Sunday, July 25, 2010


He did it one more time.  And on the world's biggest cycling stage.

Mark Cavendish, the young sprinter from Manx in Great Britain, showed for the fifth time in this Tour de France that he's the best sprinter currently competing in Pro Cycling, crossing the finish line of the final stage in Paris ahead of all rivals.

Cavendish did not win the Green Jersey for points amassed in sprints throughout the 20 stages of the Tour.  That honor goes to Alessandro Pettachi, the Italian who won two stages and placed high enough in every other sprint finish to snag the jersey.  But Pettachi and every other sprinter knows Cavendish is the best of the bunch.

As expected, Spaniard Alberto Contador has won his third Tour de France, his second in a row.  Unexpectedly, he won it by the narrowest of margins over Andy Schleck of Luxembourg.  Contador took advantage of Schleck (then wear the Yellow Jersey of the race leader) when Schleck's chain jammed at a critical moment on a mountain stage.  Contador's action has raised controversy because it defied protocol: you don't attack the Yellow Jersey when he has a mechanical problem). Whether or not Contador played fair, he has been declared the champ and is due the honor.

Schleck settles for 2nd place and Best Young Rider recognition. Schleck is 25.

Team Radioshack wins the Best Team competition, with its top three finishers in each stage averaging a better time than any other team in the Tour.  Radioshack is an American-based team that included three Americans of the nine-member squad: Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner.

For the last time, Lance Armstrong rolled onto the Champs Elysees as a participant in the Tour de France.  Thanks for the memories and inspiration, Lance.  Armstrong faced and fought through cancer, survived it, overcame its impact, and has given back like none other.  He is a vigorous worldwide advocate with and for all who grapple with cancer.

Even on this last stage, Armstrong found a way for his team to highlight the challenge of fighting cancer. Team Radioshack all donned "28" jerseys for the start of the race.  They were ordered to removed them (on TV) before the racing commenced.  But the point was made: there are 28 million people in the world living with cancer and now's the time to intensify the fight to find cures and improve therapies.

It's been a fun three weeks.  Nothing like the Tour de France.  Hope you enjoyed the ride.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Remember that number: 39.

It's the number of seconds by which Alberto Contador of Spain finished Stage 19 ahead of Andy Schleck of Luxembourg in the General Classification, or overall standings of this year's Tour de France.

It's also the exact number of seconds which Contador gained on Schleck when he took advantage of Schleck's mechanical problem in the first Pyreneean mountain stage.  Following the Yellow Jersey-wearing Schleck on the last climb of that stage, Contador saw his chain come off, raced past him and did his best to leave Schleck in the dust.  Schleck had led Contador by 31 seconds at the beginning of that stage; when it ended, he trailed the new race leader by 8 seconds.

Now, after stage 19's individual time trial, 39 seconds is Contador's margin of victory over Schleck for the Tour de France championship.

39 seconds that were gained in a way most professional cyclists disrespect.  It is protocol to not attack the race leader, the wearer of the Yellow Jersey, if he (1) has a crash, (2) has a mechanical failure, or is (3) responding to the call of nature.

Though Contador has apologized for his actions and Andy Schleck has accepted his fate, the difference in the outcome of this year's Tour hinges on those 39 seconds.

Reminds me of the title of one of Lance Armstrong's books: Every Second Counts.

Friday, July 23, 2010


I guess all good things eventually have to come to an end.  So, the third and final weekend of the 23-day spectacle in bicycle racing approaches.  I find that my enthusiasm for this annual drama over hill and dale has not waned in a decade.  It still fascinates, even though the originating interest--an unlikely American who is also a cancer survivor winning the event year after year--has faded from glory.  Whoever takes top place on the podium on the Champs Elysees on Sunday, here are 7 things I take from this year’s edition of the Tour de France:

1. Anticipation that 7-time consecutive winner, last year’s 3rd-place finisher, and 38-year old father Lance Armstrong could possibly win one more was a compelling storyline through the first week.  However, when Armstrong punctured a tire at a critical moment on cobblestones in one stage and then crashed three times in another to lose significant time to the other race leaders, his dream ended.  To his tribute, he stayed in the race and supported his teammates.  He even led a breakaway group to the top of Col du Tourmalet on Tuesday.  It’s been an incredible ride for the Texan.  I hope he’s cheered resoundingly in Paris on Sunday. 

2. Andy Schleck of Luxembourg and defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain have provided a great story of rivalry throughout these weeks.  Their rivalry took a nasty turn on Monday when Contador took advantage of a mechanical failure on Schleck’s bike to wrest the Yellow Jersey from the 25-year-old.  It took a better turn on Thursday when the two dueled valiantly on the second ascent of Tourmalet and hugged each other at the mountain-top finish line.  Schleck may not win this Tour, but he has won the hearts of many cycling enthusiasts worldwide.

3. Alberto Contador is likely to win his third Tour de France on Sunday.  He is currently ahead of Schleck by 8 seconds, but he is better at time trial racing, which is the venue for Saturday’s stage 19.  If he has the ride of a lifetime and Contador is mediocre in that time trial, it is feasible for Scheck to overtake Contador, but not likely.  For numerous reasons, I am not a fan of Contador, but he appears to be the man to beat in this chapter of the Tour de France and, in a way similar to Lance Armstrong, may be so for years to come. 

4. Americans have had mixed results in the Tour de France this year.  With Lance’s crashes, Levi Leipheimer had an opportunity to move into podium position (he’s placed third before).  But his climbing did not kept pace with others in the top ten; on Thursday he crested Tourmalet 8 minutes after Schleck and Contador.  American team leader for Garmin-Transitions Christian Vande Velde left the Tour early due to injuries in crashes.  On the other hand, Chris Horner of Team Radioshack is now in the top ten and looks to hold the most promise for an American on the Tour de France podium next year. 

