Results tagged “Tour de France” from spare cycles

Sport Economist on Hushovd vs. Cavendish

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Glynn sent me this article from the Sport Economist on different point structures in different sports, with a focus on Hushovd's green jersey victory over Mark Cavendish. I admit I was disappointed to see Cav lose the green jersey, though I was biased by the fact that Cav was my pre-race prediction. Still, if one equates the yellow jersey with the best overall rider, the polka dots with the best climber, and green with the best sprinter, it's hard to come to the conclusion that Cavendish wasn't convincingly the best sprinter in the Tour -- six stage victories was a dominating performance.

Of course, this year's point total was messed up, as it sometimes is, by the role of relegation. Perhaps it's not the point structure for the Tour that was incorrect, but rather the penalty structure that allows Cavendish to lose all of his points for a stage for a non-flagrant infraction.

I actually think that its the polka dot jersey that has more issues than the green jersey. It's heavily biased towards crazy breakaways. If you happen to make it in the break on a heavy mountain stage, you can pretty much sew up the competition. Great climbers who are also GC contenders have a heavy disincentive to compete for the King of the Mountain title, though it does establish a good secondary contest for climbers who have no GC chances.

Sport Economist: Stage Wins, Points Losses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contador!

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Alberto Contador - (c) Ken Conley

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

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

Levi Out

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TechCrunch posted some internal documents from Twitter that shows that Twitter aims to be the "pulse" of the planet. @LeviLeipheimer offers his own support of this, Twittering directly from the operating room as doctor's insert a 22mm titanium screw into his wrist:

We'll miss him in the Alps, especially as he had a chance at podium this year, but we'll always have the tweets.

Well that didn't work

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The organizers decide to ban race radios to make the stage more exciting, but they choose a dull, sprinter-friendly stage to do it. A break goes down the road, the teams eventually chase, the break gets caught in the final kilometers, Cavendish wins. I'm not sure what sort of improbability they were hoping would arise, but this stage was duller than any other sprint stage this Tour and with exactly the same result.

CYCLING: MAR 14 Paris-Nice 2009 - Stage 7

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

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

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

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

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

Are we clear yet?

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Disco Posse - (c) Ken Conley

It's Contador's team

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

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

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

  1. Nocentini
  2. Contador 0.06
  3. Armstrong 0.08
  4. Leipheimer 0.39
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.

Jonathan Vaughter's Tweet of the Day

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In the last of this year's series, a fitting tweet to celebrate Garmin-Chipotle's success this year:

Well, I'm finally close to the Champs... Closer than I ever got as a rider. JV

Vaughter's helped guide his young talent and unheralded leader through their first Tour de France, mounting a series move on the GC podium, coming oh-so-close to breakaway stage wins, placing high in the ITTs, and flying the new Garmin-Chipotle kit well. Not bad for a rider that went 0-3 in finishing Tour de Frances.

Tour de France '08 Stage 20 Link Roundup

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Stage 20: The Race is Decideth

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letour.jpgI had a really nice stage summary, really, but the Internets ated it and I had to take off for Comic-Con. But here is a simpler summary:

Everyone was wrong

Evans didn't race Sastre for the yellow jersey; he raced Bernard Kohl for second, which either reflects poorly on Evans, really well on Kohl and Sastre, or both.

I could also say:

Bjarne Riis was right

Riis may have raced with three GC contenders, but Sastre was his go-to rider. Sastre is his ever-consistent Grand Tour rider, full of experience and strong GC finishes. Even with Frank Schleck in yellow, Riis bet it all on a Sastre gambit on Alpe d'Huez. That gambit put Sastre in yellow, strained Evans, and delivered today's outcome.

As someone who's always emphasized the role of teams in the sport of cycling, I was a bit worried that Evans would defy this pseudo-truism. There's much to admire in Evans gutsy attempt, the mix of strong TT abilities and solo defenses on the climbs. It would also have been a nice storyline to have the Tour bookended with Silence Lotto's Evans and first and Wim Vansevenant in last.

But it is a team sport. CSC once again proved that. Kudos to Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, Volodymir Gustov, Jens Voigt, Fabian Cancellara, Kurt-Asle Arvesen, and Nicki Sorensen. Evans, Valverde, Cunego, and Vande Velde are just a small sampling of their victims. Bernard Kohl found himself asking them permission to collect his KOM points.

Even on today's Individual Time Trial they did their damage as a team and they will rightly ride into Paris first together tomorrow with all nine of their riders.

Tour de France '08 Stage 19 Link Roundup

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letour.jpgToday's race occurred in front and behind the peloton. Columbia' Marcus Burghardt and Quick Step's Carlos Barredo were way up front and played a 9k game of cat-and-mouse to the finish. Barredo looked at Burghardt's big frame and thought he could drop him on the final little climb, but it was going to take more than a Cat 4 bump for gravity to give him difficulty. They traded little jabs to the finish line, with the final sprint led out by Burghardt. The Big German outsprinted the little Spaniard as easily as expected, but that didn't stop Barredo from screaming in anger at the unfairness of losing the break he started. Or perhaps it was the fact that Burghardt had plenty of gap to look back and stare him in the face before raising his arm in victory. Either way, Columbia got its fifth stage win of this Tour whereas the Boonen-less Quick Step is still looking to pay for the plane tickets.

Behind the race Damiano Cunego did his best to avoid elimination after greeting a road-side barrier with his face early on in the race. Even with his GC status completely out of the question, four of his teammates came back to help pace him back for the rest of the stage. Luckily for him, the long game of cat-and-mouse up front gave him more time to catch up within elimination time, but with his chin bandaged and the front of his jersey ripped up I probably shouldn't say 'luckily.'

The peloton was still recuperating from yesterday's Queen stage and there really wasn't a team to offer chase. Oscar Freire's Rabobank has to look after Menchov, Columbia had a man up the road and their best sprinter at home, Quick Step had a man up the road, and Credit Agricole had Le Mevel in a chase group just behind the two leaders. CSC riders like Stuart O'Grady got to eat a lot of wind at the front of the peloton today.

Please see http://cyclodro.me/race/tdf2008/stage17/ for more frequent updates

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Stage 17: All on Sastre, Was it Enough?

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letour.jpgWas it enough? That's the big question today as CSC played a great hand today, successfully transferred the yellow jersey to their anointed leader, Carlos Sastre. Another stage win on Alpe d'Huez and another yellow jersey are cause for celebration, but Evans knew he could sacrifice both today as long as he kept the gap close. 1'34" seems like a pretty small number when you think of Evans on his prototype Ridley TT bike. It seems strange to say, but CSC, sitting in first and second in the GC, must be worried.

Alpe d'Huez, it's switchbacks adorned with drunken and partially dressed fans, delivered the promised drama as all the GC contenders had to duke it out on the last decisive mountain stage for this Tour. As it has been in the mountains of this Tour, it was Riis' CSC team that controlled the tactics on the day, delivering his three climbers to the base of the Alpe d'Huez primed and ready. The Sastre/Schlecks trio worked to perfection as Sastre attacked at immediately, once, then twice, to solo his way to victory and yellow. As all eyes watched Frank Schleck in the yellow jersey among them, no one seemed intent on chasing the future yellow jersey ahead.

Move after move attempted to go up the road, but Andy Schleck was on amazing form and played the role of sheep herder to perfection. Anyone who attacked quickly found Andy stuck to their back wheel, dragging them back. It all seemed effortless as he moved back and forth up the chase group, keeping his wheeled sheep in a tight bunch. The chase group was unable to maintain any sort of pace: Menchov had been dropped after unwisely attempting to go with Sastre's first dig, but was able to claw his way back in as the pace stuttered.

As Sastre's lead hit the two minute mark, the grand moment that everyone seemed to be waiting for happened: Evans went to the front to chase. He proved his reserve was simply patience, not weakness, as he single-handedly kept Sastre's lead contained even under the brunt of CSC's three-pronged attack.

Christian Vande Velde fought valiantly to try and claw back the time he lost yesterday, but ultimately his efforts were spoiled by both Andy Schleck's policing and Bernhard Kohl, who seemed eager to chase down every move early on the climb. Vande Velde was able to put in a final jump with less than 2k to go, but he couldn't stay free of the chase and was caught at the line.

AG2R had a good ride today with Valjavec and Efimkin both putting in good attacks today to round out the top ten in GC.

