Running In Circles
Monday, July 13th
As much as I enjoy writing up my little pieces about the Tour de France, I find myself short on time and energy most days—and I'm not even squeezing in a workout. I'm going to try to catch up during today's rest day.
Since I've been neglectful of posting my thoughts the last few days, I'm lumping them all together here.
Alberto Contador didn't win the stage like I predicted, but he did gain time on all his GC rivals—including one certain Lance Armstrong, his teammate. The stage really wasn't hard enough to make a selection and split up the main contenders, which is why Contador's attack, as explosive and sudden as it was, only gained him 20 seconds.
The breakaway stayed clear, so the stage win went to Brice Feillu, who I'd never even heard of before today. Rinaldo Nocentini was in the break, too, and he made up enough time to just squeak into the Yellow Jersey, fending off Contador by six seconds.
It's probably a good thing for Astana that the Yellow Jersey goes to a rider on the AG2R squad. It puts less pressure on them, as they don't have to defend, and it defers the question of who's the real captain of the team, Contador or Armstrong, as they're now separated by only two seconds.
It's good for Armstrong, too, as he didn't have to show whether he could respond to Contador in the mountains. As his teammate, he was required to follow wheels. We'll never know if he could have bridged or not. My question is whether Contador would have responded to an attack by Armstrong. Personally, I think he would have. And now, if Armstrong gets across a gap, he won't be attacking a teammate who is also in the Yellow Jersey. This is a big thing as far as cycling etiquette goes.
I racked my brains yesterday, trying to think of a likely rider to win this stage. I couldn't come up with anybody. I figured it would be won by someone in a small breakaway, but there were just too many candidates to choose from.
Then, watching the pre-race show on Versus, Bob Roll threw out the name of Luis Leon Sanchez. "Huh? That's a good pick!" I said aloud. Why hadn't I thought of it? He's a strong rider, and the course profile really suited his style. Turns out, Bob called it right, and Sanchez won the sprint from what was left of a small breakaway.
Thor Hushovd shook up things for the Sprinters, which was somewhat unexpected on a mountain stage. He jumped into an early break and managed to collect points from the intermediate sprints. Since he only trailed Mark Cavendish by a single point after his Stage 6 victory, this put him in the Green Jersey. George Hincapie tried to minimize the damage, but he couldn't get around the big Norwegian, who claimed maximum points twice.
Cadel Evans went on an early attack that reeked of desperation. Unfortunately for him, he was seen as too much of a GC threat to be let go, so not only did the peloton chase hard, the breakaway group did their damnedest to drop him. I think Evan's reputation for not attacking stings him a bit, but if he keeps going like this, he'll get a reputation for foolish attacks.
There was no change in the top-ten GC.
Today's stage featured the Col du Tourmalet, a storied and difficult climb. Disappointingly, the summit came so far from the finish that it had little effect on the overall race. It seems like a shame to waste a monument of the Pyrenees like that.
Pierrick Fedrigo looked like he'd lost the stage when Franco Pellizotti jumped around him to take the inside line on the final corner. Fedrigo dug deep, though, and clawed his way back into Pellizotti's slipstream, making the sling shot move around him to claim victory. I'd make a joke about him winning by "a nose," but it's been done to death. Yeah, the guy's got a big schnoz. Get on with it.
Behind Fedrigo and Pellizotti was a group of around 50 riders, charging in hard. Oscar Freire was the best of the rest, coming in third. This puts him right back in the Green Jersey race, as Hushovd and Cavendish finished way back in the gruppetto.
More surprisingly, Jose Joaquin Rojas placed sixth, which, after yesterday's fifth place, puts him in third place in Green Jersey race, ahead of Freire. Is there a new sprinter I need to keep my eye on? Perhaps. He hasn't fared as well on the flat stages, though, and we have several of those coming up.
Tomorrow — Stage 10: Limoges to Issoudun – 193km
Normally, a transitional stage following a rest day is almost certain to see a successful breakaway. I think, however, that tomorrow will be an exception. Small hills pepper the course, but they're nothing too severe, and the run-in to the finish is pancake flat. The stage cries out for a bunch sprint, and that leaves one choice for the winner: Mark Cavendish.
The race radio ban in effect for this stage could provide a wrinkle. I think it makes a breakaway less likely to succeed. In my estimation, any break will be closely marked and not given as much leash as usual. The peloton won't want to make a mistake and let someone get too far ahead, so they likely keep them too close instead.
There is some talk of riders boycotting the stage. I hope that doesn't happen, as frankly, I think it would only make the riders look like a bunch of whining prima donnas.
Personally, I think the radios should be allowed. It seems silly for them to be legal on some stages but not others. Banning them for the whole race could be interesting, but the field is so large and so competitive, I think rider safety would be compromised. If nothing else, the jockeying of team cars through riders as directors try to relay information would create a hazard.
Now I'm hearing that rain is in the forecast. That could wreak more havoc than any mere radio ban. This stage looks boring at first blush, but my hopes are high for something exciting.