5. French cyclists are experiencing a revival and celebration in their home country during this Tour.  Together, they have won by far the most stages, particularly in the mountains.  Of note are Sylvan Chavanel (two stage wins and a spell in the Yellow Jersey), Pierrick Fedrigo, Christophe Riblon and Thomas Voekler.  Also, Anthony Charteau will win the King of the Mountains competition, wearing the Polka-dot Jersey into Paris.  Glad to see French cyclists emerging again. 

6. Mark Cavendish, the young and very talented sprinter from Great Britain, sputtered at the start this Tour de France, then began to dominate the stages that offered sprint finishes.  He’s won four of the seven sprint-finishing stages.  One more are on tap—the grand finale on the Champs Elysees on Sunday.  He’s not yet wearing the Green Jersey, but a win in Paris could make him the sprint champ. 

7. More than anything else, crashes defined this Tour de France.  The first week saw numerous crashes and caused the exit of some of the top contenders and specialists, including Christian Vande Velde and Frank Schleck.  Armstrong, whose crashes in previous Tours had been very few, was involved in no fewer than five crashes this year.  What’s happening to cause that?  A good question for Tour organizers as they plan next year’s course. 

I will be watching on TV or the Internet as the Tour de France rolls into Paris on Sunday.  Someday, I hope to be in France during July to follow the Tour stage by stage.  Yeah, I’ll probably be one of those crazy people running alongside the cyclists as they toil to the top of Tourmalet or L’Alpe d’Huez.  It’s on my bucket list.  That, and to ride a few of the more difficult stages of this, the greatest spectacle in racing (sorry, Indy).


Out of the mountains, on to the flats and a sprint finish.  And at the line it's... it's...

...the Man from Manx.

Mark Cavendish again out-powered all rivals across the finish line of Stage 18 for his 4th stage win in this year's edition of the Tour de France.

With the points garnered from this win, the Brit moved himself closer into contention for the Green Jersey.  He has 197 points, Norway's Thor Hushovd has 203, and Italy's Alessandro Pettachi has 207.

So, the contest for bragging rights as the best sprinter will not be settled until Sunday in Paris on the Champs Elysees, where 34 points will be up for grabs.  Cavendish can win it, but only if he finishes numerous places ahead of Pettachi and Hushovd.

Regardless of whether or not he claims the Green Jersey, Cavendish's four stage wins have clearly established him as the dominant sprinter in the Tour de France for the second year in a row.

There was no change in the General Classification standings: Alberto Contador has an 8-second lead over Andy Schleck headed into tomorrow's 52-kilometer individual time trial.  It will be Schleck's last chance to win the Tour and Contador's chance to win with emphasis.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


It was epic.  That's just about all one can say.

It all came down to this.  The two main rivals, the two Tour de France leaders, dueling it out alone in the mist and fog during the last ten kilometers on never-before contested steeps of fabled Tourmalet.

All the other contenders seemed to know this was not about them.  Their best efforts would be minutes short of what was taking place up the road from them.

No other cyclists witnessed what was going on between Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador.  Just the fans. Just jubilant, frenzied, crazy, cycling-loving fans.  Pressing in on the two leaders, running alongside them, waving flags, shouting encouragements, thousands of fans fueled the tandems' energy.

Schleck and Contador steadily, painfully threaded the human gauntlet.  Schleck led the way, repeatedly looking back at Contador to see if there were signs of weakness, assessing how he might vanquish his rival.  Contador did not waver.

Contador attacked.  Within a hundred feet Schleck was at his side, glaring into Contador's eyes, and then leading again with Contador on his back wheel.

On that incline, after so long a climb, neither rider seemed capable of pulling away.  Contador followed Schleck across the finish line, as if being dragged, just as he had been dragged by the Luxembourger the entire climb.

And then the magnanimous act.  Schleck reached out to put his arm around his rival.  And Contador reciprocated.  Moments later, off their bikes, they hugged.  Perhaps new mutual respect?

Schleck won the stage.  Contador survived it.

Schleck proved his dominance in the mountains.  Contador will, in all likelihood, go on to win the Tour de France, if by a handful of seconds.

At the end of this day, one has to simply pay homage to two great contenders who battled to the end and then shook hands.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Lance Armstrong holds a frowning Max, his youngest child, on a rest day break.  Is this the look Armstrong gave Jan Ullrich back in the day?


It was a quiet day in the resort town of Pau.  Well, sort of.

No, the Tour de France didn't roll, but was that thunder we heard approaching from the distance of tomorrow?

Yes, the riders trained and tested and gave media interviews. but there must have been a pensive anticipation of Thursday: the last day in the mountains, an unprecedented second climb up a steeper pass of Tourmalet, and the question of whether, when and how second-place Andy Schleck would erase his 8-second deficit to Alberto Contador.

Thursday's stage 17 will likely determine the winner of this year's edition of the Tour de France.  If Contador and Schleck finish the day together, then Contador will have it all but sewn up.  But if Schleck bests Contador by 30 seconds or more on the Tourmalet, the scales tip toward the Luxembourger.  The wild cards Denis Menchov and Samuel Sanchez could pull an upset on the day, but they would have to finish at least 2 minutes ahead of either Contador or Schleck to move up to second or first place.

So, watch and listen for a storm on the mountain on Thursday. And may the best man win.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


France's string of stage win's in this year's Tour de France continues.

Today it was Pierrick Fedrigo's turn to cross the finish line first among an impressive breakaway group of 8 that included one Lance Armstrong and fellow American and Radioshack compatriot Chris Horner.

Armstrong orchestrated and led the breakaway group over the highest category Tourmalet and on into Pau. The group finished together more than six minutes ahead of a strung-out peloton.

Armstrong's strength in the breakaway and power on these steps erased questions about whether or not the old man still had it in him for mountains like the Pyrenees.

Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck marked one another and there was no change in the top five standings at the end of stage 16.

Fireworks await, however Thursday's stage 17.  Tuesday's rest day is the lull before the storm.  It is very likely the championship of the 2010 Tour de France will be settled on the second and steeper climb to Tourmalet.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Now we know what kind of a man Alberto Contador is.

The kind who throws race etiquette to the wind to get a little advantage.

The kind who attacks the Yellow Jersey wearer as soon as he sees he has a chain coming off on the biggest climb of the day.

