|Golden Hams of the Day|
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- Alexandre "The Great" Vinokourov (Telekom). This Tour just keeps getting crazier and crazier. Vinokourov has attacked on the climbs for three days straight, and for the last two days they have worked! His attack today caused a huge response from the leaders, and sparked the hard chase that led to Beloki's horrible crash. This guy is a serious hammer, and with his stage win today by 36" (with another 20" time bonus for the win) he climbed into 2nd on GC at only 21" behind Armstrong. While it still seems doubtful that he can challenge Armstrong in the time trials and steep climbs to come, he is looking more and more like a podium challenger as the days go by.
- Jorg Jaksche (ONCE-Eroski) and Ivan Parra (Kelme-Costa Blanca). Jaksche was the virtual Yellow on the road today, and rode brilliantly to force the Posties to chase. He was very strong on the climbs, attacking repeatedly to whittle the group of 14 down to two near the end. This was a perfect team tactic, as this would help tire out the Posties and set up Beloki. Unfortunately, his team leader's crash brought a sad and sudden end to what was really a great day for the ONCEs up to that point. For his part, Parra did a great job showing the Kermit colors on the front. He hung on through all the attacks on the climbs, and even launched a blistering attack of his own heading into the final climb. He eventually got swallowed up by the attack of Vinokourov, but this was a noble effort that will surely be followed in the Pyranees by a horde of Kermit attacks on their home turf.
- Angel Casero and Aitor Garmendia (Bianchi). The two Bianchis rode well today. Garmendia's attack on the Col d'Izoard blew the break to pieces, and his solo ride showed great strength. However, he seemed to lack some tactical sense, as he waited for far too long to sit up and wait for the six men who survived his attack. By riding so long on his own, he had no legs and no answer when the later accelerations came. Casero showed some form, following the big attacks and staying off the front in the break for most of the day. With two men in the group, the Bianchis looked to have a tactical advantage, but some questionable moves and the chase of the Posties cost them in the end.
- Paolo Bettini (Quickstep-Davitamon). After a brutal stage, he won the sprint for 2nd from a very elite group of GC men. While Virenque has been getting all the press, Bettini seems to be the one who is really on good form for the Belgian squad. He launched the attack and did some huge pulls to catapult Virenque into Yellow two days ago, and yesterday he had to ride forever on the front to protect the Yellow Jersey. Still, the Italian Champion had enough in the tank to hang with the best today and take a great result. I would be surprised if Bettini didn't win a stage by the end of the Tour with the form he has shown so far.
- Iban "Miracle Whip" Mayo (Euskaltel Euskadi). He came in 3rd today, finishing just behind Bettini in the sprint. By getting 3rd, he snaked an 8" time bonus to move him up just a little on Armstrong. With Beloki's abandon, Mayo now sits in 3rd on GC at 1' 06". Like Vinokourov, he is looking more and more like a podium challenger as the days go by.
- Lance "El Jefe" Armstrong (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). He countered another strong move by Beloki, and then was sharing work with the Spaniard as they chased the elusive Vinokourov. They had cut the gap to 13" when Beloki overcooked it a bit into a corner, locked up his back brake, and folded his tire on the hot tar of the road. Armstrong then put in an impressive display of bike handling: Beloki was leading the chase group, so Armstrong said that when Beloki went down, "The only way I had to go was in this field." He rode straight through this dirt and yellow-grass covered field, cutting across to the other side of the huge switchback in the road, all the while keeping his bike upright and his tires intact. He then jumped off the bike, picked it up, jumped down a bank, and jumped back on his bike, pedaling down the road and losing no time to the other men in the chase group (he actually beat them there…he took the shortcut). His ability to stay upright and avoid losing time was nothing short of phenomenal. While he did give up some time to Vinokourov, today could have very easily had a much worse ending for Armstrong.
- Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola-SoDi). After looking good on the early climbs in the Alps, he struggled yesterday up the Alpe d'Huez to slip a bit down on GC. Today, the Italian climber freefalled down the GC by finishing in the grupetto in 143rd place, 32' 43" behind Vinokourov. Maybe he's sick, or maybe his form is spotty…whatever the case, he will have to just focus on stage wins from here on out.
- David Millar (Cofidis). He launched an attack on the penultimate climb, rode solo for awhile, and then blew sky high on the final climb. This ill-timed attack ended with Millar in 28th at 1' 47" today, losing valuable time in his quest for a top ten on GC. He's still in 19th on GC at 7' 15", but Millar has to be more careful with his attacks down the road.
Crazy Jane's Jambon Délicieux - Stage 9
One thing is certain, and that's that this year's Tour de France is not for the weak of heart. There's been some scary business taking place nearly every day, and just when things were looking especially thrilling, we've lost one of the top competitors to another crash. Poor Joseba Beloki. No one wanted to beat him like that, and it's especially disappointing to lose him just when he was finally ready to take the fight to Armstrong. Yet another reminder that anything can happen in three weeks of bike racing, and that these guys are vulnerable flesh and blood, riding at breakneck speed with nothing to protect them but a little bit of lycra and their wits.
Speaking of wits, though, Lance Armstrong kept his about him and put his cross country skills to good use as he fully MacGyvered himself right out of a very sticky wicket. Phew! For my money, Big Tex looks like he's playing his cards close to the vest, and keeping careful tabs on what everyone else is holding. He has an air of self-possession and mystery that makes one wish she could be a fly on the wall inside that brain of his. Look out for the Pyrenees, where I feel sure his steely gaze will be in full effect.
Today's Jambons Délicieux must kick off in earnest, though, with a blast from the past: the warm fuzzies nearly overcame me when I saw the only man in professional cycling with a charmatacrit higher than George Hincapie's on the KOM podium today. That's right: Laurent Jalabert. Alas, "The Panda" is retired and he will never again mount the podium with his compactly fit little figure, resplendent in Polka Dots, and give us all that big, killer smile; but last year, his charm nearly felled this reporter. Today it even warmed up Richard Virenque just a little bit to see JaJa on the podium with him.
For the second straight day, Alexandr Vinokurov makes an appearance in this round up, as he put in another true hardman's move today, taking some time out of Armstrong that the Texan was none too thrilled to part with. Vinokurov is so Mafia! Firstly, he's built like a brick shithouse; is there a harder man in this tour? Second, the necklace, and third: the gold teeth! Finally, there's the super hot riding he's been doing all year with victories in Paris-Tours, Amstel Gold and the Tour de Suisse, he is a big, bad, bike racing man.
While eveyone else has been shooting their bullets and laying their cards on the table, Jan Ullrich has just been quietly pedaling himself right up into the running for the podium. The Postal guys all put him up as the man to watch most closely this year, and they were right. I can only add that he is pure class, and I can't wait to watch him ride his ass off while looking all tall, angular and freckled.
The Usual Suspects:
Tyler Hamilton. Again. Today he put out a hand to Armstrong after his former team leader's close call. Tyler's a class guy, and the real hero of this tour so far. Girls like a fighter. Also, he again finished with the heads of state today, and yes, that shoulder still hurts. George Hincapie gets more délicieux votes than any other rider, every single day. Today he was working the biggest, whitest sunglasses I have ever seen, while driving it like the hammer he is at the front of the pack. There's also a very funny paragraph in Frankie Andreu's Tour Diary about Big Hink's Oakley sweatband. You have to love a man who knows how to accessorize while putting the screws to the Tour de France peloton. Iban Mayo was back at it with a nice sprint for the third place time bonus today. He has a fantastic nose, and an almost impudent, devilish little smile, and it's great to see the Euskatel team riding so well after last year's debacle. Also, I missed him yesterday, but Stephano Garzelli? Oh yeah, baby.
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