Sunday, July 10, 2005

Tour de France Stage 9

Today was supposed to be another hard day in the mountains. At least as hard a day with several small climbs and two large catagory 1 and 2 climbs can be.

Unfortunately, the day started badly. David Zabriskie who held the yellow jersey for the first 4 days had to abandon the race after just 10 km today. David took a really hard fall in stage 4 and was mixed up in a couple small crashes in the subsequent days. I have taken a couple hard falls back in my commuting on a bike days. Unless the bike was unridable I was always able to get back on and ride inspite of some pretty nasty injuries. But I don't know how these guys can get back on and 'race'. Riding is one thing. Racing is a much much harder thing. Especially when you are hurting. David did a great job early on this year and I plan on watching and cheering him on in the years to come. I'm impressed that he held up as well as he did. Good Job David and I look forward to watching you next year.

Well the attacks started early and often this day. But the earliest and the longest was by a Danish Rider from Rabobank - Mickael Rasmussen. In only his second tour Mickael bragged before the start of the tour to a teammate that he was going to win the polka dot (climbers) jersey this year.

Mickael Rasmussen is a former world mountain bike champion who rides the mountains on pavement like he is commuting on flat ground.

Rasmussen not only won first over every mountain climb today, he also ultimately won the stage as well. This was a magnificent solo performance. That earned Rasmussen maximum climb points and a stage win. He climbed to fourth overall in the general classification only 25 seconds behind Lance Armstrong.

Which brings us to my beef of the day. Tomorrow is a rest day. The day after that is a long hard day in the Alps. Today Lance Armstrong kept the entire Discovery Channel team sitting together at the front of the peloton setting the pace for everyone else. They did not chase the break aways.

The announcers speculated that he was trying to get his team regrouped so that they wouldn't break apart like they did yesterday. They speculate that Lance wanted to give up the yellow jersey so that he would not have to work so hard in the mountains defending it.

Well that doesn't make any sense to me. The other riders in the tour don't attack Lance Armstrong because he is wearing yellow. They attack him because he is the favorite to win the race. Jens Voigt, the current yellow jersey holder, of the CSC team is not the kind of rider who will do particularly well in the high mountains. That is what Ivan Basso is on the CSC team is there to do - climb in the mountains and try to wear the yellow into Paris. That is the plan of Bjarni Riss, the CSC team manager. He will not sacrifce those plans in order to defend the yellow jersey if it is not on the back of Ivan Basso. He proved that in stage four when they left David Zabriskie wearing yellow and sitting on road after a crash.

So if Lance Armstrong thinks that CSC will expend a lot of energy defending the yellow jersey that Jens Voigt is wearing he is probably mistaken. All he has done is prove to his team that he wants them to do things his way, and that he is willing to throw away the yellow jersey to make them do that.

I may be wrong. Lance and his team leader, Johan Bruyneel, have a plan and I hope it works. I just don't understand how fending off attacks in the mountains is more work than having to attack in the mountains to regain something you already lost. The attacks are going to come anyway. Lance is a target no matter what jersey he wears and CSC will only work to put Basso in yellow. When the going gets tough, they will hang Voigt out to dry just like they did Zabriskie.

I hope that Lance and Johan's plans work out. I really hope that today doesn't turn out to be a major mistake. Voigt isn't a great climber, but with help he gets by, and he has 2:18 to play with. In second is Christophe Moreau, a rider who a few years ago was expected to challenge Armstrong for the yellow. What if it just took him a few extra years to reach his full potential. Now he has a 0:28 second lead on Armstrong to drive him.

Right behind Armstrong is Rasmussen, who climbs like a goat. He decends like an avalanche. Absoultely fearless. He's a past world mountain bike champion so he knows how to win. If he manages a time trial later he may have more on his mind than just a polka dot jersey in Paris.

On a strickly petty personal level I was really getting to like the idea of a Tour de France where the only men to wear the yellow were Americans. That dream is gone now.

In more pettiness Lance is only about 8 days in yellow short of Bernard Hinault's second place record of 77 days in yellow for a career. I would really like to see Armstrong take over that spot in the record books. Hinault has publicly said that Armstrong isn't as good a rider as he was in his prime. So I'm in favor of Armstrong taking any and every record away from Hinault that he can.

All in all a good day of racing to watch, just not the kind of results I wanted to see. Ignoring that Rasmussen turned in a great day that was really fun to watch.

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