The kind who would rather take the low road to be the race leader by seconds than one admired for becoming champion fair and square.

If Contador holds on to win this year's Tour de France, we will always remember him not as the deserving champion he might have been, but as the small man who took advantage of his rival's momentary misforturne to wrest the Yellow Jersey.

So, kudos to France's Thomas Voekler (pictured in a photo by Graham Watson), who scampered away from all cyclists on the last and highest category climb after being part of a day-long 10-man breakaway.  Again, it's another stage win for France.  The French are enjoying an unprecedented revival of stage winners (particularly in the mountains) this year.

And raspberries to Contador.

Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, who started the day in the Yellow Jersey and 31 seconds ahead of Contador, is now 8 seconds behind the Spaniard.  But, more importantly, as a result of Contador's glory-grab, Schleck has instantly become the overwhelming favorite of more fans everywhere.  He will have that morale-boost with him has he continues this contest to the finish.

Schleck has vowed to take his revenge in the mountains ahead.  I hope he succeeds.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


There were plenty of fireworks on the first two major climbs in the Pyrenees mountains.  But no shake-up of the Tour de France leaders, as many had expected.

Instead, a 29-year-old Frenchman named Christophe Riblon made the most of his participation in a day-long breakaway and attacked his rivals on the steeps of the highest-category Port de Pailheres.  Riblon cleared the peak first, flew down the mountain and held on to his lead during the steep climb to Axe3-Domaines.

Riblon solidified the impression the French riders are making on this Tour de France.  Thus far, the French have won more stages than in any Tour in recent history.

Riblon stayed ahead of the cat-and-mouse game that was taking place between Yellow Jersey wearer Andy Schleck and second-placed Alberto Contador.  Contador repeatedly attacked Schleck, who stuck to his wheel like glue. Ultimately, the two had to call a truce because fourth-place Denis Menchov took advantage of their epic duel to charge ahead and cut into their lead. At the end of the climb, Menchov and third-place Samuel Sanchez cut only a few seconds into the leaders' times.

USA's Levi Leipheimer's chances of a podium finish took a bit of hit, as he lost more precious seconds to Schleck and fell further behind Menchov and Sanchez.  Nothing that can't be overcome, but Levi, currently in 7th place, is going to have to have a breakout stage to move up the standings.

I'm still anticipating, also, that Lance Armstrong will try to claim a stage in his last competitive ride through the fabled Pyrenees.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


He was thrown out of the Tour de France three years ago for using illegal blood transfusions to give him the edge over his rivals.  With him, the entire Astana team was expelled.  He denied his guilt and has never confessed it.  He served his two-year ban from professional cycling.  The Kazakhstan-based Astana team he originally formed was prevented from riding in the tour in 2008, preventing Tour de France champ Alberto Contador from defending his 2007 title.

And yet there was Alexandr Vinokourov: admitted back into the Tour de France and riding alongside Contador.  No one has ever denied his abilities.  But no one will ever know which of his efforts were drug-assisted or transfusion-enabled.  Since he never confessed what he did and since he never cooperated to help expose and end other doping, I must ask: why is he riding in the Pro Tour.  And why is an "all's forgiven" approach taken by Tour organizers and the news media?

For me, it's not about forgiveness.  It's about integrity of a sport with a dangerously-low integrity quotient.

All I can say is: on this day, an ex-doper won a stage of the Tour de France.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


It was a stage perfectly designed for a massive bunch sprint to the finish line.  And it delivered.

After over 200 kilometers of riding, the front of the peloton accelerated to over 30 mph over its last five kilometers.  All the contenders for the Green Jersey or a day's sprint glory lined up their teams.   The cyclists jostled for position for themselves or for their designated finish man.

At the line, it was Great Britain's Mark Cavendish who used the advantage of a great lead-out and again clearly  out-pedaled his rivals to claim his third stage win in a week during this Tour de France.

Without a doubt, Cavendish deserves the Stage 11 victory.  However, he will be without the services of his lead-out man Mark Renshaw when the next bunch sprint opportunity occurs.  Renshaw was overly aggressive during the final kilometer of the sprint and head-butted a competitor in his effort to make a way for Cavendish amid heavy traffic. Tour de France officials expelled Renshaw from the race for his actions.

Sprinter Alessandro Pettachi of Italy placed ahead of Thor Hushovd again today, giving him enough points to wrest the Green Jersey from Hushovd.  Robbie McEwen is now third and Cavendish is 4th in the contest for the maillot vert.  This battle within the Tour will likely not be settled until the Champs Elysees in Paris.

No change in the General Classification standings.  All the top 10 finished where they started the day.  It looks like the contest for the Yellow Jersey will not be tested until Sunday--the first day in the Pyrenees mountains.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Even though Lance Armstrong is no longer a contender to win this Tour de France, don't think for a minute Team RadioShack will concede anything until the race is over.  Sergio Paulinho's Stage 10 victory indicates RadioShack is very much interested in stage wins and Paulinho's victory will spur the team on.

RadioShack are also embroiled with the Caisse-d'Espargne team in the Best Team competition.  This contest measures the total times of all team members against other teams.  In other words, who has the fastest overall team--top to bottom?  Currently, RadioShack trail Caisse-d'Espargne by only 31 seconds.  Pride's at stake and RadioShack has bragged it brought the strongest team to the Tour.  We'll see.

And don't think for a second that Lance Armstrong and Team Director Johann Bruyneel won't do everything possible to get Levi Leipheimer at least a third-place podium finish in Paris.  Leipheimer (from Montana) is in currently 6th place overall--3 minutes and 59 seconds behind race leader Andy Schleck.  Leipheimer is a well-balanced cyclist, a proven team leader and champion of many multiple-stage races.  He is able to stay with Schleck and Contador in the mountains.  He will likely ride the Stage 19 time trial better than any of the top 5-placed cyclists.  Getting to 3rd place is readily within reach.  He needs a break, however, to erase the existing time gap to Schleck and Contador.  Team strategy in the Pyrenees can make the difference.  I anticipate seeing that.

