Running In Circles
Saturday, July 26th
I don't have a lot of time to type this out because I want to get to bed. I haven't talked about the tour the last couple of days, mostly because I've been doped up on cold medicine, and, therefore too groggy to be coherent. In fact, on Thursday and Friday I found myself dozing through much of each stage. I was disappointed to miss the racing—although, the stages were a bit snooze-worthy. The only real action (that I saw) was Roman Kreuziger attacking at the end of Stage 18 to try to make up time in the race for the White Jersey. Andy Schleck was all over him, though. Kreuziger was the only rider with anything on the line to attack on either day. He'll be someone to look out for in the future.
The time trial played out like I expected as far as the GC contenders went. Sastre rode a little better than I thought he would, but I always figured he'd fend off Evans. Schumacher surprised me once again by winning the stage. I'd never really thought of him as a time trial specialist. I guess I'll have to revise my opinion. Bernard Kohl was the revelation of the day. His finishing time was far above what anyone expected from him, and he managed to cling onto a podium spot. I thought Menchov would pass him for sure, and I half-expected Vandevelde to springboard over him into fourth. He's cinched the Polka Dots, too. What a break out season for him.
Stage Twenty: Étampes to Paris/Champs Élysées — 143 Kilometers
I'm torn between choosing Thor Hushovd, Oscar Freire, or Robbie McEwen to win tomorrow's stage. Hushovd is a strong, heavy rider who does well on the cobbles, which will make up the majority of the finishing loops. He will have his whole team working for him, too, except his main lead-out man, Mark Renshaw, who is out of the race. Oscar Freire is a tricky rider who always finds the right line through a crowd. That could play to his advantage, as there are a few twists and turns in the final kilometer—it's not the type of finish that suits a lead-out train. Now that Mark Cavendish has left the race, Robbie McEwen has the quickest finishing punch. If he can find the right wheel, he can burst across the line for the victory. He doesn't have much help from his team, though, so he could have trouble getting to the front of the peloton to find a good wheel.
After weighing all my considerations, I've got to go green. I'm picking Oscar Freire, current holder of the Green Jersey for best sprinter, to take the win on the Champs Élysées.
Wednesday, July 23rd
Yesterday morning, I started to feel a little tickle in the back of my throat. By the afternoon, it was quite sore, and it pained me to swallow. I decided to skip my run and recuperate by watching five hours of Tour de France coverage. That night, I could barely sleep. I would wake up from the pain of swallowing. By my estimation, I got about two hours of sleep. I went to work this morning, but I was so miserable and it was so hard to concentrate that I went home early. At home, I looked around and found some cold medicine. I took it and finally felt well enough to sleep for about four hours.
Once I got up, I watched a few hours of the Alpe d'Huez stage before I decided I better put in some miles. Nothing clears out a stuffed up head better than a quick jog. Once I got going, I felt great—from the neck down, anyway. In fact, my legs felt so good, I ended up going six miles instead of four. I imagine that skipping both hard workouts this week is why I felt good. Although I'm nervous about how the missed training will affect my big race, it's nice to know that my legs feel thrashed because I've been working hard, not because I've grown weak.
Tuesday's stage did little to upset the GC, other than sending Christian Vande Velde down a few minutes. It looks like the podium has slipped from his grasp. George Hincapie just missed out on a good chance for a stage win when he tailed off the back of the day's winning breakaway.
Today's stage up the Alpe d'Huez was awesome. Although it moved the GC around a little bit, it's still a tight race. Carlos Sastre would have been my pick to win the stage if I hadn't gone to bed early because of a sore throat, but I guess it doesn't count since I didn't post it before I watched the stage. He did manage to get a little more time than I expected, but I don't know if it will be enough to hold of Cadel Evans. In 2006, however, Sastre rode a pretty good second time trial—he only lost 61 seconds to Evans and nine seconds to Menchov. He is just one of those guys who goes well in the third week. If Evans and Menchov are tired, Sastre could keep the Yellow Jersey all the way to Paris.
Vande Velde managed to stay with the group today, but sitting in the overall with 6th place at 4:41 back, I don't see him finishing any higher than fourth. Bernard Kohl and Frank Schleck are both over three minutes ahead of him, but they're the only riders really in reach. Unless Sastre, Menchov, or Evans blow up in the time trial or suffer some setback on the next two stages, I don't see Vande Velde standing on the podium.
Stage Eighteen: Bourg d'Oisans to Saint Étienne — 196.5 Kilometers
With a jagged profile that includes a Category 2 climb 33 kilometers from the finish and a steep Category 4 climb only 8 kilometers from the finish, tomorrow's stage screams breakaway. It's just about impossible to predict a winner on stage like this, as the riders allowed into a breakaway will by domestiques from teams with no highly-placed GC riders. Look for a lot of Bouygues Telecom, Agritubel, Credit Agricole, and Cofidis jerseys to go up the road. With no real clue, I'm going to pick Philippe Gilbert for the win. He's a real headbanger, and if he gets up the road with a small group, he should be able to ride away from them and cruise to victory.
