allan Davis and Alberto Contador were initially linked and then officially cleared by Spanish officials. Then again, Bruyneel also had this to say:

"We need to become a unified group for our sport to reach a higher level but everyone is not willing to do that and AIGCP President Patrick Lefevere is not to blame. He has shown great leadership and insight while presiding over this group, however, the same cannot be said of all members."

We should be able to put together the pieces soon -- Discovery's withdrawal from AIGCP seems timed to arrive just before tomorrow's big UCI/Pro Tour team pow-wow. The meeting is expected to included a listing of riders to be excluded from this year's Tour.

Press Release @ Road Mag

Basso leaves Discovery

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Basso inspects the damageFrom VeloNews:

Beleaguered Italian rider Ivan Basso has removed himself from his two-year contract with the Discovery Channel team at his own request just days ahead of a hearing before the Italian Olympic committee for alleged links to the Operación Puerto doping investigation.

..."Ivan's request was unexpected and he was very emotional, but adamant, about his decision to be released," Bruyneel said in a team statement. "We spoke with him at length before granting his request. Although he was only on our team for a short time, he was a great leader and a very well respected and selfless teammate. I, along with the entire team, wish him the best."

Previously: Basso suspended, Levi's patience pays off?

photo by blacknell

In a sight familiar to US Tour watchers, JJ Haedo took the sprint just ahead of Fast Freddie, exactly revenge for yesterday's near-win. Second place overall and a stage win will probably make CSC happier, or perhaps they are still warm and fuzzy from O'Grady's Paris-Roubaix win. Regardless, they probably don't want to keep playing second-fiddle to the Discovery train when it comes to Tours.

There was much celebration in the Discovery camp that managed to walk away with Best Overall/Young Rider, Best Team, and two stage wins. Janez Brajkovic dumped champagne on a podium girl, Hincapie and Leipheimer dumped champagne on Brajkovic, but Frank Steele was surely hiding his camera from the bubbly carnage.

Jittery Joe's can also celebrate as Cesar Grajales took Most Aggressive rider on the day.

Tour de Georgia Stage 5: Brasstown Bald

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Levi Leipheimer by James/jctdesign
Levi Leipheimer 150m from the finish by jctdesign
It's the mountaintop finish that Tour-of-Californians dream of, with a result fitting for the Tour of California as Levi Leipheimer took the stage win with a solo attack up Brasstown Bald. With his TdG and ToC performances, Leipheimer's season is starting out much like Floyd Landis' infamous 2006 season, except the Stage 3 29-minute gap will keep Leipheimer from donning the TdG overall jersey. For all intents and purposes, though, the ITT and Brasstown Bald wins clearly anoint Leipheimer as the strongest rider. Leipheimer's teammate Brajkovic gets the official honor after sticking to Christian Vandevelde's wheel the whole way up, while Tom Danielson, another TdG hopeful, took second on the day to complete the dominance for Discovery Channel.

The US continental teams sent their best riders on a breakaway to get some coverage and hopefully get on the board. Danny Pate (Slipstream), Chris Baldwin (Toyota-United), Ryder Hesjedal (Health Net), Ben Day (Navigators Insurance), Anthony Colby (Colavita/Sutter Home), Phil Zajicek (Navigators Insurance), and Alexandre Moos (BMC) were all present. CSC also managed to sneak in Michael Blaudzun. Their break managed to make it over the penultimate climb in the lead but the peloton was highly interested in bringing it back for Brasstown Bald.

Moos was the first rider from the break to reach the slopes and his attack sent many of the breakaway riders back into the peloton. From the peloton, Danielson, Leipheimer, and Simoni were the first to launch a move. Much like his move on Sierra Road in the ToC, Leipheimer was able to quickly bridged up through the remnants of the early break. Danielson and Simoni were left behind as Leipheimer soloed his way up most of the climb.

In the race for the overall lead, Vandevelde and Brajkovic stayed glued to one another. Brajkovic just had to stay on Vandevelde's wheel to stay in the lead and keep the day all-Discovery.

Stage 3 was a new route for the Tour de Georgia and no one probably predicted it to be as decisive as it became. Gianni Meersman of Discovery took the victory and David Canada of Saunier Duval took the overall from a breakaway that finished with a 29:07 gap on the peloton. This may be a double victory for Discovery as ultralight Janez Brajkovic is in good position to take the overall lead. This probably erases his teammate Tom Danielson's hopes of victory, but a team is a team. Christian Vandevelde of CSC was in the break and has a good shot at taking the overall in the TT.

