Monday, July 31, 2006

Other sports and doping

Because I can, I will comment on drugs, doping and what have you. It's just my opinion but I personally realised something was truly happening - as against being told by press or dodgy friends what "was" happening - when I spent time in an eastern suburbs gym in Sydney, building up for bike racing (more of a psychological boost than a physical one). This was the mid 1980's. These big, shiny, oily pimply guys were always there lifting massive weights (and gazing into mirrors) and they could sell you "stuff". It reminded me of 'under the stairs' deal at high school, actually, but different stuff. That other stuff you got at the pub and was detrimental to sports performance, or general sanity for that matter. (Not that I did, but some people did do that other stuff, anyway!)

So you could buy any sort of body-building drug at that particular gym, in my experience. Presumably other gyms as well. I also "knew" about the occasional cyclist's drink bottle ("bidon") that (it was suggested) contained alcohol, to give some sort of kick up hills or before a sprint. Don't know how effective it was, but a few people seemed to like it and claimed to "know". Bikes of course are build to carry bidons as well as riders and musette bags, but what about other sports?

'No-Doze' was also big in the '80s for that caffeine kick, and coffee itself gained notoriety in sports where being "aware" and awake was important. Again in cycling there were "special" bananas to be eaten just before a race finish. Now these were reputedly spiked with amphetamines, but who knows the truth? No-one did a laboratory analysis on this sort of stuff at the time and it may have been riders just bragging. But very, very few people were drug tested pre or post race, even at elite State level back then, so anything could have happened. (And I have yet to see a club-level drug test, even now. Tell me if you've seen one!)

So I can imagine, and it is just imagination fueled by innuendo and availability (particularly via the Internet), that some bike racers are using performance enhancing agents to "get noticed"; firstly at club level (basically weekly racing thoughout the year) and probably at State level. They would effectively get away with it. Testing remains something done at higher levels of the sport, not below. Not often, anyway, in my experience, would they get caught. On the other hand I have never myself seen a culture of drug use in cycling at first hand, beyond caffeine and stories of what other riders did. I heard about but didn't see the evidence.

Nevertheless we quite possibly get riders started on this stuff early and then they either chicken out, or get smarter. Or dumber? If there's money involved there's temptation. Of course cycling is not as "wealthy" as some other sports.

So what happens in other sports?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Web resources - Roadcycling UK

An interesting take on the UK road and TT scene is to be found at RoadcyclingUK. Worth checking out. Here's a snippet on starting road racing in the UK:
Road Racing from scratch By RCUK "I could do that!" Almost invariably it's around the time of the three great tours that many occasional cyclists get so carried away by the unfolding drama, passion and competitive spirit of the Giro d'Italia,Tour de France and Spanish Vuelta that they picture themselves flying along in the midst of an illustrious bunch or riding with relative ease up steep mountain climbs with cheering crowds lining the road. At least that's what appears to be the case, even though you know that the apparent ease at which the riders are "flying" along at an average speed of 45k per hour is deceptive and the whole idea, in fact, may seem totally mad and completely and utterly out of my league - even more so as the prerequisite is incredibly hard training, unbelievable talent and a super-human physique. But cycling is all about sticking at it.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Landis stands accused of doping

Landis stands accused of doping - steroid abuse - following a failed test after the lone, brave attacking stage - and win - into Morzine. I hasten to add that it's all based on an A-sample at this stage and nothing is proven. Now, given that he has a serious hip condition I don't blame the guy for taking cortisol - an approved substance under the situation - or any reasonable dose of anything that gets him through the day; but at this level of performance and success you can't take any chances. Whether or not he did it deliberately we may never know - and the B-sample may yet prove negative - but even as an accidental side effect of medication, or drinking beer, or whatever - it's unacceptable. To try and clear it up post hoc and 'prove' that the steroid levels are 'natural' seems dubious at best. We will all be left asking 'why didn't this 'natural' level show up in other stages or at other times?'

There's an account (or 2 or 3) here: news and analysis

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Back to normal

It's all over and I can sleep again, but I am craving racing. When's the Vuelta?

This is an interesting quote: Lemond has certainly not hidden his feelings on Armstrong, and when asked who would win today between Landis, him and Armstrong, Lemond at first chuckled, "I am biased! I can't answer that, [laughs.]" But then Lemond got a little more serious. "Every race is different. The race changed dramatically this year. For me I am a strong anti-doping advocate. I think we are seeing a true Tour de France winner, someone who might have otherwise been cheated out of a win." From ESPN reported via Cyclingnews.

I've collected a few other Cyclingnews race reports that may interest you:
That gives you a bit of reading, eh?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Stage 20 - Le Tour 2006 - the dust settles

The dust has settled and it's a little bit of new and a little bit of old. An American has - again! - won overall and - again, again! - it's an Aussie in Green. The Polka dot has again gone to last year's top climber. And the final stage was won by last year's Green jersey winner. It all seems strangely familiar after 3 weeks of tumult!

Meanwhile the white was taken by Cunego - a newcomer with a bright future. And Pereiro kept his 2nd place intact whilst Kloden took 3rd. Floyd Landis may not return next year and question marks will surround Ullrich and Basso for sometime. It's been a strange tour without the dominant players - and losing Vinokourov as well meant even more instability. When Valverde was injured we all wondered if anyone would survive this tour. But they did and the excitement along the way was palpable.

Roll on the 2006 Vuelta!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Stage 19 - Le Tour 2006 - the TT decides

Gonchar wins the TT from Kloden but Landis lands the big prize.