Please see http://cyclodro.me/race/tdf2008/stage16/ for more frequent updates

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letour.jpgLots of riders were sent up the road today -- some for individual glory, some as GC pawns. Cyril Dessel took the glory and didn't even seem to see the finish line as he sprinted across ahead of Casar, Arroyo, and Popovych. Columbia seemed well positioned with Hincapie and Siutsou in the break, but they weren't able to make the selection over the top of the final Cime de la Bonette. Schumacher spent much of the day off the front by himself but full apart on the Cime de la Bonette-Restafond.

CSC continues to dominate the peloton in the mountains. O'Grady, Cancellara, and Gustov all went to the front to crack some legs on the Cime de la Bonette-Restafond. They also won the send-a-teammate-up-the-road sweepstakes as both Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Jens Voigt were able to come back and provide assistance and tempo. When it wasn't one of those riders in front, it was grimacing face of Andy Schleck dosing out the pain pills. Bjarne Riis wanted more climbs to force selections, but even with the full armada firing salvos, CSC didn't push the group hard enough -- perhaps they were saving energy for tomorrow.

Vande Velde was the big casualty, losing time on final climb and then even more time on the descent as he crashed. Luckily he was able to have Ryder Hesjedal drop back from the break to help out. Menchov was a smaller casualty as he became unhitched on the windy descent to the finish -- Kirchen joined him on the chase to the finish. Valverde lost ground on the steep ramps at the top of the Bonette, but his descending skills got him back into the yellow-jersey group.

Evans seemed unthreated by the pressure of CSC, even prefering to weather it all himself san teammates. He had Popovych up the road, but Popovych got the green light to go for the stage win instead of dropping back to provide help Evans. CSC has to hope that they hurt his legs enough before tomorrow's Galibier-Telegraphe-Croix de Fer-Alpe d'Huez smackdown.

The Tour's youngest rider John-Lee Augustyn of Barloworld probably had the best and worst day of his career: he took the final climb up the Bonette-Restafond, then proceeded to shoot straight off the side of the mountain on the descent. The helicopters were there to catch his head-first belly-slide down the slopes in all its glory, but most importantly he was not seriously injured.

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Please see http://cyclodro.me/race/tdf2008/stage15 for more frequent updates

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Stage 15: Deadly Andy, Triumphant Frank

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letour.jpgThere were two races today. Egoi Martinez, Danny Pate, Simon Gerrans, and José Luis Arrieta formed the early break and probably weren't expecting to stay away, but nasty conditions on the road changed the storyline. Oscar Pereiro was the victim of a terrible broken-bones crash, going over a guard rail and falling five meters to the switchback below. There was also a double pileup on both sides of roundabout as the slick conditions knocked the peloton over like dominoes. Even Menchov had a big dig undone by a slippery switchback.

In the race of the breakaway, Egoi Martinez looked to be the strongest as he broke the group apart on the slopes of Prato Nevoso. But Pate bridged back and, more slowly but surely, Gerrans bridged back as well. Gerrans then somehow found the legs to attack on the steep slopes of the finish to take the win ahead of Martinez and Pate. I've photographed Danny Pate winning on the flat turf of Missouri, but little did I expect the "TT specialist" to hang with a Spanish climber in the Pyrenees. I think Vaughters owes him a giant bottle of wine as well.

In the race of the GC, CSC again brought the pain. Nearly the entire team was in force to ratchet up the tempo, but it was Deadly Andy Schleck who deserves the big kudos on the day as he slew the yellow dragon Cadel Evans. So much was expected of Andy Schleck, even a yellow jersey, but he had a bad time in the Pyrenees. Today he showed why so much potential is seen in the young rider. He hammered the leaders repeatedly and each time he seemed used up, Sastre would then launch a big attack. Then it would come back together, Deadly Andy would fight back up, and then kill them again. Brother Frank sat comfortably on Cadel Evans' wheel, letting him try and dig the sharp attacks back, weakening with each attempt. It was cruel, almost, to watch the CSC trio dismantle Evans.

Sastre, Kohl, and Menchov finally sprung free and Valverde bridged up. It was open bar on Evans as everyone in the top ten sensed the opportunity to gain time. Kohl, sitting in fourth place in the GC, was suddenly in position to take the yellow jersey from Evans. Only Sastre could hold onto his wheel as Kohl sprinted for fifth place on the day. Kohl is a familiar sight in the mountains, but who would have predicted that the Gerolsteiner rider would be laying it all on the line on in the Alps to take yellow?

It was then up to Frank Schleck to determine who would win the battle for yellow. With Evans reeling, the advantage was Frank Schleck's: he only needed one second and he got nine. It was a bit cruel for poor Kohl, who needed 46 seconds to take yellow and got 47, but he did take the KOM jersey for his efforts.

Christian Vande Velde gained time on Evans as well but lost spots in the GC as Kohl and Menchov were able to leapfrog with their efforts. Menchov suddenly seems a lot more dangerous and will be watched more carefully as he's quietly fought back the time lost due to inattentiveness on the flat, windy stages.

CSC can't celebrate just yet. They'll need a lot more time than 8 seconds on Evans to take yellow in Paris, so expect more fireworks after the rest day.

Vaughter's Tweet of the Day (Stage 15)

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The stage hasn't finished yet, but I think this one will take it:

Apparently we crash as a team too.. Everyone ok, JV

In reference to Dean, Millar, Vande Velde and others being involved in a slippery, double-sided roundabout crash.

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Please see http://cyclodro.me/race/tdf2008/stage13/ for more frequent updates

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Stage 13: Cavendish unbeatable

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letour.jpgYesterday Mark Cavendish held up three fingers as he crossed the line. Today there was no finger counting -- the stage wins are just too numerous at this point. Columbia did their work at the front to keep the breakaways contained, knowing full well that they have the man to deliver on the line. All the sprint teams took their best shot. Even Robbie McEwen finally got his groove back on (sans leadout man), but Cavendish's kick is too much to match.

It was almost a good day for Milram: their man Terpstra was off the front for over 170km, first with Brard, then solo for another 15k before being caught. Then Milram setup a good leadout train for Zabel, but they went a bit too early as Hushovd's lead out sped past. Cavendish was smartly tucked in on Hushovd's wheel and was able to get a great jump.

A lot of French riders took their best shot today. Brard raced most of the day off the front with Terpstra. Later Auge took his shot and then Chavanel as the counterattacks kept coming, but too many sprint teams smelled blood.

There was plenty of jersey maintenance work today. Flecha had sweeper duties for Freire, leaping off the front to collect any remaining sprint points behind Brard and Terpstra. Gerolsteiner worked on their Lang/Kohl 1/2 in the KOM standings as Lang and Kohl swept up the third-place KOM points. They had a bit of a scare near the end when Krauss split his Specialized machine on a road sign, but he was able to walk away.

Please see http://velo.kwc.org/race/tdf2008/stage12 for more frequent updates

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Stage 12: Cavendish x 3, Ricco idiot

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letour.jpgCavendish has more than established himself as the sprinter of now and future. Three stage wins in his first Tour de France is an amazing feat and there may be more to come. It was a messy setup for the sprint finish. No team could really hold the front. Columbia drove it until about 1k to go, then got swarmed by Milram, which got overtaken by Credit Agricole, which got overtaken by Quick Step. Cavendish was attentive throughout and surged to the front with his impressive acceleration. Poor sprinter Robbie Hunter, who lost Cooke today as well continuing Barloworld's streak of losses. Hunter was forced to grab whatever wheel he could.

The big news today was of course the loss of Stupido Ricco, who demonstrated that his poor judgment when he runs his mouth is as bad as his judgment otherwise. Also, it is too much to have two amazing mountain stages in a row. Saunier Duval became the first team to withdraw, which makes me wonder what they caught Ricco with. Perhaps it was inevitable: his idol is Pantani.

Today's break was Oroz, Dumoulin and Gerard, who seemed to dangle just off the front of the peloton forever. Stuart O'Grady did the final reel-in, but then switched into an interesting tactic. TV cameras showed Cadel Evans with nary a teammate in sight, so O'Grady moved back to the front with Schleck on his wheel. Evans was forced to take third wheel, at least until the sprint teams reasserted control. It's not a move that cost Evans much, except perhaps the sly insult at his team. It's a sprint stage, Silence-Lotto. There's gotta be one rider you have left that can watch after your yellow jersey rider.

