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July 18, 2010

Stage 14 on the road

Early in the stage, the day's breakaway was established, with Garmin's Dave Zabriskie, Sky's Geraint Thomas, FDJ's Benoit Vaugrenard, Katusha's Pavel Brutt, QuickStep's Jurgen Van de Walle, AG2R's Christophe Riblon, Bbox Bouygues Telecom's Pierre Rolland, and Stephane Auge and Amael Moinard from Cofidis.

The group was allowed about 10 minutes head, then Rabobank and Astana sent enough riders to the front to keep the gap within a few seconds of 10:00.

With around 90k to ride, Astana decided it was time to shut down the break, and the gap fell steadily. The break captured the day's second sprint, at Campagne-sur-Aude:

Campagne-sur-Aude sprint:
1) Auge, +6 pts
2) Moinard, +4 pts
3) Riblon, +2 pts

With 80k to ride, the gap was 7:53 and falling, and the road was tilting up toward the beginning of the climb of the Port de Pailheres. Astana clearly had some big plans, and were driving the chase hard. With 70k to race, the gap was down to 6:47. Astana had all 9 riders at the front, with Saxo Bank close behind, and with about 55k to ride, Team Sky sent riders to the front of the field, as well. At 48.5 km/30 miles to ride, the gap was 4:28, and the road was about to turn skyward.

Posted by Frank Steele on July 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 11, 2010

Stage 8: Le Morte d'Armstrong

July 11, 2010 - Station Des Rousses, FRANCE - epa02244899 Radioshack team rider Lance Armstrong of the US cycles during the eighth stage of the 97th Tour de France 2010 cycling race between Station Des Rousses and Morzine-Avoriaz, France, 10 July 2010.The first big mountain stage at the Tour is always revelatory. The early time trials and lower climbs allow classics and TT men to sit at the Tour's grown-up table for a week or more, but those names begin to fall off the leaderboard when the race moves to the mountains.

Sunday's Stage 8 ran true to form, and then some. Sky, Saxo Bank, and Astana spent miles at the front, keeping the pace high enough to shed rider after rider, until on the day's final climb, only a dozen riders still had a chance for the stage win, including Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre, and Levi Leipheimer. With teammate Daniel Navarro taking a pull worthy of Amtrak, Contador looked safisfied to ride to the line with that group.

With less than 2k to ride, Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas was the first man to launch, covered quickly by Contador. Just inside the last kilometer, Andy Schleck sprinted away from the group, and only Euskaltel-Euskadi's Samuel Sanchez matched him. Behind, a move from Gesink was covered, but Contador was content to let Sanchez and Schleck sprint it out for the stage win. The sprint, reminiscent of Barredo-Costa in its precision and ferocity, went to Schleck, his first Tour de France stage win.

World Champion Cadel Evans takes over the yellow jersey for the first time since 2008, when Evans lost it after being isolated on the climb to Prato Nevoso.

Seven-time winner Lance Armstrong suffered a key accident a few kilometers before the day's first big climb, chased back to the field, but was dropped on the Ramaz and lost almost 12 minutes on the day. He's in 39th place, 13:26 back of Evans. If Armstrong's announcement that this will be his last Tour is true, this was the end of his last chance to win the race. Armstrong says he'll stay in the race and work for the team, which is good news for Levi Leipheimer, sitting 8th overall.

The team that did most of the damage to Armstrong's chances also badly damaged their own leader's Tour hopes. Sky set a blistering pace on the Ramaz, shedding teammates, and their Bradley Wiggins was dropped on the climb out of Morzine, the day's second big challenge. He would finish at 1:45, and now sits 14th at 2:45 on the overall.

Evans becomes the first world champion to wear yellow since Boonen in 2006 and if he could win, would be the first world champion to win the Tour since LeMond in 1990.

Also:

VeloNews | Lance Armstrong: 'This Tour is finished for me'

CyclingNews.com | Armstrong's Tour challenge collapses

Posted by Frank Steele on July 11, 2010 in Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Bradley Wiggins, Cadel Evans, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Top Stories | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Stage 8 on the road

With some major attacks expected, the peloton rolled out nervous this morning, likely contributing to a crash with just 5 kilometers ridden.