Monday, July 21st
I competed in an orienteering event on Sunday morning. Most of the park was restricted to trail-use only, so it was more of a map run than a navigation challenge. That said, I still over-ran the first control and had to backtrack. When I was done with the event, I ran an extra few miles to keep my weekly mileage up. I found the trails wide, shady, and pleasant.
Today I ran an easy five miles, but my legs felt terrible. I had a bunch of sore spots, which I assume came from running hard on the uphills during yesterday's orienteering event. I've done absolutely zero hill work in training this year, and it really shows.
What a stage we had on Sunday! Instead of sorting out the classification, the race actually got closer. Christian Vande Velde went from third at 38 seconds back to fifth at 39 seconds back. Carlos Sastre stayed in sixth, but he's now only 49 seconds down. Bernard Kohl is the surprise rider of this tour. He wasn't on my radar, that's for sure. I understand he's not much of a time-trialer, but if he keeps climbing like this, he could steal the win. He's now in second, a mere 7 seconds behind new leader Frank Schleck.
Wearing the Yellow Jersey, Cadel Evans dropped to third, but he only needs to make up 8 seconds, which he can do handily in the time trial, assuming he doesn't lose more time in the next two big mountain stages.
Denis Menchov moved into fourth place at 38 seconds down. In the final kilometers of the last climb, he attacked, only to slip on slick pavement and tumble from his bike. He remounted but lost his chain. He finally got sorted out, and his main rivals didn't press the attack until he caught back on. Everyone's left to wonder what would have happened had he stayed on his bike.
On the descent of the Col Agnel, Oscar Pereiro crashed into a guardrail, went over it, and landed on the switchback below. It wasn't captured well on TV, but it must have looked something like Frank Schleck's crash at this year's Tour de Suisse, but with a harder landing. His crash seemed to scare a lot of riders, because no one really pushed it for the rest of the descent. That might be the reason the four-man breakaway was able to stay up the road and go clear for the win. What impressed me was that the breakaway had over a 13-minute lead at the start of the final climb, but only 4 minutes at the end. When the GC riders get the bit in their teeth, they really fly.
Stage Sixteen: Cuneo to Jausiers — 157 Kilometers
Another hard day of climbing awaits our riders on tomorrow's stage. Two massive HC peaks dominate the elevation profile, the second of which ascends to a lung-searing 9,193 feet. The finish line comes after 25 kilometers of steep descending, however, so it is unlikely for large time gaps to open up. If the weather turns sour, though, we could some timid riders losing time, or worse, crashes.
I think Alejandro Valverde will take the stage. He's climbing well again after his crash on Stage 5, he's a good descender, and he's just far enough behind on GC that he won't ring the alarm bells too loudly. I imagine he'd also like to be able to dedicate a stage win to his crash-stricken teammate Pereiro.
Saturday, July 19th
Aunt Gigi agreed to take the Little Dude for the night, so I had the whole afternoon and evening to myself. It looked like I'd be able to fit in that ten-mile training run after all. (There was no way I'd push a jogging stroller for ten miles; either the Little Dude would mutiny or my arms would fall off.)
I came home, finished watching the Tour, ate half a bag of potato chips (my only meal of the day), and then fell asleep for two-and-a-half hours. Pathetic. I managed to make something out of nothing, though, squeezing in a quick four-mile jog before the sun set. With the way I felt when I was done, maybe it's not a bad thing I didn't manage to go ten.
Today's stage worked out about like I expected. The road turned upward and Mark Cavendish drifted right out of the back of the peloton. Oscar Freire, my predicted winner, jumped out of the front of a slow-motion sprint to take the victory. The bunch moved quite slowly over the last kilometer. Columbia had been leading out the last couple of days, but they just weren't up for it today. No one else wanted to do it either, so everybody sort of soft-pedaled until the last 200 meters. Julian Dean sprinted well for Garmin-Chipotle, but he just didn't have that final burst necessary to get to the front. He came across the line in fourth place, not a bad showing for the national champion of New Zealand.
Stage Fifteen: Embrun to Prato Nevoso — 183 Kilometers
Tomorrow's stage should shake up the GC a little bit. There is a huge HC climb right at the beginning of the stage, but it is followed by a long descent before the riders reach the slopes of the day's final climb, the Category 1 Prato Nevoso. With such a long, fast ride from the top of the Col Agnel, I doubt a breakaway rider will stay clear. This stage should come down to the guys fighting it out for the GC, along with a couple of pure climbers sprinkled in.
I think Rémy Di Gregorio can get the win, assuming he bides his time until the bottom of the final climb. No one will feel the need to chase him down, and all the favorites will be too worried about each other to pay him much attention.
