Tour de France 2005, Stage 18

Posted in Tour de France on July 21st, 2005 by bill
[caption id="attachment_1240" align="alignnone" width="286" caption="James Doohan will be drinking Scotch and smoking a cigarette in heaven tonight."]James Doohan will be drinking Scotch and smoking a cigarette in heaven tonight.[/caption] Today's stage of the Tour de France was cancelled due to the death of James Doohan, who played Scotty on Star Trek. Psych! No, they went ahead with the race, but for the fourth stage in a row, there's not much to report except that: A) Lance Armstrong did not fall off his bike and was not poisoned by a vengeful French chef or punched in the pancreas by a wine-crazed fan. Nor did a giant hand reach down from the sky and flick him into a crevasse. He was not beamed up into a starship that had traveled back in time to prevent some dire future event. If these things continue to not happen for the next three days, Armstrong will win his seventh Tour de France. B) Somebody who's been riding anonymously in the peloton all this time had a chance to grab some glory for himself, his team, and his country by winning the stage. In this case it was Marcos Serrano, a Spaniard who rides for Liberty-Seguros. C) The TV coverage continued to focus less and less on the race and more and more on the scenery, the in-jokes among the broadcasters, and just about anything else. Here's an exchange that took place between commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen concerning a roadside crop design in the shape of a bicycle:
Liggett: "I'll never know how they make the wheels so perfectly round." Sherwen: "That's extraterrestrials done that." Liggett: "Was it?" Sherwen: "Oh yeah, definitely."
For the next three days, expect a non-stop Lance lovefest. And what the hell, he's earned it. A couple weeks back, one commentator compared winning seven Tours to hitting a thousand home runs, and I think that's about right. He's been so good, so consistently, for so long that he's broken the spirits of everyone else in his sport. Armstrong hasn't shown a single moment of doubt or weakness in this year's race, and if there had been little thought bubbles over the peloton in Stage 18, a lot of them would have said this: "Jeebus, I hope Lance retires after this year like he says he's going to. Maybe then I'll have a chance to win. I wonder what's for dinner tonight?"

Tour de France 2005, Stage 17

Posted in Tour de France on July 20th, 2005 by bill
Upon further reflection, I think I can answer my rhetorical question from the previous entry. The question was, if you're Ivan Basso or Jan Ullrich, what do you have to lose by going all-out to try to beat Lance Armstrong? The answer is, you could wipe yourself out and end up falling way down in the standings, or even not being able to finish the Tour. Maybe I'm letting my reflexive American fetish for being number one cloud my judgment. Maybe coming in second or third is good enough. Maybe I should apologize to Ullrich, Basso, and Mickael Rasmussen for calling them "surrender monkeys." Maybe. Even having said all that, I can't help but feel that after having ridden so many miles, suffered so much, and come so close, you would want to push yourself and see if you couldn't win the damn thing. Actually, for just a minute in Stage 17, Ullrich looked like he was taking a shot. After covering a fairly exciting if meaningless sprint to the finish by a group of non-contenders, the TV cameras switched back to the peloton and found Ullrich at the front, charging hard with a look of grim determination on his face. But nothing came of it. Ullrich, Basso, Rasmussen, and the other big names all finished with the same time, and the Armstrong juggernaut rolled on for another day. The stage winner was Paolo Savoldelli, who became the second Discovery Channel rider to win a stage. Oddly enough, neither one of them is Lance Armstrong, who has maneuvered into the overall lead without ever taking a stage himself (he was part of the winning team in Stage 4). He has four more chances before he hangs it up, theoretically for good, on Sunday. Will he pull it off? Do we care? Well, we'd better; it seems to be the only drama left.

