Jul 6, 2005

tdf - stage 5

We are at one of the lulls of the Tour right now. Long straight stages. 4 riders managed to jump out ahead and maintain a lead over the peloton for much of the race. They were ultimately brought back in before the finish. Boonen again had a good showing but was edged out at the end by Robbie McEwen, another great sprinter. McEwen was penalized two stages ago for interfering with a rider during a final sprint. I bet he views this as vindication. Lance finished with the pack and therefore receives the same time as the others. Thus, he keeps the yellow jersey for another day.

He almost didn't start the stage with the yellow jersey though. He refused to wear it due to tradition. In the case of a rider mishap forcing the changing of the maillot jaune, the new GC leader forgoes wearing the jersey. It's happened before with Lemond and Merckx. But before the start it is claimed the organizers talked Armstrong into putting the jersey on. My guess is the sponsors - in this case Credit Lyonnais - asked them to do it.

It really isn't until stage 9 that we get anything even approaching something that might impact who the tour winner is. These stages do have a purpose though. Stages 5-8 are long - 183 km, 199 km, 229 km, and 232 km. Yikes. These are the stages that slowly wear down the riders. It shouldn't be hard to stay in the peloton if you are in good condition. You usually only lose the 3rd stringers at the back this early. But these kind of riding lengths do two things that affect all riders.

First they condition your legs to race on constantly flat surfaces. Once you hit the mountains some riders just collapse. Their legs can't deal with exerting more force. Some riders really get tapped out on the first mountain stage. I'll be looking for who this is. Second these stages just plain tire out your legs. If you aren't Lance you can probably guess he's going to attack on the first major hill with a HC or #1 rating. That's his usual strategy. It's made that much harder when you've made some long treks like this which is why Lance attacks then. Hit them when they're down. Even worse it's possible some contenders could make real fast runs on these flat stages. If so the peloton will have to catch them causing riders to burn out their legs even more. Word has it the peloton was moving fast today.

Finally traveling over that much ground means there will probably be some careless crashes. It always happens. There was one today but nothing major.

These stages can be boring if you're not interested in the polka dot or green jersey. But sometimes they can tell the story for the rest of the tour if you watch carefully. Who looks okay? Who looks like they're breaking? These can be important tells. It was on a set of stages like this that Lance once feigned being in poor form. He forced the other contenders to drive the peloton in the hopes of wearing him out even more. Would it be possible to lose Armstrong on a flat stage? Turns out he was being cutthroat. He made all his contenders work hard while he drafted behind them in perfectly fine health. When they hit the mountains at the end of the flat, he attacked. Leaving everyone in the dust. Since I didn't watch live coverage I'll have to wait for the commentators to write if they saw anyone riding poorly. Just noticed 4 no-namers came in behind the pack or withdrew. Also Zabriskie obviously smarting from yesterday came in at the back of the peloton without other CSC riders. He could be struggling.

One other interesting thing about stage 4. Team Discovery was the only team to bring all 9 riders in. [Correction] 3 other teams brought all 9 riders in. They were just the slower teams not vying for the yellow jersey - Liquigas, Davitamon-Lotto and ag2r (dead last). It shows the depth they have. [Almost] everyone else lost riders along the way. Their teams were just going too fast for them. Since Discovery won with the fastest time you can imagine how good their worst rider is.

Update: Interesting point I read today. I mentioned before that Lance will probably lose the jersey in these flat stages. That might happen tomorrow. Tomorrow is the last stage before the tour ventures into Germany (smart marketing move to make the tour head into neighboring countries). Anyway, Jens Voigt (Team CSC) is German. He also has won long flat stages before by going out extremely early and building up an insurmountable lead over the peloton. He might try this tomorrow to ride into Germany the following day wearing the yellow jersey. He is only down a minute from Armstrong and he is not a mountain climber. So he may view it as a final chance for glory.

Update: Interesting comment from the eventual winner of the stage, McEwen, BEFORE the stage started. Asked if he thought that Boonen was on another level, he said, "No, he isn't. No, he isn't. I'll show you that he isn't."

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