Tour de France 2010, Stage 14

Posted in Tour de France on July 19th, 2010 by bill

Five years ago, Stage 14 of the Tour was a potentially pivotal stage that finished with a climb to the ski resort town of Ax-3 Domaine. Today, same deal. Time does indeed run in circles.

As in 2005, there were a number of moments today when it looked like the shit was about to hit the fan, but in the end nothing changed much. Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador remained more or less joined at the hip throughout the day, although on the last climb Contador kept putting in little bursts of acceleration to see if Schleck could stay with him, which he could. (Contador is apparently not familiar with the wise words of the Good Doctor: “Avoid those quick bursts of acceleration that drag blood to the back of the brain.”) At one point Paul Sherwen accused Contador of putting in “a very violent attack,” which is a funny way to talk about a guy riding his bike really fast, but that’s the terminology of cycling.

Stage 14 was the exact mirror of Stage 8, where it was Schleck doing the testing. It’s become pretty fascinating to watch these two guys, who appear to be perfectly evenly matched. Schleck lost to Contador last year by 4 minutes and 11 seconds, but he is still a growing boy, barely 25 years old. At the moment he leads Contador by 31 seconds, but in truth that is a dead heat if not an advantage for Contador, who is a much better time trialist. The last meaningful stage in this year’s Tour will be a 52-km time trial in which Contador is a mortal lock to beat Schleck; the only question is by how much.

This means that Andy will want to take some more time from Alberto in the mountains, which is a very tall order. He will really miss his big brother Frank, who was the only teammate capable of keeping him company on the climbs. Contador has two such guys in David Navarro and Alexandre Vinokourov, and that could end up making a big difference. Or not. There’s a lot of talk in the Tour about the intricacies of strategy, but in the end it comes down to who is the strongest, physically and psychologically.
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Tour de France 2010, Stage 13

Posted in Tour de France on July 17th, 2010 by bill
Alexandre Vinokourov: the Kazakh Conan O'Brian.

Alexandre Vinokourov: the Kazakh Conan O'Brian.

It was a great day in the Tour if you love sunflowers. The countryside of France is saturated with yellow in the summertime, which I suppose must be why they chose yellow for the leader’s jersey in the first place. At times today the cyclists seemed like a backdrop for the scenery, and this is a representative sample of Phil Liggett’s race commentary:

There are 19 mills in this region – 9 are windmills and 10 are water mills. And it really is very beautiful indeed.

It seemed like a downright pleasant day to be a Tour rider. Several times we were treated to the weird sight of Lance Armstrong actually smiling and enjoying himself, despite – or maybe because of – the fact that he is increasingly irrelevant to the overall picture, 25 minutes back in 36th place. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., fellow ex-champion Greg LeMond is apparently salivating at the prospect of being able to say some Bad Stuff About Lance in a public forum:

Three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond has been served with a grand jury subpoena as part of a federal investigation of possible fraud and doping charges against Lance Armstrong and his associates, according to the New York Daily News.

“We are overjoyed,” LeMond’s wife, Kathy, told the newspaper. “I hope the truth will come out.” (AP)

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Tour de France 2010, Stage 12

Posted in Moving pictures, Tour de France on July 16th, 2010 by bill
That's not acting, that's squinting.

That's not acting, that's squinting.

It was another slow day on the Tour, at least until the last few kilometers, when things heated up a bit. Alexandre Vinokourov, who had been in the breakaway all day, was one of two riders in front as they approached the top of the last climb of the day. It was generally assumed at that point that Alberto Contador would stay in the peloton and let his teammate Vino go for the stage win.

But no – with about 2k to go, Contador shot out of the pack followed by Joaquin Rodriguez and they quickly caught Vinokourov. It was never entirely clear if this was a planned move by the Astana team or just Contador freelancing as he is wont to do. Soon Vino dropped away and it was just Contador and Rodriguez sprinting to the line. Rodriguez took the win, but Contador was happy because he had gained some time on Andy Schleck, who was unable to match Contador’s acceleration. Vinokourov came in 3rd, pumping in his fist in what I thought was victory but could just as easily have been frustration.