Please see http://velo.kwc.org/race/tdf2008/stage11/ for more frequent updates

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letour.jpgWith the peloton looking to extend their rest day one more day as they leave the Pyrenees, and with news of another EPO case (this one caught with the goods), it was an ideal day for a breakaway to strike. 12 riders made the move and it was Kurt-Asle Arvesen who emerged victorious in the breakaway cat-and-mouse. Taking the lead in the sprint, he held off Ballan and Elmiger to just take it at the line. It started with the catch of Cofidis' Moinard at 4k to go. Moinard had made the best of a solo effort off the front, but the rest of the 12-man breakaway group was too much in the end, especially with the likes of Arvesen, Wegmann, and Pozzatto in the mix.

With Moinard caught, Arvesen and Elmiger jumped and Arvesen did his best to egg Elmiger into taking pulls. Ballan and Moerenhout then caught on, and the jockeying began. Ballan took a flyer with less than 1km to go, but Arvesen chased him down and went to the front. Arvesen went through sharp-right hander with 300m to go first and was able to use the slight rise on the finishing straight to his advantage.

We were treated to a rare sight today: Silence-Lotto leading the peloton. It remained a rare sight as Caisse d'Epargne's Oscar Pereiro decided to make a repeat of his Tour-de-France-winning breakaway tactic from 2006. He jumped off the front with nary a reaction at first. CSC seemed to decide that Silence-Lotto has as much leg-power as Phonak in those days and went to the front to keep that contained. Once Pereiro was caught and CSC got the win with Arvesen, Silence-Lotto was free to patrol the front the peloton once more.

The message is clear: Evans' team isn't in control of this race, CSC is. Evans may win this race in the ITT, but he's going to have a hard time on the road until then.

Barloworld may not have withdrawn from the race, but they are pretty well decimated after the news of Moises Duenas EPO positive and the subsequent catching of him with the doping goods. Felix Cardenas abandoned today with an injury and Paolo Longo crashed out with a broken collarbone. With Soler already gone, that leaves the team at half strength.

Tour de France '08 Rest Day Link Roundup

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Please check http://velo.kwc.org/race/tdf2008/stage10 for more frequent updates

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letour.jpgAt last, we get a rock 'em sock 'em mountain stage with carnage spread over two giant mountains. The race was blown up like a pinata by CSC and Saunier Duval swept in to pick up the candy.

It was a familiar sight in the mountains: Saunier Duval went 1/2 as Piepoli crossed first and Cobo second. Not far behind was Frank Schleck, who was desparately seeking prize that CSC was seeking most: the yellow jersey. But he'll have to wait for the next mountain stage. Cadel Evans may have been far down the road, but he was able to snag a 1 second lead, and he tearfully accepted his prize. Saunier Duval's Riccardo Ricco may not have been part of the finishing duo, but he finished with the Evans group and also took enough points on the Tourmalet to take two jerseys, KOM and best young rider.

CSC have been the harbingers of pain this Tour. If see them at the front, you know that something hard and nasty is brewing. Last time we saw them digging in at the front the peloton was split in half. They setup their cards early as Fabian Cancellara worked hard to make the breakaway and stay up the road over the Col du Tourmalet. Back in the peloton, Gustov kicked it up, stringing out the leaders on the Tourmalet. Next was Jens Voigt. Riis said he had been saving Voigt, winding him up as a spring, and today he was sprung. With a face screwed up in agony, he pulled the ever-dwindling selection up and cover the rest of the Tourmalet.

The damage was huge -- Valverde and Cunego had been cracked. Not all hope was lost for Valverde and Cunego, though. They were only half a minute down and had the descent to catch on for the Hautacam. But CSC wasn't done yet: they still had one more pain bringer, Fabian Cancellara, waiting in the wings. Cancellara dropped back and banished hope for Valverde. Even with a couple of Caisse d'Epargne teammates, there was little chance of outdoing Voigt and Cancellara.

On the slopes of the Hautacam, Saunier Duval emerged unscathed from CSC's attacks. It was quickly a blur of CSC and Saunier Duval jerseys jumping up the road: Piepoli, Sastre, Cobo, Frank Schleck, back and forth. Piepoli, Cobo, and Schleck were the survivors, and soon the Saunier Duval tandem was able to shed Schleck. The Saunier Duval tactics weren't as well-honed as CSC's -- at one point Schleck was able to use Cobo to bridge up to Piepoli -- but in the end they stuck.

Further down the road the Evans group contained the rest of the riders who can hope to be on the podium in Paris. Garmin-Chipotle's Christian Vande Velde was a happy man as he was able to stick with the attacks and put in some of his own in order to slot into 3rd in the GC. As usual, I'll leave it to the eloquent words of Jonathan Vaughters to summarize their day:

Go F*ckin' Christian!!!!!!!!!!!!!! JV

Gerolsteiner's Bernhard Kohl also did well as he jumped off the front of that group to vault up to 4th in the GC. CSC's Carlos Sastre was probably a little less happy to have to stick with Evans as he had to sacrifice GC aspirations to preserve Frank Schleck's position. Menchov can be happy that he stuck with the group after all the bad luck he's had this Tour. A good time trial could get him on the podium in Paris.

The biggest losers on the day were Valverde and Cunego at almost 6 minutes back (there goes my prediction). They can almost certainly say farewell to the GC as it's hard to imagine they making up that time on Evans. Kim Kirchen lost four minutes and the yellow jersey today.

Stage 10 prediction

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I'm going to run with my horse Valverde, especially given Cadel Evan's fall today. They've both had falls this week, but footage of Evan's post-race yesterday make his seem worse. Valverde has to win this Tour in the mountains, while Cadel Evans will probably pursue his "strong TT + follow wheels uphill" strategy. Valverde needs to gain at least 3 minutes on Evans (1 minute for Stage 4 and 2 for Stage 20) before going into stage 20's time trial and this is his first chance.

Caisse d'Epargne has been running strong all week and, whether or not they're burning too many matches, I think they're going to sense blood in the water. They just have to break Popovych and they'll have Evans isolated. We can bet that the CSC trio of Schlecks+Sastre will also come out to play on this mountain stage as well as Euskatel's Sanchez. It should be good TV.

This is one of the the decisive stages of this year's Tour (stage 17's Alpe d'Huez finish is another) and there's a rest day on Tuesday to recuperate. The Tour organizers have done their best to keep the overall standings close to allow lead changes, but honestly that's bored me a little. I want to see the real players duke it out, instead of the "let Ricco have his fun" conservativeness of Stage 9.

Stage 9: Ricco the Cobra strikes again

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letour.jpgIt's a good thing that Ricco decided to come to the Tour de France after all. With a more proper mountain stage win to his credit he can now start accepting the comparisons to Marco Pantani in earnest. Saunier Duval was all over the front of the peloton as riders tried their attack. He flew off the front of the pack on the Col d'Aspin -- it looked like he was climbing a different mountain the way he blazed past everyone else on the mountain. from there was long 26km descent to down the long descent to the finish in Bagneres-de-Bigorre, which Ricco tackled with ease. Meanwhile, Caisse d'Epargne looked to have the chase group in control up the Col d'Aspin and on the half-hearted chase to the finish -- plenty of riders were attacking out of the chase, including Efimkin, who took second place.

Ricco's success was in part due to the conservativeness of the GC leaders. Evans managed a small crash to get road rash to match Valverde's and everyone seemed content to save energy for tomorrow's big stage. The 26km descent from the Col d'Aspin to the finish line was really too much energy for any of them to waste. Tomorrow there's the Col du Tourmalet and a mountain top finish on the Hautacam to contend with.

Schumacher tried a small acceleration on the Col d'Aspin which cost him in the ended -- Vande Velde took over his third place spot as he ended up losing time to the rest of the GC contenders. Columbia's Thomas Lövkvist also had trouble today and passed his white jersey to CSC's Andy Schleck.

It will be interesting to see if Ricco takes over for teammate David de la Fuente in the hunt for polka dot points. de la Fuente had his own battle today as he had to protect his jersey from assault by Sebastian Lang, who was part of the early break that lasted all the way to the Col d'Aspin. de la Fuente dug deep to get 4th on the climb and keep his lead.

Please see http://velo.kwc.org/race/tdf2008/stage9 for more frequent updates

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velo.kwc.org updates

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velo.kwc.org.screenshot.jpgI've made small improvements to velo.kwc.org over the past few days to try and improvement the overall experience. Some of the most notable improvements are:

  • Photo sidebar: daily photos from the Yahoo AFP/Getty photo feed appear in the sidebar. I take a snapshot of the feed every day so if you go to past stages you'll see that day's feed appear in the sidebar (starting with stage 6). I don't let this one continually update as the photos tend to decrease in quality after the race has finished.
  • Stage highlight video: you'll find a highlight video for each stage at the top of the page.
  • Faster: the first day I got hit with a bunch of unexpected StumbleUpon traffic, which took me over quota. Sine then I've been slowly optimizing the site to help it load faster as well as keep me from ever going over quota again. Much thanks to bp, who pointed out that memcache had been ported to Google Appengine.
  • More sites: over 30 sites are checked regularly now plus any other random links I see in my own reading. I use a combination of RSS feeds and link guessing to find pages. I still don't have a good way of automatically getting VeloNews' and Versus' videos -- suggestions are welcome there.

