|Golden Hams of the Day|
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- Juan Antonio Flecha (iBanesto.com). This has been a great Tour so far for this climber-heavy Spanish squad. First they did an outstanding team trial to come in 4th, just over a minute behind US Postal, to really minimize their losses on GC. Team leader Mancebo is still benefiting from this, as he is currently 4th on GC at 1' 37". Then today, on the final flat stage before tomorrow's time trial and the weekend jaunt through the Pyrenees, Flecha gets into a breakaway, launches a brilliant attack, and wins the day. This put iBanesto.com at the top of the Teams Classification at the end of the day. Climbers aren't supposed to do these kinds of things. It will be interesting to see what else they can pull out of their hats over the next few days.
- Bram de Groot (Rabobank) and Isidro Nozal (ONCE-Eroski). Both of these men lost their team leaders to crashes, but have soldiered on and carried the banners for their squads. De Groot was in that long breakaway on Stage 10, where he came in 3rd on the line. Today he did one better, counter-attacking Flecha and coming up just short to take 2nd. Nozal launched several attacks of his own from the eight-man breakaway, but none of them really stuck until after Flecha had already flown the coop. Still, his aggressive riding today does his team proud, and his 3rd place on the line is nothing to sneeze at.
- Carlos Da Cruz (FDJeux.com), and Michael Rogers (Quickstep Davitamon). Da Cruz went out into the break largely as a policeman for his teammate Baden Cooke. Da Cruz did his job well, taking 1st at the two intermediate sprints ahead of Stuart O'Grady (Credit Agricole). His presence in the break let his mates in the peloton have a free ride while the other sprinters' teams chased their brains out. While they didn't get a great result, FDJeux.com rode a tactically savvy race that allowed them to save their legs for another day. Rogers was also in the break today, getting some invaluable experience off the front as he tries to learn how to win in the Tour. He ended up in 8th by the end of the day, but next time he'll have a clearer idea of what he needs to do.
- Jean Delatour. Okay, since Jean-Patrick Nazon took the Yellow Jersey after Stage 3, these guys have once again been missing in action. I can't count how many riders I've heard who have commented that the sprints are more dangerous and disorganized because Cipollini's Domina Vacanze squad isn't in the race. I don't like beating a dead zebra on this one, but come on, these Jean Delatour guys have got to stop riding like such stiffs if they are going to justify their inclusion. Jean-Patrick Nazon is a fine sprinter, so why weren't his teammates in the chase? Why didn't they at least have a guy up the road? I've been watching every stage three to four times a day, and I can't even remember what their jerseys look like anymore.
- Lance Armstrong (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor), Jan Ullrich (Bianchi), Tyler Hamilton (CSC), Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom), Iban Mayo and Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel). These men all have a big day tomorrow. The Alps weren't even remotely decisive, and while many favorites have faded or abandoned, each of these men (and a few others besides) have a shot at the podium in Paris. With tomorrow's 47km flat time trial, they will face a serious test that will dictate the tactics in the Pyrenees stages over the weekend. For today, they got to just sit on, get in some miles, sweat way too much, and think about what is to come. I can't wait until tomorrow.
- Lotto-Domo, Brioches La Boulangere, Telekom, Vini Caldirola. These teams each put men on the front to try to chase back the breakaway for their sprinters. Alas, they put all that work in for little gain. Flecha proved too strong and the peloton reacted too late as they rolled in 42" behind the stage winner. Telekom now has some work to do for Vinokourov, but the others pretty much just have to focus on saving their legs until the other side of the mountains.
Crazy Jane's Jambons Délicieux - Stage 11
Today I'm going to talk about two tragedies that have taken place in the peloton: the abandon today of Jens Voigt, and the fact that Axel Merckx has cut his hair.
First, Le tour lost a good man today in big Jens, and as readers of my column will know, he is a special favorite of mine, owing to the size of his adam's apple, and his big charming smile. Poor Jens died a thousand deaths on the road to Toulouse today, finally abandoning Le Tour for the first time in his career in the feedzone, thereby avoiding the indignity of the broom wagon. There's a lot of suffering at the Tour de France, and some of it is epic and thrilling, but not this! Not Jens Voigt at a near standstill due to illness; it nearly cracked me watching him struggle on. Auf Wiedersehn, Jens! We will miss you!
On the Axel Merckx front, no longer will the big, dreamy Belgian's soft blond hair blow back over his forehead as he rides up the mountainsides: Merckx has gone with something of a spikey flat top. Now, I say it's a tragedy, but it's all relative really, because truth be told, Merckx is still F-ing hot. Probably the bigger tragedy is the fact that he's suffering from tendonitis in one knee and pain in both, and may not be able to go away on that mountain breakaway with George Hincapie that I was dreaming of in my perfect imaginary tour. Damn! Still more tragic is the fact that Merckx is shockingly under-utilized, and is on the same team with Robbie McEwen, but I'll stop right there.
Also worth a mention today, iBanesto.com's Juan Antonio Flecha's arrow-shooting victory salute was delightful, and perhaps you will have noticed that one of yesterday's featured cuties, AG2R's Nicolas Portal was in the break, perhaps capitalizing on his appearance in the délicieux rest day photo feature. (Yeah... right.) Oh, and despite speculation that he's been faking his injuries all along, Tyler Hamilton is still in it, and no matter what Walter Godefroot says, he's still our man!
Tomorrow should be a big shakedown... Au revoir until then, my pretties!