The breakaway was well-composed to stay away. With riders from Discovery, Quick Step, CSC, Health Net, Slipstream, BMC, and Navigators represented, there weren't enough interested teams in the pack to chase. Tinkoff had the strategic responsibility to protect their overall lead, but were underpowered with only 6 riders. That left Toyota United, Jittery Joes, Predictor/Lotto, and Priority Health to do the work, but as the lead passed 20 minutes the peloton no longer seemd to be interested in chasing.

With the race in their favor, the breakaway had plenty of time to attack itself and sort out the final victor. Quick Step and Saunier Duval each had two riders and decided to send a rider up the road (Seeldrayers and Bertogliati). Seeldrayers and Bertogliati were able to stay ahead for 10km before it was brought back in with about 3km to go. Jeff Louder of Health Net launched an almost immediate counterattack and built up a lead of over ten seconds before he was reeled in. Christian Vandevelde of CSC attempted an attack just outside of 1km to go but he was reeled in even quicker.

Louder launched another attack in the final kilometer. Gianni Meersman of Discovery chased it down and outkicked everyone to take the finish.

A lot of teams will probably be fuming that they let the race slip away so early, while teams like Discovery, Saunier Duval, and CSC will have to figure out how to win the overall without their race favorites.

Paris-Nice Stage 7: Contador wins it all

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Davide Rebellin got a lot of help from other teams, but in the end nothing could change the fact that Gerolsteiner was whittled down to four riders and Discovery had Leipheimer, Popovych, Danielson, Paulinho, Devolder, Vaitkus and White to work for Contador.

Devolder and Paulinho were part of an early break until Discovery decided to take full control of the race and start pulling back the break on the early Cat 1 Col de la Porte climb. By the end of the penultimate climb up the Turbie, Discovery had already dropped all of Rebellin's Gerolsteiner teammates, so there was little help with Leipheimer, Danielson, and Popovych drilled it up the final Col d'Eze. Discovery then put it all in the hands of Contador as he attacked and gapped Rebellin by 37 seconds over the top of the Eze.

All of this was similar to Discovery's tactics in stage 6, but Rebellin could not find the help that he had in yesterday's stage to pull back Contador. Rebellin was able to pull it back to within 17 seconds, but by the end Contador was able to get the stage win and 22 seconds over Rebellin.

Paris-Nice Stage 5: Popo all the way

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Popovych got in the early break (13-man break that included Zabriskie) and then attacked with about 40km to go. From there on out, it was Popo to the finish. He was in the virtual yellow jersey for some time on the road, but in the end he could only hold off the charging peloton by 0:14. The chase was difficult enough to only leave 50 riders in the main peloton.

There was no change in the overall as Rebellin and Contador finished with the same time. Discovery clearly has many weapons for putting pressure on Rebellin and they will start tomorrow will Contador 0:06 back and Leipheimer 0:50 back. With 16 riders within a minute of Rebellin, it could be interesting. Stage 6 has plenty of hills, but its a 20km run to the finish from the top of the final Cat 2 climb.

Discovery Channel got a well-earned victory to day with Alberto Contador -- their strongest rider at their Solvang training camp. Discovery did all of the work to chase down the early three-man break of Casar, Moinard and Muravyev and got them within striking distance.

The real fireworks began on the final, short-but-steep climb up to the airport of Mende, aka "montée Laurent Jalabert." The early attacks were contained, but eventually it was Contador, Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Cadel Evans (Predictor), Tadej Valjavec (Lampre), and Frank Schleck (CSC), with David Lopez Garcia (Caisse) tacking on late. CSC was hoping for a chance at the overall with Schleck, but he was shelled from this group as Contador and Rebellin charged. Rebellin did his best to keep Contador in sight, but the steep grade was better suited for the Spanish rider. At the finish line approached and the grade decreased, Rebellin was able to put in a final charge, but Contador held him off by two seconds at the finish. Cadel Evans finished thirteen seconds back, putting him 0:35 back overall. Leipheimer came in 0:33 back.

Contador thought he would get the yellow jersey at the finish, but Rebellin was able to keep the lead by six seconds. Today's stage was billed as the most decisive for Paris-Nice and seconds are hard to come by in this early season race.

Tour of California Stage-by-Stage Recap

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Prologue

LeviSpectators were stunned as Slipstream's Jason Donald (seventh rider out) held the best time on the day over every rider that followed, including Fabian Cancellara, Dave Zabriskie, George Hincapie, and Bobby Julich. That is, until Levi Leipheimer successfully fought the change in winds to beat Donald by a second and a half. It was still a fantastic result for Team Slipstream as they ended the day in the sprinter's jersey and best young rider's jersey.

