July 18, 2009

Tour de France: Stage 14

Well that was surprising.  I thought today would be another bunch sprint, or a ride with a meaningless breakaway, but instead we ended up with George Hincape making a run at the yellow jersey.  He fell just short, but the drama of that chase made for an exciting stage.

Tomorrow starts the Alps and in a week we’ll know the winner.  It should be a very exciting week!

Rider of the Day

Hincape got out in a great breakaway early and put nearly enough distance on the field to end the day in yellow.  Instead, he’ll start the day tomorrow in 2nd place.  Like all American cycling fans, I have a soft spot for Hincape, and I really would have liked to see him wear the yellow jersey. 

The interview he had with Frankie Andreu after the stage was heartbreaking as he talked about his friends in Astana and his countrymen on Garmin chasing him down to prevent him from wearing yellow.  I don’t believe there was anything personal in it, as everyone seems to love George, but to come so close and fall 5 seconds short must be incredibly disappointing.

Reasons I Love the Tour #14 - Podium Girls

Tour de France: Stage 13

Programming note: I fell a little bit behind on watching the Tour, so this morning I’ll post the review of yesterday’s stage, and I’ll try to get to Stage 14 by tonight.  Don’t worry, though, I’m definitely watching the first Alpine stage live tomorrow morning.

For all the action in stage 13, there wasn’t any change to the overall standings.  Saxo Bank showed that they’re serious about winning the race, and Lance Armstrong proved that he’s still one of the top riders in the race.

Out front, Henrick Hauser looked dominant spanking the field, and Brice Felliu showed that he’s someone to watch for the rest of this Tour and probably for years to come.

Rider of the Day

Hauser started a great breakaway, then successively broke the back of more and more riders to take the stage walking away.

Reasons I Love the Tour #14 - The Autobus

On mountain stages, the riders who aren’t strong enough to keep up with the peloton form a group and cruise slowly into the finish.  Today, Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen, and some other sprinters today came in 15 minutes after the leaders with the autobus.  Look for even more riders in the autobus starting Sunday in the Alpine stages.

July 16, 2009

Tour de France: Stage 12

Blah, blah, flat stage.  The breakaway actually succeeded today, denying Mark Cavendish a shot at winning another stage.  Nicki Sorensen executed a breakaway from the breakaway perfectly to take the stage win.

Tomorrow might see some moves by the overall contenders, but we’re not likely to see any real attacks until Sunday.  While we’re waiting, here’s a breakdown of the yellow jersey race:

Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador are exactly where they want to be.  They don’t want Astana to have to do the work expected from the yellow jersey team until after the Alps.  They’re very close to the leader, and no one expects the current yellow jersey holder to handle the Alps.

So with Armstrong and Contador having a stranglehold on the race, who else has a shot?

Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck aren’t in terrible shape, but they’re going to have to find a way to take a couple minutes away from Armstrong and Contador.  Neither has shown his cards yet, but I have a hard time believing they’ll be able to beat Armstrong and Contador in the mountains.

Last year’s winner Carlos Sastre is still in the picture, but is a long shot to repeat.  Denis Menchov is 5 minutes out and has yet to be heard from all race.

So it essentially looks like a 2 man race heading into the Alps on Sunday, unless something unexpected happens tomorrow or Saturday.

One other thing - why isn’t Alberto Contador wearing the Spanish national champions jersey any more?  Andy Schleck, Cancellara, Boonen, and Roche are all still wearing their national champion jerseys.  Is it because the Spanish jersey looked it was on fire?

Rider of the Day

Egoi Martinez covered a breakaway that included Franco Pelizotti, the other contender for the polka dot jersey.  He showed great awareness of his competitors and managed to protect his lead.

Reasons I Love the Tour - The Polka Dot Jersey

With Egoi Martinez in the breakaway today, we got to see a lot of the polka dot jersey, awarded to the rider who wins the mountain classification. 

There aren’t too many other places in sports where polka dots get prime billing.  In fact, I can’t think of any other sports uniform with dots on it. 

In addition to looking awesome (if weird), the race to be king of the mountains is always a great one.  These guys concentrate on one thing only: climbing.  They’re the ones who never seem to tire in the mountains and constantly attack to try and break the peloton.

July 15, 2009

Tour de France: Stage 11

Another flat stage, another easy ride with a bunch sprint at the end.  Another Cavendish win.  The guy is just plain amazing.

Tyler Farrar rode a great sprint and just missed out to Cavendish in the final few meters.  The American is going to win a stage eventually, but Cavendish is making it difficult.