VS predictions: Hummer - Contador; Roll - A. Schleck; Sherwen - Armstrong; Liggett - Evans.

Caught in the crash were a couple of notable jerseys, the polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey of Jerome Pineau from QuickStep and the world champion's rainbow jersey of Cadel Evans. Pineau rode on, but clearly suffering at the back and off the back of the main field. The race doctor has taken a look at Evans' left elbow.

Côte de Petite Joux:
1) Taaramae +3 pts
2) Fröhlinger, Milram, +2 pts
3) Moreau, Caisse d'Epargne, +1 pt

A seven-man break finally got established with around 30k ridden. It included both Minard and Moinard from Cofidis, which will challenge my typing skills, Vaugrenard of FDJ, Moerenhout from Rabobank, Erviti of Caisse d'Epargne, and Riblon from AG2R. With 140 kilometers to ride, their gap was 3:50.

Côte de Gresin:
1) Riblon, AG2R, +3 pts
2) Morenhout, Rabobank, +2 pts
3) Moinard, Cofidis, +1 pt

Vulbens sprint:
1) Aerts, Omega Pharma-Lotto, +6 pts
2) Riblon, AG2R, +4 pts
3) Erviti, Caisse d'Epargne, +2 pts

At 95k to ride, the gap was 6:37.

Viuz-en-Sallaz sprint:
1) Moerenhout, Rabobank +6 pts
2) Minard, Cofidis +4 pts
3) Aerts, Omega Pharma +2 pts

Posted by Frank Steele on July 11, 2010 in Cadel Evans | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Stage 8 Preview: Station des Rousses to Morzine-Avoriaz

Today's a guaranteed barn-burner, with two 1st-Category climbs, including the mountaintop finish on the Morzine.

With Sastre and Basso, two of the best pure climbing GC contenders, more than 4 minutes back on the GC, we should get a look at the team leaders' climbing fitness that could give us a major shakeup in the race standings.

Storylines to watch: Can Chavanel hold yellow to the rest day on Monday? Can Ryder Hesjedal hang with the GC group on a hard Alpine stage? Can Armstrong and Wiggins ride even with the best climbers, or are they limiting their losses on the final climb?

It's 189 kilometers in all, with two early 4th-Category climbs and two sprints before the day's first 1st-Category climb, the Col de la Ramaz. It's followed by a 3rd-Category climb and a sprint before the finishing climb to Morzine-Avoriaz, which is about a 14-kilometer/9-mile climb. KoM points are doubled on the final climb, so this is a crucial stage for the potential Kings of the Mountains, as well.

Posted by Frank Steele on July 11, 2010 in Bradley Wiggins, Lance Armstrong, Sylvain Chavanel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 05, 2010

Stage 2: Chavanel survives to yellow

SPA, BELGIUM - JULY 05: After assisting injured cyclists, a medic cleans his case of blood along stage 2 of the Tour de France July 5, 2010 in Spa, Belgium. The 201km route with six categorised climbs travels from Brussels to the city of Spa. France's Sylvain Chavanel won the second stage, taking the overall leader's yellow jersey from Fabian Cancellara. The iconic bicycle race will include a total of 20 stages and will cover 3,642km before concluding in Paris on July 25. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)It must have seemed like a great idea to organizers. Run a stage of the Tour over some of cycling's hallowed ground, using parts of Liege-Bastogne-Liege for today's Stage 2, and 7 cobbled sectors that feature in Paris-Roubaix tomorrow.

Throw in rain, and the generally squirrely nature of a first-week Tour peloton, though, and you've got the recipe for a demolition derby. One of the riders who might reasonably have feared the day's profile was Sylvain Chavanel, who fractured his skull on this course a little more than 2 months ago.

Instead, Chavanel rode away from the field with only about 15 kilometers ridden on the day, joined by teammate Jerome Pineau, who would take max points over each of the day's climbs to take over the polka-dot jersey, Marcus Burghardt, Matt Lloyd, Reine Taaramae, and 3 others.

