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Tour de France 2009

Following are all Tour de France 2009 posts, in ascending chronological order...

TDF stage 1 / ITT: Cancellara dominates! Astana's big four stay close...

Saturday,  07/04/09  10:39 PM

(I'm going to try something new this year: separate posts for my TDF thoughts.  That way if you care you can find them, and if you don't you can skip them :)  As always your feedback is solicited.  I won't give a stage recap so much as my thoughts; if you want to find out what happened the TDF website is a great source, as of course is Velonews.)

Today's stage 1 was a 15.5km ITT in Monaco.  Fabian Cancellara amazed everyone including me by blowing away the field by 18 seconds.  He's the best TTer in the world, but with a pretty steep climb I thought this ITT would favor a climber like Levi Leipheimer or Alberto Contador or Cadel Evans.  A big story was Lance Armstrong who finished a strong 10th, perhaps disappointing himself and those who thought he might be able to win, but actually an amazing performance considering he is 37 and took three years off from pro cycling.  Unfortunately for Lance three of his own teammates were faster, including Contador, who finished a strong second, thereby establishing himself as the favorite overall, Andreas Kloden, who finished fourth and reminded everyone "oh year he's pretty good too", and Levi who finished sixth.  Biggest dud was Denis Menchov, my overall rooting favorite (go Rabobank!) who dug himself quite a hole already by losing 1:30 to his GC competition.

Watching the aerial views of Monaco and Monte Carlo, I was amazed as always by the amount of wealth on display.  The yacht harbor alone was stunning.  The Cote d'Azur is amazing.

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 2 / flat: Cavendish! a classic field sprint

Sunday,  07/05/09  11:53 AM

To no one's surprise today's TDF stage 2 from Monaco to Brignoles ended in a bunch sprint, and to no one's surprise it was won by Mark Cavendish.  It was almost too easy, George Hincapie and Mark Renshaw each taking their turn leading Cavendish to the front.  Tyler Farrar gamely hung on to Mark's wheel for second, but had no chance to come around to challenge. 

The rest of the stage was pretty boring, if picturesque, with no change in the GC.  If Cavendish makes it to Paris he already seems like a lock to win the green jersey.

We're enjoying the HD pictures Versus are providing this year; it sure makes those wide helicopter shots of the French countryside more appealing.  But could I please ask, now that we have so much screen real estate, would it be possible to give us a little more information on-screen?  Seems like an accurate representation of the relative positions of the breakaway and peloton should be possible, right?  Not to mention things like temperature, distance traveled, vertical distance climbed, etc.  The technology in the team cars is way ahead of the technology in the announcer's booths.  Admittedly a quibble as Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin are on their game as usual (and fortunately Craig Hummer is less annoying than usual).  Should be a great tour.

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 3 / flat?: Cavendish! Columbia blows the field apart in echelons, Cancellara keeps yellow, Lance gains

Monday,  07/06/09  11:12 PM

If you ever want to watch an exciting bike race, check out today's TDF stage 3, a "sprint" stage from Marseille to La Grande-Mott, this year's flattest stage.  On paper it looked to be as exciting as watching paint dry, one of those 200K rides where the peloton tour the countryside for four hours before half a dozen guys execute a wild 30 second sprint to decide the victory.  And that did all happen - the four hour tour and the 30 second sprint - but in between there were fireworks.  Like the man said, that's why they play the game.

So with about 45K left to ride, the Columbia team had come to the front to chase down a four-man break, in order to give Mark Cavendish another shot at a sprint win.  The road turned a corner and suddenly there was a strong crosswind, and Columbia gave full gas en mas, blowing away the peloton and taking about fifteen other riders with them.  The new 25-man break swallowed the old four-man break, pulled away, and eventually built a 40 second lead while the peloton desperately tried to chase.  Making the jump into the lead group were yellow-jersey-wearer Fabian Cancellara, the only Saxo rider to do so, as well as wiley Lance Armstrong and a couple of his Astana teammates.  Mark Cavendish did win the eventual sprint finish, his second in two days, but the big news was the 40 seconds Cancellara and Armstrong were able to put into the other contenders.  This left Cancellara in yellow - by 33s over Tony Martin of Columbia - and moved Lance up into third, 40s back and ahead of all the other GC contenders.  Savor that for a moment...  wow.

This adds some extra spice to tomorrow's team time trial, which was already pretty tasty.  If Astana are able to get 40s on Saxobank - not an unrealistic possibility - and are able to get 7s on Columbia - a very realistic possibility - that would put Lance in yellow.  Savor that for a moment...

