|Golden Hams of the Day|
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- Iban "Miracle Whip" Mayo (Euskaltel Euskadi). Damn, we've got ourselves one helluva race this year. I don't know if I've got enough Golden Hams to go around, today's stage was so cool. At the top of the list has to be "Miracle Whip" Mayo. In the Dauphine Libere last month, Mayo went after Armstrong and showed that he is one of the best climbers in the world… it took everything Lance had to take down the young man from Spain in that race. Today, Mayo went on the attack again and showed why he is both the future and the present of Spanish cycling: he dropped everyone and stormed the most storied climb in cycling to take a huge victory. After a terrible Tour last year, Mayo and his climbing Orangemen are back in force, as his teammates Zubeldia and Laiseka finished only 2' 12" back, in 5th and 9th place respectively. They lost a huge chunk of time in the team time trial, so Mayo only moved up into 3rd on GC at 1' 10". Still, if he keeps climbing like this, he'll be smiling on the podium in Paris.
- Alexandre "The Great" Vinokourov (Telekom). His team signed a lot of big names in the off-season, and those names—Cadel Evans, Paolo Savoldelli, and Santiage Botero—were supposed to be storming the slopes of France this year. Evans broke his collarbone, Savoldelli didn't come due to illness, and Botero has been off the back so far this race. The forgotten strongman of Telekom has stepped into the vacuum left by these heavy hitters, today riding a brilliant race to finish in 2nd at 1' 45" behind Mayo. Vinokourov won the Paris-Nice earlier this Spring, and he now looks to have pulled off the amazing feat of carrying his form all the way through to July. He now stands in 4th in the GC at 1' 17", and carries the hopes of the Telekom squad into the final two weeks of the race.
- Tyler "Nails" Hamilton (CSC). Cajones of Steel. The Master of Disaster. The Limping Legend. Big F-ing Stud. If Tyler keeps riding like this, I'm going to run out of nicknames. He hung with the Armstrong/Beloki group up the final climb, and actually attacked them several times along the way. Oh yeah, he has a fractured collarbone, etc. etc., but he didn't ride like an injured man today, as he finished in 7th at 2' 12" to jump up to 6th on GC at 1' 52". Despite his struggles this week, Tyler looks to be on his way to another brilliant but wounded ride like his 2002 Giro, where he took 2nd on GC with a broken shoulder. Tyler can time trial much, much better than all but one of the men ahead of him on GC (that would be Armstrong), and there are two individual time trials yet to come. If he continues to finish with the front group like this on the big climbs, Tyler will be on the podium in Paris.
- Joseba Beloki (ONCE-Eroski). I have been dogging this guy for years because he has been the biggest wheel-sucker in the peloton. While he's incredibly talented, he's been satisfied to just ride passively and go for the lower places on the Tour podium. In his pre-Tour profile, Andy said that Beloki was coming into this year's Tour with a different mentality, but I wasn't convinced. Now, I'm convinced. Beloki went after Armstrong and attacked him several times on the final climb. He didn't shake Armstrong, but he did finish with him, and that will give Beloki a huge lift: he took big risks today, and he lost nothing but his fear of the mighty Texan. If he continues to ride like this, he could very well win the race, but even if he doesn't win he'll at least have finally figured out how to ride like a champion.
- Lance "El Jefe" Armstrong (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). Hmmm…I hear loud flapping sounds, and feel hot breezes in my hair. These are caused by the mouths of all those people who don't like Armstrong, who have resented his dominance over the last several years, and who are now venting their predictions that Armstrong is weak, Armstrong is over, Armstrong is history. Of course Lance isn't dominating the Tour like he has in past years (yet), but he will still win in Paris. In the face of an orgy of attacks today, Armstrong kept his cool and rode well enough to take 3rd on the stage, landing himself in the Yellow Jersey with a 40" lead over Beloki by the end of the day. He limited his losses to Mayo, put big time into men like Ullrich and Garzelli, and neutralized the many attacks of Hamilton and Beloki. There are 96km of individual time trials left in the race, and of all the men now in the top ten, only two can come close to challenging Armstrong in time trials: Hamilton and Ullrich. Both of these men are well back in Lance's rearview mirror, and neither today looked like he could take much time from Lance on the climbs. Armstrong also has the strongest team in the race to help him defend his lead. Still, with two mountain-top finishes to come in the Pyranees, the climbers will get their chances to fight back and make up for time they lose in the time trials. I, for one, am happy that Armstrong's detractors have so much to talk about, because it means that we've got a wonderful, highly competitive Tour on our hands. Lance is finally in a huge melee of a dogfight for the Yellow…man are the next two weeks going to be fun! But Lance will still win.
- George "Big Rig" Hincapie, Manuel Beltran, and Jose Luis "the Punisher" Rubiera (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). Today the entire team rode brilliantly, and these three in particular did a huge amount of work for their team leader. Hincapie did huge turns on the Galibier and (after a fierce chaseback on the descent) on the bottom of the Alpe d'Huez. Beltran and "The Punisher" paced Armstrong up the climbs yesterday, and today went to the front on the bottom of the Alpe and blew most of the field to pieces. Armstrong needed the help too, as the most talented field he's faced threw everything at him, including their broken collarbones. Thus far, the BlueBerry Boys have controlled the damage in a race that could very easily have gotten out of control. They flew to a huge win in the team time trial, and that alone could be the deciding factor in this race. Armstrong will need his team to continue their brilliant performance if he is to keep Yellow all the way to Paris.
