Results tagged “Lance Armstrong” from spare cycles

Contador!

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Alberto Contador - (c) Ken Conley

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

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

Ride - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Cancellara could change his nickname from Spartacus to Hercules -- it wasn't hard to spot his yellow jersey at the front of the Saxo Bank train at the start, in the middle, and in the finish. As he zipped through the technical course and his teammates struggled to keep his wheel it was easy to see why he's the best time trialist in the worlds. Saxo Bank may not have won the stage, but Cancellara's final effort protected the yellow he wore today -- by 1/10th of a second over Lance Armstrong and the victorious Astana team.

Astana won the day and their train was a very different story. Armstrong, Contador, Leipheimer, and Kloden all powered together. They each surged to the front in the final kilo to fight for that extra tenth of a second that was denied. A yellow jersey for Armstrong was on the line, but so were important seconds for the GC battle. They may have the most drama, but they also delivered a commanding victory in the TTT.

Garmin would have had the day if it weren't for Astana. As Columbia faded from their efforts yesterday, Garmin shed the chaff and did the team time trial with just five riders. Poor Ryder Hysedal struggled to stay slotted in the back as the likes of Wiggins, Zabriskie, Millar, and Vande Velde put the hammer down.

Is there any doubt that the TTT should be part of every TdF?

Questions on Leadership

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Coast - (c) Ken Conley

A friend e-mailed m a question on team leadership, so I thought I'd share the response here:

Q: I know Contador is the team leader for Astana right now, but how set in stone is that for any team? I know that's what they sort of shoot for at the beginning, but is that something that just changes as the race progresses or does something official have to happen?

It's not an official matter who the leader is, merely a strategic one. There's generally an idea of who the best rider is on the team, as well as second-best rider for that matter. You can usually be 90% certain who that is, but a crash may take your leader out, or your leader may not have the form you hoped, so someone else steps in. That's how Oscar Pereiro won the TdF (i.e. the Floyd year). Valverde crashed out, and Pereiro got a really lucky break. Another way a leadership situation can change is by semi-accident. For example, you may want to send your second-best rider up the road. If the other teams chase, they burn their matches and you get to rest. If they don't chase, your second-best rider takes a huge chunk of time and is put in a position to win.

It's important to understand who is in charge as the rest of the team must focus on protecting that rider. Discovery Channel (the first year post-Armstrong) and other teams in the past have tried to go into a race like this with "options", but they ultimately fail because you can't build a cohesive strategy around that. One could argue that CSC won last year's Tour with the options strategy -- Sastre and 2 Schlecks -- but when push came to shove on the Alpe d'Huez, Sastre was sent on the attack and the two Schlecks worked their butts off to protect that move.

So, where it becomes important is in the mountains. If Saxo Bank whittles down the Astana team so that it's only Armstrong and Contador left, you want to know who is going to work for who. If Armstrong attacks and a top GC contender like Andy Schleck goes with him, does Contador pull it back or let it go?

Leadership battles have compromised Astana in the past: Contador won the Vuelta, but Levi was a close second. Contador complained that Levi didn't work as hard for him as he should have been, and Levi even beat Contador in the final TT. Granted, Contador still won, but it could have been different if other teams were in a better position to take advantage.

As for Lance vs. Contador, Lance doesn't really stand a chance, so I'm not understanding what's going on there -- unless this is intentional subterfuge on Astana's part to confuse other teams. Given their past tactics, I wouldn't be surprised if this was a game that they were playing, though it would have taken a lot of effort over the past several months and a lot of acting to pull this off. The fact is, Contador is a much better rider than Armstrong is right now. Armstrong is either lying to himself that he's a potential leader, or he's playing games. The only way Armstrong could win is the second-best rider strategy, i.e. if Bruyneel uses Armstrong as a carrot and the other teams don't respond.

Greg Henderson Leads the High Road Paceline - (c) Ken Conley

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

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

Who else but Cancellara?

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Fabian Cancellara - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Cancellara winning was the easy part to pick and watching him catch Menchov as his 1:30 man was a treat, but now that Contador (0:18) laid down the law with a second-place finish, well ahead of Armstrong (0:40), will Armstrong admit the obvious and commit to being a loyal lieutenant? One thing Astana did settle is that they really are the strongest team if they can settle the pecking order: Contador 2nd, Kloden 4th (0:22), Leipheimer 6th (0:30), Armstrong 10th (0:40). Cadel Evans also put in a respectable 5th (0:23), so count on him to be a thorn in the side of the GC.

