Category: Tour de France 2006

July 18, 2007

Landis @Google

Floyd Landis stopped to give a talk at Google as part of his national book tour for Positively False. I couldn't get to this talk on account of no visitors allowed.

July 6, 2007

Landis verdict soon?

Saw this on Neil@Road:

According to a Belgium website, the three arbitrators are going to announce their verdict either later today or tomorrow. I’m a bit skeptical. In either case it’s crappy timing. Just when the world should be focusing on the Tour, the verdict will completely over shadow the day.

Indeed.

May 17, 2007

The Lemond bomb

The Landis hearing switched gears from scientific pedantry to daytime soap opera. "Bomb" seems to be the word of choice for both Trust but Verify: "Hearing - Thursday, post bomb", CyclingNews: "LeMond drops 'bomb' on Landis hearing", VeloNews: "LeMond drops bombshell at Landis hearing". Back channel confessions, childhood sexual abuse, witness intimidation: who's going to get the movie rights to this one?

August 15, 2006

So it ends for Phonak

I'm hardly a Phonak fan, but I'm sad to see them go:

Andy Rihs Disbands Phonak Cycling Team

Two American hopes -- Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis -- have risen then crashed through the Phonak team, so perhaps it's best that Phonak go the way of many cycling teams and disband, but for the riders who only recently were celebrating a Tour de France win and two-year extensions on their contracts, it is another terrible blow.

August 5, 2006

Speculate no more, B-sample confirms

As anticipated, the B sample results arrived today and confirmed the original A sample rumored results: exogenous testosterone and an 11:1 T/E ratio. Landis has now been fired from the Phonak team, and if previous cases are our guide, this will take quite awhile to reseolve itself.

Landis' Web site has been taken out again by traffic, but yesterday he had posted a personal message titled, "Keep the Faith," that pointed out that the A sample results showed "the T value returned has been determined to be in the normal range. The E value returned was LOW." Landis does not yet have a defense for the exogenous testosterone results, but he is going out on the attack against the UCI for their leaks.

Landis B sample result announced

July 31, 2006

Looking a bit worse for Landis

It's all rumor mill still, as Landis has not yet divulged what his A-sample results were, but L'Equipe reported over the weekend that Landis' A sample showed signs of exogenous testosterone -- exogenous testosterone is derived from plants and looks different in a mass spectrometry test. Previous media attention and rumors focused on the testosterone/epitestosterone ratio -- speculating it to be 11:1 -- and Landis' current defense is focused on showing this ratio to be natural, but if it is true that Landis' sample showed exogenous testosterone, Landis might as well start serving his suspension ASAP.

This is all to fill the gap until we hear back on the B sample, but it seems that everyone is expecting the B sample to be the same.

July 27, 2006

Some more thoughts

Several thoughts before bed:

  • At this point in time I'm more inclined to believe Landis than not, for the mere fact that it seems that the testosterone/epitestosterone test seems too easy for cyclists to circumvent (see this Malcolm Gladwell post (via)). This isn't to say I don't think Landis doesn't dope -- I withhold my judgement -- but if he did, I don't see this being the way he gets caught.

  • I was fairly impressed with the Landis press conference, in that he didn't make a whole lot of excuses or outlandish explanations. Also, the not-lying-to-your-Mennonite-mother defense is much better than swearing-on-your-dead-dog's-grave defense.

  • ESPN thought Tiger Woods' preparations for the British Open were more newsworthy than Landis' epic stage 17 win and relegated his overall win to the sidebar for a photo of Woods winning the British Open, but now the Landis scandal is worthy of full front-page-big-photo glory -- it must be a slow news day. I'm also annoyed by all the sports pundits who now seem to think this confirms cycling as the dirtiest sport, ignoring the fact that Barry Bonds continues to swing away for a record.

  • Greg Lemond is also really annoying. We get it. You could have won a lot more Tour de Frances. Back in your day you didn't have to dope. You don't like Lance. Hinault cheated you (though, really, you think someone is going to give up his chance at a fifth Tour victory to help you out?). Now stop trying to bring down the entire sport.

It hits the fan

Landis' A-sample after his remarkable Stage 17 ride tested positive for high levels of testosterone -- we now anxiously await the results of the B-sample. We're all hoping that the beer after Stage 16 wasn't Colorado's Rocky Mountain Oyster label (I'm full of bad jokes this morning).

It's the worst possible news for cycling following Operation Puerto and continues a long streak of scandals revolving around the Phonak team: Hamilton, Urweider, Perez, and Camenzind, as well as Guitierrez and Botero, who were named in Puerto. Personally, I'm shocked that one team can continue to allow so many high-profile doping cases to permeate it.

Update: Landis' interview with CNNSI denying the accusation

July 23, 2006

Farewell Eki

Ekimov nears the finish-1Fans watching on TV and on the Champs Elysses were treated to the sight of Viatcheslav Ekimov riding off the front of the peloton, waving and clapping. After that gesture, Ekimov announced that he will be retiring in September and will become a team director for Discovery. Ekimov is the old salt of the Tour, still finishing Tours at the age of 40(!). Ekimov's consistency in Tours is as astonishing: he's finished all 15 Tours he's raced in. If it weren't for his training crash last year he would likely be tying Joop Zoetemelk's record of 16. As recently as 2004 he won a silver medal in Athens and he's still a fearsome rider in the time-trial: in stage 19 he finished seventh and had the fastest time on the day until Zabriskie rolled through six seconds faster.

Stage 20: Antony (Parc de Sceaux) - Paris Champs-Elysees

Hushovd gets another stage win as he edges out McEwen. It was fitting that Hushovd closed out this year's Tour after he surprised everyone by winning the prologue and donning the first yellow jersey for this Tour, a yellow jersey that ended up being worn by many riders: Hushovd, Hincapie, Boonen, Gonchar, Dessel, Pereiro, and Landis.

Floyd Landis has won in Paris today and I'm happy for American cycling. I never thought after seeing Floyd in yellow at the Tour of California that he would have such an affinity for it this season. With the exception of the Dauphine, Floyd was pretty much in the yellow jersey from the start of his season to it's Tour de France conclusion. He won both of the American Tours, Paris-Nice, and now, the hardest and biggest of them all, the Tour de France. There is no asterisk for this Tour -- it was too good of a race for that. I just hope Landis will come back next year with his super hip and win again so the press can speculate whether or not his hip replacement is performance-enhancing. Landis has had one of the best seasons for a Tour winner in recent memory, biased by the fact that Armstrong has for the past seven years raced with full focus on the Tour, often with no wins anywhere else. Landis gave us an entire season to cheer through, especially for the American fans that saw him win twice on American soil. I'm really looking forward to the next Tour of California -- the Landis effect should be amazing.

I never thought Landis would win. I thought he would crack because of his team, and he did, but then he delivered a stunning comeback that said, "I am an Army of One." I also never thought Pereiro would be on that stage, but like many of the other top five riders, he managed to occupy leap into the overall spot of an absent leader, in this case Alejandro Valverde.

Operation Puerto was the start of this Tour's story, then it was followed by the crashes of and abandons many of the remaining contenders -- Valverde, Julich, Mayo. With so much damage to the top of the field, the story of the Tour switched to the lieutenants that stepped forward: Sastre, Kloden, Dessel, Moreau, Zubeldia, Rogers, and finally Pereiro. If you look at the top five, and swap in the names of the riders for their expected team leader, you'll see a top five that looks a lot like what people expected before the Tour; the lieutenants and teams really rose to the challenge.

And then of course there was Landis, who despite defending the efforts of his team, built his lead entirely on efforts done by himself: two time trials and the long solo mountain stage. Landis contributed two stories of comeback to this year's Tour. At the first rest day, we learned of his 2005 comeback and future adversity as x-rays of Landis' hip flashed across our TV screens. Perhaps that bode well for Landis, as it now seems a necessary element of the American cyclist champion that he overcome major health obstacles to stand atop that podium in France, whether it be shotgun shots, cancer, or dead hips. Then came the other comeback, the one that followed a ten-minute collapse, where previously Landis had seemed invulnerable on any mountain.

The only surprise for me was the absense of Discovery, which may have fallen victim to one too many captains, but really just seemed not in the right condition to compete. Levi Leipheimer was also more off-form than expected, but showed a resiliency and determination that was fun to cheer on. The American cyclists didn't do as well as expected, especially in the time trial, but it only takes one atop that podium to hold the banner of American cycling high.

Now I'm looking forward to next year. We may get to see Tom Danielson race his first Tour -- we'll definitely get to see his second Vuelta soon enough. Who knows what team Landis will be on. Will George finally get his Paris-Roubaix? The second Tour of California -- I'll be there -- and the Tour de Georgia -- will I be there as well? American cycling has never been more fun to watch.

Prediction check: * Prediction: Robbie McEwen, though with so many sprinters out of the competition a breakaway has a good chance today. Not much sense in trying to pick a breakaway rider, so I'll stick with Robbie. * Actual: Hushovd first, McEwen second

Continue reading "Stage 20: Antony (Parc de Sceaux) - Paris Champs-Elysees" »

July 22, 2006

Stage 19: Le Creusot - Montceau-les-Mines ITT

Gonchar wins the stage, but Landis won what mattered. Floyd Landis will become the third American to win the Tour de France. America will be lucky enough to see the eighth straight year of Tour victories. It's a comeback that surpasses Lemond's. While Lemond also won a yellow jersey with an unexpected -- fastest ever -- time trial victory, Lemond didn't lose 10 minutes to fall from 1st to 11th, outrace the entire peloton the next day to claw his way back into third, and then race into first on the final time trial.

As unwanted as Landis' collapse was for him, the comeback got him a stage victory he probably never would have had and mucho 'panache' credit. What would have been a conservative, well-defended, but ultimately doping-overshadowed victory instead has become the most memorable Tour of this century.

There were other battles on the road today. Cunego put in an unexpectedly great time trial to defend the white jersey, Kloden clawed his way onto the podium while passing Evans on the road, Pereiro put in a strong 4th place finish to earn respect for his podium spot, and Sastre fell off the podium as he couldn't change the fact that he is a climber.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Zabriskie (though it will probably be Landis) * Actual: Gonchar, in a repeat of the first time trial, with Landis second and Zabriskie three minutes behind

Continue reading "Stage 19: Le Creusot - Montceau-les-Mines ITT" »

July 21, 2006

T-Mobile drops Ullrich

T-Mobile has fired Jan Ullrich for failing to demonstrate his innocence. It is a bit of a reverse burden in that Ullrich has to prove the evidence against him false rather than the circumstantial evidence being shown to be true, but bags of blood with your name on it would seem to be failry easy to prove or disprove. Basso's lawyer has said that Basso may submit to DNA testing, though I've heard of no promises.