Behind, the descent of the Col de Stockeu looked like the train station scene of “Gone with the Wind,” with riders all over the roadside. Some reporters estimated 70-80 riders went down, and there were reports of soigneurs climbing out of cars to help their riders, then falling down themselves. Some riders (and Eddy Merckx) have suggested there must have been some sort of oil on the road (leading to my favorite tweet of the day), because the road seemed so much more treacherous than when it's been raced in LBL in the past.

Both Andy and Frank Schleck, Alessandro Petacchi, Robbie McEwen, Alberto Contador, George Hincapie, and Lance Armstrong spent time on the tarmac, with the largest crash occurring at around 30km to ride, when a photo motorcycle trying to avoid a downed rider became the first domino. With confusion reigning in the peloton, Chavanel's break, which had appeared doomed, had new life.

July 05, 2010 - 06134192 date 05 07 2010 Copyright imago Panoramic 05 07 2010 Tour de France 2010 2 Stage Brussels Spa Sylvain Chavanel FRA Quick Step Photo News PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxFRAxITAxBEL Cycling men Wheel Road Tour de France Award Ceremony Single Vdig xkg 2010 vertical Highlight premiumd o0 Stage victory cheering happiness Yellow Jersey Emotions.Armstrong and Contador found themselves allies on the road, as they were dropped from the yellow jersey group, but rode together back into Cancellara's company, as Cancellara and Riis calculated whether it was better for Cancellara to hold the yellow jersey, or to sit up and wait for the Schlecks. With Cancellara off the gas, the group mostly came back together, with a few notable exceptions.

Caught up in the many crashes were seemingly the entire Garmin-Transitions team, with Christian Vande Velde having to withdraw with two broken ribs, continuing his disastrous season. Nearly as bad were Tyler Farrar's injuries -- a fractured wrist, sprained elbow, and scratches and bruises suffered in two separate crashes. David Millar may have a broken rib, but didn't have x-rays. Julian Dean and Robbie Hunter also went down.

Cancellara spent a fair amount of time in discussion with the race director, apparently trying to get the day's GC losses neutralized. Barring that and apparently with the consent of other riders, Cancellara went to the front of the pack at the end of the stage, and decreed that no one would contest the sprint. Chavenel took the stage by 3:56 ahead of a 6-wide pack, which led race officials to withhold sprint points from everyone but Chavanel. This didn't sit too well with Norwegian champion and defending green jersey winner Thor Hushovd, who had apparently targeted today's stage, and hoped to improve in the points competition:

"I've been riding all day for the stage win and the green jersey and I end up with nothing," Hushovd continued. "This is not fair. Will the same thing happen tomorrow? Will the times for GC be taken before the pavés sections? If Alberto Contador or another big rider crashes tomorrow on the cobblestones, he's entitled to ask for the race to be neutralised too! So when will we race, really?"

Posted by Frank Steele on July 5, 2010 in 2010 Stage 2, Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Christian Vande Velde, David Millar, Fabian Cancellara, Frank Schleck, George Hincapie, Julian Dean, Lance Armstrong, Sylvain Chavanel, Top Stories, Tyler Farrar | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 03, 2010

What's past is prologue: Cancellara, Armstrong star in Rotterdam

The Tour de France is all about control. Riders pre-ride key stages. Teams bring multiple spares for their protected riders, who have spent months tracking every calorie to make sure they're at their best race weight.

July 03, 2010 - Rotterdam, NETHERLANDS - epa02235688 Saxo Bank team rider Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland cycles during the prologue of the 97th Tour de France 2010 cycling race in Rotterdam, 03 July 2010. The 198 riders begin the 2010 Tour de France with an individual lap of the 8,9km circuit around Rotterdam.So it's always revealing when the uncontrollable rears its head. For Saturday's Prologue, it was the weather that shook things up. Many riders with overall hopes opted for early starts to try to beat expected afternoon rains, but the rain started earlier than expected, and cleared before the last riders started, so the strategy seemingly backfired for some of the early starters.