Stage 1

Levi on the groundAfter Discovery spent all day controlling the peloton and chasing down breakaways, controversy struck at the start of the penultimate circuit in Santa Rosa. Thousands of hometown fans watched as Levi Leipheimer and about 80 other riders were taken out as T-Mobile's Ciolek crashed on a Bott's Dot. Hincapie and Basso made their best efforts to bridge Leipheimer back but to no avail. Rabobank's Graeme Brown was able to nudge out T-Mobile's Greg Henderson at the throw on the line. Commissaires invoked "The Levi Rule" to award the main peloton the same time, thus preventing another local rider -- Priority Health's Ben Jacques-Maynes -- from wearing the overall jersey. More importantly, Jens Voigt, Bobby Julich, and Michael Rogers didn't gain a minute either.

The breakaways served Team Slipstream well: Tom Peterson took the KOM jersey and Taylor Tolleson retained his lead in the young rider classification.

Another big result of Stage 1 was that overall hopeful Dave Zabriskie was taken out in an earlier crash and did not finish. It's unclear what form Zabriskie brought to the ToC, but the Solvang TT was the decisive stage.

Stage 2

The peloton let a breakaway stay off the front until the approach into Santa Rosa, which set the ideal conditions for a sprint finish. CSC's Stuart O'Grady rocketed JJ Haedo to the front of the sprint and Haedo took his third Tour of California win easily.

Stage 2 moved Credit Agricole's Christophe Laurent into second place in the KOM standings and setup his eventual victory. It also earned him the Most Aggressive jersey for a day.

Stage 3

Jens at the top of Sierra RoadJens Voigt beat out Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner for the stage win, which was remarkable for Voigt given that he had been in a breakaway that was chased down by Discovery. It also setup Voigt as CSC's overall favorite. Stage 3 was a costly day for Discovery. They made the costly mistake of letting a breakaway get too far ahead and ended up losing Allan Davis and the green jersey due to the time cut.

Leipheimer did an amazing job jumping across the gap on Sierra Road to reach the breakaway, where teammate Jason McCartney was waiting to help lead the charge up Sierra Road. All their work was almost for naught: Paolo Bettini's group finished only four seconds behind. The entire stage result may have come down to a tire puncture: Michael Rogers was in Bettini's group but punctured, which left Bettini without the help of the T-Mobile riders in bringing back the lead group.

Stage 4

Paolo Bettini outkicked T-Mobile's Ciolek and CSC's JJ Haedo to improve upon the previous day's near victory chase-down. It was a fairly easy day for Discovery as perhaps the rain made for a much more sedate version of the course this year. Attacks went early on Pacific Coast Highway, but the peloton was soon drenched in rain going down the coast. Sun eventually came as they made their way into Southern California, but Discovery kept the breakaway under control and let the sprint teams doing the catch.

Stage 5

Levi LeipheimerLevi dominated the time trial and beat Jens Voigt by 18 seconds as they were the only two riders to break the 30-minute barrier. Looking at the standings you would think that Discovery and CSC were the only two teams racing. In addition to first, Discovery also took third place with Jason McCartney, as well as fifth and ninth. CSC took second, fourth, sixth, seventh, and eigth. Priority Health's Ben Jacques-Maynes was the only non-Discovery/CSC rider to make the top ten.

Stage 5 pretty much guaranteed Leipheimer the victory. Discovery would still have some tough riding ahead, but the remaining stages didn't allow for easy time gaps.

Rabobank's Robert Gesink was able to use the time trial to leapfrog Predictor's Matthew Lloyd to take the young rider classification for good.

Stage 6

JJ Haedo beats out Paolo Bettini and Greg HendersonCSC did their best to upset Leipheimer's place at the top of the standings but had a hard course to do it on. Although stage 6 had four climbs, they were all positioned early in the course and the road to the finish was a long, open and relatively flat highway. CSC was relentless with the attacks starting as early as mile 3 -- an attack that incidentally took down Tony Cruz and George Hincapie. Cruz and Hincapie were forced to chase back -- Hincapie with a broken arm -- which left Discovery undermanned for the continued assault. Voigt's breakaway attempts were personally marked by Leipheimer, but O'Grady was able to eventually get into a breakaway and present a threat to Discovery. Discovery got some help from Health Net for the final chasedown, but the catch didn't occur until the circuits in Santa Clarita. Exhausted, Basso, Hincapie, Vandborg, and Cruz all finished off the back of the peloton.

