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Tour de France Jambon Report: Rest Day 1
 
By Locutus
Date: 7/16/2003
Tour de France Jambon Report: Rest Day 1
 

What a race we've had so far! On this first rest day, I'm still blown away at all of the crashes, attacks, and talented challengers that have characterized the first ten days of racing. I mean, we haven't seen a Tour this competitive and dramatic since the Festina-plagued battle between "RoboJan" Ullrich and Marco "The Human Chihuahua" Pantani back in 1998. Before the race, I wrote up my predictions for the Tour in order to size up the favorites and to embarrass myself. As we've seen so clearly since day one, anything can happen in a three-week race: your chain can slip at a crucial moment, a touch of wheels in front of you can send you to the hospital, your back brake can rub and sap your legs, the heat can suck the life out of you and everyone else, food poisoning can take down a team, one bad day can sink a favorite, and a spot of oil in the road can put you on the tarmac in a flash. With so much chance, so many variables, so many competing agendas, making accurate predictions is like trying to herd cats. So of course, once again, I have to give it a try. Here are my original predictions, the current status of the riders I talked about, and my predictions for the final half of the race. Don't laugh at me too much.

What I Said Then: My Pre-Tour Picks for the GC Top Ten and notables.
  • 1. Lance Armstrong
  • 2. Jan Ullrich
  • 3. Tyler Hamilton
  • 4. Iban Mayo
  • 5. Gilberto Simoni
  • 6. Joseba Beloki
  • 7. Francisco Mancebo
  • 8. David Millar
  • 9. Christophe Moreau
  • 10. Roberto Heras
  • Other notables mentioned: Levi Leipheimer, Santiago Botero, Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre, Stefano Garzelli, Aitor Gonzalez, Michael Rogers, Angel Casero.
The Current GC: Top Ten and notables.
  • 1. Lance Armstrong
  • 2. Alexandre Vinokourov @ 21"
  • 3. Iban Mayo @ 1' 02"
  • 4. Francisco Mancebo @ 1' 37"
  • 5. Tyler Hamilton @ 1' 52"
  • 6. Jan Ullrich @ 2' 10"
  • 7. Ivan Basso @ 2' 25"
  • 8. Roberto Heras @ 2' 28"
  • 9. Haimar Zubeldia @ 3' 25"
  • 10. Denis Menchov @ 3' 45"
  • 12. Christophe Moreau @ 4' 04"
  • 17. Carlos Sastre @ 5' 59"
  • 19. David Millar @ 7' 15"
  • 41. Michael Rogers @ 23' 53"
  • 52. Angel Casero @ 37' 48"
  • 64. Santiago Botero @ 49' 13"
  • 68. Gilberto Simoni 52' 08"
  • Abandoned: Levi Leipheimer, Aitor Gonzalez, Joseba Beloki, Stefano Garzelli.
What I Say Now: My Current Predictions for the GC Top Ten (with evaluation of my earlier miscalculations).
  • 1. Lance "El Jefe" Armstrong (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). Don't believe the hype. I was right on this one, and heading into the rest day, Lance is where he wants to be. Sure, he had a bad day on the Alpe d'Huez, but his back brake was rubbing for the first 200km of that stage. Bernard Hinault saw the truth: he said that Armstrong would wait to attack until the second half of the race. George Hincapie also said recently that, "We're waiting for the Pyrenees." Armstrong himself commented that he has focused more on preparing for the time trials than any other aspect of the race this year, and that he believes the time trials to come will be the most important he has ever ridden. Lance has been hiding his hand, keeping his trump cards concealed, letting Postal's "Lowland Gorillas" control the flatter regions and working with his "Mighty Mountain Smurfs" to control the climbs. On the Alpe d'Huez, he neutralized his danger menůmost notably Beloki and Hamiltonů and took time out of his most feared rival, Jan Ullrich. Lance is right where he wants to be. Still, this race is highly competitive, and despite the loss of class riders like Beloki, there are lots of talented men still lining up to attack Lance in the mountains. While Lance himself may attack in the Pyrenees, he won't need to: he just has to ace the time trials and defend. The race to Paris will be extremely exciting and full of surprises, but Lance will prevail. If Lance rides into Paris in Yellow, the enduring image of this victory won't be something like "The Look" of 2001; instead, it will likely be "The Shortcut," Lance's improvised evasion of Beloki's crash and his subsequent cyclocrossing through a field to catch his rivals in a stunning display of bike handling, quick thinking, and luck. With so many brilliant challengers in the race, Lance can't afford to simply crush them every day. Instead, he has to improvise and defend, riding like a wily veteran until BOOM! he nails down his rivals with his big Texas hammer. With continued luck, smarts, and legs of steel, Lance will win number five. But it won't be easy.
