Monday, July 17, 2006

Stage 14 - Le Tour 2006 - France over Italy this time

What a race! This time we have Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) Bouygues Telecom outsprinting Salvatore Commesso (Ita) Lampre-Fondital, with Christian Vandevelde (USA) Team CSC just 3 seconds behind and the tatters of a big break shortly thereafter. It was another wild ride. Cyclingnews has a good write up here.

What a tour! This may be the best Tour de France for 4 or 5 years...! Perhaps the best since Pantani's, or Roche's win. Whatever. It's different every day. Moves get caught, moves get away. The TT was a boilover. The Pyrenees, another boilover. I loved the stage where Menchov won and Floyd took yellow. And I loved the last 3 days - the stages where the break has played cat and mouse in the last few kays, particularly when Popyvych won, and Jens Voigt's win of course. It's a combo of breat tactical and physical stuff. But no-one has stamped their authority - although Floyd threatens to - and everyone has shown weakness. It's a ripper of a Tour if you like variety.

Robbie McEwen seems to have the quickest legs; without his leadout men Boonen just can't get it going. Freire's had 2 stages, Robbie 3. France has won 2 stages, Germany 2; it's like the World Cup on wheels: even Italy's had a showing.

And yes, the big guns are saving themselves for the Alps and just watching each other, to see who blinks. Before they'd just watch Lance and wait. The suspense was in guessing when he'd go and seeing how long Basso and Ullrich could stay with him. Or if Vino could get away from everyone, including his own team. Cadel Evans may not have a kick (or didn't on the day he rode in with Sastre) but he can grind away and grit his teeth up any mountain and do a great TT. Floyd Landis has his bung hip to think about but clearly can match anyone, anywhere.

Menchov has a kick, can climb and is not too bad in the TT. Leipheimer has come good and may fire from here - but 7 minutes is a long way back. Still, it comes down to making your move at the right time, when you feel good and they are vulnerable. It's luck, skill, tactics and strength. And having the team support for the long haul. Someone may get away and take a few minutes up Alpe d'Huez. It could be Floyd, maybe Leipheimer. Perhaps Menchov. Can Cadel hang on when the inevitable attack goes? And then whip 'em in the TT? If he stays within a few seconds of the maillot jaune when Floyd has done his best, who knows? Floyd may expend just a bit too much in the Alps and disappoint in the TT. Phonak may fall apart. Or Rabobank may fly. So many options, so many opportunities. I think we can see the final top 3 or 4, maybe 5 places at this stage but it's not certain in which order. And who knows, maybe someone will take 10 minutes and catapult to the lead? Popyvych?

But yes, Basso and Ullrich going at it would have been icing on this particular cake. Still, if they are dirty - and we haven't seen their side of this yet, so it's unproven - then it's best they clean themselves up. We shall see if this tour turns out to be what we needed to finally clean up the pro peleton or a cruel farce for those who stand accused.

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