Not so for HTC-Columbia's Tony Martin, who was the 11th rider to start, and covered the 8.9-km course in 10:10, a time that wasn't even approached for more than three hours. Other outstanding performances early were Garmin-Transition's David Millar, in 10:20, Garmin's sprinter Tyler Farrar, whose 10:28 would place him 7th on the stage, and Sky's Geraint Thomas, who would wind up 5th on the stage.

On the other hand, Sky's Bradley Wiggins, who was once a prologue specialist, rolled in with a 10:56, while former teammate Christian Vande Velde clocked in at 11:00 flat. For Wiggins, especially in a Tour with only one long TT, that's a worrying result.

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - JULY 03: Tony Martin of Germany and Team HTC - Columbia won the white jersey for the best young rider after finishing second in the 8.9km Prologue for the 97th Tour de France on July 3, 2010 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)Organizers managed a very TV-friendly end to the Prologue, with Armstrong, Cancellara, and Contador leaving consecutively as the day's final riders. At the first time check, Armstrong was just 5 seconds slower than Martin. Less than a minute later, Cancellara would obliterate Martin's time, 6 seconds faster than the young German. When Contador came through, no one expected him to rival Cancellara, but could he match Armstrong? Contador was laboring even on the short stage, but at Time Check 1, he was just 1 second behind Armstrong.

At the finish, Armstrong was a whisker slower than Millar, finishing in 10:22, with Cancellara closing. Spartacus would trip the guns at 10:00, leaving only Contador to finish, battling up the long final stretch. Contador would finish in 10:27, ceding 5 seconds to Armstrong, but making time on every other GC contender.

And among GC contenders, perhaps the most disappointing ride was Andy Schleck's, newly crowned TT champion of Luxembourg, who finished in 11:09, and effectively summed it up on his Twitter feed.

Nobody wins or loses the Tour in the prologue, but those small gaps over a short distance are a pretty good indicator of who has brought their best time trialing legs to the party, and more generally who is rocking the highest power-to-weight ratios in the peloton. First indication is that we might get the Armstrong vs. Contador battle that I'm sure Versus is hoping for.

Posted by Frank Steele on July 3, 2010 in 2010 Prologue, Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Bradley Wiggins, Christian Vande Velde, David Millar, Fabian Cancellara, Lance Armstrong, Top Stories, Tyler Farrar | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Shades of gray

Landis preparingThere are a lot of cycling fans who still believe in black and white.

Some rider or another, they'll say, has never tested positive, or is the most tested athlete in the world. Team X, they'll say, has the strictest anti-doping program in the peloton. Sure, there used to be a lot of doping in the sport, they'll say, but no sport has such extensive athlete testing, and the sport today is clean.

I've been following the sport for 25 years, through the mysterious deaths while riders slept, the 60 hematocrits, and now the biological passport, and I'm convinced the sport has never in that time approached clean. I don't believe in black and white.

The way I've come to see modern cycling is that every rider exists in a Heisenberg bubble, balanced somewhere on a scale between pure as the driven snow white and Floyd Landis “hell yeah I doped” black. As a fan, we all calculate the likelihood a particular rider is juicing, and all most of us have to go on is the rider and his team's public pronouncements, and the rider's race performance. How much you like a rider has to be balanced against how likely you think it is a) that he or she has doped, and b) that he or she will get caught. This is why I and many others breathed a sigh of relief when Vinokourov lost the maglia rosa at the Giro. I believe Vino's failed dope test was accurate, and I fear he has likely returned to his previously successful ways. You, of course, may disagree, or feel just as fearful about Giro winner Ivan Basso, who was ultimately banned for his involvement in Operación Puerto, and now says he's gunning for a podium spot at the Tour. One of the things about the bubble is that every fan's is slightly different. Maybe you assume that everyone who came out of the sports mills of Eastern Europe is tainted. Maybe you believe that the recent popularity of Spain as a training center was a direct result of tighter French anti-doping laws.