- Jan Ullrich (Team Bianchi). Okay, "RoboJan" didn't ride poorly, as he only finished in 13th at 3' 36". However, he lost an important 1' 24" to Armstrong, and that will hurt him. He ended the day in 8th on GC at 2' 10" behind the Texan. Still, Jan is a master at the time trials who could pull back huge amounts of time on most of the men ahead of him. Also, Jan is someone who usually gets stronger as the race gets longer, so while he didn't have his best day today, he could be an absolute monster come the Pyranees.
- His Royal Majesty, King Richard Virenque (Quickstep-Davitamon). Virenque really enjoyed his day in Yellow. He had no illusions, and he even smiled a bit as he struggled up the final climb well behind the leaders. He blew sky high on that climb, finishing in 35th at 9' 29" back. His Majesty won't care: he picked up a lot of points in the King of the Mountains competition along the way, and now leads 2nd place Armstrong by a whopping 71 points. Tomorrow he will start in Polka-Dots, and with such a huge time gap to the leaders he will likely have the freedom to go on the attack again for more mountain glory.
- Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola-SoDi). He looked strong yesterday, but today he struggled as he came in 15th at 4' 46". The mountains are his preferred terrain, so he has to have a nice recovery soon if he is going to improve on his current 17th in GC at 4' 46"… he's not going to make up that time in the time trials.
- David Millar (Cofidis). He's climbing better than he used to, but he still isn't at the level to hang close to the leaders on stages like today. He finished the stage in 22nd at 6' 09", and his position in GC is now also 22nd at 6' 04". Millar can make up a fair amount of time in the time trials, and if he can manage to stick closer to the leaders in the mountains to come, he may still wind up in the top ten in Paris.
Crazy Jane's Jambons Délicieux - Stage 8
My goodness me, it's been a délicieux day at Le Tour! I just knew it would be. Looking at the result at the Galibier KOM, it was all honey baked hams in the lead, and it just got better from there. What can I tell you? Cycling is a beautiful sport, and we are all a-quiver over here.
The Top Guns:
Tyler "Biggest Frickin' Stud on Earth" Hamilton - I am speechless. I can only put my hand over my beating heart and gasp "Allez, Tyler!" in wide-eyed amazement. That guy is killing me.
Iban Mayo - A lot of us ladies have been waiting for this Basque treat to reveal himself at the tour, and now that he has, let me just reveal that he is scrumptious. Six feet tall, beautiful bone structure, and kicking butt on the Alpe D'Huez? It doesn't get much better than that... I'm booking my flight directly into the Basque country as we speak; there has to be more where that came from!
Jan Ullrich - What a fighter this guy is. Jan has had some hard luck over the past year and made some mistakes, but he never shirks it. He gets dropped on the climb, and just rides himself back into it. He comes to the tour in beautiful condition, but doesn't spray us all with braggadocio, and he is a long, tall drink of water, too. I love watching him ride, I love his new kit, I love his strong, silent type stylings, and I don't think we've seen the last of the big German in this tour.
Lance Armstrong - There are those who will say Big Tex suffered today, but I've got a feeling he did exactly what he needed to do. He never lets 'em see him sweat, either. He has an incredible intensity, and when he gets out of the saddle and dances up the mountains with that trim little waist of his, I cannot deny him. That superman hairstyle is the nazz, too.
While we're going Postal... Oh yeah, you knew it was coming! George Hincapie , ladies and gentlemen! After months of being MIA, Big Hink is back in the action in a big way! Drilling it up Galibier, finally peeling off, and then catching back on to do the same duty up the Alpe D'Huez? The panel here is swooning. And hey, does Oakley have a whole wing of their Intergalactic Headquarters dedicated to making sure George has the coolest glasses? Because that man is doing huge favors for ridiculous eyewear every day of his life. Jose Luis "Chechu" Rubiera, Manuel Beltran, Roberto Heras & Floyd Landis must be mentioned here, too. What a wrecking crew!
Ivan Basso - How cute is this guy? Another tall drink of water - last year's best young rider has the skin of a 12 year old boy. As one of the three remaining members of the Fassa Bortolo team left on the bike and clearly the team's only hope at this point, he will be one to watch.. and it won't be hard on the eyes.
Alexandre Vinokurov - I usually don't go for a man in pink, but Vinokurov... Oh yeah, baby. Vino is so strong, and has been such a hero all year long.
Finally, can you believe we even have a few votes for Joseba Beloki ? For the record, I'm not so sure about that, but I am sure of one thing - he did attack, and that was délicieux. Here's to the tour we've all been dreaming of!
Crazy Jane's copy desk is overflowing with your letters! Note to the peloton: the ladies are loving you! Keep the suggestions coming, ladies! E-mail us your picks at firstname.lastname@example.org!