Results tagged “Floyd Landis” from spare cycles

Landis and Leipheimer chatting during warmups

It's time to lock in picks. According to Cyclelicious, the favorites are currently Kirchen, Vande Velde, and Leipheimer. I personally don't really see Kirchen winning it -- sure Columbia is motivated on US soil, but I don't think it's a coincidence that the Tour of California has only been won by Californians. Motivation counts. Garmin already seems to be discounting Vande Velde's odds based on the fact that he's their horse for the Tour de France and isn't in prime form.

Leipheimer is certainly motivated as a two-time winner. He also doesn't have to worry about the rest of the season as much: with Contador and Armstrong on his team, this is really the one objective that he'll have the team pushing him as the leader for.

But for my pick I'm going to go with the inaugural winner of the Tour of California: Floyd Landis. He may not have many races in the legs recently, but the Tour of California still favors strong time trialers. There is that whole hip thing, but from what I hear Landis is fit. Team OUCH will have a hard time battling Astana's guns, but it's not something Landis isn't used to and the old HealthNet guys know how to do battle on North American soil. I predict a comeback.

Pre-Prologue Photos

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Chris Horner - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Prologue Pre-Race Photo Gallery

Look who's come to town:

Floyd Landis - (c) Ken Conley

Oscar Sevilla - (c) Ken Conley Tyler Hamilton - (c) Ken Conley Mario Cipollini - (c) Ken Conley

And some warmups:

CheChu Rubiera - (c) Ken Conley Bjarne Riis - (c) Ken Conley Fabian Cancellara - (c) Ken Conley Janez Brajkovic - (c) Ken Conley Paolo Bettini - (c) Ken Conley Bradley Wiggins - (c) Ken Conley George Hincapie - (c) Ken Conley Luciano Pagliarini - (c) Ken Conley

It's not about the bike:

Slipstream - (c) Ken Conley Saunier Duval - (c) Ken Conley

Slipstream - (c) Ken Conley

Bradley Wiggins - (c) Ken Conley

Prologue Pre-Race Photo Gallery

Landis loses, questionable precedent

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The Floyd Landis guilty decision came in today, with the arbitration panel handed down a decision that says the lab screwed up, but not enough. I'm a bit surprised by the arbitration ruling for Landis. I expected either a complete upholding of the scientific findings or a complete acquittal, but this sort of half decision maintains a high level of internal conflict for me. I want guilty athletes to be punished and was happy to see a house cleaning this Tour. I also want to see the testing meet scientific standards and protect athletes' rights. It's troubling, in light of the decision, to see quotes such as:

  • Prudhomme: "We have waited a long time, too long. We said since the beginning that we were confident in the laboratory (AFLD) at Châtenay-Malabry."
  • McQuaid: "He got a highly qualified legal team who tried to baffle everybody with science and public relations."
  • Decision: "311. In response to these assertions the Panel finds that the practices of the Lab in training its employees appears to lack the vigor the Panel would expect in the circumstances given the enormous consequences to athletes of an AAF. Furthermore, the other matters introduced in evidence and referred to in this section do give some cause for concern. Nevertheless, like other parts of the evidence in this matter there are no ISL Rule violations that might result in the Panel accepting the Respondent’s allegations as affecting the AAF in this case."

I find these to be a troubling trio of comments as they indicate that sloppy science is acceptable and good in the current environment. I could care less at this point if Landis is guilty or not -- he can keep racing 100 mile MTB events. I want to see cycling grow and evolve and this ruling does not feel like a step in the right direction.

Oscar Pereiro officially is the 2006 Tour de France winner, but its hard to feel that justice is served there. Pereiro's time gain was a risky fluke; his ride doesn't stand well on its own. In a scandal-ridden Tour, perhaps that's all you can get.

Landis @Google

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Floyd Landis stopped to give a talk at Google as part of his national book tour for Positively False. I couldn't get to this talk on account of no visitors allowed.

Landis verdict soon?

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Saw this on Neil@Road:

According to a Belgium website, the three arbitrators are going to announce their verdict either later today or tomorrow. I’m a bit skeptical. In either case it’s crappy timing. Just when the world should be focusing on the Tour, the verdict will completely over shadow the day.

Indeed.

Thursday dope

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  • Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag admit to past doping. Several other past T-Mobile riders also owned up. Say it ain't so, Zabel. Isn't it strange how such admissions never seem to involve recent use? Zabel only admits to doping in 1996 and Aldag admits to 1995-2002 (or 1999, according to cyclingnews). Interestingly enough, Rolf Aldag is being kept at the team manager despite T-Mobile's new-found public stance against doping. I guess it's like hiring computer hackers to be your security consultants.
  • The Landis arbitration case has finally finished the closing arguments. The gold standard of coverage has been Trust But Verify, which has every possible detail and roundup that you might need to catch up. The sensational, but largely irrelevant, Lemond testimony overshadowed the scientific aspects of the case, which seem quite interesting. Landis found some credible experts to testify on his behalf. WADA/USADA put their own scientists on the stand, which was a bit dubious. Interestingly enough, the WADA "code of ethics" states that WADA scientists cannot speak ill of other WADA scientists labs. There is also the issue of biting the hand that feeds you. Reading through the coverage I can't help but feel that Landis is right in that the LNDD lab is a sub-par lab. Instead of arguing that all WADA labs are crap, they compared LNDD against the better UCLA lab, which is more convincing in my eyes. Nevertheless, showing LNDD to be sub-par does not acquit Landis in my eyes and much as it convinces me that better standards are necessary.

The Lemond bomb

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The Landis hearing switched gears from scientific pedantry to daytime soap opera. "Bomb" seems to be the word of choice for both Trust but Verify: "Hearing - Thursday, post bomb", CyclingNews: "LeMond drops 'bomb' on Landis hearing", VeloNews: "LeMond drops bombshell at Landis hearing". Back channel confessions, childhood sexual abuse, witness intimidation: who's going to get the movie rights to this one?

Basso suspended, Levi's patience pays off?

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IMG_1084Things aren't looking good for Basso's season as Discovery Channel has suspended him due to the Italian investigation into Fuentes blood bags. Basso may have to finally submit a DNA sample, which could finally resolve this once and for all.