Tyler Hamilton & David MillarOccasionally, especially in the case of a superstar rider, there may be other information, from former teammates, employees, trainers, or other people in the rider's circle. In the absence of positive dope tests, which it still appears can be manipulated without a great deal of trouble, all we can do is take the data and put it together with our own prejudices and preferences to decide who we believe is clean and who's not. If an ex-teammate says you've doped, that moves you 3 spaces to the right. Coming out of nowhere to contend for the climber's jersey at the Tour? Move 10 spaces to the right. If you get caught, suspended, then come back as an anti-dope crusader, that might move you a space or two to the left.

It's apparent that there's a continuing arms race in cycling, and the enforcers are losing. Like any arms race, the advantage goes to those with money and technology, and those belong to the teams.

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - JULY 01: Cyclist Lance Armstrong pauses at the start of the team presentations for the 97th Tour de France on July 1, 2010 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Following a prologue time trial in Rotterdam on Saturday, the iconic race will include 20 stages and will cover 3,642km. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)Far be it from me to identify where I think any particular rider falls on the 0-to-100 scale. Clearly, though, the recent Landis revelations, outlined in detail in the Wall Street Journal today, push Armstrong farther to the right, and at least nudge Zabriskie, Hincapie, and Leipheimer in that direction. Sure, it's easy to impeach Landis' credibility, but it's clear to me that Landis didn't come up with the sophisticated doping program he's described, and he's far from the first person to allege that Armstrong has relied on more than spring water in previous Tour wins.

Let's run through the allegations in the WSJ article by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell. First and foremost, there are dates and details of blood transfusions during the Tour de France itself in 2004, and a partial list of riders who received them, including Armstrong. Next most damaging is probably Landis' claim that Armstrong himself was the source of his first collection of testosterone patches. Finally, there is the allegation that as many as 60 team bikes were sold for cash to support the Postal doping program. For me, mentions of Armstrong's possible visits to strip bars and cocaine use are just distractions; my interest is in Armstrong as an athlete or a cheat.

According to Albergotti and O'Connell, three other U.S. Postal riders confirmed doping while Armstrong rode for the team, and one admitted he himself doped.

Frankie AndreuLooking through the article, though, I don't see anything that's going to change the mind of rabid Armstrong fans, or of people who have believed he's a doper since 1999. We already know of former teammates who have alleged doping, including Frankie Andreu, who admitted his own EPO use in 2006. The claim that team bikes were improperly sold to pay for the doping program can't be proven by the mere appearance of team bikes on eBay: Someone would have to connect their proceeds to a doping program to really make something of it. Otherwise, those frames could just as easily have gone toward Armstrong's Shiner Bock habit as toward dope. I can see no way to tie Armstrong to the foil-packeted testosterone Landis claims he was provided.

But the addition of FDA special agent Jeff Novitzky adds a new dimension to the sport's doping problem. Teammates and staff who don't hesitate to cover for a rider with the media may feel differently when a federal agent starts threatening purgery charges and deploys subpoena powers. Novitzky seems unlikely to tolerate the shades of gray we as fans have grown to accept.

Also:

ESPN.com | Lance Armstrong: Crunch Time

Posted by Frank Steele on July 3, 2010 in Dave Zabriskie, Doping, Floyd Landis, George Hincapie, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Top Stories | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Where are they from, 2010 edition

Each year, I take a look at where the Tour's riders are from, with special attention to the traditionally English-speaking countries.

Here's this year's rundown:

Australia
Cadel Evans, BMC
Simon Gerrans, Sky
Adam Hansen, HTC-Columbia
Brett Lancaster, Cervelo
Matthew Lloyd, Omega Pharma-Lotto
Robbie McEwen, Katusha
Stuart O'Grady, Saxo Bank
Mark Renshaw, HTC-Columbia
Luke Roberts, Milram
Michael Rogers, HTC-Columbia
Wesley Sulzberger, Française des Jeux

Eleven! Up from 6 last year, and it's largely a return of the “Lone Australian” phenomenon -- only HTC-Columbia, with Hansen, Renshaw, and Rogers has more than one Aussie on the squad. Every 2009 Aussie returns, and add Gerrans and Hansen, alternates last year, plus Roberts, Sulzberger, and perennial sprint threat McEwen.