The battle for the Yellow Jersey could prove interesting. Team CSC will attack relentlessly. The only question is which of their riders will be the strong man on the day. Carlos Sastre didn't look so hot on the last high mountain stage, but he has a reputation of riding well in the third week. Frank Schleck looked good earlier, but is going to play second fiddle to Sastre? Andy Schleck is out of contention for the GC, but he'll certainly be riding in support of his brother and Sastre. Andy could even take the stage win, depending on how the rest of the GC riders react to each other.
I think Sastre will finally show up and make a run at Yellow. I don't think he'll make up enough time to move ahead of Evans, but he should close the gap. I think Frank Schleck will be sent on early attacks to soften Evan up. The question is whether Evans will fall for the bait. I think he'll have to follow Frank Schleck's wheel, which is why Sastre will have the fresher legs at the end of the climb. I think the big question will be whether Schleck can cross the finish line more than one second ahead of Evans. I think he can.
In summary: Di Gregorio gets the stage win, Frank Schleck gets Yellow, and Sastre moves up into third, mere seconds behind Evans.
Friday, July 18th
I ran four miles this afternoon, pushing the Little Dude in the jogging stroller. It was kind of a chore to push him uphill, and I think my arms will be sore tomorrow.
After my jog, I took the Little Dude over the playground equipment so he could play on the slides. A man showed up with two boys who were about two- and four-years old. At one point the older boy was standing next to me, and he put his hand up to shade his eyes as though he were trying to sight land from the crow's nest of a sailing ship.
"I wonder which way it went," he said. He peered into the trees for a moment before he turned to me and asked, "Do you know where the war funding went?"
I struggled to come up with something to say. The best I could do was, "Uh . . . no, I don't."
Today's stage was pretty straight forward, and my prediction that Mark Cavendish would win the stage proved correct. It was an impressive final sprint. With just over 100 meters to go, Cav was pinned behind a wall of bikes. A rider to his left moved over, leaving a small gap. Cav exploded through it. He streaked past three bike lengths worth of sprinters, including Robbie McEwen in full cry, and won handily.
I realized that I miscounted yesterday, and Barloworld actually has four riders left. However, that's still not much help for Robbie Hunter.
Stage Fourteen: Nîmes to Digne les Bains — 194.5 Kilometers
Tomorrow's stage is a tough one to call. It's listed as a flat stage, but it has a Category 4 climb that tops out a mere 9.5 kilometers from the finish. Bucking the trend, I think this stage will end with a bunch sprint. I don't, however, think Mark Cavendish will fare well up the last hill. He really struggles on the slopes, and it doesn't seem like there will be enough time for him to latch back on. I want to give this one to Thor Hushovd because it seems like a finish that could suit him, but he hasn't been able to get past Oscar Freire for Green Jersey points the last few days. Freire is known for climbing well if it's not the high mountains, so I think I'm going to have to go with him. Oscar Freire, for the win.
Thursday, July 17th
Today was a rest day, so I didn't go running. It was not, however, a restful day. Angie left for Tulsa this morning, which leaves me with the duty of solo-parenting the Little Dude. It's not a particularly difficult job, but it is a bit of a grind. The day just disappears. It seems like there should be plenty of time during the day to get projects done, but it was dinner time before I knew it.
Little Dude fell on his face twice while I was watching him. The first time he was sitting on the couch and reaching for a toy. He just tumbled off. The next time he was sitting next to me on a bench at the park. He decided to get off, but he started moving forward before his feet hit the ground. Splat! (Did he fall off the giant playground toy? No. Did he fall off the rickety spring-rocker thingy? No. Did he fall off the curb that he was using as a balance beam? No. He fell off a freaking bench.) I felt terrible each time—well, the couch was kind of funny—but he wasn't hurt, and he got over it quickly. Angie assured me that face-planting twice in one day is about his average. I better teach this kid to call 911 because he's liable to give me a heart attack.
Another day, another doping bust. This time it was a big one: Riccardo Ricco, the holder of the White Jersey for best young rider and of the Polka Jersey for best climber. I think it's sad that before I heard the name of the rider who'd been busted I thought, "I bet it's Ricco." He tore up the slopes of the Pyrenees without showing any signs of fatigue from tearing up the mountains in the Giro d'Italia. I guess he idolized Marco Pantani just a bit too much.
Besides that, the stage went exactly as I expected, and my pick took an easy win. In other news, former Green Jersey winner Baden Cooke crashed out, leaving his team, Barloworld, with only three riders. Poor Robbie Hunter; he's just about a one-man show now.
Narbonne to Nîmes — 182 Kilometers
Tomorrow is a flat stage with a good run-up to the finish line. How can I not pick Cavendish again?
Wednesday, July 16th
I ran a twenty-minute tempo run today. My goal was to run a pace of about 6:30 per mile. I barely managed to run under 7:00. I never felt right the whole time. I'm glad tomorrow is a rest day.