There is of course all kinds of speculation that this was somehow setup, that Lance deliberately isolated Alberto Contador (and his other Astana teammates like Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden) in order to seize the team's leadership.  But watching it all play out it couldn't have been premeditated; it just happened too fast.  One second you had a normal chase of a break, and the next you had a pell-mell scramble to grab onto the wheels of Columbia as they blasted into the crosswind.  I think Cancellara and Lance were just being smart - riding near the front to stay out of trouble - and their wisdom in doing so was rewarded.

It is a long way to Paris and ultimately those 40s might not matter.  But then again they might... I love it.

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 4 / TTT: Astana rolls! Cancellara keeps yellow over Lance (by 0:00)

Tuesday,  07/07/09  09:08 AM

Un-be-lievable.  Did you watch today's TTT?  Astana steamrolled the field, winning by 18s over Garmin, and putting 40s into Saxobank.  For those of you keeping score at home, 40s was the exact margin that Fabian Cancellara had on GC over Lance Armstrong, which means they are now tied, and tie goes to the incumbent.  So Cancellara keeps his yellow jersey, and Lance is in second, 0:00 behind.  The Astana victory means the rest of the top five are all Astana too, with Alberto Contador in third, 0:19 back, followed by Andreas Kloden at 0:23 and Levi Leipheimer at 0:31.  Talk about total domination.

(How cool would it have been for Lance to be in Yellow?  Well, it would have been cool.  But as he said, "that's cycling".  It does give him a little added incentive when the Tour reaches the Pyrenees on the weekend :)

It was quite a technical course, and the day was marked by a number of crashes; at one point the entire Bbox team overcooked a corner and flew off the course.  Garmin had an interesting strategy; they shed four riders over the early part of the course, finishing with the minimum of five (their best TT men).  It obviously worked out as they finished a strong second and picked up time for their GC men Christian Vande Velde and David Millar.  Columbia looked a bit tired and finished a disappointing fifth, reversing the gains Kim Kirchen and Mick Rogers made in yesterday's amazing "echelon" finish and pushing Tony Martin down out of the top five.  Others who lost time included Cadel Evans, who's Silence-Lotto team finished 2:35 back, Denis Menchov, with Rabobank finishing 2:20 behind, and Carlos Sastre, as Cervelo dropped 1:37.  Those three are basically out of it now. 

The next couple of days are relatively flat and likely to end in bunch sprints, which means Cancellara is likely to keep his yellow until Friday (barring some time bonuses at sprint points or something like that).  Friday's stage is a killer with a mountaintop finish on the HC Arcalis; that will be the end of Cancellara's run and it will be quite interesting, perhaps Contador will attack at the end to try to take yellow away from Lance...  Really when you look at GC, you have to say one of the Astanas are going to win.  The question is which one?

What a tour, and this is only the first week!

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 5 / flat - Voeckler wins as break stays away! / Cancellara keeps yellow

Wednesday,  07/08/09  11:32 PM

Today we had the feel-good story of the Tour (so far :), as Thomas Voeckler led a break which was out all day and stayed away, winning by seven seconds in front of the field after staying out for 180K in a rolling stage from Le Cap d’Agde to Perpignan.  Voeckler is a popular favorite ever since he unexpectedly wore the yellow jersey for a week in 2004, a gamey attacker who never quits.  It is always great when the break is able to stay out - today, because the peloton played games with itself in the wind - and also great to have a French athlete win a stage.

The six-man break formed early, at 20K, and hung in front of the peloton all day (not even by that much, max eight minutes), but as sprinter's teams including Highroad and Garmin (pictured) tried to close the gap the winds broke the peloton into echelons.  Everyone was attentive because of the gap which opened in stage 3, so there was a lot of back and forth which disrupted the chase.  Voeckler attacked the break at the end and stayed away.  Most of the peloton probably didn't care, although it kept sprinters like Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar from having a chance to compete for the win.  Cavendish did win a bunch sprint for third, adding to his green-jersey-leading points total.

Tomorrow's stage should be interesting; it takes place on mostly flat roads in the East of Spain, from Girona to Barcelona, but the finish is uphill and there could be potential for attacks at the very end.  Armstrong only needs a fraction of a second to take yellow away from Cancellara; who knows what could happen?

It is always great when a break succeeds; it is fun to watch the underdogs win, and it encourages everyone to be in the next break.  Every rider can feel "hey, that could have been me!"

