Monday, July 27, 2009


What an interesting race with compelling story lines:

1. The return of Lance Armstrong to the Tour after 3 years of retirement.

2. Lance and 2007 Tour champ Alberto Contador at the top of the strongest team.

3. The duel/rivalry between two American teams--Garmin-Slipstream and Columbia-HTC.

4. The incredible sprinting power of Mark Cavendish--who iced the cake with a 6th stage victory on the Champs Elysees.

5. The Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank of Luxembourg. Andy finished 2nd overall with the sacrificial support of Frank.

6. Epic climbs and mountain-top finishes, particularly at Verbier and Ventoux.

7. The stage George Hincapie should have ridden into the Yellow Jersey but was denied(by just 5 seconds) by now finger-pointing American teams and former teammates.

8. Contador's overall dominance confirmed but significant immaturity exposed.

9. Lance finishing 3rd overall, after sacrificing his chances of contending with Contador for top spot by staying back to mark Bradley Wiggins in Stage 18. Lance showed a grace in this race not previously known.

10. Fabian Cancellara's dominance in individual time trials.

11. Levi Leipheimer crashing out while in 4th place overall.

12. No doping scandals!

Great, clean, well-ridden race.

Friday, July 10, 2009


A few story lines from the first difficult mountain stage with a mountain finish (the most fun to watch/follow):

KUDOS TO THE ESCAPEES. Eight of a group of nine escapees made it to the line ahead of the select bunch who are in real contention for winning the Tour de France. Kudos to Frenchman Brice Feilleu who won Stage 7 and to Italian Rinaldo Nocentini for donning the Yellow Jersey as race leader. Both cyclists were part of a long breakaway group of nine riders who successfully stayed ahead of the peloton all day.

STYING IN CONTENTION. Every legitimate contender to win the race was in the group of cyclists who finished together over three minutes after Feilleu crossed the line: Cadel Evans, Lance Armstrong, Frank Schleck, Levi Leipheimer, Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin, Denis Menchov, Carlos Sastre, Christian Vande Velde. Out of this group (plus one) will come the 2009 Tour de France champion.

CONTADOR MAKES A POWER GRAB. And 20 seconds ahead of this group of contenders was 2007 Tour winner Spaniard Alberto Contador. Contador attacked this select group in the last kilometer, going against this team's plan, to erase his 19-second deficit to teammate Lance Armstrong. The move was likely calculated to give him the Yellow Jersey, but it failed. It moved Contador from third to second place in the overall standings and puts him two seconds ahead of third-place Armstrong.

TIT FOR TAT. Those few seconds may have cost Contador much more. His move was a power grab and a direct assault on/insult to Armstrong. We'll see how Armstrong responds. Contador may have "fired a shot across Armstrong's bow" (to quote VeloNews), but he may have lost the confidence of his teammates and ensured that Armstrong is now free to attack him whenever he feels like it. Interesting team dynamics, eh?

CANCELLARA'S REIGN ENDS. Fabian Cancellara, who has worn the Yellow Jersey since Stage 1, gave it up and will not wear it again in this year's Tour. The Swiss is not enough of a mountain climber to compete with the elite ones. He may win a few more stages, but his leadership of the Tour is over.

JERSEY, JERSEY, WHO WANTS THE JERSEY? Look for the Yellow Jersey to switch backs quite a few times over the next two weeks. Whoever is wearing the Maillot Jaune, watch for the ultimate winner to come from the group listed above. I think it's going to come down to Armstrong and Contador. And my sentimental favorite Armstrong.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


I'm addicted to the Tour de France. There. I've said it.

EVERY JULY. I try to keep a lid on my enthusiasm. I know most folks really don't care to hear about it. They But they hear about it from me anyway. I bend my schedule around it. I read everything I can and tune in to little online video windows to watch early in the morning. I buy expanded cable access for one month to watch the specter. For ten years running now, I've had a mania for the Tour de France.

BEYOND BIKE HIKING. I enjoy bicycling nearly every day, either on my road bike or mountain bike. I participate in regional group cycling events like the Hilly Hundred and NITE Ride. I guess I'm what you'd call a bicycling enthusiast or advocate. I've even ridden 2,000 miles on a bicycle through India. But none of this explains to me the mania that emerges full force when the Tour de France rolls around each July.

FIRST WATCH. I began following the Tour closely after reading an article in Bicycling magazine about Lance Armstrong's bout with cancer and his upcoming attempt to ride the Tour de France. I followed that first post-cancer campaign with real interest, unaware of the nature of the Tour de France, the terms the announcers used (peloton, escape, breakaway, wheel sucker, bonking, etc.), or the real test of stamina and power it represented. By the end of it, however, I was hooked.