Levi may be inwardly celebrating based on statements he made during his Lombardi Sports talk. Going back to my notes:

...There were of course plenty of questions and rephrased questions as to Basso vs. his role on the team. Levi admitted he was surprised that Discovery signed Basso, but he hasn't given up his hopes for the Tour de France. Noting that many teams run with two leaders, Levi seems to be taking a two-phased wait-and-see approach: wait and see if Basso/Discovery survive the current uproar, and wait and see who is the strongest come Tour time.

There is that other doping news involving Floyd Landis. My only response to that is to wonder repeatedly, "Why do they keep giving Landis more ammunition? Can't they gather evidence without creating reasonable doubt in the process?" I don't want to believe in a conspiracy, but its almost as if the authorities want to help fuel the flames.

Floyd in SF Sunday

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Landis Approaching the Finish Line-1Floyd Landis will be at Jillians in SF on Sunday, coinciding with the start of the Tour of California. He's there to raise money/awareness for the Floyd Fairness Fund, and tickets prices are $35. I would like to go, hear his defense in his own words, and have the chance to take some photos of the event, but I have qualms about ponying up $35.

My opinion of the Landis case thus far has been that Floyd is right in that athletes deserve a better testing process and that Dick Pound has made a mockery of fairness in testing. However, believing that the testing process is substandard does not mean that I believe Floyd is clean, it just means that I have doubts.

So it ends for Phonak

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I'm hardly a Phonak fan, but I'm sad to see them go:

Andy Rihs Disbands Phonak Cycling Team

Two American hopes -- Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis -- have risen then crashed through the Phonak team, so perhaps it's best that Phonak go the way of many cycling teams and disband, but for the riders who only recently were celebrating a Tour de France win and two-year extensions on their contracts, it is another terrible blow.

Speculate no more, B-sample confirms

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As anticipated, the B sample results arrived today and confirmed the original A sample rumored results: exogenous testosterone and an 11:1 T/E ratio. Landis has now been fired from the Phonak team, and if previous cases are our guide, this will take quite awhile to reseolve itself.

Landis' Web site has been taken out again by traffic, but yesterday he had posted a personal message titled, "Keep the Faith," that pointed out that the A sample results showed "the T value returned has been determined to be in the normal range. The E value returned was LOW." Landis does not yet have a defense for the exogenous testosterone results, but he is going out on the attack against the UCI for their leaks.

Landis B sample result announced

Looking a bit worse for Landis

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It's all rumor mill still, as Landis has not yet divulged what his A-sample results were, but L'Equipe reported over the weekend that Landis' A sample showed signs of exogenous testosterone -- exogenous testosterone is derived from plants and looks different in a mass spectrometry test. Previous media attention and rumors focused on the testosterone/epitestosterone ratio -- speculating it to be 11:1 -- and Landis' current defense is focused on showing this ratio to be natural, but if it is true that Landis' sample showed exogenous testosterone, Landis might as well start serving his suspension ASAP.

This is all to fill the gap until we hear back on the B sample, but it seems that everyone is expecting the B sample to be the same.

Some more thoughts

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Several thoughts before bed:

  • At this point in time I'm more inclined to believe Landis than not, for the mere fact that it seems that the testosterone/epitestosterone test seems too easy for cyclists to circumvent (see this Malcolm Gladwell post (via)). This isn't to say I don't think Landis doesn't dope -- I withhold my judgement -- but if he did, I don't see this being the way he gets caught.

  • I was fairly impressed with the Landis press conference, in that he didn't make a whole lot of excuses or outlandish explanations. Also, the not-lying-to-your-Mennonite-mother defense is much better than swearing-on-your-dead-dog's-grave defense.

  • ESPN thought Tiger Woods' preparations for the British Open were more newsworthy than Landis' epic stage 17 win and relegated his overall win to the sidebar for a photo of Woods winning the British Open, but now the Landis scandal is worthy of full front-page-big-photo glory -- it must be a slow news day. I'm also annoyed by all the sports pundits who now seem to think this confirms cycling as the dirtiest sport, ignoring the fact that Barry Bonds continues to swing away for a record.

  • Greg Lemond is also really annoying. We get it. You could have won a lot more Tour de Frances. Back in your day you didn't have to dope. You don't like Lance. Hinault cheated you (though, really, you think someone is going to give up his chance at a fifth Tour victory to help you out?). Now stop trying to bring down the entire sport.

It hits the fan

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Landis' A-sample after his remarkable Stage 17 ride tested positive for high levels of testosterone -- we now anxiously await the results of the B-sample. We're all hoping that the beer after Stage 16 wasn't Colorado's Rocky Mountain Oyster label (I'm full of bad jokes this morning).

It's the worst possible news for cycling following Operation Puerto and continues a long streak of scandals revolving around the Phonak team: Hamilton, Urweider, Perez, and Camenzind, as well as Guitierrez and Botero, who were named in Puerto. Personally, I'm shocked that one team can continue to allow so many high-profile doping cases to permeate it.

Update: Landis' interview with CNNSI denying the accusation

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.

Hushovd gets another stage win as he edges out McEwen. It was fitting that Hushovd closed out this year's Tour after he surprised everyone by winning the prologue and donning the first yellow jersey for this Tour, a yellow jersey that ended up being worn by many riders: Hushovd, Hincapie, Boonen, Gonchar, Dessel, Pereiro, and Landis.

Floyd Landis has won in Paris today and I'm happy for American cycling. I never thought after seeing Floyd in yellow at the Tour of California that he would have such an affinity for it this season. With the exception of the Dauphine, Floyd was pretty much in the yellow jersey from the start of his season to it's Tour de France conclusion. He won both of the American Tours, Paris-Nice, and now, the hardest and biggest of them all, the Tour de France. There is no asterisk for this Tour -- it was too good of a race for that. I just hope Landis will come back next year with his super hip and win again so the press can speculate whether or not his hip replacement is performance-enhancing. Landis has had one of the best seasons for a Tour winner in recent memory, biased by the fact that Armstrong has for the past seven years raced with full focus on the Tour, often with no wins anywhere else. Landis gave us an entire season to cheer through, especially for the American fans that saw him win twice on American soil. I'm really looking forward to the next Tour of California -- the Landis effect should be amazing.

