Jul 15, 2005

tdf - stage 13

Flat as a pancake. This is clearly a sprinters' stage. Since Boonen dropped out yesterday there are really 3 contenders left for the green jersey. Hushovd (Credit Agricole) with 142 points, O'Grady (Cofidis) with 120 points, and McEwen (Davitamon) with 107 points. Expect these three teams to control the peloton and chase down any breakaways. Credit Agricole will have to fight less because they have the jersey. This will provide a nice break for Team Disco to catch their breath.

Note the difference between trying to win the green jersey versus the yellow jersey. Unlike the overall race against time, the points race involves winning points. If you don't place in the top 10 or so of a race, you don't get any points. So where Team Disco will let some non-contenders go off the front if they are far back in the time standings, these teams can't do that. If they finish too far back they won't get any points and thus can't move up against other green jersey contenders. They have to finish up at the front. It's a pain in the ass position to be in.

Also unlike the race against time where you get a final score at the end of the stage, the green jersey points are awarded along the stage as well as the end. That means these teams have to control the racing throughout the entire stage. They can't, like Team Disco does now and then, allow someone to go off the front of the peloton early on and reel them in later. This makes that jersey all the harder to get. You can bet there are a ton of no-name riders in the peloton who view this as a great time to win a stage. They want some glory. Whereas Lance is only competing against 4 or 5 key riders during a stage, these green jersey teams have to watch everyone. Because everyone can spend all their energy in one day to win a stage and therefore steal their points.

Note, it's another hot day. 31 degrees Celsius and 42 degrees at road level. That's hot. And right before a big big stage tomorrow. You can bet Lance and the other contenders will be wolfing down water to stay hydrated. The heat didn't seem to affect Lance yesterday but I'm sure he's not happy about this. They are actually hosing down parts of the road because the tar is becoming sticky.

Lastly there is a rumor that Valverde is going to drop out. I can't even remember where I read this. Eurosport I think, which is kind of like the National Enquirer for sports so don't put a lot of weight into it. Recall he's the only one to stay with Lance in the first major mountain stage. He also wears the white jersey (young rider) and is ahead of Popo from Team Disco who would inherit it if he dropped out.

Sure enough two no-names go off the front right at the start. The peloton is letting these guys, and a few others who went off after them, go off. Voeckler took the 6 intermediate points. It's not a long stage so it's strange that the sprinter teams would let them go.

It's clear now that the peloton is letting this leader pack go. They are 7-8 minutes ahead. This isn't what I said would happen and by the looks of it, a lot of other commentators are perplexed as well. So let me offer a reason why this might be. The leTour.com site posted some very interesting information. For every single intermountain stage (the flat stage between the Alps and Pyrenees) raced during the "Armstrong" era, there has never been a bunch sprint at the end. By bunch sprint they mean a sprint of riders in the peloton. In each and every case a lone pack of riders or a single rider has gone out and won the stage. Typically be a large margin - 12 minutes, 22 minutes, 13 minutes, 21 minutes, 14, minutes, etc.

Here's why this might make sense. There are three ways to get kicked out of the tour. First you can drop out. Second you can cheat and get caught. And third it can take you longer than the 'cutoff' time to finish a stage. The cutoff time is a function of the type of stage and the average speed of the winner. More here if you are interested. Finish the stage after that cutoff time and you're out.

Sprinters suck at mountain stages. Look below and you will see the next stage. A holy terror of hellish proportions for your average sprinter. And the stage after that? It looks amazingly like those up/down workout programs on treadmills or stairmasters. An iron maiden looking stage populated with cat 1 climb after cat 1 climb after cat 1 climb... It could be that the sprinter teams during the Armstrong era suspect he's going to win that stage in such a quick time that it puts them all at risk of missing the cutoff time. Therefore, they might decide to take it easy today and save themselves for these next two brutal stages so they aren't eliminated entirely. Just a theory.

Or not. Davitamon seems to be coming on now and trying to close the gap. With Lampre-Caffita helping. Don't ask me why they're helping. Their sprinter was out in stage 9 or 10 I think. Could be the sponsor saying, 'Get your ass up there. No one even knows this team is in the Tour!" Or maybe they're totally bored. Davitamon is the most likely to chase the leaders because McEwen is probably the best sprinter of the 3 and he's the most in need of points (he's in 3rd). He's still a contender but he's quite a ways off the pace of Hushovd.

