|Golden Hams of the Day|
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- Paolo Bettini and His Royal Majesty, King Richard Virenque (Quickstep-Davitamon). Bettini went on the attack today, and when he heard that his teammate King Richard was trying to bridge he sat up and waited (much to the consternation of the other men in the break). Once His Majesty caught up, Bettini rode unselfishly taking huge pulls on the front to set up his teammate. When King Richard attacked on the Col de la Ramaz, he finished off what Bettini had started as he rode away to a stunning stage victory and the Yellow Jersey. This is a great coup for the Belgian Quickstep team, giving them the two things that their Lotto-Domo rivals have sought in vain. Their glory will likely be short-lived, however, as the big guns who sat on today will be going all out to take the Yellow Jersey tomorrow up the finish on l'Alpe d'Huez.
- Rolf Aldag (Telekom). He was involved in that long breakaway with Bettini, and when Virenque attacked he actually countered and held on for a long ways up the climb. The flatlander finally succumbed, but he still rode well enough to finish the stage in 2nd place at 2' 29". With both Zabel and Botero struggling, this was a much-needed strong performance for the Telekom squad.
- Sylvain Chavanel (Brioches La Boulangere). He attacked near the end of the stage to take 3rd at 3' 45". Chavanel is a strong young rider who many see as the great hope for the future of French cycling. He is an attacker, as he showed in Paris-Nice this year, and the fact that he hung with the lead group on the big climbs bodes well for him. He could be giving the French fans something else big to cheer for very soon.
- Juan Miguel Mercado (iBanesto.com). On the top of the final two climbs, the young Spanish climber successfully launched himself from the Postal-led peloton to take the remaining points in the King of the Mountains competition. He finished the stage 55 points behind Virenque in the race for the Polka-Dots, but the mere fact that he attacked for points shows two things about Mercado: 1) he is recovering from the "digestive problems" that have plagued him all Tour, and 2) he is going to make a run at the Polka-Dot Jersey. Mercado is a class rider, and he is a far better climber than Virenque. Look for him to go on the attack soon to close the gap on his French rival.
- Baden Cooke (FDJeux.com). The sprinter who had been dominating the Tour, Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo), didn't have enough legs to make it over the first big climb today and withdrew from the race. While Cooke didn't ride at the front (he came across in 128th at 24' 56"), the fact that he simply finished the stage today put him in the lead in the Green Jersey competition. He now holds an 8 point lead on compatriot Robbie McEwen, and looks to be a strong contender for the overall victory in this competition come Paris.
Grazed Hams of the Day
- Gilberto Simoni (Saeco). He was riding a supercool, superlight Cannondale bike today that was so advanced they had to put weights on the top tube to make the thing legal (the UCI has a minimum weight for bikes). On the climb of the Col de la Ramaz, he might have been thinking about ditching those weights while nobody was looking. The 2003 Giro champion and a super climber, Simoni struggled making the transition from the flats to the mountains today, crossing the line in 77th at 10' 21" behind Virenque. He has so many miles in his legs this season, such a performance isn’t surprising. But unless he is suffering from an illness we don't know about, Simoni will likely rebound and still be a major player in the mountains…he's too good of a climber to keep down for long. With such a huge deficit to men like Armstrong (he is now 9' 23" behind Lance), he will be given more slack by the GC leaders when he goes on the attack. This could very well lead to a stage win down the road.
- Santiago Botero (Telekom). Like Simoni, the Telekom leader struggled today to finish in 74th at 10' 21". Botero had a terrible day last year as well, when he bonked on the Venteux stage and lost 15' (ironically, Virenque won that stage as well). Last year, he rebounded from this disaster and won a mountain stage en route to a 4th place finish on GC in Paris. Botero has had terrible form this year, and he may not be able to rebound from his bad day today. Still, "The Battler" is far too tough and dangerous of a bike rider to dismiss just yet.
