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.
Thursday, July 9th
I guess I should have stuck with conventional wisdom in predicting this stage, because Oscar Freire was right there. He got pipped at the line by strong man Thor Hushovd, though. I had considered picking Hushovd, since a long, slightly uphill sprint really suits him, but I thought the earlier hills would take it out of his legs. I also really thought a break would go clear.
A break almost did stick. David Millar attacked from a long way out, and he had 40 seconds in hand with 5k to go. I thought it would be enough, but when he hit the turn with 2k to go, he looked completely spent. The pack caught him soon after and the sprint was on.
The stage was unfortunately riddled with crashes. Michael Rogers went down especially hard. Given the way he gimped around, I was surprised to hear that not only did he finish the stage, he's starting tomorrow, too.
Tyler Farrar went down in the same crash, and is said to have hurt his side. He fell over a guard rail, so it could easily be broken ribs. I haven't heard an update on his condition yet. He's one of my favorites—and not just for his name—so I hope he's all right.
Tom Boonen crashed hard near the finish when his wheel slipped out the road striping. One report I saw said he's "still having trouble with white lines." Zing! (You know about the whole cocaine thing, right?)
All told, 21 riders sought medical attention due to crash-sustained injuries. Ouch.
Tomorrow — Stage 7: Barcelona to Arcalis – 224km
Tomorrow's stage is long, steep, has a mountain top finish, and is vital in shaking down the GC. I can't think of anyone more motivated and capable of winning this stage than Alberto Contador. Hence, he is my predicted winner.
Wednesday, July 8th
Hey, it's a consecutive number day: 07-08-09!
I wasn't expecting the break to stay clear today. The stage seemed perfect for a big bunch sprint. Apparently, no one wanted to help Team Columbia chase, and they were content to let the break go.
Columbia rider and Green Jersey wearer Mark Cavendish was still the best of the rest, coming in third to collect more points for the Green Jersey race. Farrar finished fourth, so he's still in the running, too.
The victory was quite the coup for Thomas Voeckler. He attacked at the perfect moment, launching himself around a corner just as the rider in front sat up. One of the riders behind tried to follow, but was blocked by the slower riders.
Voeckler sprang clear and stayed ahead. Except for a Katusha rider, Mikhail Ignatiev, who was caught on the line, the rest of the six-man break was swept up by the peloton.
Earlier in the race, Fabian Cancellara, the Yellow Jersey wearer, moved to the front and took a massive pull into the crosswind. He shredded the peloton into three or four echelons. There was almost 60k to go, though, so the group eventually came back together.
Robert Gesink crashed into a ditch just before big move. He came up bloodied, and he kept pulling his left hand off the handlebars to shake it out or rest it on his leg. I suspected a broken wrist.
He managed to finish the stage 10 minutes off the back, but he later withdrew. A trip to the doctor revealed he had, indeed, fractured his wrist. Denis Menchov will miss him the mountains, that's for sure.
Tomorrow — Stage Six: Girona to Barcelona – 181.5km
This stage is a little but lumpy towards the end, and there is a punchy little climb about 2k from the finish. A bunch sprint looks doubtful. Conventional logic says this stage should go to a "sprinter who can climb." Since Alejandro Valverde isn't racing this year, that leaves Oscar Freire as the favorite.
I'm going to break with conventional wisdom, however, and pick Tony Martin to win the stage. He's proved he can survive in the hills by winning the King of the Mountains at the Tour de Suisse, and he's a strong time trialist who can hold off the group as he charges down the last kilometer of a stage.
I don't think, however, that the stage is near tough enough for him to make up the 52 seconds he needs to take the Yellow Jersey. Cancellara's not a great climber, but he can power up the hills when he needs to.
Tuesday, July 7th
On the way home from work, I drove past the bike path where I often run. Right away I noticed a cop and a TV camera on the bridge. I looked down to the trail and saw a tow truck parked there. The trail is normally closed to vehicle traffic. Just around the corner were about five fire trucks.
I got around to looking it up and found out the scoop. A Backhoe slid down the bank and into the river.
Wow, what a stage! I honestly thought Armstrong was going to be wearing yellow again. To miss it by a tenth of a second must really sting. Team Astana really had the goods today.
Columbia disappointed me. Not that they did that poorly, I just really expected them to crush it. Liquigas surprised me with their fourth place finish. That leaves Roman Kreuziger in a good position, as Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov, and Carlos Sastre have all slipped back a ways on the GC.
Garmin didn't display their usual organization. The team start splintering apart early, and they were down to the minimum of five riders by halfway through the stage. With Wiggins, Millar, Vande Velde, and Zabriskie pulling hard, they still managed second. If they'd held onto a few more riders, maybe they would have taken the day.
Far and away, this was the most exciting Team Time Trial I've ever watched.
Tomorrow — Stage 5: Le Cap d'Adge to Perpignan – 196.5km
It's a flat stage near the coast. There could be wind again, but I don't think it will catch anyone by surprise this time. It should come down to a bunch sprint. My prediction: Cavendish. Big surprise, I know.