Floyd Landis (Phonak) is poised to take his first ever Tour de France win overall, after finishing third in the time trial between Le Creusot and Montceau-les-Mines. Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) was first and it was 41 seconds back to Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile). Maillot jaune Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) fought on but couldn't hold back the charging Landis, ultimately finishing a disappointing but otherwise unexpectedly great fourth on the day, 2m40s behind Gonchar and 1m29s behind Landis.

Barring the utterly amazing (who could deny the possibility though!) Landis is unbeatable at 59 seconds up on Pereiro and 1m29s on Kloden. CSC's Carlos Sastre is now in fourth, 3m13s behind Landis. If the cruise to Paris is as cruisy as usual Floyd will win. It is unlikely that the usual last day true will be broken, and intermediate and stage-winning points are insufficient to change the order. We've swapped one US winner for another!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Stage 18 - Le Tour 2006 - Status Quo

Matteo Tosatto won, but behind only Levi Leipheimer profited significantly to lift himself up to 13th overall. Otherwise status quo.

Looking at what could happen tomorrow in the TT is more interesting.

Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears leads Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC by 12secs and Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak by 30s. Only if Floyd has a truly bad day, falls once and and punctures twice could he not expect to beat Pereiro and Sastre. Pereiro and Sastre instead will do their best - probably better than they have ever done, and limit losses. Since Landis was about 1m 40s quicker than Pereiro in the shorter TT in stage 7, let's assume at least that sort of result again, even though the longer distance probably favours Landis. Which would put Floyd in yellow, Pereiro 2nd.

Sastre, however, was 30seconds faster than Pereiro. So now we have Landis first, Sastre 2nd and Pereiro 3rd. However we must factor in Andreas Kloden (Ger) T-Mobile at 2m29s and Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto at 3m08s on GC. Using our previous 'same time gap as for stage 7' assumption, Kloden would make up just 25 secs on Sastre and 54 secs on Pereiro. As the gap to Kloden is minutes, 2nd and 3rd is safe. Cadel was just 5secs behind Kloden in that TT so pretty much nothing changes their either. We thus have Landis 1st, Sastre 2nd, Pereiro 3rd, Kloden 4th and Evans 5th after tomorrow's (or today's now!) TT, if our assumption is correct.

The remainder of the top 10 are not a threat to the podium, but possibly threaten 4th and 5th place. Menchov is best placed to do that, but at 4m 14s back our assumption would rule out his success. He'll take 6th.

Of course it's the last roll of the dice, so all of this theory will come to nought. We have tired legs and a longer distance. We have a tougher course that may suit Evans over Kloden, for example. And may suit Kloden, Evans and Menchov over Sastre and Pereiro. Whilst it's unlikely, it's conceivable that 2nd and 3rd may be up for grabs to the freshest, fastest, hungriest TTer. And we could have punctures and crashes to contend with as well.

We shall soon find out.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Stage 17 - Le Tour 2006 - Floyd flies!

Landis! One bad day, and now he's all fired up to correct his mistake. This is how it should be, big brave attacks by key players. Cadel tried too but couldn't stay there. Oh well. Sastre dug in. Pereiro too. All out war tomorrow, or a truce? A decisive TT? A real race to Paris?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Stage 16 - le Tour 2006 - Floyd falters

Floyd faltered, then cracked. You could see him try to take the initiative and then fall back. You could see him drifting to the back on the climbs. You could sense weakness but how could you be sure? Sastre put him to the sword, although Rasmussen had already flown. T-Mobile had sensed it too and stretched the lead pack out on the final climb, but it was the committed attack from Sastre - first man to take a serious gamble - that forced Floyd Landis to drift off the back and lose an incredible 10 minutes. Menchov fumbled as well.

Cadel Evans and Oscar Pereiro hitched a ride with Kloden as he chased Sastre. Desssel kept his head and rode beyond expectations. It was another boilover on the GC. Pereiro takes yellow back and is looking strong. Kloden and Evans hauled themselves up the GC ladder. Spectacular. Wonderful. A stage of surprises, courage and sadly, a few casualties.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stage 15 - Le Tour 2006 - Alpe d'Huez

What a stage. Magnificent scenery, an 145km attack, a long chase and as always a spectacular launch up Alpe d'Huez with reputations made and lost. Cunego almost fulfilled his destiny but Schleck emphatically did. Landis and Kloden proved their form is top shelf and the others close but not close enough. Riders like Jens Voight, Dave Zabriskie and Axel Merckx played their team roles to perfection and ensured that the cream would rise to the top. And it did. And tomorrow's at least as hard!

So let's look at the top 18 or so on GC. Axel Merckx is 18th at 10min 25secs. He's a support rider doing his job for Floyd and Phonak. Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak is of course the leader overall and with his TT ability only has to match attacks from here to win the race. Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears has dropped one place to 10secs back and Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance has hung on gamely to take 3rd on GC at 2.02 back. Pereiro is the better climber so he may put up a fight from here, hoping to stay on the podium or top 5 at worst. However Dessel whilst motivated and fighting hard will surely sink out of the top 10 over the next 2 or 3 days.

Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank is close behind Dessel and remains a true contender. He is close enough to attack but Landis probably has him covered. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC at 2.17 has proven he is close to his best in the climbs and has a good chance of top 5. Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile is at 2.29 and has finally demonstrated that he is a real contender - if only Stage 11 hadn't cost him such time! At 7th Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto is 2m56s back and looking to reverse his fortunes over the next 2 stages and cement a Top 5 with a great TT. He is a real chance if he loses no more time and - hopefully - goes on the attack.

Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile is way back at 5.01 and will ride support for Kloden. Still good for top 10 and may live up to expectations in the TT. The unfortunate Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner remains too far back at 6.18 - again, earlier losses continue to haunt him. All the usual comments apply... he should be in 3rd or 4th place, but isn't.