VeloNews: T-Mobile sacks Ullrich

Stage 18: Morzine - Macon

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Look! A QuickStep jersey crossing the line first! Tossato won on a day controlled by the breakaway, getting a win for QuickStep where Boonen could not. Fifteen riders got away and stayed away as Saunier Duval gave a half-hearted chase. With most of the sprint teams missing their big sprinters -- Boonen abandoned, Bennati crashed/abandoned, Freire did not start -- and with Lotto having Aerts in the breakaway, no one really had a reason to help out SD. The good news for Phonak is that Saunier Duval did try to chase as it meant that they wouldn't have to worry about Levi Leipheimer in the break. Even though Levi was 22 minutes down, Pereiro's yellow jersey has something to say about that. Levi still gained almost seven minutes in the GC, which moves him within striking distance of the top ten.

Gerolsteiner went for the win with Levi and Scholz in the break. Levi made the first attempt at going for the win, jumping off the front of the break and pedalling with Euskatel's Isasi, but they were eventually pulled back with 20k to go. Scholz then attacked and two riders jumped across to join him. That attack was successful, but Scholz seemed fairly spent in the final kilometers. Tossato and Moreni came around easily in the final sprint.

Zabriskie was in the break but ended up finishing by himself, 2:23 down. I hope that means that he intentionally dropped off to save some energy for tomorrow. I'm still picking him for the time trial, though I have a feeling that the week may have been too difficult for CSC as they vaulted Sastre up the standings. Landis is the better bet for the time trial, especially with Zabriskie having to go very early in the day and setting a benchmark for others to follow. But CSC has fought back after losing two leaders and a domestique, getting stage wins by Schleck and Voigt in week two, leading the team classification for a bit, and putting Sastre on the podium. It's a strong squad of six and I'd like to see them get another prize.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Breakaway.George Hincapie has been going into break after break with no results. I'll pick him, but I'm also wondering if Chris Horner finally has his legs back. McEwen should win the bunch sprint easily as all of his competitors are out. Freire abandoned today, Boonen and Bennati previously abandoned. * Actual: Popo was in the first break and Martinez in the second, but no sign of Hincapie. McEwen didn't even bother participating in the sprint.

Continue reading "Stage 18: Morzine - Macon" »

70 bottles of water

phonakcar.jpgLandis used 70 bottles of water yesterday and cyclingshots blogger Eric Reagan points out in the comments here, "[Landis] should just ride solo up at the front every stage and he'll get plenty of support." I agree -- the Phonak team car did an excellent job supporting Landis and deserves some of that prize money. Maybe get it a nice new set of rims. I apologize to the Phonak team car for my criticisms about the weakness of the Phonak team -- Team Car is certainly the ultimate lieutenant, even if it is a bit of a hanger on.

July 20, 2006

Stage 17: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne - Morzine

Best. Ride. Ever.

AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati

AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati

Floyd Landis at a dinner full of carbs and panache last night and hit the peloton hard out of the gates -- the Tour is his to win once more. What do you do when your team is weak and you lost ten minutes yesterday? You burn them up at the start of the race to jump free from the pack then ride solo across the entire stage, watching as the top ten contenders can't figure out what to do about it. With water bottle in hand, constantly pouring water over his head and back, Landis delivered the ride of the century, winning the stage, 5:42 ahead of Sastre, 7:08 ahead of Pereiro, jumping back on the podium, and positioning himself one time trial away from victory in Paris. Landis' quote at the end of the race talking to his wife, "I wanted six."

As Landis built up a lead of over nine minutes, the top ten continued to let Caisse do all the work, even as their team whittled down to only one rider in front of Oscar Pereiro. CSC and T-Mobile finally sent their riders to the front on the penultimate climb to do some serious chasing, but they still gave Landis 6:32 at the start of the final Joux Plane climb. Voigt and Vandevelde pulled off the CSC train and Schleck pulled through to launch Sastre. From there, it was absolute chaos as Sastre raced ahead, pulling back time on Landis, while Menchov, Kloden, Pereiro, and Evans yo-yo'd back and forth further back. Moreau and Cunego managed to jump ahead, but everyone else eventually fell behind Pereiro's wheel as the yellow jersey fought hard to stay in yellow.

This is the GC after today's stage. The Stage 19 time trial will be one for the ages: 1. Oscar Pereiro Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears 80:08:49 2. Carlos Sastre Team CSC 0:11 3. Floyd Landis Phonak 0:31 4. Andreas Kl�den T-Mobile 2:29 5. Cadel Evans Davitamon-Lotto 3:08 6. Denis Menchov Rabobank 4:14


* VeloNews Stage 17 summary * Cycling News Stage 17 summary * Graham Watson Stage 17 photo gallery * Bob Martin's Stage 17 by the numbers * Floyd Landis Stage 17 interview * Dave Zabriskie Stage 17 diary

Prediction check: * My prediction: It's going to be hard for a non-GC contender to win given the GC battle that will occur today. This is Discovery's last chance to go for a stage win so they'll be in a break up front. Landis needs to recover and claw back some of those ten minutes he lost. Sastre will jump but Kl�den's charge will be hard to hold off. I'm going to say Landis if he can descend that final peak like he stole something. * Actual: all of that happened, except Kloden's charge wasn't hard to hold off, and I never thought that Landis would get over seven minutes on the yellow jersey. Striking distance of the podium? Perhaps. On the podium, wow.

Continue reading "Stage 17: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne - Morzine" »

July 19, 2006

Today was unpredictable? I say no

Like many, yesterday's stage 15 performance by Landis convinced me that Landis had this one sewn up despite my amazement that Landis was doing it with almost no team support. Thus, today's stage 16 meltdown was a surprise. But if I had just listened to myself four months ago to this day, I would have been more prepared:

Floyd Landis: "It's the team, stupid": in both the ToC and Paris-Nice, Phonak was very shakable. They pulled through in the end, but I saw plenty of Landis fighting others off on his lonesome in both victories. The Tour de France's many stages require strong team consistency. You can win with a weak team like Armstrong's first victory, but you have to be lucky enough to have most of the major competitors sitting out due to doping violations. Discovery has already shown they can beat Phonak up on Brasstown Bald in last year's Tour de Georgia and T-Mobile put a lot of cracks into Discovery in last year's Tour de France. Even if Landis gets a coveted yellow jersey, I would expect to see isolated on a future mountain stage watching his lead tick away.

Caisse has a strong team. T-Mobile has a strong team. CSC has a strong team even with all their losses. They're riding at the top of this Tour even though all of them lost their leader. Lotto, Rabobank, and Discovery didn't lose their leaders to scandal or injury, and those leaders are riding lower in the standings.

Phonak has been weak throughout this season and throughout this Tour. A strong can protect you when your weak, and, more importantly, strong teammates are strong riders that aren't riding against you. Landis tried to win this Tour on the strength of his own efforts, but finally imploded under the weight. Can't say that's surprising.

NOTE: this isn't bragging about my prognostication skills. I predicted early, I predicted often. I've made many predictions and changed my mind many times since this entry. I'm just pointing out that sometimes things are as surprising as we think, if we just stuck with our gut hunches.

July 18, 2006

Stage 15: Gap - L'Alpe-d'Huez

Frank Schleck won the day and Landis probably won the Tour. Scheck's victory was earned by the hard work of his CSC team. CSC put three riders into a 24-man break and Zabriskie and Voigt pushed that break through rain and shine until it was whittled down to a select group at the base of Alpe d'Huez. Lampre also did a bit of work in that break and both Schleck and Cunego were launched on the final climb. Schleck and Cunego rode up together most of the way, but with 3k to go, Schleck attacked and put in the gap he needed to win, having enough time to zip up his jersey at the end. It's Schleck's first Tour de France and first Tour victory.

Landis finished in fourth and it looks like in all certainty he'll be wearing this yellow jersey in Paris. He took his yellow jersey back from Pereiro, who fought hard but lost out by 10 seconds. Landis never showed a second's weakness while all of his GC competitors did. Menchov couldn't hold Landis' wheel, not even with Rasmussen somehow bridging up to Menchov to help out. Evans couldn't hold on either and Sastre made a good effort, but was dropped further up the climb. Kloden was the only GC contender that stayed with Landis the whole way, but even when his T-Mobile teammate Mazzolini dropped back from the break, Kloden could never get a gap.

The breakway was a big factor in the finish as riders in the break dropped back on the Alpe d'Huez to help out their GC hopefuls. Voigt was first, putting in a big effort for Sastre not long after helping to launch Schleck -- Voigt may have done the biggest effort on the day. Merckx was next, as Landis jumped onto his wheel and shouted for him to go. Merckx was a caught a bit by surprise, but quickly jumped to the front and handed over a bottle. Mazzolini was last, coming back to pace Kloden.

The big abandon on the day was Tom Boonen, who leaves with some yellow jerseys but no stage win or green jerseys. Most would be happy with that sort of haul, but the Belgian press is probably letting him have it today.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Azevedo * Actual: Azevedo, where did you finish? Somewhere way back (7+ minutes)

Continue reading "Stage 15: Gap - L'Alpe-d'Huez" »

July 17, 2006

Stage 15 preview

Riders often perform very different in the Alps than the Pyrenees, especially since their form can drastically change over the course of a race (see: Levi Leipheimer). I pulled the top 30 2004 time trial results for the Alpe d'Huez and started bolding the top 20 riders from this year's Tour. Originally I deleted the riders no longer present, but I found it striking how many riders are not racing this year, be it retirement (Armstrong), abandon (Brochard), or doping (just about everyone else). I also included their current GC differential so you can try and guess whether or not vaulting into yellow would be a reasonable goal for that rider based on past performance. Stage 15 won't be ridden like a time trial, but the Alpe d'Huez does have a tendancy to isolate riders.

Some notes: Landis' time is probably the most important here, but both he and Azevedo were riding for Armstrong. In fact, many of the riders were riding in support of their leader, though Kloden somehow rode for Ullrich and ended up higher in the GC. There are also several top 20 riders that didn't compete in this race: Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov, Yaroslav Popovych, Marcus Fothen, Franck Schleck, Cedric Dessel, and Patrik Sinkewitz.

