Category: Tour de France 2004

July 25, 2004

Stage 20: Montereau - Paris

stage 20 profile

Stage 20 was more fashion and style rather than racing. Armstrong broke out the gold Giro helmet and yellow spokes, and his teammates raced their Postal blues with the addition of yellow trimming. McEwen did some wheelies, Beltran borrowed a motorcycle helmet, and champagne was had by all, including some shared between Armstrong and Ullrich.

There was the usual amount of posing at the front of the peloton and photographs being taken. Simeoni tried to spoil the party as his legal feud with Armstrong has spilled onto the race course, but he was reeled back in.

Boonen won the stage as his team set him up well and McEwen managed enough sprint points to keep the green jersey.

Voeckler, having lost both the yellow and the white jerseys, was awarded a "Prix Orange" award by the press for most sympathetic rider, and his performance will certainly be anticipated in years to come. He had tried to take part in the breakaways on the Champs �lys�es, but there was too much pull by the sprinter setup, including some turns at the front by Ullrich, so Voeckler had to finish with the pack.

Six!

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I haven't watched the final stages yet, but it's impossible not to see the news. Armstrong won his sixth, a victory that was much more dominant than his fifth as he won five individual stages plus the team time trial. No one came close to him this year, and Armstrong now goes into the record books as the only Tour rider to win six Tour de Frances, let alone six in a row.

For me, the turning point was stage 13. Stage 12 was the setup, it gave you hints as to who the competitors were and weren't, but it wasn't yet decisive -- the time gaps were still small enough to keep the field open. Stage 13 blew everything apart; it demonstrated every way in which Armstrong and US Postal were more dominant and how they would go on to win 5 of the last 8 stages: their team was stronger, able to control the front of the race and set a crushing tempo on the mountains; Armstrong, Azevedo, and Landis were a lethal trio, owning the final leg of the race; Armstrong was stronger in the final 500m, able to outsprint all those who survived.

Six straight victories. Three week long races. Crashes, near crashes, sickness, six years of wear and tear, and still six straight victories.

July 24, 2004

Stage 19: Besancon Individual Time Trial

stage 19 profile

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

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

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

July 23, 2004

Stage 18: Annemasse - Lons-le-Saunier

stage 18 profile

July 22, 2004

Stage 17: Bourg d'Oisans - Le Grand-Bornand

stage17 profile

Today belonged entirely to Landis. Landis shattered the peloton going up the final climb, and instead of the usual Landis->Azevedo handoff, not even Azevedo could hold on, leaving Landis to pull the select group of himself, Armstrong, Kloden, Ullrich, and Basso over the top. At this point Armstrong apparently asked Landis if he could descend fast, Landis said yes, and Armstrong responded, "Well go like you stole something." This all occurred during commercial break, so all I got to see was the end result, which was that Ullrich caught up to Landis and Armstrong, and rather than continue the escape, they all held up for Kloden and Basso. Kloden caught up and launched an attack, which Landis chased down, and from that point on it became a very tactical race with even Armstrong taking turns at the front.

In the final kilometer Landis launched an attack, but it was brief lived and Kloden launched a huge counterattack that put him way ahead. Armstrong seemed to let the attack go until the final seconds, when he let loose with a huge sprint that beat Kloden by half a bike length at the line -- see for yourself.

The big story of the day was supposed to be the inevitable Ullrich attack. No attack came, most likely because of the great control by Landis et al, and Armstrong was there for the denouement.

July 21, 2004

Stage 16: L'Alpe d'Huez Time Trial

stompity stomp stomp stompity stomp stomp

That about summarizes today's stage. Armstrong crushed the field, passing Basso on the course well before the finish, and the only to cross the finish line under the 40' mark. Armstrong gained 02'23" on Basso, giving Armstrong his first comfortable lead in the race.

Ullrich made a strong showing today as well, finishing 1'01" back of Armstrong and for the first time managed to close some time on the 2nd and 3rd place GC spots. Stage 19 will certainly be crucial for him resuming his traditional spot on the podium.

Robbie McEwen had a "good-enough" day. Rather than face elimination as was hyped up prior to the race, the Aussie made a show at the finish line by wheelie-ing across ((picture)).

