Golden Hams of the Day
Grazed Hams and Ham-Gazers of the Day
- Jean-Patrick Nazon and Jaan Kirsipuu (AG2r Prevoyance). A couple of days ago, Nazon worked for Kirsipuu to help his teammate win the stage while hanging on for 5th himself. Today, Kirsipuu worked to lead out Nazon for the victory, while holding on for 7th himself. While the big sprinters like Petacchi, Cipollini, and Boonen have yet to get close, these two underdogs have worked together to take two of the first three stages for their small French squad. Whatever else happens, their Tour has already been a huge success, and I must say that it's great to see these quality sprinters who have been overlooked by most commentators (including me) dominate the way that they have so far.
- Robbie "Napoleon" McEwen (Lotto-Domo). The day began in Waterloo, which didn't bode well for The Little Emperor. Indeed, today he put in his worst sprint performance so far: in the last couple of kilometers he was out of position, and had to launch his sprint early and from way back to get into the money. He had the lead for a moment, and looked like he might pull off the win, but he faded and was only barely able to hold off Boonen for 3rd place. However, his 3rd place was good enough to get him the time bonus he needed to take his first ever Yellow Jersey by a mere 1" over Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo). He likely won't keep it for long, as Lotto-Domo isn't known for its team time trialing prowess, so he will cherish his time in Yellow before refocusing on his main goals: stage wins and the Green Jersey.
- "Gorgeous" George Hincapie, Viatceslav "The Pensioner" Ekimov, and Lance "El Jefe" Armstrong (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). There was that sprint at the end, but today was really about the pavé. With those sections of road from the cobbled Spring classics on today's route, everyone knew it was going to be a dangerous day in the General Classification. Both Hincapie and Ekimov are renowned for their ability to hammer over the cobbles, so Lance sent them to the front to hammer across those sections of the course. Taking turns setting the pace, the Big Hinc and the timeless Russian blew the peloton to bits and drove several of the GC favorites off the back. On the final section of pavé, Lance himself came to the front of the peloton to set the pace and stay out of trouble. While "El Jefe" only managed to gain big time on Mayo, Zubeldia, Menchov, Moreau, and Rogers by the end of the day, the elimination of these men from GC contention will make his job that much easier when the Tour gets to the mountains. And while the Lance-haters will cry foul because he had his men "attack" after Mayo crashed (a crash that included Postal rider Benjamin Noval), there was nothing unsportsmanlike about it. That attack was part of a plan that had been formulated before the Tour even began, and in fact, Lance had his men on the front hammering for a long time before the crash even happened. Phonak, T-Mobile, CSC, Lotto-Domo, Fassa Bortolo, and Gerolsteiner all helped extend the advantage to the end, playing a bigger role than Postal on the front of the peloton once the cobbles were over. It was a horribly unlucky day for Euskaltel-Euskadi, but lashing out at Lance and his awesome US Postal teammates for that misfortune is just sour grapes.
- Erik "The Big E-Z" Zabel and Jan "U-Boat" Ullrich (T-Mobile). The leaders of the pink squad had a great day. When the cobbles hit, Ullrich was 4th wheel behind Hincapie, Ekimov, and Armstrong. Indeed, Ullrich was glued to Armstrong's wheel for most of the day, showing a glimpse of what looks to be frighteningly good form as well as keen tactical savvy. Ullrich will benefit greatly from the 3' 48" he gained on many of the climbers, and will go into tomorrow's team time trial satisfied that he has done the utmost to keep himself out of trouble and close to his chief rival, that Lance guy. For his part, "The Big E-Z" showed some great sprinting form at the end of the day, putting the wood to McEwen, Boonen, and everyone else except Nazon to take 2nd place. This bodes well for the German in the days to come, as his climbing skills will allow him to gain points towards the Green Jersey while men like McEwen and Boonen suffer in the mountains. And if he keeps sprinting like this, he might be able to take a stage or two before Paris.