Wow that rumor was in fact true. Apparently Valverde has tendonitis and knee problems and is about to drop. Unreal. That's both Valverde and Zabriskie dropping out. Both viewed as potential future Tour winners. For them to finish would have been a huge learning experience. There's a part of me that thinks that dropping out for these guys shows they don't have what it takes. If they were eliminated by missing the cutoff fine. They gave it their all. But dropping out because you're sick or hurt is just not the attitude of a winner in this sport as harsh as that sounds.

Contrast this with Beltran; a known quantity. He dropped out yesterday but really he didn't. He was forced out by doctors and the team manager after it was suspected he had a concussion. After 5 minutes of riding he apparently had forgotten that he crashed at all! And he was still riding. Hamilton came in third a few years back with a broken collar bone in comparison. I'm sorry. Tendonitis doesn't count.

Check out these guys. Portable TVs so you can watch the Tour from the finish line. What a terrible job! 65km to go. Davitamon have made good progress in reeling in the leaders. Their advantage is down to 3 minutes or so from a max of 9 minutes and change. None of them by the way are even close to Lance. Lance is joking with the cameraman. That's always a good sign. The heat doesn't seem to be getting to him.

It struck me the other day how native European the Tour is. I don't know if there is a single African American rider in the Tour. I know I've seen some in the velodrome sprint races. But I've never seen one in the Tour. Google doesn't turn up much. There are some but I don't see anything relating to the Tour itself.

40km to go. The leaders are going to be caught. Their lead is below two minutes. And so who starts moving up to the front? Credit Agricole (Hushovd's team). They need to set up space for Hushovd and his leadout man when they get to the finish line. What's a leadout man? A leadout is a kind of catapult for the sprinters. The leadout will go hard at the finish line. Hushovd or McEwen or O'Grady will tuck themselves behind the leadout in order to draft and save some energy. And then at the last moment will pop out to kick their speed up another notch and hopefully peak at the finish line.

30 km to go. 1 minute lead. Just a matter or time. Rasmussen who has the polka dot jersey is getting into the spirit of it. Each day he's worn more clothing with polka dots. Today he's added a polka dot helmet to the ensemble. The chase has stalled a little. They don't want to reel the leaders in too soon as they'll just encourage riders to counterattack. And here they go. The break is now 40 seconds and a few go off the front in an attempt to attack. They're have a rough go of it though.

17 km to go. Reports are that the end is very curvy and narrows from 2 lanes to 1. Can you say pileup? This could be a mess. In fact Discovery comes to the front. They want to have the fewest number of riders in front of Lance. Less riders, less chance of getting caught in a crash. In fact they might be hoping for one to happen behind them, like when Vino gained a few seconds. Maybe they'll get lucky.

5 km to go. Two riders out in front now. Chavenel and Horner. Team Disco doesn't care if these guys win but it's surprising that Davitamon is letting them lead given all the work they've done to get their sprinter back into the mix.

1km to go. Those two riders are 8" ahead of the peloton. Close! Wait for it...

Chavenel is leading. Horner sitting on his wheel. The peloton is closing quickly. Here they go. Oh my God I was right. McEwen takes it. His leadout man - Rodriguez - set him up perfectly to nip out O'Grady. Chavenel and Horner were swallowed up after all that work. Unbelievable. He is really going to make this green jersey race exciting. After being counted out after being remanded for interfering in one of the early stages he is determined to claw his way back to green. O'Grady takes 2nd and Rodriquez comes in 3rd. Also unbelievable, no crashes.

Hushovd comes in 5th so he loses relative to O'Grady and McEwen. Here's the top 3 green jersey contenders:
  • Hushovd - 164 points
  • O'Grady - 150 points
  • McEwen - 142 points
Close! Armstrong and all the other GC contenders finish together. No changes in the general classification.
Stage 14
This is it boys and girls. That below is a backbreaking stage. I'm really torn about what Lance will do here. There's one side of me that says he attacks here and there's another that says he'll just control the race. Save it all up for tomorrow. Tomorrow is built for him. It's the kind of stage that allows Team Disco to go hard and just shred the peloton all along the stage. I'm not sure. I'll make a bet. I say he goes for it. Team Disco drives hard all day and he puts Azevedo (if he's feeling better), Hinky or Popo up front to lead up the final Cat 1 climb before he pours it on. But I'll be honest. I'm not sure what his strategy will be.

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