After all that, Contador erased one-quarter of Schleck’s 41-second lead and is 31 seconds behind with 12 stages and almost 59 hours of racing in the can. With any luck, they will duel all the way to Paris. This has the chance to be the most dramatic Tour in many years; let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, I’d like to talk a little about the movie Inception. My one-word review: Disappointed.
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Tour de France 2010, Stage 11

Posted in Tour de France on July 15th, 2010 by bill

These are the dog days of the Tour de France—not only is it butt-ugly hot out there, melting the tarmac and gumming up everybody’s wheels, but we’re in a post-Alpine, pre-Pyrenean part of the race that’s testing the patience of even hardcore fans. It was possible to nod off for long stretches today without missing anything, and the result was another ho-hum victory for Mark Cavendish, his 3rd of the year and 13th overall. Cavendish was helped a bit by some tough-guy tactics from his teammate Mark Renshaw, who used the business end of his helmet to move aside fellow leadout man Julian Dean near the finish line.

Race officials took a dim view of Renshaw’s move and immediately kicked him out of the Tour, although it was not entirely clear who the instigator was. That will complicate things a bit for Cavendish, who counts on Renshaw to put him in the right position to sprint for the line, but I’m not sure it qualifies as news. Who cares about the sprinters, really? They’re mostly a bunch of pretty boys who ride really fast for a couple hundred yards at a time and spend the rest of the time trying to avoid being eliminated from the Tour.

The real action that settles who’s going to win the whole kit caravanserail won’t start till the weekend, so why belabor the point? I think I’ll go enjoy the sunshine instead.

Tour de France 2010, Stage 10

Posted in Tour de France on July 14th, 2010 by bill
Here's the polka dot dress I mentioned the other day. Tragique, no?

Here's the polka dot dress I mentioned the other day. Tragique, no?

I’m sure that there are days when the Tour riders don’t feel like getting up in the morning and riding another hundred miles through the mountains, just like there are days when I don’t especially feel like writing about it. Today is one of those days, in part because I enjoyed last night’s Los Strawberitos postgame celebration just a little too much; but as Captain Beefheart said, I’m gonna do it anyway, then I’m gonna get right out of town.

They are saying today that Cadel Evans rode yesterday’s stage with a fractured bone in his elbow, and that’s why he gave such a terrible performance. I suppose I ought to feel bad for him, and ought to feel guilty for more or less calling him a big pussy in public. Somehow I don’t. Funny, that.

Today was Bastille Day, which is always a big day on the Tour. Big crowds of people who have the day off for the holiday line the route, and this makes the French riders somewhat less surrender-prone than usual. A few Frenchies got into the breakaway and about the only drama of the day was whether one of them would manage to win the stage. Alas and alack, it was not to be; the fastest man was Sergio Paulinho, for many years a Lance Armstrong domestique, who was given the freedom today to do as he pleased. The French do hold the top three places in the polka-dot jersey (King of the Mountains) competition, which is nice for them.
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Tour de France 2010, Stage 9

Posted in Tour de France on July 13th, 2010 by bill
Cadel Evans got crushed on his first day in yellow. Here his teammate is either comforting him or trying to put him out of his misery.

Cadel Evans got crushed on his first day in yellow. Here his teammate is either comforting him or trying to put him out of his misery.

I hate to say I told you so, but Cadel Evans went to pieces today at the first sign of trouble. He cracked badly early in the climb of the Col de la Madeleine and ended up losing 8 minutes to Contador and Schleck, who engaged in a spirited duel on the way up. Schleck kept moving a little ahead, testing, teasing, but Contador was up to the challenge and they stayed together all the way to the finish.

