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)

Not many people are “overjoyed” to receive a subpoena, but apparently the LeMonds are different. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that it’s awfully hard for me to believe that Lance was on the juice when he got tested every 20 minutes for a whole decade while the entire country of France tried désespérément to pin something on him. Maybe LeMond (hey, isn’t that a French name?) knows something that will change my mind, but his Lance-bashing has long had a whiff of sour grapes about it.

Speaking of bitterness, word is Alexandre Vinokourov was very upset about having Stage 12 stolen from him by his teammate Alberto Contador. This makes both of them look bad – Contador for screwing a teammate (again), Vino for putting his own desires over those of his team, which is supposed to be supporting Contador in his quest for a third Tour.

But give Vino some love: He didn’t pout, he just went out and rode like a madman to win Stage 13. Hearts were gladdened all over Kazakhstan, which had enough problems before Borat made them a worldwide laughingstock. Though they didn’t help matters by being unable to take a joke; sez Wikipedia,

In November 2005, following Borat’s hosting of the MTV Europe Music Awards in Lisbon, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry voiced its concerns about the character. Spokesman Yerzhan Ashykbayev told a news conference: “We view Mr Cohen’s behaviour at the MTV Europe Music Awards as utterly unacceptable, being a concoction of bad taste and ill manners which is completely incompatible with the ethics and civilised behaviour of Kazakhstan’s people”, concluding “We reserve the right to any legal action to prevent new pranks of the kind.”

In the aftermath of Vinokourov’s win, he was seen to warmly embrace Contador and all appeared to be right with the world. Contador still sits 31 seconds behind Andy Schleck, and he will put in one or more dangerous attacks in the Pyrénées, maybe as soon as tomorrow. If this were the NBA, tomorrow would be start of the playoffs – the preliminaries are over, and now the real battle begins. And if Contador is Kobe, then Andy Schleck is…hell, I don’t know…Rajon Rondo? Well, I’ve made up my mind; who will you be rooting for?