Apparently, when the Little Dude woke up this morning, he immediately began to ask, "Bikes? Bikes?" Angie obliged him and turned on the Tour. He then started to cheer for his favorite rider, "Dahdebelda." You might know him better as Christian Vande Velde. The indoctrination is succeeding. Yes!
I claim half credit for my prediction of today's stage. Thor Hushovd did win the field sprint; however, a breakaway stayed clear so he didn't win the stage. Kurt Asle Arvesen of CSC won over Martin Elminger of AG2R and Alessandro Ballan of Lampre. As the three riders pounded the final few hundred meters, I remembered the way he Ballan blew by Leif Hoste at the end of the 2007 Tour of Flanders, and I though he would win for sure. I forgot Arvesen is rather handy in the sprint himself, although his margin of victory was about a centimeter.
Barloworld lost a rider to doping charges, and two other riders on the team didn't finish today's stage. Soler crashed out long ago. Last year they were the darlings of the Tour. This year they're practically a joke. I hope Robbie Hunter can pull out a good result and save their season.
Stage Twelve: Lavelanet to Narbonne — 168.5 Kilometers
This stage is a bit lumpy, but it has a net drop of 467 meters. With only one categorized climb—and a lowly Category 4, at that—this should be a day for the sprinters. When it comes to a classic field sprint, no one can beat Mark Cavendish; ergo, I'm picking him for the win.
Tuesday, July 15th
Today was an interval workout. I ran four sets of 4:30 hard, 3:30 easy, with a mile warm-up and mile cooldown. Previously, I was only running three reps for this workout, and upping it to four kind of hurt. I felt pretty wobbly by the last one. I eschewed running on the track because I was afraid I'd be disappointed with my times—my legs were feeling a little stale. I think, however, that I might have run my first two reps too hard. Without the solid reference of a track, I have no real way to judge pace beyond feel—and the first one always feels easy. The heat didn't help.
After watching five hours of bike racing yesterday, I decided to go to bed rather than write up a report that practically no one will read. I want to get my prediction before the next stage though, so better late than never.
I thought I'd called the stage winner when Di Gregorio went clear over the Tourmalet with a seven-mintue lead. When I saw how fast the gap was closing on the descent, however, I knew he wasn't going to make it. Sastre was a bit of a disappointment too. He made one attack, which failed, then he followed wheels. Perhaps he's saving himself for the Alps, and he's certainly still in contention, but Frank Schleck is looking like the new captain of the CSC squad. Schleck went clear with Piepoli and Cobo but couldn't quite stay with them all the way to the finish. Drifting in about 30 seconds after stage-winner Piepoli, he came oh-so close to wearing Yellow. In the end, Cadel Evans aced him out by a single second.
A few favorites faltered in the mountains. Valverde was the most notable, though he's not entirely out of the picture at only 4:41 back on GC. Damiano Cunego is almost certainly out of contention at 5:37, and Haimar Zubeldia doesn't have a snowball's chance after losing 28 minutes on the day to plummet to 33:52 down. So much for picking him to finish in the top ten. Things should get interesting in the Alps. I'm nearly drooling at the thought of an epic race-changing day on the slopes of Alpe d'Huez.
Stage Eleven: Lannemezan to Foix — 167.5 Kilometers
Traditional wisdom says this stage is ripe for a breakaway to succeed: it follows a rest day, it's a "medium mountain" stage, and the GC race is pretty much settled down to a handful of riders. That said, I think the tomorrow's stage will end in a bunch sprint. Sure, there's a Category 1 climb right in the middle of the stage, followed by a Category 3 speed bump 20 kilometers from the finish, but there's plenty of time for the peloton to close the gaps. I think Credit Agricole will be especially interested in delivering Thor Hushovd to the line, as they have no GC riders to worry about. Oscar Freire should be near the front, as Rabobank will be working to keep Denis Menchov's 5th place safe. The hills might be a bit much for McEwen and Cavendish, but I think Zabel will get over. With those considerations in mind, I'm picking Thor Hushovd to win the stage.
Sunday, July 13th
I ran a ten-mile long run today. Looking back over my calendar, I discovered it was my first 10-mile training run of 2008. Seeing that it's mid-July, this is not a good thing. The run did not go well. Temperatures pushed into the 80s, and I don't handle the heat well. I was pretty much wiped out by the end.
The Little Dude told his first joke today. "Knock, knock," he said.
"Is this a knock-knock joke?" I replied. "Okay, then—who's there?"
Well, I thought it was funny.
Damn. I was waffling between Sami Sanchez and Riccardo Ricco when I made my pick yesterday, and I went with Sanchez, mostly because Ricco had crashed that day. I should have listened to my gut; it was telling me to pick Ricco.
Ricco won the stage with élan. A couple of bold attacks strung out the peloton, and then he blasted away like he had a rocket strapped on his back. He was far enough down on the GC that no one worked to chase him back. A strong effort by Ricco kept the gap from closing on the descent. Sami Sanchez stayed with main contenders and finished in the lead group.