Monday, July 6th
It's always a bit of grind getting back to work after a holiday weekend. Good thing I had the Tour to look forward to!
Well, the crosswinds hit, and the peloton splintered, but since it was Columbia driving at the front, Cavendish sailed to victory again. This time he only had one other sprinter to contend with, as Thor Hushovd was the only other fast man to make the break.
Things should be interesting in the Astana bus now. Lance Armstrong made the break, but Alberto Contador missed it. Now, Armstrong sits in third on GC, 19 seconds ahead of Contador. That means that if Astana wins by a big enough margin tomorrow, Armstrong will pull on the Yellow Jersey and take home another stuffed lion.
Tomorrow — Stage 4: Montpellier to Montpellier (TTT) – 39km
This is a tough one to call. I really like Garmin's chances--they have a number of good time trialists, and they train hard to ride as a cohesive unit. Team unity wasn't enough to pull off the win at the Giro, however, and winning that TTT was a major goal.
Columbia may not take as much pride in the Team Time Trial discipline, but they have such a depth of strong riders, including the reigning World Time Trial Champion, that it's hard to count them out. Drilling it in today's stage might have left them a little tired, though.
Astana showed they are full of potential by placing four riders in the top ten of the opening time trial. You can't overlook that. I think they'll ride hard and ignore any internal strife for this stage at least, since the time gaps will remain the same between Armstrong and Contador whether they win or lose.
I think it will go Columbia, Astana, Garmin, with less than 30 seconds separating them. If Columbia beats Saxo Bank by enough, that would put Tony Martin into the Yellow Jersey as well, giving Columbia three of the major classifications (Martin already has the White Jersey for Best Young Rider, and Cavendish is in the Green Jersey).
If Astana does something special tomorrow, Armstrong will wear the Yellow Jersey for the 76th time. It's a definite possibility. Twitter would explode.
Sunday, July 5th
It was a hot day, and I was worn out from the weekend's festivities. So, I sat around and watched the Tour.
If Columbia gets the lead-out right, there's no one who can beat Mark Cavendish. They got it right today, and Cav sailed to an easy victory.
Garmin-Slipstream did everything right, too. Julian Dean parked Tyler Farrar right on Cav's wheel, but Farrar couldn't even hold the wheel over the last 50 meters, much less get ahead. Farrar looked good placing second. Maybe he can pick up a stage win if Cavendish has a bad day.
Koldo Fernandez crashed within the final kilometer and ruined the sprint of a few riders, most notably Tom Boonen, so not all the fast men were contesting at the end.
Besides the argy-bargy of the sprint, it was a fairly quiet day in the peloton. I never even saw a glimpse of Alberto Contador's Polka Dot Jersey, so he clearly stayed out of trouble.
I saw David Moncoutie make possibly the longest bottle hold ever. When the team car passed over the bottle, he must have hung on for 15 seconds. It was egregious. There used to be a website that listed the fines and penalties for each stage, and I wish it was still around so I could see if he incurred anything for that one. I'm sure commissaries watch the live feed, so if I saw it, they saw it.
Tomorrow — Stage 3: Marseille to La Grande Motte – 196.5km
The stage has a few lumps at the beginning, but is otherwise flat. It suits Cavendish even better than today's stage. The only way he won't win is if there are strong crosswinds that split the peloton and he doesn't make the front group. At that point, it's anyone's guess who'll win.
Saturday, July 4th
Last night I ran the Firecracker 5000. The race starts just before midnight and goes around Seattle Center. This year, there was a Green Day concert at Key Arena, which made finding parking an adventure.
I went to the race with my dad. We'd both driven out to Mason Lake earlier in the day for party with some family friends. The traffic getting to the lake was horrendous, and it took my almost three-and-half hours to drive there.
The drive back to my dad's house was only 90 minutes, but with the struggle to find parking, it took nearly hour to get downtown. If you do the math, that's six hours in a car. All of that time sitting does not engender a fast 5k. The three beers I had at the Lake didn't help, either.
For as late as it was, it was still quite warm at the race. I decided not to run in my red, white, and blue USA hat to stay a little cooler. Knowing I wasn't in the greatest shape, my goal was only to break 22:00. I just barely made it, clocking a 21:56. I ran a pretty evenly-paced race, but I still slowed a bit in the last mile.
Being a Friday night, there were a number of revelers out on the town. There was also quite a back-up from the concert traffic, which the race's road closures didn't help. This lead to a lot of heckling or cheering, depending on the mood of the crowd.
All in all, it was a satisfying experience.
Today's stage played out about how I expected. Fabian Cancellara's performance was spectacular. I figured he would win; my only question was by how much.
The only real surprise to me was how well Roman Kreuziger did. He's not known for his time trialling, but I guess this course suited him in the same fashion it did Alberto Contador, who slotted in for a solid second.
The World Time Trial Champion, Bert Grabsch, did his rainbow stripes no honor by soft pedaling to a slow finish. I know the course didn't suit him--it must be difficult to haul his elephantine thighs uphill--but it would have been nice if he at least looked like he was trying. He finished 98th at nearly two minutes back.