  • 2. Tyler "Nails" Hamilton (CSC). I originally picked Tyler for 3rd, but now I'm picking him for 2nd. Why? Since the shocking crash that led to his fractured collarbone in Stage 1, Tyler has become the darling of the Tour. Like in the 2002 Giro, when he rode to 2nd with a fractured shoulder, people will be left speculating at the end of the Tour about what kind of damage he would have done if he was fully healthy. Personally, I think he would have dropped Armstrong and Beloki on the Alpe d'Huez if he was at full power. As it is, Ole the physical therapy wizard has been helping "Nails" to get stronger and stronger each day since his crash. Tyler has been hanging with the heads of state through thick and thin, and unlike most of Armstrong's challengers, Tyler is a demon in the time trials. In spite of this, he will lose a handful of seconds to Armstrong and Ullrich in that discipline, but he will make his fans go absolutely, positively, 100% batcrap crazy when he attacks in the Pyrenees. In the end, he will come up short, but regardless of what happens he will leave us with a legendary performance that we will talk about until we're dead. His ride in the Tour is already legendary, and the legend will only grow from here.
  • 3. Jan Ullrich (Team Bianchi). As the race gets longer, "RoboJan" will get stronger. Much has been made of his "bad" performance on the Alpe d'Huez, but he has never ridden well on that climb. As it was, he only lost 1' 24" to Armstrong that day. Also, he was plagued by a stomach bug in the early stages. Though he is currently in 6th at 2' 10", the big German will smoke the two individual time trials and leapfrog over the climbers ahead of him. The big German's whuppin' stick will be out, and he'll have some Americans at the top of his hit list. He will be a monster in the Pyrenees, and his war with Armstrong, Hamilton, Vinokourov, and Mayo will be one for the ages.
  • 4. Alexandre "The Great" Vinokourov (Telekom). The biggest surprise of the Tour so far. How the hell does he do it? He won Paris-Nice, Amstel Gold, and the Tour de Suisse, and yet he has come to the Tour with great legs. With that many strong performances under his belt, I had expected him to falter as his form began to fade. Since his attack up the Alpe d'Huez, however, I've remembered something Vinokourov's former teammate Kevin Livingston told me about him last year: he rides strong all year long. In the 2002 Vuelta, Vinokourov was in 2nd place at 14" behind Sevilla, and he was looking like a possible winner of the race before he was struck down by an illness that forced him to abandon. He has ridden with that same form in this year's Tour, and he will be a mighty force to reckon with in the days to come. That said, I think he will lose small chunks of time in the time trials and the high Pyrenees, and those will be enough to keep the classy rider off the podium. Barely.
  • 5. Iban "Miracle Whip" Mayo (Euskaltel Euskadi). His attack up the Alpe d'Huez was epic, and the young climber proved that day that he is a serious threat for the podium. He came in 5th in last year's Vuelta, so he has the staying power to last through a three-week grand tour. I originally picked him for 4th, but with Vinokourov's rise I've moved "Miracle Whip" to 5th. Why? He can ride a decent time trial, but he will lose time in that discipline to the four men I've placed above him. If he is going to make the podium, he is going to have to put in some more blistering attacks on the two uphill finishes to come. Now that he is a marked man, however, he will find it much more difficult to ride away from the big names. Still, I think he'll be in the top five, and if any of the men above him falter just a little he will climb higher.
  • 6. Francisco Mancebo (iBanesto.com). The consistent climber died a thousand deaths on the Alpe d'Huez, but he hung on to the Beloki/Armstrong train to lose no time to the main favorites. He was greatly aided by his team's wonderful time trial, where they only gave up 1' 05" to Postal. I originally picked him for 7th, but with Beloki's sad withdrawal, Mancebo moves up a spot. He finished 7th in last year's Tour, and will improve on that by one place this year.
  • 7. Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel Euskadi). I didn't see this one coming. Since he drove Postal crazy in the 2000 Dauphine Libere, where he finished in 2nd at 31" behind Tyler Hamilton, Zubeldia has been threatening to have a huge breakout in a grand tour. He finished 10th in the 2000 Vuelta, but has not ridden particularly well in a grand tour since then. In the Prologue, he flew around the course to take 3rd on the stage and finally announce that he was in fine form and ready to rumble. He has ridden well in the mountains so far, and his ability to time trial could land him in the top five by Paris. Who knew?
  • 8. "Bello" Ivan Basso (Fassa Bortolo). With senior Italian riders like Garzelli and Simoni washouts, Basso will once again carry the Italian standard in the GC battle to come. I thought that there would be too many talented GC men for Basso to improve on his 11th place from last year. However, with the crashes and form flops of many favorites, he finds himself right up in the thick of things. If he continues to climb like he did in the Alps, he might even land in the top five. The abandonment of his supposed team leader Aitor Gonzalez will help him, but the fact that he only has two teammates left may hurt him. Still, he finished well last year with next to no support from his team, especially in the high mountains.