- Jens Voigt, Ivan "Bello" Basso, Bobby Julich, and Carlos Sastre (CSC). The big German powerman Voigt was off the front today, taking the first two intermediate sprints in his attempt to take the Yellow Jersey. His breakaway with Bram de Groot (Rabobank) was pulled back, and he fell 9" short of the Yellow by the end of the day. Still, Voigt has shown in this Tour that he has carried over his awesome form from the Spring into the roads of Belgium and France. With his class and determination, I'd be surprised if we didn't see him accomplishing some big things before the Tour is over. Likewise, his teammates Basso, Julich, and Sastre all finished in the Armstrong group to maintain their high GC placings. With all four of these men on form and staying out of trouble, CSC is looking like they can cause a lot of problems in the GC. If they can put in a good team time trial tomorrow, they will emerge as favorites to both win the team classification and put at least a couple of men in the top ten come Paris.
- Levi "Button Fly" Leipheimer (Rabobank) and Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze). Leipheimer had a mechanical, but regained the peloton before the cobbles. Then, on the cobbles, he was caught out in the 2nd group when the peloton split. His teammates paced him back to safety both times, and then the wily American snuck into the sprint to take 12th and steal 5" from Armstrong, Ullrich, Hamilton, and a few others. Scarponi came in 11th in the sprint, also taking 5" when the sprinters gapped the rest of the peloton in the finishing straight. While this 5" won't mean much in the mountains, it shows that both Leipheimer and Scarponi are strong, attentive, and ready to make their blitz on the top of the GC later in the race.
- Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner), Roberto "Spanish Fly" Heras (Liberty Seguros), Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears-Banesto), Gilberto "G-Man" Simoni (Saeco), and Tyler Hamilton (Phonak). All of these men finished in the Armstrong group at the end of this dangerous day, keeping their GC placings intact and their hopes for the podium in Paris alive. There's a long way to go in this Tour, but today was a day when many GC contenders lost the race. The fact that these men kept themselves out of trouble will give them a boost of confidence heading into tomorrow's crucial stage.
- Iban "Miracle Whip" Mayo and Haimar "Zorro" Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi). This Tour has been an absolute nightmare for the amazing men in orange. First off, they had to start the race with only eight men. Then today, a crash and some poor communication put them off the back of the race at a crucial moment. Their legs and morale will be sapped from their unsuccessful chase today; that and the fact that they only have eight men will mean more bad news for them tomorrow in the team time trial. Still, all is not lost: when the mountains come, Mayo should recover from his crash to open up a can of his miracle whipass and put the hurt on his rivals. He is unlikely to make the podium now, but he can certainly still finish in the top five and win a couple of stages. Perversely, the fact that he will likely come out of tomorrow over 6' behind Armstrong will mean that Mayo will have more freedom to attack in the mountains, and subsequently be more likely to win a couple of stages. Zubeldia has shown little form so far, but you can never write off a rider of his caliber. Yes, the Tour has sucked for the Euskaltels this year, but after tomorrow, I expect that they will have no place left to go but up, and up, and up.
- Thor "Thunder God" Hushovd and Christophe "Bug-Taster" Moreau (Credit Agricole). It was a very bad day for the hopes of Norway and France. Hushovd, looking to extend his time as the first Norwegian in Yellow, was off the back at the end of the cobbles as he got caught out by that crash (the same one that got Mayo, Rogers, and several others near the front). Likewise, Moreau, who was 8th on GC last year and the best-placed Frenchman, lost 3' 48" to many of his rivals. Hushovd still has a lot of sprints to distinguish himself, and he still has a shot at the Green Jersey. Moreau will have a much harder time trying to regain time in this climber-friendly Tour. Moreau will have to really go on the attack to land in the top ten, but that's his style. And he still looks to be the favorite to finish as the top Frenchman in the Tour.
- Denis Menchov (Illes Balears-Banesto), Claus Michael Moller (Alessio-Bianchi), and Michael Rogers (Quick Step-Davitamon). These talented men all had hopes of a top-ten finish in the GC, but the loss of 3' 48" today will really hurt their causes. Menchov is a climber, and may well now shift to supporting his teammate Mancebo and going for stage wins. Moller is still a danger in the mountains as well, and could also land in the top 15 with a great ride. Rogers has been cursed, crashing in the Prologue and now losing this time today again due to that crash. Still, riders of this quality will continue to be a threat and will likely show themselves in some breakaways in the mountains.