I may add more features as they come to me. I would like to do more with video, though problems with getting VeloNews/Versus videos plus issues with their Dayport player leave me limited there. I may also open up the gates for people to start submitting links, if that interests you. I can also add more sites -- I'll pretty much take anything so long as it provides a different point of view.

Please check http://velo.kwc.org/race/tdf2008/stage8/ for more frequent updates

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letour.jpgColumbia went 1-2 as Cavendish led it across the line in front of lead-out man Gerard Ciolek. It was a deserving win for Columbia. They had to pull double duty today to protect both their yellow jersey and sprint interests. Not only did Columbia spend most of the day setting tempo at the front of the peloton, but they also did the last of the reel-in of today's break and much of the sprint train into the finish. Quick Step eventually swarmed their train with 2k to go, but Cavendish and Ciolek were attentive and able to slot in well.

Columbia is dominating at this point in the Tour:

  • Stage wins: 2 (Cavendish)
  • Yellow jersey: Kirchen
  • White jersey: Lovkvist

They're also second in the team classification. They lost the green jersey today to Oscar Freire in a tie-breaker with Kirchen.

The day was wet and rainy, so much of the day was left to the breakaways. de la Fuente went early to sweep up some more KOM points for his jersey. Bouyges Telecom's Lefevre then spent a lot of time off the front solo before being joined by teammate Pineau, Euskatel's Txurruka, and AG2R's Riblon. Pineau and Txurruka were the last to survive, as it seemed that the peloton let them dangle off the front as long as possible to keep the counter attacks contained.

First doping case: Beltran

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Say it ain't so: L'Equipe is reporting that Manuel Beltran of Liquigas was caught with traces of EPO in his blood in a test conducted after Stage 1. There's sure to be plenty more news items as this develops.

Please check http://velo.kwc.org/race/tdf2008/stage7/ for more frequent updates

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letour.jpgOn a hard, windy, peloton-fracturing day, Caisse d'Epargne's Luis Sanchez was the most daring and took the stage victory. After sitting in a four-man break that was swept back up, he attacked again on the run-in to the finish and held off the chase. He had plenty of help from his team -- he had two teammates, including Valverde, in the chase group, who marked the attempts to try and reel him in.

Caisse d'Epargne is either one of the strongest teams or burning a lot of matches. They've been patrolling the front of the peloton much of this first week and have two stage wins to show for it. Today was a stage that really challenged teams -- it was hard to figure out which group to call the peloton -- but Caisse d'Epargne showed up to play. The opposite can be said of Cadel Evans' Silence Lotto team. Whereas Caisse d'Epargne had three riders in the final selection of 23 riders, Evans had zero: his lieutenant Popovych was caught back in a chase group. Similarly isolated was Rabobank's Menchov and Columbia's Kirchen, though the latter is understandable given the amount of time that Columbia spent at the front.

CSC did a lot of work today, first to drive a split in the peloton and then help keep the breakaway contained. They didn't get the stage win, but all of their GC hopes -- the Schlecks and Sastre -- were in the final selection. Garmin-Chipotle wasn't expected to contend for GC, but Vande Velde continues to shine and finished with the chase group to hold fourth in the overall. Unfortunately they lost big Maggy Backstedt to the time cut -- he's battling some sort of acid buildup in the legs.

Cunego was the big loser of the GC hopefuls today. He crashed and ended up losing almost half a minute to the other GC contenders.

Please check http://velo.kwc.org/race/tdf2008/stage6 for more frequent updates

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    <h2><span class="stage-span"><a href="/race/tdf2008/stage6/">Stage 6</a></span></h2>

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letour.jpgRicco and his teammates had confidence that today could be his day, and despite all brashness we should have listened. Valverde and Evans followed a second behind, but it was the Cobra's day and a well-earned victory for Saunier Duval. Behind them was race carnage as race leader Stefan Schumacher crashed in the final kilometer.

Stefan Schumacher's misfortune was Kim Kirchen's gain -- in fact, it was an accidental touch of Kirchen's rear wheel that caused the crash. Kirchen stayed close enough to Evans with a fifth-place finish (0:04 back) to take the yellow jersey. He also regained his green jersey lead from Thor Hushovd.

Several teams launched efforts at the start of the final climb but strong tempo riding from Caisse d'Epargne kept them in check. Garmin-Chipotle's Vandevelde launched an attack with Saunier Duval's Piepoli that got a good gap, but they lost time on the false flat before the final 1.5k steep slope and were quickly swallowed up and as soon as the road start going back up. Vandevelde's efforts leapfrogged him into 4th place on GC, while teammate David Millar fell to fifth.

Chavanel continued his efforts off the front, this time netting himself a KOM jersey by virtue of a tie-breaker over Tommy Voeckler.

Super-Besse Prediction

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letour.jpgMy wishy-washy early predictions did alright. Now that we have a more proper stage tomorrow, it's time for another prediction: David Millar in yellow.

Of course, Kim Kirchen seems equally positioned and likely, but I think that Millar has less to lose with an all-out effort. It's really Schumacher's to lose as he is capable of defending.

As for the stage winner, I'm going to have to say: Valvedere. Evans won't be too motivated to follow. Others will, so we'll see.

The chance of both of my predictions coming true is small, which is why I make more than one ;)

Checkout http://velo.kwc.org/race/tdf2008/stage6/ for some stage 6 preview chatter.

Garmin-chipotle.gif

Yeah, yeah, this is in the link roundups, but this is one of the most thrilling bits of reading I've read this Tour, taking you right in to the heart of a shattering peloton:

Millar: Looking after our yellow numbers

At this point, I realized that the shit was hitting the fan. It became more apparent as I saw Fedrigo pulling out of the line further ahead, then Cobo, then Kreuziger. This is when I knew that all hell had broken loose. When riders of that quality can’t hold the wheel, you have to face the fact that the race is ON and you’re on your own.

letour.jpgThe peloton timed its reel in of the break to near perfection today. There's been a lot of criticism from the sprinters about controlling and reeling in the breakaways. With so many teams hunting GC chances, there's not as many teams willing to do grunt work for their sprinters.

Today a breakaway of Vogondy, Jegou and Brard was kept within striking distance, then Credit Agricole, Liquigas, Columbia, and Quick Step worked to reel them in. A couple of small crashes in the final kilometers hardly disrupted the charge, but with a mile to go the break still found itself just off the front -- then Vogondy attacked. On a long straightaway finish, the charging peloton hovered behind Vogondy. It wasn't until after Mark Cavendish launched his sprint that Vogondy was swallowed up. Cavendish was hoping for a stage win at Stage 3, but he can be happy to notch his first win today. Columbia won't even mind the fact that they lost the green jersey to Thor Hushovd today.

Soler finally abandoned today after toughing out his wrist injury since stage 1. Valverde crashed today though the damage appeared minor.

Please check http://velo.kwc.org/race/tdf2008/stage5 for more frequent updates

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Vaughters tweet of the day (stage 4)

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Frank already beat me to this for today, but here's today's choice tweet:

TeamSlipstream Ooops... I just dropped the F-Bomb on Versus, live. Sorry to all the parents out there. It was just really intense today... JV

Stage 4: Schumacher?

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letour.jpgSome quick thoughts, since a cold has been cutting into my sleep:

What a stage -- Pate taking the early lead, Cancellara going all out to nick Menchov's best time by less than a second, and then Schumacher coming in and laying waste to everyone's time.

Stefan Schumacher: the man has great palmares, but the conventional wisdom must suck because not many would have thought he could put in 18 seconds over his nearest competitor

Kim Kirchen: in this era of specialists, you have to appreciate a guy who thinks he can win every stage (and nearly does).

Alejandro Valverde: methinks people's expectations were overinflated for all the dire analysis of his 1'07" that he lost to Evans.

Garmin-Chipotle: a podium finish by Millar, Vande Velde in 8th, and Pate setting an early fastest time. I'd say that's a pretty good day for them. Shame there wasn't a TTT as they and Columbia had the best team performances on the day

Columbia: Second place with Kirchen got them podium and an 11th-place finish by Lövkvist got them the white jersey. And Hincapie got 9th place. A strong day for Stapleton's crew.

