Results tagged “Plateau de Beille” from spare cycles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stage 13: Lannemezan-Plateau de Beille

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07-17-04.stage13 profile

Armstrong Won! More on that later, but first, and perhaps more importantly, lets talk about those who didn't win today.

Every year there is a stage that is a decisive in the overall race. Sometimes they signal a shift in momentum, or an important stage victory, or the first time in the lead. Sometimes they are the stage where everything gets blown apart and one rider remains, and I believe that this stage falls into that category, not just because Armstrong got his first stage victory, but because there were so many casualties. Of the pre-race favorites, here's how they now stand:

  • Hamilton: Dropped out. The man who fought through last year's Tour with a broken collarbone, finally showed us his limits of pain and dropped out with lower back pain caused by his crash from a several stages before. I'm sure he'll be lobbying hard for new rules regarding sprint finishes now that this is the second year in a row his Tour ambitions have been cut short.
  • Ullrich: he'll be lucky to finish in second after losing over two minutes to Armstrong today
  • Heras: Where you at? A: Over 21 minutes back.
  • Mayo: Buzz favorite after his amazing Dauphine performance: 37 minutes back.

So who are the main contenders now besides Armstrong: Basso, Totschnig, Kloden, and Mancebo. No one expected this list of names, and at this point, they aren't really challenging Armstrong as much as they are fighting for 2nd and 3rd place on the podium. Basso is the clear leader of this pack, having stuck on Armstrong's wheel yesterday to get the stage win, and today sticking on his wheel again for second. He's the only rider in the whole Tour that's matched Armstrong.

There's one other name that deserves mention, even though he's not an overall favorite: Voeckler. People are already using the term 'hero' to describe this guy, and although I have a tough time using that term to describe bike racing, this guy's performance has been extraordinary and has won over everyone's hearts. He truly loves having the yellow jersey and appreciates the honor that it bestows, and he is willing to push himself far beyond his ability to hold onto it for as long as possible. No racer has provided more excitement in the past two stages: every acceleration seems to put him in danger as he falls back, his face is contorted in pain, but he'll reach down, stand up, and push himself forward to rejoin the lead group. I thought he was done for when US Postal pushed a split and Voeckler fell way back, but the next thing I knew he was sitting on Azevedo's wheel just behind the US Postal Blue Train. Voeckler's ride has been the sort of inspiring performance you hope for in a bike race, much like Isidro Nozal's performance in the Vuelta last year, and when Voeckler crossed the finish line with a huge smile on his face, you couldn't help but cheer on the pride of France.

So now, Armstrong. Armstrong looks as good as he did two or three years ago, and his team is as good as it was last year and the year before (Hincapie, Landis, Chechu, and Azevedo put in amazing pulls). In other words, Armstrong looks absolutely undefeatable. Gone are any signs of weakness from last year. Last year the contenders were able to organize themselves and issue constant attacks against Armstrong and expose signs of weakness. This year, the US Postal riders are setting such a hard pace that none of the GC contenders have even been able to issue attacks, and when the Blue Train does pull off, Armstrong himself steps up the pace and leads the final charge up the mountain that, so far, only Basso has been able to follow.

For the second time, the Plateau de Beille has proved to be a important stage victory for Armstrong. In a repeat of yesterday's action, US Postal set a fast tempo, with Azevedo serving as the last rider pulling Armstrong along. This time, though, there was more attrition, and it was just Azevedo, Armstrong, and Basso riding up front after having caught the breakaway riders. Then it was just Armstrong and Basso for the rest of the climb, shooting through the raucous Basque crowd. On the final bend to the finish line Armstrong shot ahead and snagged the victory. I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a bit of tit-for-tat with Basso, whom Armstrong didn't contest yesterday. According to news reports, Armstrong let Basso win yesterday due to a friendship that has developed over Basso's mother having cancer. Today, however, it was Basso that did little to challenge Armstrong's final sprint over the line.