|Golden Hams of the Day|
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- Tyler "Nails" Hamilton (CSC). What more can this guy do? Hamilton said before the Tour started that he wanted to win a stage in the Pyrenees, and today he did it. He was off the back after a split in the peloton early, and then he caught back up to the pack and went on the attack. He was off the front for at least 140km, and was solo for over 85 of that. His attack was audacious, especially for a man so high up in the GC. The threatened teams chased, the other breakaway men tried to respond, but everyone failed to stop "Nails" as he flew to an inspired stage win today. He took 1' 55" out of his GC rivals, moving into 6th on GC at 6' 35" by jumping over Ivan Basso (Fassa Bortolo). He is now breathing down the neck of the Euskaltel boys Iban Mayo (5th on GC at 5' 25") and Haimar Zubeldia (4th on GC at 5' 16"). Hamilton can easily take the 1' 10" he needs to climb over Mayo in the time trial, and now even has a shot at the strong time trialer Zubeldia who is only 1' 19" ahead of him now. This was an amazing ride for this brave man with the broken collarbone, who continues to build his legendary ride to ridiculously dramatic proportions that would make a Hollywood producer blush.
- Team CSC. Tyler and his teammates have really taken the Tour by storm this year. Piil, Sastre, and now Hamilton have all won stages. Peron came close to winning a stage. They lead the Teams Competition now by 9' 08" over Euskaltel-Euskadi. Tyler is 6th on GC, Sastre is 10th at 16' 12", and that strong climber Luttenberger is 18th at 26' 52". Early in today's stage, Hamilton was caught out by a split in the peloton and five of his teammates dropped back to help him bridge the gap. Then, when Hamilton attacked to bridge to the breakaway on the Cat 1 Col de Soudet, Danish Champion Nicki Sørensen dropped back from the break and helped him. As Tyler has said, he owes a big chunk of his success in this Tour to the work of his mates. The brilliant ride of CSC today was just a microcosm of their brilliant Tour overall.
- George "Big Rig" Hincapie (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). Men who are preparing for the Fall Classics and the World Championships take note: The "Big Rig" has rebounded from his early season illness, and he is coming for you. George was on point of the peloton over both Cat 1 climbs today, and on the 2nd climb (the Col de Bagarguy) the big Hink had shredded the peloton to about 20 guys. He was rubbing wheels with men like Ullrich and Vinokourov…and they both had looks of discomfort on their faces. He is highly motivated, and will come out of this Tour with amazing form. He has yet to win a World Cup race, but he will by the end of the year. And frankly, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see George win a stage in the Vuelta and go on to wear the Rainbow Jersey next year. Doubt me? Rewatch the Tour tapes, and look at him ride. He's one of the strongest guys in the peloton, and he's been on a leash. When the Tour is over and Postal lets him off the leash again, the rest of the riders had better watch out.
- Tyler "Nails" Hamilton! DUDE. There aren't enough Golden Hams to give this guy! He has put in more miles with a fractured collarbone over the last two-plus weeks than I've ridden over the past year, and I'm healthy and ride quite often. Some doorknobs in the Tour entourage have said some stupid things about Tyler since his crash, and today "Nails" finally force-fed them a big, heaping helping of "Shut-the-HELL-up"! He is a class rider and a quality man; he has triumphed over adversity, again, and will likely end up in the top five by the end of the race. No amount of whining and complaining and jealousy on the part of others will be able to take any of what he has accomplished away from him. Tyler, you rule!
- Erik Zabel (Telekom). While Cooke (FDJeux.com), McEwen (Lotto-Domo), and Hushovd (Credit Agricole) were off the back in the gruppetto, The German Champion was able to stick with the Yellow Jersey group. He took 2nd on the stage, and moved up into 3rd in the race for the Green Jersey where he only trails Cooke by 13 points now. Still, his team's fierce chase couldn't catch Hamilton, and he is still without a stage win in this Tour. But with the legs he's shown over the climbs, he should end this drought soon… maybe even as early as tomorrow. Whatever happens, he has turned the Points Competition into a three-horse race again.
- Michael "UltraBrite" Boogerd (Rabobank). He tried to bridge up to Hamilton, and couldn't. He finished in the peloton in 60th at 1' 55". Still no good results for Rabobank. Now they have to hope Freire can find his legs for the sprints to come.
- Everyone else in the race not mentioned above. The big guns either took the day off or lost to Hamilton. Postal got a free ride to the finish due to the fact that Tyler's big attack was no threat to them. Tomorrow, the sprinters will get to stretch their legs again. It's been awhile since there has been a good bunch sprint for a stage win in this race, and that trend should end tomorrow. But today belonged to Tyler and CSC.
Crazy Jane's Jambons Délicieux - Stage 16
Just when I thought this tour could not get any better, who should go and win a stage after a 100km solo breakaway, but Mr. Collar Bone himself, Tyler Hamilton. I'm going to have to break out my thesaurus to find the words to describe how much the little man from Marblehead, Massachusetts is the stud of all studs. My dear readers, this Tour de France is going to drive me to drink. I just don't know how much more of this epically heroic sh*t I can take.
As we all know, this little man, who will be huge in the hearts of cycling fans everywhere for all time, fractured his collar bone in two places on stage 1 of this tour. What a terrible moment of inconceivable misfortune that was for his CSC team, which had put everything into preparing to support Tyler for the tour. Hamilton himself, fresh off of brilliant victories in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Romandy was on the form of his life, and ready to lay down the law this year, and at 32 years of age, he doesn't have forever to get it on. CSC director Bjarne Riis was nearly in tears, and no one could say the words in the press conference that night that Tyler would not take the start in the morning. That could have been the dismal end for team CSC in this tour, but no! They have risen, Pheonix-like, from the ashes, and with Tyler as their Champion, they have gone on to three stage wins and they lead the team GC over Euskaltel by over 9 minutes, and thanks to Tyler's dauntless courage, they have gotten the most fantastic publicity for their sponsors, and the sport of professional cycling, imaginable. Shame on Stephen Roche, Walter Godefroot, and Michael Boogerd for their criticism of Hamilton's beautiful fighting spirit. When a man rises above himself and other men to achieve what no one dreamed was possible, it's time to salute him, not call him a liar and give him a bunch of pansy-assed crap.
Seeing Tyler at the end of the stage hugged by his wife, congratulated by his director, and then by his neighbor, friend, and former teammate Lance Armstrong, I must admit, I felt a little verklempt. What an incredible victory. As if all that weren't enough, Hamilton dedicated his victory to his teammates. At the start of the day, he was stuck in the second group on the road, and five of his teammates dropped back to get him back on the pace. He said later that he wanted to apologize to them for the inconvenience he had caused, and said that he could never have won this stage without them. Stop. I'm begging you, Tyler. You are killing me. The heart of a lion, the courage of a champion... and all that humility? LE PLUS DELICIEUX, Ladies and Gentlemen. It does not get better than Tyler Hamilton.
I'm also going to have to give a big shout out to CSC team director Bjarne Riis, who master-minded this unbelievably bold move. The former Danish Champion and Tour de France winner is giving Johan Bruyneel a run for his money in the most bitchin' (and délicieux!) DS in the peloton department. When Riis was leaning out the window of the team car, pounding the door and cheering his man on, I swear to you all that I actually cracked a tear. There is nothing that cracks a girl more than to see grown men support and love each other like that. Yet another thing about the great sport of professional cycling that literally could not be more délicieux.
On that same theme, I have to mention the wonderful difference in Lance Armstrong this year. Last year, El Jefe won the tour stone cold, like clockwork. Long gone are the days when a pumped-up, youthfully arrogant Armstrong conducted the orchestra all the way over the line. In the past few years, he has been smooth, unflappable and shown very little emotion in victory. A perenial hard-ass, he has pounded his rivals to dust and offered the cameras little more than a tight-lipped smile, and interviews so poker-faced that it often felt like they needed a translator. This year, Lance has been challenged and humbled, and he has responded with all the grit, determination and fierceness that we all knew was in him; but something else has happened, too. He's become softer in front of the cameras, and his emotion has been more guileless and warmer. His face on the podium after Luz-Ardiden as he saluted his teammates from the dias was pure, bright-eyed, unabashed joy. Today, when he congratulated Tyler for his victory and went to give him a hug - coming in low to avoid the shoulder - he wasn't the Terminator, he was just a guy who was happy for his brave friend. If Lance Armstrong holds on to win in Paris, he will have come through such a crucible; nothing new to him, and not the worst of his life by any stretch, but you can see it in his face - he likes his odds, and there's an almost child-like brightness in his face that is just completely different from his past few years of tour domination. I like it!
Finally, It gives me great pleasure to mention, once again, the ladies' favorite: George "LL Cool G" Hincapie, who is looking better than ever on the bike, cresting the cols at the front of the pack, dwarfing the diminuitve Basque climbers, and generally just kicking ass and taking names on a daily basis. Today, Big Hink looked as handsome as ever, and was doing as many favors as ever for silly eyewear while he drove it hard, ever at the ready to do faithful service for his team. George had a long hiatus from the bike this year, and it was not easy for him to bear, but his comeback has been absolutely fantastic. He said before the stage that he and fellow charmer Floyd Landis were looking to get into a break today, and though I can't say I'm not glad that today's escapee was Tyler instead, I will say this: George on a breakaway would pretty much take what is already shaping up to be the mother of all tours, and kick it up a notch that would really just be the death of this reporter.
Vive le Tour!
As always, your picks and submissions can only make this column more délicieux! They will all be enthusiastically recieved at firstname.lastname@example.org.