Thereafter we have Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi , Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance, today's winner Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC , Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel, Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) Agritubel , Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner, Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank and Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis at 9.56 to round out the 'sub-10-minute' riders. Many of these are support riders, others are hoping to rise further up the GC. Any of these riders have a show of making the action or getting a slice of it.

The next 2 mountain stages will tell the tale. And the 57km TT will be the final roll of the dice.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Rest Day 2 - Le Tour 2006

It's nice to take a rest occasionally, isn't it? I do miss the action, though.

A have been asked to reflect upon the T-Mobile tactical 'blunder', and why the Italians always seem to falter at Le Tour, so I will!

Firstly, with regard to T-Mobile, they were probably too confident. They had multiple options to play, with so many guys up high in GC, so they attacked earlier rather than later thinking they could launch at least twice. Whereas Phonak only had one shot at it - Floyd - and couldn't attack early without risking losing everything. Same for Cadel. He has to be conservative and keep his powder dry until the last moment as he risks everything with any attack. I don't think we've yet seen the best of Cadel, or Sastre either. They missed the key final Leipheimer attack and couldn't - or perhaps decided not to - bury themselves and bridge the gap. Cadel knew he had time up his sleeve over all of these guys bar Landis, after all, so why waste the effort when a win was unlikely?

In hindsight it'd have been better for T-Mobile to wait - maybe - but then Menchov would've just saved his guys the trouble and hitched a ride on T-Mobile instead. Maybe Rasmussen, Menchov and company would've then won the stage with an attack in the last 2 kilometres, dropping a depleted T-Mobile in any case. At least T-Mobile took action and shed a few riders, making it clearer who was really in with a show. If they had waited maybe Mick Rogers wouldn't have lost so much time. But If Kloden hadn't cramped maybe he would've been up there anyway and we wouldn't be criticising their tactics at all?

I would've said the Giro was usually a better race with more attacking riding, but this Tour is shaping up as an exception. I don't really know why the Italians falter so spectactularly at Le Tour but have some ideas. (It seems hotter in July, for starters!) Pantani was an exception but so many of the Italians seem to have a problem that it's almost a national disease come July. In defence one could say that the Italians have already raced the Giro in May - it is their national tour after all - so they are probably depleted and less motivated, certainly less so than the French riders and les Anglos. Only the truly great riders back up and win both races, like Roche and Hinault. Armstrong didn't even try, which gives you a hint of the difficulty. Basso almost pulled it off last year, but few Italians take the tour as seriously as the Giro, especially when they are in Italian teams (which of course CSC isn't). Some riders who do well in Le Tour say that the Giro isn't as hard, that the competition in July is fiercer, but you rarely see 'em actually winning in May, either!

As well, this year's Tour has started on some seriously flat roads and has favoured the TT specialists especially, so the Italian mountain goats have had a tough time just getting to the mountain stages intact. Look how much time non-Italian Rasmussen has lost. It's rare to find a climber who can survive the flat sprinters stages and do well at TTs. Hincapie has trained for the climbs and made the same fall from grace. This year's race is made for the TTer who can climb as well - a rare breed. And once you've lost that much time in these long hot stages your motivation to get it back in the Alps may depend on how your team is feeling as well as how likely it is that you'll get enough time back to make up for what you've already lost. The Giro is more of a climbers race in that respect, with even the flat stages having significant hills. We may see the Italians having a crack at the Alps but it'll be for pride and a stage win. Most of 'em are now so far back that that's about the best we can hope for!

That's it from me!

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.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Stage 13 - Le Tour 2006 - Voigt's day in the sun

Jens Voigt thought 'not me again' when the break got away but was far more pleased when the longest, hottest stage of the Tour was over. He won the stage and his companion Pereiro took yellow. It was the biggest break to get away so far, over 30 minutes, and propelled Voigt (Ger) Team CSC, Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears, Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis, Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas and (now best young rider) Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Milram up the GC tree. Perhaps the peleton was tired and the day too long and hot to be bothered chasing. Indeed McEwen's Lotto team had no reason to chase these non-sprinters, but for Floyd Landis the yellow was at stake. Perhaps it was a tactical move to shift the onus of defence, or a blunder of embarrasing proportions if Pereiro can capitalise.

Realistically he won't. Landis will expect to reclaim the maillot jaune either in the Alps or at worst the TT. Still there is some risk. Just 8 riders remain inside of 5 minutes. 22 inside of 10 minutes. Surely we can't expect another long break to push the unlikely into contention? Surely the Alps will sort sense back into this GC?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Stage 12 - Le Tour 2006 - Discovery bounce back

After yesterday's mountains the bunch needed a rest, but it didn't happen. A route of rolling hills proved tempting to the escape artists and numerous early attacks were closed down. The final, successful move really only came about when the peleton chose to slow and allow riders a 'comfort stop' beside the road - something that happens every day but today fortuitously occurred when Oscar Freire was in the break. McEwen couldn't allow Freire to get all the sprint points so he chased, drawing the ire of many. However McEwen alone couldn't bridge the gap and he succumbed to the will of the many, allowing the break to go.

As it turned out it was Popovych who took full advantage, winning the stage, gaining time back and bringing himself back to the top 10 on GC. With 20 minutes left to run Freire was either exhausted or had done a deal with Popovych or perhaps Ballan to let them have the final points and the stage win... Freire neither contesting the Discovery rider's break nor the final sprint for 2nd. Freire had picked up some intermediate points, so he may have been satisfied... or tired... in any case he clearly didn't want to help Ballan chase Popoyvych. They exchanged words and started working together but for 2nd and 3rd. Popyvych profited - deservedly so after a long break and 3 or 4 savage attacks on his companions in the break. Ballan tried to get away by countering Popovych - dropping the Disco rider at one point - but Oscar was mysteriously uninvolved when it mattered and satisfied to sit on Ballan's wheel. It was a long hot day after all.

