|Golden Hams of the Day|
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- "RoboJan" Ullrich (Team Bianchi). Boy, what an ass-whuppin'. Before the Tour, I commented that Ullrich was following the advice of the United States' 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, who believed that it was wise to "walk softly and carry a big stick." Ullrich has kept his mouth quiet and his aspirations humble, but today he took out that big stick and started whacking the hell out of the other riders. He smoked the 47km time trial course in a time of 58' 32", taking at least 1' 36" out of every other rider in the race. This performance was reminiscent of Ullrich's ride in the 1997 Tour, but his sheer power and the huge chunks of time he took also bring to mind five-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain. Big Mig was a monster in the time trials; he would often attack for time in the time trials and then ride defensively in the mountains. Ullrich doesn't have the strongest team, so he would do well to follow Indurain's example: if he can just keep Armstrong's wheel through the Pyrenees, he can attack again next Saturday in the final 49km time trial and go for Yellow. "RoboJan" is now in 2nd on GC at 34", and he has lived up to US Postal's constant billing that he is their biggest threat in the race. He was a class above everyone else today, and next Saturday he'll be back.
- Alexandre "Wineman" Vinokourov (Telekom). Vino had another great ride today, limiting his losses to the big two by finishing in 3rd at 2' 06" behind Ullrich. At the end of the day, the "Wineman" had only lost 30" to Armstrong, had gained time on men like Zubeldia, Hamilton, and Mayo, and sat in 3rd on GC at 51". The steep climbs in the Pyrenees might not suit him, but with his form and fighting mentality he now looks like a strong favorite for the podium. While his former team leader Ullrich climbed over him, Vinokourov will be happy with his performance and his position heading into the next four mountain stages.
- Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi). The young Orangeman confirmed that his performance in the Prologue and the Alps was no fluke, as he finished in 4th on the stage at 2' 40". His team's poor performance in the team time trial is really hurting him right now, but he is still positioned well sitting in 5th on GC in 4' 29". With his team's strong contingent of climbers, he is now looking good to attack on his home turf: the Pyrenees. For the next four days, the roads will be lined with orange-clad fanatics screaming his name. He's got some major time to make up if he wants to be on the podium, but he has both the talent and the tactical advantages to pull it off. Even if he doesn't crack the podium, Zubeldia will likely remain in the top five and ride into Paris having completed the best ride of his life.
- Tyler "Nails" Hamilton (CSC). Despite the fact that the Tour's intellectual doorknobs keep knocking Hamilton's effort in this race, he once again rode well today. Jealously is an ugly thing, and the comments made about Hamilton by some people in the Tour entourage this week reek of bad judgment and sour grapes. Hamilton and his team director, former Tour winner Bjarne Riis, have risen above it all, and will be satisfied with the American's 5th place ride today at 2' 43" behind Ullrich. This moved him up to 4th on GC at 2' 59" behind Armstrong. Before the Tour started, Hamilton said he'd like to win a stage in the Pyrenees. Such a stage win would be a huge boost, as "Nails" will have to attack in the Pyrenees to make up his 2' 08" gap to Vinokourov in the race for the podium. He will be happy about the fact that he basically neutralized Zubeldia today by keeping the Spaniard 1' 30" in his rear-view mirror. With a long way to go, the battle for the podium still looks tight and the outcome may very well not be decided until the final time trial. How cool is that? And if Tyler can find enough legs and heart left in his little body to make the podium, maybe he can finally give the doorknobs of the Tour a big dose of "shut the hell up."
- Lance "El Jefe" Armstrong (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). I feel that Lance actually had a good ride today despite the fact that he finished in 2nd at 1' 36" behind the incredible Ullrich. He is simply finding himself in the middle of the most talent-filled and competitive Tour since his reign began in 1999. I had to give Lance a ham-gazer award because that 1' 36" he dropped to "RoboJan" has really got to hurt. However, this is going to be Lance's finest hour. He still wears Yellow, he has the strongest team in the race, and he is heading into some steep uphill finishes that will give him a tactical advantage. Overall, the climbs of the Pyrenees are steeper than the climbs of the Alps this year, and while men like Hamilton, Zubeldia, and Mayo will likely enjoy this, Ullrich and Vinokourov will likely suffer a bit. Still, Lance and his Posties have their work cut out for them: people will be attacking them like rabid wolverines for the next few days, and the blue train will have to control the race and put Lance in position to attack on the final climbs. Lance took one on the chin today, but he is the champ, and he will come out swinging tomorrow. He will attack now because he has to, and the dogfight that ensues once he launches off the front should be the most exciting racing we've seen yet. Cue up your VCRs, strap on your crash helmets, and return your seats to their full, upright positions: the Pyrenees are coming.