At one point, Ricco sailed past Luis Leon (not Sami) Sanchez, who was slightly up the road in a smaller breakaway. He was marking Maxime Monfort, a GC threat, but not working with him. It was clear L.L. Sanchez was working for Valverde and not chasing a stage win. He sat up when Ricco went by. I would like to know what would have happened if he'd be allowed to chase and go for the victory himself.
Cadel Evans, the odds-on favorite to win, crashed hard midway through the stage. No one knows if he's badly hurt. His left side was scraped and bloody in several places, the jersey around his right shoulder blade was shredded, and his helmet looked like someone took a few whacks at it with a hammer. If he can survive tomorrow's stage, he has a rest day on Tuesday to recover, but if he's too beat up to stay with leaders, then his Tour chances are over. It always sucks when a race favorite crashes.
Stage Ten: Pau to Hautacam — 156 Kilometers
With two HC climbs—the monstrous Col du Tourmalet and a mountain-top finish on much-feared Hautacam—tomorrow's stage is a beast. It could determine the winner of the whole race, although I think it's a bit too early for that to happen. It should definitely separate the pretenders from the contenders though. I'm hoping Evans isn't too badly injured from today's crash to wheelsuck someone to the top and stay in contention.
There will most likely be two separate races—one for the stage win and one for the Yellow Jersey. Since tomorrow is Bastille Day, it's almost guaranteed a French rider will attack. If he's far enough out of contention for the overall, he could solo to victory. In fact, I think that's exactly what will happen. That's why I'm picking the highly-touted climber Rémy Di Gregorio to win the stage.
Further down the mountain, the GC favorites will be marking each other. I think Carlos Sastre will be the first to come across the line, but I don't know if he'll gain enough time to take the overall lead. Evans could finish in Yellow, as all he needs to do is finish within 55 seconds of anyone but Stefan Schumacher, Christian Vande Valde (USA! USA!), or current leader Kim Kirchen. I would love to see Vande Velde move into the lead, but I think the stage will be just a little too tough for him. He could hold onto a top-ten position though.
On the Versus broadcast, the have a segment called the SAAB performance prediction. The four guys in the booth—Craig Hummer, Bob Roll, Paul Sherwin, and Phil Liggett—take turns picking who they think will win the stage. They keep a running score and pass around their own Yellow Jersey. Well, I realized today that anytime Phil makes the same pick as me, that rider finishes out of the money. Please, Phil, don't pick Di Gregorio tomorrow!
1. Stinky is a much-loved, much-chewed stuffed penguin.
2. Stinky poo is what Little Dude says when he smells his socks.
Saturday, July 12th
I ran six miles today. In the middle of the run I threw in two sets of four minutes hard, three minutes easy and four sets of 30 seconds very hard, 90 seconds easy. It felt great to move fast. Most of the stiffness I felt yesterday was gone.
Well, it came down to a bunch sprint after all. For a moment it looked like Columbia blew the leadout and turned the stage over to team Quick Step and their man Gert Steegmans. But then Gerald Ciolek came blasting up with Cav on his wheel. Cav shot past to win easily and Ciolek held on for second. It was an impressive turn of speed for both men.
My pick to win a bunch sprint, Oscar Freire, was in the mix, finishing fourth. He scored enough points with that placing to move into the lead of the Green Jersey competition. He spent today in the Green Jersey, since he had it on loan from Kim Kirchen, who happened to be sporting the Yellow Jersey.
The big news on the day was, alas, a doping bust. This time it was former Lance Armstong lieutenant Manuel "Triki" Beltran, now riding for Liquigas. I'm glad they're catching the cheaters; it's just too bad the doping scandals detract from the race.
In more positive news, I found an interview with Steven Cozza where he talks about how his teammates on the Garmin-Chipotle squad are faring at the Tour de France. It's worth watching just to see the best moustache in professional sports since Dave Babych retired from hockey.
Stage Nine: Toulouse to Bagnères de Bigorre — 224 Kilometers
Ah, the first foray into the high mountains. This stage has two Category One climbs stacked at the end of the stage—the Col du Peyresourde and the Col d'Aspin—. It ends, however, with a 26 kilometer descent to the finish. That means we'll see which GC contenders have the legs for the mountains, but none of them will gain massive chunks of time on their rivals (although someone will LOSE massive chunks, for sure).
I think this stage will go to a good climber who's a daredevil descender. I have two riders in mind, Riccardo Ricco and Sami Sanchez. Ricco crashed today, but is apparently unhurt. He's claims to be racing for stage wins and to help his teammate Leonardo Piepoli. I think that might be a little bit of gamesmanship though. Ricco is such a competitive rider that I think he'll ride for the GC if he thinks a high placing is in reach. He looked very strong in the mountains at the Giro d'Italia. No one could ride with him when he attacked, not even Alberto Contador.
