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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There are more doping rumors circulating, this time about Christophe Moreau, who had mysteriously withdrawn, and even about Schumacher!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.

TDF – Stage 16: They’ll be coming around the mountains

Cuneo – Jausiers 157K

Two, count them – two – HC climbs, and this isn’t even L’Alpe d’Huez!

What happened while I was battling traffic on the freeway:

Cadel said he’s a bit tired and nervous, and is looking for CSC to continue their strong run in the mountains. Frank Schleck is not expected, at least by the commentators, to be able to hold onto the yellow jersey into Paris. Menchov is the man expected to excel today. Big George Hincapie was among the few, the good, the determined to keep attacks under check. The weather is expected to be just as hot as here in Central Texas – but the “heat” on the climbs will be unbearable for some of our riders, today, I am most certain of that.

This is a stage for the climbers, after all, and they’re all out toward the front: Voekler, Schumacher, Egoi, Popo, Siutsou. Schumacher took the first HC, La Lombard.

Watch out for that fast descent, Popo slipped, but is back on his bike.

Schumacher leads.

Cuneo…Cunego…the Italian “Little Prince” just couldn’t pull out a victory in Cuneo. C’est dommage.

The peloton is somewhere around 9 mins behind Schumacher as they go over the top of La Lombard. Cancellara had a puncture in his tire. yikes!

Schumacher is in the feed zone, facing a short flat preceding the next HC climb at Cime de la Bonette. Former Tour champion Steve Roche doesn’t think Schumacher can hang onto his lead.

Stage 15 saw Denis Menchov take a bad spill, just when he was ahead of the GC! This stage hasn’t been kind to riders, either.

Cunego is in the chase group which is less than 5 minutes behind Schumacher and closing. But, so are Hincapie and Siutsou (both Team Columbia), Danny Pate (Garmin-Chipotle), Voekler and the company of other strong climbers.

A new name comes into the chase for the yellow as Valjavec (AG2R) leads in time over Frank Schleck. But, things happen in the mountains. Hold onto your seats, they’ve begun this last steep climb.

Danny Pate has been dropped behind the first chase group, along with Dumoulin. Well, they’re in good company with each other!

There are now three chase groups and roughly 12 minutes gap between Schumacher and the peloton.

REMEMBER – refresh your browser often, as I’m typing as fast as I can while getting live comment!

Schumacher is starting up la Bonette! Hoshovd falls off the peloton! Team CSC pushes on (oh, please let’s not hear that Nibali or anyone on that team has tested positive for doping!)!!

Don’t you just hate it when you get interrupted by an impromptu meeting? arrgghh!!

But, I did see that my man Popo was outrun by Cyril Dessel to take the stage. However, Hincapie was only 25 seconds back.

Frank Schleck holds onto the yellow jersey by 7 seconds over Kohl, 8 seconds over Cadel Evans. Every second counts here.

Stage results
1 101 DESSEL, Cyril FRA ALM 04:31:27 00:00:00
2 161 CASAR, Sandy FRA FDJ
3 032 ARROYO, David ESP GCE
4 007 POPOVYCH, Yaroslav UKR SIL
5 047 HINCAPIE, George USA THR
6 038 PORTAL, Nicolas FRA GCE
7 109 VALJAVEC, Tadej SLO ALM
8 111 SCHUMACHER, Stefan GER GST
9 016 SCHLECK, Andy LUX CSC
10 115 KOHL, Bernhard AUT GST

GC
1 017 Frank SCHLECK LUX CSC 68h30’16” 00”
2 115 Bernhard KOHL AUT GST 68h30’23” 07”
3 001 Cadel EVANS AUS SIL 68h30’24” 08”
4 011 Carlos SASTRE ESP CSC 68h31’05” 49”
5 131 Denis MENCHOV RUS RAB 68h31’29” 1’13”
6 191 Christian VANDEVELDE USA TSL 68h33’31” 3’15”
7 041 Kim KIRCHEN LUX THR 68h33’39” 3’23”
8 031 Alejandro VALVERDE ESP GCE 68h34’27” 4’11”
9 027 Samuel SANCHEZ ESP EUS 68h34’54” 4’38”
10 109 Tadej VALJAVEC SLO ALM 68h35’39” 5’23”

TDF – Stage 7: Another First Tour Win, The First Tour Arrest

Brioude – Aurillac 159k

Commentary to follow later, meanwhile:

Stage 7 results
1 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 3.52.53 (40.964 km/h)
2 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner 0.06
3 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Liquigas
4 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia
5 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
6 Oscar Pereiro Sio (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
7 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
8 Josep Jufre Pou (Spa) Saunier Duval – Scott
9 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30
10 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team CSC – Saxo Bank

