LAST WEEK, THIS WEEK. My twice-a-day speaking schedule at the West Virginia camp, along with trying to get in some afternoon road and mountain bike riding in those beautiful mountains and limited Internet accessed shut me out of daily updates on the last week's stages of the Tour. But I'm "back home again in Indiana" and ready to track the last week of the closest Tour de France in recent memory!
CHAMPIONSHIP UP FOR GRABS. Who'd have thought that less than a minute would separate the top six contenders after 15 stages? More than that, only eight seconds separate race leader Frank Schleck of Luxemburg, Bernhard Kohl of Germany and Cadel Evans of Australia. Back only 38 seconds is Denis Menchov of Russia. Down only 39 seconds is American Christian VandeVelde. Spaniard Carlos Sastre is at 49 seconds. And there are three others within still within striking distance. We're looking at a very exciting week at the top of the leaderboard.
TWO MORE MOUNTAIN STAGES. The outcome of this year's race rests on two more mountan stages and then, on Saturday, an individual time trial. Tomorrow, the cyclists tackle two highest category (HC) climbs, including the highest point in this year's Tour. On Wednesday they face three HC climbs, including a mountain top finish on the fabled L'Alpe d'Huez. While there are categorized climbs during Thursday and Friday's stages, nothing's there to separate the contenders. Wednesday is do or die day! It will be epic!
INDIVIDUAL TIME TRIAL ON SATURDAY. If Cadel Evans can remain within 30 seconds of the lead going into Saturday's Stage 20 Individual Time Trial, he could well be this year's winner. He's, by far, the best time trialer of the top ten contenders. Only Denis Menchov and Christian VandeVelde can match his time in the ITT. Frank Schleck and Bernhard Kohl finished minutes behind Evans in the Stage 4 ITT. But, you never know...
DOPERS OUT. Emerging Italian phenom Riccardo Ricco, after winning two stages in this year's Tour, is out--along with his whole Saunier-Duval team--after his urine test revealed EPO. A Barloworld rider got caught, too. No room for cheaters in the Tour de France. Let's keep cleaning it up, leveling the playing field, and restoring integrity to the sport.
MARK CAVENDISH - FOUR STAGE WINS. The young British rider riding for American Team Columbia made quite a name for himself by winning four sprint-finishes stages in this year's Tour. Few cyclists can do this. Let's see if he repeats the feat next year.