|Golden Hams of the Day|
Carlos "El Niño" Sastre (CSC). He rode like an animal in the 2nd group of mountains last year, taking 2nd behind Boogerd on the final uphill finish. Today he launched another vicious escapade, riding clear of his breakaway mate Mercado (iBanesto.com) to finish alone and win the stage by 1' 01". By dropping Mercado, Sastre ensured that his Team would increase their gap in the Teams classification to 2' 16" on iBanesto. Before the Tour began, CSC said that their goal was to put two men in the top ten. With his ride today, Sastre leapfrogged up to 9th on GC at 8' 47". As he crossed the line, he put a baby's pacifier in his mouth to honor his wife and daughter who have been so supportive of him. This was a great win by a great climber, and he has helped make all of CSC's goal seem very reachable now. After such a terrible start to the Tour, this team has really rallied around "Nails" Hamilton and put in a stellar, attacking performance
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- "RoboJan" Ullrich (Bianchi) and Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel Euskadi). Well, I make predictions and then sure enough, within the next day or two the race blows them to crap. I love it! This Tour has gotten completely unpredictable, with the top men on GC taking swings at one another constantly. Ullrich and Zubeldia gained the most today: they launched attacks on the final climb of the AX3 Domaines, and were able to put a few seconds into Armstrong and Vinokourov. Ullrich was the only man who never looked in trouble today, despite that fact that he had no teammates with him up the final climb. "Robojan" took 2nd on the stage and picked up 7" plus a 12" bonus; he is still in 2nd on GC and has closed his gap to 15" on Armstrong. Zubeldia finished right on Ullrich's wheel (no mean feat today), and picked up 7" plus an 8" bonus. This moved him up into 4th on GC, where he now is 4' 16" behind Armstrong. This was just the first round of four that are to be fought out on the slopes of the Pyrenees. If you didn't see it, read the ticker and find a friend with tapes…this is one helluva race!
- Manuel Beltran, Jose Luis Rubiera, and Roberto Heras (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). US Postal's "Mighty Mountain Smurfs" rode an absolutely brilliant stage today. Rubiera's attack with nine other riders at the 25km point meant that the Posties got to sit on and save their energies until the two big climbs at the end. When Sastre attacked on the final climb up the AX3 Domaines, Rubiera dropped back to pace Armstrong for a long ways. Heras yoyo-ed off the diminished peloton when the climbs got steep; he struggled, but came through and did a lot of work for Armstrong before he bonked hard on the AX3 Domaines. Beltran was really a superstar, leading the pace up most of the brutal penultimate climb and doing the same on the lower slopes of the AX3. If it hadn't been for these three, Armstrong probably wouldn't be in Yellow right now. Their strength is Lance's biggest advantage in the Pyrenees, and he played it for everything it was worth today.
- Lance "El Jefe" Armstrong (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). He's still "El Jefe" because he's still in Yellow. When interviewed after the stage, Lance seemed very relaxed and in a good mood. Apparently, he bonked hard yesterday during the time trial and got extremely dehydrated, and he didn't expect to be very good at all today. He said the he recovered somewhat today, and expected to be back at full strength tomorrow. When Mayo attacked a couple of times on the Port de Pallheres, Armstrong responded well and chased him down each time. On the AX3, Zubeldia attacked and again Lance responded. When Vinokourov attacked and Ullrich countered, Armstrong looked done…he lost Ullrich's wheel and had to sit behind Ivan Basso (Fassa Bortolo) for awhile. Towards the top he regrouped, and stormed past Vinokourov to take 4th on the stage and limit his losses to Ullrich and Zubeldia and save his Yellow Jersey. Lots of people have brought cans of whupass to this Tour, and have been breaking them out a lot, especially big Jan Ullrich. Armstrong has done nothing but ride defensively in the mountains so far, and he's going to have to whip out his big can of Texas Whupass pretty soon if he's going to be in Yellow come Paris. But at least for today, he has fought off his challengers once again and held on to the golden fleece.
- Alexandre "Wineman" Vinokourov (Telekom) and "Bello" Ivan Basso (Fassa Bortolo). These two came in 5th and 6th respectively on today's stage, riding hard and consolidating their positions on GC. Like Armstrong, they lost time to Ullrich and Zubeldia, but with such great attacking and hard racing I have to give Golden Hams to everybody who was in that mix when the crap come down on AX3. Vino launched the attack that dropped Armstrong, and even though Lance ended up 10" ahead of him by the end of the day, Vinokourov has to be happy with his aggressive performance. With Hamilton struggling (see below), Vinokourov increased his lead in the race for the podium to 3' 15". He's a strong 3rd, and if he can keep Hamilton and Zubeldia within sight for the rest of the race, he will have the performance of a lifetime. For Basso, he must have been shocked when he found Armstrong struggling on his wheel after Ullrich and Zubeldia flew the coop. Basso's big gains today moved him 1" ahead of Mancebo on GC, so that he now occupies 7th at 7' 01". The Italian is climbing like a star, and if he keeps this up he could climb even higher over the next couple of days.
- Tyler "Nails" Hamilton (CSC). Tyler lost the most today in the GC race, as he got popped off the back relatively early on the AX3 Domaines. He ended up finishing the stage in 10th at 2' 34", which dropped him to 5th on GC at 4' 25". Perhaps he has burned too many matches to stay in the race, or perhaps he was just having a bad day. Whichever is the case, he's going to have to recover quickly or he's going to lose a lot of time over the next three mountain stages. If Tyler keeps riding like he did today, he'll probably finish in the top ten…but with a podium chance still a possibility, Tyler won't be happy with his ride today. He still has 55" on Mayo in GC, and he will continue to grit his teeth and ride hard to preserve his 5th place. As we've seen in this race, anything can happen on the road, and the fact that Tyler has even made it this far is still cause for celebration and immense respect. And who knows, maybe he can come back tomorrow and start to challenge again for the podium.
- Francisco Mancebo (iBanesto.com). Like Hamilton, Mancebo got shelled early on the climb of the AX3 Domaines. He finished up in 12th on the stage at 3' 09", which allowed Basso to jump over him on GC. Mancebo now sits in 8th on GC 1" behind Basso, and the climber is a fighter…he'll work hard over the next few days to claw back time on his Italian rival.
Crazy Jane's Jambons Délicieux - Stage 13
Phew! What a day. I can barely type, I'm so spent. I can't imagine how those guys do it, or how they are going to be able to keep up all of this attacking and counter-attacking for the next three days in the mountains. I think the very délicieux Phil Liggett said it best when he said that "everything's going exactly as we never expected it to go." The tale of the day? Pure carnage in the Pyrenees as all the guys with the biggest weapons went at each other hard. It was another hot one in the Tour de France, and I'm not talking about the weather.
Clash of the Titans!
Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong, head to head again. That right there gets my motor running, and these two giants of the road are breaking out the wood bigstyle. Ullrich showed climbing form like we've never seen before, even dropping Armstrong in the final kilometers; and Armstrong, though he struggled, held on for all he was worth to limit losses and keep the yellow jersey - digging deep like the true hardman he is to match nearly everything that was thrown his way. Someone's going to go down at the end of this battle, and I can't tell who it will be, but either way, the defeat will be as tragic as the victory is thrilling. This is one for the ages. Oh... but this column is about good looks right? Well, no worries on that count! Lance and Jan are both on fire in more ways than one: Jan all tall and working that sharp Germanic bone structure and those long legs, and Lance with his 1950's astronaut hairstyle and those clear blue eyes. Cycling! What's not to love?
On a side note, reports are that Lance Armstrong was so dehydrated after yesterday's time trial that he lost 15lbs in body weight between the beginning and the end of that stage. Still he finished second to a blistering pace set by Big Jan. Today, recovering from that bonk, Lance covered just about everything the big dogs could throw at him, and survived in yellow. What could he have done without that mistake? What might have been will be no comfort at the end of the day should he lose his 5th tour, but for my money, it's still his to lose. And, ladies, I know you will be with me when I say that it isn't always about the good looks, is it? We love their good skin and hard legs, but that's nothing to the heart and grinta of a champion.
The Supporting Cast
There's no way I can avoid mentioning The Postal Mountain Pixies: Manuel Beltran, Chechu Rubiera and Roberto Heras were amazing today. Lance Armstrong has yet to turn a pedal in anger, and really, until his battling final kilometers today, owed his race lead entirely to the incredible riding of his stellar teammates. We've covered it with Rubiera in this column, but the tough Spaniard is a sleeper hit with the ladies, and it's easy to see why when he matches all that charm up with riding like this. Roberto Heras is about the cutest little thing in the world, really, even if he does look like you could snap him in two like a twig, and Manuel Beltran is hammering straight into our hearts with monster rides like he put in today.
Carlos Sastre Went up the road for a stage win, while CSC's gimpy but hard as nails team leader, Tyler Hamilton struggled today, losing a place on the GC. Sastre got his second win ever as a pro, and CSC's second stage win of this tour, while the incredible little engine that could held on to keep the fifth place in the GC, fractured collar-bone and all. Could this tour get any better for CSC? Sastre's pacifier victory salute in honor of his wife and young daughter was touching, and it's good to see such deserving man win, especially when he's got that fantastic black hair. And, Tyler? Allez you big stud! Anyone giving Tyler any crap about soldiering on like he is needs to have a look under the hood to make sure he hasn't lost his tackle someplace.
With that, I'm off to take a nap! I'm going to have to work hard at recovering for tomorrow's fresh can of whup-ass! My dear readers, if you feel we have egregiously missed something délicieux, or just want to give us your .02, please do! You can mail me at crazyjane@dailypeloton,com.