Tour de France 2005, Stage 16

Posted in Tour de France on July 19th, 2005 by bill
[caption id="attachment_1234" align="alignnone" width="200" caption="Rasmussen, Ullrich, Basso: surrender monkeys?"]Rasmussen, Ullrich, Basso: surrender monkeys?[/caption] If there's one thing that still perplexes me about the Tour, it's this: Everyone connected with the race, including the actual competitors, always seems to be falling all over themselves to declare a winner as soon as humanly possible. As of yesterday, 15 of the 21 stages had been completed, a full week's riding remained, and Lance Armstrong led his closest rival, Ivan Basso, by less than three minutes. And yet all the coverage assumed that an Armstrong victory was a foregone conclusion. Including mine; I said yesterday that Armstrong is a mortal lock, and indeed it is highly unlikely that anyone will beat him. But it's one thing for me to say it and another for Basso himself to say, as he did yesterday, "I'm not stupid. He's strong. It's finished." Memo to Mr. Basso: Dude, don't give up so easily! If you take that attitude, you certainly are gonna lose. Meanwhile, Jan Ullrich was quoted thusly: "My aim now has to be the podium [top-three finish]. I can't expect to do any better." I hate to say this, it being in France that makes everybody so eager to surrender? Is it something in the water? Maybe these guys are just being realistic, but you'd like to see them believe in themselves a little bit. Isn't that what we have professional athletes for in the first place? Anyway, Stage 16: The stage winner was Oscar Periero, and good for him, because he's ridden his ass off in several stages but kept coming up short until today. Armstrong rolled along very comfortably, and none of his main rivals made a peep. The most exciting moment of the day was when Andrey Kashechkin was whacked in the face by a fan at the side of the road, apparently with a blue noisemaking stick. With blood dripping from his nose, Kashechkin turned around and rode against the direction of the race—which you most decidedly are not allowed to do—looking like he wanted to find the fan in question and go all Ron Artest on him. And then the TV coverage cut away and never mentioned the incident again. The only mention of it I could find on the Web was on, which said that Kashechkin was "struck in the face by a spectator." Roger Legeay, Kashechkin's team manager, is quoted as saying "He received a punch in the face." So maybe he was hit by a fist rather than a noisemaker, which makes rather more sense given the severity of the injury. How sad is it that this is the big story of the day? Wouldn't it be much better if there were actual Tour news to report? Basso, Rasmussen, Ullrich, I'm begging you: Suck it up, make some noise, add some drama to these last five stages. What do you have to lose?

Tour de France 2005, Rest Day 2

Posted in Tour de France on July 18th, 2005 by bill
[caption id="attachment_1229" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Among those recuperating today will be George Hincapie (far left), Oscar Pereiro (near left), and some dimwit who ran onto the course and got hit by a motorbike (bottom center)."]Among those recuperating today will be George Hincapie (far left), Oscar Pereiro (near left), and some dimwit who ran onto the course and got hit by a motorbike (bottom center).[/caption] You would think that, after riding 1152 kilometers (715 miles) in six days, the cyclists on the Tour would welcome a day off. But no, I am told that they don't really want a rest day, that it throws off their rhythm. I don't much care for the rest day either, because it reminds me that, to paraphrase Col. Kilgore, "Someday this Tour's gonna end." Actually, on Sunday this Tour's gonna end, as Stage 21 brings the peloton to Paris. Here's what it will look like when they get there: The winner—drum roll please—will be... ...duh, Lance Armstrong. Not a real exciting choice, I know, but you'd have to be an idiot to pick anybody else at this point. Lance has the form, the conditioning, the team, the strategy, and perhaps most importantly, the aura. Barring an injury or other act of God, Armstrong is a mortal lock to win his seventh Tour. Second place will go to Ivan Basso of Team CSC, who will finish one minute and fifty-nine seconds behind. After looking very strong in the mountains, Basso is already in second with a time deficit of 2'54". I figure he will gain some time at the beginning of the week and get close—agonizingly close—to Armstrong before falling back a little in Stage 20. In third place will be Jan Ullrich of T-Mobile, 3'38" behind. Ullrich is currently in fourth place behind Mickael Rasmussen, but Rasmussen has shown signs of fading and the somewhat flatter stages this week are better suited to Ullrich's style. I'm thinking Jan will have one really good day this week and pick up some time on Armstrong, but not enough to challenge for the crown. I like Rasmussen to hang on for fourth place, about five minutes behind. He will probably be perfectly happy take his stage win and his King of the Mountains title—a.k.a. the polka dot jersey—and go home. Fifth place, it says here, will go to Levi Leipheimer, say 30 seconds behind Rasmussen. Leipheimer has come on strong in the last week and is the star of the Tour's best ad campaign, where a crew comes to interview him about his training but never gets to talk to him because he's too busy training. (OK, I wouldn't call these ads classic, but it's a weak field.) Also, the green jersey for the best sprinter will go to Robbie McEwen, because he is the goddamn devil; and the white jersey for best young rider will stay with Yaroslav Popovych, Armstrong's heir apparent on Team Discovery. One last prediction: If all these other predictions come true, I will be totally insufferable for at least a month and a half. This is the most reliable of all today's many predictions. As Crispy Bacon might say, "It's money in the bank."

