Jul 13, 2005

tdf - stage 11

Some housecleaning first. Very interesting article here. It's a Spiegel interview with Merckx (the best rider ever for those that don't know). He talks a good deal about Ullrich and Armstrong. It's interesting the comparisons he makes. I didn't realize this was true but Ullrich is apparently a product of East Germany. He was literally forced into cycling because of his innate talent. Merckx isn't sure he ever loved the sport. He also had sky high expectations placed on him after he won the Tour at the tender age of 23. Lance on the other hand had no expectations placed on him. Anti-expectations even after he was dropped by his team after cancer. He loves the sport as a result. No pressure. It's an interesting perspective. By the way, what is it about Spiegel interviews that make them so good. They seem so stereotypically German. Very efficient and to the point and ruthless if need be.

I love this photo too from Stage 10. I found it on BBC. It's clear that even though Valverde took the stage it cost him dearly. His face can barely manage a smile. He's in agonizing pain. Lance while tired looks within his means. The overriding ability of Armstrong is to come back very quickly from these draining rides while others can't. Today will offer some data to see if this is still the case.

Regarding the first climb:
The ascent of the Col de la Madeleine drags on for 25.4km. The beginning of this climb is at the 29.6km mark of today's stage. The average gradient of the first Hors Category col of this year's Tour is 6.1 per cent. There are, however, sections which are as steep as 9.5 per cent.
Creepers that sounds horrible. That's just the first climb. Before they get there though Boonen (green jersey) falls and apparently is in a lot of pain. Two others attack the peloton - Dumoulin and Hushovd and get out front. Another 7 after that. Most notably Vino, Mancebo, Botero, and Heras are in this group.

Once they hit the first climb, Beloki was dropped. He should have an opportunity to get back on the way down if he keeps his senses. Valverde goes to the back of the peloton and asks for the race doctor. Not sure what is going on there. Beloki makes it back and the two leader groups merge into one just before the descent. That wasn't too bad but there were a lot of riders coming off the back of the peloton like exhaust. No one major though.

118 km to go. The descent, while easier, is not a matter of sitting on your butt. They pedal down fast. And given the inherent danger of falling at that speed, the riders are alert and tense in order to make quick adjustments. Speak of the devil. Pereiro took a turn too wide and went off road. He's okay and back with his lead group. The lead group doesn't have a huge lead. About a minute as the approach the bottom of the hill. That won't last going up the second HC.

I've seen now a lot of commentary regarding Lance and his back stretching. Not just today but for a few days leading back to his scary moment in stage 8. I'm not sure if this is anything. Some are speculating his body is feeling this Tour more than other times. We'll see how he does today.

97 km to go. The climb up the final HC mountain is long. The lead group which was whittled down to 3 including Vino kept their lead up this mountain. About a 3 minute lead. He eventually drops everyone and is out on his own. The peloton seems content to give him that 3 minute lead for now. But they've got him on a short leash. Amazingly Kloden gets dropped off the back of the peloton. That seems a little early for him. He may be having problems.

40 km to go. Team Disco looks good as they summit. 5 riders in total for the team. The peloton, if you can call it that, has disintegrated. Most of the main boys are there. Vino still leads by under 3 minutes. And Botero has caught back up to him. Two men on the descent. Since both are about 6 minutes back on the GC this may be a tactical move by Discovery to let them get back to 3 minutes down.

Why? So you start to get infighting between the 'second-place' contenders - Basso, Ullrich, Kloden, Vino, Botero, Rasmussen. They are all going to be at about the same time at the end of this stage. If one of those 5 goes off the front from now on, the others will call their teams to chase them down so they won't gain a time advantage, saving Disco from having to lead the peloton like they are today. One of the oddest things about some of the other teams is that they have such a good set of riders it's often unclear who the hell is leading the team. T-Mobile is the worst. Jan sometimes just shrugs off his leadership position. I don't understand why they don't view this as terribly disruptive to what they are trying to do. You can't have multiple leaders. But it helps Lance with the infighting.

And just as I write that a rider from Balears comes forward to help drive the peloton. Remember they have two guys - Valverde and Mancebo - who have a chance of being on the podium. The last thing they want is another guy to contend with. Getting Vino and Botero down to a 1'30" lead would keep them at a little safer distance in overalleral GC

Funny comment from the Daily Peloton:
Holy crap, on the descent at speed, Azevedo pulls his foot out of the pedal, grabs his foot, and pulls it back to stretch his thigh. I would end up in the ditch if I tried that. Or off into the canyon, in this case.
Vino positions himself well at the end of the ride and takes the stage easily. Good for him. Let's see how far back the peloton comes in. Armstrong and group come in 1'15" back. They closed the gap quite a lot at the end there. So Vino and Botero sit at about 5 minutes behind Armstrong in the GC. I'm not sure where Valverde finished [update he finished with the main pack] but he was struggling today. It goes back to my point before that Armstrong just bounces back from these rides compared to other riders.
Stage 12
Take a look. Not that interesting. A bit of a break before the next set of mountains. I don't expect much of interest to happen with the GC contenders. The green jersey hopefuls might come alive here though. Lance told Paul Sherwen (OLN) that people were underestimating the impact this stage might have. I guess I don't see it.

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