The Handsome Man with Athletic Thighs
Running In Circles
Tuesday, July 24th
Rest Day Recap

So, the big news today is that Alexandre Vinokourov failed a doping test after his big time trial win on Saturday. This whole mess kind of dampens my ardor for the Tour. I'm still going to watch, mind you, but the whole proceedings will be tainted with bitterness.

On Friday night, Jake and I played the Phil and Paul drinking game that I outlined last year, with a few amendments. ("Undulations" was the word that did the trick in this particular stage, by the way.) Because of that, I'm having a hard time recalling exactly what happened. I do know that the lead-out for the sprint took forever to kick off—they didn't spool up until 800 meters to go—and that Tom Boonen won. Other than that, there was a breakaway that almost stayed clear, but inevitably got caught.

Saturday, Jake and I rolled down to Tenino and played paintball for DaStud's bachelor party. I had a lot of fun, even if I'm now covered in little round bruises and mosquito bites. That evening, when we got back to my place, we struggled to stay awake through the recording of that day's Tour stage, which was the ill-fated time trial. I mostly remember lots of crashes. It was a technical course, and when the rain fell, the corners got slippery. Canellara crashed fairly badly and pretty much gave up, pedaling in at an easy cadence. Gusev slid head-first into a curb, but bounced up and seemed to recover. Vino crushed everybody, but now we know why. Rasmussen rode well and managed to keep the Yellow Jersey. I'd like to think it had something to do with the roads drying out by the time he left the start house, but maybe it has something to do with those missed dope tests. (See, I'm getting cynical.)

After seeing the stage profile, I predicted—to myself, at least—that Alberto Contador would win Sunday's stage. He did. The stage was epic. Vino folded like a cheap lawn chair. Discovery Channel, mostly through Hincapie and Popovych, started tearing the peloton apart, finally leaving a small group of G.C. contenders. After several attacks and catches, Rasmussen sprung clear. Contador leaped onto his wheel, but was the only rider who could follow. In fact, he counterattacked. Rasmussen hung with every move that Contador made. Eventually, they settled down and worked together to make time over the other riders. Leipheimer hung in there, finishing just a little bit back, but Contador looked so good Bruyneel has to put Discovery Channel's chances of winning on his shoulders.

Monday was another great stage, and I didn't even bother to predict a winner. I figured it would be wide open, and it was. Vino surprised everyone again with his aggressive riding and attacking style, winning with élan. Too bad it's now covered with a black cloud. Haimar Zubeldia finally showed up, finishing third in a sprint to the line with Kim Kirchen of T-Mobile. Maybe the man in orange can ride like he did in 2003 and finish in the top five. Contador pounded Rasmussen again and again, but he just couldn't shake the skinny Dane.

Tomorrow's Stage: Stage 16 - Orthez to Gourette (218.5km)

Wednesday's stage up the Col d'Aubisque could make the race. If Contador can make time on Rasmussen and keep Cadel Evans at a distance, he wins. If Rasmussen stays close to or beats Contador while making time on Evans, he's got it. If Evans can hang in with the two pure climbers, he still has a chance to take overall victory with a great ride in Saturday's time trial. It's too bad that Vino's positive has cast a shadow over what is turning out to be a nail-biter of a Tour. My prediction: Contador wins the stage, but takes fewer than thirty seconds out of Rasmussen.
Thursday, July 19th

I correctly predicted the stage winner, but things didn't go down like I expected. I figured I'd see a small break, a catch with about 10K to go, and a solid bunch sprint. Not even close. And the reason was Vinokourev. That guy's a monster. He called up his team to break apart the peloton when the wind changed. Then, with 4K to go, Vino attacked from the front. He didn't stay clear, but I had to admire his audacity. It's no wonder he's a fan favorite, even if he's no longer a race favorite (although today's stage probably made some people go, "hmm, I wonder").