GC standings
1 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia 28.23.40
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence – Lotto 0.06
3 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner 0.16
4 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30 0.44
5 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 1.03
6 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 1.12
7 David Millar (GBr) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30 1.14
8 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Quick Step 1.21
9 Oscar Pereiro Sio (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
10 Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Team Columbia

Withdrawn/DNS
192 BACKSTEDT Magnus (SWE) GARMIN CHIPOTLE outside time limit
166 JEGOU Lilian (FRA) FRANCAISE DES JEUX withdraw
121 MOREAU Christophe (FRA) AGRITUBEL withdraw
106 GADRET John (FRA) AG2R-LA MONDIALE withdraw
95 FACCI Mauro (ITA) QUICK STEP withdraw
Stage 6
178 PASSERON Aurélien (FRA) SAUNIER DUVAL – SCOTT non-starter
Stage 5
51 SOLER HERNANDEZ Juan Mauricio (COL) BARLOWORLD withdraw
Stage 3
176 GOMEZ Angel (ESP) SAUNIER DUVAL – SCOTT withdraw
Stage 1
184 DUCLOS-LASSALLE Hervé (FRA) COFIDIS CREDIT PAR TELEPHONE withdraw

OK, I’m back!

Slipstream (Garmin Chipotle) made a big deal about signing on Magnus Backstedt to ride with the Tour team. Has he actually ever finished a Tour?

The mountain stages are always exciting, with the hard climbs to the summit, then the rocket fast descent. Paul Sherwin’s Freudian slip of the tongue, referring to Team Columbia as Team Discovery, made me wonder if anyone is an overall cyclist. We’ll probably never see another Lance Armstrong in our lifetime; but, to win the Tour means being as good in the mountains as on the flats as in the time trials. Can Kirchen take this Tour? There are two more weeks to go.

Sadly, Manuel Beltran (Liquigas), 26th place following today’s stage, was arrested after testing positive for EPO. If the “B” test also returns positive, he will certainly be fired from the team. This strikes another blow to the otherwise highly-ranked team, as Ivan Basso has been suspended from the Tour for two years.

Question: Do you think another “cheat” will be found in this year’s Tour? Can this be the first “clean” Tour, or do you think that’s an impossible quest?

TDF – Stage 6: Kirchen captures yellow

Did you miss me? I was really busy at work, today; even had lunch with a buddy from my Austin Plone User Group who, I learned, is an avid distance cyclist and takes to the hills around here with the best of them. This is, after all, Lance’s hometown.

Neither rain, nor wind, nor heat of sun was going to stop Kim Kirchen from taking the best of Super-Besse. He may not have taken the stage, but he did take back the green, and the best prize of all, the yellow jersey for the day. What a lucky break that he didn’t go down with Schumacher on that most unfortunate fall just inside the last kilometer up to the finish!

Bravo, Valverde, for pushing up right behind Ricco to a hard finish line, with Cadel Evans at his side. While new faces are capturing the stages, the veterans are still proving they have the right stuff to keep things fresh and interesting.

Tomorrow’s stage heads toward the Pyrenees, one of my favorite segments of any Tour. Why? The pure beauty and challenge.

Standings
1. Riccardo RICCO
2. Alejandro VALVERDE
3. Cadel EVANS
4. Frank SCHLECK
5. Kim KIRCHEN

GC standings
1. Kim KIRCHEN
2. Cadel EVANS
3. Stefan SCHUMACHER
4. Christian VANDEVELDE
5. David MILLAR

Question: Do you miss the in-car videos of Johan Bruyneel careening around the mountains while chatting up his riders?

TDF 2008 – Stage 4: Shumacher sets best time, takes GC lead

Time Trial: Cholet 29.5k

It’s a relatively quiet day at the office and I was anxiously watching my favorite live commentary, but got completely confused as to where Kim Kirchen finished up. So, here are the standings after Stage 4 Time Trials at Cholet:

General classification after stage 4
Pos. No. Name Nat. Team Time Gap (in secs)
1 111 SCHUMACHER, Stefan GER GST 14:04:41 :00
2 041 KIRCHEN, Kim LUX THR 14:04:53 :12
3 198 MILLAR, David GBR TSL 14:04:53 :12
4 001 EVANS, Cadel AUS SIL 14:05:02 :21
5 013 CANCELLARA, Fabian SUI CSC 14:05:14 :33
6 191 VANDEVELDE, Christian USA TSL 14:05:18 :37
7 047 HINCAPIE, George USA THR 14:05:22 :41
8 048 LÖVKVIST, Thomas SWE THR 14:05:28 :47
9 067 NIBALI, Vincenzo ITA LIQ 14:05:39 :58
10 035 GUTIERREZ, José Ivan ESP GCE 14:05:42 :01:01

Great results for both our USA teams just over the midpoint of week 1 of the Tour!