With O'Grady's breakaway caught, CSC shifted gears and setup JJ Haedo for the final sprint. Haedo outkicked Bettini and Henderson and took his record fourth Tour of California victory -- that's more victories than any team has had at the Tour.

Stage 7

The smaller teams had their day today sending riders off the front. Slipstream seemed to get the most TV coverage by sending Bill Frishkorn at the gun and later having Steven Cozza and Danny Pate in the longest break of the day.

CSC tried to up Haedo's record but didn't have enough riders to keep their train going. Instead, it was Haedo's old team Toyota-United that was able to snag the sprint with Ivan Dominguez.

Tour of California Stage 6: Haedo x 4

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JJ Haedo beats out Paolo Bettini and Greg Henderson

above: JJ Haedo beat Paolo Bettini and Greg Henderson to the line. [Ed: As you can see, I haven't quite mastered the art of the aesthetic finish line shot, but I can't complain: I got to chose my spot for shooting it.]

Photo Gallery

JJ Haedo was the first rider to get three Tour of California stage wins. Now he is the first rider to achieve four. He easily beat out Paolo Bettini and Greg Henderson for the win. It was a sprint full of flub-ups: Gerolsteiner's Robert Förster got into a lot of push and shove with Freddie Rodriguez and ended up pulling his left foot out of the pedal. T-Mobile's Greg Henderson was supposed to be leading out Ciolek, but Ciolek lost his wheel.

Although the finish was your typical sprint, the true battle on the day was Discovery vs. CSC. CSC put it to Discovery hard, though the first casualty was inflicted by one of their own. CSC attacked three miles into the course and Discovery's Tony Cruz went to cover it. Cruz's wheel hit Basso's, taking Cruz and George Hincapie down. Hincapie and Cruz weren't able to rejoin until the approach to the final climb of Balcom Canyon.

With Discovery down two riders (in addition to Davis, who they lost as a result of Stage 3), CSC continued with the assault. Leipheimer was able to personally cover attacks by Jens Voigt, but Stuart O'Grady was able to make it into the breakaway and present a threat to Leipheimer's overall lead.

O'Grady's breakaway also contained overall threat Michael Rogers. Despite the long, wide, and relatively flat road to the finish, that breakaway was able to stay away until the finishing circuit in Santa Clarita. It took the full efforts of Discovery's Basso, Vandborg, and Danielson to finally reel it in, along with some help from HealthNet. Vandborg and Basso both were shot off the back of the peloton after their final efforts.

But the most ridiculous effort award should go to Hincapie: he chased back to the peloton for two hours, with a broken arm. Hincapie rode the entire stage, with its four KOMs, minus a small three mile start segment, injured.

Although Levi built his lead on the strength of his solo performances in the prologue and time trial, it was the efforts of the Discovery team that protected Levi's small lead throughout. Levi clearly owes his teammates, and most significantly, he owes Basso.

It's been an amazing sight throughout the Tour to see the likes of Ivan Basso drilling it at the front of the peloton to bring back a breakaway. How would you like your lead protected by a Tour de France favorite? Prior to the Tour of California, Levi was giving controversial quotes about being disappointed by Basso's signing. Now he's giving quotes like, ""When someone sacrifices as much as he has for me, that goes a long ways to solidifying a friendship, a bond." A Tour of California win isn't a fair trade for a Tour of California win, but Basso has earned some favor and friendship.

IMG_1831 Levi, post-race

above left: Brian Vandborg drive the peloton to bring back the breakaway on the final circuits of Santa Clarita. above right: Levi wipes off the sweat after a hard day on the bike. below: Ivan Basso is back among the team cars after giving everything he had to bring back the breakaway

Basso, exhausted

below: John from Mavic offers some neutral support to a young rider

Mavic Neutral Support

kwc Stage 6 Photo Gallery

Tour of California Stage 5: Solvang TT

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Jen Voigt vs. Levi Leipheimer warming up

*left: Jens Voigt on the finishing straight of the Coit Tower Prologue. right: Levi Leipheimer warms up. *

Photo Gallery

Even with 91 riders within 1 minute of Levi's overall time, this was a race between two riders: Levi and Jens (CSC vs. Discovery, as it often is). Jens was the stronger sprinter on stage 3 and beat Levi across the line to move within three seconds of Levi's overall lead. Jens is also an amazing time trialist -- it was going to be close.

Jens and Levi started last, but that doesn't mean that the "pre-battle" wasn't entertaining as well. Priority Health put in an amazing showing early on. Tom Zirbel set the best time on the day. Priority Health had another good showing with Ben Jacques-Mayes, who was able to finish 4th overall and best Zirbel's time. It wasn't until World TT champion Fabian Cancellara came rolling through at 30:17 that the battle started to tilt towards the ProTour riders.