I forgot to DVR the stage today, so I had to watch the primetime coverage.  I normally DVR one of the mid-day replays on Versus for a few reasons:

First, I don’t like to stay up until 11pm EDT because I’m an old man who has to wake up for work. 

Second, The mid-day replays are 2 hours instead of 3 hours, and that’s plenty long for any non-mountain stage. 

Third, the primetime coverage has way too much of Craig Hummer, Bob Roll, and Robbie Ventura, and not nearly enough Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen.  I don’t understand how Versus can have one of the best announcing teams in sports and then sideline them for their flagship coverage.  The coverage is packed with side stories, interviews, and featurettes at the expense of actually showing the stage.  For my money, the live coverage and the mid-day replays do a much better job of balancing the coverage.

Not much to say about the yellow jersey race, maybe tomorrow I’ll do a breakdown of the contenders and what their chances are at the halfway(ish) point.

Rider of the Day

Mark Renshaw is an unsung part of Mark Cavendish’s success.  All of Team Columbia has given Cavendish perfect lead outs in his sprints, and Renshaw has been dropping him off in perfect position to take almost all the sprint stages.

Reasons I Love the Tour #11 - The Farmland

Before I started watching the Tour de France, I never had any idea that France is such a rural country.  Stages like today really give you a new appreciation for how beautiful the French countryside is.

July 14, 2009

Tour de France: Stage 10

Ah, Bastille Day.  After J-Red pointed out that we don’t have a great sports tradition for the Fourth of July, it makes the French tradition of the Tour on Bastille day even cooler.  As always, the French riders made a special effort to win the stage on their national holiday.

The race was fun without team radios, creating an overblown controversy where a bunch of teams (not surprisingly, Astana was included, but shockingly the French teams were not) whined about the rule change.  It’s only being tried out for two stages this year, and according to a bunch of teams, it’s not that big a deal. 

As for the race itself, we saw a late break that never put too much distance on the peloton.  It seemed like a really lazy day overall, no one exerted too much effort. 

Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador are still sitting exactly where they want to be, just off the lead with a non-contender wearing yellow.  They couldn’t have drawn out a better plan for the first week.

Rider of the Day

The rider of the day selection shouldn’t be a surprise today, as Mark Cavendish took another sprint.  I’m not sure anyone can beat him on a sprint where he gets a good lead out.  I don’t really know what the other sprinters need to do, but at this point he’s making the rest of them look like amateurs.

Reasons I Love the Tour #10 - Bastille Day

I alluded to it earlier, but it’s really nice to see the normally cosmopolitan French turn nationalistic and wave the tricolor proudly.  Especially because they’re celebrating a relatively pointless prison break.  I love to mock the French, but they always seem to find an extra gear on Bastille day, and sometimes they’re even successful.

July 12, 2009

Tour de France: Stage 9

The entire peloton apparently decided that today was not the day to make a move.  All of the yellow jersey contenders were happy to sit behind AG2R and allow them to set the pace.  That was surprising for a mountain stage, but today’s route was apparently designed to encourage the riders to cruise, rather than try to open up gaps.

Now the Tour climbs down out of the mountains, takes a day off, and then has flat stages most of next week.  A week from today starts the Alps, where we’ll find out who really wants to win the yellow jersey.

Until then, the sprinters will take center stage again, as the overall contenders try not to lose time to each other.

As for Astana, their internecine drama was moved to the back burner today, but look for it to resume in the first Alpine stage (or earlier, if Nocentini drops 6 seconds and Contador gets yellow).

I’m a little concerned for Andy Schleck, who is one of my favorites.  He’s less than 2 minutes down on Armstrong and Contador, but I’m not sure he’s going to be able to get any time off them.  He’ll have to ride very strongly in the Alps to have a chance, but this increasingly looks like a 2 man race.

Rider of the Day

Rinaldo Nocentini really impressed me today.  It was not an easy stage at all, but he and his teammates shouldered the responsibilities of the yellow jersey and set the pace for the peloton.  Nocentini was visible at the front of the pack all day, which is not an easy task for a non-climber.  He certainly proved himself worthy of wearing the maillot jaune, and now he’s probably earned himself another few days in it.

Reasons I Love the Tour #9 - The Pyrenees

The Alps seem to capture the imagination of most cycling fans, but for me the Pyrenees are always more interesting.  The climbs seem steeper, the fans more passionate, and the mountains are just harsher.  As the Tour leaves the mountain range behind, I'll miss it until next year.