The echelons Astana established worked to blow open the race, although Moreau was the only G.C. contender who suffered. The biggest victim could have been Erik Zabel in the Green Jersey race, because Tom Boonen made the split and he didn't. Things mostly worked out for the German sprinter, though, as Tornado Tom got hung up behind a crash in the last few hundred meters and scored no points. Robbie Hunter, besides winning the stage, made up a lot of ground to make the Green Jersey race really interesting. He's now slightly ahead of Zabel and just a bit behind Boonen. He's also now the first ever rider from Africa to win a Tour stage. Not too shabby for a guy on a wildcard team. Poor Old Freddie Rodriguez crashed again. That guy always seems to run into bad luck when the cards seem stacked in his favor.

Tomorrow's Stage: Stage 12 - Montpellier - Castres (178.5km)

This stage is as unpredictable as they get. There's a pretty big climb near the end, which should break up the peloton and prevent a bunch sprint; however, there's a long descent to the finish line, so it will be hard for a single rider or a small group to stay clear. Since I have no definite favorite based on logic, I'm going to pick one based on hope: George Hincapie. I know he wants to win a stage, and this is the last one that really fits his style. I think Discovery Channel would rather have him working to protect Contador and Leipheimer, but if he gets in the right break, he'll get the green light to try for the win. Go George!
Wednesday, July 18th

I ran an actual honest-to-goodness workout today, my first one in many months. I did two miles easy, three miles at hard tempo pace, and then two more miles easy. By the end of my tempo session, I felt done in. I love that feeling.

Well, I thought I'd predicted the outcome of today's stage correctly when Juan Antonio Flecha made the break. Then I noticed that Jens Voigt was in the breakaway, too. I figured that wasn't good news for my pick, because Voigt drives the pace so hard Flecha might be put into trouble. And he was. Voigt made a move on the first of two category-three climbs at the end of the race, and when Patrice Halgand started in on the action, the 11-man group fractured. Flecha struggled to hang on, but he drifted off into the chase group. Voigt couldn't get into a good position to win the stage, but he definitely made the decisive move. I thought the organizers would award Voigt the most aggressive rider, but they gave it to Halgand instead. A French rider, Cedric Vassuer, finally won a stage. He's an old pro who won a Tour stage way back in 1997. I'm starting to root for the "old guys," now that I'm (almost) in the same demographic.

Tomorrow's Stage: Stage 11 - Marseille to Montpellier - (182.5km)

This should definitely come down to a bunch sprint. I think Quick Step has the best lead-out train at the moment, and Boonen should increase his point lead over Zabel. However, I think Robbie Hunter will win the stage. Now that McEwen is out of the race, Hunter is the trickiest rider. If he follows the right wheel, he can win with his rapid final acceleration. Fast Freddie Rodriguez will be riding for himself, now that he doesn't have to lead out McEwen. As much as I'd love to see him win, I don't think it will happen. He should be in the top five, though.
Tuesday, July 17th

Today's stage was another good one. A few more riders were shaken out of G.C. contention, and, unfortunately, one of them was Alexandre Vinokourov. Menchov is in a spot of bother, too. Soler looked good for someone who riders for a wildcard team, but solo victories are always beautiful. Some dumbass let his dog wander out on the course, and it took out a T-Mobile rider. That team is having the worst luck this year. It looks like Contador should be the captain for Discovery Channel, rather than Leipheimer, but we'll see how things go down the road—Leipheimer is the better time-trialer, after all. If nothing else, Contador looks like he could win the White Jersey for best young rider. Valverde is looking strong; he could win this whole thing after all (although I still don't have faith that he'll see Paris).

Tomorrow's Stage: Stage 10 - Tallard to Marseille (229.5km)

Coming off of two hard mountain stages, most of the teams will want to rest. I imagine a small breakaway of non-contenders will get down the road, and the peloton will let them duke it out for the win. I have a feeling Juan Antonio Flecha could be the man for the day. His team, Rabobank, has the Yellow Jersey, so if they get a man in the break, they won't have to drive the chase. Flecha's a breakaway specialist with a good pedigree, and I'm confident he could win in a small group sprint. Milram might push the pace early on, trying to pick up intermediate sprint points for Erik Zabel. With two category-three climbs close to the finish, I don't imagine we'll see a bunch sprint at the end. Zabel and Boonen might duke it out for points on the finish line, though, even if riders have already finished. Zabel is supposed to be better on the hills, so he might move back into the Green Jersey.
Monday, July 16th

As much as I'd like to be watching the Tour de France Rest Day recap show on Versus right now, I need a rest day myself. The only thing I've had available to sacrifice to make time for watching Tour coverage is sleep. I'm dragging ass. I'm so droopy and tired that everything else I do is half-hearted and half-speed. I hope a good night's sleep will cure what ails me.

