Go Dad Go!

A self-important blog about riding bikes, raising kids and the all-too-rare nexus of these two pursuits.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Stage 15 - from July 18


I'm certain you'll agree that there was much for a cycling fan to love about today's stage.

Start with the baseline: we got to follow our riders' progress up the spectacular switchbacks of Alpe d'Huez. With a backdrop like the surrounding Alps buoying my mood, I could enjoy watching overweight men riding tricycles up those switchbacks -- let alone the world's top cyclists.

Then go to the results: Frank Schleck, a rider from one of the Low Countries, reached the top of cycling's most famed ascent ahead of renowned climber Damiano Cunego. Winning on behalf of tiny Luxembourg and downtrodden Team CSC, Schleck gave his backers a victory to be proud of. (Which makes me think: every Olympiad, someone calculates the number of medals won per capita, or per dollar of GDP, to show that, say, New Zealand winning five medals is a bigger deal than the U.S. winning thirty. I say that for this Tour, we figure out which country won the most stages per acre of land mass; unless San Marino or Andorra has a rider in there somewhere, I'm guessing Luxembourg's win is safe). Plus we got to see Floyd Landis don the Maillot Jaune for the second time -- and I'm guessing he won't relinquish it quite so easily this time.

But even more than wistfully gazing at those famed 21 switchbacks, or fist-pumpingly cheering on Schleck and Landis, I loved following today's team tactics. During the Era of Lance, we came to believe that "tactics" meant sending your incredibly strong climbers to the front of the peloton, methodically watching for any potential breaks and launching your superstar somewhere on the final climb. You ignored the other jersey competitions, and you rarely went for stage wins. It was a simple strategy, and it was the right one for USPS/Discovery and Armstrong. But with the Maillot Jaune competition wide open -- not to mention the climbers' contest as well -- and without a dominant rider or team, the squads have become far more resourceful.

That's why we saw Zabriskie and Voigt hammering not just up the Col du Lautaret, but daringly down the wet roads on the backside as well, all to put teammate Schleck at the foot of the Alpe with enough time to outdistance the GC contenders....And why Axel Merckx first got himself into the break, and then, upon being dropped, drifted back to fellow Phonaker Landis, to whom he offered a water bottle and then a slipstream-tow for a welcome couple kilometers....And why Mickael Rasmussen, seemingly spent, bridged up to a suffering Denis Menchov, doing everything he could to restore him to the ranks of his Yellow Jersey rivals. It's one of my favorite elements of bicycle racing: that out of such a simple contest -- be the first to the finish line -- you can squeeze intricate tactics. (My other favorite part of all of this is imagining Rasmussen's director's screaming into his earpiece; I wonder what "Make like a real climber and get your bony orange ass up to Menchov now!" sounds like in Dutch?

But the best piece of today was the sheer determination with which so many of the riders raced. Whether it was Menchov twisting himself around his bicycle in a futile attempt to stay with Landis, or de la Fuente going never-say-die after every possible polka-dot point, or Pereiro riding like a real grimpeur, spurred on by the Yellow Jersey on his back; or Schleck himself, gritting his teeth through the final kilometers and then collapsing in a tearful heap on the steps of his team's bus -- each one of these guys and many others "reached deep into his suitcase of courage" and gave us a stage to remember.

All of this strategizing and suitcase-reaching did little to shake up our ranks, though Pete's 2005 Leftovers team did (finally) fall a bit. It's looking like it's going to take at least two jerseys to win the game, and pulling the trifecta isn't out of the question, as de la Fuente isn't easily relinquishing the Maillot a Pois on behalf of Romas' "Team Clean." Meanwhile, there's always the X factor: the Most Combative Award, which we won't know until after the final stage. It could be a Voigt, or a Kessler, even a de la Fuente who takes it and pushes someone to the top. For now, Tony sits atop the standings, though he doesn't know it; he's on his first trip to India to meet the in-laws (and I think it's a trek to Modesto to see mine!). Meanwhile, hard-luck Greg got exactly what he didn't need -- ten points from Schleck, thus pulling him out of the fee-keeping cellar. But as he's expecting his first kid very soon, he has much more important things to consider -- more important even than bike racing.

A demain!


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4:30 AM  

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