Boonen won the bunch kick but McEwen retained green. The GC lead is unaltered bar Popovych dragging himself up to 10th. It was a big gain and gives a boost to Discovery's chances. Landis will want to limit further moves tomorrow and retain his lead into the Alps, where the mountain action will recommence. Landis and Phonak look strong but one bad day could see Menchov, Evans, Sastre, Leipheimer or even Popovych pounce and grab both a stage win and a big time gain. It's still wide open. Rabo and T-Mobile kept out of trouble today. Expect them to do the same on tomorrow's long stage before resuming the battle in the mountains.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Stage 11 - Le Tour - Rabobank strongest

With 5 tough climbs this was one long hard ride. Everyone expected a sorting-out. Everyone expected Landis and Evans to shine; some had discounted Leipheimer already. Menchov was a contender but not highly touted. Rogers and Kloden were expected to put the bunch to the test with strong support from a highly-fancied team. And we all expected ag2r to defend the yellow and if pressured, crumble. Meanwhile Discovery loomed as a dark horse with many options.

Well we were all right and all wrong. The yellow was defended, and defended well - but was lost by seconds. Instead Landis is in yellow after a powerful display, with Menchov winning the stage after a surprising and emphatic display of teamwork: 3 Rabo riders remained in the break when it mattered and they disposed of T-Mobile quicker and more easily than expected. T-Mobile had tried to set the agenda earlier on teh previous climb but only succeeded in dislodging the yellow. The remaining riders were to play their cards on the final climb.

Thus it was that the Rabobank train of Rasmussen, Boogerd and Menchov drove the bunch to destruction and spat the likes of Cunego, Simoni and Rogers out the back. And then - biggest surprise - Kloden succumbed. Which left a rejuvenated Leipheimer to fight it out with Landis and Menchov to the finish. Sastre and Evans coming in seconds later.

And Discovery lost, big time. We have a new world order here.

We have 24 riders inside of 10 minutes. 11 inside of 10 minutes. Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak leads with yesterday's leader Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance just 8 secs adrift. He won't come back, surely? Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank is next at 1m 01secs, then Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto at 1.17 and Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC at 1.52. It's still early - many mountains and a lot of opportunity awaits - but surely now the winner in Paris will come from Landis, Menchov, Evans or Sastre?

Back further with more work to do now is Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile at 2.29 and Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile at 3.22. Mercado is next, then Moreau, Fothen, Zubeldia, Sinkewitz and finally in 13th place Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner at 5.39. These riders are still in contention but will find it hard to dislodge Landis and Menchov in particular. They have to attack, and do it when they are in a strong position and the others at their weakest. They must isolate Landis, Menchov, Sastre and Evans and put them to the test.

Long way to go - and easier said than done. Look for Leipheimer to make big gains as he aims for a top 5 position. Expect Evans to play a waiting game and attack in the Alps. Expect Landis to cover the moves and lay on a big TT before Paris. If Rabo's men recover from today's effort then Menchov looks the goods as well.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Stage 10 - Le Tour - The mountain tactics

Today T-Mobile chose to let a break go, but to also keep the gap smaller rather than larger. So they semi-controlled the situation whilst the other teams sat on. They allowed a French rider - Cyril Dessel - to take the yellow jersey, which takes the heat off T-Mobile. Or does it? It's true that if Dessel and his ag2r team want to keep the jersey they will have to defend it. However tomorrow is a tough - very tough - stage and it's easy to imagine one of the contenders who tagged along today (such as Landis or Evans) attacking and putting pressure on both Dessel and T-Mobile. The T-Mobile riders will have expended more energy than the others, and Dessel may not have the team support he needs to defend the jersey. So will Landis or Evans (or another contender) take the initiative tomorrow?

It's not easy playing tactics like this. T-Mobile could have exhausted themselves today by closing down all attacks and thus defending the maillot jaune, but they were mindful of the long hard stage to follow. So they did 'half a job' and cut their losses. They could also have gone on the attack - they have multiple cards to play after all - and increased their lead, perhaps putting Rogers into the jersey whilst Kloden rested. Kloden could then have gone with tomorrow's breaks.

In any event tomorrow will be interesting. Dessel could amaze us all and hang in there, or another surprise could await us. It may be too early for the contenders to show their hands. Or it may finally be the day when a contender steps up and takes control. Landis could do it. Evans could as well. But could their teams defend from here, all the way to Paris? Both T-Mobile and Discovery have the team resources to defend, and multiple cards to play. It's just a matter of time I suspect before someone escapes, someone from a team with the resources to defend to the end.

21 riders are now within 7 minutes of yellow. T-Mobile have 4 riders in the top 10, all under 6 minutes down. Gonchar then Rogers are best placed with Kloden just behind. All are threats overall. T-Mobile could send one of them up the road and seize the iniative. What would you do?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Stage 9 - Le Tour - The Spaniard returns

Oscar Freire did it again. Another mad scramble, another catch, another frenetic sprint. McEwen didn't sprint until waaaay late and didn't hit top speed. He almost caught Freire but didn't. Still, with Zabel in 3rd and Boonen getting it skewiff again, 2nd place points are pretty good. They clashed heads and bodies as they threw but seemed like buddies after the line - unlike the "O'Grady incident" that cost McEwen the green jersey overall last year.

No real change to GC and 31 riders remain inside of 4 minutes of yellow, Gonchar and T-Mobile still looking good. The Pyrenees will sort 'em out tomorrow. Expect to see some surprises and expect also to see who is ready to take control. Discovery is a sleeping giant but T-Mobile look very strong and well placed. Kloden could be the man. Landis may threaten. Evans may have a tilt. It's all go from tomorrow.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Le Tour - Rest Day 1

Let's review the GC and see what may unfold over the remaining 2 weeks.