The Discovery Armada put huge dents in the standings with Basso, Hincapie, and Danielson, but none were able to best Cancellara's time. The big (but pleasant) surprise came from Discovery's Jason McCartney, who was the first to be Cancellara's time. McCartney has been Leipheimer's lieutenant for this Tour of California and always seems to show up well in the North American series.

Horner, Julich, and Rogers came in with respectable times, but their split times made it clear that the real battle was Jens vs. Levi.

At the first time split they broadcast, Jens was three seconds up on Levi. It was a virtual tie on the road. The second time split we heard: Levi was 4 seconds faster than Jens at the halfway point.

Jens Voigt crossed the line at 29:58, the fastest time on the day and the first sub-30-minute time. It was an amazing time that best world TT champ Fabian Cancellara as well as Jason McCartney's amazing effort. It seemed that Jens may have pulled it off.

Jens Voigt

above: Jens Voigt crosses the finish line, the first rider to break the 30-minute barrier

That is, until they announced Levi only had 1k to go. The clock was just ticking up to 29 minutes -- that gave Levi more than enough time to do the final kilometer. Levi didn't know though because Johan Bruyneel was yelling in his ear that he needed to give it full gas because it was going to be close. Levi charged to the finish a full 18 seconds faster than Jens Voigt, sealing the stage victory and most likely putting keeping him in the overall jersey for good.

below: Levi sprints and crosses the finish line to take the stage

Levi Leipheimer Levi Leipheimer Levi

Keeping the overall lead from start to finish is an amazing achievement for Leipheimer. Last year his attempt was undone by a poor showing in the stage 3 time trial. Whether or not it is his new time trial position, new team, or better conditioning, who knows, but Leipheimer has undoubtedly been the strongest rider to show up to this Tour of California.

CSC could attempt something amazing tomorrow, but the KOMs are so far from the finish it would have to be epic. Discovery has been hit hard this Tour: Sierra Road cost Discovery Davis and the green jersey. Discovery was lucky that this year's Pacific Coast Highway stage was relatively tame.

Fabian Cancellara had set the best time on the day until Jason McCartney amazingly beat it

Jason McCartney IMG_1225

IMG_0955 IMG_0909 IMG_0996 Leipheimer and McCartney IMG_1137 Fabian Cancellara starting Tom Danielson starting IMG_1539

IMG_1603 George and Lance IMG_1556

kwc Stage 5 Photo Gallery

VeloNews Stage 5 Summary

Team Discovery Channel to cease

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Last year seemed to be a banner year for American cycling. Even after Operacion Peurto, American cycling seemed to walk away clean from all things doping. Then the Landis scandal, then Discovery hired Basso, and then Hamilton returned to racing on Tinkoff -- the narrative has changed.

I don't know if that has anything to do with news that Discovery Channel is ending its sponsorship. The news reports are citing a change in management at Discovery, but that's not really a reason as much as a trigger.

On a side note, as a fan of several Discovery shows (MythBusters, Dirty Jobs), I hope that this is a positive development for the network as a whole. Ending sponsorship of my favorite sport is not a positive sign, but in general they've never impressed me with their understanding of the Internet/current state of media.

Team Discovery roster for Tour of California

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I'm countin' down the days to the Tour of California. VeloNews just posted info from Disco's training camp, including their roster for the Tour of California:

  • Leipheimer
  • Basso
  • Hincapie
  • Danielson
  • Cruz
  • Vandborg
  • Jason McCartney
  • Tomas Vaitkus

Should be awesome.

Basso to Discovery

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San Franscisco Grand Prix-77

"It's done" -- Lance Armstrong

After much speculation over whether or not Discovery Channel would sign a prominent rider under a cloud of suspicion, Basso will now be trading red and white for blue and grey. I'm a little surprised: Basso was cleared, but he steadfastly refused to submit to DNA sampling that would have definitively cleared him. I'm not saying that Basso is guilty for not submitting DNA; I'm just surprised that Discovery -- one of the few teams not impacted by Operation Puerto -- would sign him without such a test.

