Wednesday, July 25, 2007

STAGE 16 - LAST CHANCE IN THE PYRENEES

LAST OF THE MOUNTAINS. The stage provided a mountain climber's greatest challenge: a category 3, two category 1, and two "beyond categorization" climbs. Perfect for one final showdown among the contenders in the Pyrenees before the Tour de France heads into its final flat stages, the individual time trial, and the parade into Paris.

THEY SPENT THEMSELVES. And it looks like every contender threw himself onto these mountains. Each team worked hard for its leaders. Each rider drove himself heroically. On the last few kilometers of the Col de Aubisque the last of the contenders spent themselves. "It was the hardest day of the Tour de France I've ever ridden," said an exhausted Levi Leipheimer (in center of photo). It sure looked that way.

1, 4, 2, 3, 5. Result? Michael Rasmussen pedaled across the finish line first, followed by Discovery Channel teammates Levi Leipheimer (23 seconds later) and Alberto Contador, then Cadel Evans, then Carlos Sastre--who are placed 1, 4, 2, 3, and 5 respectively. Though they tried, none of these could break Rasmussen on the climb. He survived.

CHICKEN STILL IN YELLOW. The Chicken looks like the best climber, albeit a man with a cloud of suspicion of doping hanging heavy over him, a man who the Tour de France director said yesterday "should never been allowed to enter the race" because of his suspicious pre-race behavior regarding doping (reported only after the race was well underway), a man who has been dropped from his Danish national team, a man who was booed at the start, finish, and all along the way of Stage 16 (photo), and a man who may well wear the Yellow Jersey into Paris on Sunday.


CLEAN TEAMS PROTEST. Before the start of Stage 16, some French and German teams staged a protest (photo). These teams are coming together to form a coalition of teams for clean racing. They vow to make accountability comprehensive, transparent and a priority for the sake of restoring integrity to the sport. Ironically, at the conclusion of the stage, a member of the Cofidis team was ousted from the Tour for testing positive for exogenous testosterone in a random test administered at the end of Stage 11. Christian Moreni is gone...so is the entire Cofidis squad. Such is the nature of the cycling game right now. By the way, show me ANY other professional sport that is doing that!


WHAT'S AHEAD. Barring very strange happenings (and some very strange things have happened in this edition of the Tour de France), the next two stages are predictable. Both are long, flat rides northward in the direction of Paris. All the contenders will hide in the peloton and conserve energy for the last individual time trial on Saturday. Breakaways and sprinters will rule on Thursday and Friday. It will be a day of glory for a few. But the final showdown will occur on Saturday. Will Cadel Evans or Levi Leipheimer or Alberto Contador be able to dislodge the Chicken from his grasp on the Yellow Jersey?

6 comments:

Ole Birch said...

Dear wesleyan bikerfreind
I read your entry on stage 16 and prepared my self to give an angry reply from a danish perspective. Saying "The man har never been found positive in any dopingtest" and "you are just angry that a european is better" and so on. Then, to my great joy, I discovered than you are a fellow wesleyan with a strong interest in social issues. And the whole idea lot its importance.
My name is Ole Birch, i am a minister of the United Methodist Church in Denmark. Nice to have found your blog. Is it OK if I link to it from my blog http://olebirch.blogspot.com?
In Christ

bikehiker said...

Nothing against Danes. Or Europeans. Hey, America's had an alleged doper (or two?) win the Tour. Linking is fine. Peace.

John said...

With Rasmussen now safely in control of the race, what are the chances of additional upsets taking place in these final days? Obviously, a crash or other disastrous event could hurt Rasmussen's chances, but is a breakaway at all possible? What is the etiquette associated the final stage into Paris? How much of a time differential must be present to "respect" the yellow jersey and not attack on the final day?

bikehiker said...

Breakaways are usually "permitted" by the race leaders if they don't involve any cyclists who could possibly upset the standings. Crazy people like Vinokourov have tried it before (with rare success). So, it's not likely a breakaway will change things.

The Individual Time Trial on Saturday is really the only chance to change the standings among the top four. Rasmussen is vulnerable in time trials, but, in defense of the Yellow Jersey, he rode the first ITT of this Tour quite well. Was that a fluke? We'll see.

Cadel Evans (3rd place) is the best time trial competitor of the top four. He could burn up the 55.5 kilometer ITT course...but it is highly doubtful he could erase a 5-minute deficit to the Chicken.

Leipheimer (4th), likewise, can time trial relatively well, but more time to make up than Evans.

Second-place Contador is closest in time and a better time trial rider than Raz, but, still, 3 minutes is a lot to make up.

Rasmussen has not yet had a bad day in the Tour. Even Armstrong had bad days each year. Could the ITT on Saturday be the Chicken's one bad day? Two years ago he did so poorly in the last time trial that he fell from 3rd to 7th place overall.

Protocol on Stage 20 to Paris is not to upset the General Classification apple cart. For crying out loud, they toast with Champaigne (sp?) during the ride! Only the sprinters are free to duke it out on the Champs-Elysees--and they will go at it! Big points and the Green Jersey are up for grabs.

However...American Greg LeMond DID upset the apple cart on the last stage one year. He trailed defending champion Fignon by just a few seconds. LeMond threw caution to the wind and contested for the Yellow Jersey. In what is recorded as one of the fastest stages in Tour de Frane history, LeMond came from behind to win the Tour on the last day in Paris by a matter of seconds (but he wasn't thought of very highly among the French riders, particularly Fignon, because of that). So...if Contador, Evans, or Leipheimer are within 30 seconds...who knows? If they went for it, it would be an all-out war!

As I will be preaching on Sunday while the race rolls into Paris, I'll have to record the finish...hoping for the best.

bikehiker said...

Well, John, the withdrawl of Michael Rasmussen may not be the upset you or I would have imagined, but there it is. Wow.

John said...

As many have already said ... "I am speechless..."