US
Lance Armstrong, Radio Shack
Brent Bookwalter, BMC
Tyler Farrar, Garmin
George Hincapie, BMC
Chris Horner, Radio Shack
Levi Leipheimer, Radio Shack
Christian Vande Velde, Garmin
David Zabriskie, Garmin

Eight is up from seven last year, and four in 2008. First-timer Bookwalter is here, Garmin's Danny Pate is not, and Chris Horner returns. The excellent showings of both Farrar and Bookwalter at today's prologue are great news for US cycling, which has a glut of over-30 Tour riders, essentially everybody else on the list above.

Canada
Michael Barry, Sky
Ryder Hesjedal, Garmin

Canada climbs from one to two, and long-suffering Michael Barry finally gets a Tour start at 34.

Great Britain
Mark Cavendish, HTC-Columbia
Stephen Cummings, Sky
Jeremy Hunt, Cervelo
Daniel Lloyd, Cervelo
David Millar, Garmin
Geraint Thomas, Sky
Charlie Wegelius, Omega Pharma-Lotto
Bradley Wiggins, Sky

Great Britain doubles up, with eight riders versus last year's four. Cavendish and Wiggins have dreams of winner's jerseys.

New Zealand
Julian Dean, Garmin

Hayden Roulston wasn't invited by HTC-Columbia, Greg Henderson wasn't invited by Team Sky.

Ireland
Nicolas Roche, AG2R-La Mondiale

Roche repeats as the only Irish rider.

South Africa
Robbie Hunter, Garmin

Up from an unusual zero last year.

Other countries (2009 in parentheses):
35: France (40)
31: Spain (doesn't count Florencio, pulled by Cervelo before start) (28)
17: Italy (16)
15: Germany (15)
12: Belgium (11)
11: Australia (6)
8: Netherlands (11), USA (7)
6: Russia (8)
5: Denmark (3), Switzerland (3)
4: Slovenia (1)
3: Austria (2), Belarus (2), Kazakhstan (1), Portugal (2), Ukraine (2)
2: Canada (1), Luxembourg (3), Norway (2)
1: Czech Republic (1), Estonia (0), Ireland (1), Japan (2), Lithuania (0), Moldova (0), New Zealand (2), Poland (1), South Africa (0), Sweden (1)

Also:

TdFblog.com | Where are they from, 2009 edition

TdFblog.com | Where are they from, 2008 edition

Posted by Frank Steele on July 3, 2010 in About the Tour, Bradley Wiggins, Cadel Evans, Chris Horner, Christian Vande Velde, Danny Pate, Dave Zabriskie, David Millar, George Hincapie, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Mark Cavendish, Michael Rogers, Robbie Hunter, Robbie McEwen, Top Stories | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 02, 2010

Welcome to 2010

Once again, it's time to clip in and ride. If you're a longtime reader of the site, thanks for coming back. I love the Tour, and I love chronicling the Tour every year here on TdFblog.

If you're new to the site, welcome. I've been yammering about the Tour de France here since 2003, and following the race since the late '80s. In addition to long-form summaries and commentary here, I also do a multitude of race updates on Twitter, at @TdFblog. This year, I'm going to extend the empire even a little farther, with a Tumblr site for that content that's too long for Twitter, too short for the main site, and that's at tumblr.tdfblog.com. Don't be too surprised if that site is in rapid flux for the next few days, as I figure out what goes where, and figure out how to do things with Tumblr.

Even though I'm tremendously depressed at the continuing scourge of doping in the sport, I'm really looking forward to this year's Tour. Last year's battle between Alberto Contador and the Schleck brothers looks to repeat. We'll see if Bradley Wiggins can fulfill the promise he showed finishing 4th last year on the new Team Sky. Cav's back, and brash as ever. And it looks like Big Tex is serious about retirement this time around, so it's the last shot for Lance Armstrong to win an 8th Tour.

Posted by Frank Steele on July 2, 2010 in About the site, Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Bradley Wiggins, Frank Schleck, Lance Armstrong, Mark Cavendish, Top Stories | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack