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TDF – Stage 17: Enter the Dragon d’Huez

Embrun – l’Alpe d’Huez 210.5K

A CAT 3 precedes 2 HC climbs before meeting the dragon l’Alpe d’Huez. I have a feeling that we’ll know who will win the yellow jersey in Paris after today. Team CSC has been a formidable force this year. Both Schleck brothers are in the top 20 GC to make their parents, and all of Luxembourg, proud. Christian Vandevelde and Big George Hincapie turned in good, yet disappointing performances, and Kim Kirchen hung in Stage 16.

Here’s the starting jersey lineup:
GC Standings
yellow 17 SCHLECK Frank TEAM CSC SAXO BANK 68h 30′ 16″
green 133 FREIRE Oscar RABOBANK 219 pts
red 115 KOHL Bernhard GEROLSTEINER 85 pts
white 16 SCHLECK Andy TEAM CSC SAXO BANK 68h 39′ 17″
team TEAM CSC SAXO BANK 205h 22′ 34″

Withdrawals
Stage 16
162 CHAVANEL Sébastien (FRA) FRANCAISE DES JEUX withdrawls
63 CHICCHI Francesco (ITA) LIQUIGAS outside time limit

Let’s roll!

An early start on the broadcast this morning found me still asleep, sorry! Got to bed late last night. But, here’s where our boys on wheels are now:

The Cat 3 and the Giant of the Alps, Gallibier, the third highest climb of the Tour, are done. Hoschovd is slipping behind; Kirchen had mechanical trouble, but is catching up now. Before I left my house this morning, Paul Sherwin wasn’t so sure that CSC’s strategy was the best for today. I’m sorry to have missed any shots of Briancon; I used to spend some time there, during my university days.

There are more doping rumors circulating, this time about Christophe Moreau, who had mysteriously withdrawn, and even about Schumacher! But, those rumors have apparently been quashed.

Schumacher is visibly angry with the breakaway group, and apparently had some words with the Euskatel rider on the descent from Telegraphe hill. Cadel Evans isn’t happy about the cameramen getting in his way.

The lead group, Schumacher, Velits and Ruben Perez have just gone through the feed zone. Their chase group is 1 min 7 secs behind, while the peloton is distanced by nearly 5:30 minutes.

Did you see Augustyn’s spectacular drop off the side of the mountain yesterday? I wonder who went after his bike! Good to have seen Augustyn make his way, with a bit of spectator’s help, back up to the road and walking about.

The lead group is approaches Croix de Fer – the Iron Cross (yikes), the second HC climb. Man, after Gallibier, I can’t imagine how sore those collective legs must feel…and the worst is yet to come!

Just in: Saunier Duval are ceasing operations immediately, fallout following the Ricco and Piepoli doping scandal.

Bernhard Eisel crashes at a rond point, the second for Columbia riders today! Adam Hansel was the earlier rider who crashed. Di Gregorio, who looked so promising earlier in the day, has fallen behind after being dropped on the last descent, and is being paced by his FDJ team car; but, he still chases the lead two by 3 minutes.

Magnus Backstedt is in one of the studios feeding live reports and commented that Croix de Fer is the hardest climb in the Tour. Yeh, we knew that, Magnus – the guys out on the side of that mountain know that (now, if they didn’t before). Tell us something new. Like: have you EVER finished a Tour de France?

The commentators are hoping Denis Menchov can pull off a stage win. We’ll see – he hasn’t had the best of luck going downhill! Schumi is in a foul mood, hehe.

Speaking of foul mood – I can’t stand these coffee withdrawals I’ve been having since trying to go off the brew! So, I’m going to cave in and make some. Also – I’m going to start a second section of this report when our boys on wheels are about to wake the Dragon. Right now, they’re about halfway up HC #2.

Velits hangs in with Schumi as Perez drops back by 1:25 minutes. Oscar Freire is behind the peloton, which is led by Cancellara. If you think the CSC pace hurts now, just wait! But, it’s been a bit much for Stuart O’Grady, and he dropped off the back of their pack.

39 miles to the finish, with the sleeping dragon in between. Velits has left Schumi behind with less than 7k yet to climb to the summit. I wonder what Hincapie and Valverde are thinking about the peloton…

Kirchen and Sastre are trailing the peloton.

One commentator remarked that there are spectators packing the road from out of nowhere, lol! The stragglers, including Cadel Evans, Kohl, Vandevelde, are perking up.

Velits takes the summit!

And I am going to start Part Deux of Enter the Dragon d’Huez.

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