As for Sunday's stage: the Tour has finally started. The G.C. contenders have shuffled themselves to the top of the classification, and the real time gaps are starting to open. Australian riders suffered on the day, though. Michael Rogers abandoned with a dislocated shoulder, Stuey O'Grady crashed into a pole and broke all kinds of bones, and Robbie McEwen suffered on the climbs and missed the time cut.

Christophe Moreau attacked and attacked and the final climb, but he couldn't get anyone to help him, which kept Vino and Klöden in the race. If Valverde, who looked strong, had helped him pull, they might have taken some time out of the trailing group. Instead, they're all still pretty much bunched together.

Rasmussen certainly convinced me that he's recovered from his broken leg. If he gets the green light from his team, he has a chance to do what Pantani did in 1998—namely, take enough time on the climbs that he can't be caught in the time trial. (Although he'll still need to ride better than he did in 2005 for that to happen.) I'm giving myself credit for predicting his victory. It went down pretty much like I thought it would, except that two riders managed to cling to his wheel until halfway up the final climb. A solo ride to victory is always a beautiful thing. I'd never really considered him a favorite for the podium, but if he doesn't have to help Menchov and can ride for himself, it looks like a real possibility.

Tomorrow's Stage: Stage 9 - Val-d'Isère to Briançon - (159.5km)

Stages that follow rest days tend to be weird. I imagine this one will follow suit. It's definitely a tough day in the mountains, but the long downhill finish makes it hard to keep a gap. I imagine that the favorites will be marking each other again, but will probably let a someone low on the classification ride ahead. I think Juan Jose Cobo might be the guy to go. He's trailing the main contenders be nearly five minutes, and he's an excellent climber. I figure if he attacks up the Galibier, he'll ride clear without fearing a counter-attack. So he's my pick. But given the way these post-rest day stages shake out, I wouldn't be surprised if Fast Freddie Rodriguez wins. (Well, maybe a little.)
Sunday, July 15th
Tacoma Narrows Bridge Run 5k

This race sprang up at the last second, and it sounded like fun, so I signed up. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who heard about it, as there were over 10,000 participants. Frankly, the sheer number of entrants flabbergasted me. It was easily the largest field for a 5k I'd even heard about. I started to worry the whole thing would devolve into a clustermess.

We had to park a fair distance away from the start, but it was still a better deal than the people riding in from Tacoma Community College on shuttle buses. I used the mile or so distance as a bit of a warm-up. However, since there wasn't going to be anyplace to leave clothes at the start line, I left my racing flats in the car and ran in my trainers.

I managed to elbow my way up to the fourth row for the start. (Given that the mob stretched out for half a mile behind me, it was quite a feat.) I didn't get crowded out and slowed down like I have at the Seattle Half Marathon. I cruised along at a good pace once we were underway, and I really wished I'd worn my flats—it felt like I had concrete blocks strapped to my feet.

The course started out uphill, but after a quarter-mile, it turned to downhill. Just after the mile-mark it started back uphill again. It was an out-and-back, so after the turn-around at halfway, it was downhill to the two-mile mark, followed by a long uphill slog and short quarter-mile downhill sprint to the finish. Recalling the elevation profile, I shouldn't be surprised that I really suffered on the third mile. I finished in 19:07, and if my flats are good for ten seconds per mile, that would have given me an 18:37, which is just about six-flat per mile. Of course, I could just as well laced up the flats, opened with 5:35 mile, gone lactic, and finished staggering up the final long uphill to cross the line in 21:03.

My splits:
Mile 15:495:49
Mile 26:1011:59
Mile 36:3018:30
Last .10:3719:07
Saturday, July 14th

Today's stage was fairly exciting, but there were no real shake-ups as far as the G.C. went. The marquee riders simply marked each other and rode as group all day. Linus Gerdemann, the eventual winner, certainly had a very aggressive descending style. He basically plastered himself to his top tube and rocketed down the slopes. I wouldn't try it myself, but that's only one of many reasons that I'm not a pro bike rider.