Tour de France 2005, Stage 15

Posted in Tour de France on July 17th, 2005 by bill
[caption id="attachment_1225" align="alignnone" width="180" caption="A mostly, but not entirely, flattering photo of the late Fabio Casartelli."]A mostly, but not entirely, flattering photo of the late Fabio Casartelli.[/caption] This was a strange day for the Tour de France because it was the tenth anniversary of the death of Fabio Casartelli, the third and most recent Tour fatality. Casartelli was descending the Col de Portet d'Aspet on July 17, 1995 when there was a crash in front of him. He was thrown from his bike and whacked his head on a concrete block at the side of the road, hard enough to cause a hemhorrhage that killed him. The other two Tour deaths, in case you're curious, were Tommy Simpson, who died of (possibly amphetamine-related) heart failure in 1967, and Francesco Cepeda, who "plunged into a ravine" in 1935. It's serious business, this bike racing. In Casartelli's honor, Tour planners arranged for today's Stage 15 to pass his memorial on the Col de Portet d'Aspet, and many of the riders were wearing "Fabio" wristbands. Before the stage, the TV commentators were saying that Lance Armstrong, who was Casartelli's teammate in 1995, would make a special effort to win Stage 15. But as it turned out, it was Armstrong's sidekick George Hincapie who crossed the finish line first, winning the first Tour stage of his 11-year career. Hincapie joined an early breakaway of 14 riders that led by almost 20 minutes at one point. By the time they reached the finish, four first-category climbs and one beyond-category climb later, only Hincapie and Oscar Pereiro of the Phonak team remained. In the end, Pereiro appeared to concede the stage to Hincapie, unwilling or unable to make one last push at the end of a very long day. Armstrong himself again rode much of the day in the company of Ivan Basso, who moved into second place overall on the strength of a very solid performance. Basso is now unquestionably the guy to watch if you want somebody to challenge Lance in the last week of the Tour. Mickael Rasmussen rode reasonably well but still lost time, falling to third place 3'09" behind Armstrong. Rasmussen is looking less and less like a threat and may not even be trying to win the Tour, aiming instead for the King of the Mountains title. In fourth place now is good ol' Jan Ullrich, 5'58" back. Ullrich keeps falling a little further behind in time every day, but keeps moving up in the standings because everybody else is doing worse. God love him, Ullrich doesn't have the speed to hang with with Armstrong and Basso but he simply will not quit. He just keeps coming on like a Terminator in pink spandex. Tomorrow is the second and final rest day, and after meditating for several hours I will publicly predict the top five finishers, in order, with time deficits. Then I will be flying to Vegas to win the money to attend next year's Tour in person. Who wants to go?

Tour de France 2005, Stage 14

Posted in Tour de France on July 16th, 2005 by bill
[caption id="attachment_1220" align="alignnone" width="81" caption="This mascot is only one of T-Mobile\'s many problems."]This mascot is only one of T-Mobile's many problems.[/caption]