TEN-YEAR ADDICTION. It's been a decade of this July enthusiasm. Who would've imagined Lance Armstrong winning seven Tours in a row? Even after the American disappeared from the scene, my intense interest held. No doubt, the presence of real American contenders in the Tour like Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vande Velde, kept me particularly interested. But now the return of Armstrong to the Tour heightens my interest significantly.

SEARCHNG FOR SOURCES. My mania must be some combination of love for cycling, recognition of the pain and struggle of being in the saddle long hours and struggling up steeps, the complexity of the Tour's diverse stages and format, the incredible beauty of the countrysides, villages, and mountains of the Tour, the team strategies, the unexpected breakthroughs and turns in the drama of the race, the presence of Americans in a European-dominated sport, and the post-cancer feat of Lance Armstrong. It all adds up.

GOTTA GO... I'd write more, but Stage 7 is underway. I don't want to miss what could be the defining stage of this year's event. It's the first day in the mountains. The long stage has a Category 1 mountain climb in the middle and a Hors Categorie--beyond categorization--mountain climb at the end. Armstrong said yesterday that this stage "separates the contenders from the pretenders." We'll see where he stands in that assessment. If he's a real contender, he could be wearing the Maillot Jaune--the yellow jersey of the overall race leader--at the of the day. We'll see!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


FAUX STORY LINES. Lance Armstrong's return to the Tour de France was thought to be a novelty. The story had nice lines to it. A has-been champion coming out of retirement to once more ride in the race he once dominated. A senior on the PGA tour. Michael Jordan trying to get back in the game. A publicity stunt for cancer research. What harm could it do? You really couldn't take him too seriously. He was along for the ride.
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THE JESTER STRIKES AGAIN. Some of these are story lines Lance himself has perpetuated since announcing his intention to come out of "retirement" last fall. And once again, the Texan with an unquenchable desire to dominate and a chip on his shoulder half a mile wide, along with a seasoned ability to seduce his rivals and the press with bait-and-switch tactics, has turned the tables. The jester strikes again.

TO BE RECKONED WITH. Four stages into the 21-stage Tour, Armstrong has emerged as the virtual leader and positioned himself as the man to beat. Again. Whether or not he ultimately wins is beside the point. The point is, Lance is back in full force, full physical capacity, full intimidating control. He is the man who will be reckoned with. Like it or not.

MAKING ADVANTAGE. By taking--or making--advantage in an opportune breakaway in Stage 3, Armstrong put himself into serious contention, moving from 10th to 3rd place. After Team Astana's dominating ride to win the Stage 4 Team Time Trial on Tuesday, it moved five riders into the top ten positions and severely diminished the chances of some of the Tour's top contenders. More importantly, it brought Armstrong to within 2 hundredths of a second of donning the Yellow Jersey.

THE WAY IT IS. Fabian Cancellara will wear the Maillot Jaune for a few more days. But Cancellara cannot climb mountains well. The Swiss champion is not in contention to win the Tour. Armstrong is the virtual Tour leader. Any doubts about that will only fuel his anger and bring humbling consequences to the riders and teams who seek to prove otherwise. Apparently, that's just the way a Tour with a healthy Lance Armstrong in it is.

FORGET ONE STORY LINE. No doubt, several main story lines remain. The rivalry between Armstrong and Alberto Contador is real and will play out. Astana's ability to hold together amid that rivalry is real. Armstrong's ability to respond to attacks in the mountains from contenders is a question mark. But forget the story line about the old man who made a cameo appearance in the most demanding sporting event in the world.

Monday, July 6, 2009


So, we have several stories developing after just three stages of the 2009 Tour de France.

CAVENDISH ROMPS. One story is of a young British sprinter named Mark Cavendish: He's won, hands down, the first two sprint finishes of the Tour. He's the man to beat when it comes down to a bunch sprint for the line. Will anyone rival him for the Green Jersey?

LANCE INTO 3RD PLACE. Another story is about you know who...Lance Armstrong. By getting into a successful breakaway of two dozen or so escapees about 30 km from the finish in a particularly windy section of the course in Monday's Stage 3, Armstrong gathered about 40 seconds from his rivals. He leapfrogged from 10th place to 3rd place in the General Classification contest (the rider with the best time).

