|Golden Hams of the Day|
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- "The Notorious VHP," Victor Hugo Peña (US Postal presented by Berry Floor). For years, VHP has been a class rider who can climb, time trial, and set a mean pace on the flats. Before he signed with Postal, Peña won the 2nd time trial stage in the 2000 Giro d'Italia. He signed with Postal in 2001, and last year he won the Tour of Murcia and the time trial 4th stage in the Tour of Holland. For the last two Tours VHP has been a workhorse in the Postal train, one of Armstrong's stable of supermen who made the Texan's Tour victories seem easy. Peña would be a team leader on many other Tour teams, but he has made plain that he is living his dream riding with US Postal. Now he has accomplished something that a week ago he probably never would have dreamed of: he's wearing the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France. He blistered the Prologue, coming in 5th place 1" ahead of team leader Armstrong. That brilliant ride put him in position today to take Yellow when Postal smoked the course. He is the first Colombian to ever wear the Yellow Jersey; his father called him a couple of days ago and told him that the whole country was abuzz with the prospect of his taking Yellow, and now that it's happened, he will be a national hero. Tomorrow is his 29th birthday, and the humble, gracious, and talented Colombian will get the best birthday present of his life: he'll get to live every cyclists' dream of wearing the Tour's Yellow Jersey. It won't really be a present, however… given his work for Armstrong over the last few years, "The Notorious VHP" has certainly earned his turn in Yellow.
- United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor. For his entire Tour career, Lance Armstrong has been trying to get a victory in a team time trial. With Motorola in 1995, his team finished with only five riders and he was extremely frustrated. Two years ago, Postal was setting the best times when Christian Vandevelde had that horrible crash caused by the slick road paint and took out Heras. This year, Postal was clearly on a mission as they spanked 2nd place ONCE-Eroski by 30", coming across the line in 1h 18' 27". Postal clearly benefited from going last, as they were able to get the time-checks of their rivals and pace themselves perfectly throughout the stage. Armstrong was talking to his troops every time he dropped off the front of the single-pace line, urging them on as he slid to his position at the back. In a post-race interview, Armstrong noted that he "kept telling Victor, 'hey, which jersey you want at the finish line?'" He also said that "everyone dug deep," and that "George and Eki were machines." This was a great victory for Postal, as all nine men…including the climbers Heras and Rubiera…crossed the line together. The only question now is tactical: how much energy will they spend defending the Yellow Jersey with the Alps on the horizon? Last year ONCE blew a lot of energy defending the Yellow after the team time trial, but I doubt Postal will make that same mistake this year.
- "RoboJan" Ullrich and Team Bianchi. They came in third today, finishing with seven men in their train in 3rd at only 43" behind Armstrong. Ullrich only gave up 13" to Beloki, and took time from all of his other rivals. Bianchi wasn't really considered that strong coming in, but they showed their power through their blistering ride today. Jan Ullrich is definitely back, and this Tour is far from over.
- Francisco Mancebo and iBanesto.com. This team of climbers did a great ride to come in 4th, only 1' 03" behind Armstrong. Mancebo, Denis Menchov, and Juan Miguel Mercado should all be factors in the mountains. With such a great ride, they have really boosted their chances for a win in the Teams Competition and for a top ten on the individual GC.
Grazed Hams of the Day
- Joseba Beloki (ONCE-Eroski). His team rode their usual strong team time trial, coming in 2nd place at 30" behind US Postal. However, anything less than a victory was going to be a blow to the morale of this team as they are considered the world's best in this discipline. Beloki in particular will suffer, as he surely expected to beat Armstrong and gain much more time on his other rivals. Before the Tour began, Beloki was talking trash about how Postal's team was weak this year. Joseba still has a lot to learn about the psychology of sports, because the Posties have put that statement on their mental billboards and used it as motivation. Today was the first big smackdown of the Tour, and Beloki came out on the losing end. He will have to recover mentally and make a strong charge in the mountains if he hopes to finish at the top of the podium in Paris.