I think Sanchez is hungry to win in the Pyrenees. He rides for the Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi, which is based in northern Spain, so he'll have crazy fans all over the road. Expect to see thousands of people wearing orange shirts and waving Basque flags. With that in mind, I'm picking Sami Sanchez to win.
Friday, July 11th
I ran an easy five miles today. For the first mile, I felt miserable. Everything was stiff and tight—my legs, my back, my shoulders. Slowly, I loosened up. After a while, I didn't feel half bad. By the end, I almost felt refreshed. This is why I never take a day off before a race. One day without running leaves nearly crippled with stiffness. It goes away eventually, but who wants to make a hard effort with low morale?
Today was a much harder day for the GC contenders than I anticipated. An early headwind split the peloton into echelons and put everyone under the gun. For a while, it looked like Damiano Cunego's GC hopes were crushed, but he managed to chase back on and only finished thirty seconds of the rest of the big guns. Haimar Zubeldia was with him, but he was already further down on GC, so his place in the overall might be at risk; however, he's a beast in the Pyrenees, which are looming on the horizon.
Luis Leon Sanchez's victory was similar to the stage he took at Paris-Nice—attack, attack, attack, and then when everyone thinks it's over, attack again. He was definitely the strongest rider on the day. Early in his career he was touted as the next Miguel Indurain, and while I don't think he's quite that good, he looks like a future GC contender.
A few riders abandoned, most notably Christophe Moreau. I guess I don't need to consider him for the Polka Dots anymore. Neither do I need to consider John Gadret, a pure climber on the AG2R team. He abandoned too, and the race hasn't even hit the real mountains. Magnus Backstedt from the Garmin-Chipotle team, better know as Big Maggie, missed the time cut and has been eliminated from the race. That’s got to be a disappointment for his team, as he's a good man to make pace when the road is flat.
Stage Eight: Figeac to Toulouse &mdash 172.5 Kilometers
Most everyone expects tomorrow's stage to finish in a sprint, but I disagree. Everyone rode so hard today that I don't think any teams will be interested in chasing down a break. And with two uncategorized climbs in the final 25 kilometers, I think a break will go clear. I've got a hunch Credit Agricole will send someone up the road. I saw Thor Hushovd riding with front group all day, so I imagine he's tired from hauling his big body up those Category 2 hilltops. Most of the other teams with good sprinters have riders competing for the GC, so they won't be too keen to work hard at the front if they're isn't a threat to their top rider's position. So, if Credit Agricole sends, say, Dmitriy Fofonov to front, they won't have any need to chase. I think some of the other non-contending teams will try to send a rider as well: AG2R could send Vladimir Efimkin, and Agritubel could send Nicolas Jalabert, and someone from Bouygues Telecom will go too. With all that in mind, I'm going to pick Efimkin for the win. Call it a gut feeling.
If the race does come down to a bunch sprint, I think Oscar Freire will win. He's good enough on the hills to stay with front group over the rollers at the end, his team, Rabobank, will be working to protect Denis Menchov, and he doesn't need a lead out to win.
Thursday, July 10th
Today was my rest day. It felt nice to relax.
I called another one! The finish worked out about like I imagined: a strong group churned out a hard tempo over the last couple of kilometers, shedding riders left and right, until Ricco sprang clear with only a few hundred meters left, claiming victory. Valverde looked strong finishing second, even though he was wrapped in bandages like a mummy. Schumacher, the Yellow Jersey holder, fell a few hundred meters from the end, but since it was a mountaintop finish, he wasn't awarded the same time as his group. I know it must sting, but it's hard for me to feel sorry for him after he won the Eneco Tour over George Hincapie in a similar incident. When Christian Vande Velde broke away with 5k to go, I got a little excited. He ranked high enough on the GC to have a shot at the overall, and I would have loved to see another American in Yellow. Alas, he was swept up by the hard tempo set by Valverde's team, Caisse d'Epargne.
Stage Seven: Brioude to Aurillac, 159 Kilometers
Tomorrow's stage is a tough ride. It undulates slowly upwards for 117 kilometers until reaching the summit of the Category 2 Pas de Peyrol. Then it's a long descent until hitting a Category 3 speed bump just before the finish. The run up to the line looks flat, but I expect the field will break apart over the final climb. A classics rider who's not too high on the GC seems like the type of rider to take this stage. Might as well pick Philippe Gilbert, the Belgian on the Française des Jeux squad—he fits the criteria.
Wednesday, July 9th
My workout today was mile repeats. I ran three reps with a one-minute rest in between. This was a "cruise interval," so I was running at "tempo pace," rather than all out. My splits were: 6:27, 6:19, and 6:19. Since I was aiming for 6:30, I might have run a little too hard. I could feel myself going lactic on the last rep, so I must have slipped over my anaerobic threshold. I followed up the repeats with four sets of 30 seconds hard, 90 seconds easy. I was toast by the end. Training too hard is almost as bad as training too little, so I need to be careful.
