|Golden Hams of the Day|
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- Gilberto Simoni (Saeco). Well, well, the little "Mountain Monster" finally found his legs in the Tour! He attacked early with that oversized group, helped whittle it down with more attacks, and when it was just him and three others, he drove it home to win the final sprint. This will be a welcome balm for Simoni and his team, as they have had a painful Tour so far. It will be interesting to see if he can carry those legs over to the big showdown tomorrow. Even if he doesn't, he'll still feel good about his brilliant ride today.
- Richard Virenque, Michael Rogers, and Paolo Bettini (Quickstep-Davitamon). Bettini and Rogers did a great job driving the break, making sure that it stayed away and that Virenque got as many points as possible in the King of the Mountains competition. Virenque couldn't bring home another stage win, but with lots of help from his friends he pretty much sewed up another Polka-Dot Jersey today. And in France, there was much rejoicing (yay!).
- Laurent Dufaux (Alessio) and Andrea Peron (CSC). Dufaux has been a player in the Pyrenees, attacking yesterday and today with good effect. He was with the group of four at the finish, but was only able to manage 2nd behind Simoni in the sprint. Peron was the CSC man of the day; they have put men off the front consistently over the last several stages, and he almost pulled off a huge upset. He was dropped by Simoni, Dufaux, and Virenque over the top of the final climb, but he kept them within sight and then surprised them by catching them in the finishing straight. He tried to fly by, but the three caught him and he ended up in 4th. Still, both of these riders put in amazing rides on one long, hard day in the mountains, and really deserved the Golden Ham.
- Alexandre "The Great" Vinokourov (Telekom) and Iban "Miracle Whip" Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi). They took advantage of the Armstrong/Ullrich chess match to fly up the road and take more time. They attacked up the final climb, and even though Mayo followed, Armstrong simply sat on Ullrich and forced the big German to make the pace. Vinokourov finished the stage in 6th at 41", and he took 43" out of Armstrong and Ullrich; by the end of the day, he was still in 3rd on GC but only 18" behind Armstrong and 3" behind Ullrich. With his ride today, Vinokourov now looks like a cinch for the final step of the podium. Mayo finished on Vinokourov's wheel, and moved up into 5th on GC at 4' 37". With the rides of Mayo and Zubeldia in this Tour, it seems more and more likely that a sponsor will step up to the plate and take over the team when Euskaltel stops their support next year.
- "RoboJan" Ullrich (Bianchi) and Lance "El Jefe" Armstrong (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). While they stared each other down over the oven, Vinokourov almost snuck in to steal the pie today. Armstrong just sat on Ullrich when Vinokourov flew up the road, and Ullrich seemed to be just riding tempo so as to not blow up and make himself vulnerable to an attack from the Texan. They worked well together on the descent to limit Vino's gains, and calculated their efforts pretty precisely, but for a minute it looked like Vinokourov might be in Yellow by the end of the stage. Tomorrow is the final uphill finish of the Tour, and the last chance for these two to take time on each other and their other rivals before the final time trial next Saturday. Lance has yet to attack in this Tour, and tomorrow will be his last chance. With the top three riders within 18" of each other, the climb up Luz-Ardiden will be an all-out, no-holds-barred brawl. I'm already on the edge of my seat. But Lance and Ullrich better not depend on their ability to take so much time out of Vinokourov in the final time trial, or he could spoil their fun altogether.
- Tyler "Nails" Hamilton and Carlos Sastre (CSC). Their earlier efforts seemed to catch up to these two today. Sastre had that long attack for the stage win yesterday, and couldn't keep pace when the hammer came down today. Sastre finished in 25th at 5' 17", which dropped him to 10th on GC at 12' 40". Hamilton said late in the first week that he was having to burn a lot of matches to stay in the race as he fought through his injury. He was worried that it might catch up with him in the Pyrenees. He was right. Hamilton finished in 17th today, 4' 31" behind Simoni, and was passed by Mayo and Basso in the GC. Hamilton is now in 7th on GC at 7' 32", but still has the opportunity to recover tomorrow and in the time trial for a top five finish. Here's hoping he can pull it off.
- Michael "UltraBrite" Boogerd (Rabobank). Last year around this time, the man with the massive smile was flying up the Alps to a magnificent solo stage win. As for this year, well… he hasn't exactly impressed, as he finished today with the sprinters in the grupetto. Maybe he was saving his energy for tomorrow, or maybe he's just trying to build form for the Fall classics. Whatever the case, he has had an anonymous Tour so far.
Crazy Jane's Jambons Délicieux - Stage 14
Someone's looking a little taller in the saddle today, and I think it's Lance Armstrong. Again the defending champ rode a conservative race, saving himself and his team a bit for when the fur really flies tomorrow. Lance looked straighter today - more upright; more energy in his body, and less strain on his face. He did a lot of dancing on the pedals during the final climb, which always shows the neatness of his figure to its best advantage. He looked calm and in control today. It can't be comfortable for Jan Ullrich to feel all that trim efficiency looming just off his wheel for every important moment, and the big German did a lot of work today... but, what of it? He's about as strong as a bull, really. I got the sense that today's battle was largely psychological - neither man followed hard on Alexandr Vinokourov's move, or batted an eyelash at Iban Mayo; instead, they stayed locked together, Ullrich flexing his muscles and Armstrong playing his cards close. Armstrong is still resplendent in the maillot jaune, and no one really knows what he's holding, so I'd say the edge in the mental poker game is his, which might be why he looked so pleased, confident and relaxed at the finish. Please note that every man mentioned in the above paragraph is totally hot.
Another fine day for CSC, with Andrea Peron catching the leaders and finishing with the lead group, meanwhile, further back, Tyler Hamilton lost some time, but continued to be the reigning king of Studsville. Last year's best young rider, Ivan Basso, now riding without much of a team to speak of, is really so good looking and is putting in a stellar performance, hanging all day long with the big dogs to jump ahead in the GC. Avanti, Ivan! This year's best young rider, Denis Menchov was good as well, coming in with Hamilton, and looking délicieux enough to eat on the podium. Iban Mayo and Haimar Zubeldia both finished in the top 10 for the Euskatel team, and I have no complaints about that.
Tomorrow should be one for the ages. I, for one, cannot wait.
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