July 07, 2009
Stage 4 TTT: Astana firing on all cylinders
If yesterday's Stage 3 was The Columbia Show, today was Astana Hour. Whatever the situation on the team bus, they worked as a single cohesive unit on the twisties around Montpellier, and built time gaps on many of the Tour's GC threats.
Early on, some big names hit the pavement, including Rabobank's Denis Menchov and Lampre's Alessandro Ballan. Four Bbox Bouygues Telecom riders misjudged a bend, and wound up in the rough. Later, Skil-Shimano's Piet Rooijakers broke his arm and left the course, leaving 178 riders in the race.
After the stage, many riders complained that the course was too technical for a TTT.
“We have bikes worth 10,000 Euro, and in the end we can't use them properly because we're just busy trying to hold balance instead of putting our power on the pedals."
Cadel Evans, who has made a point in the press how much more relaxed he is in this year's Tour, sprinted away from his squad as they approached the finish, leaving his teammates struggling to the line in 49:05, which would be 13th best on the day.
Garmin lost 4 riders in the first 12k, but were left with their five best TT men, who set new best times at the final three intermediate checkpoints, and finished in 46:29.
Saxo Bank, with yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara doing long, draft-horse quality pulls, turned in a very strong 47:09.
Columbia, possibly feeling the effects of that 30k race to the line on Stage 3, came in with a respectable 47:28, but trailed Garmin, Liquigas, and Saxo Bank at every intermediate check.
And then there was Astana. Leading the team competition, they were last to start, and they rotated smoothly with big pulls from Klöden, Leipheimer, Contador, and Armstrong. At the first time check, they were a little slower than Caisse d'Epargne, which had kicked the day off with a jackrabbit start they couldn't maintain, but Astana led at every later checkpoint. Once Saxo Bank finished, everyone was looking toward 46:29, the time that would put 7-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong back into yellow.
In the last few k, it became clear it would be pretty close. In the final k, it looked very close. In the last meters, it looked insanely, ridiculously close, until Astana came through in … 46:29. The Tour's offical website put Armstrong into yellow (and I followed suit), but not so fast. That 46:29 put Cancellara and Armstrong in a tie, so officials looked at the fractions of a second in Stage 1, and found that Cancellara had held the race lead by .22 second.
Officially, the leaderboard shows Cancellara first, with Armstrong second “at :00.” There was a suggestion (notably from Robbie McEwen via Twitter) that Armstrong sat up to leave Cancellara in yellow; I've watched it a couple of times, and can't see why you would go that hard to the line if you were that close to taking a yellow jersey you didn't want.
Of note: Liquigas was 4th, a big boost for Roman Kreuziger; my apologies to the Euskaltels, who were middle of the pack, finishing 10th at 2:09. Sastre ends the day 29th at 2:44, Evans 35th at 2:59, Pereiro 40th at 3:03. Menchov, who looked invincible in May, is in 72nd, 3:52 back.
1) Astana, in 46:29
2) Garmin-Slipstream, at :18
3) Team Saxo Bank, at :40
4) Liquigas, at :58
5) Team Columbia-HTC, at :58
6) Team Katusha, at 1:23
7) Caisse d'Epargne at 1:29
8) Cervelo Test Team, at 1:37
9) AG2R-La Mondiale, at 1:48
10) Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 2:09
GC after Stage 4:
1) Fabian Cancellara, Team Saxo Bank, in 10:38:07
2) Lance Armstrong, Astana, at :00
3) Alberto Contador, Astana, at :19
4) Andreas Klöden, Astana, at :23
5) Levi Leipheimer, Astana, at :31
6) Bradley Wiggins, Garmin-Slipstream, at :38
7) Haimar Zubeldia, Astana, at :51
8) Tony Martin, Columbia-HTC, at :52
9) David Zabriskie, Garmin-Slipstream, at 1:06
10) David Millar, Garmin-Slipstream, at 1:07
Posted by Frank Steele on July 7, 2009 in 2009 Stage 4 TTT, 2009 Tour de France, Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov, Fabian Cancellara, Garmin-Chipotle, Jens Voigt, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Top Stories | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Andreu and Armstrong: the history
Andreu, an ex-pro and ex-teammate of Armstrong's at US Postal (through 2000), does almost all the Versus rider interviews, but he and Armstrong have sparred in the media and in court over allegations by Andreu's wife that when Lance Armstrong was undergoing treatment for cancer, he admitted to a history using a variety of performance-enhancing drugs (NPR story, Armstrong's response).