After a couple of mellow stages where the main contenders sat back and watched the also-rans compete for stage wins, things heated up in Stage 14. I mean, literally, it was hot. The cyclists were pouring sweat as they suffered through one climb after another in the Pyrénées. They were taking any water bottle they could get from anybody, and most of the time just dumping it over their heads to cool off a little. It was so hot that one the guys from Euskaltel-Euskadi burst into flames at one point. Or I may have imagined that. I was suffering too, for different reasons having to do with Scotch whisky. I was having trouble getting enough caffeine into my system to get my brain started, so when the moment came I've been waiting two weeks for—when somebody finally got Lance Armstrong in their crosshairs—I almost missed it. Thank goodness for Phil Liggett, the main OLN play-by-play guy, who has mastered the baseball announcer's art of speaking in a relatively soothing voice most of the time, then kicking it up a level to jolt you out of your stupor when things get exciting. In my semi-consciousness I noticed that Phil was getting all worked up about something, then I saw that Armstrong in yellow was surrounded by guys in pink instead of his usual coterie of Discovery teammates in pale blue. As in Stage 8, the rest of Armstrong's team had dropped out of the picture, leaving the boss to fend for himself. Not only that, but he was being challenged by T-Mobile's three best riders, Jan Ullrich, Alexandre Vinokourov, and Andreas Klöden. So this is it, I thought; T-Mobile is finally putting together a coordinated attack on Armstrong. Vinokourov surged ahead, and then something very strange happened: Instead of hanging back and letting their teammate get away, Ullrich and Klöden stepped on the gas, in effect leading Armstrong back into contact with Vinokourov. Liggett and his partner Paul Sherwen started freaking out, wondering what the hell Ullrich and Klöden were doing. I couldn't figure it out either, and I still haven't. Even the official Tour de France Web site, usually totally devoid of opinion or insight, openly questioned T-Mobile's strategy: "It was a tactic dreamed up to taunt Armstrong but the American didn't need to do anything. Why? Because Ullrich and Klöden teamed up and set off in pursuit of their colleague. Huh?!" Just like that, after momentarily looking vulnerable, Armstrong was back in charge and started pushing the tempo as the race climbed the 7.9 km, 8.3% slope to the ski resort at Ax-3 Domaine. Georg Totschnig, the eventual stage winner, was off on his own and mostly forgotten; all the attention was focused on Armstrong, who was accompanied by an ever-changing group that eventually came down to just Ivan Basso, the only rider who's shown a consistent ability to stay with Armstrong on climbs, and Jan Ullrich, implacably soldiering on after Klöden and Vinokourov had dropped away. Ullrich tried to move ahead, but overestimated the amount of energy he had left and was caught, then left behind by Armstrong and Basso. Finally, inside the last kilometer, Armstrong found a little burst that Basso couldn't match, and managed to finish two seconds ahead. Ullrich came across 18 seconds after Basso. Well, if that's T-Mobile's best shot, so much for them. The only riders who appear to still have a chance to create any problems for Armstrong are Basso and Mickael Rasmussen, who lost a little time in Stage 14 but remains in second, only one minute and 41 seconds behind. Both Basso and Rasmussen are strong climbers and will probably go all out in Stage 15, the last in the Pyrénées. Ought to be a great race; come to think of it, I already have Stage 15 recorded, so why am I sitting here?

Tour de France 2005, Stage 13

Posted in Tour de France on July 15th, 2005 by bill
[caption id="attachment_1214" align="alignnone" width="135" caption="Sylvain Chavanel and Chris Horner are pursued by the forces of conformity."]Sylvain Chavanel and Chris Horner[/caption] For the most of the 160-some guys remaining of the 189 who started the Tour, this was as close to a day off as you can get while riding 108 miles. Stage 13 was almost completely flat, so none of Lance Armstrong's rivals had a chance to try any funny business. Armstrong rode along looking almost happy, which is unusual for a man whose face is usually mask of concentration. Meanwhile, five noncontenders broke away from the pack early and built up a lead that reached almost nine minutes at one point. I usually find myself rooting for a breakaway to succeed; it's symbolic of individuality, nonconformity, something like that. In this scheme the peloton represents society, and every time you try to get ahead, it exerts a gravitational force designed to to suck you back in. So I was pulling for the five escapees as their lead dwindled to 7'35", then 6'40", then 5'40", then 4'35", and so on, until it got all the way down to 15 seconds. Just when it looked like they were certain to be caught, Sylvain Chavanel—perhaps thinking it was still Bastille Day—peeled out from the peloton, caught the breakaway, stayed with them for awhile, and then surged ahead on his own. Of the five riders in the break, only Chris Horner had the wherewithal to catch up with Chavanel. The other four were quickly absorbed by the peloton and as the last kilometer approached, Chavanel and Horner were pedaling furiously to maintain a lead of about ten seconds. The twists and turns in the last section of the course created a number of really dramatic images. Horner and Chavanel would turn a corner and be alone in the shot for a few fleeting seconds; then the leading edge of the peloton would appear behind them like an ominous cloud. The theme from Jaws would have been appropriate. Alas, Chavanel and Horner just didn't have enough left in their legs to stay ahead to the end. Instead they were swamped by the peloton and became just faces in the crowd. The stage was won, again, by goddamn Robbie McEwen, who is becoming my least favorite guy in the Tour. This may well be irrational, but I just think there's something cheap about the way he wins, by staying back in the group the whole way and then sprinting to the finish. He's not the only one who does it, of course—there's a whole subculture of sprinters in the Tour—he's just the best. But the race could use a villain, and after head-butting Stuart O'Grady in Stage 3, then preening like Terrell Owens when he won Stage 5, McEwen is a good candidate. Speaking of T.O...well, no, let's not go there, it's not a happy subject. Let's stay focused on the Tour. In Stage 14 the riders will reach the Pyrénées, where the climbs will be even steeper than the ones in the Alps. Lance will be looking for a chance to take Mickael Rasmussen down a notch, but Rasmussen has shown no signs of weakness so far. It ought to be thrilling; but first, I think, a nap.