Contador-Armstrong.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lance Armstrong Wins - (c) Ken Conley
Lance Armstrong Post-Race - (c) Ken Conley
Lance Armstrong Attacks - (c) Ken Conley Lance Armstrong Attacks - (c) Ken Conley
Ben Jacques-Maynes - (c) Ken Conley Levi Pre-Race - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Click here for more Nevada City 2009 Photos

The Nevada City Classic can add another awesome event to its storied book. I don't know how a tiny little historic town like Nevada City does it, but they had no trouble absorbing the throngs of Lance Armstrong worshippers that transformed the 1.1 mile cycling stadium. I've never heard a crowd at a cycling race as loud as I heard when Armstrong came across the finish line solo and it may be long before I witness something that awesome again. Michael Hernandez compared it to a football stadium -- which is about right, but imagine that on a city street instead. Sorry Tour of California, but I think the little town has you beat for premier California race of 2009.

The circuit is an excellent course that starts the riders going downhill before quickly turning back uphill, winding through the historic district, out over the rolling hills of the surrounding neighborhood, and then plunging back downhill into the historic district. It's a course that will break your legs and puts teams at the disadvantage. Even Astana's big three -- Armstrong, Leipheimer, Horner -- couldn't figure out what to do with Bissell's Ben Jacques-Maynes. They shed the rest of the field and pressed their advantage again and again, but it took a final assault from Mr. Seven-Time to put in a gap. Any day that you go up against two of the best time-trialists in the world and come away second is a victory.

Armstrong is looking in pretty good shape for the Tour de France. He looked 'fat' at the Tour of California, at least in a relative sense, but I didn't get that impression watching him this weekend. I still don't think he stands a chance in hell of winning, but he's in good enough shape that I think the Astana team dynamics with Contador won't be so healthy. As for Horner, he had trouble keeping pace and I wonder if he's healed-up enough from his recent crashes to make the Tour cut.

As for my own preparedness for dealing with LanceFest, I scored poorly. At the end of the womens' race I managed to sprain my quad while standing up (yes, that simple). I went from having the opportunity to shoot from moto to hobbling around on the sidelines. My injured quad meant that I could really only shoot from two points out on the course, but thankfully it's a pretty course. Lesson learned: always stretch, even for taking pictures.

Click here for more Nevada City 2009 Photos

Transitive Panda

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Astana Camp II

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Astana Camp-55

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

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

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

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

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

Astana Camp-36

Astana Camp-8

Reverse Armstrong Twitpic

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Astana Camp-49 Astana Camp-11

We have company on the ride today! on TwitPic

Astana Camp Photos

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Astana Camp-52

Astana Camp-65

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

Astana Camp Photos

RBA Jan/Feb 09 Armstrong

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RBAJanFeb09-Lance-CrossVegas

This one is actually from the previous issue but I forgot to post it. You should be seeing a lot more Lance photos here soon enough. Thien pointed out to me that I am now officially a "Contributing Photographer" to Road BIke Action (an upgrade from occasional freelancer), which I was honored to see. You should pick up the current issue because Bay Area photographer Larry Rosa has a sweet 2-pager "Last Shot."

Cross Vegas Photos

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Trebon Wins 20080923_5655

Cross Vegas Lance Armstrong20080923_5614

All this time shooting cycling and my first cyclocross event happens to be Cross Vegas -- with sudden surprise entry by Lance Armstrong. I'd like to pretend I could summarize cyclocross as a sport based on this one event, but somehow I feel that I can't: the Lance Circus, the Elvises (Elvi?) both on and off bike, dollar bills shoved into helmets, beer sprayed at riders as they run past, the wigs and beards (including Justin England in a particularly hideous wig), etc... It was such an impressive field as well: Trebon, Wicks, Kabush, Johnson, Sauser, Wells and more -- the callups seemed to last forever. I'm sad that I had to miss the women's race with the Compton-Gould-Nash podium (too many Interbike obligations).

Cross Vegas 2008 Photos

Wicks 20080923_5452 Adam Craig goes down 20080923_5560
The King 20080923_5522 Johnson leads Trebon 20080923_5606

Cross Vegas 2008 Photos

Interbike Wednesday: P4! Lance!