Tomorrow's Stage: Stage 8 - Le Grand Bornand to Tignes - (165km)

Now we're getting to the real action: three Category One climbs and a mountaintop finish. The G.C. contenders will finally start to attack each other. It's possible a break will go up the road, but I expect a pack big name riders to hit the foot of the last climb. Then, all hell breaks loose. I think Valverde will take the stage; however, if Rasmussen is riding for himself and not helping Menchov, I wouldn't doubt if he goes for broke, attacking from the next to last climb to solo to victory.
Friday, July 13th

I went for an easy jog down by the river this morning before heading into work. I saw what I'm pretty sure was a river otter. It looked too long and sleek to be a beaver or muskrat, and I don't know else would be swimming along in a river like that.

My prediction of today's stage winner in the Tour de France was correct. Hooray! However, the finish didn't play out like I expected. Instead of seeing a long train of Quickstep riders depositing Boonen in the lead with 200 meters to go, I saw a full-on melee of elbows and thrashing wheels as Boonen bashed his way through the pack to victory. In fact, he made some very aggressive sideways motions into Freire's line in the last fifty meters. Hushovd was relegated last year for much lesser cause. Except for the last kilometer, the racing was rather lackluster.

Tomorrow's Stage: Stage 7 - Bourg-en-Bresse to Le Grand Bornand - (197.5km)

This is the first adventure into the high mountains, and I have no inkling of what to expect. So many riders have crashed that it's hard to tell who's healthy. Plus, the teams of the GC contenders will be marking each other closely. It's Bastille Day, so all the French riders will be shooting for the stage win. My gut tells me to pick Christophe Moreau, but I just can't bring myself to do it. He looked so strong in the Dauphine that I imagine none of the favorites will let him go. Plus, it seems like a Spanish rider has won on Bastille Day the past few years. I'm thinking Iban Mayo might be the man for the day. Perhaps Mercado can reprise last year's victory. Will Valverde want to make a mark? I have to think the climbers will want to save a little for the much tougher stage on Sunday, so I don't think it will be a real duke-it-out battle.

The more I think about it, the more I think Mayo is the man. I don't think anyone takes him seriously as a GC threat anymore, and as long as he has a small gap over the top of the last climb, he shouldn't get caught on the descent to the finish. Mayo it is.
Thursday, July 12th

With short, hard climbs, a difficult chase, and a high-speed finish, today's stage reminded me of a Spring Classic. The action was marred, however, by Vinokourov's crash. I haven't heard yet how badly injured he is. He lost time, though, over a minute. That hurts, I'm sure. Klöden crashed, too, and he's questionable to start tomorrow, thanks to a hairline fracture of his coccyx—that's right, he broke his ass. The finish was crazy fast, nearly 50—allegedly uphill—and Pippo Pozzato pulled off the victory. Zabel was able to gut it out over the climbs and finish with the lead group. That was enough to move him four points ahead of Boonen and into the Green Jersey. I think it's nice to see the old man back on the podium.

Tomorrow's Stage: Stage 6 - Semur-en-Auxois to Bourg-en-Bresse - (199.5km)

This stage should finish in a bunch sprint, as it's relatively flat and no one will want to work too hard after today's violent efforts. It should come down to the teams with the trains—Quickstep, Milram, and Lampre—and I think that means this is Boonen's chance to finally win.
Wednesday, July 11th
Wilburton Park Orienteering

I ran in an orienteering meet this afternoon. Luckily, things had cooled off to the mid-90s by the time I started. (That's sarcasm, by the way. It was damn hot.) This course had a number of "permanent" controls, which meant they were little placards nailed to fence posts and bollards and the like. I had all kinds of trouble finding them. They were too small and too low, so I just couldn't see them. I lost a lot of time looking for markers that were only four feet away. But I had fun and didn't get heat stroke, so I'll call it a good time.