With Evans out of the picture, that puts Schleck in the yellow jersey and Contador in second, 41 seconds behind. It’s shaping up to be a two-man show from here on out, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It could end up being a replay of the 1989 mano-a-mano between Greg Lemond and Laurent Fignon, where Lemond came from 50 seconds behind on the last day to break Fignon’s heart and those of all France.
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Tour de France 2010, Rest Day 1

Posted in Tour de France on July 12th, 2010 by bill
Apropos of nothing: A text portrait of Jan Ullrich by Ralph Ueltzhoeffer.

Apropos of nothing: A text portrait of Jan Ullrich by Ralph Ueltzhoeffer.

Today is a rest day for the Tour, and as the riders know, the one thing you absolutely should not do on the rest day is rest. Resting kills all your momentum, and momentum is everything.

They say you never know how your body is going to react after the rest day, and I’ll bet Andy Schleck would have been much happier riding another hundred miles through the mountains rather than sleeping in and getting restless. He looked tremendous in Stage 8, besting Contador at his own game, and some were speculating that yesterday might mark the birth of the next great Tour champion, as well as the demise of an old one.
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Tour de France 2010, Stage 8

Posted in Tour de France on July 12th, 2010 by bill
A moment of silence, please.

A moment of silence, please.

Well, it looks like we saw the end of Lance Armstrong today.

Back in the day, when he was winning the Tour every year, Lance had both the form and the luck. This year, he seems to have neither. Despite wearing number 21, he’s been dogged by bad luck. For the second time in this year’s Tour, he crashed today at a most inopportune time, right before the beginning of the first big climb. He never really got back into the race, and was further detained by another crash that happened right in front of him for no discernible reason. There’s no saying what might have happened if those crashes hadn’t taken place, but Lance simply didn’t seem to have the legs to hang with the leaders. It was sad to see him cross the finish line almost twelve minutes after the winner, bleeding from both elbows and a knee, his number 21 in tatters. (If I were some cliche-spouting hack, I’d point out here that his Tour hopes were in tatters as well; but that kind of thing is beneath me.)
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Tour de France 2010, Stage 7

Posted in Tour de France on July 11th, 2010 by bill
Il est bon d'être le roi.

Il est bon d'être le roi.

“Pain sometimes can feel good when you know you’re winning.”
–Phil Liggett

This morning the picture of what transpired at the end of Stage 6 got a little clearer. It seems Rui Costa and Carlos Barredo were fighting because somebody threw some elbows toward the finish line. They showed the whole thing again on the TV: one guy hit the other with his wheel, a few unimpressive punches were thrown, and that was it. Much ado about nada, really, but you take your drama where you can get it, and at least those guys got their names in the paper.

Robbie McEwen, it turns out, was knocked off his bike by a photographer with a very long lens. (Cecil, I know what you’re thinking; I don’t know if anybody lost an eye.) Do I feel sorry for him? Not especially. He was seen during Stage 7 dropping back to the race doctor’s car to get some pills and a balm for his wounds. I’d be careful about that if I was him. You don’t know what a balm’s gonna do, as Jackie Chiles wisely observed.
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Tour de France 2010, Stage 6

Posted in Tour de France on July 10th, 2010 by bill
That is one sexy cow.

That is one sexy cow.

It was sort of a foregone conclusion that Mark Cavendish would win Stage 6, which was almost identical to Stage 5 except that:

  • It was much longer (141 miles!).
  • Instead of Champagne country, this was a region known for Charolais beef; the announcers more than once commented on the beauty of the white cows in a way that made me nervous.
  • There were no tears at the end; Cavendish looked quite self-satisfied and even referred to himself in the third person – though to his credit he recognized it and apologized for it immediately afterward.

It was just another day at the office for Cavendish, who got his legs back under him yesterday. When he is on form and his team puts him in the right place at the right time, he is simply faster to the line than any other human being alive. Like Usain Bolt, he is operating on a different level than his competitors, who are all very, very gifted at what they do – just not gifted enough.
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