I also anticipate seeing Lance Armstrong try to win a stage in the Pyrenees during this, his last, Tour de France. He's won many a stage in the Pyrenees over the years.  I hope he will do so one more time.  And, in the process, I can imagine him coming alongside Contador and challenging him to a duel to the top of Tourlemet.  Wouldn't that be epic?  Up and coming champ vs outgoing champ.  I'm voting for that scenario.


Tradition says that a native son of France is supposed to try his best to win the stage of the Tour de France that falls on Bastille Day, July 14--France's premier national holiday.

So, Pierre Rolland and Jerome Pineau of France were in a breakaway group that pulled away from the peloton early in Stage 10.  The breakaway group would stay clear of the peloton on the last day in the Alps.  The main group of riders seemed completely disinterested in chasing down the escapees--none of which were a threat to the GC (overall) standings.

However, there's another tradition on Bastille Day.  It's that as hard as a Frenchman will try to win the day, a son from every other nation will try just as hard to steal the show.

And that's what Sergio Paulinho of Team Radioshack did.  The Portuguese rider outkicked his breakaway companions at the line to grab the glory for the day.  It is Paulinho's first Tour de France stage win and the first stage win for Team Radioshack, the team Lance Armstrong put together after last year's Tour de France.

The best-placed Frenchmen for the day: Pierre Rolland crossed the finish line in 4th place.  Perhaps more importantly, Jerome Pineau battled to the crest of several mountain passes during this stage to reclaim the Polka-dot Jersey designating its wearer as "King of the Mountains."

Looking ahead

The Tour leaves the Alps and makes its away across the southern section of France.  It will cross a mildly hilly area called the Central Massif.

The next several stages will be opportunities for sprinters to duke it out over the last few kilometers to claim wins and points toward the Green Jersey.  Currently, Norway's Thor Hushovd wears the maillot vert, but clings to it by only a few points.  Italy's Alessandro Pettachi and Great Britain's Mark Cavendish are both vying to wear it by Tour's end.  If the points are close, it could be a blood bath on the Champs Elysees on July 25.

All the pre-race speculators said this Tour de France would be won in the Pyrenees.  These mountains offer steep, hot climbs on the border between France and Spain.  The Pyrenees will greet the cyclists this weekend and again on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.  Each of these stages look withering.
Who knows what inspirations and humiliations the Pyrenees peaks will produce?  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It is clear now.

The best rider in the mountains, the one who is ready to put the pressure on and attack his rivals at will on the hardest climbs--not just once, but repeatedly, day after day--is Andy Schleck of Luxembourg.

Schleck led all General Classification rivals--including defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador--up the Col de Madeleine and then led the chase to reel in remnants of the day-long breakaway group.  Though Sandy Casar crossed the finish line first to win Stage 9 in the Alps, it was Schleck who defined the day--and perhaps the many days that follow.

Cadel Evans spent only a day in the Yellow Jersey.  The Australian was unable to keep with the other contenders because of pain in the wrist he fractured in his crash with Lance Armstrong on Sunday's Stage 8.  Evans is now likely out of contention for the Tour victory.

The top of the GC standings shuffled quite a bit with this stage (see the top 10 in the right sidebar).  The contest for the Yellow Jersey really comes down to those who are within 3 and a half minutes of Schleck.  Contador is 41 seconds behind Schleck. Another Spaniard, Samuel Sanchez, trails him.  USA's Levi Leipheimer is in 6th place, a tick under 4 minutes behind Schleck.

The race is shaping up to a showdown between Schleck and Contador. Can Andy Schleck get enough time advantage on Contador to overcome Contador's superiority in the Stage 19 long Individual Time Trial the day before the Tour rolls into Paris?  We'll see.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Monday is the first Rest Day for the Tour de France competitors.  "Rest" is relative.  They WILL be on their bikes and on the roads for several hours.  But it will not be like riding at break-neck speeds and attacking mountains in a rush to the top.

It's been a whirlwind of a week for the Tour.  Crazy, really.  I'll post some Rest Ray reflections a bit later today.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


It was a bad day at the office for Lance Armstrong. A very bad day.

A crash with Cadel Evans within the first 6 kilometers of Stage 8.  A fall when he got clipped going around a roundabout.  And a third tumble trying to avoid another crash at a critical moment at the base of the last mountain climb of the day.

By the time he was back on his bike and pedaling, his rivals were long gone--way up the mountain.  Some of his team members escorted him up the climb, but it was clear to Armstrong and to all: his bid to win an 8th Tour de France at the age of 38 was over.  You can't make up that kind of time.

He finished the stage over 11 minutes after Andy Schleck won it, after Cadel Evans rolled across 10 seconds later to claim the Yellow Jersey.

Armstrong declared after the stage that the Tour is over as far as his own aspirations for a podium finish are concerned.  He was quick to state that he will stay with the RadioShack team in support of teammate Levi Leipheimer.  Leipheimer is in 8th place overall and a little over 2 minutes behind Evans.

So, the first pure mountain stage was a game changer. More difficult mountain climbs await the contenders--two more days in the Alps and four mountain stages in the Pyrenees.  There will be more crashes.  There will be more fireworks.  There will be more heartbreak.  There will be more glory.

I thought Armstrong demonstrated a good degree of grace, given his frustrations of the day and the loss of much that he has pursued over the past year.  Good for him.

Since he is no longer a contender, might he go for one more mountaintop stage win?  I'd like to see that.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Here are four to watch as the Tour de France begins to tackle the more difficult Alps mountains, left to right: Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck, Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong.  These are the top four favorites; the 2010 Tour winner will, almost without at doubt, be one of these.  All have stood on the podium in Paris, either as champion, runner-up or third-place finisher.  All are very solid mountain climbers.  Their first opportunity to flex their muscle comes on Sunday.  We'll see if they just mark each other or if one takes advantage of the others.


True grit gets Frenchman his second chance to lead

Apparently the taste and feel of the Yellow Jersey he wore on Stage 3 motivated him.  Though two punctures on Stage 3 doomed his hopes of wearing the Maillot Jaune for more than a day, Sylvan Chavanel stayed within striking distance of the race lead over the next few stages.

