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

Stages 11 and 12 -- July 14


Here's what I don't know: who's going to win this Tour. Only I need to keep reminding myself that I don't know this, that we've moved into a different era, one in which the leader after the first big mountain stage isn't necessarily going to be leading into Paris. As many have said, it's definitely a more interesting era during which to watch the Tour de France.

Here's what I do know: I'm a terrible prognosticator. My team is halfway through a steady descent to the valley floor. I started near the summit; today, when I look down I can see Don, Greg and Jordan with some clarity; looking above me, Tony, Walter and Pete '05 sit high atop a nearby col. Maybe I'll just be able to keep my money.

But what I'm mostly talking about is my recent blather about Levi Leipheimer. I was thinking about selling you on my last email being a reverse hex, my modest effort to send some good vibes in the direction of my fellow Northern-Californian/erstwhile-fellow-Utahn-with-a-receding-hairline -- but I don't think you'd buy it. So instead I'll fess up: I was just plain wrong. Here's hoping Levi's back to stay.

And here's really hoping that Floyd stays in yellow. Before this whole hip business came to light, I might have suggested we all root for Menchov, a guy who's been around awhile, has put in his time, and likely didn't have the advantages in life that the American riders probably enjoyed. But now, knowing that this might be Floyd's only real chance, you just have to get behind him. Plus I'm really liking the backwards cap on the podium (more than the sponsors like it, I'd imagine), and the low-key demeanor is becoming endearing.

In fact, the only thing I don't like about Floyd is his riding style. We're back in the days of Indurain, it would seem: steady, big-gear grinds in time trials and up the climbs. No authoritative attacks, no punishing, out-of-the-saddle accelerations. But it works for Floyd, and I'm hoping it works for the next week (though maybe not for the next five years; not that I wish ill upon Landis and his hip, but a more exciting rider would be fun to watch).

Stage 11 was indeed epic, as we saw numerous attacks on the early climbs, forceful -- if ill-advised -- leadership from T-Mobile, a career-worthy effort from Boogerd, and the battle among five, then three of the best riders in this Tour. But we also saw riders moving more methodically, less confidently and -- maybe I'm just imagining this -- more slowly than in the last seven years. After Armstrong's dominance, it was interesting to watch the reluctant, no-you-first racing over the last couple of kilometers, which made Leipheimer's insistent attacks that much more inspiring. (Though my favorite part of the whole day was when Phil Liggett remarked, "And it's a fine set of teeth that Boogerd has now, isn't it?")

So while the first big mountain stage sorted things out a bit, we certainly don't know who will win the Tour. Similarly, our game has sorted itself out considerably, but we don't know who will win. We now have three players -- Tony, Christian and Kat -- holding the Yellow and Green jerseys, and one, Romas, holding all three of the main maillots. The only jersey that's probably not going to change torsos is the white one, as Markus Fothen has taken a seemingly insurmountable lead in that competition, so Rachel and Robin should hold onto those points. But as for the others...Floyd's not invulnerable, de la Fuente will have to battle it out with Rasmussen, and even McEwen won't necessarily wear green all the way to the podium. And as for the Most Combative "red number"...I won't even hazard a guess (since we all know how good I am at that).

Today's stage 12 was one for justification and redemption. Just yesterday Yaroslav Popovych's designation as heir apparent became an apparent error, and along with Hincapie's hopes, Discovery's dreams of continued command died an ignominious death on the road to Pla de Beret. Rather than succumb, though, Popo led a brave attack on a blisteringly hot day. He rode hard, and he rode smart; knowing that he would never outsprint Oscar Friere, he relentlessly attacked the Spaniard and the other two riders in their breakaway group. Three times they caught him, with Alessandro Ballan doing most of the work to close the gap, but the fourth time Ballan couldn't bridge to Popovych's slipstream, and with Friere doing his "Hey, don't look at me, I'm a sprinter" thing, the Discovery rider rode solo to the finish. With that the Ukraine officially replaced Kazakhstan as the Best Former Soviet Republic in the Tour, not counting Menchov's Mother Russia. (But word to Popo: when you cross yourself, it goes left shoulder first, and you only need to do it once. Any good Catholic knows that.)

Friere's third place and Boonen's very tight field sprint win narrows the Green Jersey competition just a smidge. You'll see all of the jersey holdings on the attached sheet, including my creative cut at how Romas' tripartite situation should appear.

Two more flattish stages -- and then a rest day -- and then the glorious Alps!



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