Check velo.kwc.org for more frequent updates

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SAAB Fly to the Finish Codes: Aerodynamic, Sportcombi

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letour.jpgCofidis' Dumoulin took the stage, Agritubel's Feillu the yellow jersey, and Garmin-Chipotle's Frishkorn some podium respect as a breakaway went from start to finish with over two minutes on the pack. Dumoulin attacked with a kilometer to go, Frishkorn followed, Feillu countered, and Dumoulin countered the counter. As a fan of Frishkorn's diaries on VeloNews, I hoped he could cross the line first instead of second, but any podium spot is spectacular. Frishkorn's face was a mixture of disappointment and joy after the race. You have to appreciate the excitement of Jonathan Vaughters, who posted this to Twitter during the race when it became clear the break would win:

Willy is going to make it!!! Now can he win??? Mass confusion behind, crashes, wind... Le Guerre!!! JV

Le Guerre indeed -- today was supposed to be the first proper sprint stage, but crashes and winds were thrown into the mix and changed everything. A crash as the peloton split around a median ended up splitting the peloton into three, sending white jersey Ricco and Menchov into the second group. Saunier Duval and Rabobank worked hard to bring their riders back, but Quick Step and Liquigas were busy putting the hammer down in the tailwind.

Robbie McEwen took the field sprint over Erik Zabel at 2:03 back. It was another half a minute to the Menchov/Ricco group and even longer to the peloton. The crash cost many riders, though none more than Jose Angel Gomez, who hit the deck with another big crash (see Flanders).

The chaos of a stage wouldn't be complete without protests. Christian Prudhomme was able to negotiate a hole in a large group of protesters blocking the road just in time for the breakaway to just scoot past. Bernard Hinault handled a protester on the podium less diplomatically, giving him a good shove off the stage.

velo.kwc.org

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letour.jpgI've been using these lazy sprint stages to work on an automated version of my yearly stage-by-stage link roundup:

http://velo.kwc.org/

More features will be added over the coming stages, depending on what strikes my fancy. Right now all links go through a manual approval phase -- I hope to get it good enough that it can auto-approve links that it has good confidence in. If people find it useful, I might turn it loose on other non-TdF stage races. For the curious, it's all implemented on top of Google's Appengine.

Feel free to suggest features of your own or sites I should be checking. I would like to get more content from European teams but am having trouble finding linkable content.

This list is now 90% computer-generated, so I apologize as I work out the kinks. Feel free to suggest more sites that should be included.

Final: more cyclingnews, including Chavanel, lots of WorldCycling.tv content, Bruyneel, etc...

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Stage 2: Hushovd

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letour.jpgCancellara nearly pulled off another flier off the front of the sprint to take the stage, but it was spoiled by Pozzato, who was hoping for another repeat victory in Saint-Brieuc. Once Pozzato bridged, Cancellara sat up and the field was quick to swarm and pull ahead. Hushovd had the best legs for the uphill sprint and added yet-another TdF stage to his portfolio. Kim Kirchen showed off his well-rounded threat by taking second in the sprint with Columbia teammate Ciolek in third. Kirchen will wear the green jersey tomorrow while Voeckler will get the polka dots for his efforts in the big breakaway of the day. Sylvain Chavanel took the most aggressive award for his efforts to avoid capture as the sprint teams swept up the breakaway in the final kilometers.

Valverde defended his jersey well, even mixing it up in the sprint to take 12th. It was a smart move given that a crash took down riders on the final run-in.

Tour de France '08 Stage 1 Link Roundup

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letour.jpgI'm hastily writing some software to do the link roundup for me, so this is hopefully the last of the hand-made roundups. I flew in this morning at 9AM, so today will be slightly less attentive.

Versus Highlight Video:

SAAB Fly to the Finish Codes: SAAB, Brittany

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letour.jpgI'd like to pretend that my Valverde overall prediction last night somehow applied to the results of today's stage, but the fact is that I hardly expected the GC contenders to come and play today. Valverde's win today had little to do with time gains as he was already sitting up and celebrating far before the line. Instead, it was a mental strike at Cadel Evans and the rest of the GC field. I worried that the lack of a Prologue would leave less room to make a statement about form, but there are already three distinct groupings in the standings: Valverde up top, Evans, Kirchen, Ricco, and Cobo one second back, and Sastre, Menchov, Sanchez, and Cunego seven seconds back. Poor Soler, who crashed and then had his chase slowed down by poor turning. His sights will be readjusted onto the polka dot mountain jersey now that he lost 3'04" today.

On a snotty note: those Columbia jerseys suck -- you can hardly tell if it's a Milram or Columbia train up front, and it's even worse when you have Erik Zabel riding in the Columbia train. I thought I didn't like the High Road jerseys, but the legion of the light blues does it.

Tour de France 2008 Predictions

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I'm out of town until tomorrow morning, so expect more coverage here once I'm behind my own computer. I wanted to lock in some quick predictions before I got back as there's not much point to making predictions after the fact -- even if that does improve their accuracy.

Much is being made of the new rules and layout to this year's course -- no time bonuses, no prologue, early but short first time trial. The peloton has been risk averse in the past when confronted with new strategic options in the past, so I'm guessing that we're going to see some pretty tame GC racing to start things off. Instead, I'm expecting the likes of Fabian Cancellara to don the yellow jersey once more by either taking stage 1 on a flier (an art he's continued to perfect this year) or winning the first time trial. Garmin-Chipotle could also try and enter the this fray. The team faded quite a bit during the Giro, so I'm expecting their strikes to come early. David Millar may not be the final 5K master that Cancellara is, but he can run a break and laydown a time trial, so early yellow jerseys are within his reach.

It won't be until stage 10 that we'll get a real look at our GC contenders, which should create trouble for teams trying to protect both GC and sprinter interests -- McEwen and Evans for Lotto, Freire and Menchov for Rabobank, Kirchen and Cavendish for Columbia, Hunter and Soler for Barloworld, and so on. Hushovd could have a nice run early on.

My crystal ball is increasingly hazy in the middle weeks but at the end I see Alejandro Valverde emerging with the overall. He hasn't had the best record at the Tour, but unlike the other big favorite, Cadel Evans, he does have a better instinct for the top of the podium. Evans always seems more content to follow and hope that the person ahead will falter. I see Carlos Sastre taking the final spot on the podium, mainly because he has that sort of consistency. I'm hoping the lack of Sastre news means he's been saving himself well for July. I'm tapping him over Menchov mainly because I see CSC/Saxo as the stronger team.

That's all the pontificating I have for now. Hopefully I've laid down enough text that I can at some point in the future pretend to have been right.

Slipstream in Le Tour

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Slipstream - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Slipstream's veteran riders are going to have a busy season: they've scored a Tour invite on top of their Giro invite. Millar, Vande Velde, and Zabriskie may have some tired legs by August. The invite seemed a given with the continued snub of Astana, but all will not be well until the UCI and ASO work out the post-Paris-Nice showdown.

Tour de France 2008 Route

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2008.tour.route.jpgThe 2008 route for the Tour de France has been announced. It's being billed as an more 'unpredictable' course that launches straight into three road stages in Brittany and a stage 4 individual time trial. Stage 16, right after a rest day, is being billed as an especially interesting stage: 157km, with 62km of climbing and 43km of descent over two climbs.

I'm in the typical whiner camp: I like prologues and I miss the team time trial. Stage 17 features Alpe d'Huez, which is nice consolation.

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.

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Note: travel/vacation day, limited coverage

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

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

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Note: On travel/vacation, reduced coverage

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Update: Casar wins inspite of dog crash

NOTE: today's sleepy stage finished slowly enough that I wasn't able to see the exciting conclusion.

Another dog-collision day in this strange Tour. This time the collision occurred in the breakaway. Laurent Lefevre (Bouygues Telecom), Axel Merckx (T-Mobile), Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Frederick Willem (Liquigas) and Sandy Casar (FD Jeux) had rode away from the peloton, which was content to let them have their day. The dog suddenly cut across the path of Casar, sending him down and sweeping the wheels out from Willem as well. Casar was able to get back with the break, but Willem's chance was shot.

With eleven minutes on the field with 12k to go, I imagine they will succeed.

Shorter roundup as I'm on vacation. The funniest bit from the roundup for me was in Bob Martin's Summary:

Biggest gainers by position : +9 Wim Vansevenant

(Note: Wim Vansevenant is still the Lanterne Rouge.)