I never thought Landis would win. I thought he would crack because of his team, and he did, but then he delivered a stunning comeback that said, "I am an Army of One." I also never thought Pereiro would be on that stage, but like many of the other top five riders, he managed to occupy leap into the overall spot of an absent leader, in this case Alejandro Valverde.

Operation Puerto was the start of this Tour's story, then it was followed by the crashes of and abandons many of the remaining contenders -- Valverde, Julich, Mayo. With so much damage to the top of the field, the story of the Tour switched to the lieutenants that stepped forward: Sastre, Kloden, Dessel, Moreau, Zubeldia, Rogers, and finally Pereiro. If you look at the top five, and swap in the names of the riders for their expected team leader, you'll see a top five that looks a lot like what people expected before the Tour; the lieutenants and teams really rose to the challenge.

And then of course there was Landis, who despite defending the efforts of his team, built his lead entirely on efforts done by himself: two time trials and the long solo mountain stage. Landis contributed two stories of comeback to this year's Tour. At the first rest day, we learned of his 2005 comeback and future adversity as x-rays of Landis' hip flashed across our TV screens. Perhaps that bode well for Landis, as it now seems a necessary element of the American cyclist champion that he overcome major health obstacles to stand atop that podium in France, whether it be shotgun shots, cancer, or dead hips. Then came the other comeback, the one that followed a ten-minute collapse, where previously Landis had seemed invulnerable on any mountain.

The only surprise for me was the absense of Discovery, which may have fallen victim to one too many captains, but really just seemed not in the right condition to compete. Levi Leipheimer was also more off-form than expected, but showed a resiliency and determination that was fun to cheer on. The American cyclists didn't do as well as expected, especially in the time trial, but it only takes one atop that podium to hold the banner of American cycling high.

Now I'm looking forward to next year. We may get to see Tom Danielson race his first Tour -- we'll definitely get to see his second Vuelta soon enough. Who knows what team Landis will be on. Will George finally get his Paris-Roubaix? The second Tour of California -- I'll be there -- and the Tour de Georgia -- will I be there as well? American cycling has never been more fun to watch.

Prediction check: * Prediction: Robbie McEwen, though with so many sprinters out of the competition a breakaway has a good chance today. Not much sense in trying to pick a breakaway rider, so I'll stick with Robbie. * Actual: Hushovd first, McEwen second

Gonchar wins the stage, but Landis won what mattered. Floyd Landis will become the third American to win the Tour de France. America will be lucky enough to see the eighth straight year of Tour victories. It's a comeback that surpasses Lemond's. While Lemond also won a yellow jersey with an unexpected -- fastest ever -- time trial victory, Lemond didn't lose 10 minutes to fall from 1st to 11th, outrace the entire peloton the next day to claw his way back into third, and then race into first on the final time trial.

As unwanted as Landis' collapse was for him, the comeback got him a stage victory he probably never would have had and mucho 'panache' credit. What would have been a conservative, well-defended, but ultimately doping-overshadowed victory instead has become the most memorable Tour of this century.

There were other battles on the road today. Cunego put in an unexpectedly great time trial to defend the white jersey, Kloden clawed his way onto the podium while passing Evans on the road, Pereiro put in a strong 4th place finish to earn respect for his podium spot, and Sastre fell off the podium as he couldn't change the fact that he is a climber.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Zabriskie (though it will probably be Landis) * Actual: Gonchar, in a repeat of the first time trial, with Landis second and Zabriskie three minutes behind

Best. Ride. Ever.

AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati

AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati

Floyd Landis at a dinner full of carbs and panache last night and hit the peloton hard out of the gates -- the Tour is his to win once more. What do you do when your team is weak and you lost ten minutes yesterday? You burn them up at the start of the race to jump free from the pack then ride solo across the entire stage, watching as the top ten contenders can't figure out what to do about it. With water bottle in hand, constantly pouring water over his head and back, Landis delivered the ride of the century, winning the stage, 5:42 ahead of Sastre, 7:08 ahead of Pereiro, jumping back on the podium, and positioning himself one time trial away from victory in Paris. Landis' quote at the end of the race talking to his wife, "I wanted six."

As Landis built up a lead of over nine minutes, the top ten continued to let Caisse do all the work, even as their team whittled down to only one rider in front of Oscar Pereiro. CSC and T-Mobile finally sent their riders to the front on the penultimate climb to do some serious chasing, but they still gave Landis 6:32 at the start of the final Joux Plane climb. Voigt and Vandevelde pulled off the CSC train and Schleck pulled through to launch Sastre. From there, it was absolute chaos as Sastre raced ahead, pulling back time on Landis, while Menchov, Kloden, Pereiro, and Evans yo-yo'd back and forth further back. Moreau and Cunego managed to jump ahead, but everyone else eventually fell behind Pereiro's wheel as the yellow jersey fought hard to stay in yellow.

This is the GC after today's stage. The Stage 19 time trial will be one for the ages: 1. Oscar Pereiro Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears 80:08:49 2. Carlos Sastre Team CSC 0:11 3. Floyd Landis Phonak 0:31 4. Andreas Kl�den T-Mobile 2:29 5. Cadel Evans Davitamon-Lotto 3:08 6. Denis Menchov Rabobank 4:14


* VeloNews Stage 17 summary * Cycling News Stage 17 summary * Graham Watson Stage 17 photo gallery * Bob Martin's Stage 17 by the numbers * Floyd Landis Stage 17 interview * Dave Zabriskie Stage 17 diary

Prediction check: * My prediction: It's going to be hard for a non-GC contender to win given the GC battle that will occur today. This is Discovery's last chance to go for a stage win so they'll be in a break up front. Landis needs to recover and claw back some of those ten minutes he lost. Sastre will jump but Kl�den's charge will be hard to hold off. I'm going to say Landis if he can descend that final peak like he stole something. * Actual: all of that happened, except Kloden's charge wasn't hard to hold off, and I never thought that Landis would get over seven minutes on the yellow jersey. Striking distance of the podium? Perhaps. On the podium, wow.