The course was rather intense (aerial photo with switchbacks numbered). The crowd estimates were at 900,000 people, and the entire 15km course was absolutely packed with people. This made for some rather intense moments for the riders, as certains fans were a bit overzealous in their cheering, running along side, pushing, taunting, etc... Several riders were visibly thrown off their line and cadence by the fans. Armstrong's complaints about the setup are making headlines right now.

I can't believe that it's stage 16 and we're seeing our first individual time trial. Though I guess this way we got to see Armstrong stomp all over the field nearly four stages in a row (Stage 12, 13, 15, and 16), and it kept Basso a lot closer for a lot longer period of time.

Some important finish times: 1. Lance Armstrong (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 39:41 2. Jan Ullrich (G), T-Mobile, 01:01 3. Andr�as Kl�den (G), T-Mobile, 01:41 4. Jos� Azevedo (P), U.S. Postal Service, 01:45 7. Vladimir Karpets (Rus), Illes Balears-Banesto, 02:15 8. Ivan Basso (I), CSC, 02:23 24. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 03:41 88. generics Voeckler (F), Brioches La Boulangere, 06:36

Links: * Stage 16 Summary (VeloNews) * Stage 16 Results (VeloNews) * Stage 16 Live Coverage (Daily Peloton) * Stage 16 Photo Gallery (Graham Watson) * The Jambon Report - Stage 16 (Daily Peloton)

July 20, 2004

Stage 15: Valreas - Villard-de-Lans

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I didn't expect today to be nearly as aggressive as it was, but it produced big results for Armstrong, who won the stage in a sprint between the top contenders at the finish.

If anyone deserves an award today, its probably Floyd Landis along with the rest of the US Postal team who had controlled the race earlier, and Jens Voigt for CSC as well. Jan Ullrich attacked with 50k to go and got a minute lead over Armstrong, but Landis pulled hard by himself, eventually joined by Voigt who dropped back from his breakaway to help with the pullback as well.

With the group back together, Azevedo dropped the hammer, which winnowed the field down to the main contenders: Armstrong, Basso, Ullrich, and Kloden. Armstrong stayed back as the group approached the finish and then sprinted around the final bend, with only Basso able to stay close to his wheel. Totschnig and Mancebo both lost minutes on the day, hurting their chances at podium finishes. The finish had to have been demoralizing for Ullrich as well, as his attack was pulled back and his finish in the leading group didn't put close the time gap to the likely podium finishers (Basso/Kloden).

CSC is looking awesome this Tour. Sastre, Basso, and Voigt were all there up front this race doing damage, as they have every stage. I was sad to see Piil dropout on the rest day with a knee injury - he certainly deserved to get a stage victory eventually. Julich also suffered a bad injury, which is unfortunate considering how good he looked sitting on Ullrich's wheel in Stage 12 when Riis told him to stay put.

Virenque has solidified his hold on the mountains jersey, as he was able to stay out front for most of the race and finished in the top ten.

Hushovd, Zabel, and O'Grady are all nipping at McEwen's heels for the green jersey.

Voeckler's reign in yellow has ended, but at least he gets to put on the young rider jersey and hopefully hold on to that through Paris.

Tomorrow: Alpe d'Huez! (Hopefully with more Robin Williams making fun of Liggett and Roll)

July 18, 2004

Stage 14: Carcassonne-Nimes

07-18-04.stage14 profile

Not much to say about this stage; I'm kinda tired from yesterday's summary. It was a sprinter's stage, but the sprinter teams decided they didn't want it. I guess the Pyrenees were a little too tough and they want an little bit more rest going into tomorrow's rest day.

Aitor Gonzalez pulled himself out of obscurity, having won the Vuelta in 2002, dropped out of the Vuelta in 2003, having never gone this many stages in a Tour de France, and having won no stages anywhere this year, you wouldn't expect to be hearing his name again, but the Spanish rider continued Fassa Bortolo's presence this Tour in the wake of Petacchi's departure and broke away from the breakaway to win by several hundred meters.

July 17, 2004

Stage 13: Lannemezan-Plateau de Beille

07-17-04.stage13 profile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 16, 2004

Stage 12: Castelsarrasin-La Mongie

07-16-04.stage12 profile

This is one of the stages I've been waiting for: great setup by the various teams to drive the tempo followed by one-on-one war of attrition to show who really is a contender this year.