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 6 / flat - Hushovd cranks in the rain! / Cancellara keeps yellow

Thursday,  07/09/09  09:43 AM

A wild and wooly stage in the rain today; the uphill finish at the end into Barcelona disrupted what might otherwise have been a routine field sprint, and Thor Hushovd was able to prevail.  I felt bad for David Millar who was in the early break, attacked out of it, led almost to the finish, but was swept up with less than 1K to go and blown out the back.  It happens.

Others who suffered on the day included Denis Menchov, who is not having a good tour and now finds himself pretty much out of the running, quite a disappointment for the erstwhile favorite (and my own rooting pick, as I always root for Rabobank as the "Dutch" team :)  Yeah, he could recover with a great attack in the mountains, but that would be unlikely.  Nearly the same with Carlos Sastre and Cadel Evans, two other pre-race favorites who find themselves minutes in arrears with only six stages in the books.

Well there is a  l o n g  way to go yet, and much could happen.  In particular tomorrow we have the first mountain stage, an HC climb up to Arcalis in the Pyrenees which could really do some sorting out.  Should be excellent, particularly if there's a battle between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador.  Stay tuned!

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 7 / climb - Contador attacks! But Feillu wins and Nocentini takes yellow...

Friday,  07/10/09  11:08 AM

Quite the wild stage today, eh?  As the tour climbed into Andorra, with a mountaintop finish on the HC climb up to Arcalis ski station...  A day-long break of eight riders managed to contribute a rookie winner - Brice Feillu (pic at left) - who persevered wonderfully to pull away from his group - and a new yellow-jersey-wearer - Rinaldo Nocentini, who managed to save his time over the Astana favorites.  Most of the GC leaders finished together in a peloton led by Astana, but Alberto Contador attacked with 1K to go, putting 21s on everyone including teammate Lance Armstrong.  Alberto is left 6s out of yellow, with Lance 2s back of that, and Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden remain right there too.

The big story will be "Alberto attacks Lance"; one might ask, why, but then again Alberto would say why not.  He is clearly the strongest climber in the race, it was an HC mountaintop, he had a chance to put time into all the GC contenders (the three closest being teammates) and so he took it.  It was wonderful watching him blow up the mountain.  And it will certainly make for great theater as the Tour continues... including tomorrow's stage, also in the Pyrenees.  Should be interesting!

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 8 / climb - Sanchez survives to win, Nocentini holds yellow

Sunday,  07/12/09  06:35 PM

Sorry I know I'm late with this post, I was otherwise occupied yesterday :)  Yesterday's TDF stage from Andorra to Saint Girons featured some high mountains, but they were far enough from the finish that most observers expected a break to succeed rather than GC action.  And so it was that Luis Leon Sanchez won out of a four-man break that led the peloton across the hills all day.

There was some infighting among the contenders, with Cadel Evans taking off early and immediately being reeled in, but the mountain action was mostly quiet.  Probably the best move was Thor Hushovd's, shown at right, who took off in an early break to grab enough sprint points to take the green jersey away from Mark Cavendish.  He should be able to hold it through the mountains until Tuesday.

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 9 / climb -Fedrigo takes the break, Tourmelet neutralized

Sunday,  07/12/09  11:22 PM

How to you turn a Pyranean stage with two huge climbs into a boring race?  Just add 70km of downhill/flat to the finish, as the Tour organizers did on today's stage from Saint-Gaudens to Tarbes.  The Col d'Aspin and Col du Tourmelet have both seen some great battles in tours past, but today the peloton rode as if out for a Sunday ride, letting a break succeed and otherwise doing very little.  There were some teams that took an interest in closing down the break at the end, but they left it too late and Pierrick Fedrigo was able to stay out and win.

Tomorrow is a rest day (for me from this weekend, as well as for the peloton for the first week), and then next week we have a few flat sprint stages before hitting the alps.  Let's hope some racing takes place in those mountains!

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 10 / flat - another Cavendish sprint win, ho hum

Tuesday,  07/14/09  10:49 AM

And so after a rest day the Tour crosses relatively flat land for a few days, and so Mark Cavendish and his Columbia train took another victory, his fourth.  Except for the sprint at the end, the rest of the 194.5km leg from Limoges to Issoudun was pretty ho hum, even without radios.  Tomorrow looks to be more of the same... some are saying the finish is too tricky for a brute force sprint, but I think Mark will prevail...

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 11 / flat - (yawn) another Cavendish sprint win! etc.

Wednesday,  07/15/09  11:30 AM

Well so much for those who said Mark Cavendish wouldn't win today because the finish was uphill; maybe the stage from Vatan to Saint-Fargeau looked tough to others, but it didn't to him, as he blasted through the finish ahead of Tyler Farrar.  (Although as Velonews notes, behind the scenes, it is harder than it looks.)