Tour de France 2005, Stage 12

Posted in Tour de France on July 14th, 2005 by bill
[caption id="attachment_1210" align="alignnone" width="250" caption="It was a proud day for France. Go France!"]It was a proud day for France. Go France![/caption] I love to kid the French. They're easy to kid: They talk funny, smoke all the time, love Jerry Lewis, wear berets, etc. etc. But in all honesty I have to say that I feel a lot more in tune with France these days than I do with many parts of the U.S. I'd much rather hang out with chain-smoking snobs than gun-toting fundamentalists any day of the week. And if I have to choose, I'll certainly take The Nutty Professor over Blue Collar TV without hesitation. I'll take the Tour de France over NASCAR while we're at it. At least the Tour goes somewhere instead of round and round in circles. But I am not here today to pick on Middle America and its diversions. I'm here to talk about Stage 12. Today was Bastille Day, so the French riders were all jacked up. The French haven't done so well in the Tour lately; no Frenchman has finished in the money since Richard Virenque came in second in 1997, and the last French champion was Bernard Hinault, who won his fifth Tour in 1985. This does not sit well with the natives, but they are somewhat placated if a French rider takes the stage on Bastille Day. No doubt champagne glasses are being raised and calves' brains fried all over France in honor of David Moncoutie, who crossed the finish line of Stage 12 well ahead of the peloton with a huge smile on his face. Maybe he was thinking about the honor he was bringing to his country, or maybe he was thinking of how he could get laid behind this for the rest of his matter, the result is the same. The good news for France didn't stop there: Moncoutie's fellow-countrymen Sandy Casar and Patrice Halgand finished second and fourth, respectively. The French sweep was broken up only by the third-place finish of Spaniard Angel Vicioso, who finally got his award-winning name into the papers. I feel a little cruel for pointing out that all this meant nothing in the overall Tour picture, where that guy from Texas remains in the yellow jersey and the Dane in polka dots lurks 38 seconds behind. There was one piece of news from Stage 12 with the potential to affect the outcome of the Tour: Armstrong lost one of his top lieutenants, Manuel "Tricky" Beltran, who fell on his head and had to drop out of the race. There are no substititions in the Tour de France, so Team Discovery will be a man short, but most of the teams have lost somebody by this point. I think that some of the commentators have been overplaying the impact of Beltran's departure to heighten the drama, but we'll see. After a flat stage tomorrow, the Tour hits the Pyrénées in Stage 14, and that's when the real challenges to Armstrong's dominion are likely to begin.

Tour de France 2005, Stage 11

Posted in Tour de France on July 13th, 2005 by bill
[caption id="attachment_1205" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="It was a proud day for Kazakhstan. Go Kazakhstan!"]It was a proud day for Kazakhstan. Go Kazakhstan![/caption] It was a big day in every possible way. We finally passed the halfway point of the Tour. The riders had to deal with two huge climbs in the Alps, including the high point of this year's race, the 8658-foot Col du Galibier. And the Outdoor Life Network responded with five hours of televised coverage, of which I was determined to watch every single minute, regardless of the risk to my health and sanity. By pacing myself throughout the day, and with the Motorola DVR providing a big assist by allowing me to fast-forward through commercials, I was able to accomplish the great task. I'd like to thank my family; my kittens, Precious and Johnny Boy, who kept me company throughout the ordeal; and of course you, my many readers. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back. The stage winner was Alexandre Vinokourov, who gave an exceptionally courageous performance a day after losing major time in Stage 10. Vinokourov joined an early breakaway that led the race up the Col de le Madeleine and down the other side. Then, as the route travelled up the Col du Télégraphe, down a little jog, and up the enormous Col du Galibier, the other members of the breakaway fell back one by one until Vinokourov was left all alone at the front. Vinokourov never faltered and reached the summit well ahead of the peloton. He was joined on the descent by Santiago Botero, and those two rode together all the way to the finish. In the last few kilometers Vinokourov's legs were shaking visibly; he had obviously used up all the energy he had and was now going on sheer will. Yet he found the strength to beat Botero in a sprint to the finish. And after all that, Vinokourov gained one minute and fifteen seconds on Lance Armstrong, remaining 4:47 behind. He regained his pride but ultimately did little to get himself back into contention for the Tour victory. The guy to keep an eye on in that respect is Mickael Rasmussen, who stayed glued to Armstrong's back wheel all day without appearing to break a sweat. Rasmussen remains in second place overall, just 38 seconds behind Armstrong. He must be part mountain goat, because he gets up and down these massive peaks with disturbing ease. Physically, he seems quite capable of challenging Armstrong; the question is going to be his psychological fortitude. Like Michael Jordan, who I can't seem to stop comparing him to, Armstrong is a master of the psychological game. He gets you to believe that you can't possibly beat him, and so when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, you end up beating yourself. I'm pretty sure that this is why Jan Ullrich keeps falling short; he's totally convinced now that he's going to lose, and that's exactly what happens. Rasmussen has never faced the pressure of being in contention down the stretch, so he may crack, or he may be as oblivious as he seems. Hard to say; but you would be very, very foolish to bet against Lance.

