Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Tour In Summary

First let me apologize to you all for completely dropping the ball on the last 3 stages of the Tour. I was on vacation and was having a hard time watching the Tour much less blogging about it. The race is over and we all know what happened and how each of the last few days played out on the road so recapping each day would be pointless. Instead I am going to offer my thoughts on what transpired over the 3 weeks and how I see things shaping up for the remainder of the season and next year.

First the Good....

  • The revelation of this year's Tour has to be Bradley Wiggins. Wiggo was able to stay with the big guns in the mountains and while not TTing as well as he has in the past he was still good enough for 4th place. If he continues to work toward the Tour for the next 2 years as he has said he would, Garmin has two legit Grand Tour GC guys in Wiggo and Vande Velde.
  • Lance's return-The guy is 37 and has been out of competative cycling for almost 4 years, yet still manages to return and finish on the podium. I think that his time away really hurt in the mountains where he was dropped by Contador and the Schlecks a couple of times and 10th and 14th in the two Time Trials would be completely unacceptable to the Lance of old. It will be interesting to see how he and Johan build Team Radioshack for next year and if another full year of training will make a difference in the 2010 Tour.
  • No postive doping tests (so far). Was this really a clean Tour or did the next generation of undetectable doping product make its debut? I really hope it is the former and not the latter.
  • Cavendish's six wins. The guy is virtually unbeatable inside of 200-250 m to go. He won on flat sprints, an uphill finish, and on Stage 20 where there was a Cat 2 climb near the finish. This is also a huge credit to the Colubia-HTC team for showing how teamwork and selfless dedication produce results.
  • Contador winning his second Tour and making it 4 Grand Tours in a row overall. The guy is a real douchebag but you can't argue with what he can do on a bike. He out TT'ed the best guy in the world (Cancellara) and out climbed everyone in the mountains. That is a combination that is hard to beat.
  • The "also rans" of the Tour. BBox, Skil-Shimano, and Agritubel all were very active in the breakaways and managed to get a few stage wins in the process. They all gave the Tour organizers exactly what they were looking for when they were invited.
  • Rinaldo Nocentini-Pulled a "Voeckler" and wore the Maillot Jaune for 10 days. His career is set from now on.
  • The Schleck brothers-Both had a great Tour and climbed very well. Andy did a phenominal job in the final TT to secure his second place position on the podium. No doubt Andy will win the Tour sooner rather than later.
  • The Bikes-Giant, Scott, Specialized, and Trek all rolled out new TT bikes for the Tour and they were all HOT!! The Giant bike (Trinity SL) will be available to consumers next year. You can bet I will be riding one as soon as they come out.

The Bad

  • Cadel Evans-One of the strongest individual riders in the Tour, his team let him down (are you reading this Contador??). This coupled with his incessant whining about how weak his team was really turned alot of people off to him as fans (myself included).
  • Denis Menchov-Classic example of how hard the Giro/Tour double is to accomplish. A combination of not being recovered and just plain bad luck made this a Tour to forget for Menchov.
  • Alberto Contador's "tactics"-he was obviously riding for himself and himself only in the mountains. To quote a certain 7 time Tour winner..."There is no "i" in "team". Without the team you don't win." And you certainly don't attack your own teammates twice!
  • Garmin-Slipstream pulling back the Hincapie break to the point that George was out of yellow by 5 seconds. Easily the winner of "Douchy-est Move of the Tour" award. There was no reason for it other than to prevent Columbia from having the Yellow Jersey for a day.
  • Only three mountain top finishes in the entire Tour-I understand that by design the race was supposed to be decided on Mt Ventoux and to a degree it was (at least second and third place were), however I feel like the organizers took too much of the sting out of the Pyranees and Alps by only having one summit finish in each. I would have liked to see another ITT in the second week also.
  • Carlos Sastre-Paging Carlos Sastre, Sastre, S-A-S-T-R-E. Was he even in the Tour this year? I can't recall another year where the defending champion was more anonymous.