Today was unpredictable? I say no

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Like many, yesterday's stage 15 performance by Landis convinced me that Landis had this one sewn up despite my amazement that Landis was doing it with almost no team support. Thus, today's stage 16 meltdown was a surprise. But if I had just listened to myself four months ago to this day, I would have been more prepared:

Floyd Landis: "It's the team, stupid": in both the ToC and Paris-Nice, Phonak was very shakable. They pulled through in the end, but I saw plenty of Landis fighting others off on his lonesome in both victories. The Tour de France's many stages require strong team consistency. You can win with a weak team like Armstrong's first victory, but you have to be lucky enough to have most of the major competitors sitting out due to doping violations. Discovery has already shown they can beat Phonak up on Brasstown Bald in last year's Tour de Georgia and T-Mobile put a lot of cracks into Discovery in last year's Tour de France. Even if Landis gets a coveted yellow jersey, I would expect to see isolated on a future mountain stage watching his lead tick away.

Caisse has a strong team. T-Mobile has a strong team. CSC has a strong team even with all their losses. They're riding at the top of this Tour even though all of them lost their leader. Lotto, Rabobank, and Discovery didn't lose their leaders to scandal or injury, and those leaders are riding lower in the standings.

Phonak has been weak throughout this season and throughout this Tour. A strong can protect you when your weak, and, more importantly, strong teammates are strong riders that aren't riding against you. Landis tried to win this Tour on the strength of his own efforts, but finally imploded under the weight. Can't say that's surprising.

NOTE: this isn't bragging about my prognostication skills. I predicted early, I predicted often. I've made many predictions and changed my mind many times since this entry. I'm just pointing out that sometimes things are as surprising as we think, if we just stuck with our gut hunches.

Okay, now it's a wide open Tour. Ever since the time trial, it was the Landis show, but the final climb today change the story of this Tour and broke it wide open. Landis lost over ten minutes today and dropped to 11th overall, off the podium for good. It's now just Pereiro, and Sastre Kloden, and Evans left to duke it out, as Menchov probably lost a bit too much time as well (GC -3:58). The final time trial, sometimes for show, sometimes decisive, will be perhaps the most decisive time trial ever. And there's one more day of Alps before that.

I'll break down today's results by team, as it's the teams that mattered today:

  • Friedemann Vogel/Bongarts/Getty ImagesRabobank: What a day for Rasmussen, who took the stage and the KOM jersey. Rasmussen had been sacrificing KOM points in order to help out Menchov. After Menchov's bad day yesterday, Rasmussen was given free reign and showed the form he's been holding back. Unfortunately for Rabobank, Menchov could have used Rasmussen's help most as Landis cracked, the contenders pushed their advantage, but Menchov couldn't hold with that group. (Friedemann Vogel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

  • CSC: CSC continues to have an amazing week as Sastre gained the most today in the overall, but it wasn't enough to catch Pereiro. Sastre will have to try again tomorrow to take that jersey, but Sastre's bigger concern is the good time trialers who are just behind him in the standings now. Sastre got a lot of help from Schleck and Vandevelde. Schleck somehow managed to find legs after yesterday's hard win and Vandevelde was constantly fighting back into the group to do some pulls and hand over water. Just think, CSC lost Basso and Julich, O'Grady is injured, and they ride themselves to stage victory yesterday and second place overall today.

  • Caisse: Caisse believed in Pereiro's chances and were there in numbers untl the final attack. I believe I counted three teammates with him (Karpets, Arroyo, and Xandio). Imagine their strength if Valverde was still in the hunt. I expect a strong defense from Caisse tomorrow.

  • Phonak: I've been dissing Phonak since the Tour of California, and today gives me no reason to stop. Merckx was the only teammate there for Landis, but more often than not he was riding on Landis' wheel or yo-yoing off the back. Landis needed more than one dedicated teammate, because he got hit hard by T-Mobile and CSC today and it wasn't until he had lost about five minutes that Merckx reappeared to pace him into the finish.

  • Discovery: I guess having Armstrong in the car behind you doesn't help. Popo and CheChu couldn't press the break and Azevedo popped like Landis at the end.

  • AG2R: Where did Dessel come from? I don't know, but his teammates and him are pulling themselves inside out to stay top 5 and give France something to cheer about in the overall.

  • T-Mobile: I'm putting T-Mobile last on this list because T-Mobile has the dumbest tactics of any team in the Tour. Last year they chased back an attack by their own teammate Vinokourov, pulling Armstrong with them. In [stage 11][stage11], they blew their own team and leader up by attacking too hard on the penultimate climb, at a time when they dominated the top ten standings. Today, they made two big mistakes. The first was when Menchov attacked and Rogers latched on: Mazzolini and Kloden pulled the break and their own teammate back, towing Landis with them. That didn't matter too much in the end as Landis cracked, but the second mistake was then never attacking. They had four riders on the final climb. Maybe they didn't want repeat their stage 11 mistake, but instead of pushing the advantage, they watched Sastre climb ahead to victory. Today was a chance to gain time on all the other contenders, but for the most part they just held the status quo. I think they are placing too big of a bet on the time trial. It's a descent bet, but a better bet would have been to trim away a bit of Pereiro's and Sastre's lead.

Pereiro in the yellow jersey again will renew the [Landis giveaway debate][debate], but really it didn't matter for Landis. Landis lost so much time today that someone other than him would be wearing yellow. If it matters to anyone, it will be Sastre and Kloden, who now have another contender to knock off. Sastre would be wearing yellow right now, but instead he has to figure out how to get two minutes on a rejuvenanted Periero.

The current overall standings tell the tale: 1. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Sp), Caisse d'Epargne-I.B. 2. Carlos Sastre (Sp),

Stage 15: Gap - L'Alpe-d'Huez

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Frank Schleck won the day and Landis probably won the Tour. Scheck's victory was earned by the hard work of his CSC team. CSC put three riders into a 24-man break and Zabriskie and Voigt pushed that break through rain and shine until it was whittled down to a select group at the base of Alpe d'Huez. Lampre also did a bit of work in that break and both Schleck and Cunego were launched on the final climb. Schleck and Cunego rode up together most of the way, but with 3k to go, Schleck attacked and put in the gap he needed to win, having enough time to zip up his jersey at the end. It's Schleck's first Tour de France and first Tour victory.

Landis finished in fourth and it looks like in all certainty he'll be wearing this yellow jersey in Paris. He took his yellow jersey back from Pereiro, who fought hard but lost out by 10 seconds. Landis never showed a second's weakness while all of his GC competitors did. Menchov couldn't hold Landis' wheel, not even with Rasmussen somehow bridging up to Menchov to help out. Evans couldn't hold on either and Sastre made a good effort, but was dropped further up the climb. Kloden was the only GC contender that stayed with Landis the whole way, but even when his T-Mobile teammate Mazzolini dropped back from the break, Kloden could never get a gap.