Meanwhile I thought this was interesting: Bernard Hinault says the only way to beat Astana is to attack.  I know what you're thinking, "he would say that", but he's right; nobody is going to beat Astana by sitting in the peloton waiting for something good to happen.  Maybe not tomorrow, which is a rolling flattish stage that seems made for a breakaway, but Friday back in the Alps the Saxos and Cadel and Menchov and Sastre must try something, right?  And who knows, maybe Bradley Wiggins will be the joker in the pack.  Stay tuned!

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 12 / flat - Sorenson wins in a solo break! / Jerseys unchanged...

Thursday,  07/16/09  12:43 PM

And so guess what?  Yeah, Mark Cavendish did not winNicki Sorensen pulled away from a seven-man break on the 212km 12th stage from Tonnerre to Vittel, the last relatively flat day before the Tour returns to the mountains Friday. 

The jerseys were unchanged, but I hope Rinaldo Nocentini enjoys wearing yellow tomorrow, because I fear it will be his last day, as tomorrow the Tour heads into the Vosges, where danger awaits.  I expect a lot of attacking tomorrow, as the GC men realize it is on now, and they have to do something to prevent an Astana parade to the podium.  It should be exciting!

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 12 - Leipheimer out with broken wrist

Friday,  07/17/09  06:53 AM

Man, this sucks... Levi Leipheimer was involved in a crash in yesterday's stage 12; initially it looked like he was okay, he got up and finished, but later it turned out he'd broken his wrist and had to withdraw from the tour.  Reminds me of the injury George Hincapie sustained a few years ago in the Tour of California...  anyway this really sucks, Levi is such a great guy, and Lance and Alberto are really going to miss him in the alps.  Not to mention he was sitting fourth on GC. 

It will make today's stage even more interesting... they're riding even as I type.  This does change the dynamic; it makes Astana a little more vulnerable, and may motivate some of the other teams to attack.  Stay tuned.

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 13 / climb? - Haussler wins big, GC unchanged, Hushovd green, Pellizotti spotted

Friday,  07/17/09  08:46 AM

Heinrich Haussler attacked from an early break and stayed out all day for a wire-to-wire win in today's 99km TDF stage from Colmar to Besançon.  He was 105 in GC and unbothered by the peloton, who rode as a clump with little action, despite five catagorized climbs and rain.  In other action Thor Hushovd grabbed sprint points to take the green jersey back; he might not be able to beat Mark Cavendish in a raw sprint, but he's wiley, and Franco Pellizotti took the KOM jersey from Igor Martinez by launching out and scooping up points on each climb.

I am confused by the strategy of would-be GC contenders like Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov, Andy Schleck, and Christian Vande Velde.  They need to pick up minutes on Lance and Alberto somewhere, today would have been a good chance.  Everyone is waiting for everyone else, and meanwhile AG2R holds yellow and Astana is in the catbird seat.  Verrry interrresting...

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 14 / flat - Ivanov attacks break to win, Hincapie narrowly misses yellow

Saturday,  07/18/09  10:31 AM

Weird doings on the road in France, as a day-long break of twelve riders stayed away on the [last] flat stage from Colmar to Besançon.  Sergei Ivanov attacked the break with 5km to go for the win, but more interestingly the leader on GC in the break was George Hincapie, who missed taking over yellow by 5 seconds.  Astana spent a great deal of time all day pulling back the break - why? - and Garmin spent a lot of time at the end pulling hard - why? - and their efforts combined to keep estwhile friend Hincapie from taking over the lead from Rinaldo Nocentini.  It is tough to explain why Astana or Garmin would care, but apparently they did, to my chagrin and that of cycling fans everywhere.  How great would it have been to see George wear yellow one more time?

Anyway that's that for the sprint stages until the final day in Paris; Farrar never did get a chance to try Cavendish one more time, and Thor Hushovd actually increased his lead in the points competition by winning the sprint of the peloton.  Now we head into the Alps all week, where the Tour will really be decided; I am very much looking forward to tomorrow's stage.  Velonews thinks Evans still has a chance, and tomorrow will be crucial, and we'll see what Levi Leipheimer's departure means to Astana.  Stay tuned!

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 15 / climb! - Contador asserts himself, takes yellow

Sunday,  07/19/09  02:55 PM

Today we had the second real selection in the Tour (the first was the team time trial nearly two weeks ago), perhaps the decisive one, as Alberto Contador attacked on the mountaintop finish of the Alpine stage from Pontarlier to Verbier and put over a minute into everyone, taking the yellow jersey and showing the field who's boss (right).  Andy Schleck hung in there gamely to finish second, and Bradley Wiggins put in a great ride to finish third.  Lance Armstrong remains in second overall but really couldn't stay with the fastest guys on the final climb, as Andreas Kloden guided him in.