I wouldn't make exact predictions based on this list, especially with Menchov missing, but I will say this: this Tour isn't over yet, though no one has appeared to be in Landis' league. Kloden and Sastre look to be within striking distance of Landis and I would also throw Menchov in there even though I don't have a time for him. Pereiro could also hold onto the yellow jersey for at least another day based on these results.

  1. Lance Armstrong (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 39:41
  2. Jan Ullrich (G), T-Mobile, 01:01
  3. Andras Kloden (G), T-Mobile, 01:41 (GC -3.58)
  4. Jos Azevedo (P), U.S. Postal Service, 01:45 (GC -9.11)
  5. Santos Gonzalez (Sp), Phonak, 02:11
  6. Giuseppe Guerini (I), T-Mobile, 02:11
  7. Vladimir Karpets (Rus), Illes Balears-Banesto, 02:15 (GC -8:36)
  8. Ivan Basso (I), CSC, 02:23
  9. David Moncoutie (F), Cofidis, 02:23
  10. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC, 02:27 (GC -3:21)
  11. Stephane Goubert (F), Ag2R Prevoyance, 02:33
  12. Jos Enrique Gutierrez(Sp), Phonak, 03:04
  13. Michael Rogers (Aus), Quick Step-Davitamon, 02:34 (GC -4:51)
  14. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Sp), Phonak, 03:06 (GC leader)
  15. Marcos Serrano (Sp), Liberty Seguros, 03:09
  16. Georg Totschnig (A), Gerolsteiner, 03:15 (GC -8:16)
  17. Sandy Casar (F), FDJeux.com, 03:19
  18. Mikel Astarloza (Sp), Ag2R Prevoyance, 03:25
  19. Juan Miguel Mercado (Sp), Quick Step-Davitamon, 03:25 (GC -5:02)
  20. Christophe Moreau (F), Crdit Agricole, 03:25 (GC -5:13)
  21. Floyd Landis (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 03:35 (GC -1:29)
  22. Axel Merckx (B), Lotto-Domo, 03:40
  23. Gilberto Simoni (I), Saeco, 03:40
  24. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 03:41
  25. Sylvain Chavanel (F), Brioches La Boulangere, 03:43
  26. Michele Scarponi (I), Domina Vacanze, 03:53
  27. Pietro Caucchioli (I), Alessio-Bianchi, 03:58
  28. Laurent Brochard (F), Ag2R Prevoyance, 04:03
  29. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Rabobank, 04:06

July 16, 2006

Stage 14: Montelimar - Gap

JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images

JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images

Fredrigo takes it as the long breakaway on the day was able to hold off a charging chase group of 32 ridres over the final climb and down into the finish. The French fans have to be happy: three stage wins so far this Tour. Fredrigo and Commesso were the only surviving riders of a six-man break that was hit hard by a crash earlier in the stage. Verbrugghe had trouble holding the line for the break through a gravel-strewn turn; Verbrugghe went over the guard rail, cutting himself badly and possibly breaking his leg, while, a couple riders behind, Canada lost control of his front wheel and went sliding and broke his collarbone. The most spectacular part of the crash came from Kessler, riding in back, who did his best to get around a crashing Canada and ended up flipping himself and his bike over the guard rail as well. Kessler amazingly got back on the bike, even with large bits of rock stuck in his helmet. With their riders reduced by half, the break still continued to hold off the peloton being led by Liquigas and Milram, and even as the break dropped Aerts on the final climb of the day, there simply wasn't enough concerted chase to bring them back.

Discovery made a go for the stage win near the end, with Popovych and Azevedo trying to help bridge a group of riders containing George Hincapie up to the lead break. There were attacks within that chase group that Discovery had trouble containing and ended up killing the chase of the lead. CSC's Christian Vandevelde tried to bridge it alone, but he was a couple seconds too short to catch Commesso and Fredrigo. Rabobank also made a go for the win. Boogerd initially appeared to be leading out Rasmussen for some KOM points, but Rasmussen wasn't on full form so Boogerd shifted into attack mode for the win, but wasn't able to get enough of a gap.

Phonak got what they wanted out of the yellow jersey giveaway. Caisse controlled the pace, and even they got a break as the sprint teams seemed a bit more interested in trying to bring back the break for a stage win, knowing that the Alps lie ahead.

Abandons: Simoni, Backstedt

Prediction check: * My prediction: Discovery didn't make any moves yesterday, tomorrow is a rest day, and Hincapie is far enough down that he could be in a break without Phonak or Caisse-I.B. caring -- Hincapie in a breakaway. * Actual: Discovery made a go for it, with Popovych and Azevedo trying to pull back the breakaway for Hincapie, but there was too much chaos in the chase and they ended up a few seconds too short.

Continue reading "Stage 14: Montelimar - Gap" »

July 15, 2006

Post Stage 13 Analysis

Stage 12 and stage 13 have provided some surprising results. While a breakaway did have its chances on these flat stages, a breakaway victory was by no means guaranteed, and in the early week of the Tour the peloton showed that it was going to pull back each and every break in the final kilometers. What we saw in stages 12 and 13 was a breakaway that was guaranteed: the sprinter teams didn't come forward, and Phonak set a tempo that pulled back no time on the breaks.

Even more puzzling about these stages was that two strong riders whose GC hopes had been killed off by the Pyrenees were allowed to escape, and Landis/Phonak not only allowed the breakaways to succeed, but also turned non-threats into contenders by giving them huge amounts of time. Where any concerted effort could have easily made the gains more modest, Popovych, sitting dead in 23rd place, was allowed 4:45 to move him into 10th. Even more shocking was the twenty-eight minutes given to Pereiro, who is probably more shocked than anyone that he is sleeping in yellow. Oscar Pereiro has never been touted as a contender, but he has finished in the top ten and was 2005's Most Aggressive RiderL he managed to be in successful breakaways on stages 15, 16, and 18 -- he won stage 16. Pereiro rode for Landis in that 2005 Tour, so he should know

These are dangerous games that Phonak and the peloton are playing. It means that Phonak is tired and lazy, and there will be gifts to be had. Phonak may regret these gifts because they rejuvenate a rider and his team. Popo probably can't win the overall, but now Discovery has had a big morale boost and we might see some real GC action from them in the Alps: if Popo finds some Alps legs, he and Azevedo can attempt to volley into the top five by Alps end. Hincapie will also be remotivated -- I think he'll try to see if there are still some gifts to be had tomorrow in Stage 14. A stage win and a yellow jersey would allow Hincapie to walk away from this Tour with his head held high.

Phonak's gifts also project weakness. Granted, no one thinks Landis is weak, but many, including me, have be criticizing the strength of his team all year. Their weakness in this case has been intentional, and another aspect of that is they may have worsened their relationship with other teams (as Bobby Julich discusses in his diary): if a team doesn't protect the treasured yellow jersey when it would have been easy to do so, will it be easy for them to get help from teams in future stages when the actually want to protect the jersey?

Armstrong won seven Tours by eliminating his competitors with a big attack and making sure that they stayed down; they raced for second. Armstrong may have used the same jersey-giveaway strategy (e.g. 2005 Stage 9 to Jens Voigt), but never out of a position of obvious weakness, and never to such a strong rider.

Landis is now attempting to win a Tour by a different strategy, one that asks his teammates to give 50% on some days where Armstrong would have asked for 100% every day. Landis has chosen to conserve his team's strength as much as possible through this stressful, difficult, and hot second leg, so that they can show up as strong as possible for the third leg through the Alps. Landis' different strategy from Armstrong's makes sense, as everything about Landis, from his training to his personality is markedly different, but it's a strategy that we will have to wait and see until Paris to judge.

So, brilliantly executed fumble, or one gift too many?

Stage 13: Beziers - Montelimar

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Voigt! Whenever there's a break, you're likely to see Voigt, and today Voigt finally found the one that worked for him. He and Oscar Pereiro whittled the break down until it was just them. Voigt then went with 800m to go; Pereiro pulled it back. They sat and talked a bit, and then Voigt went again and was able to hold off Pereiro.

It was an ideal situation for a break, as Phonak was completely uninterested in chasing as were the sprint teams. It seems that everyone in the peloton is still too tired and will do some pessimal pacing with Alpe d'Huez and the rest of the Alps on their minds. The weather has been hot, the stages have been long, and the rest day isn't until Monday.

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty ImagesThe big news is a transfer of yellow jersey to Oscar Pereiro. I don't know what the Vegas line was on Pereiro moving into the yellow jersey from 28 minutes back -- heck, the odds of a break getting a half an hour on the field was probably pretty slim. The appears to have been Landis' tactic, as he's been hinting at his desire to hand over the yellow jersey temporarily in order to take some pressure off of his team. Landis didn't want to use up his team before the Alps, especially since they were barely there for the Pyrenees. But Oscar Pereiro moving into yellow on a Stage 13 break? I don't think I saw that in anyone's predictions. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

The mountains return tomorrow. Oscar Pereiro will be handing over that yellow jersey again soon -- we're getting close to breaking the record for most yellow jersey changes. Pereiro can climb, but I can't see him defending well after riding in a break like that. Other riders that are way down should take note -- the peloton and leaders are going to allow long breaks (Hincapie, you there?).

Prediction check: * My prediction: A breakaway. Hincapie from the dartboard. McEwen wins the bunch sprint. * Actual: A breakaway (not Hincapie), McEwen wins the bunch sprint.

Continue reading "Stage 13: Beziers - Montelimar" »

July 14, 2006

Stage 12: Luchon - Carcassonne

One, two, three, four times the charm -- Popovych attacked four times from the break. Four times Ballan and Freire gave chase, but Popovych had too much power. Discovery may have lost two riders today -- Savoldelli and Noval -- but today they looked a bit more like the team they were expected to be as they finally have a rider in the top ten again. The strategy for Discovery seemed fairly clear -- send their 'GC' riders into the breaks and hope for a win. Hincapie was in the first, Popovych covered the next and was rewarded with a stage win and 4:25 in the overall, which netted him tenth place by two seconds.

Freire had a decent day as well, as the intermediate sprint and third place got him 26 points while McEwen only got 15.