The battles started at the foot of the Col d'Aspin, as several teams, including Telekom, worked forward to drive the tempo and to put their rider in position for the second-to-last climb. Really bad weather hit at the same time, with the driving rain taking out the Tour's helicopter coverage. US Postal eventually took over the pace making and was already blowing up the peloton with one more big climb to go. Ullrich, Voeckler, and Mayo managed to get away on the descent -- Ullrich's presence was surprising as he isn't exactly known for his bike handling on the descent, and the roads were particularly dangerous from the rain.

The breakaway didn't last long as US Postal brought everything back together, then drove the pace up the last climb where everything absolutely blew apart. In typical US Postal fashion, one US Postal rider after another set a hard tempo at front then pulled off when they could do no more. US Postal's Landis, then Hincapie, then Chechu, then Azevedo all burned themselves and riders from the other teams were falling back left and right. Ullrich, Hamilton, and Heras all fell back, leaving just Mayo as the only major contender there with Armstrong. Hamilton, who had been hanging on the back of the pack for the earlier part of the climbs, looked terrible.

Bjarne Riis of CSC started part one of his great strategy by sending Carlos Sastre ahead on the attack. Part two began when Mancebo attacked and CSC's Ivan Basso stuck to his wheel, pulling him forward towards Sastre. Armstrong, now alone as Azevedo was used up, counter-attacked Mancebo and Basso, and Basso jumped ahead to stick on Armstrong's wheel instead. Armstrong, aware that Hamilton, Ullrich, and Heras were all absolutely suffering far behind, picked up the pace even more, quickly catching Sastre, which reunited the two CSC teammates. Mayo, the final overall contender to Armstrong fell back on this attack.

From there on out, it was just Armstrong and Basso, and at the finish it was Basso, who looked better rested than Lance, and with Lance not really contesting the finish. The rest of the riders came straggling in, including the Voeckler, still in the yellow jersey after today, weaving back and forth across the full length of the road to get every last ounce of energy out of his body.

A big surprise (in addition to the big contenders being so far behind) was that neither Hamilton or Ullrich put in the strongest showings for their teams. Kl�den finished where Ullrich should have at only 20" back, and Oscar Pereiro and Santos Gonzalez of Phonak both put in top ten finishes.

The Damage:
- Mayo: 1'03"
- Ullrich: 2'30"
- Heras: 2'57"
- Hamilton: 3'27"

July 15, 2004

Stage 11: St. Flour-Figeac

07-15-04.stage11 profile

The day after Bastille Day was another happy day for the French. In a semi-repeat of yesterday, they got to see another frenchman on the podium and a frenchman stay in the yellow jersey.

Today's entertainment was provided by a pack of longhorns that managed to trot into the peloton and break it in half. This provided more amusement than consternation for the riders.

Moncouti, part of a breakaway that the peloton didn't seem eager to chase down (perhaps saving energy for tomorrow's mountains), attacked his group of three with 8km to go, riding solo the rest of the way and taking the day.

Armstrong placed well in the final bunch sprint, but there were no small seconds to be gained this day.

Misc articles:

July 14, 2004

Stage 10: Limoge- Saint-Flour

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The mountains are here! The mountains are here! Just look at that stage profile -- isn't it beautiful? The Tour de France is starting to heat up, and with the backloaded design this year, there should be a lot of exciting mountain stages for the remainder of the race. I have been advising Tour de France newbies to wait until the mountains to start watching, and that time is now. The peloton got to see their first real mountains today, though it will be the next three stages that should start splitting apart the field and showing us who the real competition is.

As much as I hate seeing Richard Virenque out front (over 200km this race!), he rode an amazing race today and delighted the French by giving them a Frenchman on top of the podium for Bastille Day. In addition to a stage victory, Virenque racked up an impressive 68 King of the Mountain points, vaulting him into first. Teammate Paolo Bettini, relinquishing the polka dot jersey, was there to scoop up remaining to points to make sure that Virenque got a healthy lead in the competition. Everyone is still trying to figure out why Moreau was trying to get points.

The field sprint at the end of the day added some excitement to the race. Voeckler made a surprise showing in the sprint, staying in a lead sprint of six riders along with Armstrong. T-Mobile finish at the front of this group of six and earned a two-part goal: they got Zabel some more sprint points and also made sure that the finish line time bonuses stayed out of Armstrong's hands. The final sprint also lead to a small break, with Hamilton, Heras, and Leipheimer all losing 7" to Armstrong, Ullrich, and Mayo.