At this point you'd have to say the Tour is Alberto's to lose, just as you might have said going in... there are three more climbing stages and an ITT, none of which should scare him.  His closest pursuers are Lance (left), who might be able to make something happen in the ITT but doesn't seem to pose a threat on the climbs, Wiggins, who is a real surprise and a threat for the podium, 1:46 back, and Andy Schleck, who can't TT with Alberto and who needs to pick up 2:26.  At this point we can rule out Carlos Sastre, 3:52, who hung in there with the leaders but couldn't pick up time, Christian Vande Velde, 3:59, who had a disappointing day and lost a little, and Cadel Evans, 4:27, who like Sastre needs to do more than just ride with the leaders to make something happen.

Couple of things I want to note: as I thought about George Hincapie's ride yesterday (which left him a mere 5 seconds out of yellow) and listened to all the interviews, it seems to me that Astana screwed up.  They really wanted George to be in yellow, but they underestimated the closing speed of the peloton and cut it too close.  If they'd have let the break get two more minutes it would have worked nicely; George would have been in yellow and Highroad would have had to share the pacemaking today, which would have been good.  So with all the talk of Garmin pushing the pace at the end and all, I really think Astana messed it up.  But Shirley made a great point: "if George would have ridden a little harder, he would have taken it".  In the end nobody gives you the yellow jersey, you have to take it for yourself.  As Alberto did today.

The other thing is that watching today play out, it seems so obvious [now] that this was going to happen.  In the Tour the teams matter, the tactics matter, the weather matters, etc., but in the end the best climber wins.  Alberto was always the best climber, and he was always going to win.  (You can remind me I wrote this after he bonks or screws up the ITT :)  Anyway tomorrow we have a rest day, Tuesday and Wednesday more climbing, Thursday the ITT, Friday a stage for a break as the peloton rests a bit (!), and then Saturday the final showdown finishing at the top of Mont Ventoux.

[Update: At the Tour there are always great little stories within the big story.  Consider Simon Spilak, who finished last on Friday's rain-soaked stage to Colmar and was eliminated on time – but was allowed back in because the race referee decided that he'd been hampered by having to ride on opened roads and cope with traffic.  So today he got into the break, stayed up there all day, attacked, and was first to reach the final climb.  He was ultimately swallowed up and finished seven minutes back, but was voted most aggressive rider of the day.  Imagine how he feels tonight.  I love it!]

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 16 / climb - Astarloza attacks to win / jerseys unchanged after battle

Tuesday,  07/21/09  10:51 PM

(refraining from descriptive titles until a couple of days later, for you Tivoers out there...)

And so after a rest day we had a day of fireworks in the Tour, with two massive climbs between Martigny and Bourg-Saint-Maurice that resulted in a further selection.  Mikel Astarloza won with a daring last minute break, but the real battle took place among the GC men behind him.  The Schleck brothers attacked, Contador and Kloden followed, and for a while there was a split between the contenders, with Lance Armstrong powering across the gap.  Ultimately the leaders came back together but some of the pretenders gave up more time, like poor Cadel Evans.  You could really see who was "on the rivet" and who wasn't; Bradley Wiggins looked really strong (pic at left), as did Contador, Andy Schleck, and Kloden, Lance showed a flash of his old power crossing the gap, and Frank Schleck, Vincenzo Nibali, and Christian Vande Velde were able to match the pace.  Also up there today was Kim Kirchen, who looks to be getting stronger.

Tomorrow is a maniacal stage with five massive climbs (the "queen" stage), but I don't look for any further selections until the TT on Thursday.  That's really the only and best chance for Lance or Bradley Wiggins to take time from Contador.  And/or for Kloden to move up into a podium spot.  There will be more attacking tomorrow because the Schlecks really can only gain on a climb, and perhaps one or more of the leaders will fall by the wayside; we'll see.

On a sad note poor Jens Voigt pulled out in the early break, fell back to power Saxo up the first climb, and then crashed heavily on the descent.  I sure hope he's okay, and it is sad to see him out of the tour.