Armstrong maintained that Betsy Andreu might have misunderstood a discussion with his doctors, and denied (and has consistently denied) that he ever took any banned drugs.
This accusation is also a big part of the feud Armstrong has had with Greg LeMond, who claims to have heard from another woman who was in the hospital room that day that Armstrong admitted to using banned substances. Stephanie McIlvain has maintained in court that she was in the room, did NOT hear Armstrong make any such admissions, and she has refused to speak to the press about the case.
Armstrong, who won the case for which Andreu was subpoenaed, has seemed personable with Andreu on air so far this year. Anyone with further insight?
VeloNews | Armstrong, Andreu back on speaking terms - Added July 8
Preview: Stage 4 TTT - Montpellier
One of the expected early-Tour showdowns unfolds today in Montpellier.
As with Stage 1, the 2009 team time trial is being run over a shorter distance than normal, 39 kilometers or about 24 miles. The shorter distance helps equalize for the elimination of the tiered time limits, which kept the weaker TT teams (cough, Euskaltel, cough) from falling hours behind on a 90-minute ride. The leading riders on a team all receive the time of the 5th rider across the line.
The course twists and turns with some rolling country hills and some city streets, and the possibility of more stiff winds like we saw yesterday. This kind of course should favor smart and smooth teams over pure power.
Three time checks, at 9, 19.5 and 26.5 kilometers.
A number of GC contenders aren't looking forward to today's stage. Carlos Sastre's Cervelo Test Team is pretty thin, as is Silence-Lotto, riding for Cadel Evans.
Three teams stand out here, and each has US connections.
Columbia was the team that beat Garmin in the Giro this year, but at least two of their TT studs spent a lot of time driving the break yesterday. Columbia-HTC has the minor advantage of being totally invincible, seemingly winning everything everywhere the last month or so. They also could grab another leader's jersey, by beating Saxo Bank (and double TT world champion Fabian Cancellara) by :33 and keeping Astana and Garmin close, which would put their Tony Martin (already in white) in yellow, as well.
Finally, Astana is a psychic successor to the Postal Service, which won the last TTT in the Tour, back in 2005, on the way to Armstrong's 7th Tour victory. If they could put 40 seconds into Saxo Bank and 30 seconds into Columbia without giving up 30 seconds to Garmin, they could put Lance Armstrong into the maillot jaune.
Caisse d'Epargne rolls first, at 8:30 Eastern. Garmin-Slipstream departs at 10:22 Eastern, Saxo Bank 10:29, Columbia 10:36, and Astana last at 10:43.
July 06, 2009
Cosmo presents "How the Race Was Won" for Stage 2
Sit back and let your Uncle Cosmo show you some of the things you may have missed on yesterday's Stage 2. Cosmo's done a few of these before — you can find them on his Vimeo channel or over at his weblog, Cyclocosm.
July 05, 2009
Quick Step's Van De Walle first casualty of '09 Tour
Quick Step's Jurgen Van De Walle will not take the start at Stage 3 tomorrow. He crashed hard during Sunday's Stage 2, and a post-stage examination in Marseilles found a punctured right lung and fractured left collarbone.
Van De Walle, who has been a regular on Quick Step squads racing at the Tour of California and Tour of Georgia, finished back in the field today, and sat in 79th place in the Tour. Barring any other withdrawals, 179 riders will continue the race tomorrow.
July 04, 2009
Sastre prevented from racing in yellow
Tour officials refused to let defending champion Carlos Sastre race today's Stage 1 in Monaco in the yellow jersey.
Since Armstrong's retirement, there was no returning champion in 2006 (Armstrong retired), 2007 (Landis banned, Pereiro not yet named champion), or 2008 (Contador and the rest of Astana barred from racing).
Sastre has been the Rodney Dangerfield of GC candidates, and would probably have liked to remind teams and fans that he was good enough to win this race last year, but the ASO decided the tradition had run its course.
Hood quotes Tour spokesman Mathieu Desplats:
“We decided to stop this tradition,” said Tour spokesman Mathieu Desplats. “It was a tradition, not a rule. It’s a new race, with a new start and new contenders. There’s no reason why to wear the yellow jersey.”