The breakway was a big factor in the finish as riders in the break dropped back on the Alpe d'Huez to help out their GC hopefuls. Voigt was first, putting in a big effort for Sastre not long after helping to launch Schleck -- Voigt may have done the biggest effort on the day. Merckx was next, as Landis jumped onto his wheel and shouted for him to go. Merckx was a caught a bit by surprise, but quickly jumped to the front and handed over a bottle. Mazzolini was last, coming back to pace Kloden.

The big abandon on the day was Tom Boonen, who leaves with some yellow jerseys but no stage win or green jerseys. Most would be happy with that sort of haul, but the Belgian press is probably letting him have it today.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Azevedo * Actual: Azevedo, where did you finish? Somewhere way back (7+ minutes)

Stage 13: Beziers - Montelimar

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FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Voigt! Whenever there's a break, you're likely to see Voigt, and today Voigt finally found the one that worked for him. He and Oscar Pereiro whittled the break down until it was just them. Voigt then went with 800m to go; Pereiro pulled it back. They sat and talked a bit, and then Voigt went again and was able to hold off Pereiro.

It was an ideal situation for a break, as Phonak was completely uninterested in chasing as were the sprint teams. It seems that everyone in the peloton is still too tired and will do some pessimal pacing with Alpe d'Huez and the rest of the Alps on their minds. The weather has been hot, the stages have been long, and the rest day isn't until Monday.

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty ImagesThe big news is a transfer of yellow jersey to Oscar Pereiro. I don't know what the Vegas line was on Pereiro moving into the yellow jersey from 28 minutes back -- heck, the odds of a break getting a half an hour on the field was probably pretty slim. The appears to have been Landis' tactic, as he's been hinting at his desire to hand over the yellow jersey temporarily in order to take some pressure off of his team. Landis didn't want to use up his team before the Alps, especially since they were barely there for the Pyrenees. But Oscar Pereiro moving into yellow on a Stage 13 break? I don't think I saw that in anyone's predictions. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

The mountains return tomorrow. Oscar Pereiro will be handing over that yellow jersey again soon -- we're getting close to breaking the record for most yellow jersey changes. Pereiro can climb, but I can't see him defending well after riding in a break like that. Other riders that are way down should take note -- the peloton and leaders are going to allow long breaks (Hincapie, you there?).

Prediction check: * My prediction: A breakaway. Hincapie from the dartboard. McEwen wins the bunch sprint. * Actual: A breakaway (not Hincapie), McEwen wins the bunch sprint.

Post Stage 11 Analysis

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Some times you need pre-race plan, sometimes you don't. Discovery, already on the ropes from a poor time trial showing, probably came in with a race plan, but they disintegrated well before execution. T-Mobile, vaulted into the top of everyone's mind after a strong time trial performance, came in with a plan and over executed: they went so hard on the penultimate climb that they couldn't hold onto their own pace -- a mistake they made last year as well. Gerolsteiner, which had all the pieces for a plan -- three riders in the lead on the penultimate climb -- no longer had a leader to call the plan into play. Rabobank, which seemed more concerned with helping Rasmussen pick up third-place KOM points, suddenly came together on the penultimate climb and decided, hey, our leader Menchov is strong, let's give it a go.

Boogerd and Rasmussen were the uber domestiques, the true stage winners on the day. Rasmussen, previously criticized for being too selfish, sacrificed himself pulling Menchov and the rest of the lead pack to the final Pla da Beret climb. Granted, he did get beat by Voeckler going for some KOM points, so Rasmussen may not have had full chicken-leg power today, but he had more than enough power to give over the Menchov. Boogerd then put in the super effort on the Pla da Beret, an effort that reminded me of Landis' super pulls for Armstrong. Boogerd created the final selection, and then was able to finish in a descent position himself... all of this after helping lead out Rasmussen for his KOM points earlier in the day.

Menchov did his job as leader -- he took the setup, and then delivered the final punch. Landis was stronger, but Menchov was the better sprinter, and Levi just couldn't time it right. In a game of what-if, Levi might have been in the same position had he not had a disasterous time trial. Menchov had two teammates going over the penultimate climb, but so did Levi: Totschnig and Fothen. Instead of riding for Levi, though, Totschnig seemed to be protecting their rider in the best young rider jersey, guiding him along. Levi was no longer in a position to ask for a sadistic effort from them, and he essentially rode alone.

Landis also rode alone, but it didn't matter. He had delivered in the time trial, all he needed to do today was defend and pad. He had no riders to send to the front to set the tempo, so he sat on the T-Mobile train instead. When the T-Mobile train ran out of gas, he sat on the Rabobank train. And when the Rabobank train was just Menchov, Landis lead the train himself.

The race is far from over, as the five-minute gaps that were made today could easily become five-minute deficits in the Alps, but no rider has looked nearly as strong as Landis. As predicted, Landis' team is nowhere to be found, but it's going to take a lot more than an imploding Discovery and an exploding T-Mobile to take him down. Cadel Evans' Lotto seems to have no riders to throw at Landis in the mountains, as Chris Horner went backwards today, and CSC only has six riders left, though the Sastre/Schleck combination could definitely net a stage win. Rabobank could enact a plan -- they didn't have one before, but perhaps they'll have one now. Denis Menchov looks to have his podium spot sealed up, they just have to fight for the top seat.

Well, a day with five hard climbs will sort out the standings, won't it? Menchov takes the stage win on a day that Rabobank controlled the end, but it's Floyd Landis that takes the yellow jersey. Menchov and Landis are the clear leaders now; Kloden, Evans, and Sastre are close, but they will have to look towards the Alps to prove themselves better than they were today. If Landis continues to ride the way he did today, without any teammates to really help him, then he should be in yellow in Paris. It won't be an easy defense as Menchov's Rabobank showed themselves to be a strong mountain threat. T-Mobile hasn't given up yet either, though all their bets are riding on Kloden now. One team that won't give Landis any trouble is Discovery. I picked them as the strongest team going into this Tour, and let me say I couldn't have been more entirely wrong. They haven't controlled a second of this race and certainly weren't ready for today's attacks.