Tomorrow — Stage 2: Monaco to Brignoles – 187 km
This is an easy prediction: Mark Cavendish. The stage is a little bit lumpy, but the hills are nowhere steep enough to shake Cavs--not this early in the race. Unless he has a late puncture or some kind of mechanical failure, he should cruise to easy win. His team is way too experienced for him to get into trouble, and if his position isn't ideal, he has the speed to make up for it.
Look for Thomas Voeckler to go for King of the Mountain points on the stage's four categorized climbs. A number of riders will be looking to wear the Polka Dot jersey at the end of the day, and Voeckler is right kind of attacking rider to come out in the lead.
Friday, July 3rd -- Tour de France Predictions
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. Alberto Contador
2. Carlos Sastre
3. Cadel Evans
Unless the his team implodes under the pressure of supporting three GC contenders, Alberto Contador should win easily. His time trialling his improved enough that he doesn't need to win big time in the mountains to stay ahead of the time trial specialists like Denis Menchov and Evans.
Sastre is strong on the mountains, and he always rides best in the last week of a three-week tour. With a monster climb on the penultimate day, he can't be counted out. There is really only one rider who can out climb him; unfortunately for him, it's Contador.
I waffled between Evans and Menchov, as they're similar riders. They're both strong time triallers who can follow wheels in the mountains and not get dropped except by the strongest climbers. I think Evans will be a little fresher. Menchov has to be a little tired from his efforts in winning the Giro d'Italia. I figure Menchov will still have enough left in him to finish in the top five, but I don't see him on the podium.
A number of other riders will be fighting it out for spots in the top ten.
Andy Schleck is captaining the Saxo Bank squad. They are a strong team, and he was one of the best riders in the mountains at last years tour. I think he's still a little too weak in the time trial to finish on the podium, although a top five finish is a possibility.
I'm going out on a limb to pick Vladimir Karpets to finish in the top ten, but he's a solid rider, and now that he's transferred to Katusha, he's the GC captain for the first time. Since he won't have to work for anyone, and since Steegmans and McEwen won't be at the tour using riders, I think he can do big things.
Roman Kreuziger is a young rider, but he rode well at last year's tour, and looked good winning this year's Tour of Romandie.
Levi Leipheimer will finish high, just based on his role as Contador's top lieutenant. Things could get interesting, though, if things play out like the 2008 Vuelta. Leipheimer was close enough on GC that he almost took the overall lead when he won the final time trial. Contador might do well to worry about his teammates more than his rivals.
Someone from Columbia should finish in the top ten. It could be Kim Kirchen, if he's recovered from his injuries, or it might be Michael Rogers, who has performed solidly in the past, if not spectacularly. Maybe Tony Martin can do something, too--he looked really good at the Tour de Suisse.
I don't think that Christian Vande Velde will have the same great ride that he did last year, alas. He fractured ribs and vertebrae in a big crash at the Giro. He claims to be recovered, but he didn't look very sharp at the Tour de Suisse.
Lance Armstrong will be near the front, but I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't make the top ten. He'll be a protected rider, but I figure his role will be to make pace in the early mountains. It would be nice if he could chase stage wins, but if he's too close on the GC, he'll get chased down every time. If he loses massive chunks of time early in the race, look for him to go in a breakaway at some point.
I think the only thing that will keep Cavs from winning the jersey is the time limit cut-off on the mountain stages. His Milan-San Remo victory proved that hills aren't the problem they used to be--but hills aren't mountains.
I'm excited to see Tyler Farrar sprint. He's one of very few riders that has beaten Cavendish straight up in bunch sprint. He went pretty well at the Giro, and I think he has a good shot at picking up a stage win. If Cavendish misses a time cut, I think Farrar could even take home the Green.
Of course, he would still have to contend with the defending Green Jersey champ, Oscar Freire. Freire might be the savviest sprinter in the peloton. If anyone can pick up points without dominating the win column, it's him.
Polka Dot Jersey
I'm throwing the dice with this pick. Moreau has no real shot at the General Classification, and I think he knows it. Instead of trying for a high placing, I think he will try to amass mountain points early in the race and early in the mountain stages. He doesn't need to win any mountain top finishes to take home the King of the Mountains jersey, he just has to be the first over the summits along the way.
This is a strategy Fabian Wegmann has employed in the past, and I wouldn't be surprised if he tried it again. Look for him to be in the running, too.
Barring someone explicitly chasing the polka dots, the prize could go to someone high on GC. In fact, when Alberto Contador wins on Mont Ventoux, it might give him enough points to take home the Polka Dot Jersey to go with his Yellow one.
I think the younger Schleck will place in the top five overall, so it only makes sense that he would win the Best Young Rider Jersey. Plus, he's the defending title holder. I expect Kreuziger will challenge him again this year, and I think Tony Martin won't be far behind.
Stage One: Monaco to Monaco (ITT) — 15.5 Kilometers
I don't think the course is hilly enough or technical enough to keep Fabian Cancellara from winning. That being said, the course is almost a perfect fit for Contador. I don't think Contador will beat Cancellara, but I do think he'll be the fastest of the GC contenders.