I watched the Tour after the meet, as you can likely imagine. I finally got to see a drag-race sprint. It was beautiful. I could tell from about 600 meters out that Thor Hushovd was likely to win—he was in the perfect position. He had three of his own riders in front of him and no one challenging to the side. McEwen and Boonen weren't in sight, and Freire was boxed in. Zabel was the only rider who looked like he might be in position to test him. Then Julian Dean took over. He pulled Hushovd clear and launched him to the line with 150 meters to go. Robbie Hunter shot out of nowhere to nip at his wheel, but he came up just a fraction short and Hushovd took the win. I think Fast Freddie Rodriguez is right: wide, safe roads really do make a difference.

Tomorrow's Stage: Stage 5 - Chablis to Autun (182.5km)

With a Category 2 and a Category 3 climb in the final 40k, it is unlikely this stage will finish with a bunch sprint. A small group should spring clear on the final climb and duke it out to the line. Many pundits think this is the ideal stage for Valverde, but I disagree. I think he'll be too heavily marked. I'll have my eye on Michael "The Boogey Man" Boogerd. It's his final Tour before retirement, the course suits his abilities, and he's no real threat to the overall. That equals a perfect mix for taking the stage.
Tuesday, July 10th

I waited until almost 9:00 p.m. to go for my run, just so it would cool off a little bit. About halfway into my jog, two off-leash rat dogs started chasing me and nipping at my heels. I was quite tempted to try punting one like a football. Maybe if the owners hadn't been standing right there.

Before my run, while I was waiting for things to cool off, I watched the Tour, of course. I have to admit, as much as I love the Tour, this stage was quite boring until about 5k to go. The pay-off for sitting through the tedium, however, was one of the most exciting finishes I can recall. Cancellara, resplendent in the Yellow Jersey, powered away from the peloton as they negotiated a dangerous, cobbled turned 1k from the finish line. He then blasted past the four-man breakaway 500 meters from the end so quickly no one could jump into his draft. Using all of his pure power, he held on as the big-gun sprinters closed in on him. I was jumping up and down as I cheered for him to stay off the front. I wasn't certain he was going to hold on, and I think Zabel would have nipped him at the line if the race had been 10 meters longer. Here's a stage recap from VeloNewsTV.

Cancellara's victory reminded me of the way he won Paris-Roubaix in 2006, although he was much more dominant then. I found that interesting because today's stage covered many of the same roads as Paris-Roubaix, only in reverse.

Tomorrow's Stage: Stage 4 - Villers-Cotterêts to Joigny (193km)

Even though this stage is a bit lumpy, I don't think a breakaway will stay clear. I expect another bunch sprint. The hills could keep Milram and Quickstep from setting up their trains, and we all know who wins when the sprint is disorganized. That's right, Robbie McEwen. McEwen looked pretty sharp today, too, until Robbie Hunter interfered with his sprint. You could see McEwen quit sprinting and coast over the line after almost getting knocked from his bike.
Monday, July 9th

I went for a seven-mile jog after work. I felt pretty good, except for the first mile when I felt stiff and creaky. After I finished, I rushed home to watch the Tour de France. (Just for those who might care, I tape the live coverage with Phil and Paul, because Bob and Al on the Primetime coverage are kind of annoying. Don't get me wrong, I love Bob Roll; he just needs to stick to the side pieces, not the main race commentary. Al Trautwig just rubs me the wrong way. Everything he says sounds condescending and smug. The less I hear from him, the better.)

Today's stage was marred by a terrible crash 2k from the end. A lot of the top sprinters went down, and some of my favorite riders looked pretty banged up coming across the line. Poor old Fast Freddie Rodriguez looked especially miserable creaking along, hunched over his handlebars, holding his ribs. The Yellow Jersey wearer, Fabian Cancellara, went down, too. He drifted to the finish holding his left arm in way that indicated a broken collarbone, though he later said he was fine. Thor Hushovd crashed, and I haven't heard anything on his condition. George Hincapie got a nasty gash on his knee, which you can see in this video from VeloNewsTV. Tomas Vaitkus got the worst of it, breaking his thumb in five places. He is, however, the only one involved in the crash who isn't planning to start tomorrow.

As much as I love bunch sprints, in the Tour they always seem to leave behind a huge element of carnage. It's really disappointing to see a GC rider go out because he got caught in a pile-up, or to see a sprinter's chance at the green jersey disappear because someone came across his wheel. But that's what happens in the first week of the Tour. That's why the winner can't just be good; he has to have a little luck, too.