I called another one! I figured if Columbia could set up a train and keep Cavendish from getting blocked, Cavendish would win the stage. That's exactly what happened. And too think they were once criticized for having "too many sprinters." It's a formula that's working out for them; they're one of the most successful teams in the Pro Peloton.
Mauricio Soler, my pick to win the King of the Mountains Jersey, abandoned shortly into the stage. He never really recovered from his day one crash. With my favorite out, I've decided to keep my eye on Rémy Di Gregorio of Française des Jeux. I kind of forgot about him when I made my initial picks, but he's a pure climber on a French team that has no contender for the overall GC. He's young, though, so I don't know how he'll hold up over three weeks.
Alejandro Valverde took a tumble today. He didn't appear too badly hurt, but he landed on his knee. That particular joint is rather important in cycling. Since he's abandoned the tour because of a sore knee in the past, this bears watching.
Poor Nicolas Vogondy of the wildcard team Agritubel rode in the breakaway all day, only to be swept up by the sprinters within spitting distance of the finish. During the replay, I noticed him shaking his fist in frustration and disappointment as the first wave of sprinters blasted by. He managed to hold on for 21st place, back with the second-tier sprinters and the first-tier lead-out men. The peloton certainly sliced it very fine today.
Stage Six: Aigurande to Super Besse — 195.5 Kilometers
This stage has a summit finish, but the slope is neither exceptionally long, nor exceptionally steep. Assuming an early breakaway doesn't stay clear, the stage should go to an attacking rider who can climb well. My pick is Riccardo Ricco. Look for Thomas Veockler to go early in an attempt to hold onto the Polka Dot Jersey for another day or two. Sylvain Chavanel, currently second to Voeckler in that classification, will certainly go as well.
Tuesday, July 8th
Today I ran an interval workout on the track at the near-by high school. I did 3 x 1200 meters with a 600 meter jog for recovery. My splits were 4:21, 4:31, and 4:31. Putting a watch on my efforts made me a little nervous because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to hit my goal times. Since I was shooting for 4:30 per interval, I guess a got it. Whew!
Did anyone else see that pack of rabid ferrets?
Stefan Schumacher certainly surprised everyone today. Perhaps he had another case of "diarrhea" like he did at the 2007 World Championships. Don't mind me, I'm just bitter that David Millar couldn't pull it off for Garmin-Chipotle. He came oh so close. I'm a little disappointed he didn't get it; I'm down with the Argyle Armada.
Stage Five: Cholet to Châteauroux — 232 Kilometers
A long but flat stage. There could be tailwinds, but with so much time to chase down a breakaway, the peloton should come together for a field sprint. I think Mark Cavendish will get the win. He has a strong team to help chase, and lots of fast guys to set up a lead-out train. That said, Robbie McEwen looks on form, and he could jump out of nowhere to spoil the party.
Monday, July 7th
I went for an easy jog today, but my legs felt totally thrashed. This is not good.
Well, I called this one completely wrong. I didn't think a breakaway had any chance to stay clear. I didn't consider how the tailwind at the end of the stage would keep the peloton in check. Will Frischkorn, alas, just missed winning one for the new team on the block, Garmin-Chipotle. Second place after a 210 kilometer break is nothing to sneeze at, though.
In my opinion, the most amusing moment of the day was when Bernard Hinault shoved a protester off the podium during the awards presentation. They don't call him the badger for nothing!
Stage Four: Cholet to Cholet (ITT) — 29.5 Kilometers
This one's a no-brainer: Fabian Cancellara all the way. He'd have to be attacked by a pack of rabid ferrets to lose this one.
Sunday, July 6th
After a hard week with two races, I was feeling sore and run down today. I decided to skip my scheduled interval workout. I'm a little disappointed to miss a run, but it wouldn't have benefited me much with how tired I feel.
Well, Oscar Freire was in the mix, but the hills and wind didn't break up the peloton as much as I expected. It came down to the power sprinters, and since Pozzato went too early trying to chase down Cancellara, that left Thor Hushovd in the perfect position to win. He did so handily.
Christophe Moreau, in typical fashion, made a late attack that was doomed to fail. He did pick up a couple of KOM points, but if the Polka Dot Jersey is truly his objective, I don't understand why he spent so much energy in a small breakaway that was fighting a hard crosswind. I guess that's just Moreau's style: spend a lot to gain a little.
Stage Three: Saint-Malo to Nantes — 208 Kilometers
This is a flat stage with good run up to the finish. It should come down to a classic bunch sprint. I think the man with the fastest final 100 meters is going to win this one, and that man is Mark Cavendish.
Saturday, July 5th (Part 2)
I went for an easy jog this afternoon, and I couldn't believe how few people I saw out and about. Maybe everyone was hung over. Or maybe, unlike me, they were smart enough to stay out of the rain.