Tour de France 2005, Stage 10

Posted in Tour de France on July 12th, 2005 by bill
Stage 10 had everything you could ask for from the Tour de France: spectacular scenery, dramatic racing, a few crashes just to mix things up. This was the first stage this year where, if you weren't watching, I think you really missed something. Between the scenery and the racing, it's hard to say which was more impressive. Even on TV, the cloud-wrapped peaks, towering waterfalls, and serene lakes of the Alps were too much to process. In person, it must be completely overwhelming. The riders were not enjoying the terrain quite so much. This was an absolutely insane stage featuring two separate climbs of more than 6000 feet each. Now, I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but I don't think that's such a smart idea. Shouldn't you get the altitude sickness from that, or worse? I kept waiting for one of the cyclists to just explode, showering the crowd with blood and gristle. You have to give much respect to anyone who's willing to even attempt such a thing. And the climb isn't even the most dangerous part of the day; that would be the downhill, where the riders routinely reach speeds of 60 miles an hour. Think about that for a minute. That's 60 miles an hour, not kilometers. On a bicycle. Downhill on a winding mountain road. And if you pussy out you're going to be disdained by your peers, yelled at by your boss, and possibly called out on international TV. No pressure there. After ascending and descending the 1967-meter Cormet-de-Roselend, the riders got a little break in the valley and started up a 2000-meter peak called Courcheval. Up to that point, there had been some breakaways and some people getting left behind and some shifting around in the peloton, but nothing of major import. On the way up Courcheval, Lance Armstrong's Team Discovery took over the front of the peloton and set a brutal, grinding pace that started leaving riders behind almost immediately. One by one, the team members used up everything they had riding at the front and dropped away. Finally, with 7.1 miles left to go, Armstrong rode up beside his one remaining teammate, rookie Yaroslav Popovych, and yelled something in his ear. That was Popovych's cue to exhaust everything he had left in one furious 30-second burst and get lost, leaving Armstrong alone at the front of the pack. From that point on it was Armstrong alone against everybody else. As with Michael Jordan, at some point you get tired of trying to come up with new ways to say how awesome Armstrong is. Just when you think you've had enough of the guy, he does something to remind you how he got be who he is. This was simply a superhuman performance. Armstrong put on his game face and did not change expression the rest of the way up the mountain as the world's greatest cyclists struggled to keep up with him. Three of them were up to it: Mickael Rasmussen managed to look cool even in the polka-dot jersey, while two guys from the Illes Balears team, Francisco Mancebo and Alejandro Valverde, kept hanging around even though they were clearly in pain. Speaking of pain, Jan Ullrich modeled an impressive repertoire of grimaces while riding two minutes behind—but give Jan some love, he didn't quit, just kept propelling his big body up toward the finish. Meanwhile Alexandre Vinokourov had faded more than five minutes back and the man in the yellow jersey, Jens Voight, looked as if he'd lost the will to live, pedaling very tentatively about ten minutes behind the leaders. Armstrong started the last kilometer still in a group with Rasmussen, Mancebo, and Valverde. Rasmussen prematurely tried to get away and was easily caught; then Armstrong, after riding 120 miles and climbing 12,000 feet, somehow found an extra gear and shot away from everybody. But wait—Valverde kicked it up a notch and stuck with him, and those two rode together to the finish line, where Armstrong appeared to ease up and cede the stage to the 25-year-old Spaniard. After the finish Armstrong gave Valverde a nice handshake, as if to say, "You done good, kid." Of course, had the stage win been important to Armstrong, things might have been different; as it was, Valverde got his day in the sun, Armstrong got the yellow jersey back, and all was right with the world. There won't be much chance for anybody to relax and enjoy it, though. Believe it or not, Stage 11 will be even harder than Stage 10, with two beyond-category climbs: the 1993-meter Col de le Madeleine and the 2645-meter Col du Galibier. Better start carbo-loading right now.