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Cross Vegas Lance Armstrong20080923_5510

Cervelo P420080923_5068

So much went on Wednesday, but I'm still buried under a mountain of photos and have little time to write. Two of the major items are the ones you see above. Yes Lance raced 'cross, perhaps the oddest presence in a field that had Justin England wearing an awful wig, a rider dressed as Elvis,and fans pushing dollar bills into the helmets of passing riders. The field split quickly into two races: the race for the victory between Trebon, Craig, Wells, Johnson, and others in the first group, and the race to shoot Lance Armstrong in the second group. You can see more of my Lance photos in my Road Bike Action Web gallery.

There's also the Cervelo P4: get yours now before the UCI rules it illegal. If the water bottle were frame it might be illegal, but as it is removable, somehow it isn't. They claim its the fastest possible bike: UCI legal or no. I'm a little sad to see that physics hasn't somehow designed a better looking bike. It kinda looks like someone welded together a TT frame using tubing from a bunch of different spare bikes. RoadbikeReview has a video of the naked frame, so you can judge for yourself.

The New York Times has just published this bombshell: 2 Ex-Teammates of Cycling Star Admit Drug Use along with an article focusing on Andreu in particular, Fears for Sport Made Cyclist Come Clean. Neither Andreu nor the unnamed rider implicate Armstrong directly, though Andreu traces his usage back to their Motorola days and he also says he saw Armstrong sorting little round pills, which Armstrong claims were caffeine.

I'm of mixed minds about Andreu's admission. * update: Andreu clearly takes responsibility for his own actions in his statement today, so it doesn't feel as dishonest anymore.* The article clearly tries to frame him not as a cheater for himself but as a cheater for Lance, as if Andreu had nothing to gain for himself by doping. But Andreu had plenty to gain: a coveted spot on a Tour team and a chance to ride into Paris on the winning team. Now, of course, Andreu has little to lose after being let go from the Toyota-United team, which was surprising given how good that squad was doing its first year out. Regardless, it's a damning admission for the old US Postal squad and I'm sure everyone will wonder now who the unnamed rider is. The 1999 roster was:

  • Lance Armstrong (USA) of course not
  • Frankie Andreu (USA) admitted
  • Pascal Deram� (Fra)
  • Tyler Hamilton (USA) unlikely
  • George Hincapie (USA) unlikely
  • Kevin Livingston (USA)
  • Peter Meinert-Nielsen (Den)
  • Christian Vandevelde (USA) racing for CSC
  • Jonathan Vaughters (USA) heading up TIAA-CREF

Armstrong's final victory, first of this Tour, and a great conclusion to his career. It looked like it would be a close one at the first check, with Basso in front of Armstrong and Ullrich, but by the next check there was no doubt: Armstrong was going to win this one and he would get the stage victory he needed to legitimize his yellow jersey. Armstrong will win this tour by 4:40, not his biggest margin, but a huge margin nevertheless.

Today's victory by Armstrong was all about preparation. While all the other riders were struggling through the technical course with their aerodynamic, rear disc wheels, Armstrong was nimbly picking apart the turns with a much more maneuverable three-spoke rear wheel. The equipment choice seemed to hurt Basso, who looked hesitant on the technical second leg of the course, dropping from seven seconds up in the first time check to 34 seconds behind Ullrich through the second check.

Top 8 finishers (four Americans!) and their gear choices: Hincapie, Evans, Landis, Basso, Julich, Vinokourov, Ullrich, Armstrong

The course was treacherous enough to cause 3rd-now-7th place Rasmussen to disintegrate, crashing twice and switching bikes 4+ times. Rasmussen was the real disaster story of this stage, and I can't ever recall seeing a worse performance by a rider in an individual time trial. Rasmussen wasn't going to hold 3rd place against Ullrich, but his collapse pushed him out of the top five overall. People will remember this stage for both it's great and horrible performances: Armstrong's dominating farewell and Rasmussen's catastrophe.

The Tour may be all but over for Armstrong, but some of the other GC contenders will duke it out tomorrow. Leipheimer broke into the top 5, but Vino had a great performance today and is now only 2 seconds behind him. It should make some of the intermediate sprints more interesting.