July 13, 2004

Stage 9: St Leonard De Noblat-Gueret

07-13-04.stage9 profile

Not much to say about this post-rest-day race. The stage was short and the pace started off fast. Now that the race has moved further south, it seems to have brought a halt to the rainy weather, and for the most part the peloton was spared any major crashes (a rider hit the center divider in the road taking down another rider -- it appeared to be a case of poor bike handling rather than poor conditions).

Today was Robbie McEwen's day. After getting a couple points by taking 3rd at the first sprint point, he managed to beat the rest of the swarm that caught the two-rider breakaway that had been away for most of the race. The stage win plus the sprint points have given him a solid lead of 18 points over O'Grady, and with a the Tour back-loaded with mountain stages, he seems to be in a good position to hold onto the jersey.

The breakaway containing Simeoni and Landaluze had a good chance of winning the race until the final kilometer. It appeared that the peloton had mistimed the rundown and the pair had a good chance of staying in front of the peloton at the line. However, Landaluze started playing games in the final kilometer, sitting on Simeoni's back wheel instead of pulling, and Simeoni's solo efforts at pulling in the final kilometer weren't enough to hold off the oncoming pack. Guess that's another lesson in game theory, brought to you by the world of cycling.

July 11, 2004

Stage 8: Lamballe-Quimper

07-11-04.stage8 profile

Hushovd took another stage today, easily out sprinting the pack. McEwen had made an early go at the line, following the tail of Bettini, but Bettini would have none of it and dropped back into the pack. McEwen grabbed a crucial fourth place over O'Grady. McEwen out sprinted O'Grady at crucial bonuses to put himself into the lead once more for the green jersey. The back-heavy Tour design (i.e. mountain stages at the end) has certainly been beneficial in putting the green jersey battle out front.

Today was another Jakob Piil attack day. I forget the exact statistic, but he has spent something like 600km of the Tour on the attack. That's a lot of hard riding out front that has paid off well in respect, if not in stage victories. Today was also familiar in that there was the usual rain and a couple of crashes, though none seemed serious.

The riders will certainly enjoy Monday's rest day as their road rash heals and they stay mostly out of the rain.

July 10, 2004

Stage 7: Chateaubriant - Saint-Brieuc

07-10-04.stage7 profile

Today was a fairly battering stage for the peloton, even though it was another sprinter's stage. As the Tour turned away from the coast and the winds shifted, CSC went into high gear and fractured the peloton, sending riders scrambling and splitting the group into two. When it became apparent that no major contender was caught in the back group, the pace finally slowed enough to the let the back group catch up, but O'Grady's and Moreau's teams were put to a lot of work pulling their riders back. Piil managed to launch another attack off the front with about 23km to go, but yet again it wasn't his day for the breakaway.

The sprinters were out gamed by a late break of seven riders on the uphill to the finish. Pozzato, reaping the benefits of his team leader Petacchi dropping out, won the game of tactics and beat the rest of the breakaway to the line.

The green jersey switched back and forth throughout the race today. McEwen temporarily took the lead on a sprint bonus, but O'Grady, lucky to make it back to the main group after the peloton split, edged out McEwen on the line to keep the lead. The yellow jersey stayed firmly on the shoulders of Voeckler.

Perhaps trying to rival his previous year's performance, Hamilton raced today nursing back injuries from yesterday's crash, including a hematoma on his spine which will certainly ache from being hunched over in the saddle all day.

July 9, 2004

Stage 6: Bonneval-Angers

07-09-04.stage6 profile

Today's race was mainly interesting in its oddities, as a flat, sprinter stage rarely offers much excitement until the end. In a stage made for sprinters, two of the big name sprinters, Petacchi and Cipo, had withdrawn prior to the race. It's not surprising that they were withdrawing, but it was surprising to me, at least, that both would pass up this relatively easy stage, especially Petacchi who is without a grand tour stage victory for the first time in quite awhile.

The absence of Petacchi lead to the strange sight of seeing him teammate Juan Antonio Flecha in a breakaway that lasted until the final mile. Fassa Bortolo and Domina Vacanze were clearly uninterested in driving the peloton. The long breakaway also meant that Robbie McEwen was unable to defend the green jersey by gathering more sprint points.