The Ugly

  • Jens Voigts crash-Here's to hoping big Jens is fully healed and back on the bike soon. He is a great guy and a great rider. I got to meet him at the Tour de Georgia in '04 and he couldn't have been nicer.
  • The infighting at Astana-even though publically it wasn't there, privately we all could tell what was going on. It is hard to have more than one rooster in the hen house.
  • Levi Leipheimer crashing out of the Tour- Levi was riding strong when he overcooked a seemingly innocent curve and broke his wrist. Lance lost a valuable ally in the mountains and Levi may have lost a podium position as well.

The 2010 season seems to be shaping up to be a great one. The introduction of a new American team (Team Radioshack), Alberto vs Lance vs Wiggins vs The Schleck brothers, the Tour of California moving to May and competing against the Giro.

It will also be interesting to see who comes over to Team Radioshack with Lance and Johan. From everything I have read Levi, Kloden, Popovich, and Zubeldia are following from Astana. You have to assume that Chris Horner will do the same as will Jani Brakovic. After Jonathan (D-bag) Vaughters public statement of "all of our riders are under contract and loyal to the team, blah blah, yada, yada, meow, meow" it will be interesting to see if anyone jumps ship over to Radioshack. I don't see Vande Velde or Wiggins leaving since they are both team leaders on Garmin and would be support riders at Radioshack. I also don't see Tom Danielson leaving since Johan never gave him the opportunity to ride the Tour, but in fairness neither has Vaughters. Dave Z is the only one I could see maybe moving over, but again he and Johan didn't have the best relationship at US Postal so that one is a pretty small possibility as well. It could be some of the younger developmental riders leave and jump over as Taylor Phinney did last year.

All in all it was a great Tour and I really hated to see it end. For those of you who are newer cycling fans I encourage you to watch the Vuelta Espana (Tour of Spain) on Universal Sports. It is a 3 week Grand Tour like the Tour de France but without alot of the big names and not as good of scenery.

Until next time thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Goodbye to the Alps

The 2009 Tour De France said good bye to the Alps with and epic stage from Bourg-Sainte-Maurice to Le Grande-Bornand that featured FOUR (count'em FOUR) Category 1 climbs and a pretty nasty Cat 2 climbed sandwiched in between. This was the day that the climbers had to make their move to take back some time from the Astana duo of Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong who sat in the top two places overall. The day began with a large breakaway of 13 going clear almost immediately on the first climb. This group held until Thor Hushovd (who also happens to be on my VS Fantasy Team) came across and went clear on the second climb of the day. Hushovd would stay clear and pick up points on the two sprint lines to all but secure the Green Jersey. The real battle of the GC men didn't start until the 3rd Category 1 climb (Col de Romme) when Carlos Sastre launched an attack that had a small gap but was quickly nailed back by Lance. On the slopes of the Col de Columbiere Andy Schleck launched an attack that dropped everyone except Contador, Andreas Kloden and his brother Frank. The Schlecks traded pulls at the front trying to put time into the second group on the road which was made up of Lance, Brad Wiggins, Vincente Nibali, and Christian Vande Velde . Vande Velde gets the teammate of the day award for burying himself to keep Wiggins in contact with Armstrong and Nibali. Meanwhile at the front of the race Contador launched another inexplicable attack and succeeded in dropping only Kloden from the group. Continuing with the attacking theme Armstrong put the hammer down on Wiggins and Nibali after Vande Velde ran out of gas with about 5k to go to the summit. There was really no way that Lance was going to be able to bridge over to the leading group as he did yesterday, but it was important not to lose too much time to the Schlecks before tomorrows ITT. The Schlecks and Contador finished in the same time so there was no time gained or lost between them, however Armstrong and Nibali (who came back on the descent) were able to catch Kloden and actually pass him for 4th and 5th place. Wiggins was 3:07 back of the stage winners so the Schlecks will have a bit of breathing room for the Time Trial tomorrow.