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.

Stage 8: Pforzheim-Gerardmer

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photo photo photo

(AP Photo/Christophe Ena/Alessandro Trovati/Ena)

Under Pressure. Big first mountain stage to break in the legs. The GC contenders mostly held together, but the final climb demonstrated that T-Mobile is ready to put the smackdown on Discovery. Vino soften up the yellow jersey by relentlessly attacking Armstrong up the final climb. Ullrich sat on Armstrong's wheel while Kloden launched an attack. Armstrong didn't respond to Kloden's move, and Kloden, catching up to a breakaway by Weening, was able to tag team his way to the finish and gain 0:27 on Armstrong.

photo finishWeening nicked the stage on the line by sitting in Kloden's slipstream for the final kilometer and doing no work. Kloden had more to gain because he would get time in the overall classification, so Weening could play that to his advantage. I would think it's a litle embarrassing for Weening to only win by a hair under those circumstances, but you wouldn't be able to tell with Weening jumping onto the stage to celebrate.

Armstrong probably won't be worrying too much about Kloden's 0:27 time gain as much as (1) T-Mobile has a stronger one-two-three punch than thought with Kloden suddenly on form and (2) his Discovery team disintegrated: after Vino's initial volley there were no teammates left.

Armstrong looked strong and responded as necessary to the attacks that mattered, but he will have to hope his team puts in a better performance in the coming stages or there are going to be some long, lonely climbs ahead. Armstrong is mentioning some "talking" that his team is going to have to do tonight; he also said that he wasn't strong today (coulda fooled me).

The overall standings were cleaned up by this stage. No major riders dropped, but the non-contenders moved down. Also, Discovery lost the white young rider's jersey as Popo gave it over to Karpets, who is a favorite in the competition.

1 Lance Armstrong
2 Jens Voigt 1.00
3 Alexandre Vinokourov 1.02
4 Bobby Julich 1.07
5 Ivan Basso 1.26
6 Jan Ullrich 1.36
7 Carlos Sastre
8 George Hincapie 1.47
9 Andreas Kl�den 1.50
10 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems

ZABRISKIE!

stage1.z.jpg stage1.z.jpg stage1.z.jpg

keyhole.stage1.c.jpgThe opening stage may not matter too much in the long run in terms of time, but in terms of gamesmanship, it's all about showing who's on form and who's not. Riders often hold back on their performances in the races leading up to the Tour, relying on them for training instead. Armstrong, for example, rode the 2005 Tour de Georgia in support of Tom Danielson and he made no serious attempt at the win in the Dauphine. Ivan Basso hasn't been seen in a race since the Giro, so his condition was an even bigger unknown. A strong performance by one of the contenders, namely Armstrong, can easily demoralize the rest of the field and cause them to shift their goals. This year's Tour, in particular, offered a bigger chance than usual to make a big statement. While most Tours start with a short 5-10km prologue, where the end-of-day time gaps are small, this year starts with a mini time trial of 19km, which even allows for the chance the a rider could wear the yellow jersey from start to finish.

So what were today's statements?


photoThe opening time trial was a great win for American cycling: Dave Zabriskie, who started too early in the day to even be featured on TV, set a fast mark that most of the field couldn't even get within a minute of. One exception was Lance Armstrong, who finished two seconds back and at this point already looks set to win his seventh Tour de France. Zabriskie, while not contending for the overall, earned the special distinction of having won a stage in all three grand tours (Tour, Giro, Vuelta) -- all in the past year.

Ullrich started a minute ahead of Armstrong, but things stated to look bad for Armstrong's rival when the referee started pulling away Ullrich's support car to make room for Armstrong's advance. Armstrong caught sight of Ullrich around the first time check and then easily caught and passed him. Despite having the fastest time at the second time check, Armstrong wasn't able to win the stage, so he loses his chance at making history by wearing yellow from start to finish. However, Armstrong will go into Stage 2 with a 1'06" lead on Ullrich and a 1'24" on Basso. Although Ullrich ceded less time than Basso, it had to be the most demoralizing to him as he watched Armstrong easily zoom past him.

Of Armstrong's big rivals, Vino looks the best at only 0'51" back. Given this performance, future stages may have Ullrich working for Vino.

