Jul 15, 2005

tdf - stage 14

Some notes before we get started:

In case you're wondering how fast those sprinters go check this out. Winner Robbie McEwen was clocked yesterday going 46.3 mph on the final surge. Almost 50 mph! I remember as a kid with a new speedometer for my bike trying to hit 30 mph going down a hill.

We now enter the 3rd week of the tour. Some riders like Ullrich and Armstrong actually gain some strength at this time. Other riders, like Valverde yesterday, start to collapse. Basso was able to hold it together last year as was Kloden even though they faded a bit. Surprising for younger riders. I suspect they'll stick around this year too. But you can count on some major riders to just collapse and drop off the back now. I have a suspicion that Valverde didn't have knee and tendonitis problems. His team said they started during the time trial. If that were true I don't quite understand how he could finish so well in the mountain stage with Armstrong. I think his body was just starting to give way and he couldn't take it anymore. Keep an eye out for who bonks.

Chris Carmichael, one of Lance's coaches said Lance told him that a lot of riders are extremely tired now. Not surprising. This Tour has been a fast one. Second fastest last time I checked. This means it's even more likely you'll get riders bonking today.

Now onto today's stage. It's become clear that there is a winning formula for this year's tour regarding breakaways. Go out early and take enough people with you. Most of the breakaway winners have done this. Today it worked well again. After a few kilometers 15 riders broke off from the peloton. Among them Totschnig. A very good rider who hasn't done well this year. He's admitted he has no chance of ever winning the yellow jersey and so his career goal is to win stages. I remember thinking Totschnig could have been a contender (apologies to Brando) but he has apparently given up on that hope. In that early group he was clearly the best rider. Let's get the formalities over so we can focus on the more interesting part of the race. Totschnig takes the stage just barely holding off the other riders coming up the rear. An excellent race and win for him. So what happened behind all this?

While these 15 riders slowly shrunk in size, they were able to put 10 minutes on the peloton. Discovery wasn't pushing the peloton too fast and in fact other team's took the lead. Among them, T-Mobile, who executed some masterful tactics early on only to succumb to their usual problem of deciding who the hell leads their team. Hint to T-Mobile's Kloden and Vino: It's Ullrich you idiots. T-Mobile took command at the bottom of the HC climb towards the end of the stage.

At this point Vino attacked and attacked hard. The peloton was instantly shredded. Only the top riders remained and none of them besides Armstrong had a Discovery shirt. He was alone for the second time in this Tour. To put this in perspective, he has not, to my knowledge been alone ever, except when he wanted to be, in any of the 7 Tours.

T-Mobile had Armstrong where they wanted him. The noose was set. As you'd expect Ullrich attacks. This has been a successful approach for T-Mobile and something they haven't in general tried in previous Tours. Unexpectedly Armstrong doesn't follow! Okay at this point you are shitting bricks if you're a Lance supporter. Armstrong is the one who is supposed to attack and Ullrich is the one who is supposed to be unable to follow. T-Mobile must have been going NUTS on their walkie-talkie system. In fact it gets worse. Vino gaps up to Ullrich as well. Vino and Ullrich are ahead of Armstrong who has no team mates with him. And then Basso gaps up. DISASTER! Can this get any worse?

And like that. I mean like with the blink of an eye. Armstrong decides he wants to catch up and all of a sudden he's there. Like that. Deceptively easy. What happened? I think Lance or the Director Sportif wanted to wait for some Disco boys. They were make a supreme effort to catch up. At some point though. Either Lance or the DS decided, fuck it. We have to go now. And he also wasn't marking Ullrich and Vino. He was marking Rasmussen. Rasmussen is not a bad climber and is only 38 seconds behind. He can't lose sight of Rasmussen this early. Or Mancebo who is also there. The attack up to Ullrich is really to lose these two. And it's easily successful.

And then Basso and Armstrong attack that group. Dropping Vino in the process and putting further time on Rasmussen and Mancebo. Like that, Armstrong has isolated Ullrich. And then all three are counter attacking. And then slowing down. And then counter attacking. Vino, Rasmussen, & Mancebo are trying to get back during these slow periods. It's like a yo-yo. Once they get close to Armstrong, Basso, and Ullrich the 3 take off again. One rider, Landis, is able to get back in that group for a while.

Vino just gets the shit kicked out of him. After a while he just cannot keep this up any more and settles down to a pace he can handle. He's clearly defeated for the day.

Meanwhile this team of 4 is passing the detritus of the leader group of 15 as it gets shredded down. Notably though there is a team member of Ullrich up ahead. This is potentially a way Ullrich can still take it to Armstrong.

