Results tagged “Valverde” from spare cycles

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.

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.

DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tour de France '07 Stage 13: Albi TT

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Vinokourov - JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Rasmussen in Yellow - FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

They don't make yellow jerseys small enough for Rasmussen. Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

The Tour de France finally got some fireworks in the overall standings. Rasmussen showed why he wears the polka dots so much as he cranked over the Cat 1 climbs, dropped all who sat on his wheel, and took the stage win 2:47 over the nearest rider, Iban Mayo. Rasmussen took the triple polka-yellow-win as he racked up big KOM points and time gains on this stage.

Moreau - FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Valverde - FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
Moreau almost single-handedly led a group of overall contenders (Valverde, Evans, Schleck, Kashechkin) up the road to chase Michael Rasmussen. Although they had no chance of catching Chicken Legs, they put in half a minute or more on some top contenders: 0:28 to Contador, 0:32 to Sastre and Menchov, 0:46 to Leipheimer, and 1:16 on Kloden and Vinokourov. They probably would have done better if it weren't for the fact that the other riders were content to jump on Moreau's wheel every time he tried to attack. Moreau was visibly frustrated as he gestured for Evans to pull through. On a day that saw the losses of three Aussies -- O'Grady, Rogers, and McEwen -- I can't say that Evans gave fans too much hope that he'll learn to attack this Tour. Valverde eventually pipped the group on the line by outsprinting them for a 1-second gap, but it was Mayo who was the only rider strong enough to launch an attack that wasn't pulled back. With a little more cohesion they could have put in bigger time gains and they may come to regret the energy they expended.

It was a day that the backup leaders/lieutenants shined: Rasmussen, who took yellow and polka dots while Menchov lost time; Kasheckin, who finished the top contenders; Kloden, who limited Vino's losses; Contador who still finish ahead of Leipheimer despite having a mechanical; and Schleck, who road the aggressive race for CSC today.

Plenty of teams missed their chance to shine today:

Discovery: I thought Discovery had its tactics sorted out as they managed to get both Hincapie and Paulinho up the road in a break, but those riders were quickly shot off the back on the final climb of the Tignes. Mechanical problems then upset their next move. Discovery then sent Contador and Popovych up the road and Popo did a good job of sacrificing himself to raise the pace for Contador. But notably absent from any Discovery moves was Levi Leipheimer. Contador was doing well and matching the moves of the Moreau group until a tire change forced him back into the Astana/Leipheimer group. Leipheimer sat on the wheels of the Astana train, Sastre, and Menchov, but couldn't follow when Contador decided to try and bridge back up to the Moreau group. Sastre and Menchov did and limited their losses to Rasmussen, Evans, Moreau, Valvderde, and Schleck. Discovery's plan had to been to have Levi ride conservatively and let Popo and Contador be aggressive, but mechanicals ruined Contador's efforts and Levi was a bit too conservative -- he's still waiting for the Pyrenees. As Levi himself said, he had an "okay day" -- what would have made a good day would be if he was able to follow Sastre and Menchov. Nevertheless, losing less than a minute on a mountain stage isn't much to worry about yet.

O'Grady - FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
CSC: Schleck was a bright spot as their shadow leader showed good strength, finishing with the Valverde/Moreau/Evans group. Sastre rode conservatively, though a late effort with Menchov to follow Contador limited his losses. Sastre can't afford to lose much time in the mountains given his lacking time trial abilities, but perhaps is saving up. Harder to stomach for CSC was the loss of O'Grady, who crashed out of the Tour and was taken off in a stretcher with some pretty bad injuries. Cuesta also crashed, though appeared fine.

Astana: Astana's day was a mixed bag. Kashechkin was their sole rider who survived their stage 5 carnage and he had to carry the banner for Astana all by himself today. Kashechkin got into the Moreau group and looked strong pulling back Moreau's attacks. Back with the rest of the team things were not as well. Astana initially found itself at the front pulling for Vinokourov, but Vino was cracked when Contador launched his attack to jump back up. Kloden had to drop back to pace the wounded warrior back. In all of Vino's interviews, he can barely walk, so his efforts have nevertheless been amazing.

T-Mobile: They certainly had the worst day. All seemed promising as Michael Rogers was one of the few riders able to get onto Michael Rasmussen's wheel. Then a run-in with a guard rail and Caisse's Arroyo put him into some hurt. Rogers bridged back up, but his injuries were too much and eventually he was falling backwards, until he had to abandon into the team car. Focus shifted to Gerdemann, who rode valiantly to stay with the overall contenders as long as possible, but he still fell into second at 0:43 behind Rasmussen. At least he keeps the white jersey. Things got worse for T-Mobile after the race when Sinkewitz collided with a spectator and may be out of the Tour. Cavendish was yet-another abandon. Even though this last one was planned, it means the T-Mobile bus will be even more empty.

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Vuelta Stage 17: Adra - Granada

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Tom Danielson answered some critics today by winning a suprising stage 17 that saw Vino end up in the overall lead. After Danielson and Discovery were unable to defeat the efforts of Euskatel in stage 16 -- the Vino/Valverde battle worked against Danielson's chances -- Danielson this time found himself on the right side of the GC competition. Danielson managed to solo off the front while behind Valverde desperately chased Vino and Kashechkin. Just as Valverde caught the Astana riders, Vino took off and jumped all the way up to Danielson. There must have been some agreement between Vino and Danielson as the two worked together all the way to the finish -- Vino working for the golden jersey and Danielson working to just up the top ten standings and the stage win.