It was a long hot day, 99 degrees with a road temp of 122. The stage was long, windy, and just after yesterday's queen stage. The riders were tired, Phonak didn't want to spend too much energy chasing on a day like this, and the sprinters are still recovering from yesterday's climbs. In otherwords, this was a day for a break, and Discovery played it well.

Prediction check: * A breakaway, probably someone French. I jokingly guessed Horner * Actual: The break succeeded, but Horner finished in 150, 2 minutes behind the peloton, clearly still suffering

Continue reading "Stage 12: Luchon - Carcassonne" »

July 13, 2006

Post Stage 11 Analysis

Some times you need pre-race plan, sometimes you don't. Discovery, already on the ropes from a poor time trial showing, probably came in with a race plan, but they disintegrated well before execution. T-Mobile, vaulted into the top of everyone's mind after a strong time trial performance, came in with a plan and over executed: they went so hard on the penultimate climb that they couldn't hold onto their own pace -- a mistake they made last year as well. Gerolsteiner, which had all the pieces for a plan -- three riders in the lead on the penultimate climb -- no longer had a leader to call the plan into play. Rabobank, which seemed more concerned with helping Rasmussen pick up third-place KOM points, suddenly came together on the penultimate climb and decided, hey, our leader Menchov is strong, let's give it a go.

Boogerd and Rasmussen were the uber domestiques, the true stage winners on the day. Rasmussen, previously criticized for being too selfish, sacrificed himself pulling Menchov and the rest of the lead pack to the final Pla da Beret climb. Granted, he did get beat by Voeckler going for some KOM points, so Rasmussen may not have had full chicken-leg power today, but he had more than enough power to give over the Menchov. Boogerd then put in the super effort on the Pla da Beret, an effort that reminded me of Landis' super pulls for Armstrong. Boogerd created the final selection, and then was able to finish in a descent position himself... all of this after helping lead out Rasmussen for his KOM points earlier in the day.

Menchov did his job as leader -- he took the setup, and then delivered the final punch. Landis was stronger, but Menchov was the better sprinter, and Levi just couldn't time it right. In a game of what-if, Levi might have been in the same position had he not had a disasterous time trial. Menchov had two teammates going over the penultimate climb, but so did Levi: Totschnig and Fothen. Instead of riding for Levi, though, Totschnig seemed to be protecting their rider in the best young rider jersey, guiding him along. Levi was no longer in a position to ask for a sadistic effort from them, and he essentially rode alone.

Landis also rode alone, but it didn't matter. He had delivered in the time trial, all he needed to do today was defend and pad. He had no riders to send to the front to set the tempo, so he sat on the T-Mobile train instead. When the T-Mobile train ran out of gas, he sat on the Rabobank train. And when the Rabobank train was just Menchov, Landis lead the train himself.

The race is far from over, as the five-minute gaps that were made today could easily become five-minute deficits in the Alps, but no rider has looked nearly as strong as Landis. As predicted, Landis' team is nowhere to be found, but it's going to take a lot more than an imploding Discovery and an exploding T-Mobile to take him down. Cadel Evans' Lotto seems to have no riders to throw at Landis in the mountains, as Chris Horner went backwards today, and CSC only has six riders left, though the Sastre/Schleck combination could definitely net a stage win. Rabobank could enact a plan -- they didn't have one before, but perhaps they'll have one now. Denis Menchov looks to have his podium spot sealed up, they just have to fight for the top seat.

Stage 11: Tarbes - Val d'Aran - Pla-de-Beret

Well, a day with five hard climbs will sort out the standings, won't it? Menchov takes the stage win on a day that Rabobank controlled the end, but it's Floyd Landis that takes the yellow jersey. Menchov and Landis are the clear leaders now; Kloden, Evans, and Sastre are close, but they will have to look towards the Alps to prove themselves better than they were today. If Landis continues to ride the way he did today, without any teammates to really help him, then he should be in yellow in Paris. It won't be an easy defense as Menchov's Rabobank showed themselves to be a strong mountain threat. T-Mobile hasn't given up yet either, though all their bets are riding on Kloden now. One team that won't give Landis any trouble is Discovery. I picked them as the strongest team going into this Tour, and let me say I couldn't have been more entirely wrong. They haven't controlled a second of this race and certainly weren't ready for today's attacks.

Leipheimer hung in there with Landis and Menchov, hoping that his loss of contender status would allow him to escape for the win, but Menchov kept nailing back his attacks. It didn't seem like it was going to be a Rabobank day: T-Mobile did the initial damage on the penultimate Col du Portilon climb, dropping all of Discovery except Azevedo as well as Caisse rider Vladimir Karpets; however, T-Mobile did the most damage to itself, knocking all of their highly placed riders out of contention, except Kloden, who they pushed into cramping. Rabobank seemed more concerned with helping Rasmussen get some KOM points, as Boogerd led out Rasmussen twice to collect points. On the lead-in to the final climb, though, Rasmussen moved to the front of the surviving 18 riders and set a pace that kept the peloton from closing down the gap. Then on the final climb it was Boogerd who shattered the rest of the group, shedding Azevedo, Fothen, Parra, Schleck, Simoni, Moreau, and Zubeldia. With a final push he popped off Kloden.

Menchov, Landis, Leipheimer, Evans, and Sastre were the only riders to survive Boogerd's final acceleration. Leipheimer made several attacks, but wasn't going to be allowed to get the win by Menchov. Landis did the majority of the work, with Menchov and Evans doing a bit of pacing as well. An attack by Levi and counterattacks by Menchov and Landis were enough to drop Sastre and Evans. Menchov timed his final sprint perfectly, coming around the final corner ahead and holding off Levi and Landis. From there it was a race to see if Dessel could pull a Voeckler and stay in the yellow jersey. Dessel needed to limit the time gap to about four and a half minutes, but was eight seconds too slow in the end -- the difference was Landis' twelve-second time bonus.

David de la Fuente deserves a big mention as he and Fabian Wegmann duked it out for KOM points early in the day. de la Fuente won that battle and was able to stay away until the final climb.

Prediction check:

  • Prediction: First I picked Sastre and then swapped for Rasmussen, with Floyd in yellow.
  • Actual: Rasmussen was nowhere close as he sacrificed himself for Menchov, who took the stage win. Sastre got dropped near the very top and came in fifth.

Continue reading "Stage 11: Tarbes - Val d'Aran - Pla-de-Beret" »

July 12, 2006

Floyd theories

Super Floyd Photo by Eric ReaganThe reaction to Floyd Landis' mid-Tour annoucement of his dead hip seems to be mixed between awe and questioning Floyd's timing? Is this superhero Floyd unmasking his secret powers, i.e. Super Floyd? Or is Floyd preparing for a fall? Or is he preparing the Floyd Mythos in advance of joining the ranks of Greg Lemond (shotgun shot to back) and Lance Armstrong (cancer) that is required of American cyclists that win the Tour?

There would probably be less opinionating if Landis' stated reason did ring so false, which was that he wanted to get the information out there before it came out in other ways -- his hip didn't die yesterday. The worst-spirited speculation states that Phonak is just pre-excusing Landis prior to any poor performance in the mountains. I don't think it's Landis' intention to suck in the mountains, so that reasoning doesn't hold much water with me, even if Floyd does end up sucking in the mountain.

What rings more true with me are two reasons:

  • Screwing with his opponents
  • Raising awareness of his Floyd Landis Foundation while the spotlight is bright on the Tour.

Can you just imagine Floyd pulling along side another rider on a climb, taking his bad leg out of the pedal, and saying, "Look: I'm beating you with one leg."

The litlte psychological messing-with-their-heads scenario works for me because of this 2006 Paris-Nice anecdote from Landis' Outside Magazine interview:

The crux moment arrived in Stage 6, on the way to Cannes. Halfway into the race, a group of 19 broke away, and none of the other teams were willing to help Phonak chase them down. With the gap widening and the race becoming dangerously unstable, Landis decided to send a message.

At the base of a climb, he ordered his team to the front and told them to go full throttle. They blasted for three, five, ten minutes, and when everyone behind was gasping and hurting, Landis turned to address the peloton.

"You want more of that, motherfuckers?" he asked loudly. "Because if you do, we've got plenty."

The race went smoothly the rest of the way. After it ended, I asked Chechu Rubiera, a former teammate of Landis at U.S. Postal, if Floyd had reminded him of anyone in particular at that moment. Rubiera just smiled.

Super Floyd Photo by Eric Reagan, http://cyclingshots.blogspot.com

Stage 10: Cambo-les-Bains - Pau

Mercado takes a stage win over Dessel on a long break of attrition. What was originally a 13-man break became a battle between Mercado and Dessel as the two managed to drop the rest of the break going over the massive Col du Soudet. Five riders caught back on in the runup to the Col du Marie Blanc, but Mercado and Dessel dropped them once more and held onto the finish. As they approached the line, Dessel had already secured his new KOM and yellow jerseys, but he wanted it all -- overall, mountain, and stage. Mercado asked Dessel to let him have the win, Dessel said no, so Mercado decided to sit on Dessel's wheel in the final kilometers. Dessel still made it a go in the final sprint and was just barely beat to the line. The smartest move they made on the day was probably not allowing Landaluze to join their break. Landaluze managed to get within ten seconds of latching onto their break, but they pushed away from him and kept the spoils to themselves. Dessel is now the fifth rider to wear yellow this Tour in just ten stages, and I'm betting on that jersey passing to someone else's shoulders tomorrow. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Bennati took the field sprint just over Zabel for some more points in the green jersey competition. Bennati also made it into the break earlier in the day and took an intermediate sprint for more points.

The mountains are finally here, but this wasn't a stage designed to be decisive in the overall competition. The long run-in to the finish meant that none of the overall contenders were going to waste too much energy attacking, and tomorrow's very difficult stage means that everyone wants to save as much energy as possible. The result was a breakaway that the peloton barely gave chase to -- it held about a ten minute lead nearly the whole day that was only pulled back to seven-and-a-half minutes by day's end. T-Mobile set tempo most of the day but probably didn't want to given their seven-man status, and we may have seen some of the effect of the departure of the Tour boss, Lance Armstrong: there's no clear leader or favorite in the peloton anymore, so every team is doing its best to pretend that it doesn't have to do work, that it doesn't have a clear leader. Hopefully this will sort itself out tomorrow, or else the breakaways will have a huge advantage in the mountains.

