Golden Hams of the Day
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- Stuart "Red Stallion" O'Grady (Cofidis). After spending most of his time chasing back after crashes in this Tour, the "Aussie Lycra Cobra" finally struck today. That break of five riders was filled with powerhouses, and their attacks over the last 10km gave us the most exciting racing we've seen yet. In the end, it was the veteran O'Grady who managed to snake the win, as he launched himself to a sprint victory in the final few hundred meters. It was terrible weather and a dangerous course, but the "Red Stallion" overcame it all to give the downtrodden Cofidis squad something to finally cheer about. Good on ya', mate!
- Thomas Voeckler (Brioches la Boulangere). In another coup for a French team, Voeckler, the French Champion, was able to make it into the break today that took over 12' on the rest of the field. As Voeckler was by far the best-placed man on General Classification in the break, he took the Yellow Jersey and has a 3' 13" lead over O'Grady. This will give the Bun Boys a big lift, as their GC hopeful Beloki took a powder long before the race even started. With his massive lead, Voeckler and his team will get to enjoy being the toasts of France for about the next week. When you're a French cyclist (or any cyclist), it simply doesn't get any better than that.
- Jakob Piil (CSC) and Magnus "Maximus" Backstedt (Alessio-Bianchi). This was the third serious breakaway for Piil in four road stages. He has been absolutely flying, and today it almost paid off as he came across the line in a disappointing 2nd. He has been an aggressive rider for years, and today really showcased his quality as he helped drive the break. He then chased down and attacked his rivals repeatedly in that final ten kilometers, putting on an impressive display of opportunistic riding and tactical savvy. For his part, the reigning Paris-Roubaix champion Backstedt threw his big carcass around with aplomb today. When you are a big as "Maximus," it must be hard to get a good draft on some of those smaller guys in the break with you. He fell off the pace near the end, but rallied one final time to try to ambush the other four in the break while they were eyeballing each other in the finishing straights. It turned out to be simply a great leadout for his friend O'Grady, but it was definitely a noble attempt. For their immense efforts today, these two men got no jerseys or glory; however, they both deserve some extra credit and a big old Golden Ham from the fans.
Grazed Hams of the Day
- Lance "Mellow Yellow" Armstrong (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). The leader of the BlueBerry Boys got an armchair ride through today's stage as his team worked perfectly for him to keep him out of trouble. A couple of his teammates crashed, but given the tactics of riding near the front, that was more like taking a bullet for the commander-in-chief. Armstrong's tactical plan was solid all around today: let a small group of riders who are no threat in the GC get up the road, and let them have the Yellow Jersey. There are no mountains above a Cat 3 until five stages from now, and the big mountains are still seven stages away. With the next big showdown a week away, "El Jefe" wants to rest his team and keep them fresh, something they can't do if they are protecting the Yellow Jersey. So it was a perfect day for "Mellow Yellow," as he now is sitting pretty with no responsibilities well ahead of his GC rivals.
- Jan "U-Boat" Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Tyler "One-Armed Bandit" Hamilton (Phonak Hearing Systems). These two GC studs had their eyes set on the hams of one man in particular today: Lance Armstrong. Their teams kept them out of trouble, and every time they showed a shot of Armstrong in the pack, it looked like either Ullrich or Hamilton (or both) was right near his wheel. These two are both strong and attentive, and look to be the main threats to Armstrong in the stages next week. However, they will have at least six more days of safely watching Armstrong's hams before they can make their move.
- The Sprinters. Today in the battle of the opportunists vs. the sprinters, the opportunists finally won. The apathy of U.S. Postal combined with the bad weather and several crashes to tip the scales against men like McEwen, Petacchi, Cipollini, Hushovd, Jean-Patrick Nazon, and the rest. O'Grady is still something of a sprinter, but his ride today showed how he has transformed into more of an opportunist. For the speedsters, there are still several glorious opportunities for victory before the pain of the Pyranees. But as the flat stages go by, you can bet the opportunists won't have their way too many more times in this race.