We have Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile in the yellow. He is a proven GC rider and real TT specialist. T-Mobile could protect him in the mountains, or use him to take the heat off Rogers (currently 3rd, 1m 08s back) and Kloden (6th, 1m 50s back). They could also send Kessler (11th), Sinkewitz (4th, 1m 45s down) or Mazzoleni (14th) up the road to force the other teams to chase and wear themselves down before launching Kloden or Rogers. Talk about options! They have climbing ace Guerini up their sleeves as well. Even if all they do is minimise their losses they would expect to take time back in the next TT. Unless they totally fall apart T-Mobile look to have enough cards in their pack to keep their hopes alive right through to Paris.

Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak is just 1.00m off Gonchar (or Honchar, if you like). So he will have to attack and make it stick to gain time. The pressure is on him to make his move and control the counterattacks. He does look strong, however. His nearest teammate is Axel Merckx, a long way back (4m 46s) but capable of a long break in the mountains or as loyal support to Landis. He will be at Landis' side when the decisive climbs arrive and will protect him for as long as he can, bridging gaps and bringing back attacks.

3rd and 4th placed riders are Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile at 1.08 and Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) T-Mobile at 1.45. Rogers especially is a threat. If Gonchar falters, Rogers will be there to support or to chase. 5th placed Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner is with Andreas Kloden (Ger) T-Mobile at 1m 50. Fothen won't expect to stay in this company for long, however Kloden is a proven performer at Le Tour and has realistic expectations of a podium place in Paris. Whilst he'll protect Gonchar for now, he and Rogers are the real GC men for T-Mobile and either of them may shine in the coming days.

Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears sits with Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto at 1m 52 back. Cadel can expect to play a role in the mountains, and he is within striking distance of the leaders. Evans will have Aerts to assist him, but Karpets may struggle alone. David Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC remais a contender at 1m 53s but again has few supporters left. Similarly Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 2m is a contender but may find himself outnumbered when the counter attacks start.

After which we find Matthias Kessler (Ger) T-Mobile in his team support role, ready to steal stages when required. 12th place Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance is at 2m 07s and probably a forlorn hope for Top 10 now. He must make a strong showing in the next week if he is to make up the gap. He does have workers around him, so it's possible. Amazingly the first Discovery rider is Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) at 2m 10s. Savoldelli shouldn't be discounted. He will climb up the rankings - literally - over the first few mountain stages and can rely on a strong team.

Then we have Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) T-Mobile , Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner, Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC and George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel in quick succession. It is hard now to see Hincapie make up over 2 minutes on the likes of Rogers, Kloden and Evans. If any team can do it, though, it's Discovery. On paper they are laced with talent - and climbing talent at that. They will make up time and they will attack - they must. But can George actually put time into the leaders like Armstrong used to? It looks unlikely. He may fall into a support role for Savoldelli, or whoever turns out to be the best placed. Teammate Jaroslav Popovyvch (Ukr) Discovery Channel is at 3m 27s, with José Luis Rubiera (Spa) Discovery Channel at 3m 34s. Azevedo is back further. They can do something. They must do it soon.

There are some very fine climbers back further who will play a role as well. Only time will tell who will attack and how the leaders will respond. One big move could claim back minutes and move a rider from 30th to 10th. We can only hope. Enjoy the rest day.

Stage 8 - Le tour - Calzati's day

At last a breakaway succeeds. Sylvain Calzati attacked his companions in the break and splintered the group. He had to do this as T-Mobile's Kessler was doing no work - and why should he, as he was just marking his man. And with Aerts in the break there was no reason for McEwen to catch his own teammate, leaving it to other teams to chase if they wanted. If Calzati waited Kessler could make the decisive move he has become known for, and with fresher legs he would be a real threat.

With such a dangerous move up the road it was likely that the peleton would chase, but it had to be driven by a team with no man in the break, like Quickstep. So Calzati went on a small hill 30km from the line. A brave move but a successful one. Amazingly Kessler didn't respond, so the break splintered into 3, dooming Aerts, Kessler and Zabriskie. Still the chase didn't get going, so Calzati kept up the pressure and held off his breakaway companions, leaving McEwen to gobble 4th place points.

All round a smart move by Calzati. If Quickstep had organised a chase then it could have been different but Boonen's fight seems to have left him... at times it looked like an early rest day. Tomorrow of course is the real rest day, then we recommence with the beginning of our journey into the mountains - and more upheaval. T-Mobile remains the best placed team but Landis threatens to take control in the mountains. However any of the mountain goats - including T-Mobile's Rogers and Kloden - could splinter the field and Landis will have to respond and control the attacks. It could get very interesting. Expect attack and counter attack from T-Mobile in an attempt to isolate Landis. If that happens Landis will have to hitch a ride with climbers like Evans, Garzelli or Cunego, or prove even stronger than he looks and do it on his own.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Stage 7 - Le Tour 2006 - T-Mobile win

The TT has proved to be a boilover. T-Mobile is best placed with Honchar winning by enough over Landis to claim yellow, Rogers remaining in 3rd overall. The losers appear to be the US riders, Hincapie and especially Leipheimer. Julich crashed and is out. Landis was best placed of the US riders, coming in 2nd and gaining time over everyone bar Honchar. Discovery were strong but not strong enough. Cadel Evans will also improve his position as will several others including Moreau.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Stage 6 - Le Tour 2006 - McEwen's 3rd.