Crazy Jane's Le Tour Delicieux
Today was the first day of this tour in which the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan; the first of what I fully expect to be many thrilling moments of decisive action, as Le Tour Delicieux rolls on. Unfortunately, the delicieux factor took a blow or two again today with Robbie McEwen taking yellow only one second ahead of that charming creature Fabian Cancellara, Mario Cipollini missing the split, and Iban Mayo and the Orange Crush slipping out of contention and fizzling on the cobbles. What can you say? That's bike racing, and there was some pretty bitchin' stuff that happened out there today, too, so without futher ado:
- George Hincapie, Viatcheslav Ekimov & Lance Armstrong: When the Daily Peloton spoke to George Hincapie on Saturday night after the prologue, we asked him if he'd be bringing his special expertise to bear on this stage, and he told us that it would be he and Old Man Ekimov on the front, keeping the boss out of trouble. Now, dear readers, we are going to get to the point on a thing about the tour, and the guys who ride it, that, for this reporter, makes it especially delicieux. When George says that he's going to go to the front to make sure his man is first over the cobbles, we all sit back here on our couches and go, "Yeah, of course he is. Duh!" But, let's face it: that's no walk in the park! It's only a little matter of being strong enough to make sure the peloton of the gosh darned Tour de France - only the best of the best on the best form of the year - knows that you will brook no opposition by going so hard into those critical sections that the men are separated from the boys.
Yeah. No problem... If you happen to be George Hincapie and Viatcheslav Ekimov, that is: two bike racing studs par excellence! They could be WAY uglier than they are, and they'd STILL be totally hot, just for that; but the thing I'm really trying to get at in my roundabout way, applies to the entire US Postal Service team. For these guys, 2004 marks the 5th year that they've shown up in France as the heavily marked favorites to win. It's the 5th year that George Hincapie has started as a teammate of the Tour de France Champion. Anyone who knows cycling even a little bit knows how hard it is to win a bike race, but these guys show up saying "We're here to win the biggest bike race in the world," and then they do. Today was a perfect example of how they do it, too.
Here's what is so especially delicieux: George (and his teammates) knew what they had to do, they knew they could do it, and they made sure they did. Simple. As for Lance, he put his faith in his team, and when it's his turn, he'll do everything in his considerable power not to let them down. I can't wait.
Also, they really, really aren't ugly... and if all the loads of e-mail in my inbox is to be believed (not to mention the expert testimony of my own eyes), George Hincapie is especially not ugly.
- Jean Patrick Nazon is getting a groundswell of support from the ladies in my readership. Nazon is the young man who sprinted to victory on the Champs Ellysees in the finale of last year's Tour de France, and he's pretty easy on the eyes. What the heck! Let's make him the posterboy... I mean, he did win, after all!
Jean Patrick Nazon: Easy on the eyes!
Photo by the awesome Christine Grein
- Jan Ullrich had a moment of intense charm today, apparently! I missed this, but reader Hilary Page writes in with this tip: "What female's heart didn't melt as Jan Ullrich's face broke into just the broadest of absolutely delighted grins (and he started waving equally broadly) when he caught sight of Gabi and his daughter in the distance in the early stages of the race? Jan at his most totally disarming!" All I can say, Ms. Page, is that I wish I had seen that, but it's delicieux just hearing about it!
- We had a couple of precious moments with Il Rey Leone today, when Mario Cipollini asked the camera moto driver what the gap to the leaders was. Super Mario was prepared to chase, but three minutes was just too tall an order, so he smiled as if to say "il domani č un altro giorno," but every single bit of his immense charm and charisma was evident in that very brief exchange. Here at Crazy Jane's copy desk, we've got nothin' but love for Mr. Show.
- Tyler Hamilton did not crash! Go, Tyler! I want you all to know that I did say my prayers.
Finally, White Jersey Watch gives me an excuse to say those two magic words that I am most enjoying about this year's Tour de France: Fabian Cancellara. Crazy Jane's special favorite du jour narrowly missed another day in yellow, and is now only one second behind Little Robbie McEwen. If only Tom Boonen could have sprinted just a little bit faster, or Alessandro Petacchi was in this race... hey... wait a minute!
I've been storing up reader tips for the Delicieux Reports to come! We need all the help we can get, spotting all the beauty in the peloton, so send your picks for Le Tour Delicieux to me at:
Or, leave them in the comments at Le Tour Delicieux headquarters!