|Golden Hams of the Day|
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- Pablo Lastras (iBanesto.com). The crafty Spaniard now has a stage win in each grand tour, which is no mean feat, especially for a non-sprinter. The attacks of Canada and Da Cruz would have demoralized many riders, but Lastras just grit his teeth and kept pedaling, closing the gap and taking Da Cruz from behind right on the line. It was another great performance for iBanesto, who got a stage win earlier from Juan Antonio Flecha and whose Denis Menchov holds a commanding lead in the White Jersey competition. The future is bright for iBanesto, who have several young riders with great talent. While iBanesto.com ends its sponsorship at the end of this season, this team will surely gain a nice new sponsorship with such an outstanding Tour. They can now look towards the Vuelta with two things that make any young team dangerous: confidence and momentum.
- Carlos Da Cruz (FDJeux.com) and David Canada (Quickstep-Davitamon). They both put in great attacks towards the end that could have easily landed them a victory. Da Cruz has been in several breaks now, and his 2nd place finish must be both rewarding and horribly frustrating. His team has had a great Tour, but now they will have to go out on the final day and help Baden Cooke take back the Green Jersey. Canada was trying to continue Quickstep's outstanding Tour by giving them back-to-back stage victories, but his final attack fell about 100 meters short. On a quiet and relatively **ahem** sedate stage, these two men animated the race and showed nobility in daring in defeat.
- "Rabid" Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo). The feisty little Aussie on the Belgian team took back his Green Jersey today, winning the first intermediate sprint as well as the bunch sprint for 17th place. This gave him a net gain of 8 points over rival Baden Cooke, and at the end of the day he led Cooke by 2 points and Erik Zabel (Telekom) by 13 points. He is the defending champ, and has shown his experience and patience in his quest for the Green Jersey. Robbie won't be fully happy, however, unless he can also repeat his victory from last year in the final stage on the Champs Elysees.
- The Mighty Jan Ullrich (Bianchi). "RoboJan" attacked and contested the first intermediate sprint, winning 2nd place to Armstrong's 3rd and thus picking up 2". With tomorrow's stage so uncertain, and these two men so close in their battle for overall victory, every second counts. While I think that Armstrong will still win, the lesson of 1989 is now at the front of everyone's mind: anything can happen in the final time trial of the Tour de France, and the riders should take every chance they can to pick up the precious seconds that may decide the race.
- Baden Cooke (FDJeux.com). Cookie has been slipping in this internal battle of the Aussie Sprint Mafia over the Green Jersey. When McEwen won the first intermediate sprint, Cooke was nowhere to be seen. In the sprint for 17th place, Cooke finished behind both McEwen and Zabel. Still, Cooke has the stronger team and on the final stage, he is still the best-placed man to dethrone McEwen. Cooke was 2nd on the Champs Elysees last year, and he will be looking to go one better than that this year. If he can take that final sprint, he will likely get to go home in Green.
- Jean Delatour. They've missed the big break the last four flat stages. While teams like iBanesto, FDJeux.com, and CSC have been extremely diligent, Jean Delatour has been asleep at the wheel. Hmmm…. Despite that one brief moment where their wonderful sprinter Jean Patrick Nazon was in Yellow, Jean Delatour has been pretty much absent from the race. They have no stage wins and no significant attacks to speak of. I really don't see how anyone can still argue that they should have been invited… Domina-Vacanze Elitron would have animated the race, or at least been something more than pack filler.
- Enough already! Bring on the time trial! These flat stages are driving me crazy!
Crazy Jane's Jambons Délicieux - Stage 18
Ladies and Gentlemen, a star is born: Pablo Lastras is really very handsome! I'm glad he won so that we could see his lovely hazel eyes on the podium. I've known for years that the Tour de France was fabulous, and that the sport of cycling offers us, as viewers, loads of beautiful, epic drama, while offering the riders opportunities to make so much of what is strongest and most heroic in themselves come to life through their feats of strength and grace in the saddle; but if there's one thing I've learned writing this (admittedly, very silly) daily babe watch, it's that I definitely like the Latin ones. Right about now I am thinking... Viva la Vuelta! Lastras, asked by journalists after the stage what his strengths are as a rider, replied that he is an all-rounder: equally bad at everything. He says he leaves it to the journalists to find something nice to say about him. Well, Pablo, here you go, you handsome Spaniard.
Unfortunately, it wasn't all a bed of roses, and the podium pageant suffered a blow today when Baden Cooke lost the green jersey, but I'll say no more. The battle for green will come down to the final sprint in Paris. May the best-looking man win.
In other news, and in a stunning reversal of fortune from years past, Mr. Lance Armstrong won the Prix d'Orange; the prize for this year's media darling! The evidence is mounting that the whole US Postal/Berry Floor team is all hopped up on some kind of charm enhancer, and this latest bit of evidence cannot be ignored... Who wants to investigate? One thing cannot be denied, and it's that the camera loves Lance. I've lined up some particularly compelling evidence of that for all of you here. Yeah. That's what I'm talking about.
Finally, Jan Ullrich, hittin' up the sprint points... I like to see so much fight in the guy, but there's a lot of confidence coming out of the US Postal camp right now. Asked what would happen if it came down to only a few seconds on the final day, Postal poster boy, Oakley model, and all around bike riding tough guy George Hincapie gave the boss a relaxed vote of confidence, saying "I don't think that's gonna happen" in his delightful, laconic way. Lance himself? He's predicting a tour record for speed, and says he has no intention of meeting his teammates back at the hotel with excuses about a lost time trial. Kids, I'm going to hazard a guess that Lance will pull this one out, but, frankly, Jan is such a hero this year - it's a bummer that for one man to win, the other has to lose. The chips will fall tomorrow, but how will I sleep tonight? Man I love the tour... Talk about Christmas in July!
Oh, and yeah, how about that Tyler Hamilton? Nope. Still not over it.
Finally, I want to thank all of you for your e-mails! Keep 'em coming, at firstname.lastname@example.org!