Jul 18, 2006

tdf - stage 15

Welcome to the Alps. Stage 15. The one everyone has been waiting for.

187km. 72km of flats, then an HC climb (15 km), then a Cat 2 at 122km, and then Alpe d'Huez.

The first breakaway group is a big one! 25 riders ahead by 4 minutes. Some big names who haven't performed well in this tour and polka dot folks are in the mix: Hincapie, Cunego, Vila, de la Fuente (Polka Dot), Wegmann, Pineau, Zabriskie, Voigt, Flecha, etc. And Merckx (Phonak) is up there. Possibly to get ahead if Landis needs him. Armstrong had Hincapie do this last year when his team was weak. Hincapie ended up winning that stage ironically. Now this is a big group. It's almost got peloton-like qualities in its size (lots of riders to share the wind) and it's got strong climbers. There is a chance this break can stay away if they stay together. That however is unlikely. These big breaks always splinter.

On the first climb lots of usual suspects (read sprinters) off the back. Boonen in particular having issues.

And the breakaway group is fragmenting as well. Vila, Landaluze, Arrieta, Lobato off the front, Garzelli attempting to gap up, and the remainder behind. Garzelli actually makes it up to the lead riders and then heads out on his own. He's got about a minute lead. He's way back on the GC so he isn't a contender. Garzelli has now been caught. The main breakaway is 5 minutes ahead of the peloton. They are about to hit the second climb (cat 2).

Landis has another mechanical problem and has to switch bikes. He's had a lot of mechanical issues in this tour. Recall he started his time trial late because of issues.

Boonen abandons. McEwen really does have the maillot vert locked up now.

The lead group splinters and reforms. De la Fuente takes the top though and gets some more polka dot points. He's sitting pretty in that jersey.

Now we wait for the big one.

There are still 15 men in the break including Hincapie. This kind of climb suits him. He's a power climber. CSC has 3 riders in that break (Schleck, Voigt, & Zabriskie). With Voigt and Zabriskie doing the most pulling, it looks like Schleck may be the point to win the stage for CSC.

The GC hopefuls are still in the peloton. No one is having any particular problems. The question is can the gap be bridged before the end of the last climb. I don't think it can be. Making matters worse, it's raining on the peloton now.

The break hits the bottom of Alpe. The beginning and ending of the climb are brutal. So attacks happen at the bottom. Chavanel and Voigt both attack. Landaluze is dropped. Merckx is dropped. Garzelli having problems. Everyone else holding in there. Cunego now attacks and holds it. Lobato is able to go with him. Chavanel is gone. Hincapie is gone. De la Fuente gone. Schleck, Cunego, Mazzoleni, Lobato, and Arroyo in the break. Cunego keeps attacking but can't go free.

Meanwhile Rabobank and Menchov are hammering hard. Pereiro is off the back of the peloton. He'll lose the yellow. Now Phonak leading the peloton.

And Kloden, Landis, and Evans are off!!! Kessler there too.

Menchov and Leipheimer have a gap between them and KLE now. They're working to get back.


Kloden trying to get back. He does it. Evans can't do it. He's done. Off the back. Menchov losing more time. Menchov is done. Now Kessler is done. IT'S KLODEN AND LANDIS NOW. They won't catch the breakaway but hopefully one of them will attack. It's imperative that Kloden do it to try and get some time back.

Out front Cunego has managed to get away. Schleck is with him. Schleck looking a lot stronger than Cunego. One of these two will win the stage.

Leipheimer and Sastre are working together to get back to Landis. They are slowly inching their way up. Kloden and Landis should attack as soon as they get there (if they get there). They are going to do it. They are going to get back. Amazing!

Merckx was waiting for Landis to come up (remember he was in the breakaway) and now is helping his teammate Landis up the mountain. His dad will be proud. They pass Hincapie. Terrible tour for Hincapie.

Pereiro has found his rhythm. He's hanging in there after dropping off. He will limit his losses by smart riding. 30 or 40 seconds behind the Landis group.

Little attacks here and there in the Landis group. Nothing sticking. Actually now Landis and Kloden have broken. Sastre and Leipheimer can't hold on. Done.

Menchov who fell off a while back is riding smartly and is not terribly far behind. But he won't catch Landis.

Of Landis and Kloden, Landis is looking better.

Okay up front it's Schleck and Cunego. Mazzoleni is dropped and can help Kloden when he gets back there. Schleck attacks and holds the gap. He could win. He will. SCHLECK WINS! Impressive gutsy win. Cunego is 11 seconds behind.

Mazzoleni is back with Kloden and Landis helping out his teammate. No attacks here from anyone. Perhaps they'll ride in together. They do. 1'10" back from Schleck.

Great ride for Landis. A pillar of strength out there. No grimacing. He didn't kill himself on this stage (watch Schleck tomorrow). And most importantly, apart from Kloden, he gained some serious time on big rivals. Menchov loses a minute to Landis. Pereiro also does a good job of limiting losses.

So Landis is back in maillot jaune. Pereiro 10" back. Dessel 2' back. Menchov, Sastre, Kloden and Evans 2-3' back. Everyone else 5+' back.

I think Landis saved some energy today. We've got a big climb tomorrow. Two (!) HC climbs followed by a cat 2 and ending uphill on a cat 1. We'll see who is strong and who spent it all.

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