Gert Steegmans's victory in today's stage struck me as a little odd. There is some speculation the Tom Boonen gifted his lead-out man the victory. I don't know. It looked like Tornado Tom was riding pretty hard to me. Steegmans left the door open, but Boonen didn't—or couldn't—come through. Regardless, Boonen took enough points to wear the green jersey tomorrow, and a Belgian rider on a Belgian team won a stage in Belgium.

Tomorrow's Stage: Stage 3 - Waregem to Compiègne (236.5km)

This is the longest stage of the Tour, but it's relatively flat and should end with a bunch sprint. However, most of the big name sprinters are riding hurt at the moment. Tom Boonen seems to be the only healthy marquee rider, so I have to put my money on him. He'll need to watch out for Romain Feillu, though; the plucky French rider on the Agritubel squad has finished fifth twice and looked sharp both times.
Sunday, July 8th

I intended to go for a short jog today, just to keep my weekly mileage over 30. I didn't get out. Could it be because I spent three hours watching Tour de France coverage? Bite your tongue.

As far as the bike racing went, my prediction would have been correct if someone hadn't strapped a rocket onto Robbie McEwen. I still can't figure out where he came from. I hope he wasn't hurt too badly in the crash 20k from the line. Adrenalin can only take you so far, and with three weeks left to race Robbie's sore wrist might take him out of the action. David Millar impressed me with his impetuousness. After riding on the front and claiming some early King of the Mountain points, he got caught up. A solo rider up the road would have taken the Polka Dot Jersey if Millar didn't claim any more points. Millar came out of the peloton to snatch 2nd place on the final KOM and win the Jersey. He'll keep it for at least two days, too, since there are no KOM points on tomorrow's stage. That's quite a coup. He said he decided to go on a "suicide mission" because he was so inspired by the memory of seeing Chris Boardman go off the front when he watched him in the '94 tour, which also came through England. It must be nice for the British fans to see a British rider on the podium on British soil.

Tomorrow's Stage: Stage 2 - Dunkirk to Ghent (168.5km)

This should come down to a sprint finish once again, despite being a short stage. I don't know how much McEwen will be a factor, but if he's not off the back he always has a chance. I think, however, tomorrow will be Tom Boonen's day. His train should be firing on all cylinders, so the speed should be high enough that no one can come around him once he's launched. He'll want to win on his home soil, too, so he'll be extra motivated.
Saturday, July 7th
Ballard Street Scramble

I ran a street scramble this morning. I scored 550 points, but placed 2nd to someone else who scored 550 points. He beat me in by two minutes, that's why. I talked to him after the race and learned he'd run about 8.5 miles, according to his Garmin. According to my Garmin, I'd run 10 miles. Clearly, I'm still making some mistakes in my route planning.

After the scramble, I came home and watched the Tour. Even though I don't really like Al Trautwig, his intro gave me goose bumps. (Have I mentioned I love the Tour?) The prologue went nearly as I'd predicted, except that Klöden did what I expected Zabriskie to do. Cancellara looked like he was riding in a class of his own. I didn't think anyone would beat him, but it turned into more than that. No one could even hold a candle to him. Poor old Stuey O'Grady crashed. I hope he's not too banged up. After the injuries he rode with in last year's Tour, he deserves an easier time of it this year.

Tomorrow's Stage: London to Canterbury (203km)

Unless something totally wacky happens, this stage will come down to a bunch sprint. The finish is uphill, and is usually into a headwind. That sounds like a Thor Hushovd special to me. He hasn't done much this year, and I think he's due for a win.
Friday, July 6th
The Tour, Baby!

There is something so compelling about bike racing, I just can't tear myself away from it, despite the many drug scandals that keep popping up. The combination of speed, risk of crash and injury, teamwork, individual effort, group politics, rider accessibility, and outrageous clothes absolutely rivets me. A Jim Caple article captures some of the essence of what I'm feeling. Anyhow, the Tour de France starts tomorrow, and I'm so excited I could pee. On to my predictions:

The Overall, in order:
Alexandre Vinokourov, Andreas Klöden, Levi Leipheimer.
I don't think an Astana sweep is out of the question. Andrey Kashechkin is certainly good enough to keep up with Vino and Klödi. In fact, I'm not sure Vino is the best rider on the team. He is, however, undisputedly the captain. The question is, how hard will Klödi and Kash have to work to support him.