  • 9. Roberto "Spanish Fly" Heras (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). The King of Postal's mountain smurfs will lose lots of time in the time trials, and this will cause him to slide down a place from his current 8th on GC at 2' 28" behind "El Jefe." He will be at home on the steeper climbs of the Pyrenees, and will lead the Postal attack and hold on to take enough time to land in the top ten. I had originally picked him for 10th, but Moreau's struggles have led me to upgrade the "Spanish Fly" one spot.
  • 10. Christophe "The Bug-Taster" Moreau (Credit Agricole). This one is shaky. Moreau had great form before the Tour, and has shown decent climbing skills to stay within 4' 04" of Armstrong in 12th place. He had a terrible Prologue, but I'm banking on Moreau coming through in the time trials to take just enough time to nip men like Denis Menchov (iBanesto) and Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) for a position in the top ten. With the way they're riding, however, I wouldn't be surprised to see Menchov or Totschnig finish in the top ten and to see "The Bug Taster" fade in the last week.
  • Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola-SoDi) and Aitor Gonzalez (Fassa Bortolo). I thought Garzelli might be a danger man, but I knew Gonzalez was going to go bust. Garzelli looked good in the climbs until the Alpe d'Huez. Then an illness sapped his strength, and this year's runner-up in the Giro decided to call it a race. He is a quality rider, but this race was just too much for him this year. As for Gonzalez, he has just sucked this year. Yeah, he rode well in that one Giro time trial, but other than that, the defending Vuelta champion has stunk it up. He was riding horribly again in the Tour before his team's mass withdrawal because of some sort of food poisoning. He must now try to see if he can finally find some form to defend his Vuelta title, but the way he has ridden so far this year, I wouldn't count on that happening.
  • David Millar (Cofidis) and Michael Rogers (Quickstep-Davitamon). Both have ridden respectably, though both were disappointed by their performances in the Prologue. In 19th at 7' 15", Millar is still within shot of the top ten if he can plan his attacks better. Millar is obviously going to take back time on many men ahead of him in the time trials (if he can keep his chain from slipping and find somebody to loan him a front derailleur). He has been showing signs of strength, and must ride with intelligence to pick up more spots in the mountains. Rogers has shown flashes of form, and if he isn't stuck working for His Royal Majesty, Richard Virenque the rest of the race, then he might have a shot at a stage win. He is young and a man for the future, so just finishing this Tour will be a big achievement for the young Aussie.
  • Carlos Sastre (CSC) and Angel Casero (Team Bianchi). Both are about where I thought they'd be. These two Spaniards are a study in contrasts. Last year in the Giro, Sastre gave Tyler his bike after the American crashed on a descent, thus giving up any hope of a good finish in Milan. Sastre is riding okay in the Tour (17th at 5' 59"), and says he's been feeling stronger the last few stages. If he continues to improve, he will still sacrifice everything, including his own GC aspirations, to help team leader Hamilton finish on the podium in Paris. That's the kind of selfless team player he is. Casero, on the other hand, has a reputation for being a selfish rider. On the steep climbs, he should have been near Ullrich helping him along, but instead he has been riding the race for himself. The former Vuelta winner has no chance in this Tour, as he sits in 52nd at 37' 48", but don't be surprised if he continues to ride for stage wins instead of helping Ullrich to the podium.
  • Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) and Santiago Botero (Telekom). I picked Simoni to finish 5th, but he has shown up with the climbing legs of a sprinter. Botero hasn't been much better, as he has popped off the back every time the road has tilted upwards. Simoni likely has too many race miles in his legs, and Botero likely has too few. Simoni, if he doesn't abandon, will try to rebound for the Pyrenees. Botero will try to stick it out and improve his form for the Vuelta, and help Vinokourov whenever he can. I doubt that either one will make it to Paris, but they both have so much talent that they can never be dismissed as a threat for a stage win.
  • Joseba Beloki (ONCE-Eroski) and Levy Leipheimer (Rabobank). What can you say about these two? Leipheimer felt he had great form, but had no chance to show it before that bizarre crash in Stage 1 ended his race before it really started. Beloki was having the race of his life, taking the attacks to Armstrong and riding like a champion up the climbs. Then that horrible crash in Stage 9 ended everything in a flash, leaving his teammates and rivals alike shaken and saddened. These are dark times for both riders, as they not only have to come back from bad physical injuries but also from severe disappointment and frustration. Here's hoping they rebound swiftly and strongly: they are far too talented and resilient to stay down for long. Their presence in this year's Tour will be sorely missed by all.
 
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