- Iban "Miracle Whip" Mayo (Euskaltel Euskadi). The young climber expected to lose time today, and he actually rode respectably to finish the stage in 12th at 5' 03". He fell from 3rd to 6th on GC, and he now trails Armstrong by 4' 29". He will still be a marked man, but the infighting between Armstrong, Ullrich, and Vinokourov might give the clever Orangeman another chance to attack for a stage win like he did on the Alpe d'Huez. He is in a dead heat with his teammate Zubeldia on time, and together these two pose a real danger to the rest of the men in the race.
- Francisco Mancebo (iBanesto.com). Like Mayo, Mancebo expected to lose some time to the big guns today, but he rode well to land in 11th at 5' 00" behind Ullrich. He dropped from 4th to 7th on GC, 5' 01" behind Armstrong, but he is a climber who should go well in the stages to come. Mancebo is a consistent rider, and if he stays the course he could very well make the top five by Paris.
Crazy Jane's Jambons Délicieux - Stage 12
You know it, people: it's all about Jan Ullrich.
The Big German brought the hammer down hard today; and from his calm, concentrated start, all the way through his smooth, powerful ride and his huge finish, taking back more then a minute and a half on his American rival, Jan was burning up that course. An athletic performance like that is a thing of beauty, and this race fan was riveted... Jan's being tall, angular and the color of honey is just the cherry on top. I loved the look on his face as he was answering questions from the press at the finish - sweaty, tired, and so clear and happy.
Moreover, Jan is 100% modesty and class in victory, telling Eurosport that he is overjoyed and surprised to be going so well in his comeback year, and that although there are 4 tough days coming in the mountains, where "anything can happen," Der Kaiser just wants to savor his victory, and not think too much about tomorrow. No crowing, no big talk - just a stellar performance, and the thrill of victory. All the while, he looked fabulous in celeste - well, healthy, and fit. The official verdict on Jan Ullrich, ladies and gentlemen: Délicieux!
Meanwhile, Lance Armstrong put in his own power ride and looked like a superhero with his perfectly even skin, and thin, serious lips. He can't have been pleased to have lost as much time on Ullrich as he did today, and he was looking a little frayed when his skinsuit apparently had a little trouble containing the awesome power of his bionic legs; but he's still in the race lead, and has yet to put in any kind of attack. Oh, how I wish I could see the scene at Postal headquarters tonight. The suspense is killing me! Armstrong is going to have to work for it this year... and all I'm saying is, I can't wait to see him get to work.
The Usual Suspects:
There was a nice moment with George Hincapie finishing his ride. You know it's got to hurt, but George's face in the TT's is always so smooth - he never seems to grimace - it's more as if he just goes slack and transfers everything he has into the job at hand - as if he gives in fully to the effort and there's no resistance in him. Nice. As a sidebar to that, I must mention that Phil Liggett is irrepressible and wonderful, and that the next time he mentions another rider's "long bronzed legs" I'm going to start sending him love letters. Iban Mayo has a very good complexion and a nose for the ages, and Haimar Zubeldia wins first prize in the eyebrows competition. Alexandr Vinokurov rode the TT of his life in battling style, and he has the hardest legs in history.
Finally, it's time for Tyler Hamilton to make his daily appearance in this column. Tyler's been taking a lot of crap lately, with everything from the jealous whining of other riders, to questions about his truthfulness and sporting integrity. It's pretty sad that in a sport that's all about enduring pain, and the superhuman effort, the minute someone endures and makes that effort, the accusations start flying. Tyler is a previously certified tough-guy, and today he continued his drive for the Tour podium with a very strong ride, and the incontrovertible fact is that Tyler is a stud.
Finally, is this a race, or what?! Three weeks, 200 hundred fit guys in lycra, incredible feats of strength, endurance and courage, riveting tactical possibilities, and truly surprising moments of dumbfounding beauty as true champions pit themselves against their own limits, the elements, the road and each other. The Tour de France is simply chock-loaded with all the poetic glory of human effort, and I love it. How lucky are we to see this epic battle?
Le Tour de France itself is Délicieux.