Basso to Discovery Channel

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 5: Levi

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It was a dark and stormy stage that the riders refused to race until it was shortened -- the snowy, icy HC K�htal Pass climb was removed. The riders made up for the shortened route by riding the 100 miles very fast: 3:40:20. There was still a mountain top finish, and with a couple of kilometers to go, Levi attacked Kashechkin and Piepoli. Kashechkin and Piepoli couldn't give much chase until Jens Voigt joined their wheels, and it was Voigt, racing for the overall lead, that helped lift up the pace in order to put more distance between him and Discovery's Gusev. Levi still took the stage, but Voigt's determination got him into the overall lead, well earned after his stage 2 victory. I'm impressed to see that Gusev was even hanging in there, given that he's more of a time trialist and has had to hold his placing in the overall largely on his own efforts, as Discovery hasn't been able to protect him (correction: Gusev did have Devolder with him on the final climb today, though he was by himself on stage 2). I'm impressed with Voigt's high finish as well, though he admits he was helped by the elimination of the HC climb.

Levi has now moved within 18 seconds of the overall, so he seems to be making up for his poor prologue performance. He definitely has a shot at repeating his Tour of Germany victory from last year. At least he won't have to worry about Vino, who lost 4:39 on the stage. It's now up to Kashechkin for Astana.

This is yet-another great day for CSC: in addition to Voigt's yellow jersey, Cancellara won the Tour of Denmark. This comes just three days after CSC's impressive three wins on Thursday: Voigt's stage 2 ToG victory, Cancellara's stage 2 ToD victory, and Ljungqvist's Paris-Correze win.

ToG Prologue: Gusev wins rainy opener

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AP Photo/Martin MeissnerDiscovery Channel's Vladamir Gusev barely held of Linus Gerdemann and Sebastian Lang to take the opener to the Tour of Germany. I haven't had a chance to watch but I'm hoping to catch some highlights with my cycling.tv subscription as it sounds like a darky and stormy prologue, much like the final TT in the Tour of Switzerland this year.

I don't know what's up with Levi's TT abilities: he finished 111th in the prologue, 42 seconds behind. Vino faired much better, finishing in 10th place, 9 seconds behind. I don't know who will be leading CSC, but Bobby J is racing again, which is great considering how badly his forearms were injured.

Photo by AP Photo/Martin Meissner

Cycling News Tour of Germany Prologue Results

Contract news

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Landis got a one-year contract extension and the rest of the team got two-year extensions. I'm not sure what the difference means for Landis' future, but at the very least we know that the iShares logo will move from his butt to his chest as iShares takes over lead sponsorship.

Discovery will announce a major signing tomorrow. Well, we know it's not Landis. Update: It's Levi! (paceline registration req'd for link. via)

Trouble is brewing at T-Mobile, as if there weren't enough trouble for the team that fired its former leader by fax. The speculation is that general manager Ludwig and team manager Kummer will be shown the door for their inability to use cycling tactics, among other things.

Farewell Eki

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Ekimov nears the finish-1Fans watching on TV and on the Champs Elysses were treated to the sight of Viatcheslav Ekimov riding off the front of the peloton, waving and clapping. After that gesture, Ekimov announced that he will be retiring in September and will become a team director for Discovery. Ekimov is the old salt of the Tour, still finishing Tours at the age of 40(!). Ekimov's consistency in Tours is as astonishing: he's finished all 15 Tours he's raced in. If it weren't for his training crash last year he would likely be tying Joop Zoetemelk's record of 16. As recently as 2004 he won a silver medal in Athens and he's still a fearsome rider in the time-trial: in stage 19 he finished seventh and had the fastest time on the day until Zabriskie rolled through six seconds faster.

Stage 12: Luchon - Carcassonne

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One, two, three, four times the charm -- Popovych attacked four times from the break. Four times Ballan and Freire gave chase, but Popovych had too much power. Discovery may have lost two riders today -- Savoldelli and Noval -- but today they looked a bit more like the team they were expected to be as they finally have a rider in the top ten again. The strategy for Discovery seemed fairly clear -- send their 'GC' riders into the breaks and hope for a win. Hincapie was in the first, Popovych covered the next and was rewarded with a stage win and 4:25 in the overall, which netted him tenth place by two seconds.

Freire had a decent day as well, as the intermediate sprint and third place got him 26 points while McEwen only got 15.

It was a long hot day, 99 degrees with a road temp of 122. The stage was long, windy, and just after yesterday's queen stage. The riders were tired, Phonak didn't want to spend too much energy chasing on a day like this, and the sprinters are still recovering from yesterday's climbs. In otherwords, this was a day for a break, and Discovery played it well.