Finally, in a race where the weather finally let up and delivered a relatively incident-free course (after a little minor crash at the 12km point involving Armstrong), a crash in the final kilometer took out nearly the whole of the peloton, including McEwen, leaving Boonen to take the stage and O'Grady to take the green jersey away from McEwen. For several minutes after the first riders crossed the line, crash-marked riders were still straggling in. Armstrong came in late but looked unhurt, as did Ullrich and Hamilton.

July 8, 2004

Stage 5: Amiens-Chartres

07-08-04.stage5 profile

Armstrong didn't want to keep the yellow jersey on his shoulders and he got his wish. Another Pill-breakaway went out early, and constant crashes in the front and middle of the peloton disrupted any chance of a peloton pursuit. Petacchi and McEwen were both involved in a crash, and US Postal was uninterested in pushing the tempo, especially considering that two of their riders (Beltran, Rubiera) were involved in the same crash.

This left the race to the five in the breakaway, O'Grady, Piil, Voeckler, Cesar, and Backstedt, who gave the race an exciting finish. Voeckler, the French national champion went both on the attack and defense, chasing down attacks and then delivering his own. Piil also tried to deliver some attacks of his own, but O'Grady was constantly on his wheel in far too good of condition to be dropped. O'Grady eventually launched an attack of his own that Voeckler and Piil managed to chase down (leaving Backstedt and Cesar behind), but cat-and-mouse jockeying allowed the two other riders to catch back up. In the sprint to the finish there was no question that O'Grady had the best legs and he got himself a stage win. Voeckler has a mighty consolation prize in the form of the yellow jersey.

In other news, McGee is dropping out due to a back problems. He was seen dropping off the back of the peloton midway through the race.

July 7, 2004

Stage 4: Cambrai-Arras

07-07-04.stage4 profile

07-07-04.postalfinish.jpgUS Postal dominated the team time trial today, the results say it all:

  1. U.S. Postal, 1:12:03
  2. Phonak, at 1:07
  3. Illes Balears, at 1:15
  4. T-Mobile, at 1:19
  5. CSC, at 1:45
  6. Rabobank, at 1:53
  7. Liberty Seguros, at 2:25
  8. Euskaltel - Euskadi, at 2:35
  9. Saeco, at 2:35
  10. Alessio - Bianchi, at 2:57

Due to recent rule changes, the second place team only loses 20' to US Postal, the third place team 30', and so on, so Armstrong won't put that much time into Hamilton (20') or Ullrich (40'), but he did gain enough time to put on the yellow jersey for the first time in this year's Tour. It will be interesting to see how long he holds onto it.

This year's TTT was fairly messy due to the onset of rain close to the start time. Phonak had multiple problems, including five tire punctures and three dropped riders. They still managed to ride into second place with only the minimum five riders. US Postal had to drop Noval, who may have still been suffering from yesterday's crash but still managed to finish in time to stand on the podium with his teammates. CSC also seemed to have multiple problems with at least one crash; they should still be sitting fairly well in the overall team standings. T-Mobile also appeared to have problems.

July 6, 2004

Stage 3: Waterloo-Wasquehal

07-06-04.stage3 profile

07-06-04.cobblestones.jpgEven with the cobblestones, I didn't expect this relatively flat stage to figure much into the overall results. Of course, I was wrong.

Perhaps in an attempt to give last year's crash-filled Tour a run for its money, the crashes continued today, and this time they hit a race favorite hard. Iban Mayo was involved a crash that split apart the peloton. Although Mayo was relatively uninjured, the split in the peloton, expanded by the two sections of cobblestones, really put Mayo in a big deficit very early in the Tour. Mayo lost four minutes, and with the team time trial next, that deficit is surely to be expanded. Mayo's Euskatel team rode across the finish line with faces of defeat rather than determination. Marco Velo was also involved in a crash, and will likely be out of the Tour.

McEwen continued to show his presence in the final sprint, though like Stage 1 he was edged out on the line (this time going too early rather than too late). The time bonuses he's been racking up on the line put the Australian in first overall, though, so he will get to switch jerseys from green to yellow (his first ever). Petacchi's continues to be a non-presence, as his Fassa Bortolo team seems unable to effect the good lead out that he needs in order to win. Jens Voigt made a play for the yellow jersey, but his early time bonuses were not enough to beat out the sprinters.

Armstrong/USPS rode smartly across the cobblestones, with Hincapie, Ekimov, and Armstrong forming a three-man team that surged across the cobblestones in front of the falling riders behind them.