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fullj.getty-tdf2007-cycling-bennati_11_25_15_am.jpg

DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

Bennati takes Lampre's first stage win as the breakaway couldn't shake the sprinter from their midst. Fothen scored a good second-place victory for Gerolsteiner as he led out the final sprint. Voigt attempted to jump for the win with a couple miles to go, but Bennati nullified his effort and he seemed to shake his head in the final mile as if to say that was all that was left in the legs.

Boonen had little trouble taking the field sprint to solidify his green jersey lead.

Related: * Rasmussen calls ex-boss 'mad,' denies being in Italy * European press writes Tour's obituary

Survivor: Dopage Islands

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Echoing Heidi's comment about finishing being an achievement in this Tour: With entire teams capable of 'leaving' this Tour on any given day now, it does seem that just making it to the finish line without any doping cloud over your team is a victory in itself. In fact, quite a few teams are already in danger of losing sponsorship and this Tour is make-or-break for their post-Tour future.

Here's my look at how several of the teams are faring:

Eliminated

Cofidis: They've suffered the embarassment of a mass team withdrawal on the same day it participated in a sit-down protest of doping. Ouch.

Astana: Kazakhstan seems determined to keep up its sponsorship but BMC is looking to pull out. I guess we shouldn't have expected better from the team formerly known as Liberty Seguros that filled its rosters from the T-Mobile Ullrich-era program. And lets not forget about Mazzoleni and Kessler. Gee, when I put it that way Vino seems like a complete surprise.

Rabobank: Rasmussen out, Menchov abandoned, and Boogerd wants to go home. Might as well scratch them all.

Riding strong

Barloworld: Stage victories by Robbie Hunter and Mauricio Soler, plus Soler's King of the Mountains jersey puts the non-wildcard teams to shame.

Gerolsteiner: A strong anti-doping stance and they are riding with a full team roster in this year's Tour, a rarity that deserves some mention even if they haven't made the headlines this Tour.

Predictor-Lotto: They're suing Astana for lost publicity, which seems like a just move given that a TT victory for Evans would have been huge. As is his 2nd place in the GC. A showdown with Contador in the final TT could give him his just due.

Saunier Duval: Iban Mayo can count himself among the Rasmussen-cheated. Unlike Discovery, which moved up in the overall, there is nothing for Mayo to inherit because Rasmussen never tested positive -- Mayo won't officially get a stage victory unless Tour officials make a special decision. Millar has taken a special role this Tour as the Ghost of Doping Past, visiting the peloton to get it to change its wicked ways.

Quick Step: They are the only other team than Gerolsteiner riding with a full roster and Boonen has made the move of calling for a lifetime ban of Vinokourov. With Boonen set to finish in green and perhaps add another stage or two to his tally, they should finish this Tour riding high in spite of the early season team-association with the Belgian doping bust.

CSC: Riis' absense on the account of his own doping past nearly made me stick them in the "in trouble" category. After all, they did lose their Skoda sponsorship (if I recall correctly). But Fabian Cancellara has single-handedly given them team a huge boost this Tour with two stage victories and an entire week in yellow.

In trouble

T-Mobile: Some early sunshine with Gerdemann in yellow, but then came Sinkewitz. Their sponsor was already set to decide their continued sponsorship at the end of the Tour and they will be limping to that decision rather than riding high on Gerdemann's victory. Germany seems to not want to touch this Tour with a ten-foot pole: it may have been a prescient decision to end TV coverage. The team really does seem to have done all the right things, so it would be a shame to see their efforts for naught.

Discovery Channel: despite the whole Basso affair, they've managed to skate the doping issue. But I marked them as being in trouble because the team has no sponsor lined up for next year, which may make any victory pyrrhic in the end. Normally a team would be excited to be 1-3 in the standings and have a positive sponsorship future, but the lead has lost all its luster this year.

Caisse d'Epargne: Neither Valverde nor Pereiro have been able to deliver the goods this year, which perhaps has a silver lining: at least they don't have to complain about people them Puerto questions.

Milram: They lost Petacchi just prior to the Tour, who is not entirely clear of his doping positive just yet. And they have Zabel as their leader.

Tour de France '07 Stage 16 Link Roundup

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NOTE: travel day today for me, coverage sporadic

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Moreni positive for testosterone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also:

Updates: CyclingNews Roundup 5, Carmichael Sez: Hurry Up To Recover, Tour de PEZ: No Rest Today, Millar Diaries Rest Day 2

Doping (Vino, Vino, Ras, Sink, Petacchi) News:

Race News:

Millar almost confirms Slipstream move

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The Vino news trampled the Saunier Duval press conference like a Kazakhstan Railways trainwreck. Lost in the implosion were:

  1. Saunier Duval's announcements about its "100 years from a million trees" program in Mali. VeloNews carried some coverage back in January: A week in Mali - A Glenn Myrent Gallery.

  2. Millar may have been about to announce his move to Slipstream (quote from VeloNews:

"The irony here is that I was hoping to make an announcement today about my future plans," Millar said, likely referring to rumors that next year he will ride for Slipstream Sports, the strict anti-doping squad run by Jonathan Vaughters.

"I have some projects in the works. I am hoping to work with young riders, to show them that you don't have to dope to succeed."

The Slipstream has long been speculated and even 'confirmed' by Reuters, though Millar denied any actual confirmations in the Tour interviews I've seen.

I've been awaiting official Slipstream news as there has been a ton of speculation for big names that Slipstream will supposedly try to sign this year including Zabriskie, Hincapie, and Laurent.

Welcome to the post-Astana order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tour de France '07 Stage 15 link roundup

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Updates: VeloNews: Evans showing signs of wear as Rasmussen and Contador battle for top spot Casey Gibson Stage 15 Photo Gallery Tour de PEZ: 196KM to Loudenveille!, Carmichael Sez: What Goes Up Must Come Down, WorldCycling.tv: Alexandre Vinokourov Interview, WorldCycling.tv: Michael Rasmussen Interview, WorldCycling.tv: Chris Horner Interview, Vinokourov Stage 15, CyclingNews Roundup, CyclingNews Roundup 2, Bobby Julich ESPN Column, Cyclelicio.us Stage 15 Summary and Links

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  • Fabian Wegmann Stage 15 Diary (translated from German)
  • Versus Stage 15 Diaries: Phil, Paul, Bob
  • Carmichael Sez: What Goes Up Must Come Down
  • Vinokourov Stage 15: "Yesterday I had no legs, I didn’t feel very well in my head and I had no motivation at all. I understood during the yesterday’s stage that I wouldn’t win the Tour this year. My teammates were wonderful, they encouraged me a lot this morning. That’s what make me attack in the first kilometers. I felt good, as well as my legs. At the first break, I thought there were too many riders and that I had to go on with my effort. As I saw I could make it, I tried to be alone and first at the top of the last climb, in order to be sure to win the stage. Today is a great victory. For sure, I wasn’t lucky the first two weeks and without my fall, things could have been different. But that’s sport…"

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Vino - JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Vino!

Vinokourov may have five Tour de France wins under his belt, but this is the most amazing that I've ever seen in his career. It's not his first comeback win -- Stage 10 in the 2005 Tour stands out in my mind -- but he can barely walk from what I've seen of his interviews and yesterday was downright disastrous (big time losses and a crash). I guess you don't need to walk when you can ride. Nancy Toby calls him Rasputin, Bobby Julich calls him The Bull.

A stage victory won't get Vino back on the podium, but there's little doubt in my mind that he would be winning this whole thing if it weren't for his crash. Vino was part of an early 20+ rider break that also contained Menchov and Hincapie. Vino knew his chances were good and his teammates did as well -- Ivanov burned himself through to bridge Vino back up when the breakaway split to keep Vino near the front. Vino's big attacks came as the Peyresourde approached. After bridging up to the leaders, he attacked the remnants repeatedly until he was all alone. He crossed the top of the Peyresourde solo and time-trialed down the descent to victory.

Contador and Rasmussen battled it out again today. The contenders seemed a bit tired today, sticking together in a large group on the slopes of the Peyresourde, six-seven minutes behind the break. Discovery decided to stir it up by sending Popovych up the road. Rabobank chased that back but lost Menchov as a result. Contador then decided to test Rasmussen... repeatedly. Contador attacked again, and again, and again, as the two twig riders got a bigger and bigger gap on the rest of the contenders. Contador caught Hincapie at the top of the climb and Hincapie drilled it at the front to give Contador and Rasmussen nearly a minute on their rivals at the finish.