- "Rabid" Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) and Alessandro "Italian Stallion" Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo). Both sprinters hit the deck on this rainy stage. Petacchi's seemed to be the worst crash, as his shoulder injury may be serious. McEwen was able to come back and contest the sprint for 6th in defense of his Green Jersey (a sprint that he managed to win). This will extend his lead in the points competition. For Petacchi, this was yet another disaster in what has been a terrible Tour. If he has to pull out of the race, this will break his string of four straight Grand Tours with a stage win. Here's hoping the talented Italian is okay, and can come out to fight again tomorrow.
- Jose Luis "The Punisher" Rubiera and Manuel "The Belter" Beltran (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). These two Postal climbers went down hard today. Rubiera banged up his left ankle and was in some pain, while Beltran's left elbow was scraped, bleeding, and bruised. Both got attention from the race doctor, but were quickly back up front to work for the Postal train in front of "El Jefe" Armstrong. Their dedication to their jobs is impressive to say the least, and now that Lance is out of Yellow, they will be able to recover a bit and get themselves healthy before they have to do their real work on the big mountains to come.
Crazy Jane's Le Tour Delicieux!
There's usually a pretty pronounced Latin bias in this column, but we're changing it up today, and putting the spotlight on the Aussies; there's good news and bad news.
In the interest of ending on a high note, we'll take the bad news first, and no, it isn't that Robbie McEwen was plagued by crashing and mechanical trouble today, nor was it that he managed to hold onto the green jersey; it's that we lost a brave soldier today when Bradley McGee, suffering from an off-kilter pelvis and plenty of back pain, decided that two and a half more weeks in the saddle with this crew was too rich for his blood. McGee's ride in the Giro d'Italia earlier this season gave us ample reason to believe that he might be capable of playing a whole new hand in Grand Tours to come, but it won't be this one. Alas. Still, if McGee's pelvis is off-kilter, his charm is right on track, and since it's our last chance, I've got to make him our boy today. He's too good to pass over, and his departure is a serious blow to the delicieux factor at Le Tour.
Brad McGee: We'll miss you, cutiepants!
Photo by Christine Grein
On the good news side, we got a big, delicieux victory from sprint-miester Stuey O'Grady. Ever since O'Grady's battling near-miss in the green jersey dogfight of 2001's very delicieux episode of the Tour de France, this freckled wonder has held a place in our hearts here at Crazy Jane's copy desk. We've known for ages that O'Grady is packing some serious heat... in the sprints, that is!
O'Grady suffered through a year of medical troubles, and has stepped right into a nasty can of worms with Cofidis this year. On top of that, his Tour has been a beleaguered one, with more than his fair share of crashing, and the loss of a valued teammate and friend when Matty White crashed out of the race before it even began. With all that in his pipe, it's great to see him turn it around today in such brilliant style. Stuey's victories and podium appearances are always delicieux.
I'd like to say a word, before moving on, about another hard ride from the Postal Boys. All nine of them rode tempo all day long, despite an unfortunate hitting of the deck by Triki Beltran, Chechu and Benjamin Noval. Noval was inconsolable after yesterday's time trial, when he wasn't able to hold the pace, but this is his first time at Le Tour, and he crashed hard on the cobbles the day before, so, to my mind, he's looking like a stud for getting in under the wire to fight another day. Hang in there, Benjamin, you're lookin' good, and tenacity is one of the most delicieux things around.
Also, I have a suggestion for all y'all at Postal: just go ahead and put a sign on George and Eki's door that says "The Engine Room", those two are killing me!
Last, but certainly never least: White Jersey Watch. We've got a change of hands again today, folks, as the new Maillot Jaune also takes the mantle of best young rider. French Champion Thomas Voeckler rode like a man possessed today, attacking relentlessly, and letting the world know that he wasn't content to simply cruise into yellow; he wanted the stage as well! It was a brave ride, and even though I'm still bemoaning the loss of uber-charmer Fabian Cancellara (whom I am going to be positively scraping for reasons to mention from here on out), Voeckler has done the Maillot Blanc proud today, and his boyish smile and pure delight on the podium was delicieux, indeed.
So, Le Tour Delicieux rolls on tomorrow, and I am not lying when I tell you that I love it to absolute pieces. Go, Everybody!
Don't forget to send me your picks for the Delicieux distinction! We need all the help we can get over here, so e-mail me your choices at firstname.lastname@example.org, or post your comments Le Tour Delicieux!