A chase, a catch and a perfect lead out delivered the goods for McEwen - again. Looking at the leadout, it's clear that there's a simple plan. Firstly, it's a 2 man attack, not a long 'train'. So it's mobile and adaptable. At about 4 km to go the leadout rider jumps up to around 20th wheel and picks up McEwen. They then stay back on about 15th wheel until at least the 1km mark, with slight variations depending on where the curves are, if any. From a fairly distant position the leadout rider jumps hard with absolute commitment at around 400m and McEwen, anticipating this, jumps on. So we have 2 aspects here. One, of all the teams they commit first and two, they do so from behind their main rivals. It's a surprise attack. The end result is that they begin accelerating probably 30 metres before any other lead out 'launches'. They thus out-anticipate the other 'launches' and grab the early momentum. That initial jump gives McEwen not only the speed he wants but a gap on the others and causes his rivals to respond. In effect he makes the play and the others can only follow. Of course by jumping first from behind he has accelerated to a higher speed earlier than the others and has just to wait for his lead out to pull over before he himself sprints. Today his lead out man left some room on the left and blocked the rival sprinters from advantaging themselves by grabbing Robbie's wheel. Bonus points there!

It will all change after tomorrow's TT. Expect the big players in the GC to emerge.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Stage 5 - Le Tour 2006 - the Spaniard takes it

Another late 'catch' by the bunch created chaos - again - with crashes before and after Samuel Dumoulin and Bjorn Schroder's capture. They were looking good for a while with 7 minutes lead at 100km to go, then 6 minutes with 70km to go... but the inevitable proved itself, well, inevitable. Amazingly the top sprinters managed to stay upright and a wild scramble erupted as the line appeared with a kilometre to go. Oscar Freire won - boosting his green jersey hopes - and Tom Boonen took second. Seemingly unable to capture that elusive 1st place, Tom nevertheless remains in yellow. He puts his failure to convert down to nerves. Not just his nervous anxiety - everyone's.

The time bonuses have pushed out the gaps a bit. The main mover has been Freire, now in 3rd place overall - up from 20th. Amazing what a win can do. We have 51 riders within the first 60 seconds of yellow, and 93 within a minute 51 secs. It's still very close. The TT on Saturday should shake it up.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Stage 4 - Le Tour 2006 - McEwen's 2nd

After missing out on any points yesterday Robbie McEwen came back with a vengeance on a long, slightly curved approach to the finish at St Quentin. Boonen was only 5th, so his run of near misses continues in this Tour, however Hushovd was DQd for swerving, giving Boonen a 4th place instead. The win puts McEwen back in green with Boonen still in yellow.

75 riders remain inside 1 minute from yellow, so it remains wide open.

Significantly McEwen has picked up time bonuses, moving him up on GC. So we have
Tom Boonen, then Michael Rogers, then George Hincapie on top, followed by Thor Hushovd, then Egoi Martinez (Spa) from Discovery Channel now at 0.10. Martinez picked up 3 intermediate sprints in his otherwise unsuccessful breakaway today, moving him up. Then Robbie McEwen at 0.12, with the 3rd Discovery rider Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel at 15secs. Discovery has a huge advantage with 3 riders vying for yellow, giving the team several options to play when the race moves into the mountains. The other teams will have to match Discovery and cover these 3, whilst watching out for other attacks.

T-Mobile also looks strong with Rogers, Serguei Gonchar and Kessler all under 20 secs plus Patrik Sinkewitz at 0.23 and proven GC man Andreas Kloden luring at 0.24secs.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Stage 3 - Le Tour 2006 - the Cauberg

Stage 3 hit its first major test - the Cauberg. The parcours was tough but fair, and most of the sprinters were still there with a chance until the final charge to the line. Again Kessler took advantage of the late-stage terrain and took a flyer up the climb, this time successfully. More surprisingly Boonen was unable to finish off for 2nd, leaving Rogers to take to the podium with a 1-2 for T-Mobile. The uphill nature of the finish was enough to slow Boonen and to put a gap back to Hushovd and particularly McEwen. The time gap was enough to put the GC into its first significant, if small, spin.

It was a race also of casualties, most significantly being GC contender Valverde out with a suspected broken collar bone. O'Grady also lost plenty of time after a fall.

But there are still 75 riders inside a minute of the overall lead. Mountain goats such Cunego (1 minute back) and Rasmussen (1m 07 secs) remain well in contention, if slightly forgotten by the highly credentialled yet somewhat inanely prattling TV commentators. What's a minute in the Alps? These riders - and several more - will bide their time and not waste energy. When the climbs come they will sniff out weaknesses and put the real pressure on when it counts. We will then be dealing in minutes between riders, not seconds. It's a game of patience and picking the time and the right mountain to attack.

Anyway, we now have Sprint King Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step-Innergetic in the yellow jersey with Aussie Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile just 1 sec behind. Rogers could expect to take yellow later, probably in a TT or on a climb in a week's time. George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel is next, 5 secs back, and would be pinning his hopes again on a climb to come. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole is at 7secs and wouldn't expect to win yellow back unless Boonen falters badly in the remaining sprints. Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel is next - a proven Grand Tour winner - and a top contender at just 15secs.

Of the rest we see Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak, Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile and Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto all within a mere 20secs of yellow. Cadel in particular is a steep road climber who can put real gaps into the other GC contenders, so he's very well placed. Salvodelli would hang in there and catch up on the descents, but could Hincapie? That's an interesting battle to come. Also in that same battle will be the likes of proven GC rider Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile, Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC, Yaroslav Popovyvch (Ukr) Discovery Channel, and Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner. All are clustered between 20 and 30 secs back and all are top GC contenders.

