Saturday, July 5, 2008


POWERFUL UPHILL FINISH. Alejandro Valverde made a strong statement about his intentions for winning the 95th Tour de France. On the 1 km uphill finish of a rolling 197.5-kilometer race, the Spaniard broke out of the leading group, powerfully out-kicking all competitors to win Stage 1 going away. Tour contenders Cadel Evans and Kim Kirchen were in the leading group, but they were no match for Valverde's explosion of power on this day.

STAKING A CLAIM. So, Valverde, the only rider in this Tour de France to have previously won a stage in a head-to-head mountain climb against Lance Armstrong, stakes his claim in this year's Tour. The recently-crowned Spanish national champ and winner of this year's Dauphine Libere, dons the Yellow Jersey of the overall race leader. Will he be able to keep it throughout the next 20 stages? Or was it enough, for now, to serve notice on Evans, Kirchen, Sastre and other contenders? We'll see.

SOLER RECOVERS, BUT HIS BID IS JEOPARDIZED. One of the top contenders was involved in a crash that jeopardizes his chances of winning the Tour. Maurico Soler of Columbia was able to finish the stage, but rolled across the line over 3 minutes after Valverde and the peloton. He may have reinjured a wrist broken in the Giro d'Italia. Soler was last year's Polka-dot Jersey winner, indicating he was the best climber--King of the Mountains.

EIGHT ESCAPEES CAUGHT. The stage featured a day-long breakaway by 8 solid riders, including a few former stage winners like Thomas Voekler and Stephen Auge. Working together, they sprang ahead of the peloton by as much as 8 minutes at one point. But the peloton picked up the pace and steadily reeled the last of the escapees in within 2 km of the finish line. That's a classic maneuver you will repeatedly see during the Tour. Under certain conditions, the peloton will allow a few riders to spring ahead (escape) early in the stage. However, the team leaders in the peloton will decide when it's time to chase the escapees down. It's carefully calculated to catch the escapees before the finish line. Sometimes, however, the peloton waits too long or the escapees work together or are strong enough to stay away and win the stage. It's interesting strategy to observe.

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