Another American with a big day was George Hincapie. He stayed on form from his Dauphine time trial win and came in 4th, 0'57" back of Zabriskie. Discovery Channel overall did very well, with four riders finishing in the top 20 (even their 'climber' CheChu Rubiera). CSC also did well with four riders in the top 20, but their top man Basso was #20.

  1. Zabriskie David, CSC, USA
  2. Armstrong Lance, Discovery, USA 0'02"
  3. Vinokourov Alexandre, T-Mobile, KAZ 0'53"
  4. Hincapie George, Discovery, USA 0'57"
  5. Bodrogi Laszlo, Credit Agricole, HUN 0'59"

Stage profile and my live stage log from the stage are in the extended.

stage 19 profile

Stage 19 was all about Armstrong and his team. His teammates, including Ekimov, Landis, and Azevedo, all set excellent time checks in front of him, and when Armstrong came through his legs were moving at an unbelievable cadence. By the time the first time check came through, there was no question that Armstrong was going to win, but with the last individual time trial stage, there rarely is (it took unbelievably treacherous conditions last year to stop him).

There were other stories today as well. Karpets put in a strong showing, and, as expected, Voeckler relinquished the white jersey going into Paris. I'm sure that Voeckler's tank was pretty empty by now.

Kloden and Ullrich both put in impressive showings. Ullrich was stronger going out, but Kloden continued to improve over the course and, most importantly, put in enough time over Basso to jump on one position on the podium. Basso finished in sixth for the stage, which left little room for an Ullrich miracle; for the first time Ullrich will not finish standing next to Armstrong on the podium. * Stage 19 Summary (VeloNews) * Stage 19 Results (VeloNews) * Stage 19 Live Coverage (Daily Peloton) * Stage 19 Photo Gallery (Graham Watson) * The Jambon Report � Stage 19 (Daily Peloton)

Prologue: Liege-Liege

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07-03-04.prologue profile

It was a good day for Armstrong, even if he didn't emerge victorious. He put 15' on Ullrich and 16' on Hamilton in the short, seven-minute prologue and finished a close second. (Side note: Phil Liggett, as much as I enjoy his commentary, never seems to know where the finish line is). He looked strong on his bike and I am encouraged at his prospects for this year.

Cancellara showed that he's the man to pull Petacchi towards the finish line. The young, emotional rider was a surprise name to see at the top of the standings, but he put in a strong ride.

Ascendency: Five in a Row

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The first was "The Comeback," the second was "The Confirmation." No one seems to have a good term for the third or fourth (Armstrong called the fourth "The Year of the Team;" I have a cool t-shirt that says "4-titude"). I prefer to call this year "The Ascendency" b/c he's finally climbed the ranks to join Indurain, Merckx, Hinault, and Anquetil as the elite set of tour riders that have one five tours. Also, he and Indurain are the only riders to have the dominant ability to win five years in a row.

This year has also set the stage for the future of Tyler Hamilton and Alexandre Vinokourov. Both will certainly figure in future TdF battles. Euskatel, with Mayo and Zubeldia, should also be a fun team to watch in the coming tours. Finally, let's hope that this year's performance that Ullrich will continue to come to play in TdF's and have less written about him in the offseason.

In other tour news: * Hamilton's efforts helped secure CSC's team win over Ibanesto.com. * Cooke beat out McEwen on the line to take the green jersey * Virenque kept his king of the mountains with his dominant lead of 137pts.
* Menchov also had a dominant lead in the youth jersey competition with a gap of 42'29". * In the jersey no one cares about, O'Grady gets to don the "Centenaire" jersey for this year's 100th Tour de France

Tour de France Stage 19: Pornic-Nantes

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stage profile

-- My Summary -- armstrong photoullrich photoThe stage is set for a dramatic stage today. Millar currently has the fastest time but has said that the last portion of the race should be neutralized as the conditions are glacial and not safe for Armstrong and Ullrich. There have certainly been several crashes already on the day with the road looking extremely slippery in the rain.