It's too early to discount anyone, really. Climber José Azevedo (Por) Discovery Channel is just 31secs back (and sprinter Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto is at 32secs now, so unlikely to get yellow from here). Similarly Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi and Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval are climbers of note capable of taking time out from anyone on their day. Others lurking in the background include Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas, José Luis Rubiera (Spa) Discovery Channel, Mikel Astarloza (Spa) AG2R-Prevoyance, José Rujano (Ven) Quick-Step-Innergetic, Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi and the previously mentioned Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Fondital and Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank.

That's 84 riders inside of 1m.07secs. It's crowded at the top.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Stage 2 - Le Tour 2006 - Chaos and the Viking

The usual chaos today. A mad chase to bring back the breakaway. Hills to wear down the sprinters. A crash that blocks the road. A last-minute desperate dash for the line by Matthias Kessler. A frantic weaving sprint with the Viking Hushovd unintentionally hitting a slightly drifting McEwen and Hushovd pulling his foot from his pedal. Never a good thing to do - and he got quite dark about it, too - as you would. Result? McEwen 1st, then Boonen then the Viking. Cyclingnews has more here.

It's useful to look at the GC right now. 133 riders lie within a minute of yellow at this early stage with no early breakaways succeeding as yet. A big break could get away and turn the race on its head but there's plenty of pressure on the sprinters' teams to ensure that doesn't happen.

So Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole leads the overall with Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step-Innergetic just 5 secs back. Now in green, Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto is just 8 seconds off yellow and like Boonen has a real chance to claim the maillot jaune. Monday's yellow jersey wearer George Hincapie (USA) from Discovery is just 10 secs back but may not want to take further risks at this still early stage.

David Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC is 16secs back and notably we have Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears, Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC, Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile , Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel and Floyd Landis (USA) Phonakcrammed together, all within 21 seconds of top place. It's tight at the top.

With some more sprint points on offer over the next few days we can look to Hushovd, Boonen and McEwen to share the spoils and skip away a bit, unless we see breakaways steal the show. In any case all of the sprinters will lose time when the steeper, longer climbs are reached - so this is their time in the sun - at least until after the mountains. Hincapie, Valverde, Landis, Savoldelli, Rogers, Kloden (29 secs back today) and Evans (25 secs back) will then take up the top places and fight for yellow.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Stage 1 - Le Tour 2006 - Blood on the road

Folks, it's great that Le Tour - and cycling in general - allows such barely-fettered spectating but it's sad when these 'giant hands' that spectators wave hit riders. Hushovd was close to the fence but didn't deserve the hit on the head and arm. At 66kmh it more than hurts. I don't really blame the spectators - it didn't look malicious - but it could have been. Like the gendarme incident with Jalabert, or the photographer in the middle of the road waiting too long for the perfect snap, or the bag that snared Lance - it just shouldn't happen. Either they enforce the 'no giant hand within 100m' rule or they improve the barrier fencing... both on mountain finishes and the sprints. Or riders keep well clear of the fence - and we all know that ain't gonna happen!

Smart move by Hincapie to get the extra points when he could. Hardly rocket science, though. He knew he had the chance and he clearly wanted it (the yellow). Thor's team should have predicted that one. Strange that Boonen faded - he seemed to accelerate twice. Perhaps the shambolic last 3 kms spooked his lead out men? It seemed perfect for Boonen, that long straight, but the chaos made it a bit better for McEwen. Still it was a decision to go on the inside that gave Jimmy Casper the win. The outside, pressed against the fence, offered no way through. When he got the space, he didn't wait. He had the open spaces and committed to the sprint. McEwen with all of his trademark dodging and weaving only got out from behind the mobile chicane just a bit too late. McEwen had more speed but didn't get the gap. It happens.

I'm watching the SBS vision here in Oz and Paul Sherwen just did another classic verbal screw up. Yesterday's was 'if you look at the panel on your screen it's showing Robbie McEwen's heart rate is 108... that can't be right, he'd be more like 180, so that's a mistake'. Yes, Paul, the mistake's on you. That was cadence, man, not heart rate. Sigh.

Today's Paulism was as the peleton passed Mount St Odile and he suggested it was the site of an aircrash in 1992, the craft in question being a "Boeing" A320. Sigh. Stick to bikes, Paul. Airbus make A320s, man, not Boeing. At least he got the year right. Sherwen and Ligget also had trouble working out that Hushovd had been cut on the arm during the sprint. They kept claiming it was after the sprint, when clearly he was looking at a red slash on his right arm before he crossed the line.

Oh well, back to the racing...

Prologue - Le Tour 2006

It's short (7km), it's fast (winner usually above 50kmh, up to 55km average) and it's about power to weight, rider preparation and focus, ability to keep at high revs and - sometimes - a bit of risk taking around corners. This year it was flat with a few tight turns. The winner was a big sprinter (excellent power delivery): Thor Hushovd from Norway.

In Oz we got a live coverage via our SBS. Noteworthy for one commentator mixing up an online cadence display with heart rate. Hmmm.

