Well today was supposed to be a battle centering around Telekom, as they tried to put the embarrassment of Jan "DUMMrich" (as one German newspaper called him) and his latest scandal behind them. Ullrich has done the right thing and admitted his mistakes, and hopefully can move on to solve his problems and restore his career. In the meantime, his team is garnering unflattering press and his coach Walter Godefroot is publicly venting his anger at his troubled star. A win by Zabel on German soil plus the capturing of the Yellow Jersey would be a perfect tonic for what ails Team Telekom, but they must wait for at least one more day, as Oscar Freire of Mapei had the legs to dust both Zabel and Lotto's Robbie McEwen in the final sprint of Stage 2.
The day started with a long breakaway by Thor Hushovd of Credit Agricole, Sylvain Chavenel of Bonjour, and Stephane Berges of AG2r Prevoyance, who attacked after 14 km. Hushovd began to cramp, however, getting off of his bike for leg massages and eventually finished far behind the peloton. This continued Credit Agricole's horrible luck thus far, as their star rider Christophe Moreau lost over three minutes yesterday after crashing. Eventually, the sprinter's teams chased down the break, plus subsequent attacks by Credit Agricole riders Jens Voigt and Sebastien Hinault. There was a crash at one point, right on top of a giant American flag painted across the road; ironically, some U.S. Postal riders were delayed by the crash, which happened at the front of the peloton, but none of the Posties went down. Unlike yesterday, there weren't a lot of crashes today. The only other crash on the U.S. coverage was in the final corner, where an unidentified Rabobank rider and Emmanuel Magnien of Bonjour overshot and laid it down to avoid the barriers. Both looked stunned, but not seriously injured.
The sprint to the line was a real cracker. Several teams took shots at the front of the leadout, with that amazing former paint-factory worker, Ludo Dierckxsens of Lampre Daikin, charging to the front ahead of the Yellow Jersey wearer, young Swiss rider (and new star, after yesterday) Rubens Bertogliati. This act of defiance couldn't hold, however, as Dierckxsens blew after an incredibly long pull, leaving the Yellow Jersey stranded in the lead with over 500 meters left. Telekom reasserted itself, with the Pink Posse of Hondo and Fagnini giving Zabel a perfect leadout. Zabel was right behind last leadout man Fagnini, with McEwen on his wheel, followed by Freire. McEwen jumped early, diving around the right of Zabel. Zabel then dove left around Fagnini, but McEwen had got the drop on him and looked poised to take the stage in his snappy looking Australian Champion's Jersey. However, in the last 100 meters the equally snappy looking World Champion's Jersey came around McEwen on the right. Freire's late surge caused McEwen to glance up to the right, then shake his head, and he knew it was over. McEwen rode well enough to beat Zabel, who came in third, but Freire was the man of the day.
Freire's win moved him up into 9th in the GC, just 11" behind Bertogliati. Zabel's third left him just 2" short of the Yellow Jersey, and he now lies in 2nd place. While Zabel retained the Green Jersey and will threaten for the Yellow tomorrow, he must now definitely worry about Freire. The Spanish world road champion is sprinting well, and poses a clear and present danger to both the Yellow Jersey and the Green Jersey.
Ham-Gazers of the Day:
Golden Hams of the Day:
- Stuart O'Grady, Credit Agricole. He came in 6th yesterday and 10th today. O'Grady is clearly struggling to keep up with Zabel and the others in the final sprints, and may have to change his tactics to challenge for the Green Jersey. Sending so many men up the road today is a good start.
- U. S. Postal Service. The team did what they should today: they kept Lance at the front and out of trouble, avoided the crashes (in spite of the one minor delay caused by a crash), and they watched other teams' asses all day long. This is the perfect position for them, with Armstrong only 3" off of the Yellow Jersey. "Gorgeous" George Hincapie and the rest of the Posties are riding well, and they need to keep saving their energy via ham-gazing before the Stage 4 team time-trail and the later stages in the mountains.
- Tom Steels, Mapei-Quick Step. Is he even in the race? Today's stage should have suited him, but he once again took a back seat to Freire. The plan coming in was for Freire to lead him out in the flatter stages and then ride for himself in the later stages, but with Friere's strength and Steels' absence, this plan has clearly changed. Freire is now too close to yellow to work as a lead-out man, and you can bet Mapei will now focus all of their energy and getting him the lead.
- Oscar Freire, Mapei-Quick Step. He is riding well, and emerged today as a major player in the Tour. He could upset the plans of several teams with another good ride tomorrow.
- Stephane Berges, AG2r Prevoyance. His long breakaway with fellow Frenchman Sylvain Chavenel of Bonjour earned him the Polka-Dot Jersey, a fine prize for the team that has received so much scorn (especially from me) for their inclusion at the expense of other teams like Coast.
- Credit Agricole. Despite the struggles of Moreau and O'Grady, they rode like madmen today and did everything they could to break the grip of Telekom. Keep it up!