Leipheimer hung in there with Landis and Menchov, hoping that his loss of contender status would allow him to escape for the win, but Menchov kept nailing back his attacks. It didn't seem like it was going to be a Rabobank day: T-Mobile did the initial damage on the penultimate Col du Portilon climb, dropping all of Discovery except Azevedo as well as Caisse rider Vladimir Karpets; however, T-Mobile did the most damage to itself, knocking all of their highly placed riders out of contention, except Kloden, who they pushed into cramping. Rabobank seemed more concerned with helping Rasmussen get some KOM points, as Boogerd led out Rasmussen twice to collect points. On the lead-in to the final climb, though, Rasmussen moved to the front of the surviving 18 riders and set a pace that kept the peloton from closing down the gap. Then on the final climb it was Boogerd who shattered the rest of the group, shedding Azevedo, Fothen, Parra, Schleck, Simoni, Moreau, and Zubeldia. With a final push he popped off Kloden.

Menchov, Landis, Leipheimer, Evans, and Sastre were the only riders to survive Boogerd's final acceleration. Leipheimer made several attacks, but wasn't going to be allowed to get the win by Menchov. Landis did the majority of the work, with Menchov and Evans doing a bit of pacing as well. An attack by Levi and counterattacks by Menchov and Landis were enough to drop Sastre and Evans. Menchov timed his final sprint perfectly, coming around the final corner ahead and holding off Levi and Landis. From there it was a race to see if Dessel could pull a Voeckler and stay in the yellow jersey. Dessel needed to limit the time gap to about four and a half minutes, but was eight seconds too slow in the end -- the difference was Landis' twelve-second time bonus.

David de la Fuente deserves a big mention as he and Fabian Wegmann duked it out for KOM points early in the day. de la Fuente won that battle and was able to stay away until the final climb.

Prediction check:

  • Prediction: First I picked Sastre and then swapped for Rasmussen, with Floyd in yellow.
  • Actual: Rasmussen was nowhere close as he sacrificed himself for Menchov, who took the stage win. Sastre got dropped near the very top and came in fifth.

Floyd theories

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Super Floyd Photo by Eric ReaganThe reaction to Floyd Landis' mid-Tour annoucement of his dead hip seems to be mixed between awe and questioning Floyd's timing? Is this superhero Floyd unmasking his secret powers, i.e. Super Floyd? Or is Floyd preparing for a fall? Or is he preparing the Floyd Mythos in advance of joining the ranks of Greg Lemond (shotgun shot to back) and Lance Armstrong (cancer) that is required of American cyclists that win the Tour?

There would probably be less opinionating if Landis' stated reason did ring so false, which was that he wanted to get the information out there before it came out in other ways -- his hip didn't die yesterday. The worst-spirited speculation states that Phonak is just pre-excusing Landis prior to any poor performance in the mountains. I don't think it's Landis' intention to suck in the mountains, so that reasoning doesn't hold much water with me, even if Floyd does end up sucking in the mountain.

What rings more true with me are two reasons:

  • Screwing with his opponents
  • Raising awareness of his Floyd Landis Foundation while the spotlight is bright on the Tour.

Can you just imagine Floyd pulling along side another rider on a climb, taking his bad leg out of the pedal, and saying, "Look: I'm beating you with one leg."

The litlte psychological messing-with-their-heads scenario works for me because of this 2006 Paris-Nice anecdote from Landis' Outside Magazine interview:

The crux moment arrived in Stage 6, on the way to Cannes. Halfway into the race, a group of 19 broke away, and none of the other teams were willing to help Phonak chase them down. With the gap widening and the race becoming dangerously unstable, Landis decided to send a message.

At the base of a climb, he ordered his team to the front and told them to go full throttle. They blasted for three, five, ten minutes, and when everyone behind was gasping and hurting, Landis turned to address the peloton.

"You want more of that, motherfuckers?" he asked loudly. "Because if you do, we've got plenty."

The race went smoothly the rest of the way. After it ended, I asked Chechu Rubiera, a former teammate of Landis at U.S. Postal, if Floyd had reminded him of anyone in particular at that moment. Rubiera just smiled.

Super Floyd Photo by Eric Reagan, http://cyclingshots.blogspot.com

A different Floyd article

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Photo by AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski

Photo by AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski

If you want something less gruesome and much more entertaining that reading about Floyd's dead hip bone, you can read Dave Zabriskie's interview of Floyd Landis for Bicycling Magazine. Landis is a bit of an anti-Armstrong when it comes to PR, high-tech bike gear, eating, and personality, so it's full of wonderful gems from both, like:

DZ: In the beginning, you started riding your mountain bike to go fishing. But then--what?--you just enjoyed the riding more than the fishing at some point?
FL: Well, we were 15, so we weren't really going fishing in the first place. We were just going down to the river to burn things and throw rocks. When you don't have video games, you do stuff like that. You can't shoot imaginary animals, so you just go kill real ones. We'd take our BB guns and shoot whatever got in the way--birds, ducks, squirrels, rabbits, the neighbors' chickens. Anyway, it got boring, and we just started riding our bikes. Since then I haven't shot anything.

DZ: So, you're a pretty successful guy, a team leader with a fat contract--why do you share an apartment in Girona?
FL: Well, because, Dave, you clean a lot.

DZ: Whose upbringing was weirder? I was a non-Mormon in Salt Lake City, and you were the strict Mennonite in long pants with no TV from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
FL: I didn't witness your upbringing, but if I had to guess, based on outcome, I would say yours.

DZ: On CSC, we have one leader this year, that's Ivan Basso. I mean, I could lead the team in other ways and directions...
FL: Yeah, backwards.
DZ: ...but if they want leading for the win, that's Ivan.
FL: Give us some examples of ways you're capable of leading things.
DZ: I lead things in a positive, you know, positive flowing flow of energy throughout every...
FL: You're not making any sense.