Armstrong's 2003 prologue start looks to stand as the last initial Tour stage with a rider in yellow.
Stage 1 preview: 15.5-km Monaco TT
Well, we're certainly going to kick things off with a bang. Today's course is both longer and harder than a Tour prologue, with about a 5-mile/7.5-km incline on the front end, and some technical bits on the back end. The climb to 205 meters is officially a 4th Category climb, so we'll get a King of the Mountains for tomorrow, as well.
To claim the race's first yellow jersey, riders will need to put out the power to get up that rise, without going anaerobic, or they'll find themselves losing time on the flatter, power-friendly final 4 kilometers.
You can't run a Tour time trial without anointing Fabian Cancellara the favorite, but it takes a lot of watts to drive Cancellara uphill, so maybe he'll leave an opening for another rider. TTs with climbing tend to reveal the GC threats, so Alberto Contador's got to factor in. Bradley Wiggins has made his career out of shorter TTs, so keep an eye on him, as well. I'll be pulling for David Zabriskie, whose climbing has improved tremendously in the last 4 years, sometimes to the detriment of his TT'ing; here, that could make for a competitive combination.
And it's not a given that everybody lines up as expected. In 1989, defending Tour champion Pedro Delgado missed his prologue start time, finally leaving the starthouse 3 minutes behind schedule. In 2004, current Garmin-Slipstream director Matt White, then a Cofidis rider, broke his collarbone in a spill while warming up on the morning of the prologue, and had to be replaced by Peter Farazijn.
VS broadcaster picks:
Hummer - Cancellara
Sherwen - Contador
Roll - Armstrong
Liggett - Evans
July 03, 2009
French ruling: Boonen can start Tour
The French Olympic Committee's Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled today that Belgian sprinter Tom Boonen may start the 2009 Tour de France.
Boonen, who tested positive for cocaine in an out-of-competition test in April, had been barred from racing this year's Tour by ASO, the Tour's owner and organizer. It was his third positive for the drug since November 2007, and led ASO to bar him from last year's Tour, as well. Australia's Allan Davis had been announced as Boonen's replacement at the Tour.
Boonen, one of the sport's best sprinters, should make the fight for the green jersey much more interesting, and his presence could deny Mark Cavendish a chance at bettering his four stage wins from 2008.
The 2005 world champion and 2007 Tour green jersey, Boonen claimed his first Belgian national championship last weekend.
July 01, 2009
Does Charly Wegelius' mom work for WADA?
I'm really sorry to see Thomas Dekker turn up positive. There had been suspicion about him, especially when his team left him off their Tour squad last year based on his blood test results, but along with Robert Gesink, he was one of the big hopes for Dutch cycling.
There still remains a possibility that Dekker will be exonerated. The UCI released the news, as has become its custom, after Dekker's “A” sample tested positive. They will now test a 2nd sample collected at the same time, and Dekker faces a ban if that “B” sample also tests positive. If that's the case, they've got him dead to rights, and he deserves the 2-year suspension he would almost certainly face.
I wanted to focus on the timing of the announcement, however. This sample is one that was collected in December 2007, and officials retested it because a) they didn't like the looks of Dekker's biological passport numbers for the last two seasons, and b) they have newer tests that can identify more forms of EPO (including CERA, presumably).
I can't tell for certain when the followup test was conducted. I seem to remember seeing “May,” but can't find confirmation. So why are we hearing about a test whose results are usually back in around 3 weeks 6 weeks later? It's almost like the anti-doping officials were looking for a reason to send a message in advance of some big event. Also, if you could wait 6 weeks, why not wait until you have the “B” sample results?
There may be perfectly valid reasons these results have come out now, just 3 days before the Tour start, but I think testers owe it to fans, teams, and riders to provide some assurances that results will always be reported consistently (and I would prefer waiting for the “B” sample, but consistency is paramount) and expeditiously.
Oh, the headline -- Silence-Lotto will be bringing Charly Wegelius to the Tour to fill Dekker's shoes.
June 28, 2009
So what's Lance Armstrong's endgame for 2009 Tour?
Like a lot of folks, I was surprised to see Chris Horner left off the Astana Tour squad, but I completely understand why Johan Bruyneel did it. Certainly, after publicizing his desire to get out of his contract and race the Tour with another team (despite 2+ months of racing season still to come after the Tour), I wouldn't look for Horner back with Astana next year. Of course, given the financials, it doesn't look like anyone will be riding for Astana next year.