There is some 'controversy' brewing over US Postal's efforts at the front of the race after Mayo went down. US Postal, along with Phonak and Telekom clearly pushed the pace of the race that put such big time on Mayo after his crash, though it's a hard call. Mayo's team did a terrible job of getting back to help him; it seemed to be several minutes before there were any riders pacing Mayo back. Also, it would have taken the effort of the entire peloton to wait up for Mayo, and none of this takes into account the cobblestones. I'm not really sure how race etiquette comes into play on a stage like this, but it's clear that US Postal's three-man surge across the cobblestones had been in the plan from the beginning.

July 5, 2004

Stage 2: Charleroi-Namur

07-05-03.stage2 profile

The racing in Belgium continued today as the race route nudges France for the first time today. In the international spirit, Thor Hushovd became the first Norwegian to wear the yellow jersey, and Australian Robbie McEwen managed to avenge his close second from the previous day by taking a stage victory. A two-rider crash going towards the final bend determined the outcome of the race. The sprint organization broke apart, and Hushovd and McEwen were among those to take advantage of the confusion. Hushovd took enough bonus seconds at the line to push him into a narrowly held first overall in the GC.

Although the weather was much improved from yesterday, there were still repeats of the previous stage's action. Even with the dry roads the crashes continued, claiming Domina Vacanze's Fagini. Piil had another attempt at a breakaway, but this one was also caught by the peloton.

July 4, 2004

Stage 1: Liege-Charleroi

07-04-04.stage1 profile

Stage 1 was an ugly stage, not ugly in the way last year gave us a spectacular crash on the finish line, but ugly in the constant, crash here, crash there, lots of rain-slicked roads sense. Many riders were wearing torn shorts and riding spare bikes by the end of this race, and even Hamilton managed to have a crash of his own, though he recovered immediately. Eisel got the award for most spectacular crash on camera, as he tapped the wheel of the rider in front of him while he was talking with manager in the team car. He managed to do a somersault on the pavement, spilling his team radio and other goodies out on the roadway.

Piil was part of a two-man breakaway, and perhaps he was hoping for a repeat of his breakaway from last year's tour, but the day was not ugly enough to cause that sort of mistake from the peloton.

What surprised me most about this stage was the finish. I was expecting the typical, Fassa Bortolo leadout that was so dominant in this year's Giro, but the leadout was broken apart, with Petacchi boxed in. Jaan Kirsipuu edged out an accelerating McEwen to add another stage victory to his belt (O'Grady and Cipollini had crashed late in the race). Perhaps the riders aren't going to let Petacchi get his stage victories as easily this year?

July 3, 2004

Prologue: Liege-Liege

07-03-04.prologue profile

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

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

July 2, 2004

Tour de France Tomorrow!

Just in time for my move, the Tour de France starts off with the prologue tomorrow in Lige. Lige is actually a town in Belgium, known among cyclists for the Lige-Baston-Lige classic.

There is plenty of good reading on the Web, so here are some links: * Tour de France Tech (engadget): radios, bike computers, motorcycles, helicopters * Official TdF photoblog * Tyler Hamilton's awesome-looking time-trial bike

General Coverage: * TdF Blog: best TdF blog I've found so far * LanceArmstrong.com * The Paceline * Official TdF Coverage

July 1, 2004

Tour de France Previews

The Tour de France is quickly approaching, so here's some reading prep that previews the course as well as the riders. It's really hard to guess what will happen this year. Last year demonstrated that unlikely crashes could dominate a race: Beloki, Hamilton, Ullrich, and Armstrong all had prominent crashes that affected the overall outcome (Beloki crashed out, Hamilton broke his collarbone but still finished prominently, Ullrich crashed on the crucial final time trial, Armstrong's crash seemed to fuel his next attack that gave him overall victory).

Looking at the top riders' performances this year, Iban Mayo struck fear into some Armstrong fans' hearts by dominating the Dauphine Libre, and both Hamilton and Ullrich have been racing strong. Meanwhile, watching the Lance Armstrong Chronicles on OLN have done nothing to encourage my belief that Armstrong is stronger this year, as the Chronicles make it appear that he does nothing other than shoot Nike/Subaru commercials and hang out with Sheryl Crow all day. Armstrong won't have to worry about Vino or Beloki this year, but it should still be tough.

(via tdfblog)