- Aitor Gonzalez (Fassa Bortolo) and Angel Casero (Bianchi). Giancarlo Ferretti, Fassa Bortolo's team director, must be thinking "thank God for Petacchi!" The Italian super-sprinter delivered four stage wins before dropping out today, and like in this year's Giro, he gave Fassa Bortolo a lot to cheer about. His performance alone made the Tour a success for Fassa, so the disappointing performance of Gonzalez today won't sting so much. Like in the Giro, Fassa GC hopeful Gonzalez was off the back on the climbs, finishing today in 60th at 8' 38". For his part, Casero was supposed to be helping his team leader Jan Ullrich on the climbs. Fortunately for Jan, he doesn't look like he needs much help from Casero in this year's Tour. Both Gonzalez and Casero have won the Vuelta a España, but they look well on their way to riding a very anonymous Tour.
- Tyler "Nails" Hamilton (CSC). Okay, this award is close to degenerating into the Tyler Hamilton award, but dude is riding with a fractured collarbone! The latest x-rays showed that he wasn't getting worse, and so Tyler and his team manager decided that he would continue to ride today in order to see how his legs were going to handle the climbs. If he had bonked on the climbs, Hamilton was prepared to withdraw from the race and let his collarbone heal in peace. But he didn't bonk: he hung with the GC contenders all day to finish in 25th at 4' 06", the same time as Armstrong and Ullrich. That being said, the big guns also didn't go all out today. Tyler passed the first test, but he may still decide to go home if he can't match the accelerations that are sure to come on the Alpe d'Huez tomorrow. Still, Tyler's legend grows by the day. Here's hoping he can keep hammering with the leaders all the way to Paris.
Crazy Jane's Jambons Délicieux - Stage 7
Ladies, we lost a good man today, as Alessandro Petacchi decided to hang it up. His stay in green was short but sweet, and at least he showed 'em who was boss before getting into the team car and heading off to join Mario Cipollini on the beach. Petacchi doesn't like all the comparisons to the Italian Sprint King, but I'm going to make one more anyway: as much as I love Super Mario, Petacchi is better looking. Arrivederci, Alessandro! We will miss you! Having said all that, Petacchi leaves the the green jersey to the extremely charming FDJeux.com youngster, Baden Cooke, so all is far from lost.
Today was a really big day on the job for the Postal/Berry boys; I could tell, because Victor Hugo Peña was back in the caravan stuffing bottles into his maillot jaune. What a sight. Though he's back to work in the service of the Blue Train's larger goal, he's the most charming, and best looking maillot jaune in this tour to date, and is likely to maintain that distinction all the way to Paris. Postal's got a délicieux crew of domestiques, but I'm giving top honors to Jose Luis "Chechu" Rubiera today; he's got pretty blue eyes and seems genuinely nice; plus, he and Manuel "Triki" Beltran , were bad men on the climbs today. The Gorillas were in full effect as well, and don't think I didn't notice that little flash of a smile George Hincapie gave the TV cameras as he drifted back on the climb when his job was done.
Also looking good today: Jan Ullrich. The big German doesn't talk it up much, but he is looking like a lean, mean, bike racing machine. If anyone's going to give Armstrong some trouble, I think Ullrich's the man to do it, which would be, yes, you guessed it, délicieux, because not only is Jan a pleasure to look at, but he could force Armstrong to adopt that expression of steely determination I like so much.
We've got some votes here at Jambons Délicieux headquarters for Sylvian Chavanel , and the usual small chorus for Eric Zabel , who could be seen packing his German Champion's Jersey full of drinks for his teammates. Zabel is a class act, and with Petacchi cooling his heels, things could turn around for him after the mountains. The girls here can hope. Finally, Tyler Hamilton is never leaving this roster. He finished the stage today in the front group, and we at Crazy Jane's Jambons Délicieux copy desk are cheering him on all the way. That is one tough little man.
Meanwhile, I think we're in for some real fireworks tomorrow! L'Alpe D'Huez is always an occasion for feats of strength and epic dramas that are sure to flush out some more of the peloton's finest. Until then...
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