Let the ham-gazing begin! Lance Armstrong went out and smoked the field
today, powering his hams over the course to take time out of all of the
challengers for his crown. The competition on this stage got hot early, with
George Hincapie of U. S. Postal and Abraham Olano of ONCE clearly under
orders to ride "au bloc" and then report back to their team leaders.
Hincapie won the battle, finishing 10" up on Olano and taking the early lead
in the stage. As some of the more favored riders began to come across, one
thing became certain: the stiff climbs in the last half of the stage were
shaking the riders' legs. Climbers like Beat Zberg of Rabobank and Andrei
Kivilev posted times in the provisional top ten, and time trial aces Bradley
McGee of FDJeux.com and Laszlo Bodrogi of Mapei were struggling up the final
false flat into the finish line. Both McGee and Bodrogi set new best times,
but their struggles on the uphills and their relatively small separation
from the field clearly showed that the winner of the stage would be a man
with climbing skills.
As the big hitters charged to the finish line, Santiago Botero of Kelme
showed why so many are picking him for the Polka-Dot Jersey and a podium
finish in Paris. "The Assassin" clearly separated himself from the field,
putting nine seconds into the previous best time. When ONCE's talented
time-tester Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano came in five seconds behind Botero, it
looked like the Columbian's time might hold up until two shockers came
through with better times. The first was Lithuanian Raimondas Rumsas of
Lampre, who nicked one second off of Botero's time. Then last year's King of
the Mountains, CSC-Tiscali captain Laurent Jalabert, stormed up the
finishing hill and took another second off the best time.
But lurking behind them all was the master, the terrible Texan with the chip
on his shoulder who destroyed the last half of the course in route to a 2"
margin of victory. Lance and the Posties looked smashing today in their new
time-trial jumpsuits. They looked so snazzy, in fact, that Armstrong
eschewed Tour tradition by wearing his team kit instead of the leader's
Yellow Jersey. This apparently distressed Luke Armstrong, who is used to
seeing his daddy ride in yellow. However, as Armstrong explained to Frankie
Andreu after the race, he felt as though he needed to earn the yellow jersey
before actually putting it on this year. It may sound like Armstrong is
looking a little hard for sources of motivation, but hey: it worked!
Now it's time for the first round of the Jambon Awards, which go out to the
ham-gazers and the golden hams of the day (for an explanation of these
awards, see my previous article
Ham-Gazers of the Day:
Christophe Moreau, Credit Agricole. Last year's Prologue winner came in 40th
today, 24" behind Armstrong. He lost time not only to Lance, but also to his
rivals in the race for his first podium finish in Paris. This performance
doesn't bode well for "the Bug Taster," who came in as France's greatest GC
Oscar Sevilla, Kelme-Costa Blanca. On a course that suited climbers, the
"Flying Elf" finished in 73rd at 33" behind Armstrong. If he can't do better
in the time trials to follow, he will have a hard time making a top-five
finish in Paris.
Jaan Kirsipuu, AG2r. Normally a good time-trialist, the Estonian sprinter
lost key seconds to both Stuart O'Grady of Credit Agricole and Erik Zabel of
Telekom. In the coming days, as the sprinters tear each other to pieces in
search of the Yellow Jersey, "Bless You" Kirsipuu has dug himself a hole
that it will be difficult to power out of. He'll need clear victories in the
intermediate checks and at the finish lines to do the job now.
Tom Steels, Mapei. Did he sit up? The Belgian champion has had great form
this season, but he conceded over 30" to talented sprinters like Cooke,
O'Grady, Zabel, Kirsipuu, and McEwen. Any hopes he may have had for yellow
are gone now.
Golden Hams of the Day:
Lance Armstrong, U. S. Postal. He won. Again. Get used to it.
Laurent Jalabert, CSC-Tiscali. The old man showed he has some gas left for
the climbs, flying into second place on the stage. If he can rediscover some
of those sprinting legs that launched his career in the '90s, he could be in
yellow by the end of tomorrow.
Team CSC-Tiscali. They took the team award today, with Cofidis in second at
3" and US Postal in third at 3". In the critical Stage 4 team time-trial,
the team leading in this category will start last, thereby giving them a
clear tactical advantage. CSC has taken the early lead in the race for this
Baden Cooke, FDJeux.com; Stuart O'Grady, Credit Agricole; Erik Zabel, Team
Telekom. Respectively, they came in 20", 23", and 25" behind Armstrong. They
have each put themselves in an excellent position to challenge for the
Yellow Jersey over the next few days.
Ham-Grazers of the Day: (this award goes to those riders who show their
heart and toughness by overcoming crashes to ride well during the race).
Tyler Hamilton, CSC-Tiscali. Okay, so Tyler didn't hit the pavement today,
but he ate it hard so many times during the Giro that it looked like he
wouldn't be able to recover in time to be competitive in the Tour. He rode
to a respectable 16th today, only 16" behind his former team leader. This
quick recovery and show of form could spell big trouble for his rivals down