Seventy-three riders made the selection in the main peloton, which doesn't whittle things down too much. Cunego and Levi had been dropped but reintegrated, as was Simoni, but Simoni had a flat tire to blame Zabriskie barely held on, but he's probably working for Sastre. The only real surprise was how bad Mayo did -- he's not really an overall favorite anymore, but now it's doubtful that he'll even do well in the mountain stages to come. Mayo was dropped early and finished with the likes of McEwen.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Sprinters win, Freire first, Zabel second, Hincapie third, Gonchar still in yellow * Actual: Minus the breakaway, I might have actually done quite well :). Zabel finished second in the field sprint behind Bennati, but with the breakaway this put Zabel in 9th place. Gonchar lost the yellow to Dessel. Freire made the first selection over to the Col du Soudet but got dropped on the Col du Marie Blanc.

Continue reading "Stage 10: Cambo-les-Bains - Pau" »

July 11, 2006

Stage 9: Bordeaux - Dax

Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images

Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images

Photo by -/AFP/Getty ImagesIt was a messy sprint finish with multiple sprinters trying to launch their lead outs. Eventually it was Zabel, Freire, and McEwen grabbing the wheel of Boonen, who could do little to fight them off as they each came around one by one. McEwen jumped way across to his left, which was perhaps too much ground, as it was Freire who came up between McEwen and Boonen and beat McEwen by just a tiny bit of wheel. (Photo by -/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty ImagesIt was a very, very flat stage, which didn't generate too much excitement. A three-man break -- Beneteau, Knees, and Aug� -- was away most of the stage. It's a bit odd how breaks are gong so easily and staying away until the final kilometers so frequently. The break was caught at about the 3.5km point. O'Grady tried an attack in the final kilometers, but QuickStep was prepared and pulled it back quite easily. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images)

There was some splitting of the peloton that caused some contenders to lose time. Zabriskie's report implies there was a crash; whatever it was caused Denis Menchov lost 13 seconds as did best young rider Marcus Fothen, who fell to ninth place -- Kloden/Karpets/Evans/Zabriskie moved up a spot. Levi should have followed Zabriskie's decision to move up near the front, and Levi ended up losing 0:26 on the day. He actually crossed about 1:40 back, but the refs gave him the time of the end of the peloton as he had an unspecified mechnical problem. Levi seems to be talking stage win as his strategy now, with yet-another-top-10-finish not meaning as much to him anymore if he can't reach that podium, so time doesn't matter as much as regaining his legs.

Prediction check: * My prediction: McEwen first, Boonen second. * Actual: McEwen second, Boonen fourth

Continue reading "Stage 9: Bordeaux - Dax" »

A different Floyd article

Photo by AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski

Photo by AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski

If you want something less gruesome and much more entertaining that reading about Floyd's dead hip bone, you can read Dave Zabriskie's interview of Floyd Landis for Bicycling Magazine. Landis is a bit of an anti-Armstrong when it comes to PR, high-tech bike gear, eating, and personality, so it's full of wonderful gems from both, like:

DZ: In the beginning, you started riding your mountain bike to go fishing. But then--what?--you just enjoyed the riding more than the fishing at some point?
FL: Well, we were 15, so we weren't really going fishing in the first place. We were just going down to the river to burn things and throw rocks. When you don't have video games, you do stuff like that. You can't shoot imaginary animals, so you just go kill real ones. We'd take our BB guns and shoot whatever got in the way--birds, ducks, squirrels, rabbits, the neighbors' chickens. Anyway, it got boring, and we just started riding our bikes. Since then I haven't shot anything.

DZ: So, you're a pretty successful guy, a team leader with a fat contract--why do you share an apartment in Girona?
FL: Well, because, Dave, you clean a lot.

DZ: Whose upbringing was weirder? I was a non-Mormon in Salt Lake City, and you were the strict Mennonite in long pants with no TV from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
FL: I didn't witness your upbringing, but if I had to guess, based on outcome, I would say yours.

DZ: On CSC, we have one leader this year, that's Ivan Basso. I mean, I could lead the team in other ways and directions...
FL: Yeah, backwards.
DZ: ...but if they want leading for the win, that's Ivan.
FL: Give us some examples of ways you're capable of leading things.
DZ: I lead things in a positive, you know, positive flowing flow of energy throughout every...
FL: You're not making any sense.

DZ: Johan and Bjarne are excellent directors, no doubt. But I would not label them geniuses. Bjarne's very nice, and he looks like he's thinking a lot, but I'm not sure that he is.
FL: Holy shit. Um, Bjarne happens to be your boss.
DZ: These guys...I think it's not that hard to use tactics in bike races. I mean you don't have to be a genius. It's pretty simple. And they can say whatever they want in the car, but if the rider isn't capable of it, then it doesn't happen. So they have to have a good rider.
FL: The way I see it, there are five scenarios: If you're smart and you're weak, you can't win. If you're stupid and you're strong, you'll probably figure out a way to lose. If you're stupid and weak, then you should probably quit. If you're strong and smart enough to figure out how the race works, then you have a good chance of winning. If you're strong and just a little bit smart, smart enough to listen to the director in the car, and he's smart--that's the whole point of a director. When you have a lot of stupid, strong people who listen, then you have a good team. Because it's not possible in cycling to have nine smart, strong guys. Even if you took all the smart, strong guys you wouldn't get nine. So that's what the director is for. Would you confirm that?
DZ: Yeah. There are people in the sport who could satisfy themselves just staring at a pillar.

I also never knew that Zabriskie has never been in a wind tunnel. I guess when you have the 'best aerodynamic position in the peloton' there's no need to.

The newstand issue of Bicycling Magazine has a bit more in these little "Dumb and Dumber" sidebars, so be sure to pick up a copy if you enjoy.

July 10, 2006

Cycling is pain, but this is ridiculous

Floyd Landis, 2nd place in the Tour, current overall favorite, can't even walk up stairs. He has to get on his bike from the left-hand side. He has a dying hip bone due to a crash in 2003. Read the NYTimes article. It's amazing. Also amazing is the fact the he's hid this for over a year, riding on TV, adopting an odd time trial position that puts him way forward on his seat, and even publishing his power output numbers for everyone to analyze.

In analyzing Lance Armstrong, some people went so far as to say the cancer made him stronger, lacking an explanation for how someone could have their body destroyed by chemo and then win seven straight Tours. I won't be ridiculous and say that the dead hip made Landis stronger, but he has gotten stronger while his hip bone has gotten worse. I had heard the numbers before: he was able to improve his max power output (5 seconds) from 900 watts to 1250 watts this year. What was missing was the context: Landis basically spent the 2005 cycling season wearing a groove into his hip bone and also receiving every manner of therapy to keep his hip working.

Cycling is about pain and the ability to suffer it for as long as necessary to win. Maybe being in constant pain off the bike helps him push it that much further on the bike. Or maybe, if Floyd had a good hip and didn't have to essentially pedal with one leg, he would be so far up the mountain that we wouldn't have to call this a "wide-open Tour."

DSL outage

kwc.org's Internet connection went out yesterday. Hopefully it will hold up for the rest of the Tour.

Rest day, post-TT analysis

The overall contenders? Everytime I do this, I seem to lose of the mentions to a crash or otherwise. You know it's an upside-down, hard-to-predict Tour when Al Trautwig is still in the lead in the OLN yellow jersey picks competition. The convential wisdom for yesterday was a day of Americans, but Landis was the only rider to answer the call. More on Floyd "Tougher than Tyler" Landis in my next entry.

Discovery: They were the strongest team of the opening weak... until the time trial. The time trial, which Discovery is supposed to have a technological advantage in, was instead the stage where Discovery got beat by the likes of T-Mobile, Phonak, and Gerolsteiner. They handed the title of strongest team over to T-Mobile and are in no position to take it back anytime soon. The reports seem to indicate that Lance will be making an unplanned visit to the Tour. Is it time to rally the troops? Discovery now has an important decision: who is their leader? Bruyneel knows that he can't win the overall trying to protect two horses; though maybe he knows that the overall is already looking a lot less likely. Savoldelli (13th place, 2.10), multi-Giro winner, seems the probable choice now, though Hincapie (17th, 2.30) is the sentimental favorite. Popo (23rd, 3.27) doesn't seem strong enough, and Azevedo (33rd, 4.09) is hard to judge until the mountains. Savoldelli's top ranking among the team seems a surprise probably even to Discovery -- in the pre-race commentary, Johan himself was discounting Savo's chances due to Giro fatigue.

T-Mobile: Six of the seven T-Mobile riders are in the top 20, so it doesn't seem to matter that they started the Tour two riders down. Everything I said about Discovery winning the overall because of their strength as a team appears to be transferred to T-Mobile, though a lot of their riders will be dropping down the standings when the mountains hit. Daily Peloton picks Michael Rogers (3rd place, 1.08) as their man, but I think their man is the rider with #21 on his back: Andreas Kloden (5th, 1.50). Although 'inconsistent' according to many a commentator, he has the experience of filling in for Jan's shoes and has been atop that Tour podium; experience matters.

CSC: Carlos Sastre (6th place, 2.27) becomes the man for them as he should be able to climb well in the mountains and is put in a good-enough time trial. Zabriskie (9th, 1.53) has decent overall position but he won't be able to hold in the mountains and he's been busy doing domestique duties every day. The CSC team is very weakened: no Basso or Julich; O'Grady riding with an injured back; Voigt, as it turns out, intentionally finished last-place in the time trial to save up for a breakaway on Stage 8, but that fizzled. T-Mobile was able to rally from their pre-race decapitation, but CSC has had a lot of extra punches thrown at them.

Gerolsteiner: If you didn't look at Levi's (63rd place, 6.17) performance, you might have thought their day wasn't half bad. Sebastian Lang has the top time for most of the day, but it's hard to celebrate when your leader put in a time trial worse than his lieutenants. I'm always discounting Levi's podium chances because he always seems to make the critical mental mistake, but these usually happen near the end; this one was early enough to eliminate his chances for the podium at the end of the first week. Levi says he hasn't been feeling well, but isn't very specific about it other than indicate that he may have peaked to early or otherwise flubbed his training. He's looking forward to the mountains, but we'll see what form recovers by then.