Prediction check: * A breakaway, probably someone French. I jokingly guessed Horner * Actual: The break succeeded, but Horner finished in 150, 2 minutes behind the peloton, clearly still suffering

Tour de Georgia Stage 2

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Popo! Discovery Channel's up-and-coming phenom Yaroslav Popovych pulled of a good bit of strategy on what was expected to be a bunch sprint. Discovery took control of the front of the peloton and launched Popo on a hill in the final kilometer. The strategy was great -- Haedo and Freddie froze, neither wanting to waste their legs chasing, and by the time the chase started it was too late. Haedo, Freddie, Manion, and Menzies were left to duke it out for second as Popo crossed the line six seconds ahead.

Alejandro Acton of Tragettraining spent a lot of time in a solo break today on what was a rainy day of racing. Acton was caught at the KOM point near the finish. Sea Otter winner Matty Rice gave it a go with one lap to go on the finishing circuit in Rome, but he was caught as well. Stage 1 winner Lars Michaelsen took second place in the second sprint point, so he may have padded his lead going into tomorrow's stage, but most likely he was just trying to help teammate Dave Zabriskie out by making sure no one else was taking that time bonus -- Zabriskie wants to start as late in the order as possible in the time trial. With the current standings, Zabriskie will have to sit tight and watch as Landis and Danielson roll in. I'm looking forward to seeing the field finally sort itself out.

Prediction check: JJ Haedo finished second

Barclays SF Grand Prix 2005

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Al, Jill, d and I went to the Barclays San Francisco Grand Prix on Sunday. There was no Armstrong this year due to retirement, but there were plenty of big names to go and watch: Basso, Hincapie, Leipheimer, Horner, and Zabriskie. Zabriskie only did a couple of laps due to prior injury to his right hand and Basso dropped out as well, but the rest raced strong.

The race was dominated by Team Discovery, which sent Michael Creed on an early breakaway as a carrot for the other riders to chase. Creed stayed away for nearly 50 miles before being caught by a breakaway that included his teammates Jason McCartney and Ryder Hesjedal, along with HealthNet's John Lieswyn. Hesjedal and Creed couldn't hold on and it was McCartney and Lieswyn that looked in control of the race. They were caught on the final lap by Gerolsteiner's Fabian Wegmann, who had tag-teammed with his teammate Andrea Molette to catch the lead pair. Wegmann had better sprinting legs and became the first non-North American to win the race.

Finishing Sprint

If you want more of a summary, I suggest reading the VeloNews article.

For all intents and purposes I had an all-access pass to this year's race. The security guards seemed not to notice me sneaking past them, though I had help from Al and Jill who had tickets into the VIP section. They fed me food from the VIP tents and we shook hands with OLN commentator Bob Roll. d and I both managed to sneak into the grandstands to watch the finishing sprint (Al scouted out the position of the guards) and then we jumped into the photographers-only area in front of the podium for the prize presentation. We then went over to the CSC tent and managed to get autographs from Dave Zabriskie, Ivan Basso, and Bjarne Riis. Al had found a wristband on the ground and decided that sending in Jill was the best strategy, which turned out beautfully. Their CSC hat has got a bunch of great signatures on it and my backpack has a left-handed Dave Zabriskie signature (his right hand is injured), which is charming in its own way.

autograph autograph hat

(note: I didn't have any photos of Basso to get autographed so I printed this one taken by Flickr user wuertele)

Partial photo listing (full photoset). d should also have photos of the event, which will hopefully be posted as well:

Stage 17: Pau-Revel

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sprint paolo v

(AP Photo/Ena/Trovati/Trovati)

A great Tour for Team Discovery as another Armstrong teammate, Paolo Savoldelli, gets a stage win after getting into a very large breakaway and attacking on the last small climb. That attack whittled the breakaway down to four riders. Arvesen attacked with a little over a kilometer to go and Savoldelli chased him down, passing him just before the finish line.

Team Discovery/USPS must be trying to make up for the dearth of non-Armstrong stage victories in the past as lieutenant Hincapie got Stage 15 and now Giro winner Savoldelli gets Stage 17. Armstrong still has no stage victory for himself this Tour, but there's always the Stage 20 time trial.

Team Disco has had plenty of success this Tour and at the end of Stage 17 they now are: * First in the General Classification (Armstrong) * First in the Young Rider Classification (Popovych) * First in the Team Classification * Three stage victories (Team Time Trial, Hincapie, Savoldelli)

Their lead in the team classification is slim (37 seconds over T-Mobile), and it will be largely dependent on the Stage 20 time trial, which T-Mobile will have to race without Kloden (abandoned due to wrist injury).