DZ: Johan and Bjarne are excellent directors, no doubt. But I would not label them geniuses. Bjarne's very nice, and he looks like he's thinking a lot, but I'm not sure that he is.
FL: Holy shit. Um, Bjarne happens to be your boss.
DZ: These guys...I think it's not that hard to use tactics in bike races. I mean you don't have to be a genius. It's pretty simple. And they can say whatever they want in the car, but if the rider isn't capable of it, then it doesn't happen. So they have to have a good rider.
FL: The way I see it, there are five scenarios: If you're smart and you're weak, you can't win. If you're stupid and you're strong, you'll probably figure out a way to lose. If you're stupid and weak, then you should probably quit. If you're strong and smart enough to figure out how the race works, then you have a good chance of winning. If you're strong and just a little bit smart, smart enough to listen to the director in the car, and he's smart--that's the whole point of a director. When you have a lot of stupid, strong people who listen, then you have a good team. Because it's not possible in cycling to have nine smart, strong guys. Even if you took all the smart, strong guys you wouldn't get nine. So that's what the director is for. Would you confirm that?
DZ: Yeah. There are people in the sport who could satisfy themselves just staring at a pillar.

I also never knew that Zabriskie has never been in a wind tunnel. I guess when you have the 'best aerodynamic position in the peloton' there's no need to.

The newstand issue of Bicycling Magazine has a bit more in these little "Dumb and Dumber" sidebars, so be sure to pick up a copy if you enjoy.

Cycling is pain, but this is ridiculous

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Floyd Landis, 2nd place in the Tour, current overall favorite, can't even walk up stairs. He has to get on his bike from the left-hand side. He has a dying hip bone due to a crash in 2003. Read the NYTimes article. It's amazing. Also amazing is the fact the he's hid this for over a year, riding on TV, adopting an odd time trial position that puts him way forward on his seat, and even publishing his power output numbers for everyone to analyze.

In analyzing Lance Armstrong, some people went so far as to say the cancer made him stronger, lacking an explanation for how someone could have their body destroyed by chemo and then win seven straight Tours. I won't be ridiculous and say that the dead hip made Landis stronger, but he has gotten stronger while his hip bone has gotten worse. I had heard the numbers before: he was able to improve his max power output (5 seconds) from 900 watts to 1250 watts this year. What was missing was the context: Landis basically spent the 2005 cycling season wearing a groove into his hip bone and also receiving every manner of therapy to keep his hip working.

Cycling is about pain and the ability to suffer it for as long as necessary to win. Maybe being in constant pain off the bike helps him push it that much further on the bike. Or maybe, if Floyd had a good hip and didn't have to essentially pedal with one leg, he would be so far up the mountain that we wouldn't have to call this a "wide-open Tour."

Stage 7: Saint-Gregoire - Rennes, ITT

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AP Photo/Christian HartmannTime-trial specialist Sergei Gontchar/Gonchar/Honchar dominated today's time trial and took the yellow jersey with a time of 1:01:43. This was the last chance for the time trial specialists to slip into the yellow jersey, and of that crowd -- Zabriskie, Rogers, Karpets, and Gontchar -- it was Gontchar who annihilated the rest of the field by a minute over the next best time. This was a T-Mobile day: 1st, 4th, 6th, and 8th. Who needs Ullrich? Or, rather, in the words of Johan Bruyneel, "It's lucky Jan Ullrich is not here, otherwise the Tour would be over."

Photo by AP Photo/Christian Hartmann

It was a surprisingly poor showing by the American riders, who were expected to dominate. Bobby J had it worst, crashing early on, sliding over a curb, and appearing to injure his arm. Levi had a terrible showing, losing a minute and a half by the first time check and six minutes overall with a time of 1:07:49. Hincapie did poorly as well with a time of 1:04:25, which was 30 seconds slower than Savoldelli -- we may see Savoldelli become Discovery's protected man in the mountains. My main pick, Zabriskie, had a respectable 1:03:40, but for those of us who thought he'd light the course of fire, it was a disappointment.

There was one bright light among the Americans: Landis is certainly the American to beat and has vaulted himself to the top of the overall contenders. Landis finished in second with a time of 1:02:44, which he did while apparently having to switch his bike on the course either due to a flat tire or to his bars slipping -- the UCI apparently ordered Landis to lower his bars just prior to the race. If Landis's mechanic can just get these mechanical issues under control, Landis should easily finish on the podium. Then again, his legs appeared to disappear in the mountains in the Dauphine, so I should wait until the first mountain stage.

Big Losers: Discovery (no riders in the top ten overall anymore), CSC (now have lost Basso and Julich, Zabriskie only managed 10th, O'Grady is still hurting, and Voigt isn't looking very strong after finishing in last place), Leipheimer

Big Winners: T-Mobile, which now has four riders in the top ten including Kloden; Cadel Evans and Denis Menchov, whose chances in the overall just got a whole lot better with strong top ten finishes today. Christophe Moreau also looks primed for a top five finish if he can hold in the mountains.

Prediction check:

  • My predictions: Zabriskie, Landis, Hincapie, Julich, Rogers, Levi
  • Actual: Landis was second, Rogers was fourth instead of fifth, scratch the rest of the picks.

Tour de Georgia Stage 5 and Stage 6

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I was a doubter. I shouldn't be anymore. Floyd Landis has shown that he is the best American rider right now. Landis didn't win the climb up Brasstown Bald -- it was Tom Danielson's victory, as expected. However, I think most people, like myself, expected Tom Danielson to win by a huge margin. Instead, Danielson couldn't get even one of the four seconds he needed to take the overall lead from Landis. Landis managed to hold his own even with Discovery attacking with their three great weapons, Danielson, Popovych, and McCartney. Landis' defense on Stage 5 sealed his overall victory as Stage 6 was one for the sprinters -- JJ Haedo continued to make bank for Toyota United with his sprint victory.

Landis is a better climber and a better time trialer than he has ever been before. If he can manage to preserve this form into the Tour de France, I'll have to revise my early Tour de France predictions and put Landis on that podium. As is, he has to be very happy with Tour of California, Paris-Nice, and Tour de Georgia overall victories.

Even with Danielson not winning the overall, it was still a fairly dominating performance by Discovery: two stage wins, first in the team competition, McCartney was King of the Mountain, Brajkovic was Best Young Rider, and they took second (Danielson) and third (Popovych) in the overall competition.