RIVAL TEAMMATES. What's more, Armstrong took an 11-second lead over his own teammate and former Tour de France winner Alberto Contador. There is speculation of an intense intra-team rivalry between Armstrong and Contador, and today's action on the course did nothing to diminish that. Who will lead Astana into the mountains? We'll see.

TTT ON TUESDAY. Interesting scenario: Tuesday, Stage 4, is a Team Time Trial. Astana is expected to win it. If they do, and if their time is at least 40 seconds better than that of Columbia-HTC and Saxo Bank, then Lance Armstrong will be wearing the Yellow Jersey tomorrow evening. We'll see if it happens.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


AND...THEY'RE OFF! Great start to what will be a dramatic Tour de France. American Lance Armstrong set the early pace in this individual time trial through beautiful Monaco. Teammate Levi Leipheimer set the mark to beat. And only the top contenders, riding last, met and beat the challenge. As expected, Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara bested everyone. 2007 champion Alberto Contador finished strong, as did Cadel Evans of Australia, last year's 2nd-place finisher. The ITT did its work of separating contenders from supporters.

TOP TEN. Here's the top ten after Stage 1:

Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank 0:19:32
Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:00:18
Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:00:19
Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:00:22
Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto 0:00:23
Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 0:00:30
Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas 0:00:32
Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC 0:00:33
Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 0:00:37
Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:00:40

LANCE WATCH. I think Lance will finish in the top five of the Tdf, for sure. He rode conservatively today to a 10th-place finish. If the dude gets angry (and it won't take too much to make him angry), he can win it.

HOW IT WILL DEVELOP. Don't look for anything to happen in the first week, except for sprinters to duke it out on fantastic finishes. Don't expect much separation among the contenders in the second, which includes climbs through the Pyrenees mountains. The third week...will be wild. The Alps will tell all. And the next to the last stage (the day before Paris) is the climb to Mount Ventoux. This is the queen stage of this year's route. Hearts will break. Legs will fail. Men will cry. Heroes will be made. This is what makes the TdF the legend that it is.

ASTANA: GREAT...OR FRAGILE? Astana is loaded. Four riders are placed in the top 10 after Stage 1. Leipheimer, Armstrong, Contador, and Andreas Kloden each could be leaders on any other team. Each can time trial, each can climb, each is a proven winner. But can they work together? Will they? A few years ago, Ullrich, Kloden and Vinokourov (each capable of winning) were stacked on a team and they blew up in division in the mountains. No good chemistry between Contador and Armstrong. Armstrong's loyalties lie with...Armstrong. I'll be very surprised if we see him work for Alberto. Watch that rivalry.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Hard to believe it's that time of year again. School's out, summer's beginning, June is half over, and the best endurance athletes in the world are gearing up for the greatest sporting event in the world. Yes, I am biased. Yes, I'm a little bit crazy. But, no, I am not kidding. It's time for the 2009 Tour de France. We'll celebrate Independence Day on July 4 in America. In France, July 4 kicks off the first of 21 day-long stages that will take over 180 professional cyclists across more than 2,000 miles of terrain. The rider with the least accumulated time will don the Maillot Jaune, the Yellow Jersey, as the best of the best.

This year's Tour de France is a wide open race with lots of legitimate contenders, four past winners, and the returning presence of seven-time TdF winner Lance Armstrong. Over the next three weeks, I'll share what I'm reading and gleaning from professional cycling journals and news outlets to set up the race. After each stage, I'll share my own reflections and comments and updates. I hope to make a few more fans of the Tour de France out of this little mania of mine. If nothing else, it's an outlet for my own enthusiasm for the event. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I've been tracking the Tour of California...and wishing I were there

ON SUCH A WINTER'S DAY. While we're dealing with the continuing winter with freezing temperatures in the American Midwest, cyclists have been racing through sunny California. It hasn't all been warm and sunny--take last Sunday's Stage 1 day-long downpour, for example. But it certainly has been a beautiful Tour of California to follow online and on Versus TV.

LEIPHEIMER TO THREEPEAT? American Levi Leipheimer leads the race heading into its final stages. Should he hang on to the lead, it would be his 3rd straight ToC victory. Lance Armstrong's comeback bid is playing out well; the 7-time Tour de France champion is in 6th place after the prologue and five stages.

MAYBE NEXT YEAR. Wish I were there. It would be great to be in Pasadena on Saturday afternoon when the best cyclists in the world roll in from an 89-mile ride from Santa Clarita. Maybe I can plan a vacation for this week next year and follow what has become America's premier professional cycling race (folks who oversee the Tour of Georgia may argue with me about that). Follow the Tour of California and Lance Armstrong's comeback at

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!