Hincapie! Since 1999 Hincapie has ridden for Armstrong in the Tour, helping Armstrong to many victories but never taking one for himself. With this being Armstrong's final Tour, it's about time that Hincapie gets his just rewards for his hardwork. It probably wasn't in the playbook for Hincapie to take the stage, but as things shaped up on the penultimate climb things just got better and better for Discovery. The other riders isolated Armstrong again, but the attacks were less spirited. Eventually it was just Armstrong and Basso, while up the road Hincapie's breakaway kept getting smaller and smaller. Hincapie didn't have to do any work in the breakaway, which left him with fresher legs with which to easily outsprint Pereiro for the victory.

This was the 'queen' stage of the Tour -- no stage has quite as many leg-punishing climbs. Discovery sent Hincapie in the early breakaway of 14 riders, which was slowly whittled down over each of the day's big climbs. Discovery probably wanted to put Hincapie in the break for two reasons: 1) to force other teams to chase the breakaway and 2) to have an extra teammate for Armstrong available if the breakaway was chased down -- with all the isolation attacks on Armstrong, a good way to counter them is to just place a teammate further up the road. The strategy worked better than planned. CSC and T-Mobile did give chase and they did repeat their isolation attacks on Armstrong on the Col de Val-Louron Azet. After those attacks was Armstrong, Ullrich, and Basso. Some riders caught up on the descent, but it was quickly those three again as they attacked up the Pla d'Adet. Ullrich looked good, but eventually he could hold on no longer, and it was just Armstrong and Basso.

Stage 10: A tactical view

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I haven't done any specific entries regarding stage tactics, but this is a good stage to analyze in this regard.

If you're interested in how Stage 10 unfolded tactically, read on, though note that I'm not a cycling expert, and my prediction that Armstrong wouldn't attack today was completely wrong. (update: according to Armstrong's trainer, Discovery wasn't going to attack, but the order was given when they saw Vino weaken during Disco's high tempo up the final climb).

Stage 10: Grenoble-Courchevel

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Boom! I guess Armstrong couldn't bear to be without the yellow jersey for more than a day. Armstrong and Team Discovery put down the hammer on all of his contenders in a single stage. I thought that Armstrong was just going to try and contain today and save the big effort for the Pyrenees, but boy was I wrong. Discovery set an amazing pace through the valley towards Courchevel, announcing that Armstrong had loftier goals for the stage. They picked up the pace on the final climb and many major riders were dropped even before the slopes really started kicking in. With Popovych as his last paceman, Armstrong had Popo accelerate and launched his final attack. Ullrich and Vino were quickly dropped, along with Landis, Botero, or just about everyone else that might have a claim to the overall. Basso was the only contender able to follow, but even he was eventually dropped by the fast pace.

Armstrong whittled the group down to Rasmussen, Valverde, and Mancebo, and it was Valverde who was too good for Armstrong to drop. Armstrong attacked in the final 500m and Valverde jumped onto his wheel and then around to take the stage win. Given that Valverde is a rookie, it's easy to see that he may have a big future ahead.

Popo gets a lot of credit for today. Earlier in the stage he was still brushing off the dirt from a run in with an embankment, yet he was the one who put in the final kick that sent Armstrong's opponents off the back. Mancebo also gets a lot of credit for his teammate Valverde's victory -- two teammates in a breakaway of four is a big advantage, especially with Armstrong doing so much work to try and keep up the pace. Mancebo's pulls at the end helped put Valverde across the line first.

A sampliing of some of today's damage:

Basso: 1:02
Ullrich: 2:14
Kloden: 2:14
Landis: 2:14
Vinokourov: 5:18
Heras: ~10:00

Maps and stage log in the extended.

Stage 9: Gerardmer-Mulhouse

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Armstrong gave up the yellow jersey today, but it was actually a great day for Team Discovery. Armstrong said he wanted to get rid of the jersey to take off some of the pressure and he found an able recipient in CSC's Jens Voigt. While Voigt attacked up the road with Moreau, trying to catch up to Rasmussen, Team Discovery controlled the peloton with a high tempo up the final big climb, Le Ballon d'Alsace. Armstrong had five of his teammates this time up the final climb, no one was able to attack, and Rubiera was earned teammate-of-the-day awards by setting a pace up the whole climb that caused riders to fall off the back left and right.

The big rider on the day was Rasmussen of Rabobank. He won every climb and solidified his lead in the King of the Mountains competition. Not content with that, he soloed his way to victory, with none of the chasing groups behind able to bring him back. I think he'll be needing tomorrow's rest day.

The bad news on the day is that Zabriskie has dropped out. After finishing dead last yesterday, the mountains were too much for his multiple injuries. Maybe we'll see him again in the Vuelta adding another stage victory there.

Maps and live notes in the extended.