Go Dad Go!

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

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Ups and (Mostly) Downs for the Americans - Stages 7 & 8


The two stages for which I owe you updates couldn’t have been much more different from one another. Friday’s stage was the flattest of the Tour, while today’s was the hilliest so far; yesterday a breakaway of largely unknown riders gave way easily to an inexorable leadout train for one of the biggest names in the sport; today a breakaway with some prominent riders managed to hold off the surging peloton. And while yesterday was a full-blown disaster for U.S. riders, today provided a small measure of recompense.

Of course, one element remained constant: Thor Hushovd stood tall, and in the Yellow Jersey, at the end of today’s hilly stage.

Yesterday’s stage was more typical of a Tour de France’s first week: flat and windy, perfect for the sprinters, and in fact, that’s how it set up. A break of four largely unknown riders escaped early in the day, and remained away only as long as the sprinters’ teams seemed interested in allowing them to do so; the chain never let out too far, and the peloton was in control the entire time. But those nasty crosswinds, which motivate riders to take risks as they seek to gain just a bit of wind-shielded advantage, resulted in a nasty crashes, including one the delayed a number of prominent riders, including Levi Leipheimer – and which took down U.S. fan favorite Chris Horner. The forty year-old Bend, Oregon native, who talks about cycling like a sixteen year-old kid talks about driving car, has enjoyed a remarkable year, winning the Tour of California in emphatic fashion, and has been discussed as a pleasantly surprising possibility for this Tour’s podium, but yesterday’s crash broke his nose and briefly knocked him out. A Tour medical professional declared him capable of riding to yesterday’s finish, but he steadily lost time as he rode, even more than would be expected when chasing a charging peloton alone; by the time he finished, this podium contender was more than twelve minutes off the lead, and beginning to weave across the road. Leipheimer finished in better shape, but having been held up by a crash and a flat tire, was three minutes behind the first finishing group, which included all of his podium rivals. Suffice it to say that for Levi, for whom podium hopes were lofty and predicated on the best of circumstances coming together, a stage win is now a more appropriate ambition.

All in all, a lousy day for these American GC (General Classification) hopes. Call it karma for schadenfreude directed at Contador after crashing and losing time. (But at least we still have Levi to watch in those ads; give him credit for putting himself out there, tan lines and all, even in “the shower scene” of the Road ID ads with Bob Roll.) But it was a solid day for HTC-High Road who, back on comfortable turf, rode the entire last 10 kilometers in control of the race, ultimately launching Mark Cavendish to a win in the same town as his first-ever Tour stage victory. American Tyler Farrar seems to have disappeared since his win a couple of days ago, seemingly having said, “I’m good” after one triumph, and now content to finish in the pack.

The initially-monikered Tejay Van Garderen, billed by many as America’s next great cycling hope, sought today to avenge his compatriots’ (and fellow Montanan’s – Leipheimer’s) Friday losses by playing protagoniste in the breakaway. His ambitions wouldn’t come to full fruition, though he was rewarded with the day’s “Most Aggressive” designation – and with the Polka-Dot Jersey. Ultimately, he couldn’t hold the wheel of breakmate Rui Costa, a proper Iberian climber who fared better over the Tour’s first sizeable climbs. Costa, spurred on knowing that he would be his team’s first-ever Tour stage winner (and that, the team being “Movistar,” he’d be Hollywood-hip as he did so), fended off a range of big-cred chasers, including an evidently very determined Vino (who wore his glasses backwards in a really cool new way that I’ve never seen before) and Philippe Gilbert, who just had to put the lie to my touting of his fast uphill finishes by falling just short. Ultimately Costa would finish at Super-Besse* just 12 seconds ahead of Gilbert, with Cadel Evans, who’s looking to steal seconds from Contador wherever he can get them, finishing third, just a few more seconds back.

The general classification picture appears just a bit clearer this evening, with Leipheimer mostly out of it, and Horner sadly, utterly so. Meanwhile, 2011’s “It” rider Robert Gesink unfathomably lost a minute on his GC rivals on the last, relatively minor climb of the day – unfathomably because, up ahead with the skinny climbers was once again Thor Hushovd, who somehow ended yet another day in Yellow.

Cavendish’s win shuffle’s things a bit in our game, and for only the second time we have a new leader: Phil Carter, who emerges from this pair of stages with a one-point lead over Marissa. (Phil, do the honors: tell us about yourself!) Of course, much remains to be seen, with all four jerseys very much up in the air.

A demain – for more big hills before the first rest day –


*How pissed would you be if you lived in Besse, a respectable French town, and then someone built a ski resort/town up the hill called “Super-Besse?” That’s how they lie: Besse at the foot of the hill, and Super-Besse a few kilometers up the road. You’re living in, say, Denver, and then someone builds a town up the mountain called “Awesome Denver”: how would you feel? The whole idea seems almost…Piedmont-esque.


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