Stage 5 prediction check: Danielson won the stage, but he didn't take the overall
Stage 6 prediction check: Fast Freddie finished 4th

Podium-1-4There's been no lack of Americans in the cycling spotlight post-Lance. Levi, Hincapie, and Landis put in great Tour of California performances. Landis took the Paris-Nice overall and Julich took the prologue. It would have been nice to see Horner, Danielson and Zabriskie get some early spotlght, but the main event is still months away.

I thought I'd take an early stab at making some predictions for the Tour de France. "Predict early, predict often." That way I get more chances to pretend I was right. Fat Cyclist went bolder and did a full set of early predictions for the Tour. I'm just going to focus on the Americans because everyone in America is holding their breath to see if the post-Armstrongians can hold the fort for American cycling.

The gist of my predictions: I don't expect to see any American at the top of that podium in Paris this year. I expect to see many strong performances and stage wins, but we will probably have to wait a couple years. This is hardly a bold prediction. I'll be a little more risky and say that I think you'll see Zabriskie, Julich, and Landis all in yellow jerseys this year. Zabriskie because he's fast. Julich because this is one of his last chances to get one. Landis because his combined time trial and mountain climbing ability gives him a good chance of getting one.

There's more specifics if you'd like to read on

Bobby Julich Warming UpBobby Julich looked on fire again when he won the Paris-Nice prologue wearing the #1 for his victory last year (OLN video clips from the prologue). From his interviews, it seems though that he didn't want to come out of the blocks as hot as he did last year (Paris-Nice, Criterium International and Tour of the Benelux wins) and instead is focusing on hitting the sweet spot of his form come Giro time in order to pull Basso over the mountains.

Julich quickly lost his lead to Boonen, who is on fire this year with his World Champion stripes on and has taken a hat-trick of victories at Paris-Nice so far. Boonen lost his lead to Landis, who is having the season that Julich did last year. Landis pulled Patxi Xabier all the way to the finish line of stage 3 and was poached for the victory, but he got the overall lead that he was looking for. After winning the Tour of California, Landis is now in position to win Paris-Nice, assuming he can hold off any final charges in the mountains. Much like the Tour of California, there are no mountiantop finishes, but Landis' Phonak team is also still having trouble staying close to Landis and protect him. I'm looking forward to OLN's coverage on the 12th and 13th to see how this all turns out.

Julich doesn't seem too disappointed to be out of contention at Paris-Nice, but his CSC teammates aren't doing so well. Four CSC riders have crashed out of races this week: Vande Velde (shoulder), Breschel (two broken vertebrae), O'Grady (broken collarbone and five ribs), and Bak. It looks like we may have to wait until a little later in the season to see CSC blowing up the scoreboard.

Update: neglected to include Lars Bak's crash at Tirreno-Adriatico that also took out Bettini.

Update 2: Bobby Julich crashed in stage 6 of Paris-Nice and didn't start the final day. Zabriskie also abandoned after complaining of pain in his achilles tendon. Sounds like the CSC infirmary is full this week. At least Cancellara pulled off a time trial victory at Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stage 3 autograph hunting

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Before stage 3 I managed to collect some more autographs -- Julich, Landis, Zabriskie, O'Grady, Vande Velde and Voigt -- by biking over to the CSC and Phonak team cars just as they were arriving (autographed photos are in the extended entry). The only photo that wasn't my own turned out to be a terrible mistake, but one that Jens Voigt handled gracefully. All of my photos of Voigt were blurry, so I chose one from the Cervelo site, which had a nice, high quality photo labelled 'Jens Voigt.' Apparently Voigt was used to this photo because after saying, "this is so stupid," (hopefully referring to the Cervelo Web site admins) Jens nicely pointed out the 'S' on the bike (for 'Nicki Sorensen' I believe).

d asked me why I was such an autograph hunter and I gave some answer that I don't fully remember anymore, but no longer agree with. For photos and backpacks at least I think it's a chance to bind an object to a specific memory. An autograph is like a photo to me, which must make my autographs in the extended entry photos2. I don't have terrible recall for memories, so if I can get Dave Zabriskie to autograph my backpack at the SFGP so that I can glance at it and remember our adventures sneaking Jill into the CSC VIP tent on a day of fun at the SFGP, I will. Then I'll take my camera and get a shot of flowers growing out of Bjarne Riis' head and my day will be complete.

Tour of California: Stage 3

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Landis Warming Up-1 Landis Approaching the Finish Line-1 Landis, Julich, Zabriskie, Tour of California Podium

The stage 3 time trial was a thrill. Fabian Cancellara, Vladimir Gusev, and Nathan O'Neill set the big times on the day before the final flight of main contenders. O'Neill was the one who showed that the 37-minute barrier could be broken with his time of 36:55. These times were a lot slower than expected, which can be attributed to a big headwind and yesterday's grueling Sierra Road climb.

Jens Voigt Approaching the First Climb-1 Vladimir Gusev Near the Finish-1 Stage 3-01

The first of the main contenders to get things roarding was Dave Zabriskie, who got the crowd charged as the announcer shouted out that DZ had the fastest time by 31 seconds. With that margin I thought for sure that my pick for the stage winner (DZ, of course) was solid, but then Floyd Landis came screaming in 26 seconds faster -- the first (and only) run to break the 36-minute barrier. Landis' margin was so big that the remaining contenders were losing with 1km to go: Julich, Leipheimer, Hincapie. Julich was following the curb so close that I didn't even see him until the last second, but those extra road savings weren't enough. Hincapie had a huge press fleet of cars following him, but nothing ahead to stop the wind.

Chris Horner nears the finish-1 Hincapie on final approach-1

Floyd Landis' 29-second lead in the overall is large enough that his fellow riders don't seem to think there is much chance left as there remaining stages aren't challenging enough to produce big gaps. Landis has looked strong in every stage so far, so even on a tough stage it seems doubtful that he'd be caught out. The only chance I see is taking advantage of the weaker Phonak team. A lack of teammates cost Leipheimer on stage 2. CSC or Discovery could use their deep rosters to really challenge Landis much like Discovery did in the Tour de Georgia when they launched Danielson to victory. At the very least, CSC needs some sort of victory to take away from this inaugural event: Gerolsteiner, Discovery, and Phonak already have had their stage wins and leader's jerseys.

Ekimov isn't competing for the overall, but I like this photo enough that I'm just going to paste it here:

Ekimov nears the finish-1

Read on for a photo summary of my day at Stage 3.