Phonak: I get more and more impressed with Landis (2nd place, 1.00) every day. With Discovery dropping down the overall rankings and losing that strategic leverage, that would put Landis in my #1 spot, though I didn't anticipate a headless T-Mobile to look so strong. I think Landis is now the man to beat, given that Kloden is still a bit of a wildcard. I was impressed with Floyd Landis' interview last night. Landis has plenty to complain about, from the UCI waiting until stage 7 to tell Landis he had to change his aerobars, to the fact that his aerobars snapped on course and forced him to switch bikes on course. Landis made it clear there was no excuses necessary as he lost by a minute, i.e. Gonchar was the better rider on the day no matter what. Landis has now had two mechanical issues that he didn't panic over and performed well through. Mentally, he seems strong (see next entry). Physically, he seems strong. We just have to see if he has mountain legs.

Lotto: Cadel Evans (8th place, 1.52) vaulted himself up the standings by doing a decent time trial yesterday. This puts him in podium contention, but I don't seem him atop that podium because Lotto has two riders to watch over: Evans and McEwen. I don't think a team can successfully defend both green and yellow jersey, and McEwen has a definitive lead in the green jersey competition.

Rabobank: Denis Menchov (10th place, 2.00) has good credentials as the de facto winner of the Vuelta last year. He also has a great team to follow him into the mountains. Rasmussen may have to sacrifice some of his KOM glory in exchange for protecting Menchov in the mountains, but it may well be worth it.

Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears: Caisse brought a good team to the Tour, and like many of the other teams this year lost their leader, Alejandro Valverde, to unforeseen cirumstances (crash). That leaves young rider Vladimir Karpets (7th place, 1.52) in a possible position to compete for the overall with Caisse's Spanish armada at his side. Karpets seems a bit young to me to win this year's Tour, but hey, nothing seems very predictable about this Tour.

July 9, 2006

Stage 8: Saint-Meen-le-Grand - Lorient

A great win by Calzati on a solo breakaway. Calzati went with Zabriskie, Aerts, Kessler, Carlstrom, and Halgand. It was an interesting break, with both a Lotto and Credit Agricole rider, which meant that QuickStep would be on its own chasing the break down for a sprint finish. With a long week in the yellow jersey for QuickStep, that seemed to be the last thing QuickStep was going to do. The presence of Kessler and Zabriskie, though, made the break too dangerous for the overall positions, so Phonak and FD Jeux gave mild chase. Calzati decided to jump from the break and try his chances on his own, and it played out well. The peloton stopped giving chase and Calzati was actually able to expand his lead by the finish. Calstrom and Halgand attempted to follow Calzati, but went too late to catch onto his wheel. Calzati's win was a great for the French fans; too bad about the World Cup...

Zabriskie's presence in the break gave him the opportunity to rack up 10 seconds in time bonuses and move up in the overall classification. In his post-race interviews, though, there doesn't appear to have been an actual strategy to move Zabriskie into a break today. In his words, it was his turn to cover a break and it just happened that it stayed away. When Calzati jumped, Zabriskie was a little too tired to follow and let it go, thinking it wouldn't succeed and also having to watch Kessler (according to VeloNews, Zabriskie had a bee sting). Zabriskie's teammate Voigt had tried a breakaway earlier in the day -- CSC is now saying that Voigt intentionally threw the previous day's time trial to save strength -- but that breakaway wasn't able to stick.

McEwen won the field sprint to take the fourth place sprint points. Boonen continues to by mystifyingly bad in planning the sprints as he went too early and ended up sitting up.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Boonen first, McEwen second * Actual: Calzati wins from the breakaway, McEwen wins the field sprint for 4th

Continue reading "Stage 8: Saint-Meen-le-Grand - Lorient" »

July 8, 2006

Stage 7: Saint-Gregoire - Rennes, ITT

AP Photo/Christian HartmannTime-trial specialist Sergei Gontchar/Gonchar/Honchar dominated today's time trial and took the yellow jersey with a time of 1:01:43. This was the last chance for the time trial specialists to slip into the yellow jersey, and of that crowd -- Zabriskie, Rogers, Karpets, and Gontchar -- it was Gontchar who annihilated the rest of the field by a minute over the next best time. This was a T-Mobile day: 1st, 4th, 6th, and 8th. Who needs Ullrich? Or, rather, in the words of Johan Bruyneel, "It's lucky Jan Ullrich is not here, otherwise the Tour would be over."

Photo by AP Photo/Christian Hartmann

It was a surprisingly poor showing by the American riders, who were expected to dominate. Bobby J had it worst, crashing early on, sliding over a curb, and appearing to injure his arm. Levi had a terrible showing, losing a minute and a half by the first time check and six minutes overall with a time of 1:07:49. Hincapie did poorly as well with a time of 1:04:25, which was 30 seconds slower than Savoldelli -- we may see Savoldelli become Discovery's protected man in the mountains. My main pick, Zabriskie, had a respectable 1:03:40, but for those of us who thought he'd light the course of fire, it was a disappointment.

There was one bright light among the Americans: Landis is certainly the American to beat and has vaulted himself to the top of the overall contenders. Landis finished in second with a time of 1:02:44, which he did while apparently having to switch his bike on the course either due to a flat tire or to his bars slipping -- the UCI apparently ordered Landis to lower his bars just prior to the race. If Landis's mechanic can just get these mechanical issues under control, Landis should easily finish on the podium. Then again, his legs appeared to disappear in the mountains in the Dauphine, so I should wait until the first mountain stage.

Big Losers: Discovery (no riders in the top ten overall anymore), CSC (now have lost Basso and Julich, Zabriskie only managed 10th, O'Grady is still hurting, and Voigt isn't looking very strong after finishing in last place), Leipheimer

Big Winners: T-Mobile, which now has four riders in the top ten including Kloden; Cadel Evans and Denis Menchov, whose chances in the overall just got a whole lot better with strong top ten finishes today. Christophe Moreau also looks primed for a top five finish if he can hold in the mountains.

Prediction check:

  • My predictions: Zabriskie, Landis, Hincapie, Julich, Rogers, Levi
  • Actual: Landis was second, Rogers was fourth instead of fifth, scratch the rest of the picks.

Continue reading "Stage 7: Saint-Gregoire - Rennes, ITT" »

July 7, 2006

zzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZabriskie!

The first week of racing was far above average for an opening sprinting week for me. The billing of this as a "wide open" Tour de France is living up to its name, with Hincapie grabbing a yellow jersey for a day and the sprinters also really fighting hard this first week for both yellow and green jerseys. The KOM competition has even been spirited, and there hasn't even been a mountain yet! Doping scandal or no, this has been an exciting Tour.

Nevertheless, six sprint stages is a heckuva lotta stages to sit through with the exact same formula: long break, sprint finish, long break, sprint finish. Even with the nod to the classics routes, there's just not much variety in a sprint stage. The three previous years gave us a team time trial on stage 4 to remind us that there is a yellow jersey competition, and two years ago we even got cobblestones on stage 3. By the end of this uneventful stage 6, I have to admit that part of me was preferring that I wasn't waking up at 6am every morning to watch these semi-live.

But snore no more! According to the CSC blog, Zabriskie should be previewing the tomorrow's time trial course as I write this. The time trial is the last chance for some non-GC threats riders like Zabriskie, Rogers, Karpets, or Gonchar to grab the yellow jersey, so I don't expect tomorrow to sort out the standings, but it will definitely create some good separation. I'm hoping from a great performance from Julich -- it's very unlikely he'll get his coveted yellow jersey, but a great performance would unite CSC behind him as the leader for the stages to come.

Julian Dean Diary

I read Julian Dean's Diary for the first time today -- he's Thor Hushovd's leadout man -- and found it an entirely appropriate summary of this first week of racing: yellow jerseys, crashes, and McEwen.

juliandean.co.nz

Stage 6: Lisieux - Vitre

McEwen gets his sprinting hat trick (how can I not just pick this guy every day?). Lampre and Quickstep lead the charge to the finish with Boonen riding sixth wheel and McEwen way back, but McEwen had an excellent lead out from Steegmans that took him straight to the front. Boonen tried to catch McEwen's wheel but it looked like he got frozen up by Caspar jumping in from his right. Boonen tried to reaccelerate using Bennati's wheel, but neither Bennati nor Boonen could catch McEwen. Boonen has to be the unhappiest-looking man receiving the yellow jersey ever. Much has been made about how Steegmans was making up for his blown lead out yesterday -- he went too early and apologized to McEwen -- but if I could do a leadout like Steegmans I don't think I would ever apologize.

Robbie McEwen had some post-race commentary on that little arm waggling victory dance he did:

"I had a bet with Levi Leipheimer... we've been talking about it since March in Tirreno-Adriatico. He told me to do a victory salute, but a special one: the Dumb and Dumber move, from the movie. When you saw it, you know that it looks like you're running really fast," he said, swinging his arms. "Levi will be happy with that and now he owes me!"

This appeared to be an entirely uneventful day, leaving the peloton very thankful. Despite a bit of drizzle there were no casualties, the break stayed a way a bit long but was reeled in proper, and there wasn't much competition at the intermediate points except for Pineau going for a the third place KOM points on the only climb of the day. Boonen did make it into an early 18-man break, but with the yellow jersey on his shoulders that wasn't going to work. 15 of those riders were reeled in, leaving Backstedt, Geslin, and Brard to maintain the break for the rest of the day until the final kilometers.

Tomorrow is the time trial! My pick should be obvious. It'll be nice for the overall standings to start taking real shape.

Prediction check: * Boonen first, McEwen second * McEwen first, Boonen third

Continue reading "Stage 6: Lisieux - Vitre" »

July 6, 2006

Stage 5: Beauvais - Caen

Boonen finally beat McEwen, but it wasn't for first place. Oscar Freire came charging up the right side of the finishing straight and jumped around everyone with a perfectly timed burst of speed. Boonen desparately tried to catch back up and McEwen came rolling in fifth. Quickstep was leading out the sprint with 1k to go -- two leadout men with Boonen just behind -- but things started to mix up as Milram sent a rider in front of Boonen's leadout men. Credit Agricole jumped to the front of the mix, but then it was McEwen's Lotto leadout man that came bursting through on the final straight. McEwen seemed to realize that his leadout man went a little too soon and jumped over to some other wheels, but by then Boonen was already leading the charge to Robbie's left. As Robbie jumped to the left to grab some wheels, Freire jumped clear on the right with a huge burst of speed that was more than enough to hold off Boonen.