One more note: check out this video of Fabian Cancellara descending on stage 7; this was while he was still in yellow, after he'd flatted, and with the peloton charging down the hill.  Wild bike handling skills on display as he weaves through the motorcycles and team cars at 60+kph :)

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 17 / climb - the Schlecks win, Contador and Hushovd solidify yellow and green

Wednesday,  07/22/09  09:13 PM

Wow, what a race!  Today's TDF stage 17 from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Le Grand-Bornand had everthing, courage, strength, attacks, cracks, great teamwork, and solo moves.  In the end Frank Schleck won with Alberto Contador and his brother Andy Schleck right on his wheel, solidifying Alberto's hold on the yellow jersey.  After all the carnage the Schlecks took over 2nd and 3rd on GC (2:26 and 3:25),  pushing Lance Armstrong down to 4th (3:55), Andreas Kloden to 5th (4:44), and Bradley Wiggins to 6th (4:53).

There were some great sub-plots; Thor Hushovd secured his green jersey with a heroic ride across the Alps, leading alone for most of the race to take maximum points at the two sprint locations.  If you look at the profile above you can see this means he led across three catagorized climbs, wow, how about that.  When I first started watching this morning I couldn't believe Thor was leading.  I guess that puts paid to all the talk about how he doesn't really deserve to be in green because Cavendish was relegated in stage 14.

And Franco Pellizotti secured his polka dot jersey by taking points on all his rivals over the first three climbs; at this point it seems like he has it in the bag, with "only" Saturday's stage to Mont Ventoux left in the KOM competition.

Although Alberto ended up increasing his lead in yellow, perhaps insurmountably, you have to say he again screwed up team tactics.  On the final climb he was riding comfortably in the shadow of the Schlecks accompanied by teammate Kloden, with Armstrong tailing Wiggins in a group about 1:30 behind, and he launched an attack.  No good reason for this, all he had to do was finish with the Schlecks (which happened anyway), but the result was he dropped Andreas and put time into Armstrong, who did follow team tactics by hanging onto Wiggins until the end.  He ended up hurting his own teammates without gaining anything - a typical rookie move.  Still you have to hand it to him, he is now clearly the strongest rider in the race.

Tomorrow is the final ITT - look for Armstrong, Kloden, and Wiggins to gain significant time on the Schlecks, we'll see whether it will be enough to move them up.  At this point Alberto's lead seems safe, and he's a pretty fair TTer himself these days...

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 18 / ITT - Contador wins (wow!), Andy, Lance, Bradley, Andreas left for GC

Thursday,  07/23/09  11:30 AM

Okay, we're going to have to admit it now: Alberto Contador is the best rider in the world.  He won the individual time trial around Lake Annecy today, edging Fabian Cancellara by four seconds and asserting his dominance.  As expected the Schleck brothers lost time, but Andy held on to 2nd overall, now 4:11 back, while Lance Armstrong moved up to 3rd (5:25), Bradley Wiggins to 4th (5:36), and Andreas Kloden to 5th (5:38).  The race is now for second, and really with only the mountain stage up to Mont Ventoux left to shuffle GC Andy looks pretty safe, so the real race is now for third.  After Cancellara posted his time I didn't think there was any way anyone could touch him, and nobody could until Contador.  He's not only a great climber, he's a great TTer, beating the best in the world on a classic (pretty flat) TT course.

I'm going to confess, I was pretty disappointed with today's results.  First, I don't like Alberto.  Okay, okay, he's a great rider, but that doesn't mean I have to like him.  That business with him attacking Kloden yesterday was bad, just like him attacking Lance in Andorra was bad.  Second, I do like Cancellara, and was rooting for him to win.  Third, I do like Lance, and was rooting for him to win, or at least to do really well.  He did pick up time on the Schlecks but the Lance of old would not have finished 16th in an ITT.  Overall it was kind of a boring and disappointing day...

... and so tomorrow's transitional stage is likely to feature a break while the GC rests in anticipation of the fireworks Saturday.  It would have been a great stage for Jens Voigt (who sadly crashed out of the Tour with a broken cheekbone); I'm going to pick one of the GC guys who hasn't really done anything to get in the break and win; someone like Cadel Evans or Denis Menchov or David Millar.  We'll see...

In other cycling news, Lance announced he's forming a new team next year with Radio Shack and Livestrong as sponsors; presumably Johan Bruyneel will be the DS.  You could guess Levi Leipheimer will join him, but Alberto will not :)

And finally this is GREAT news: UCI won't oppose Rasmussen's return.  Yay, we might get the chicken back!  Keep in mind, he's the one guy who has proven he can climb with Contador (remember his battles in the '07 Tour, see pic at right); it will be interesting to see where he lands...

