|Golden Hams of the Day|
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- Alessandro "Svelto" Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo). He racked up stage win number four today, which gives him something like fourteen grand tour stage victories this season (six in the Giro, four in the Tour, four in the Vuelta). He also took the second intermediate sprint ahead of Zabel, and with Zabel only taking 3rd in the final sprint, Petacchi pulled into a tie with Zabel in the points competition at 130 each. Due to his superior number of stage wins, Petacchi pulled on the Polka-Dot Jersey at the end of the day. He left both the Giro and the Tour with the Points Jersey on his back, but it now seems like he has a good shot to take the Polka-Dots from Zabel in Madrid. His biggest challenge comes tomorrow: the absolutely insane climb up the Pandera, which hits 15% at some points, will test his resolve as he tries to make the time cut. He then has to face the Sierra Nevada on Tuesday. Fortunately for Petacchi, Stages 15 and 16 are pretty flat leading into those crazy climbs, so he should have no problem hanging on.
- "Fabulous" Fred Rodriguez (Saunier Duval-Vini Caldirola). Fred keeps getting faster, and today he did a magnificent job sticking to Petacchi's wheel in an incredibly complicated sprint. After the Fassa train got swamped by attacks on both sides, Petacchi looked out of it. Then Petacchi patiently picked his way through the men who had launched too soon, and Fred was right behind him all the way. Petacchi kicked along the barriers on the right, and Fred was boxed in for a bit. After clearing the others, Fred jumped out from Petacchi's wheel and tried to take him on the left. He only managed to close down half-a-bike on Petacchi by the line, but that is much better than most people have been able to do this year. If he keeps on like this, Fred may yet find the legs and the luck to take one before he heads back home.
- Thomas Bruun (CSC). Before today, the best finish for the young Dane in this Vuelta was 53rd on Stage 5. Still, he managed to come out of nowhere and steal 4th place in today's sprint, behind only Petacchi, Rodriguez, and Zabel. This is a great result for the big 24-year-old neo-pro who is usually used to block wind for his leaders and fetch water from the car. The fact that he has gotten this result so late in the Vuelta bodes well for his future, as he seems to be getting stronger as the race gets longer. While not a victory, results like this can give a young rider a huge burst of confidence. Nice job, Thomas!
- Erik Zabel (Telekom). Erik took it on the chin today, as he wasn't even close to Petacchi in the second intermediate sprint and the dash for the finish line. Of course, all is not lost for Zabel: he seems to come through the climbs with a lot more legs than the big Italian, and the next two stages should take a lot out of Petacchi's magic sprinting legs. The race for the Polka-Dot Jersey seems to be a dead heat at this point, with both Zabel and Petacchi at 130 points and in great form. It looks like this is a war that won't be settled until the final battle in Madrid. How cool is that?
- Isidro "Nitro" Nozal and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE-Eroski); Roberto "Spanish Fly" Heras and "Handy" Manuel Beltran (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). These top four GC men stayed out of the wind and prepared themselves for the huge showdown tomorrow. Heras smoked everyone on the Pandera last year, and with Beltran's help, he will try to erase the big deficit he now faces to the ONCE boys. Nozal is now the acknowledged leader of ONCE, so Gonzalez de Galdeano will try to help him limit his losses on these steepest of climbs. The next two stages should see these four men throwing everything they have at each other. I can't wait.
Crazy Jane's Museo Especial del Jamón:
Los Jamones Deliciosos
Talk about "comin' in hot!" It's pretty clear that George Hincapie and Freddy Rodriguez are trying to kill us. Screaming at the TV was the order of the day for race fans all across America, and for more than a few of us, our hearts were in our throats for that last kilometer of stage 14. Add in a big drive from the lovely Tom Boonen, still chasing that sprint victory, and valiant efforts from Giovanni Lombardi and Erik Zabel, and it was a smoker indeed. But, once again, Alessandro Petacchi was too strong for all of us, and came from behind to take an impressive victory.
Is it getting boring? I have to say, I'm not bored yet. There's something truly amazing to me about someone who always puts himself in a position to win, and always seems to have the gas. Two seasons ago it was Zabel, and last year, the incredible inexorability of Cipollini's charge for the line. How do they manage it?! I find myself absolutely riveted by those final moments, and even while I'm cheering my boys on - those excellent challengers - I'm also wondering if lightning will strike again, and again, and again, and more than halfway wanting it to, just because it's such an amazing thing to keep making it happen like that. Petacchi has been worth his weight in gold for Fassa this season... And, oh yeah, I'm not really complaining about those delicioso podium appearances, either!
Alas, as Petacchi was drilling yet another one home, another Fassa man was throwing in the towel. On a final note, I just want to take a moment to say:
Bon Voyage, Aitor.