I really didn't expect to see Vino in the golden jersey. The first several stages of the Vuelta made Vino's teammates look as good if not better than Vino, and Vino certainly looked worse than Valverde, but Vino's stage 7 and stage 8 victories started to bring him back into contention. The stage 14 time trial seemed to close the door on Vino's chances, though, as VIno only managed to scrape back 9 seconds on Valverde. Valverde, looking so strong in both the mountains and the time trial, seemed well-suited to hold off an Astana assault.

I meant to keep the Vuelta posts more regular but I've had a bit of trouble following the Vuelta as cycling.tv has been a bit wonky -- I can't wake up early enough for the live broadcast and they've been unpredictable with when they make the stage highlights available. This year's Vuelta has been very exciting with all the battling between Valverde and Vino, with some Sastre punches thrown in. Astana has been amazing with its ability to get riders up at the front of the race and Discovery has been taking their chances ever since Danielson's then Brajkovic's chances were dashed.

Vuelta Stage 1: Malaga

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It was nice watching a European stage where I had some more familiarity with the route. With the exception of the Tour de France finish in Paris, most of the racing occurs on remote countryside roads that I have little chance of ever rolling through. Not so for Malaga -- although I couldn't exactly place the coverage, I have fond memories of strolling along its flat seaside roads with the Castle of Alcazaba above. It's a great place for this unusual start to a grand tour -- a prologue-ish team time trial.

I love the team time trial and after watching this prologue, I think the idea of a prologue team time trial is growing on me. With such a short distance, it is all the more important that your team is well-drilled. Make a couple mistakes -- like Discovery did -- and you can easily lose the seconds you need to finish in first. Very unforgiving, very fast, very fun to watch. CSC was nearly perfect in their run and quite deservingly wears the golden jersey -- for a night at least, as it should quickly be handed over to a sprint team with the stages ahead.

The Vuelta coverage was a bit funky to watch -- the footage focused mainly on the first half of the course for each team, the Vuelta graphics kept obscuring the coverage, and the cameramen were a bit rusty. Here's my observations, as best as I could tell:

  • CSC was clearly the best of the lot. There was a tricky turn/roundabout combination that splintered most of the pacelines going through and caused a crash for Gerolsteiner, but CSC kept everything tight and in control. They dropped Fabian Cancellara in the final kilometer, but Cancellara had put in a great effort at the front and burned everything he had to put his teammate Sastre in the golden jersey.
  • Caisse D'Epargne looked like a well-drilled team. I'm placing big bets on Valverde -- they should be in a good position to pick up their second Grand Tour this year.
  • Discovery didn't look great at the start. They seemed to have a bit of trouble falling into line at the beginning and they confused the rotations a bit. Still, they managed a very respectable fourth place at nine seconds back
  • Gerolsteiner looked horrible. They couldn't keep the line together, they didn't have their rotations down, and it cost them: heading into a roundabout they really split apart and team captain Davide Rebellin went down when he ran into the rear wheel of his teammate. They didn't wait for Rebellin, so he lost over two minutes on this very short stage, and the team only finished with 6 riders at the finish. In fact, Gerolsteiner looked as bad as Euskatel, but at least Euskatel didn't crash and finished with 7 riders.

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Kessler went for a repeat attack and this time was able to hold everyone off to the line. He put in a huge atack on the final steep Cauberg climb and the surviving members of the peloton had too much trouble working together to bring him back. Boonen managed to stay with the chase group just behind, which was enough to put him in yellow by a single second. He also takes over the lead of the green jersey competition from Robbie McEwen.

The biggest news on the day were the collarbone casualties: Valverde, Freddie Rodriguez, and Erik Dekker. Valverde is the biggest loss as the odds-on favorite for the overall win. He went down in a touch of wheels on this hot, difficult day. Fast Freddie and Dekker went down in a separate crash. Robbie McEwen will certainly miss his lead-out man.

The overall standings had a bit of a shakeup with Hushovd dropping to fourth, Michael Rogers jumping to second, and Discovery now with two riders in the top five: Hincapie at five seconds back and Savoldelli at 15 seconds back. Discovery has plenty of strength at the top of the standings and Popo and Azevedo are both right near Levi in the standings.

The day was dominated by a breakaway containing Jens Voigt, Christophe Laurent, Jos� Luis Arrieta, J�r�me Pineau, and Unai Extebarria. Pineau won most of the KOM climbs on the day and took over the KOM jersey lead. Jens Voigt picked up a bunch of sprint points and time bonuses, but the time bonuses were completely wiped out by finishing 1:29 behind. Arrieta was the last surviving member of the breakaway and made it all the way to the Cauberg climb before he was swallowed up by the swarm of riders from the peloton.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Frank Schleck * Actual: Kessler. Schleck finished 5 seconds off in the big chase group

Stage 10: Grenoble-Courchevel

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

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

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

A sampliing of some of today's damage:

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

Maps and stage log in the extended.