[ Tour de France 2009: all postsindex ]

TDF stage 19 / flatish - Cavendish wins sprint after Rabo chases down break; jerseys unchanged

Friday,  07/24/09  11:09 AM

Well today was kind of a weird day in the Tour de France, wasn't it?  Everyone expected a break to succeed on the mostly flat stage between Bourgoi-Jallieu and Aubenas, but someone forgot to tell Rabobank, who kept the peloton close all afternoon, even when there was a twenty-man break.  Of course the break did not include a Rabo, and they fancied perhaps Oscar Freire could win an uphill sprint to the finish.

So what happened?  The field came together for a bunch sprint, and Mark Cavendish won his fifth stage of this year's tour, barely beating arch-rivals Thor Hushovd and Tyler Farrar.  Freire was never in the mix.  You start a bike race, you just never know what will happen.  Anyway it did make what would otherwise have been a rather routine transitional stage more interesting.  At one point we had Cadel Evans in the break - that would have been cool - and at another point world champion Alessandro Bellan attacked, so everyone got to show their colors.

A side note: your may remember Lance ruffled feathers when he called the 2008 Tour de France a "joke".  Later he apologized, saying that was "not correct".  But Andrew Hood looked at last year's Tour top ten, and where they are now, and really Lance was correct.  None of last year's top ten are contending, and only Christian Vande Velde (4th) and Frank Schleck (5th) are in the top ten this year.

Tomorrow is of course the BIG day, the mountaintop finish on Mont Ventoux that we've all been waiting for... you'd have to say Alberto Contador has the yellow jersey safely bagged, but Andy Schleck is less secure in second, and Lance Armstrong will really have to work to defend third.  It should be excellent, please stay tuned...

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TDF stage 20 / climb - Garate conquers Ventoux, Contador and Armstrong stay with the Schlecks

Saturday,  07/25/09  01:42 PM

Woo hoo, Mont VentouxJuan Manual Garate won after riding in a break all day from Montelimar to the summit of Mont Ventoux.  Chapeau!  An incredible performance, edging Tony Martin at the finish (another survivor from the break) and salvaging glory for Rabobank, who otherwise have had a pretty lousy Tour.  (Taken together with the team's aggressive chase yesterday Rabo have awakened at last, and who knows Oscar Freire could win tomorrow!)

Among the GC men the expected fireworks took place on the final 21km climb @ 7.5%; Andy Schleck rode a wonderful race, continuously attacking in the hope that his brother Frank could follow and Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins, and Andreas Kloden could not, thereby pulling Frank onto the podium.  On each acceleration Andy was closely marked by leader Alberto Contador, who ended up fourth and secured his second overall Tour de France victory.  Lance hung on beautifully, but Wiggins and Kloden were eventually dropped, with the result that Frank finished fifth.  It was team tactics at their finest, witnessed by an estimated crowd of 500,000 people lining the entire climb.  At times it seemed the riders were floating through a sea of people.  (Isn't is amazing that as close as the spectators get to the action - and as aggressive as some of them are, waving flags and running alongside the race - that seldom is a cycle race actually affected by their presence?)

Other heroes on a heroic day included Franco Pellizotti, who did the spotted King of the Mountains jersey proud by attacking at the end, nearly bridging to the leaders, and Vincenzo Nibali, second in the white jersey competition for best young rider (behind Andy Schleck), who hung on gamely and at one point was actually in virtual third place, following the wheel of Contador as he marked Andy Schleck during an attack.  Martin also deserves mention for staying up front with Garate, at times looking like a zombie as his eyes rolled into his head while his legs kept the pace.

In the end Mont Ventoux provided great entertainment but didn't shuffle the standings much; last week in the Alps and particularly Thursday's time trial pretty much set the order of finish overall.  But it was amazing; of all the great climbs in France the one I really want to do someday is Mont Ventoux.  (Well I guess I want to do l'Alpe d'Huez too, and Galibier, and Courchevel, and Columbiere, and Tourmelet, and Pla d'Aday, and ... :)  Shirley and I watched A Good Year last night, coincidentally, and visiting Provence seems indicated!

[Update: came across this clip on YouTube of Lance attacking and passing Marco Pantani on Mont Ventoux in the 2000 TdF.  You'd have to say he has indeed slowed a bit, wow.  That was one of the more impressive attacks I've seen, clearly on par with anything Contador has done.  We'll have to see whether Lance can ever return to that form...]

And so ends a great Tour!  And actually it isn't over yet, because tomorrow's parade to Paris does end with eight laps of that incredible stadium on the Champs-Elyees, and a probable final sprint showdown between Mark Cavendish, Thor Hushovd, and Tyler Farrar.  Stay tuned!