Checkpoint 1: Ullrich and Armstrong dead even at 15'41" (Ullrich has the fast time check overall)

armstrong ridingullrich riding25km to go: Armstrong appears to be gaining time on Ullrich with the overall gap at 1'07"

Approaching the second time check: Ullrich has now gained time on Armstrong and the gap is at 1'02"

Checkpoint 2: Ullrich (35'19") is 2 seconds ahead of Armstrong (35'21"). Ullrich still has the fastest time check

Hamilton finishes with the second fastest time so far at 54'14", 9 seconds behind David Millar

ullrich crashULLRICH DOWN! Going through the second half of the roundabout he slips his wheel (it didn't seem like he was taking it too steep) on slippery pavement and sparks fly up from the rear wheel. Ullrich's bike slides into the protective bales on the side of the road. Ullrich quickly gets up and is on his way again.

Armstrong comes through in the same area and manages to fishtail a bit while accelerating but it okay

Checkpoint 3: Ullrich has really lost his pace. He now slips into third behind Millar for the stage. Ullrich's 45'39" is 22" behind Millar. Armstrong seems to have slowed as well - he comes in at 45'29"

Mayo loses 2'02" to Hamilton at the finish line, HAMILTON IS NOW IN 5th PLACE IN THE GC

Zubeldia finishes but not fast enough -> HAMILTON IS NOW 4th PLACE IN THE GC

Vinokourov finishes and loses time to Hamilton, but still retains his third place overall in the GC

Ullrich finishes at 54'30" behind Millar and Hamilton. Armstrong' yellow jersey is almost certainly confirmed

armstrong finishArmstrong finishes at 54'19" behind Millar and Hamilton, pumping his fist at the finish line as he knows that he will win his 5th Tour de France.

In less than eight hours the climatic finish to a great Tour de France will begin. In the overall GC, Ullrich will be chasing Armstrong's lead of 1'07", but on the ground it will be Armstrong chasing Ullrich with the two slated to be the last two riders off the ramp.

Weather predictions call for early rain that may subside, with tail winds pushing the riders towards the finish in Nantes.

Ullrich will be steaming along in a beefy 56x11. This race is all set to be sickeningly fast, with Armstrong predicting a record time for this TT. Regardless, this TdF will go down in the books: * Stage 1-5: Petacchi dominating the early stages, then dropping out in the first mountain stage * Stage 4: US Postal getting their first ever TTT win, with all nine riders crossing the line * Stage 8: Dramatic attacks all the way up Alpe d'Huez that dropped Ullrich but ultimately gave the stage to Mayo * Stage 9: Beloki's awful crash followed by Armstrong's offroading * Stage 12: Ullrich beating Armstrong in the first Time Trial with the only sub-hour performance on the day * Stage 15: Luz-Ardiden - Attack, Attack, Attack, Crash, Slip, Attack * Stage 16: not content to merely finish the TdF, Hamilton picks up a stage win (staying in front for 140km) and is now in position to shoot for a top five overall finish tomorrow * a green jersey competition that will come down to the last day (again) * possibly the fastest TdF ever (not a bad feat for the 100th TdF)

stage profile

A relatively flat stage still managed to provide it's mix of drama. In the first sprint of the day Armstrong and Ullrich followed McEwen out - McEwen predictably won the sprint and picked up six sprint points to move into a tie with Cooke, Ullrich took the 4" time bonus and Armstrong the 2".

From then on it was a sixteen rider breakaway of no one particularly important, but it provided an interesting contrast to yesterday's breakaway. Quick-Step tried to repeat the antics of yesterday's stage win of Knaven. The breakaway group split in two with 20km to go, and with around 10km to go Quick-Step sent Ca�ada off the front. As the chase group did a better job of organizing itself than yesterday, but Ca�ada managed to hold the gap at 5-7" up until 1km to go. With 100m to go and Ca�ada still up front, Da Cruz closed the gap with Nardello and Lastras following. Lastras then outsprinted Da Cruz and Nardello to take the stage.

With Cooke and McEwen tied for the green jersey, the last bit of excitement came in the sprint for 17th place and the final sprint points on the day. Zabel had the early lead in the sprint, but McEwen came off his wheel and took the points. Cooke rode on McEwen's wheels but didn't have the legs to win it out.

(I just got back from Comic-Con this morning - which I'll have plenty of posts from. Trusty TiVo recorded the TdF for me while I was gone, but I've only had time to catch up on the Individual TT and this morning's Stage 15)

stage profile

photoStage 15 was simply awesome. If you thought the attacks on Stage 8 had drama, this morning's stage had all of that and then some.