- Gilberto Simoni (Saeco). Simoni said before the Tour that he thought his team could win today's stage, but they came in 17th at 3' 02" behind US Postal and Lance Armstrong. That means Simoni also dropped 2' 32" to Beloki and 2' 19" to Ullrich. Maybe he was just trying to motivate his team when he said that, or maybe it was just wishful thinking. The whole Saeco team finished together, including the ailing Danilo DiLuca, which is a good sign for the team. However, losing this huge chunk of time will make it that much harder for the "Mountain Monster" to get the podium finish he desires so strongly. Simoni is going to have to do what he did in the Giro: stay away from Grandma's coughdrops and attack like hell on the hardest climbs. With one grand tour already in his legs it's going to be rough going for Simoni from here on out, but one thing is sure: Simoni is never afraid of attacking, and he will make Armstrong and Ullrich and Beloki work for any successes they achieve. I can't wait until the Alps.
- Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi). The Orangemen surrendered 3' 22" to Armstrong today as they finished in 18th spot. Mayo has said that he doesn't have GC aspirations and will focus on stage wins in the mountains. Maybe he said this because he knows how his team handles the team time trials. Mayo showed in the Dauphine that he can attack hard on the climbs, and with such a bad day today he may decide to make a run at the Polka-Dot Jersey. He is certainly talented enough to win that competition and take a couple of stages along the way. Did I mention that I can't wait until the Alps?
- Tyler "Nails" Hamilton (CSC). The team didn't do as well as they'd hoped, finishing in 10th at 1' 45". Jakob Piil, one of their strongmen on the flatter stages, has been ailing and he finished about 4' behind his mates today. The absence of Piil from the paceline and the weakened state of Hamilton surely hurt CSC. Still, Tyler rode well: he took several turns on the front, got out of the saddle to accelerate, and finished with the rest of the team. It's unclear how much longer Tyler will go with this fractured collarbone; he stated that his short-term goal was to finish the TTT and then reassess from there. But if he carries on and can recover a bit more before the mountains, he could actually put in some good work for his teammate Sastre… or maybe even put in a good performance for himself. As Victor Hugo Pena proved today, we can always dream.
Crazy Jane's Jambon Délicieux - Stage 4 - TTT
Well, to begin with, I simply must mention that I love it when big, bad, bike racing men put the hammer down, and it's always a plus when they do it in skinsuits. I think it's pretty clear that US Postal brought out the big stick today, and they have forced my hand, because they scorched the course in more ways than one!
Victor Hugo Peña - I've already mentioned that The Notorious VHP has the biggest smile in cycling, and it was in full bloom today as he basked in the glory of the yellow jersey. It is such a huge pleasure to see a faithful team player like Peña up on that podium. It reminds us of all that is best and most glorious in the sport of cycling. In few days, Peña will be carrying water up and down the climbs, doing yeoman's work for his leader, and it's downright beautiful to see him take home this reward... especially when he's so darned handsome. I'd like to be the first to say - because I don't think Phil and Paul jumped my gun on this - that he looks RESPLENDENT in the golden fleece.
In the beautiful smile department, I really have to include Jose Luis "Chechu" Rubiera. If you want evidence of systematic charm enhancement on the postal team, look no further than Peña, Rubiera and...
The Gorillas - "George and Eki today? Like Machines!" was Lance's comment after today's TTT. As the race heats up, I have a feeling we will be seeing more and more of these incredibly strong, incredibly professional, and unbelievably good looking total bike racing studs. Or, is that a "chicken or egg" type question? Do we see more of them when the race heats up, or does the race heat up because we are seeing more of them? Have I gone too far with that? I'm sorry, but it must be said, and it must be said repeatedly: those two are délicieux.
Lance Armstrong - Whenever Lance adopts that look of steely determination, breaks out the teeth, and starts turning over the pedals with that smooth, powerful motion, count me in.
Postal blew it up, but there were some other notables on the road today:
Young Andy Flickinger has an epic amount of boyish charm, and I really like it when Australian champion Stuart O'Grady dons a skinsuit. It's délicieux to see Jan Ullrich wearing such a fetching kit and driving it hardcore. Today's Maillot Jaune, Jean-Patrick Nazon is pretty easy on the eyes, and last, but certainly not least, Tyler Hamilton continued to amaze today, riding with a degree of fortitude that's about as amazing as the Grand Canyon is every goddamn time you see it.
Bike racing... Gotta love it, right ladies? Did we miss your most délicieux rider in our line up? drop me a line at email@example.com, and help us celebrate the beauty of cycling!
Crazy Jane's Team Kit Review will follow later! Stay tuned!