This stage was in danger of being dangerously boring. It was dominated by a two-man breakaway by Dumoulin and Schr�der with most of the excitement on the day consisting of Pineau fighting for the single third-place KOM points leftover after the two-man break went through. The peloton waited a bit long to pull the break back, which stressed the peloton and lead to a couple crashes. Discovery rider Egoi Martinez went down -- he finished but lost his fifth overall position. Another crash took down Lotto rider Vansummeren (a good week for McEwen, bad for the rest of the team) and a CSC rider.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Boonen first, McEwen second (I'll keep using it til it works) * Actual: Boonen second, McEwen fifth

Continue reading "Stage 5: Beauvais - Caen" »

July 5, 2006

Stage 4: Huy - Saint-Quentin

McEwen got his second win on a relatively calm day for the peloton. The weather was slightly cooler and the Tour ended its road trip through the classics, leaving Belgium and entering France for good. McEwen made the win look easy, winning by at least five bike lengths. There was a bit of chaos in the final sprint as Hushovd's leadout man crashed, but Hushovd had already grabbed another wheel and the rest of the sprinters made it around on the uphill finish without any problem. Hushovd's arm must be feeling fairly good as he was able to hold the fourth spot ahead of Boonen. Zabel didn't get to compete in this sprint as he got a flat tire in the final kilometers.

As a result of the sprint, McEwen moves into the green jersey and 6th overall at 0.12 back. Boonen gets to hold onto his one second lead in the yellow jersey for at least one more day. The KOM jersey stays on Pineau's shoulders as he won the first KOM sprint on the day over the other KOM contenders.

Discovery put Egoi Martinez into the main breakaway on the day and Martinez was able to rack up 18-seconds worth of time bonuses through the three sprint points, leapfrogging him into fifth overall. Discovery now has the 3rd, 5th, and 7th position overall. So, to update my analysis from last night, Discovery is in a really, really strong position right now. Bruyneel will have a lot of cards to play if his riders do well in the time trial.

It nearly looked like the breakaway might succeed as none of the sprint teams were coming forward in the final kilometers to lead the charge, but with about 4k to go the pace really picked up and the remainder of the break was caught with 2k to go.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Boonen first, McEwen second * Actual: McEwen first, Boonen fifth (will I learn?)

Continue reading "Stage 4: Huy - Saint-Quentin" »

July 4, 2006

Post Stage 3 Analysis

Three stages and a prologue done have told us a little bit more about how things are shaping up. We have yet to hit the first time trial or mountain stage to really shake things up, but the prologue and today's classics-style stage have allowed the contenders to rise up a bit; they also provided enough time for the early Tour-jitter crashes to do their damage:

  • Valverde (collarbone): overall favorite according to the bookies.
  • Rodriguez (collarbone): McEwen's leadout man. Robbie can grab anyone's wheel, but this could tip a stage or two Boonen's way.
  • O'Grady: Has worn the yellow and green jerseys and has two stage wins. He was within easy striking distance of another yellow jersey.
  • Dekker (collarbone and face): Four Tour stage wins, certainly a big loss for Rabobank
  • Horner (not out, but injured hand): It looks like Horner will continue on, but after thinking he broke his hand, who knows what this will do to Horner's breakaway potential.

Depending on your definition of 'contender', either all the major contenders made it up the Cauberg climb in the same group or a couple (Mayo, Cunego) fell behind. I'm mostly watching my picks, so here are my thoughts on them:

  • Discovery: Discovery has come out strong as expected, with Hincapie currently looking to be their favored rider. I'm having a hard time with my pick of Discovery as number one: I believe Discovery will win, but I have a hard time believing Hincapie will win, yet looks the most likely right now. Slightly surprising is the fact that Savoldelli appears to be very strong despite having trained for the Giro instead. Popovych had a poor showing in June's Dauphine and, while not looking bad, hasn't shown leader-level strength yet. Martinez looks like he'll be a strong domestique. The Discovery standings are:

    3 George Hincapie 0.05
    5 Paolo Savoldelli 0.15
    21 Yaroslav Popovyvch 0.27
    22 Egoi Martinez 0.28
    28 Jos� Azevedo 0.31
    50 Jos� Luis Rubiera 0.45

    Hincapie on final approach-1 Savoldelli during warmups
    That's pretty good, eh? The time trial will knock a couple back, but so many riders within striking distance of the yellow jersey should put Bruyneel in a great tactical position come mountain time. He could send Martinez, Azevedo, or Rubiera up the road to go for yellow and let the peloton pull Hincapie/Savo/Popo up the road, he could make the other teams Savo downhill to the stage 10 or stage 14 finish (stage 10 might be a bit too far), or he could just do the traditional blue train and see how many contenders he can blow off the back of a climb.

  • Floyd Landis7 Floyd Landis 0.15: Any doubts lingering from his poor Dauphine performance are mostly erased in my mind, though we haven't hit that first mountain yet. He was very strong in the prologue and he made the soft selection up the Cauberg today.

  • Bobby Julich Warming Up19 Bobby Julich 0.25: The injury to O'Grady probably isn't doing much for CSC's morale. Jens Voigt went on one of his traditional breaks, but he was atypically dropped from the break. A strong performance by Bobby J and/or Dave Z in the time could easily turn things around, but for now CSC is waiting for its moment.
  • Alejandro Valverde: Spain had its best chance dashed by a loss of concentration on a hot day.

  • Levi descends25 Levi Leipheimer 0.28: His prologue performance was less than stellar, 'sluggish' in his own words. He'll have several more stages to ride into shape, so this isn't a big concern just yet, but with such a wide open Tour, a little bit of sluggishness may be the difference between a podium finish and a top five finish (at least according to my predictions).

Other riders (look, non-Americans!):

  • 11 Cadel Evans 0.20: He won this year's Tour de Romandie, but I kept hearing his name in 2005 and never saw him deliver, so I'm still thinking top ten finish for him.
  • 16 Andreas Kl�den 0.24: I haven't been watching T-Mobile's top-remaining rider, but I should probably pay a bit more attention. T-Mobile is obviously weakened with the loss of Ullrich and Sevilla, but Kl�den did finish second while presumably working for Ullrich, so that always makes him a threat.
  • 32 Denis Menchov 0.33: Menchov has experience with doping-scandal Grand Tours, as he became the de facto winner of the 2005 Vuelta as a result of Heras' suspension. The title of Vuelta winner requires much respect as do his combined climbing and time trialing skills.

Stage 3: Esch-sur-Alzette - Valkenburg

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

Continue reading "Stage 3: Esch-sur-Alzette - Valkenburg" »

July 3, 2006

Stage 2: Obernai - Esch-sur-Alzette

McEwen took the stage win as the field frantically tried to catch a late breakaway by T-Mobile rider Mattias Kessler. There was a crash in the peloton with 2km to go that threw things in the field into chaos and it seemed that Kessler would be able to hold them off, but with 250m to go the field finally caught him and Robbie McEwen charged up through to take the win.

Thor Hushovd should be very happy even though he lost the sprint and pulled his foot out of his pedal in the process -- the time bonuses he picked up earlier in the day were more than enough to take the yellow jersey back from Hincapie. Hincapie did his best to stay up front on the wheels of the sprinters, but either he didn't have the legs to compete with the sprint specialists or he was choosing wisely not to get so involved in such risky business. It's probably the latter, especially with the many sprint stages left before the first time trial.

The long break on the day was by Hernandez and de la Fuente, who fought back and forth at the various KOM points along the route. Hernandez eventually cracked, which left de la Fuente in the position to take the KOM jersey away from Fabian Wegmann. Wegmann bridged up to De la Fuente at the end to take back some points, but de la Fuente racked up enough points to stay two points ahead of Wegmann.

The coming sprint stages should be very interesting with Hushovd in first, Boonen in second, and McEwen in third. There's a lot of incentive to take every little time bonus; Boonen will be racing to get that yellow jersey by the time the route hits Belgium and McEwen may be wanting another yellow to go with his greens.

Prediction check: * Prediction: Boonen first, McEwen second * Result: McEwen first, Boonen second

Continue reading "Stage 2: Obernai - Esch-sur-Alzette" »

July 2, 2006

Stage 1: Strasbourg - Strasbourg

Jimmy Caspar took advantage of the favorites marking each other to sprint around for the finish. Boonen came to the front and looked over his shoulder at McEwen, Zabel, and Hushovd on his wheel. In the meantime, Caspar came flying around Boonen's left and there was little Boonen and the others could do to hold it. Caspar got the stage win and the green jersey as a result, which should make for great celebrations in France right now -- a double win, really, given their World Cup victory over Brazil.

The biggest prize on the day went George Hincapie, who snuck in an attack at the final sprint point to take 2 bonus seconds, which was enough to take back the yellow jersey from Thor Hushovd. This is Hincapie's first ever yellow jersey, which has to feel sweet after helping Lance put on so many and after narrowly missing out on getting one yesterday. Hincapie's lead on Hushovd and Boonen is very narrow, especially with a week of sprint stages still left, but we shall see how Discovery chooses to defend it. It does appear that Discovery wants to attack this race from start to finish, which should make for some exciting racing to come.

There was a long seven-man breakaway during the stage that didn't lead to the stage win, but Fabian Wegmann managed to get himself the first KOM jersey by winning the sprint up the baby climb on the day.

Hushovd had the worst day of the bunch: in addition to losing his yellow jersey lead, he arm made contact with a spectator's banner as he raced up the right side. He was seen bleeding quite a bit at race's end, but according to his team he will be alright.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Boonen 1st, McEwen 2nd * Actual: Caspar 1st, McEwen 2nd, Boonen 13th

Continue reading "Stage 1: Strasbourg - Strasbourg" »

July 1, 2006

Prologue: Strasbourg ITT

[Strasbourg - Strasbourg , 7.1km]

Thor! I never thought that OLN host Al Trautwig would get a pick right, but he outdid the followers of the conventional wisdom like myself who thought that Zabriskie would ace this one. This probably won't be the last stage that Hushovd adds to his tally -- there are plenty of opportunities in the opening week for him to outsprint the pack. It might have even been Landis competing for the top time on the day if it weren't for the fact that he lost about eight or nine seconds at the start house. He arrived late because they decided to change one of his tires at the last minute because of cuts that could have lead to a flat.

