Wow, what a wild Tour de France we have on our hands. I had an inkling that this year would be a wild one, but nowhere near as wild as it's turned out.
Operation Puerto eliminates several contenders, including Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso. One of my favorites to win, Alejandro Valverde was knocked out with a broken collarbone. Iban Mayo, so strong in 2003, abandons the Tour on today's mountain stage. Bobby Julich wipes out in the time trial, breaks his wrist. Floyd Landis reveals a hip ailment on rest day. George Hincapie gets dropped on today's killer mountain stage and loses 23 (TWENTY-THREE?) minutes to the leaders!
What the heck is going on?!
I certainly won't complain that the Tour isn't exciting this year, but this is something else. I think it's due in part to the sudden change from the relative stability of Lance's 7 wins to the free-for-all we're seeing this year. But this year is just freaky... weird.
Some Clarity, Finally!
Today finally provided a relative level of clarity, with the contenders for the Yellow Jersey separating themselves on the last climb of stage 11. I about fell out of my chair when I saw today's route profile —what a set of killer climbs. Maybe it's no wonder guys were falling like apples from a tree. :-)
Impressed and Dissapointed
I was impressed today with the race leaders: Floyd Landis and his control of the situation, Menchov staying with the lead group to sprint for the stage, Levi Leipheimer for hanging in and fighting right to the top of the mountain stage. Even Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre, who each lost a a few seconds to the leaders, are still considerable threats for the Yellow Jersey.
It would seem T-Mobile may have burnt themselves out over the past several days. Klöden was dropped a bit at the end of the day, and his teammates were left hanging after hammering a good way through the stage. Will Klöden be able to recover for the Alps? I think he still has a shot.
Discovery seems to have imploded, with the exception of Azevedo, who at least kept close. Hincapie and Savoldelli lost over 20 minutes each today — how the heck does that happen? George is now so far back he'll need half the tour to ride off of a mountain pass to have a shot at 3rd place! It would seem the loss of a strong leader has hurt Discovery more than anyone had realized.
Hincapie pulls a Houdini
What was most odd today was the lack of comment about Hincapie from the OLN crew — its as though once he was dropped he ceased to exist. The invisible man. He wasn't mentioned at all in the final stage or GC wrap-up today on OLN, almost as if he wasn't in the race. Now I know why — 23 minutes lost on a single stage! Ouch!!
I actually feel quite bad for George, because I know how much he wants to win, and how hard he worked to get Lance his 7 Tours. He also seems a genuinely good guy. Its difficult to see George struggling so suddenly, especially on a stage where it would seem he's able to at least maintain contact. I hope he hangs in there.
Just found an interview with George on VeloNews: Down but not out: Discovery moves forward. Sounds like George's body and mind just failed him. Check out this quote:
"I was really tired and finished empty," said Hincapie. "I don't think I bonked. I just didn't have it. I don't have an excuse for what happened, it just wasn't there. I don't think [it was the crash at Paris-Roubaix]. I arrived [at the Tour] better than ever. I almost won the prologue and I grabbed the yellow jersey, so the crash is already in the past. I just couldn't change rhythm. Once I saw I couldn't go, I didn't see the point to keep going. Yesterday was maybe one of the toughest days of my career, just because I had a lot of hope to do well. Once I saw that wasn't going to happen it was really hard."
That's too bad. Maybe the pressure for George to change into the Lance replacement was just too much to expect of him, or any of the Disco boys right now.
I'm actually enjoying the Tour, but am never sure what to expect from day to day. Maybe that's not a bad thing. It sure has been exciting! :-)
Must-Visit Tour Resources
I've already created a page with all sorts of resources on the Tour, however of those, I'm finding 4 to be must-visits for my daily dose of the Tour:
OLN TV — I listen (and sometimes watch) to the live coverage of the Tour with PHil Ligget and Paul Sherwin each day on OLN. If you can't get these guys covering live, there is an online viewer with highlights from each day. In the evenings the stage is re-run, though with Bob Roll and Al Trautwig's overdubbing of the action (not even in the same league as Phil & Paul in my opinion). If you can't get near a TV, Eurosport's streamed coverage is also quite good.
The Daily Peleton — Here you can read live coverage of each stage, standings and the Jambon Report, with perspectives on the "Golden Hams" and "Ham Gazers" of the day's stage. Great info and analysis.
Martin Dugard's Weblog —Martin is a best selling author of several books, including his most recent about Lance Armstrong, Chasing Lance. I love Martin's reports from the Tour, because he provides description of his experience outside of the stats and action, adding depth, color and analysis from someone on the ground. Check out Martin's blog for some excellent daily posts.
TDFBlog — Frank Steele's most excellent resource for news and analysis. Every year I make this blog one of my stops and am never disappointed. Frank always seems to find the best stories on the Tour, saving me lots of effort. :-)
Enjoy the Tour!