The way I see things there are six riders fighting for the three podium positions: Contador, Armstrong, A. Schleck, F.Schleck, Kloden, and Wiggins. Sastre, Evans, Menchov and any other rider mentioned as a pre race "favorite" are done. At the end of today the standings look like this:

1) Contador
2) A. Schleck @ 2:26
3) F.Schleck @ 3:25
4) L. Armstrong @ 3:55
5) A. Kloden @ 4:44
6) B. Wiggins @ 4:53

After the TT tomorrow I expect them to look like this:
1) Contador
2) Armstrong
3) Kloden
4) A. Schleck
5) Wiggins
6) Nibali

I don't expect Frank Schleck to be in the Top 10 after the TT tomorrow. The time gaps are 1:31 from Armstrong to A. Schleck in 2nd position and :30 seconds to Frank Schleck in 3rd so I can't see where either of them can hold Lance off. The gaps to Kloden are a bit bigger (2:18 to Andy and 1:17 to Frank) but very doable for a TT rider like Kloden. Wiggins is the X factor here and one would expect him to crush everyone except for Cancellara, Contador and possibly Armstrong and Kloden. It will be interesting to see how much time he makes up on the Schlecks and what position he is in for the Mount Ventoux showdown on Saturday.

The route is doing exactly as the Tour organizers intended and keeping the question in doubt until the next to last day on the Ventoux. I still would like to see more mountain top finishes in the future and one more ITT in the second week.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stage 16

Finally I am home and able to watch the Tour in HD as it was intended to be viewed!

Stage 16 started off with a nasty climb up the HC Grand St Bernard almost from the get go. Franco Pelezotti went out with 12 other riders from various teams to consolidate his KOM lead and did just that being the first over both climbs of the day. The fireworks started on Le Peteit St Bernard with Saxo Bank coming to the front and upping the tempo to an insane pace shredding what was left of the peleton and setting up Andy Schleck for an attack on Contador and the Maillot Jaune. Contador was able to respond to the attack along with both Schleck brothers, Wiggins, and Andreas Kloden. Surprisingly Lance Armstrong was dropped by the big acceleration and seemed to be in difficulty, but in typical Lance fashion he hit the remainder of the peleton hard on a steep portion of the climb and was able to bridge across to the leaders and maintained his second place. The big loser of the day was Cadel Evans losing almost 3 minutes to the leaders by the end of the stage.

Tomorrow is the last stage in the Alps and it is a nasty one with 4 Category 1 climbs and one Cat 2 climb sandwiched in between. It's time to separate the men from the boys!

Lumping It All Together

Forgive me for my less than steallar posting of the past few days. I was out of town and did most of my posting from my Iphone which is less than ideal. This is a post to tie the last few days together and prepare for the home stretch of the Tour.

Sunday's stage 15 to Verbier was a classic....unfortunately my wife's Aunt doesn't have the Versus channel so all I saw was the highlights :( All I saw was Contador attack and no one else able to go with him.

The rest day saw Alberto Contador in yellow for the first time since 2007 and Lance Armstrong in second 1:37 back,with the big surprise of this year's Tour Bradley Wiggins 2 seconds back in third.

Stage 16 has two large climbs but also has a 30km decent to the finish which should allow anyone dropped on the climb to get back or limit their time losses to a minimal amount.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

You Can Be Competative Without Being A Douchebag

Stage 14 on paper looked like it would be a day for the sprinters and everyone expected a Cav/Hushovd/Farrar shoot out at the finish line. As with every stage the breakaway went and everyone expected them to be chased down, however something interesting happend. Big George Hincapie was away in the break and at one point was the Virtual Leader on the road. Everyone who follow cycling knows the career of George and how he was a faithful lieutenant to Lance on all 7 of his Tour wins. It look at the 10km mark like there was no way that the peleton was going to close the gap and George would be in Yellow. Then a funny thing happened. Garmin-Slipstream put three guys on the front for no real reason to do tempo in the last few k's of the race. For Garmin there was no tactical advantage nor was there a strategic mission for them to do work on the front of the peleton, other than to keep George from getting Yellow. Ag2r had already done all the work they were able to do and had shredded their team in the process. The gap still was at 6+ minutes when they pulled off the front so they weren't going to pull the time back on their own. Columbia still had intentions of leading out Cav for the 13th place points but were holding back as much as possible to protect George's lead. I don't know who made the call for Garmin to get on the front (Matt White or Jonathan Vaughters) but it was a douchy move to put guys on the front for no reason. I have lost alot of respect for Garmin who are the "we do it right we do it clean" boys. Well guess didn't do it right today.

Mountains start tomorrow!

So I Was Wrong....

The rain and cold pretty much neutralized today's stage. The temperature hovered around 50*F all day with heavy rain at times. No one really seemed to want to race in the slop the breakaway was sucessful and Heinrich Haussler was able to solo to a 1st career Tour win.

Tomorrow looks like a day for the sprinters.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Calm Before the Storm

Stage 12 was another low key stage. According to George Hincapie's Twitter "there were alot of tired legs out there today". The stage started quickly with the peleton covering 48 km in the first hour. Several small groups tried to get away but were brought back by the group until one group at 80km in managed to get some separation. The stage was lumpy enough that the sprinters teams didn't want to come to the front and close the gap, AG2R either couldn't or didn't want to bring back the group so the advantage swelled to over 6 minutes where it stayed until close to the finish. Nicki Sorenson attacked the break and was able to solo the last 5km and take the stage win.

The fight for the Green Jersey was exciting today as Mark Cavendish went out for intermediate sprint points on the course with Thor Hushovd right behind. Cavendish was also able to outsprint Hushovd and Farrar for the remaining points at the finish. With a lumpy stage tomorrow and the Alps starting on Saturday the chances for Sprinters to pick up points are dwindling.

I expect some shennanigans on tomorrows stage with a few Cat 2 and one Cat 1 climb in store. The GC men should come out to play on tomorrows stage.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It's Groundhog Day Again

It's Groundhog Day again! Another day another Cav win.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Stinker In Every Bunch

Every year there is at least one stinker of a stage in the Tour and today happened to be that day. A 4 man break went early but never really got away and the peleton rode a very easy race until the last 20km. In cooperation with the UCI the Tour banned the use of two way radios during today's stage as an experiement to see if it would spice up the racing. Well from my perspective it didn't change the stage in any way, shape, form, or fashion. Cavendish won in a bunch sprint which was pretty much a foregone conclusion at the beginning and the GC remained unchanged.

Let's hope for better racing tomorrow!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rest Day...What Have We Learned?

Lucky you (yes you there drinking coffee and surfing the net) today is your lucky day. Two posts for the price of one!

Today is the first rest day of the '09 Tour so let us take a few moments to reflect on what we have witnessed over the past 9 days of racing and look forward to what we can expect over the next two weeks.

  • Armstrong is back! Any doubts about his form or how his body would respond have been answered during the first week. He was able to stay with everyone on all the climbs and has even chased down a breakaway on his own.
  • Cav is unbeatable in the final 200m of a sprint. 2 stage wins already and a stint in the Green Jersey. I expect at least one more win this week with a couple of flattish stages on the menu.
  • The Tour is pretty much over for Evans, Sastre, and Menchov. Their teams really let them down in the TTT and it has buried them so deep that barring a catastrophic occurance by Astana and Garmin they basically have no shot at even being on the podium.
  • Astana really is as good as advertised, now can they keep the internal power struggle from imploding the entire team. The way I see it Contador's bush league attack on Stage 7 only helped to solidify the team behind Armstrong. Going in you could divide the team into Lance, Levi, and Popo on one side and Contador, Pauhlino, and possibly Zubeldia on the other side with Kloden, Murayev, and Rast being Neutral. Now I honestly don't know if anyone other than Pauhlino is on Contador's side. If push comes to shove it will be interesting to see how things work.
  • Christian Vande Velde and Brad Wiggins are having great rides and I really hope that it continues for them both. Garmin is a great team and it is good to see them doing well.
  • The French have to be ecstatic about how the Tour has gone for them so far, 3 stage wins, a KOM jersey and a Maillot Jaune (albeit an Italian rider on a French team).
  • I am still sticking by my prediction that Levi will end up on the podium and could possibly still win the Tour. If Lance and Alberto are marking each other don't be surprised if Levi goes up the road and steals some time.
  • Week 1 is in the books and no doping scandals (I hope I didn't just jinx it).

What to look forward to next week

  • The semi mountain stages on Thursday and Friday (Stages 12 and 13). If Evans, Sastre or Menchov want to get back into the Tour these stages could be fun to watch. Also you could see Armstrong or Contador for that matter launch an attack to steal some time before the Alps start this weekend.
  • More Cav wins. Tuesday and Wednesday should be bunch sprints.
  • Stage 15...the Alps...mountain top finish...Verbier. Nuff Said!
  • Another week of clean racing (could we be so fortunate?)

Thanks for reading my posts over this first week of the Tour, I have really enjoyed writing each of them and I hope that you come back for what is sure to be an exciting Week 2.

A Summary of the Pyranees

In lieu of doing an individual recap and break down of Stages 8 and 9 since nothing of real note happened I am just going to do a recap of the Pyranees in general. Stages 8 and 9 were very similar in that they featured huge climbs that were so far from the finish that they didn't cause any of the GC contenders to get any closer or drop any farther behind. Give credit to Cadel Evans for attacking early on Stage 8 (I can't believe I actually just typed that) even though it was shut down pretty quickly. On Stage 9 a large group went off the front early and were chased down by none other than Lance Armstrong himself, after that though the "right" break composed of 13 riders were able to get away and eventually the stage was won by Fedrigo of BBox in a 2 man sprint with Pellizotti of Liquigas. At the end of both stages there were no changes in the GC.

If I were giving grades for route design the Pyranees would get a D at best. The one stage that did feature a mountain top finish (Arcalis) wasn't all that hard of a climb as evidenced by the large number of riders still around at the end. Stages 8 and 9 featured some gnarly climbs, but they were so far away from the finish that they had no tactical significance at all. When you have an 80 man bunch sprint for 3rd at the end of a mountain stage then you know that it wasn't that hard of a day (by Tour standards).

Rest day on Monday and then a few transitional stages get us to the Alps.

Friday, July 10, 2009

And So It Begins............

Today the Tour started in earnest for the contenders, Stage 7 started in Barcelona and finished on top of the HC Arcalis. After an early morning break built up a lead of almost 13 minutes at one point, the peleton with Astana on the front started to pull back time. It was almost a given that the break would succeed and that barring something extraordinary from Fabian Cancellara, Armstrong would be in yellow at the end of the stage. Astana decimated the field and by the official start of the climb (which was actually 10k after the road started to pitch up) the field was in shambles and the breakaway's lead had dwindled to a mere 7 minutes. Young Brice Fellieu of Agritubel attacked and went clear of the break with less than 5k to go to the summit. By this time it was obvious that the peleton (or what was left of it) would not catch the breakaway and it looked as though the main contenders would ride to the summit together, however in an attempt to gain back some of the 3 minutes he had already lost Cadel Evans launched an attack which was quickly covered by Lance. Another Silence Lotto rider went off the front and it looked as though Astana was content to let him go when Alberto Contador launched a counter-attack and went over the top of the attacking Silence-Lotto rider. Andy Schleck and Evans tried to nail back the gap, but once Contador goes he GOES and no one was going to catch him. Lance playing the loyal teammate sat on Schleck and Evans to the finish line and lost 21 seconds to Contador in the process. Lost in all of the favorites attacking was the fact that Rinaldo Nocentini became the first Italian in 9 years to wear the Maillot Jaune.

Tactically Astana could not be in a better position teamwise. With Contador, Lance, Levi and Kloden all in the Top 7 they have all of their Aces yet to play. Kudos to Bradley Wiggins for a fantastic climb today and also to Christian Vande Velde for hanging with the favorites in the mountains. Cadel gets thumbs up for FINALLY attacking and not being a wheel follower as in years past (if he had done this once in each of the past two years he might be the two time defending champion). I will preface this next statement with 1) I am a Lance fan and 2) I want him to win his 8th Tour. That all being said in my opinion Contador gets the douchebag of the day award for the late attack. There was no reason to attack other than to put time into Lance plain and simple. The Lotto rider that went clear wasn't close on GC and posed no threat, Cadel had tried to attack and it had been neutralized, and Andy Schleck seemed to be in no shape to launch an attack. Contador went clear knowing that Lance wouldn't chase down an teammate and that he could at least take back the time he was behind and possibly grab the Yellow Jersey. If it were me I would put the hammer down on Contador in the next two days (assuming Lance is capable of doing so) just to show him who is boss.

Like sands through the hourglass so are the Days of Astana....the soap opera continues.

Stage 6

The rain showed up on Stage 6 from Girona to Barcelona, Spain. There were several crashes the most serious of which involved Michael Rogers of Columbia-HTC. At last report Rogers did not have any broken bones as was scheduled to start Stage 7. Here's hoping that Rogers is able to continue with the Tour, he is a strong rider and a great Time Trialist.

There were no changes in the GC on today's stage as the peleton finished together in the rain. The finish had a nasty little uptick the last 2km and it looked like David Millar of Garmin might stay away and win the stage, unfortunately he was caught about 500 m from the finish and the "God of Thunder", Thor Hushovd powered around Oscar Friere to win.

On a somewhat related note, Barcelona has to be one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. After watching yesterday's stage I really want to go to Spain and ride.

Mountains start tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Thomas- Freaking- Voeckler!!!

Stage 5 looked like it might be a little squirrelly at the beginning with the crosswinds and narrow roads and true to form there were crashes and splits in the peleton. The day however belongs to the definition of "random French dude" Thomas Voeckler. Those of you who have followed the Tour for a few years may remember Mr Voeckler spending 10 days in yellow after snatching (or in reality US Postal gifting) the Maillot Janue the day after the TTT. We all knew that it was just a matter of time before Lance took the jersey back and that Voeckler was absolutely no threat at all to the overall GC contenders so it was nice to have the plucky little Frenchman scratching and clawing everyday to stay in yellow. One other note, Robert Gesink who was my pick to win the KOM jersey crashed pretty hard today and lost 10 minutes. It will be interesting to see if this affects his climbing at all when the High Mountains start in 2 days.

One more flattish stage tomorrow and then the fireworks start on Friday in the mountains!

Stage 4 Team Time Trial (or Astana's Smack Down)

I don't think that the outcome of this stage was ever in doubt, Astana came out loaded for bear and basically destroyed the rest of the peleton. At the beginning of the stage Lance was in second place 0:40 off the yellow jersey and at the end of the stage Lance was in second place in a virtual tie with Cancellara for the Maillot Jaune. Kudos to Garmin-Slipstream and Saxo Bank as well for a good ride in the TTT. Garmin shed 4 riders and crossed with the minimum 5 in second place 0:18 behind Astana, Saxo Bank (with Fabian Cancellara pulling the last 10km basically alone) came in third 0:40 behind.

I love the TTT because of what happened today, the riders with the strongest teams are the ones on top of the standings. Conversely the riders with garbage teams (aka Silence Lotto, Cervelo Test and Rabobank) are for all practical intents and purposes done. Barring some insane attack in the mountains that Astana can't cover (and I can't imagine a scenario where that would happen).

Tomorrow should be a day for the escape artists unless Cav decides he wants another stage win.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Stage 3

Boy I didn't see that one coming! Someone on here, on BT or on Facebook made mention that the winds might be a factor on this stage and I really didn't think that much of it. Today could have completely changed the race, all of the sudden Armstrong is sitting 3rd one spot ahead of Contador. With an Astana win in the TTT tomorrow (which I have no doubt will happen) Lance Armstrong, 3 years retired from professional cycling will don the Maillot Jaune once again. Now who does Astana back? Can Armstrong climb with Contador in the mountains (will he even have to?). Once again just when you think that it will be an average uneventful stage, the Tour surprises and gives a classic stage. Just goes to show that you have to watch every day!!

Sunday, July 5, 2009


In case you haven't seen it yet....

Stage 2

Stage 2 was a bit of a tester but went mostly as expected with Cav winning in the sprint. It was good to see Tyler Farrar mixing it up in the front, I fully expect him to win a stage before the Tour is over. It will be interesting to see how Frank Schleck is affected by his crash today, it didn't look too bad but I am sure he will be sore tomorrow. I pretty much called the "no-name French guy" going out on the break to get the KOM jersey (Veikkanen of FDJ). After Stage 2 the GC remains unchanged.

Stage 3 tomorrow should be another go for the sprinters, I expect Cav to make it two in a row.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thoughts on Stage 1

Stage 1 is in the books and the GC is looks like this

Tour de France Standings—Through Stage 1

1. Fabian Cancellara 19:32

2. Alberto Contador 19:50 @ 0:18

3. Bradley Wiggins 19:51 @ 0:19

4. Andreas Kloden 19:54 @ 0:22

5. Cadel Evans 19:55 @ 0:23

6. Levi Leipheimer 20:02 @ 0:30

7. Roman Krueziger 20:04 @ 0:32

8. Tony Martin 20:05 @ 0:33

9. Vincenzo Nibali 20:09 @ 0:37

10. Lance Armstrong 20:12 @ 0:40

My inital thoughts are that I am very impressed with Alberto Contador. His Time Trialing ability has greatly improved over the last few years and I see no one in the field that can rival him in the mountains (possibly Sastre). Second thoughts are that I wouldn't have thought that Lance would be the fourth best placed rider on his own team. I am not sure if the early start time and not having a time to chase was a factor or if he simply doesn't have it anymore. Time will tell.

Stage 2 tomorrow should see our sprinters come out to play.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

FAQ's For the First Time Tour Viewer (and A Refresher For The Rest of Us)

With the start of the 2009 Tour De France just 2 days away I thought it would be a good idea to address some of the questions that newer viewer of the Tour might have and to refresh (or possibly enlighten) those of you who have watched the Tour in past years. If there is something that I miss or a specific question(s) that you might have, leave them in the comments and I would be happy to answer them for you.

1) What are all the different jerseys for and how does a rider get to wear one?

There are 4 different jerseys that the Tour gives out after every stage and each denotes the leader of a specific classification.
  • Yellow Jersey (Maillot Jaune, Mellow Johnny)-The wearer of the Yellow Jersey is the race leader on elapsed time. Whatever rider has the lowest elapsed time at the end of each stage is the wears the Yellow Jersey for the next days stage. Time is calculated by adding each stages finishing time together, for example Dave Zabriske of Garmin wins the Stage 1 Time Trial in a time of 25:15.33, second place is Levi Leipheimer in 25:15.48. In the final standings second place is rounded up and Zabriske would have a one second advantage over Leipheimer and wear the Yellow Jersey for Stage 2. Wearing the Yellow Jersey is a great honor if only for one day, it is an even bigger honor if that one day happens to be the last one in Paris!
  • Green Jersey (Maillot Vert)-Classified as the Most Consistant Finisher but in reality it is the Sprinters who vie for this jersey. This classification is done on a points system where points are awarded at the finish line of each flat stage on a sliding scale from 25 for 1st place to 1 point for 25th place and on a similar sliding scale for mountain stages (the points aren't as much for 1st and don't go as deep). There are also intermediate sprints out on the course that are worth 6,4 and 2 points respectively for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd on the road. If the competition is tight for the Green Jersey you will see the sprinters mixing it up for the intermediate sprints also.
  • King of the Mountain (KOM)-This is the red polka dot jersey given to the leader of the Best Climber competition. This is also done on a points system where points are awarded for classified climbs on the route. The harder the climb the more points are available and there are double points at the finish line for a stage that finishes on a mountain top.
  • White Jersey-The Best Young Rider (under 25 as of Jan 1) is done like the race leader on elapsed time. This is a very prestigious jersey to win for a young rider as several future Tour winners have won it in the years preceeding their Tour victories.

As far as some other jerseys you may see in the Tour, each country generally has it's national road race and time trial championship the week or two before the Tour starts and the winners of those respective races wear their countries colors during the race. There is also the road race World Champion and time trial World Champion jerseys that are worn by their winners.

2) Is every team trying to win the Tour and if not what are their objectives everyday?

No every team does not have a contender for the General Classification (Overall) victory. That being said every team comes to the Tour with objectives and can leave feeling like they had a sucessful Tour if those are met. For a team like Skil-Shimano their objective for the Tour might be to have a man in the breakaway everyday, or wear the Green or KOM jersey for one day. On the other hand for a team like Astana anything less than a Tour victory will be seen as a failure. Each team will plan their day based on the stage and what the standings look like at the beginning of the day. For some teams putting a man in the breakaway is no more than getting some "face time" on TV for their sponsors, for others it is a tactical decision based on what the standings look like and who is wearing what jersey, it also is affected by the long term goals of the team.

3) It's a race so you should try to be the first one to the line everyday right?

No, not at all. The Tour De France is 21 stages over 3 weeks covering 2,500 miles around France, Spain, and a small part of Italy. It would not be humanly possible to be first everyday.

4) If the riders don't all cross the finish line at the same time why are they given the same time as the winner in the standings?

This is a carryover from the days when all the timing was done by hand, it is also a safety issue for the riders. Bunch sprints are dangerous enough with only the sprinters taking part, if everyone wasn't given the same time at the line you would have 180 riders trying to get to the finish line at the same time and that would just be a giant crash fest. Also as a side note, if there is a crash within 3km of a flat stage finish, anyone behind the crash is given the same time as the winner of the stage.

5) Why do guys breakaway everyday? They know they are going to get caught right?

Sometimes the break does stay away and for an average rider that might be the only way he will ever win a stage of the Tour de France. Most of the time though the break does get caught though. Some riders are in the break for "TV time" for their sponsors, it is a huge financial obligation to sponsor a Pro Tour team and this is how the sponsors make their money back by getting free advertising. Other riders are in the break for tactical reasons, if there is a climb at the end of a stage the rider in the break can drop back and help his leader on the climb, also as cycling tactics work if you have a guy in the break then you are not obligated to provide help on the front of the peleton to chase the break down. This can save a team critical energy by not having to push through the wind on the front of the group.

6) How do the tactics of cycling work? What does all this attacking and counter attacking do and why do the riders do it?

I could write an entire post (and probably a book) on cycling tactics and why things are done the way they are done. The best way to answer this question is to discuss each day's stage and dissect the tactics that were employed on that particular stage.

7) What is a domestique?

Domestique is a French term for the "worker bees" or teammates on a particular team. Each teammate has a specific purpose during the race in order to give his team leader the best chance to win. Some of the duties include dropping back to the team car to get water bottles (called bidons), sitting out front, to the sides, and behind the leader to keep him out of the wind and safe from trouble. Giving up his wheel or entire bike to the leader in case of a crash or mechanical situation. The domestiques of the winning team are rewarded for their hard work at the end of the race. The winners share is 400,000 euros which the leader traditionally splits among the team and takes none for himself (he will make plenty of $$ at the post Tour crits and in endorsements). Lance always paid his guys an additonal bonus on top of splitting the winnings.

8) What is doping and why do riders dope?

Doping is a catch all term for the use of performace enhancing drugs and the practice of reinfusion of oxygen enriched blood to the body. Endurance sports are all about delaying fatigue and recovery. By enriching the blood whether through the use of a blood booster like CERA or EPO or by a transfusion of blood already enriched with oxygen the rider is delaying fatigue and aiding in recovery due to the higher count of red blood cells. The red blood cell acts as a courier taking oxygen to the working muscle and removing lactate, by having more of these than another rider it will allow the athlete to go harder for longer and recover quicker. Now to quote Lance it isn't going to "make a donkey into a thoroughbred" but it will allow an above average rider to possibly become a podium contender and a Top 10 rider a chance to win.

I am sure that I missed a few so let me know what you want answered.

Vive Le Tour!