Today, with the Tour moving into the Alps' first categorized climbs (not the monsters the riders will face in coming days), Chavanel took off on a breakaway on the last climb and propelled himself to the stage win.

With multiple-stage Yellow Jersey wearer Fabian Cancellara (no mountain climber) suffering off the back of the peloton, Chavanel's gritty stage win also earned him the coveted Yellow Jersey.  How good it must feel for the Frenchman.

The heat seemed like it was unbearable, taking a toll on the peloton.  Riders were spread all over the last mountain, trickling in for 30 minutes after Chavanel triumphantly crossed the line.  Hope all these get a good night's rest and are ready for what greets them in the morning.

No significant changes in the General Classification competition.

Though Chavanel wears Yellow, he is not a threat for the overall Tour victory.  Behind him, all the race favorites finished Stage 7 together: Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck, Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Denis Menchov, Bradley Wiggins, Aleksandr Vinokourov.

Sunday is the first chance for a shake-up in this group of elite contenders.  Five mountain climbs, including two Category 1 (next to highest category) monsters await.  I look for at least one among these cyclists to make a run to the top to try to put some time on his rivals.  Fireworks on Sunday!

Friday, July 9, 2010


Apparently, yesterday was no fluke.

Mark Cavendish of Great Britain is back on top of his sprint game.  For the second day in a row, the Manx Missile beat all rivals to the line in a straight-up sprint finish.

Second to Cavendish at the Stage 6 finish line was USA's Tyler Farrar.  Aussie Robbie McEwen was in the mix, finishing 4th in the longest stage of this year's Tour de France.

Cavendish's win is again compliments of great lead-out by his right-hand man Mark Renshaw.  Without strong lead-out riders who get a single-file train rolling, allowing their leading man to tuck in behind them until he launches in the last 100 meters, there would be no glory for Cavendish or Pettachi or the others.

Imagine having anything left in the tank after pedaling over 125 miles at 27 mph, much less enough to crank the speed up past 35 mph in the last mile to contest for a victory.  These guys live on adrenaline.

Yellow Jersey contest

All those contending for the overall race win were status quo for Stage 6.  No shake-ups.  Fabian Cancellara remains in the race leader's Yellow Jersey.  Aussie Cadel Evans is still in 3rd place. Lance Armstrong, the 38-year old, 7-time champ and sentimental favorite of many, is still in 18th and within striking distance with mountains he loves approaching.

Looking forward

The finish-line fireworks are over for a few days, folks. There won't be another flat stage until late next week.  Expect no fireworks at the line or on the climbs on Saturday's Stage 7.  The Tour moves into the Alps.  There are several categorized climbs, but nothing difficult enough to let a contender put time between himself and his rivals.  Watch for the first fireworks to occur on Sunday.  And then again on Tuesday and Wednesday.  It's going to get very interesting in the Alps and Pyrenees!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


He dominated the sprint-finishes in last year's Tour de France. Heck, he's dominated pretty much every sprint possibility afforded him over the past two years.

He was the Man from Manx.  The Manx Missile.  A sensation from Great Britain.

Then there were a few near-misses. Then there was him flipping off his detractors as he won a race. Then there were a few crashes--even one in this Tour.

And there were his predictions of dominating the sprint-finishes in this Tour de France.  And the expectations.  And the pressure.

But so far on this grandest of stages...fizzle. Nothing.

In Stage 4, he actually got blistered by a 36-year old. Alessandro Pettachi blasted past him before the finish line as the Man from Manx dropped his head in defeat.

But that was yesterday.

Today, it seems, nothing and no one could have stopped Mark Cavendish from beating every other rival to the finish line in Montargis.

Cavendish beat the pack going away.  Two bike links back to nearest rival.

Granted, he had a tremendous lead-out by his teammate Mark Renshaw (thank you, Mark!).  But, whether it was the lead out, or anger, or shame, or desperation.... whatever, Cav roared definitively to all doubters (and even to himself): Hello!

Cavendish's win put more fun into the competition for the Green Jersey that is currently worn by Norwegian Thor Hushovd.  The claim for being the best sprinter in the Tour is up for grabs among a handful of worthy rivals: Hushovd, Pettachi, Robbie McEwen, Tyler Farrar, Oscar Freire and Cavendish.

No change in the General Classification; the times and places of the contenders for the Tour victory remained the same.  And they likely will tomorrow, too, as the Tour tackles this year's longest stage.  It's got two Category 4 climbs (lowest category), but it's mostly a flat stage and will set up another sprint finish before the Tour heads into the Alps on Saturday.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Formula for Lance Armstrong to be on the podium in Paris

Thinking it's not looking good for the 38-year-old 7-time Tour de France champ to claim an 8th victory, a friend asked me to offer him some hope about Lance Armstrong.

Losing precious time due to a flat tire on the cobblestones in Stage 3, Armstrong moved from 4th place and a few seconds advantage over arch rival Alberto Contador to 18th place and a 50-second deficit to Contador.  Just as importantly, Armstrong is now nearly 2 minutes behind Australian Cadel Evans, who rode Stage 3 perfectly and is, it seems to me, in the catbird seat of the Tour.

So, yes, it's a tough situation for Armstrong.

But here's your hope, David: Lance will shine in the mountains!

Here's the formula for Lance:

1. Andy Schleck is good--no, great--in the mountains, but he's not a good time trialist. Lance will overcome any deficit to him in the Stage 19 Individual Time Trial.

2. Contador is individually strong; personally, he has no apparent weaknesses.  But he does not have a very good team. In fact, he's got a weak one. Other than Alexandr Vinokourov (who will likely go for glory himself at some point; he's proven repeatedly that he's not a team player), he's got no help in the mountains.  Cadel Evans, individually a strong mountain climber and time trialist, is in the same situation.