I would put Alejandro Valverde in the third spot, but I don't picture him finishing the race. He's had some bad luck in three-week races, and I think it's gotten into his head. I imagine he'll get to the mountains, win a stage, and then lose "massive chunks of time" down the line, only to withdraw because of "tendonitis."

I think Carlos Sastre, Cadel Evans, and Denis Menchov will round out the top six, but their lack of time-trialing ability will keep them off the podium. As to Oscar Pereiro, well, lightning doesn't strike twice. His climbing gives him a chance at the top ten, though. I think Vladimir Karpets has a legitimate shot at the top ten, too—if he doesn't have to work for Valverde or Pereiro. Otherwise, his duties as top lieutenant will hold him back. If there was a jersey for best hair, however, he would win it in a heartbeat.

Michael Rogers could crack to the top ten, but I don't see him being much of a factor for the leaders. Haimar Zubeldia could sneak into the top ten as well, but he'll do it quietly, and he won't threaten for the overall. Fränk Schleck could contend for the top five, but I don't think he's fully recovered from cracking his vertebra in a crash at the Amstel Gold race. I imagine he'll be working for Sastre instead of riding for a place. Look for Christophe Moreau and Stefan Schumacher to finish in the bottom half of the top ten.

The Green Jersey:
Unless he crashes or gets relegated, Robbie McEwen should win. Oscar Freire could run him close, but I doubt he'll go all the way to Paris, especially now that he's suffering from ass cysts again. Thor Hushovd is a definite contender, and he has proven he can finish the race. If McEwen falters, Thor can win. Don't discount Eric Zabel, though. He doesn't win much anymore, but he's consistently at the front, and he has the experience to pick up intermediate bonuses at the right time. Tom Boonen will be in the mix, too, but a broken toe and missed conditioning will keep him from being 100%.

The Polka Dot Jersey:
Normally, I would pick Michael Rasmussen and be done with it. I'm not sure, however, that he's recovered from breaking his femur in a bad crash at the Giro dell'Emilia in October. If he's firing on all cylinders, he'll win. If not, look for Christophe Moreau to do something special.

The Prologue:
A lot of people are talking up Bradley Wiggins to win the prologue. I'm of a different mind. I think Fabian Cancellara will win. I just can't imagine anyone beating him. The course isn't too technical, so power and position will play a bigger role than bike handling. With that in mind, I think Zabriskie will finish second, in a reprise of the World Championships. Don't be surprised if George Hincapie manages third, he rides an excellent prologue. I think Wiggins and David Millar will come in close behind those three, but despite the hype, I don't think either will win.
Wednesday, July 4th
Firecracker 5000

The Firecracker 5000 is a race that starts just before midnight and makes a couple of loops around Seattle Center. I was a little disappointed with this year's race, though I really shouldn't be. The course was hilly. The night was humid. There was a little bit of wind. And my legs were still a bit tired from running a half marathon only nine days previously. Still, I really wanted to break nineteen minutes. I even had a touch of nerves before the race because of it. Also, while standing next to all the primed college dudes who were ready to hand me my ass, I felt fat. That was a first. I'm about seven pounds over my ideal power-to-weight ratio, but standing in a crowd of guys with 3% body fat, it seemed more like seventy pounds.

I started out well, despite some jostling of elbows. I hit the first mile in 5:58, which was a little slower than I wanted—I was aiming for 5:50. I never saw the two-mile mark, but I must have been running well, because I was passing people left and right. The last mile proved my undoing. I made it to the flat stretch of road in front of the EMP and ran out of gas. I really struggled to keep my speed up, but my legs felt dead. A few people started passing me back. I went through the three-mile mark in 18:31 and knew then that my slow third mile had cost me a sub-nineteen. I sprinted in as best I could and stopped the clock at 19:08. Oh well. If nothing else, I was two-and-a-half minutes faster than last year.
Sometimes I feel like I'm breathing underwater.