I enjoy watching the prologue: it can tell you quite a lot about how the Tour is going to shape up. Given the emphasis on long time trials this Tour, a prologue performance is an important indicator. Lets look at the standings:

1 Thor Hushovd, 8.17.00 (51.43 km/h)
2 George Hincapie, 0.00.73
3 David Zabriskie, 0.04.21
5 Alejandro Valverde, 0.04.92
8 Paolo Savoldelli, 0.08.02
9 Floyd Landis, 0.09.26
12 Tom Boonen, 0.11.21
14 Cadel Evans, 0.13.24
29 Bobby Julich, 0.18.84
32 Yaroslav Popovych, 0.20.02
36 Levi Leipheimer, 0.21.60
49 Jose Azevedo, 0.24.90

Some observations:

  • Valverde is living up to his odds-on-favorite status. With a top five prologue time trial and his excellent climbing ability, he can get seconds out of his competitors any which way.
  • Landis, Hincapie, and Savoldelli also stood out with their strong prologues (subtract eight seconds off of Landis' time). Hincapie should be a protected rider after a performance like that and Savoldelli might get a little wind shelter as insurance.
  • Boonen is in great position to grab a yellow jersey
  • Was is the two-year-absense or the lack of performance-enhancing drugs that was responsible for Millar's below-expected performance?
  • I'm still holding out hope for a Zabriskie yellow jersey after the Stage 7 time trial
  • Leipheimer's time wasn't bad, but it doesn't scream 'future Tour winner'

Summaries:

Prediction stats: * My prediction: Zabriskie first, Hincapie second * Actual: Zabriskie thrid, Hincapie second

Continue reading "Prologue: Strasbourg ITT" »

June 30, 2006

Predict early, predict often, predict American

When I made my first set of predictions back in March I stated, "Predict early, predict often." That first set of predictions focused entirely on the American field and I could have predicted a lot less often if I had just stuck altered those early predictions slightly.

As open as this Tour was supposed to be, with Basso and Ullrich in the picture nearly every set of predictions featured them in the top three. Now, it's really open, so it's time to get crazy... (I emphasize 'crazy' here as rabbits must now be pulled out of hats)

Based on this, my new picks:

  1. Discovery (Popo, Azevedo, Savo, or Hincapie)
  2. Floyd Landis
  3. Bobby Julich
  4. Alejandro Valverde
  5. Levi Leipheimer

Hincapie on final approach-1 Landis Warming Up-1 Bobby Julich

Crazy? Absolutely. But with things so shook up I feel like really rolling the dice now, even if I'm being weak by putting 'Discovery' and not a specific rider on top.

Analysis:

  • Discovery #1: Puerto-free Discovery has the strongest team now and I'm a believer in the strongest team winning the Tour. Azevedo will be riding with #1 on his back, Popo has more of climber/time-trialer mix, and Hincapie has amazing experience. They will have to unite behind a leader quickly, and with the altered landscape I think they will be aiming at the top of that podium now.
  • Landis #2: I continue to be in the camp that discounts Phonak's strength, especially with some of their best riders involved in the Puerto scandal. Team strength will matters little less now that two of the dominant teams are now hobbled, but Discovery should have learned from its Tour de Georgia mistakes and hit Landis hard when they need to.
  • Bobby Julich #3: So, here's a bit of nostalgia: in 1998, Bobby Julich finished third overall in the wake of the Festina scandal. His team is minus a leader. Bobby J should be on the best Tour form ever since that 3rd place finish nearly a decade ago. Bjarne Riis is a clev erman and given that I already expected Bobby J to get into yellow for a day or two, I think he can manage to stay near the top with a strong CSC team working for him.
  • Valverde #4: If I were smarter, I would probably put Valverde #1 or #2, but these are the times to be crazy. Valverde is the odds favorite, but I have a hard time getting behind a young rider who didn't finish the Tour last year (knee injury). He finished well in the Vuelta, but that's a different ballgame. I think he will be done in one way or another, though it is probably foolish to put him off the podium -- I had to make room for my crazy Julich pick somehow.
  • Levi #5: He won the Dauphine, but in 2005 he slipped out of the top 5 on the last day and lost his overall lead in the Dauphine as well. Those are important lessons for Levi to learn from, but my reading of the tea leaves is that Levi will have a bad day at least once during this Tour, which will be enough to knock him off the podium.

One more note on the doping scandal: for this many riders to be involved, this has to be the peloton's worst kept secret. Implicated or not, everyone at that level is tarnished for either being in on it or pretending it wasn't going on.

Woah, wow, dang

I had refrained from including too much of Operation Puerto in my Tour talk, waiting to see how things would resolve themselves. Most of the talk had centered around Astana Wurth, which seemed to be avoiding any consequences despite attempts to uninvite them. Links to Ullrich require reading the tea leaves of, "Who is Rudy's son?" and some of the more detailed evidence was for Tyler Hamilton, who's long been gone. So, now, a day before the Tour, we get to see how it all plays out.

VeloNews' headline, Tour in Turmoil is right. Who would have thought that we would see the two biggest favorites suspended by their own teams? The impact on Bjarne Riis, having to personally suspend his own groomed rider, and T-Mobile taking out Ullrich, DS Rudy Pevanage, and Sevilla -- wow. Basso will have a chance to redeem himself later in his career. This was heralded as Ullrich's last shot at restoring his 1997 glory.

As for the picks, predictions, etc... Everything is really up in the air now, huh? It's hard for me to simply shift the standings up because my placement of Landis was based on the belief that his team wouldn't be able to hold onto a top spot. I also have to wonder if any other riders (i.e. Vino, who's team is the most linked to the scandal) will survive to the starting line.

I'm going to continue to juggle Landis, Levi, Valverde, Popo, Azevedo, and Hincapie in my head to see what order those names pop out. Bjarne Riis is a clever enough man that I can see him trying to figure out a way to get Bobby J on that podium for one last hurrah.

June 21, 2006

Tour predictions

Going on the record now, here are my predictions:

Overall:

  1. Basso
  2. Ullrich (it's gonna be close)
  3. Landis (his team is even less strong now)
  4. Discovery rider (either Azevedo or Popovych)
  5. Leipheimer
  6. Valverde
  7. Vinokourov
  8. Mancebo
  9. Mayo
  10. Another Discovery rider (Azevedo/Popo/Hincapie)

Team overall: 1. CSC 2. Discovery 3. T-Mobile

King of the Mountain: Rasmussen

Still haven't decided on sprint/young rider, and -- as you can tell -- I haven't really made up my mind yet as to who Discovery will try and vault up the podium. My guess is that they will send either Azevedo or Popo on the attack and use Hincapie and the remaining rider to try and keep the other contenders from chasing.

Other predictions * Prologue: Zabriskie * Time trials: the first to Zabriskie, the second to Ullrich

Previously: Early Tour de France Predictions: the Americans

June 20, 2006

CSC Tour roster -- Vande Velde takes Cancellara's spot

CSC's Tour de France roster surprised some people with the omission of 2004 prologue winner Fabian Cancellara in favor of Christian Vande Velde. To those that were surprised, I point to the results of the Tour de Suisse. Not only did Vande Velde have a strong sixth-place showing in the overall, he beat Cancellara in the final time trial riding in the windy thunderstorms whereas Cancellara had nice dry streets. Riis' VeloNews interview says that Vande Velde's inclusion was a last-minute decision, and looking at those Tour de Suisse results it's easy to see how Vande Velde won Riis over.

If you're an American, it's hard not to be swayed to cheer for CSC's American-laden roster:

  • Ivan Basso
  • Jens Voigt
  • Bobby Julich
  • David Zabriskie
  • Christian Vande Velde
  • Carlos Sastre
  • Frnk Schleck
  • Giovanni Lombardi
  • Stuart O'Grady

I'm looking forward to watching CSC trying to build up a big enough lead to hold off Ullrich in the final time trial.

On a related Tour de Suisse note, Ullrich's time trial performance was ridiculous given those conditions. Combined with his impressive Giro time trial performance, Ullrich will be scary indeed if he manages to hold close in the mountains.

June 16, 2006

Discovery roster announced, with video

Discovery has announced their roster for this year's Tour and there's even a Race2Replace Webisode with Bruyneel. The riders are:

  • George Hincapie
  • Jose Azevedo
  • Yaroslav Popovych
  • Paolo Savoldelli
  • Egoi Martinez
  • Pavel Padrnos
  • Viatcheslav Ekimov
  • Benjamin Noval
  • Jose Luis Rubiera

Gusev and Barry are the reserves. I would have liked to see Barry on this list, but I imagine his crash earlier this year at the Tour of Flanders hurt his preparation and chances.

The roster is a difficult mix to figure out. Hincapie is the official team leader, but Bruyneel discusses four riders he thinks could be on the podium: Hincapie, Azevedo, Popovych, and Savoldelli, though he discounts Savoldelli's chances due to the Giro. They can't all be the protected rider, but without Lance in the lineup Discovery might be able to get away with sitting back in the pack and letting CSC and T-Mobile do all the work. I would discount Azevedo's podium chances mainly due to the two long time trials involved in this year's Tour (52km Stage 7 and 56km stage 19), leaving Hincapie and Popovych as potential podium finishers in my mind. If I had to bet money, I'd put more money on Popovych, though his poor Dauphine Libere showing says otherwise. I could see Popovych riding this year's Tour a bit like Vino, putting in a suprise attack here or there to snag a stage victory.

March 19, 2006

Early Tour de France predictions (the Americans)

Podium-1-4There's been no lack of Americans in the cycling spotlight post-Lance. Levi, Hincapie, and Landis put in great Tour of California performances. Landis took the Paris-Nice overall and Julich took the prologue. It would have been nice to see Horner, Danielson and Zabriskie get some early spotlght, but the main event is still months away.

I thought I'd take an early stab at making some predictions for the Tour de France. "Predict early, predict often." That way I get more chances to pretend I was right. Fat Cyclist went bolder and did a full set of early predictions for the Tour. I'm just going to focus on the Americans because everyone in America is holding their breath to see if the post-Armstrongians can hold the fort for American cycling.

The gist of my predictions: I don't expect to see any American at the top of that podium in Paris this year. I expect to see many strong performances and stage wins, but we will probably have to wait a couple years. This is hardly a bold prediction. I'll be a little more risky and say that I think you'll see Zabriskie, Julich, and Landis all in yellow jerseys this year. Zabriskie because he's fast. Julich because this is one of his last chances to get one. Landis because his combined time trial and mountain climbing ability gives him a good chance of getting one.

There's more specifics if you'd like to read on

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