Bruyneel's made a career (as rider and DS) out of playing the percentages, and the percentage in the hand that he's got is to ride Contador to a 4th Grand Tour title (VeloNews story shows gamblers agree). There are plenty of teams that would let a rider with his pedigree and palmares stack the team with those teammates he feels give him the best chance at wearing yellow in Paris. If the Garmin rumor is true, Jonathan Vaughters was going to sign not just Paulinho but also Noval to support Contador.
You could make an argument that it's not Paulinho's selection that left Horner out in the cold, but Muravyev's, or even Armstrong's, both of which are for political reasons. Muravyev is a hat tip to the team's Kakakh registry, while Armstrong is here for the publicity and excitement he brings to the team's coverage, and in recognition of his enormous place in cycling history.
A bigger question, though, is “What's Armstrong riding for?” I don't know exactly what his goals are for this Tour, but I don't think he will be riding for the overall win. Certainly, he's showing up in great condition, and as a competitor, he's got to believe that he could win, if certain things happen on the road. But this Tour lines up better for the climbers than the TT men, and Contador has shown he's an extraordinary climber. That said, I have a hard time believing Armstrong will be happy carrying bottles for anyone, even the 2009 Tour winner. So what could Astana carve out that would satisfy both Contador and Armstrong?
Other than the maillot jaune, the only other jersey that Armstrong could reasonably contend for is the polka-dot jersey, but no sane team is going to let Armstrong ride off on a multi-peak points hunt, unless he's already down by tens of minutes, and that's how recent maillots pois have been won.
Armstrong certainly could find himself in position to chase stage wins, and there are even a couple of stages that might further polish Armstrong's reputation. Most obvious is Stage 20 up Mont Ventoux on the penultimate day of the Tour, which looks like the biggest stage of this year's Tour. As the marquee stage, there will be a lot of riders eyeing this one, and my guess is it will go to somebody who's more of a pure climber than Armstrong, like Andy Schleck, Robert Gesink, or Carlos Sastre, depending on the race situation. Armstrong himself, though, has expressed his regrets over Mont Ventoux, where he feels he “gifted” Marco Pantani a stage in 2000, and where he was beaten by Richard Virenque in 2002. “I left unfinished business there,” he told Versus.
So, sure, maybe Armstrong's got a circle around Stage 20 on his calendar, but I think his presence here is more about the other half of the “Contador to Garmin” rumor: The 2010 Livestrong-Nike team. Presumably, Johan Bruyneel will be trying to match his UCI license to a sponsor after this season, and Livestrong and Nike are already close partners, with a new “It's About You” ad campaign that launched over the weekend and events planned in conjunction with the Tour. Would Armstrong be the uncontested leader on the road of that team, or did he come out of retirement to launch it with maximum fanfare, after which he'll return to retirement? We'll all know soon enough.
Spelling out the worst-case scenario for Astana: a T-Mobile like glut of teammates riding for the win, domestiques who will only ride for “their guy”, dogs and cats living together, etc. Should be an interesting three weeks.
June 24, 2009
Garmin-Slipstream makes Tour squad announcement
Garmin-Slipstream has announced their Tour squad.
- Julian Dean
- Tyler Farrar
- Ryder Hesjedal
- Dan Martin
- David Millar
- Danny Pate
- Christian Vande Velde
- Bradley Wiggins
- David Zabriskie
Martijn Maaskant has been announced as the alternate. NOT riding the Tour are Tom Danielson, who also missed out last year; Will Frischkorn, who made it last year; or Canadian TT champion Svein Tuft.
Garmin's phenom Tyler Farrar will have one of the great lead-out men trying to put him in front of Mark Cavendish at the finish line, and Irish champion Dan Martin, nephew to 1987 Tour and Giro champ and world champion Stephen Roche, makes his first Tour start.
It's a team with great TT riders: Zabriskie, Millar, Vande Velde, Pate, Wiggins, and Hesjedal. As with Farrar, you have to wonder if they'll be fast enough to take revenge on Columbia-High Road, which beat Garmin by six seconds at the Giro d'Italia team time trial in May.