Leipheimer had to sit content with the rest of the contenders as he watched his teammate up the road. The accelerations aren't his style and he couldn't help the others bridge back. Contador needed the time gaps on Evans to protect himself in the upcoming time trial. We'll see if Leipheimer gets a chance to put his own attacks on Evans after tomorrow's rest stage -- 1:25 on Evans separates Levi from the podium right now. Kloden is also nipping at Levi's heels, 9 seconds behind.

There wasn't much GC shakeup in the top five even if gaps were gained, but the overall top ten did get some juggling around due to Kim Kirchen's (T-Mobile) great second-place effort and Zubeldia's (Euskatel) third-place. Kirchen climbed five spots back to 9th while Zubeldia rocked into 7th to bump Kashechkin down a spot. Valverde dropped back out of the top ten to 11th and, for all his lieutenant efforts, Popovych sadly drops out of the top ten to 12th.

1 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 2.23
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor - Lotto 4.00
4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 5.25
5 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 5.34

There were quite a few abandons and non-starters today: Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) and Philippe Gilbert (FDJ) were the non-starters, while Fast Freddie (Predictor-Lotto), Cyril Dessel (Ag2r) and Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole) abandoned -- Le Mevel due to a crash.

Updates 7/23: VeloNews: Contador claims Stage 14; Rasmussen pads lead, VeloNews: Tour teams hit by surprise roadside searches, VeloNews: Millar says Rasmussen has ruined Tour, VeloNews: Chris Horner Diaries Stage 14, VeloNews: Levi Leipheimer Post-Race, Kloden Stage 14

Updates: VeloNews: Climbers to the fore on Plateau de Beille, CyclingNews Roundup Tour de PEZ: Roadside Pailheres, Barloworld, Masiguy, CyclingNews Roundup 2

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DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updates 7/22 2:30PM: Millar Diary, Julich ESPN Column

Updates: Bob Martin's Stage 13 by the Numbers, VeloNews: Lieutenants will factor heavily as Discovery, Astana prepare for battle in Pyrénées, VeloNews: Chris Horner Watching Evans' TT, VeloNews: George Hincapie Post-Race, VeloNews: Levi Leipheimer Post-Race, VeloNews: Astana GM Marc Biver: Evans Most Dangerous, SBS Stage 13 Video Podcast, CyclingNews Roundup 2, CyclingNews Roundup

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  • CyclingNews Roundup 2: Stage 14 preview - the Pyrenees await, McQuaid applauds Gerdemann's anti-doping stance, Schumacher soldiers on
  • CyclingNews Roundup: Rasmussen stuns field in TT, Phoenix from the ashes, Evans calls time trial "very good", Predictor pleased with Evans' ride, Cancellara's crash, Contador continues with consistency, Stage 13 post-race quotes

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Tour de France '07 Stage 13: Albi TT

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Vinokourov - JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

It's a bit early for me to already start posting this entry, but this wide-open Tour has been waiting for a big sorting that a TT can provide and tomorrow is it.

Previews

CyclingNews Stage Preview: "A twisty, tricky out and back time test, stage 13 could prove unlucky for riders who are not competent time trialists. The first 20 kilometres are a gradual uphill, then the course is downhill and flat until the 34-kilometre point, where the four-kilometre climb up the sinuous Cat. 4 Côte de la Bauzié awaits. Then there is a difficult descent and return to Albi on the D999 road where an experienced tester can make a difference."

Update: VeloNews Stage 13 Preview is up as is Carmichael Sez: "Knowns & Unknowns".

Bobby J's Picks

Bobby Julich's Picks given to Neil@ROAD:

  1. Cancellara
  2. Kloden
  3. Hincapie
  4. Contador
  5. Evans

John Hay Jr 2006 ITT tallies (via CyclingNews)

A reader, John Hay Jr, wrote into CyclingNews with tallies of the contenders combined ITT times from last year. You can find it in the Stage 12 live feed at 13:22 CEST. Last year's time trials were similar in distance, though courses change. I assume you divide by 2 to get the approximate splits for tomorrow.

(2) Andreas Klöden, 2h 11'52"
(13) Oscar Pereiro, 2h14'48" - 2'56" behind Klöden's time
(4) Cadel Evans, 2h14'58" - 3'06"
(18) Denis Menchov, 2h15'44" -3'52"
(6) Carlos Sastre, 2h16'11" -4'19"
(14) Christophe Moreau, 2h17'01" -6'19"
(9) Levi Leipheimer, 2h21'35" -9'43"
(10) Mikel Astarloza, 2h21'52" -10'00"
(1) Michael Rasmussen, 2h24'48" -12'56"

There are no results for Valverde, Vinokourov, Contador, or Mayo. Also, Levi did especially terrible in last year's TT, which I think skews his results.

Versus picks

  • Al: Kloden
  • Paul: Cancellara
  • Bob: Evans
  • Phil: Leipheimer

My Predictions

  1. Cancellara
  2. Leipheimer
  3. Kashechkin
  4. Kloden
  5. Evans
  6. Hincapie
  7. Vinokourov
  8. Valverde
  9. Contador

Levi hasn't shown an amazing TT since he raced stateside this year, but he's so much faster than last year and I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a breakout day tomorrow. Kashechkin finished second to Vino in the Dauphine and sits just outside the top ten. Cancellara had the luxury of soft-pedaling it today to gear up for the the TT -- not that he needs much advantage as World TT champ.

Big doping charge leveled at Rasmussen

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Michael RasmussenVeloNews has a new top headline: VeloNews Exclusive: Ex-cyclist levels doping charges at Rasmussen. The charges come from an MTB athlete who claims that Rasmussen tried to trick him into transporting a cow-based blood substitute into Europe. The accuser first told VeloNews back in 2002 under the condition that Rasmussen and he remain anonymous but became by Rasmussen's "You can trust me" line.

Tour de France '07 Stage 12 Link Roundup

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Updates 7/21: Bob Martin's Stage 12 by the Numbers, Graham Watson: Time Will Tell, CyclingNews Roundup 2, CyclingNews Roundup, Fabian Wegmann Stage 12 Diary (translated from German), Vande Velde's View: The Motorcycle diaries, VeloNews Stage Notes: Astana on the rebound; Boonen California dreamin'

Updates 12:30-5PM: Cyclelicio.us Stage 12, Casey Gibson Stage 12 Photos, Graham Watson Stage 12 Photos, Gerolsteiner Stage 12, VeloNews Stage 12 Stats WorldCycling.tv: Tom Boonen Interview, WorldCycling.tv: Robbie Hunter Interview, WorldCycling.tv: Michael Rasmussen Interview Graham Watson audio report, Versus Stage 12 Diaries, Carmichael: Headwind Saved Boonen, Tour de PEZ: Let The Real Tour Begin!, SBS Stage 12 Video Podcast

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Boonen - FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Steegmans lead out Boonen from the front and the rest of the field was stuck with a view of Boonen's rear end. Zabel stuck to Boonen's wheel like glue, which propelled him to second place just ahead of Robbie Hunter.

Breakaway - JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty ImagesTxurruka (Euskatel) and Fredrigo (Bouygues Telecom) put pressure on the peloton with a breakaway that went with over 130km to go. Many riders couldn't hold on as the peloton charged over the final climb and into headwinds. The peloton pushed its luck with the reel-in, but was able to catch the two riders just before the 1k kite.

Millar was unlucky with his breakaway attempt again as his earlier break was reeled in, making way for Txurruka and Fredrigo to go away.

Update 7/21: Millar Diaries Stage 11: Pace of the Pack

Updates 7/20: Zabriskie Diaries Final Cut, CyclingNews Roundup 2, Pez: LeMond On LeTour: The Finale Begins, Kloden Stage 11

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Zabriskie eliminated

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There will be no more Zabriskie Diaries to entertain us (perhaps except for Stage 11) as DZ was eliminated for finishing half an hour behind. DZ had be trailing at the back of the peloton during the stage, which was a bad position for Astana's tactics today. He had been complaining of knee pain due to a change in shoes as well as pain just about everywhere else, so he'll probably welcome the relief of not having to race the Pyrenees. We'll be sad not to see him do his stuff in the Albi TT, though. It also means that he won't get the honor of being Lanterne Rouge, which certainly would have gone to him if he had been able to stay within the limit.

Other abandons include Igor Anton and Sylvain Calzati, who abandoned before the split occurred.

update: The finalpenultimate edition of the Zabriskie Diaries, TdF 07 and the final edition.

