Archive for July, 2009

2009 Tour in Review

Another Tour comes to an end.  There will be the myriad posts and articles about “Tour Withdrawal”, and to some degree I can understand it.  But for me, there is a certain sense of relief.

You see, since the race takes place a good 6 time zones away from here, I have to keep myself oblivious during the workday – not the easiest of tasks when you’re in front of a computer 8 hours a day.

That being said, the conclusion of the race also allows for some perspective.  Like every Tour, there was much more than the chase for Yellow.  In line with the Tour giving us multiple competitions to follow (Yellow, Green, Polka-dot and White jerseys), I have organized my thoughts along the following categories.

Huzzah!

There were two performances in this year’s race that really stuck out in my mind as showing great competitive spirit.

    – Serguei Ivanov on stage 14.  Attacking out of a soon-to-be-caught breakaway and going full-gas for the solo win ahead of a charging peloton was a thing of beauty.  The sight of him sitting on a curb next to his bike in a heap panting for air to recover was just awesome.  Talk about leaving it all out on the road.  Chapeau.  That was Big Ring.

    – Thor Hushovd on Stage 17.  Tuning in to see this stage in progress was my first genuine WTF? moment of the Tour.  A sprinter leading over two tough mountains in the Alps?  We’re more likely to see Stuart O’Grady cry.  I couldn’t believe it, but there it was.  A lone maillot vert leading the stage.

      Not content to listen to the Cavendish honks gripe about the Manxman’s relegation, Thor was determined to show that he was indeed the stronger rider.  I stand corrected: the only thing less likely than Hushovd leading in the mountains is Cavendish leading in the mountains.  Dude wouldn’t even go to the front of the Grupetto.

    –  I’m not a Cavendish hater (I generally hate haters), so I will give the mandatory and well-deserved props to Mark for winning six stages.  That takes some serious talent and a great team to put it into action.

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Buzzkill

Jens Voigt’s crash.  You really hate to see it happen to a guy like that.  He was the victim of such bad luck.  First that crappy wheel change from the neutral service car, costing him a place in a breakaway, then that awful crash.

Honorable mention goes to Tyler Farrar.  So close and yet so far.  One of these days he will have a breakthrough and win his share of sprint stages.

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Dude!

Contador’s attacks.  His ability to spring out of a lead group on a steep grade looks almost effortless.  I hate to even utter it, but I sincerely hope it is a result of natural talent and hard training.  I’ll stop there.

Also worth noting is his time trialing.  What was once a weak spot has become a strength.  It seems that it is the one discipline that can be most affected by training and dedication.  His TT metamorphosis reminds me of what Levi Leipheimer did after the 2006 Tour.  He rededicated himself to the time trial and said that he spent every third day of training on it.  It paid off for him and it paid off for Bert.

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Meh

Thanks to my DVR, I did not have to subject myself to either Craig Hummer or the same collection of tired ads every stage.  I was blissfully treated to the commentary (pronounced “Common-TREE”) of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen.

I did check in on the “expanded coverage” a few times, and to his credit, Hummer was better than last year.  However, that’s like saying an F is better than a zero on your exams.  He has to step up his game again next year.  His pronunciations were better and he understood more about cycling, but I just don’t get that vibe that he is a real fan of the sport outside of the Tour.

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So that’s it.  Another Tour done.  There were some fine performances and even the French got to savor some stage wins.

Am I sad to see it go?  No way, it’s only one race on the calendar; even if it is the biggest one.  There’s still San Sebastian, Worlds, the Vuelta, Lombardia, Missouri, and the list goes on.  If you really love the sport you want to see good racing and there is a lot to be had.

Now maybe I can get some work done.

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Stage 13 to be raced in 21st Century

So the UCI has ‘decided’ to lift the ban on race radios during stage 13.  I’m sure that the race organizer ASO didn’t want another blazé stage that the riders passively-aggressively rode on stage 10.

It’s refreshing to see a return to rational thought.  Even baseball doesn’t screw up this bad.  When MLB decided to experiment with instant replay, they did it during spring training games, not the World Series.

When the NFL tries out new rules, it’s done during preseason, not the playoffs.

So of course the UCI in it’s never-ending quest to mangle the sport into something incomprehensible to the average sports fan, decides to change up the rules and tactics of the sport during it’s biggest event.  Oh yeah, did I mention that they dropped the announcement of this change just weeks before the Tour?

Gadzooks, man.  You couldn’t try this during the Dauphine or Pays Basque?  Even a semi-classic or two would have been a nice “experiment”.  As Jens Voigt said, why not have the riders go without helmets or brake cables either?  It makes just as much sense.

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TdF Haiku

Alberto and Lance

Can Johan Work Victory?

The Alps Will Tell Us

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TdF Stage 4: The Race That Showed The Truth

Sometimes it’s hard to get the adrenaline up for watching three hours of pacelines, but today’s was a revealing stage.  As usual, there was quite a variance between the top and bottom-tier teams.  What was not usual was that there were none of those lame “loss limits” that took the spine out of the event.

That’s right – if you get dropped, you lose time.  If your team stinks, you can’t make up for it all by yourself.

That being said, I took away several nuggets from today’s Team Time Trial.

Of course we know that there are teams that, while competing at the Tour, are out of the running even before the Prologue.  However, when it came to the TTT, there were those clearly not up to the task.  The comedy of errors that was BBox Bouygues Telecom came complete with 3 crashes and a flat tire.  Maybe they had Michael Rasmussen in the team car.

Poor Cadel Evans.  Who knows how he would have done with a better team.  He is always alone in the climbs, and now his team deserts him once again in the Team Time Trial.  They lost two and a half minutes.  Ouch.  Good luck making that one up in the mountains.

Garmin Slipstream went balls out on this one.  According to team captain Christian Vandevelde, it was definitely not part of their plan to shed the sprinters after 20K and let the 5 TT specialists put the hammer down.  Given that, they perhaps put out the hardest effort on the day, even if it only netted them second place.  Chapeau.

Columbia HTC.  Hmm.  They sure did talk a bit of trash when it came to this discipline.  And to be fair, they often backed it up.  That team seemingly does nothing but pile up wins.

But with that reputation comes some pressure.  If you’re supposed to be that good, you have to nail it when it counts and a 5th place today was the equivalent – on their level at least – of laying an egg.

CSC SaxoBank; you let me down.  They are one of the most solid teams out there – both in terms of talent and overall team chemistry (which counts even more in a TTT).  If it weren’t for the Olympic TT gold medalist towing you along in the last 10K, it would have been a disaster.  But you did have the Olympic TT gold medalist, and thanks to that you still have yellow.

Lastly, Astana finally showed some team unity.  They deserved the win they earned today.  Both Armstrong and Contador worked seamlessly with each other and the rest of the team.  It’s one thing to sign on a ton of talent, but quite another to make it work well and gain ultimate success (to my beloved Yankees, I’m looking at you).

Seeing at the end that the race lead is less than a second after all that made it worthwhile.  On its own, the team time trial is a novelty.  When done well in a Grand Tour, you can get a day like today.

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