Posted by Frank Steele on June 24, 2009 in 2009 Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins, Christian Vande Velde, Danny Pate, Dave Zabriskie, David Millar, Julian Dean, Tom Danielson, Will Frischkorn | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
June 16, 2009
Retired Hamilton gets 8-year ban; Vinokourov will miss Tour
Back in February, Tyler Hamilton tested positive for a steroid that he said resulted from DHEA he was taking to deal with his divorce and his mother's recent cancer diagnosis. Informed of the positive in April, Hamilton retired, and pretty much said cycling was less important than getting sane and healthy.
Today, the US Anti-Doping Agency handed down an 8-year ban that should ensure that Hamilton won't, Vinokourov-like, decide to “un-retire.” Hamilton continues to maintain that he didn't blood dope, despite two positive tests in 2004. Hamilton endeared himself to fans through tough rides, like his epic Stage 16 Tour win in 2005 while riding with a broken collarbone. Faced with blood doping charges, Hamilton mounted a defense that taught us all about chimeric twins, and kept his 2004 Olympic gold in the time trial when officials couldn't test his B-sample to confirm A-sample's positive.
I got a cork from one of the bottles of champagne the podium finishers popped after last year's US Pro Championship. I can't say for certain that it was Tyler's, but I like to think it was. I was torn by Hamilton's victory in Greenville, because it seemed so superhuman, the way he essentially rode a pack that included 3 Garmin-Chipotle riders right off his wheel.
On the one hand, I wanted to believe that this tough kid from Marblehead (how perfect!) had come back from his ban, and was riding like a man out to prove something. On the other hand, how could he have been so insanely strong if he was clean? Some days I thought I was keeping that cork to commemorate that heroic ride; others I thought it was a cautionary cork: Resist the yearning for mythic heroes. Some things are too good to be true. Tyler, you may have been a fraud, but you were never boring. I hope you can find a little peace and happiness in your new life.
Vinokourov, now 36 himself, learned today that, even if a team might consider signing and starting him, he is not eligible to ride in this year's Tour. His ban, resulting from a blood doping positive during the 2007 Tour, was set at one year by the Kazakhstan cycling federation, but the UCI stepped in when Vinokourov announced a comeback and the Court of Arbitration for Sport agreed, extending the ban to two years.
Court of Arbitration for Sport | Alexander Vinokourov Eligible to Compete Again as of 24 July (full decision pending)
June 15, 2009
Curse of the cycling fan: My codependent relationship with the sport
So I'm sure that a few of you have wondered what's up with this weblog. Generally, I wind things up a lot earlier in the season, offering race results and analyses of Paris-Nice, the Spring Classics, and certainly the Giro and Dauphiné.
I've got to admit, however, that it's getting harder and harder to follow our sport. Every year, it seems, we've got a crop of outstanding new riders who offer breakout performances at the Tour. And every damn year, it seems, it turns out many, even most, of those performances have been chemically enhanced. Ullrich. Basso. Rasmussen. Schumacher. Kohl. Ricco and Piepoli. And yes, Floyd Landis. (Ask me again tomorrow, and I may be back to rationalizing for Landis).
It's enough to turn a fan against cycling. When, for April Fool's Day, Briggs Heaney posted that he was giving up on cycling, I almost bought it, because I shared a lot of his offered reasons. Certainly, it's been enough to turn off some of the other bloggers whose writing and commentary I have enjoyed, including Wim van Rossum, who used to maintain the indispensible cycling4all and the blogger who ran Cycling Fans Anonymous.
So why don't I flip the switch and lock the doors around here? Because, when the action starts, I've got to watch it. I loved this year's Giro, with Di Luca seemingly turning himself inside out day after day, and Menchov matching every move. Mark Cavendish and his team are just astounding. When April rolled around with no Tour de Georgia, I missed it something fierce.
On the other hand, I'm going to change my focus a little bit, back to more of a link-blog. I started this weblog with BoingBoing and Glenn Reynolds' Instapundit (he's authored 10 posts while you've been reading this) as models, and with only TypePad as an authoring tool.
Now, with the rise of Twitter and other social media, I plan on migrating real-time race updates, breaking news, and quick link-only posts to Twitter (I did race updates on Twitter last year -- at http://www.twitter.com/TdFblog ), with stage summaries, photo gallery links, and commentary here on the weblog.
Byron and I are talking about how best to incorporate some Tour coverage on Bike Hugger, as well. Thanks for reading (since 2003!), and for all your comments and feedback.