The drama first started on the Col du Tourmalet (site of last year's Armstrong-Heras-Beloki train). Ullrich attacked 3/4 of the way up, but Armstrong was able to contain the attack. However, damage was being done to Vinokourov who was dropped and did not catch back up until Luz-Ardiden. With neither able to assert an advantage, Armstrong and Ullrich both waited for their teammates to return to the group for the final ascent.

They didn't get to use their teammates for too long as Mayo launched an attack which Armstrong caught up with and continued. Vinokourov was dropped again and wouldn't recover. And then came the watercooler moment of the ascent: Armstrong was leading the attack with Mayo on his back wheel. As he came around a turn, a fan's musette caught his right brake lever and dropped the bike to the group, with Mayo falling on top. CheChu led Armstrong back into the chase group, and Ullrich and Hamilton slowed the chase group to wait for Armstrong's return. As Armstrong bridged back up to the chase group his right foot slipped out of the pedal, making everyone wonder what sort of damage had been done to his bike.

However, rather than pause to switch bikes, Armstrong caught up to the chase group and then launched the final attack of the day, leaving Ullrich unable to respond. Armstrong caught up to Chavanel, gave him a respectful pat on the back, and then continued his climb to the finish line on Luz-Ardiden. Armstrong finally gets his individual stage win of the tour, and on a stage that people hoped he would leave his mark on.

Congrats to Chavanel who dominated the mountains today, but was caught in the final kilometers of Luz-Ardiden.

stage profile

photoThis is backposted as I'm catching up via TiVo on all the Tour de France happenings. The big bullets from this one were:

1) Ullrich is the man and is back in form. He was the only rider to break the hour barrier at 58'32". He is also good at finding air conditioning.

2) Armstrong lost only his second time trial out of eight due to Ullrich's truckin' performance. Armstrong finished second at 1'36" behind. Apparently he lost about 8% of his body weight due to dehydration. He is not as good at finding air conditioning, but probably will be in the future (as he is also much better at eating now).

3) Vinokourov loses 30" to Armstrong.

4) How the hell did Tyler Hamilton pull on his handlebars (and ignore his back pain) long enough to finish 5th? I look forward to seeing him leading his team in future tours at full strength.

stage profile

photoVinokourov gets his first tour win but the real news from this stage was the crash. On the final descent Armstrong, Beloki, and others were bombing down in pursuit of Vinokourov, who was less than a minute ahead. The heat had actually melted the tar on the road and as Beloki headed into a minor right turn his tire blew out. His bike slid and Beloki hi-sided in the concrete hard right on his hip and right elbow. Armstrong, who was right on Beloki's wheel, dodged left into an open field, crossed to the other side of the switchback, swiftly dismounted and jumped down a drop-off, and then remounted to join the pursuit group. Armstrong's instincts were amazing to watch. It just goes to show that anything can happen to anyone, even a rider as good as Beloki. (video)

The other stories of the day were:

  • Jaksche attacking to get the virtual yellow before being pulled back (Jaksche got the most combative award)
  • the last category 2 climb stringing out the peloton with its steepness
  • David Millar launching attack but being caught then dropped by the peloton

Links

stage profile

Woot! Woot! An awesome day for US Postal. They avoided a spill like last year and dominated the team time trial winning by 30" over ONCE. I was surprised to see Bianchi in 3rd place at 43" back - this may mean that will get to see Ullrich this tour. Today's race puts Armstrong 32" in front of Beloki, 38" in front of Ullrich, and 1'32" in front of Botero. Simoni who was talking trash before the TdF is now 3'8" back. Armstrong's teammate Pena will get to wear the yellow jersey tomorrow on his birthday.

USPS TTT

ESPN.com: OLY - Armstrong's team takes Tour time trial

stage profile

The Tour de France started yesterday with today being the first real stage (Saint-Denis/Montgeron - Meaux). It sounds like it was a doozy. Alessandro Petacchi took the sprint but plenty of top contenders crashed behind. Armstrong crashed with a bunch of other bikers but appears fine. Tyler Hamilton, unfortunately, is not, so we won't get to see him try to challenge his former boss. I'm currently missing all of this, so I think I'm gonna go to Circuit City tomorrow and get me a DirectTiVo to supplement my basic cable TiVo, as American sports bars simply don't appreciate the Tour de France (nor the fact that it's at 7 in the morning).