All 4 riders - Armstrong, Landis, Ullrich, and Basso - look very good. They are all riding well. Armstrong drives them forward as he doesn't want Rasmussen or Mancebo back again. Basso assists. They both have an excellent relationship so it's easy to form an advantageous truce to work together. Plus it's beneficial for Basso to put these two riders away because they threaten his postion on the final podium too. Armstrong doesn't like Ullrich so much and really doesn't like Landis when he left the Postal Service team after last year's win. Truces with these two won't be so easy. Levi Leipheimer is kind of in that front group too. He keeps falling off and coming back. 3 Americans (Levi, Landis, Lance) in the front groups. That's amazing.

They crest.

As we go downhill everyone of importance catches up to the yellow jersey group. Rasmussen caught up. Mancebo caught up. Vino caught up. Kloden caught up. Man
Vino just goes insane on descents. He will die one of these years. They hit the bottom of the final category 1 climb. And who attacks? Who is the last God damn person who should be attacking down here? Vino! The guy is a certifiable lunatic. He didn't even catch his breath. The guy has one strategy. Attack attack attack. Wait for the best time? Don't bother. Help team mates? Don't bother. Draft other people? Don't bother. Just attack!

So who chases him? Armstrong right? No. Kloden chases him. Kloden? Aren't they on the same team? Yes they are. Why on earth would you expect guys on the same team to work together? Because I believe Kloden, Ullrich and Vino hate each other. It's the only explanation for why these three constantly sabotage any advantage they have.

Kloden drops Vino. The rest are there but he fucking dropped his team mate. So bizarre.

Then Basso attacks. Ullrich slipstreams. Lance slipstreams him. Like that, Kloden, Rasmussen and Mancebo are gone again. Those three cannot hope to stick with these 3 masters of the mountains. Landis and Leipheimer are just holding on.

Then Ullrich goes and quickly whittles it down to the big 3. Now Lance goes. He wasn't to put the dagger into Rasmussen and Mancebo. Die!!!

4 km to go. With everyone gone there's a very compelling for Basso and Ullrich to work together. First Ullrich can't rely on his teammates. They only ride for themselves. Armstrong would gladly made a truce with the 2 other best climbers. Basso knows he can't beat Armstrong in the time trial so he has to gain time now. And that's what they do.

1 km to go. Ullrich attacks and Basso and Armstrong follow. Now Armstrong attacks. He's dancing as they say. Up off his saddle and dancing in the saddles. He won't stop now until the end.

Ullrich gone.

Basso gone.

Totschnig is only about a minute ahead but that is unimportant. Armstrong will take second. Basso third. Ullrich fourth. Here's the final placement:

1 Georg Totschnig
2 Lance Armstrong 56" back
3 Ivan Basso 58"
4 Jan Ullrich 1'16"
5 Levi Leipheimer 1'31"
6 Floyd Landis same time
7 Francisco Mancebo 1'47"
8 Michael Rasmussen same time
9 Andreas Kloden 2'06"
10 Haimar Zubeldia 2'20"

Excellent race. If there's one thing this ride did, it was establish that while Armstrong's team has helped him immensely in these climbs, he doesn't need them. He's just too strong. He was worn out after today's stage but Lance said he didn't have to 'dig deep'. That means he can recover quickly for tomorrow's ride. If he had to dig deep things might be a little more dangerous. It also shows that while people like Totschnig and Moncoutie can beat Armstrong, they can't do it for more than a single stage. Watch Totschnig tomorrow. He'll be in the back of the climbers pack.

And one other thing. And this is important. Since Team Disco was shattered so early, they never really had to spend much energy today. They probably wanted to go hard up the HC climb but once T-Mobile took over and they couldn't catch, they probably just took it easy through the rest of the stage. Tomorrow they should have the energy and legs to destroy the peloton.

Stage 15
Again no rest for the weary. Most have picked this to be the premiere stage of the Tour. It's certainly not a walk in the park. Pla d'Adet, the final HC climb, is one of those climbs like La Mongie and l'Alpe d'Huez. They are legends in their own right because of their history in the Tour. Making some riders and breaking others. A winner on these hills is usually remembered for along time. Armstrong will want to leave a mark here. He's come 2nd 3 times this tour. He will win this. Period. Basso would be smart to work with Armstrong to blow out Ullrich and Rasmussen who are 4th and 2nd respectively. Basso can stay with Lance most of the way. If they work together the can leave a lot of carnage behind them.

To get some idea of what it's like going up these mountain check this site and this site which both have great pictures of l'Alpe d'Huez. Lance knows this hill very well. He won in 2001 beating Ullrich and securing his maillot jaune although it was an individual time trial back then. Consider the leader at the end of this stage to have wrapped things up. The only way to really gain time now is an individual time trial later in the Tour.

No comments: