|Golden Hams of the Day |
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor. They've done this before, so their rivals should have been expecting it: when there was a strong crosswind from the left, they went to the right side of the road to minimize the draft and put the hammer down. This blew the peloton to bits, with only twenty-seven men making it into the front group. GC contenders Roberto "Spanish Fly" Heras and "Handy" Manuel Beltran took turns pulling at times, but the big work was done by the Postal Lowland Gorillas: "LL Cool G" George Hincapie, Benoit Joachim, Matt White, Jose Luis "The Punisher" Rubiera, and Michael "Take Off" Barry. These ground-pounders put the hurt on many of the GC leaders, taking 1' 08" from the men listed below. Heading into the long individual time trial tomorrow, this time will be critical to preserving the GC position of their little climbers. Johan Bruyneel once again shows why he is a brilliant tactician who always puts his riders in position to win.
- Isidro Nozal and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE-Eroski). I was tempted to put them in the ham-gazer category, because they got a free ride to the finish and benefited more than anyone today. However, they each took some turns on the front when the split first went up the road to help create the gap. Once the gap was established, they sat on and just rested their legs for the ITT tomorrow. Gonzalez de Galdeano said yesterday that Frigo was their biggest foe, as he is a strong time-trialist. Thanks to Postal, the ONCE boys now have an additional 1' 08" cushion on the Italian. They still have a few dangerous mountains to go through, but the ONCEs are looking tough to beat. The big question is this: if they can hold off Beltran and Heras on the Pandera and the Sierra Nevada, which one of the ONCE men will take the Golden Jersey in Madrid?
- Francisco Mancebo (iBanesto.com), Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), and Luis Perez (Cofidis). Other than the ONCE and Postal boys, these were the only big GC men to make the split. They all picked up that big 1' 08" on many of their rivals. Mancebo moved up one spot to 5th on GC at 3' 40"; Rasmussen jumped from 9th to 6th at 4' 04"; and Perez held his 11th at 5' 27" while taking time out of the four men ahead of him and the two men behind him. When they roll into Madrid, these riders may very well look back at this day as the key in their great GC finish.
- Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) and "The Big E-Z" Erik Zabel (Telekom). These two sprinters made the front group and treated us to another fantastic sprinting dual at the finish. Petacchi won this round by the tread on his tire, but Zabel's close 2nd kept him 11 points ahead of the Italian in the race for the Points Jersey. Both of these men showed great skill and tactical savvy to make the split. Petacchi now has three wins to Zabel's two, but there are a lot of sprint finishes left to come.
- "California" Fred Rodriguez (Saunier Duval-Vini Caldirola). Fred also showed some great tactical savvy today: he is close friends with Hincapie, and he knows that Postal likes to split up the race when they hit big crosswinds. Fred kept himself near the front, made the split, and mixed it up with Petacchi and Zabel to take 3rd in the sprint. Fred is coming to the end of the second week of this Vuelta with great form. Here's hoping he can pull off a stage win before the end of it.
Crazy Jane's Museo Especial del Jamón: Los Jamones Deliciosos
- Dario Frigo and Aitor Gonzalez (Fassa Bortolo). Where were their heads? They ended up the biggest losers in the second group, dropping that 1' 08" to men they should have been marking very closely. Frigo fell from 4th to 7th on GC at 4' 14", while Gonzalez fell from 8th to 9th at 5' 09". What is worse is that these two men had to spend dozens of kilometers on the front trying to chase down that lead group, burning matches that they could have used tomorrow in the big ITT. Now they will enter the time trial with tired legs and low morale, which could hurt them much worse than their time losses today.
- Alejandro Valverde (Kelme-Costa Blanca). He missed the split as well, and like Frigo and Gonzalez, he had to spend a long time on the front chasing. He surrendered his jersey in the all-around competition to Nozal, and he now has a much bigger hole to climb out of if he wants to make the top five.
- Unai Osa (iBanesto.com) and Felix Cardenas (Labarca 2-Cafes Baque). Osa missed the split and couldn't chase, as his better-positioned teammate was up the road. Cardenas was a big help, as his teammates came up to help in the chase. Otherwise, the time lost would have been much greater. Still, both had their top ten hopes smacked around a bit today. They held their GC positions of 10th and 12th (respectively), but the time they lost today could be their undoing come Madrid.
Well, I missed a couple of days, my dears. I haven't been able to actually SEE the Vuelta due to my excellent adventure in San Fran, and as you all know, writing my column depends on actually seeing the hams on the road. I know you all got along just fine without me, but I'm back, and I'm going to have to play a little catch-up, because yesterday and today have been delicioso, indeed.
First, a quick round up on yesterday: I'm sure everyone must have noticed that it was a beautiful day in the Vuelta, with all my favorite hams making their presence felt. First, who should be in a break but that charm-enhanced Oakley model, George Hincapie! Yummy! said I, rubbing my palms together gleefully. George looked good, like always... what more can I really say on that topic. He was with Aitor Osa, who isn't exactly ugly, and Unai Extebarria, who, as we have already determined in this column, has his charms.
Unfortunately that break was swallowed up, but was all hope lost for a delicioso stage of the Vuelta? Heck no! Because, only minutes later, who should go on the offensive but that delightful little creature Oscarlito Sevilla, who was bridging up to a new break that included Mr. Personality himself, Floyd Landis. Yummy again!
Before long, David Extebarria was mixing it up, Karsten "blue eyes" Kroon was up and about, and in the end, it was a sprint that went to that well-beloved little German rocket Eric Zabel, which I know pleases some of my girls very much. Tall, blonde, smooth-skinned Belgian Tom Boonen nearly snatched a big victory, but settled for second. Plus, as a special bonus, Big Hink was up there for a top 10 in the sprint! Delicioso!
What about today?
Well, today was sure to be a good one. Floyd Landis wrote in his Vuelta diary that Postal planned on making some moves today, and I saw the long flat profile and thought, Oh yeah, baby... this is the Vuelta!
Sure enough, the postmen, as they have done many a time, put the screws to 'em in the wind and made a flat, no fireworks kind of day into a big bonus for their two leaders. That is some real hardman stuff right there, and Postal has the guns to make it happen, so it's amazing they actually caught anyone with G.C. hopes out, but they did, and bought their mountain men valuable seconds against the time trial men. Nice work, boys.
Floyd Landis gets special props for driving it hardcore up there before the split, and Postal brought down the full bag of hammers when they went clear. It was beautiful... or, actually, delicioso! I caught a few glimpses of Big George breaking out the wood, and the rest of the boys in blue showed why you gotta keep an eye on those hams.
I didn't see him at all today, but I have no reason to believe he's gotten any uglier, and every reason to believe he's as clever as ever, so I want to give a shout-out to master tactician Johan Bruyneel. There are those on this panel who think Bruyneel is, hands down, the sexiest man in pro-cycling, and it's not hurting him one bit that he's one of the sharpest tools in the shed, either.
So, this group of about 25 comes to the line having gapped off some major players by over a minute, right? And, it's positively packed with jamoney goodness, because it contains Michael Barry and his adam's apple, and those little Postal Pixies, Roberto Heras and Manuel Beltran, who cleverly moved themselves into 3rd and 4th. Plus, just to make it extra sweet, Oscarlito Sevilla is in there, too. Over the past couple of days, I've determined that you wouldn't want to throw Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano out in the middle of the night for eating crackers, and he made it, too, along with Gold Jersey man Isidro Nozal... That's all delicioso to be sure, but then what happens?
Ladies and gentlemen, another episode of this:
all pictures copyright Unipublic
followed by this:
And finally, THIS:
All I'm saying is, that is absolutely fine with me. No complaints here.
Zabel held onto the points jersey and seems to be closing in on Petacchi's speed with a very strong second, so it's going to be a good battle... and who is that I spied coming in third today? Could it be the princely, the utterly charming and delicioso Freddy Rodriguez? Pictures of his trim-waisted, matador's figure on the podium are starting to dance in my head. Go, Freddy!
Chow for now!
FYI all you ham-gazers, that pic of Aitor Osa is a link to an absolutely champ of a muy delicioso photo page at www.capture-the-peloton.com, with all photos by Christine Grein, who provides ample proof on her page of why the ranks of sport photographers need more girls!
I haven't put it up for awhile here, but if I'm leaving out your man, or you have some comments for me, please feel free to send then along to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!