Hunter - FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Hunter got his first and South Africa's first stage wins -- but wildcard team Barloworld's second -- as this flat stage delivered far more fireworks than the lack of terrain promised.

Vinokourov was a big instigator today. After trying to get in an early break, he was next seen at the front as Astana put in a big move to split the peloton in the crosswinds. The move worked and made Moreau the big casualty on the day. Moreau was first bruised after tangling with a teammate and going down, but the real pain came when he found himself over three minutes off the back. Moreau dropped from 6th to 12th in the overall standings. Vino wasn't done yet -- he tried to take advantage of the lack of sprint organization to launch an attack, but Quick Step was able to reel him in.

The sprint was sparser than expected: on top of the abandons thus far, the split in the peloton put Hushovd and Zabel out of contention. Then a crash on the final S-bend knocked Boonen and Fast Freddie out of contention. Hunter just had to outsprint second-place Fabian Cancellara and Liquigas' Fischer and Pozzato.

Stage 10 Link Roundup

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Updates 7/19: Millar Diary, CyclingNews Roundup 2, Bob Martin Stage 10 by the Numbers, Tour Tech: Dario Cioni (Predictor-Lotto) discusses his prototype Campagnolo electronic shifters

Updates 8PM: Bobby Julich on Sinkewitz+doping, CyclingNews Roundup, Slipstream Interview

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Vasseur - DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

Cedric Vasseur gave France and Quick Step a victory as he won the sprint finish from a breakaway of five. Vasseur's career TdF stage tally is now two, the previous coming all the way back in 1997. It was a fairly uneventful stage, save for the actions of the breakaway on the final climbs, as the rest of the peloton was content to get some rest as they leave the Alps behind.

Today's stage had breakaway written all over it and there's no name in the Tour more synonymous with breakaway than Jens Voigt. A break of 11 riders, including Voigt, built up early in the stage and stayed together until the last two Cat 3 climbs. Voigt was the first to shake things up, but it was Halgand who really shook things apart. A group of five made it over the last climb together despite a flurry of attacks by Halgand to further whittle things down. With Voigt forced to the front and the riders all marking each other's wheels, Vasseur lead the sprint up the right side and took it to the line.

FD Jeux's Sandy Casar took second despite having been dropped on the final climb and having to claw his way back. Liquigas' Albasini took third, benefiting from having teammate and Lanterne Rouge Kuschynski there to help back when the break was at 11.

Sinkewitz is battered, bruised, and now positive for testosterone: Sinkewitz A Sample Positive for Testosterone. The A Sample was taken on June 8 and the positive result is a thorn in the side of T-Mobile's internal athlete testing program.

In response, Germany has ceased public coverage of the Tour, which is a dramatic change in the storyline for the German boost that T-Mobile's Linus Gerdemann provided during his brief stay in yellow and white.

Tour de France '07 Stage 9 Link Roundup

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Updates 7/18 6-8PM: Sinkewitz A-Sample Positive for Testosterone, CyclingNews Roundup 3, WorldCycling.tv: Cadel Evans, WorldCycling.tv: Michael Rasmussen, DP Jambon Report, Bob Martin's Stage 9 by the Numbers

Updates 10:30PM: CyclingNews Roundup 2, David Millar Stage 9: Lacking Inspiration

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Lab joins Guerini photographer

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labcrash.caption.jpg

tdflr linked to the Guardian videocap of the Marcus Burghardt dog crash and I couldn't resist throwing in the comparison to the infamous Guerini collision with Erik the Photographer.

Guerini rode in the pink shirt/black shorts of ONCE when he crashed and later rode for pink/black of T-Mobile. Burghardt: T-Mobile. Coincidence?

Soler - FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Barloworld's Juan Mauricio Soler took a surprise win today, attacking solo on the Telegraphe to bridge all the way from the peloton to a breakaway far up the road. Soler quickly left the break behind and held off a chase group of the top contenders all the way to the finish line.

Today's stage was full of fireworks that made for exciting racing on the classic climbs of the Galibier and Telegraphe. Discovery put the most cards into play with Popovych, Gusev, Contador, and Levi all playing a role. Popovych and Gusev were first as they went on the attack from the start to position themselves far up the road. Popovych was the only rider able to follow Soler's wheel as Soler accelerated past, but even Popo couldn't hold on as the slopes of the Galibier ticked upwards.

Valverde shook things up in the peloton with an attack that shed Vinokourov and Schleck. The other contenders were able to follow, but Contador became the next Discovery card to be played as he put in an attack that Evans briefly followed. Contador's attack was strong enough to catch Popo up the road and Popo dug deep to try and pull Soler back on the descent towards Briancon.

The Valverde/Rasmussen group reeled Evans in on the descent and set their eyes on Popo and Contador. Evans was caught sleeping and the group split in half, with Evans/Levi/Mayo/Moreau/Sastre caught behind. They had trouble organizing a chase and Levi was able to use the position of his two teammates up the road to sit and do little work. Levi was a bit annoyed with Saunier Duval as Cobo wasn't willing to do work for Mayo to pull things back.

Valverde and teammate Gutierrez were able to reel in Popo and Contador and soon after the other contenders latched back on. Discovery played its last cards as Popovych accelerated to try and reel Soler back in for Contador. Soler was much too far up the road and it was Valverde who put in the last attack of the day to take second with a small time gap over the other contenders. Contador was rewarded with the white Best Young Rider jersey for his efforts.

The overall competition saw a little more sorting today. Valverde is earning is favorite status and Rasmussen defended his yellow well. Kloden is now the apparent leader of Astana as Vino was no longer protected. Evans is looking stronger than I expected while Sastre and Leipheimer are still racing conservatively in the Alps. Schleck wasn't able to hold on and may no longer have backup leader status and Menchov was dropped, hurting his leader status over Rasmussen. Kim Kirchen is a bright light for T-Mobile and Mayo could be a dark horse favorite if he continues to be strong. Moreau faltered but didn't break, but he's only shooting for top 3. The GC is looking more proper, but the top three in Paris really haven't shown themselves yet:

1 Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
2 Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) 2.35
3 Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval-Prodir) 2.39
4 Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) 2.41
5 Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) 3.08
6 Christophe Moreau (Ag2r Prévoyance) 3.18
7 Carlos Sastre (Team CSC) 3.39
8 Andreas Klöden (Astana) 3.50
9 Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel) 3.53
10 Kim Kirchen (T-Mobile) 5.06

Today's stage finally finished well in advance of the planned Versus TV schedule, which is to say the Tour is on.

Updates 7/16: Millar Diaries Rest Day: Licking Wounds, CyclingNews Roundup 1, CyclingNews Roundup 2, Leipheimer remains optimistic, Fabiann Wegmann, The Zabriskie Diaries Rest Day #1 "in the hurt locker", VeloNews: Rest Day Chat with Levi, VeloNews: Schleck Surprised by Moreau's Strength

Part of the Rest Day Notes::

the letters across the black plastic wristband underscore the team's philosophy in this year's Tour: "Harden the Fuck Up."

"Stuart (O'Grady) brought them for the team in London and asked everyone to wear them,"

AP photo of Sinkewitz's crash:

capt.1d16562f403a4019a731f59a69876061.cycling_tour_de_france_tdf140.jpg

Tour de France on iPhone

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leaflets.jpg

I started playing with Leaflets today and they've already won me over with their top-level Tour de France app (the rest is pretty nice as well). Their TdF app pulls from TdFBlog, VeloNews, and Paceline.

If you're looking for live TdF coverage instead of articles, another good option is Twitter + Hahlo. Hahlo reformats Twitter for easier use on the iPhone. Here are some Twitter people you can add:

Disco fines: Saddle beats bottle

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rocketbike.jpgLeipheimer was fined 50 CHF ($41.53) for the Saddle-Slingshot Maneuver that got him back in the pack after a dropped chain. The mechanic leaned out of the window of the team car and grabbed the back of Leipheimer's saddle while the team car accelerated back up to the peloton (I want to do that!). I'm sure the mechanic was just checking the saddle height on the replacement bike.

More expensive was the 50 CHF, 5 points, and 10 seconds he lost for a Water-Bottle-Slingshot Maneuver. From the TV coverage, the saddle maneuver seemed more effective and it didn't come with the ten-second time penalty. Clearly, saddle rocket wins.

The Disco sport director was fined 200 CHF ($166.15) for Leipheimer's fines and a similar watter-bottle offense with Gusev. I'm pretty sure he's willing to pay that fine.