3. Armstrong, on the other hand, has the advantage of a GREAT team and he can use this strategically to his advantage in the Alps and Pyrenees mountain stages. RadioShack has excellent mountain climbers like Levi Leipheimer and Andeas Kloden who can be deployed in a variety of ways to isolate and wear down an opponent on long and steep climbs.  They also serve to keep Armstrong fresh through most of a stage in order to launch him to the front at critical points in the mountains.  No doubt, Armstrong will use his RadioShack team talent to his full advantage.

4. If Armstrong can pull within 30 seconds of Contador and Evans by the end of the Pyrenees stages, I'll put him not only on the podium in Paris, but at the top of it.  Why?  Because in the Prologue, he already proved he's got his Individual Time Trial capacity back.  If victory is within reach at the beginning of Stage 19, Armstrong will make the ride of his life to win it.

Take heart, my friend.  This thing won't be determined until the next to last stage.  Until then, every stage matters and who knows what weird or wild turn of events will occur.  There's nothing quite like the Tour de France!


Alesandro Pettachi, a blast from the past, has reemerged as a sprinter to reckon with

Most thought of Alesandro Pettachi as a 36-year-old has-been of a sprinter.  Great in the past.  But that was seven years ago. Injuries, a ban for minor pharmaceutical infractions and team transitions have kept "Ale-Jet" out of the limelight since he claimed lots of sprint-finish stage victories in the Tour de France way back when.

But the Phoenix has risen.  Pettachi's Stage 1 victory might have been suspect with most of the other sprinters sprawled on the ground in the biggest crash in Tour history.  But on this day he beat some great sprinters at the line of a classic sprint finish.  He beat Mark Cavendish, who was supposed to have dominated the sprint-finishes this year.  Granted, USA's Tyler Farrar is still nursing crash wounds and wasn't in the mix, but Pettachi has asserted himself in this opportunity quite well.  One thing's for sure, the battle for the Green Jersey will continue throughout the Tour.

All of the contenders for the General Classification tucked in and rode safely in the peloton in Stage 4.  No shake ups, just status quo.

Looking Ahead

Two more relatively long and moderate terrain stages remain before the Tour hits the Alps.  Stage 5 on Thursday should be another one for the sprinters.  Let's see if Mark Cavendish challenges Pettachi. Or, it could be Robbie McEwen.  Stage 6 is not flat and it is the longest stage of the Tour.  Some have predicted Contador will make a move in Stage 6 (but I don't think so). Stage 7 moves into the Alps.  Stage 8 is the first mountain-top finish before a much-needed rest day for the battered and bruised.

It's a long way to Paris.  After the Alps are the Pyrenees--more treacherous than the Alps.  And after the Pyrenees is the Individual Time Trial on the next-to-last stage.  The Tour champion will emerge in the Pyrenees and confirm his lead in the ITT, I think.  But who?  Cadel Evans? Lance Armstrong? Denis Menchov? Alberto Contador? Bradley Wiggins?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


If it was a difference-maker the Tour de France Director Christian Prudhomme wanted from this stage, he got it.

Shuffled down the list was Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong.  Contador is now in 9th and Armstrong in 18th after a flat tire punctured his pursuit of glory on this day. Yellow Jersey wearer Sylvan Chavanel also got shuffled to 5th place.  Shuffled up into the top 10 are Australian favorite Cadel Evans (now in 3rd) and Andy Schleck (now in 6th).  Evans, Schleck and Contador are the only riders among the current top 10 who have the capacity to win the Tour de France. [See the right sidebar for top 10 in GC after Stage 3]

Stage 3 was won by Norwegian Thor Hushovd.  He muscled to the front and out-sprinted five others for the victory.  Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland placed 6th and reclaimed the Yellow Jersey (he has the lowest overall time accumulated in the Prologue and Stages 1-3).

In the carnage and separations that the cobblestones were to have created, it looks as if Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck emerge with distinct advantages that they will carry into the first mountain stages of next week. Alberto Contador is now over a minute behind Cadel Evans.  Lance Armstrong, who had a chance to win the stage but punctured at a critical moment, is now nearly 2 minutes behind Evans.

Three other contenders who gained significant time in the Stage 3 melee include Russian Denis Menchov (now in 13th), Brit Bradley Wiggins (now in 14th), and Luis Leon Sanchez (now in 17th).

Crashes today claimed Frank Schleck, one of the Tour contenders and brother of Andy Schleck.  American Christian Vande Velde, another contender for the championship, retired from the race after injuries suffered in Stage 2 on Monday.

Complete wrap-up of Stage 3 and latest standings and stats at this Cyclingnews link.

Monday, July 5, 2010


View this video of Tour de France riders talking about Stage 3 (Tuesday, July 6) to get a hint of what they're in for.  The route takes the cyclists through 7 sections of cobblestone roads (called "pave"), some dating back to Roman times.  Lance Armstrong has said "there will be carnage."  With so many crashes already...

By the way, USA's Christian Vande Velde is out of the race as a result of Stage 2 crashes.  Christian was considered a top-10 contender for the overall win.  I hope he mends well and has a chance to lead his team again next year.


Frenchman grabs glory after a long breakaway and break from peloton crashes

Sylvan Chavanel was part of a 9-man group that broke away from the peloton early in today's 200+ kilometer stage over rolling hills and 5 categorized climbs through Belgium. In the end, the Frenchman riding for Belgian-based team QuickStep was the only cyclist to stay clear.

It is rare for a breakaway to stay away. The escapees usually get caught by a determined peloton.  But Chavanel's advantage was helped by multiple crashes in the peloton on a rain-soaked hill near the end of the stage.  As a result, Chavanel crossed the finish line nearly 4 minutes ahead of the peloton.

Chavanel started the stage 59 seconds behind race leader Fabian Cancellara.  He ended the day nearly 3 minutes ahead of Cancellara.  So, Chavanel takes over the Yellow Jersey.  Well deserved.

Crashes plagued the Tour de France for the second day in a row.  This time it was rain-slick pavement on a steep downhill that caused lots of riders to hit the pavement.  Favorites Frank and Andy Schleck went down.  Lance Armstrong went down.  Alberto Contador went down.  It's unclear if any riders sustained race-ending injuries.  But it was carnage again.  Here's a a video link to some of the main crash.  In the photo, USA sprint specialist Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Transitions team holds his elbow after a crash.