Wow! I actually called today's winner. I knew the stage really suited Valverde, but I thought he might sandbag it to avoid defending the Yellow Jersey this early in the race. It was quite the rapid finish. He just about blew the wheels off Kim Kirchen's bike as he blasted past.
Mauricio Soler crashed near the finish and lost three minutes. It's not good for him, but it is good for my prediction that he'll win the Polka Dot Jersey, as he's now pretty much out of contention for the GC.
Stage 2: Auray to Saint Brieuc — 164.5 Kilometers
Tomorrow's stage looks a bit lumpy. I think it's still a bit early for a breakaway to stay clear, so it will likely come down to sprint finish. There's a bit of climb right at the end, so I don't think this one will go to the likes of a Cavendish or McEwen. I'm going to predict Oscar Freire as the winner. As sprinters go, he can hang on up the late hills and still have enough left to blast across the line.
Saturday, July 5th
Well, it's Tour de France time again. What July would be complete without my prognostications on cycling's finest event? I'll start with my predictions for the overall General Classification:
1. Cadel Evans
2. Alejandro Valverde
3. Riccardo Ricco
Cadel Evans is the odds on favorite, but he has a long history of being a reactive racer, rather than a proactive racer. If he doesn't fall too far behind on the road stages, he can make up time in the individual time trial. And he's so strong in the mountains, he won't lose much time. Valverde's been riding strong so far this season, his time trialing has improved, and he has a strong team that will be dedicated solely to him. Ricco is an outstanding climber but a poor time trialist. If he rides like he did in the Giro d'Italia, he'll certainly animate the race in the mountains. Evans is good at following wheels, though, and I don't think Ricco can gain enough time on the slopes to hold a gap through the time trial.
Other rides to watch for include Carlos Sastre and the Schleck brothers, Fränk and Andy, who all ride for CSC. They're all podium contenders, but the triple-headed monster strategy rarely works, as evidenced by Team T-Mobile in the Ullrich-Vinokourev-Klöden days. I wouldn't be surprised to see all three in the top ten, but I doubt any of them will reach the podium. Damiano Cunego has dedicated his season to racing well at the Tour, but he just seems to lack that little bit extra to reach the podium—a top five is a possibility though. Haimar Zubeldia has finished in the top ten so many times it's hard to count him out, but, like Cunego, he seems to lack what it takes to make the top three. Roman Kreuziger is rider who's been racing great all year but gets little credit for it. I think he's got a shot at a top ten placing and will contend for the White Jersey for best young rider. Now that Denis Menchov won't have to support Michael Rasmussen, he should contend for a high finish. Stijn DeVolder will make a run for the top ten, especially now that his team won't have Tom Boonen to support. Alas, he's no longer wearing the Belgian National Champion jersey, so he'll be little harder to pick out of the peloton. After quietly finishing seventh last year, expect Kim Kirchen to be in the mix as well.
With Tom Boonen barred from racing thanks to a coke problem, and Daniele Bennati out due to injury, the Green Jersey race is wide open. I'm going with McEwen because he always places highly, even if he doesn't win, he has a good history of actually finishing the whole race, and his form finally seems to be coming around after some early-season setbacks. Mark Cavendish is a McEwen-esque racer, and I was tempted to pick him for the title, but he'll really struggle in the high mountains, and I've got a suspicion that he won't make it all the way to Paris. Erik Zabel will contend, as always, but he's lost a bit of speed and can't seem to get higher than second place any more. I really think the Green Jersey will go to a rider who wins at least one stage. Robbie Hunter will stick his nose in again, as will Oscar Freire and Thor Hushovd. The points race could come down to the finish on the Champs Elysees.
Polka Dot Jersey
Unless Soler decides to make a run at the GC, he should win the King of the Mountains classification. One big day in the mountains and some smart defending are what it takes to win this jersey, but a GC contender never gets that big day because he'll get chased down by the other highly-placed riders. I think Christophe Moreau might make a run at the Polka Dots, but he has such a long history of poor strategy, it's hard to see him pulling it off. If Soler falters, this Jersey will likely go as a consolation prize to one of the top-placed GC riders—someone like Ricco or Valverde.
The jersey for the best young rider is a hard one for me to pick because I don't know who's eligible without looking up a bunch of birthdays. I do know Ricco is young enough, and I picked him to podium, so there you go. Look for Kreuziger and Andy Schleck to contend as well.
Stage One: Brest to Plumelec — 197.5 Kilometers
The finish of this stage is a two-kilometer climb at a five-percent gradient. That will make it rough for the sprinters. I expect a strong classics rider will win this stage, and there are a few good ones to choose from: the Schleck brothers, Alessandro Ballan, Juan Antonio Flecha, Philippe Gilbert, Filippo Pozzato, Oscar Freire, and podium favorite Alejandro Valverde. Valverde beat Fränk Schleck in a similar sprint at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and it's quite tempting to pick him to do the same here. In fact, I think I will.