What can we say from this result?
  1. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole 8.17.00 @51.43 km/h was a surprise winner but not an inexplicable one. He's in yellow now and his team takes the heat for a while; he also won't get over the mountains with the climbers, so he'll protect the yellow for a few days and work towards the green jersey overall.
  2. George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel in 2nd was also a small surprise - but again he's stepped up to fill Lance's shoes and has been in top form. He can climb a bit - maybe not with the mountain goats but certainly enough to limit losses. Stakes his claim here to be the Disco team leader. Maybe he'll get back any time lost in the climbs in the remaining longer TTs? Relief for his team that they don't have to ride to protect the yellow - yet.
  3. David Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC 0.04.21 was no surprise after last year's prologue performance. He's close enough to grab yellow in the right circumstances. Not a likely winner on GC but it's a great way to start.
  4. Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner 0.04.80. A TTer's ride, good result. He will ride for his leader now.
  5. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears 0.04.92 - excellent result. He's a complete package and can get over mountains. A threat overall for the yellow. Top 5 at least, with luck maybe the podium.
  6. Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC 0.04.93. A bit of a surprise - after his earlier-season bad luck and the drama of swapping teams, he's back. He may be able to chase the Green jersey if the team allows. He's stamped some authority here in Basso's absence. Not a climber but a gutsy attacker who may break away before the mountains. Perhaps a high GC is not impossible. Top 20?
  7. Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 0.06.30. Good result, he will be better still at the longer TTs and he can climb. Has stamped his authority on his team in Ullrich's absence. A top 10 prospect overall and a Top 5 maybe. If he falters he will become a support rider, though.
  8. Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 0.08.02. A proven grand tour winner. He must assert himself over Hincapie within the Disco team. Easier said than done. It will be interesting to see how Discovery gels without a definite focus. High GC, potentially Top 5 but depends on who actually leads the team by the end. Could win if let off the leash.
  9. Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 0.09.26. Barring a cut tire incident he would have been on the podium today. A real threat to yellow. Can TT, can climb and has the experience to do it as well. Top 5 at least, maybe the winner.
  10. Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears 0.10.09. A TTer's result. Will hang in there, may get a high GC.
  11. Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile 0.10.11. Rogers' teammate, will follow him for the next 3 weeks. Could become leader if Rogers fails in the high Alps. Top 10.
  12. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step-Innergetic 0.11.21. A big sprinter like Thor. He'll be a real threat to green but like Thor will lose hours in the mountains.
  13. Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas 0.12.33. A great ride. His team may shine in the mountains and in opportunistic breakaways, but he will be a support player.
  14. Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 0.13.24. Just 13 secs adrift and like Rogers a climber as well as a TTer. A real threat to the overall. Will gain time in the mountains over all but the very best and can hang on to it on descents and in TTs. Watch him to wait for the mountains and then attack at the end of a long, hard climb. Top 5 at least - but his team is weaker than most as it is split in support of McEwen as well (in the sprints). Could be a real surprise though.
  15. Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance 0.13.73. A Frenchman, now leading his team. Will shine this year and can expect a good high GC. Maybe Top 10.
3 weeks of tactics to play out yet. Worth watching, eh?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Le Tour and the Aussie contingent

There were 6 Aussies to race in Le Tour this year however with Astana-Wurth definitely now out of the race we are down to 5, our lowest showing by numbers for quite a while and half that of last year.

The stars are Cadel Evans, great climber, excellent time trialler and the general classification rider for Davitamon-Lotto. He was 8th last year overall, with 3 of the 'implicated' riders ahead of him on GC, namely Basso, Ullrich and Mancebo. Which would by simple maths leave him looking at a 5th place. Of course Vinokourov is out because his team (Astana-Wurth) was outed by sheer loss of numbers (not enough team members to form a quorum as it were). So if last year was any guide to this year Cadel's looking at a 4th place! Until you remember that Armstrong - now long retired and also long-suffering in this business of drug-use accusations) is also not here. Suddenly Cadel is looking at top 3! Of course he has to ride the race without incident, stay fit and meet new challengers, but what an opportunity!

I wouldn't wish these sorts of accusations on anyone, least of all champions like Ullrich and Basso, but this is the reality of 2006. The truth may be very different, but what we have is what we have. Vinokourov particularly is hard done by - there is no evidence against him, it's just that his team has evaporated! It's also worth remembering that these 'implicated' riders have not failed a drug test, either.

And we still have a race for the sprinters, with only Aussie Allan Davis implicated in the Spanish Affair. It will still be Aussie Robbie McEwen vs Belgian Tom Boonen in the sprint stakes, with Thor Hushovd and Stuart O'Grady not far behind. Aussie O'Grady must be wondering what has happened to his good luck. He moved to CSC after last year's disappointments and now finds himself in a team shaped around a Tour favourite, a favourite (Basso) who now will not be riding! Perhaps O'Grady will be released for sprint points duties and stage wins?

Similarly TT specialist and climber Mick Rogers from Canberra has found himself in a new team this year (T-Mobile) and his leader (Ullrich) suddenly gone. It opens up some possibilities for Mick but most likely he will now ride in support of another GC hopeful in his team.

And the 5th rider is young Simon Gerrans, a protege of Phil Anderson. It's his 2nd Tour and has picked up some handy stage race wins this past year, although hampered by injury in a crash a few months back. He'll ride his way into form and is riding for a strong French team now missing a key rider (Mancebo, implicated like the others), so expect to see Simon go for long breakaways and a decent GC placing.

The Herald-Sun has some good coverage of this whole affair here and here. CyclingPost here. And has crashed under the weight of all of the hits!

We get so close and the rug gets pulled

Yes folks, another set of drug accusations from the 'Spanish Affair' has cut down the accused and opened Le Tour wide open. It's been brewing, but such timing! The day before the start? Better that it happens now than mid-Tour I guess.

Although the evidence is reported to be strong, most riders - Basso and Ullrich included - have denied involvement. Remember there has been no court case for these riders and certianly no conviction as yet. They are out of the race - and their jobs - by implication and because they have been "outed" by the Spanish authorities to the UCI, their teams, and the press. The best wrap up I can find so far is by Time magazine. The last para is very pertinent:
The International Cycling Union is "recommending" that pro teams ask their riders to sign a written statement certifying that they are not involved in this case. Many within the sport caution against demonizing cycling. "This problem not only sullies cycling but other sports as well", says Suárez Cuevas. "We, as cyclists and directors, have always been in favor of strong antidoping measures, but some people go faster than the laws in finding ways to circumvent them".