After the crashes and chaos with riders strung out over several kilometers, race leader Fabian Cancellara rode to the front of the group and slowed it down, permitting riders who had fallen to rejoin the peloton over the last 15 kilometers of the stage.  It was, to my mind, an act of leadership and wisdom.  Someone had to say: "This is too dangerous.  This is too crazy.  We've got a long Tour to go.  Let's calm down.  Let's ride this thing the right way."  Cancellara prevented any sprinting at the finish line and the peloton rode calmly together to complete the stage.  Kudos to Cancellara.

Full stage report and standings at Cyclingnews 


Poet Edwin Markham expresses the thrill of cycling

I do not know what Edwin Markham had in mind when he penned this poem.  In my mind’s eye I see 198 cyclists virtually sailing the forest, meadow, and mountain in the Tour de France.  I see misty hills of West Virginia, where I grew up.  I think also of innumerable bicycle rides through the Indiana, where I’ve now lived for over 30 years.  I ride in this spirit, with this sense of joy, and offer the poem in tribute to the TdF participants.  May their pain be eclipsed by such joy.

I ride on the mountain tops, I ride;
I have found my life and am satisfied.
Onward I ride in the blowing oats,
Checking the field-lark's rippling notes --
   Lightly I sweep
   From steep to steep:
Over my head through the branches high
Come glimpses of a rushing sky;
The tall oats brush my horse's flanks;
Wild poppies crowd on the sunny banks;
A bee booms out of the scented grass;
A jay laughs with me as I pass.

I ride on the hills, I forgive, I forget
   Life's hoard of regret --
   All the terror and pain
   Of the chafing chain.
   Grind on, O cities, grind:
   I leave you a blur behind.
I am lifted elate -- the skies expand:
Here the world's heaped gold is a pile of sand.
Let them weary and work in their narrow walls:
I ride with the voices of waterfalls!

I swing on as one in a dream -- I swing
Down the airy hollows, I shout, I sing!
The world is gone like an empty word:
My body's a bough in the wind, my heart a bird!

Sunday, July 4, 2010


What was that?!

Unbelievable carnage in the last two kilometers of Stage 1 of the Tour de France.  No less than 3 separate crashes in less than a mile in the high-speed drive to the finish line. View the replay at this link. And this followed an earlier crash caused by a dog straying into the group of 198 riders. Crazy day.

Italian sprinter Alessandro Pettachi emerged the winner of the stage as most of the other top sprinters were sprawled on the ground.  Not sure yet who might be too injured to continue in the Tour.  Let's hope all recover.

This was a long flat stage, a day for sprinters to shine.  Instead, nerves overtook the peloton at the end of the day and the incredible crashes ensued.

An estimated crowd of over 2.5 million lined the streets and roadways of the Netherlands as the Tour made its way south toward Belgium.  A wonderful response from the nation that has more cyclists per capita than any other.

Best recap of Stage 1 and full standings is by Cyclingnews.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


World champion time-trialist fulfills expectations; but look at contenders

Great Britain's got young talent in Tony Martin.  He tackled the 8.9 kilometer Prologue course early before rain set in and set a fast mark that stood until the next to last rider of the day: 10 minutes, 10 seconds.  Only heavily favored Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland bested Martin, finishing right at 10 minutes.  Cancellara will wear the first Yellow Jersey as the overall race leader, but Martin will wear the first White Jersey for the best young rider (under age 26).

WHAT ABOUT THE CONTENDERS? Time trial specialists are expected to do well in the Prologue. But what about the cyclists who have their sights set on winning the Tour de France? Here's how some of those considered to vie for the best in the General Classification (GC, best overall time) finished the Prologue (place and time down to Cancellara):

4th - Lance Armstrong (USA) -22
6th - Alberto Contador (SPA) -27
8th - Levi Leipheimer (USA) -28
18th - Alexandr Vinokourov (KZK) -38
22nd - Cadel Evans (AUS) -39
23rd - Luis-Leon Sanchez (SPA) -39
68th - Carlos Sastre (SPA) -54
78th - Denis Menchov (RUS) -58

CONTENDER SEPARATION.  Being down by 30 seconds or a minute or more to the race leader after the Prologue is not insurmountable for any contender.  The Alps and Pyrenees mountains will quickly erase those distinctions for most contenders. But it still means that Armstrong and Contador--who will both do as well in the mountains as any other contender--have set themselves up as the race favorites and the other contenders will be playing catch up..

ADVANTAGE ARMSTRONG.  As for the Armstrong vs Contador showdown in this 3-week long shoot out, it's Armstrong - 1, Contador - 0.  Stay tuned.  It's psychological warfare. It's now Contador's move.  This is gonna be crazy!


Guess what day it is, people?  Oh to be in Rotterdam today!  Let the Tour begin!  Live TV and Internet streaming begins at 11:30 am EST.

BICYCLE NATION.  198 of the best cyclists in the world will literally fly along the roadways of Rotterdam over an 8.9 kilometer Prologue course.  Hundreds of thousands of local and international fans will line the streets.  The Netherlands, with more bicyclists per capita than any nation and more bikes than fossil-fuel powered vehicles, will fully appreciate what they're seeing.

WHAT'S A PROLOGUE?  The Prologue is unlike any other stage in a Grand Tour.  It is a brief time trial.  Each cyclist rides alone and against the clock.  The purpose of the Prologue is to establish initial ranking among the many riders.  It doesn't "separate the men from the boys," but it does give an indication of who's ready to fight for the championship.  Some riders are specialists at time trials and this is their day to shine.  Others will ride their best, but this format is not their forte.  Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland is a favorite to win the Prologue.