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TDF stage 21 / parade + sprint - Cavendish blows field away! + Contador triumphs + wrapup

Sunday,  07/26/09  05:19 PM

And so the 2009 Tour de France came down to the final day, the parade to Paris, starting this year in Montereau-Fault-Yonne and ending in the traditional eight laps of the Champs-Elyees.  And there was a breakaway of seven riders, and they hung on gamely for seven laps before being devoured by the hungry peloton, led [of course] by Columbia Highroad to get Mark Cavendish to the line in a sprint.  And there were several attempts to take over marshalling the peloton to the line, including a notable effort by Garmin Slipstream on behalf of Tyler Farrar.  And Thor Hushovd hung in there too, looking for his chance, as did Oscar Freire (both previous winners of the green jersey and the final days' sprint).  And in the end none of it mattered; George Hincapie and Mark Renshaw did their usual amazing leadouts, and Cavendish won going away.  It was impressive and amazing, as Phil Liggett commentated no photo finish was needed because nobody else was even in the photo.

As expected none of the jerseys changed hands, so Alberto Contador won his second Tour, congratulations to him, and Franco Pellizotti won King of the Mountains, congratulations to him (and may I say, the red and white polka dots look magnificant with Liquigas' green and blue :), and Thor Hushovd won the green jersey by preserving his gap over Cavendish, and Andy Schleck was the best young rider in the white jersey.  And in fact Andy finished second overall, a terrific result for him, and we will see him again you can be sure.  And notably Lance Armstrong, the grand old man himself, finished third and hence mounted the podium for the eighth time in his career, alongside his teammate Contador.  You can't say he was thrilled - everyone knew he was going for victory - but you can't say he was disappointed either; third at 37 after a three year vacation is pretty darn cool.

[Update: reflecting on this Tour, and on Contador's victory, few are giving Johan Bruyneel much credit.  But man, he won his ninth Tour today as D.S., with his second guy, on his third team.  And it could not have been easy to manage the competing egos and ambitions of Alberto and Lance, on one team, with Levi and Kloden thrown in for good measure.  Pretty impressive.  I know what he told the team before the Tour started: we might as well win.  And they did :]

I'm always a little sad at the end of each Tour - now Shirley and I won't have to get up early and sit and watch guys in tight shorts riding around France every morning - but I'm more excited about next year; Lance is forming a new team (that's him with his cool "butterfly bike" at right), Contador will be back with a new team (which one, we wonder?), maybe we'll have Alexander Vinokourov back with Astana, maybe we'll have Michael Rasmussen back.  And the race is in better shape than it has been for a long time, there were zero doping controversies this year, how nice was that?  (Although it must be noted that erstwhile competitors Alejandro Valverde and Ivan Basso were not in the Tour this year in penance for past indiscretions.)

Finally I have to note I really enjoyed the commentary, as always and perhaps more than in other years; Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen were at the top of their game, Bob Roll added his expertise (he really does know the most about cycling), and Craig Hummer did much better than last year, meshing better with the others and missing fewer opportunities to keep quiet.  So until next year, Vive Le Tour!

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TDF redux

Monday,  07/27/09  09:09 PM

One more Tour post (if you're sick of these, you can say "yay", and if you're a tour fan you can join me in saying "boo" :).  A few little day after observations and links:

  • How great was it that all the news was the cyclists and the races, and no doping?  It was great.
  • To nobody's surprise Alberto and Lance are sparring already.  It should be a great showdown next year.  And where will Alberto land?  Perhaps, as Lance has suggested, he will discover there is no "I" in team :)
  • Nice to see Thor Hushovd and Mark Cavendish have buried the hatchet.  Mark is going to learn from this experience, and will be competing for the green next year you can be sure.  He won Milan San Remo remember, he is not "just" a sprinter.  Thor did show us all he isn't either.
  • Welcome back!  Michael Rasmussen finishes second upon his return from a two year suspension.  Excellent, I want to see him back in the Tour.  We need someone who can climb with Contador.
  • Welcome back II!  Robbie McEwen finishes second upon his return from injury.  Excellent, I want to see him back in the Tour, too.  We need someone who can sprint with Cavendish.
  • George Hincapie did break his collarbone in stage 17; he declined to have it X-rayed so he could finish.  Think cyclists aren't tough?  Wow.
  • Finally, this was really cool, as Tour de France chief Christian Prudhomme credited Lance Armstrong for adding interest to this year's race.  Lance won more friends in France finishing third than he ever did by winning.

And so now it is wait 'till next year!

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