HOW DOES THE PROLOGUE RELATE TO THE ULTIMATE RACE WINNER?  The Prologue winner is rarely the champion of the Tour de France.  However, if a cyclist intends to contend to be on the podium when the race rolls into Paris three weeks from now, he will do well in the Prologue and Stage 19 Individual Time Trial.  Some cyclists are good time trialists. Some are good mountain climbers.  Some are sprint specialists.  Some are excellent at powering ahead of the group (peloton) for long distances.  But to win the Tour de France, a cyclist must be good at all these aspects of the race.  The Prologue gives a glimpse of the readiness of top contenders.

TIME TRIAL EQUIPMENT.  The bikes, helmets and uniforms used in a time trial are different than what you'll see the participants use on every other stage.  A time trial bike and helmet is wind-tunnel tested for the best possible aerodynamics.  The uniforms and shoe covers are made of fabric to minimize wind resistance. Riders tuck down into the an aerodynamic position. The idea is to reduce every possible negative factor to maximize the power of a rider over a short distance.  Is all this effort really necessary?  Not sure.  But it's the standard in time trial cycling.

Friday, July 2, 2010


The teams have been presented.  The contenders interviewed on international TV.  The anticipation is building.  The last preparations are made.  And there's...there's an uproar of jubilation.  What?  The Dutch are in Rotterdam's streets celebrating wildly.  The Prologue is still 24 hours away and yet the city and country are ecstatic.

It's not about the Tour de France.  It's about the Netherlands defeating World Cup favorite Brazil earlier today in South Africa.  Go Orange!  The unexpected win against the five-time World Cup champions puts Holland into the semi-finals where they will face either Ghana or Uruguay.

The soccer victory for the Netherlands will certainly brighten spirits and put levity into this already bicycle-crazy city and country.  Rotterdam has more bicyclists than motorists.  Anticipation is that more than a million people will line the route of Saturday's time-trial Prologue.  It's going to be a great launch for a great three weeks.

Congratulations to the Dutch on their soccer victory!  Now, with hearts lifted, let the Tour de France begin!

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Most folks in North America will watch the latter part of the Rotterdam Prologue and each of the 20 subsequent stages of the Tour de France on Versus TV cable channel.  Commentators Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwin and Bob Roll (pictured) are quite entertaining and spot-on.  Best view, best collective commentary.  Versus' website has come a long way over the past year.  I enjoy reading Liggett, Sherwin and Roll's post-stage commentaries.

But many of us will be working or away from home during the hours of the stages.  I've found that Cyclingfans always has the best possible options for viewing and/or listening to each stage of the race online.  Sometimes, I have had to view the race in one browser and listen on another, but I usually get a combination to work.

As for "ticker" type updates, I've found Cyclingnews to be the most interesting. Information about the latest happenings in each stage, from start to finish, update automatically about every three to five minutes.  No voice, not photos--just the most current info and brief commentary to monitor.  I usually use the Cyclingnews ticker for the first few hours of a stage, before the audio and video broadcasts become available.

In the right sidebar, I've posted what I've found are the best Internet sites for keeping up with the Tour. As I find others that are helpful, easy to understand, and credible (let me know sites you think are helpful), I'll post them.

Hope you get to experience as much of this grandest of the Grand Tours as possible.


Part of the fun of watching the Tour de France is seeing the hundreds of thousands of folks who turn out along the roadsides to cheer on the riders each day. I suppose this--along with the beauty of the French landscapes and villages and the intensity of the cycling competition--is what makes the Tour de France so interesting to me. It is a feast for the eyes.

Two years ago, 2 million Britons cheered the riders during the Prologue in London. But the villages, towns, countrysides and mountain passes are lined with people all along more than 2,000 miles of roadways.

Many fans wear their favorite rider or team's colors. Or their nation's flag. They dress up in costumes. Or dress down to...almost nothing.

They drive their campers or ride their bikes up the mountain climbs a day ahead of time. They camp out. They cook out. They paint riders' names on the roadways.  They have a good time.

Tour de France fans are there in the hot sun and cold rain. Enduring the heat, waiting through the downpour. Searing or soaking.

Especially on the mountain passes, when the riders are tired and struggling and slow, thousands of fans press in close and do their best to inspire. Some run alongside, dangerously close.

And all for a few moments, a few glimpses, a brief engagement with glory.

I hope to do this sometime in the next twenty years or so. Just be there on the roadside for the weeks of the Tour de France. Of course, I'll take my bike.

All these photos -- and all photos on this blog -- are accessed from Yahoo! Sports Photos and are by the photographers of AFP/Getty

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Here's a link to a recent interview with Lance Armstrong by "Outdoor" magazine online:

"Outdoor" has Lance on this month's cover.  The article on Armstrong is excellent.

Throughout this year's race, I will be posting links to online articles that I find particularly interesting on poignant.


Not Christmas, silly.

Yes, it's time for the Tour de France.  My annual mania is kicking in.  I'll be updating "The Tour de France for the Rest of Us" over the next few days.  Check back often.

I've followed Lance Armstrong's Twitter activity over the past year (me and, oh, 2.5 million souls!) and of course the big but not surprising news is that this will be Lance's last Tour de France.

Armstrong is a living legacy with seven consecutive victories and then a 3rd place finish at age 37 after a 3-year hiatus.  Now, at age 38 (almost 39)--two years beyond the oldest Tour winner--can Lance pull the upset over former teammate and defending champion Alberto Contador?

The experts say "no."  But I wouldn't write Armstrong off.  In fact, with Lance written off by so many, that makes him all the more dangerous...and the underdog.  I love pulling for underdogs.

Lance vs Alberto -- that's the leading story line. But it's certainly not the only one.  The field of nearly 200 cyclists is packed with contenders for the overall win, along with the best sprinters and mountain climbers in the world.  Many excellent cyclists will shine on different stages.

Given certain conditions as the race develops, I can think of 10 different cyclists who could ascend to the top of the podium for the General Classification (GC = best overall time) in Paris.  I'll name these and tell why in a later post.

Watch for carnage on the miles of cobblestones (pave) in Stage 3. Watch for a long breakaway in Stage 6.  See who claims the Col du Tourlamet on Stage 17.  And observe who prevails in the Individual Time Trial in Stage 19.

It's going to be a great Tour!