Golden Hams of the Day
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- Thor "Thunder God" Hushovd (Credit Agricole). He got the Yellow Jersey earlier in the week, and
now he's taken a stage. He touched the flag of Norway that adorns his chest as the national champion as he easily outdistanced his rivals in the uphill sprint. This salute to his countrymen, who are watching the Tour live on TV for the first time this year, will certainly make him the toast of Oslo and Bergen and all points in between tonight. His victory moved him up into 4th in the Green Jersey competition, only 11 points behind McEwen. Hei, Hei Norge!
- Erik "Big E-Z" Zabel (T-Mobile). He hasn't had the big stage win yet, but Zabel has quietly been nailing down some serious points in the Green Jersey competition. The Big E-Z took third on today's stage, and moved into third in the points competition only ten points behind McEwen. In his favor: he is the best climber amongst the sprinters, and with the possible exception of O'Grady, he will likely leave the other sprinters behind and get some points in the intermediate sprints during the mountain stages. After a down year last year, Zabel has rebounded to be in the thick of the race for his favorite jersey. If he can overcome his lack of team support, which is focused on getting Ullrich to the top of the podium, then he may just claim yet another Green Jersey in Paris.
- Robbie "Napoleon" McEwen (Lotto-Domo). He was the only man able to follow the attack of Paolo "Polka-Dot" Bettini in the final kilometer. It might not have been the best move, however, as Bettini sat up as soon as he looked over his shoulder and saw the Little Emperor sitting on his wheel. He waved McEwen through and they shared a laugh, and then McEwen was able to latch onto the surging peloton and take 4th in the sprint. This was good enough to put him back in Green with a nine-point lead on O'Grady. He needs all the points he can get, because when the mountains hit, it'll be fun-time in the grupetto for old Robbie.
- Jakob "Must…Hammer…" Piil (CSC). What the heck is wrong with this guy? Doesn’t he know that the race is over three weeks long? Maybe he's mad at the other guys in the peloton and doesn't want to talk to them. Has anyone explained the idea of drafting to him? You know, keeping in the peloton to save your energy until the right moment? In this Tour, every moment has been the right moment for Piil, it seems. This crazy Dane has spent more time off the front than the referees' motorcycles. None of it has led to a stage win or any kind of a jersey yet, but you can bet that very soon, Piil will be out there again, suffering. And it's guys like him that keep the race interesting.
- Kim Kirchen and Matteo Tosatto (Fassa Bortolo). Tosatto was off the front in that long break, riding powerfully in defiance of the sprinters teams. Kirchen started the attack of the national champions by jumping the sprint early and almost taking the stage. He ended up taking second, just behind Hushovd, but he continued his team's great run of aggressive riding and excellent results. It must be strange for these Fassa men: they were supposed to be the kings of the sprinters' leadout trains, but instead, with Petacchi gone, they've become the monsters of the opportunistic attack. It's been great to see what these men can do when they ride for themselves.
- Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis). He was only 8th on the stage, but he managed to stay in 2nd in the points competition. O'Grady will have the advantage along with Zabel when it comes to the mountains, as both are capable of going into breaks or hanging with the pack over the first few big climbs to nick some intermediate points. All in all, the Green Jersey competition is shaping up to be a wild battle between several different men, not the dual we've become used to in recent years. This battle will go all the way to Paris, and I can't wait to see what happens.
- Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Davitamon). He told his team early in the day that it wasn't his type of finish, but when his teammate Bettini faded in the final kilometer, Boonen was there to take 6th in the sprint. He has shown great confidence and poise in his first Tour, taking his time learning and trying for stage wins. While more experienced men like McEwen and Zabel are getting the better of him for now in the race for Green, it seems clear that this will change in the near future.
Crazy Jane's Le Tour Delicieux!
Another sprint finish on a blustery day for the boys of Le Tour; more crashes, and still, as is to be expected, no real shake out in the standings that will matter at the end of the road. Everyone's looking a little squinched-up and nervous after days of slippery roads and way too much crashing, and I'm sure they're all looking forward to peeling off those clammy lycra skivvies, slipping into something that exposes less to the elements and having a spot of tea or something on the rest day tomorrow. Of course we know they'll be making the transfer by plane to Limoges, and doing some chamois time, rain or shine, tomorrow to keep those powerful engines running at peak performance. No rest for the weary, I suppose... or is it the wicked?
With such rough conditions out there on the roads, everyone's nervous about maintaining their positions; eager to stay in front and keep themselves and their leaders clear of any incident while the sprinters' teams work to keep their horses in contention and set them up for the daily battle for speedster supremacy. What all that means, dear readers, is that there are a whole lot of guys working for just a few, and the most delicieux thing I noticed today was the hard work and sacrifice of the workhorses of the peloton. As we bike faithful know, cycling is a unique sport in that a team has to work together to achieve an individual victory, and whether it's a sprint at the end of a cold, wet day, or G.C. domination at the end of a long, hard tour, those individuals would never stand atop the podium without the help of their teammates.
The first man I want to mention today, and also, today's posterboy, is QuickStep's Servais Knaven:
Servais with a smile!
Photo by Christine Grein
You may remember him best as the winner of stage 17 into Bordeaux in last year's edition of Le Tour, or as the man who incurred the displeasure of this reporter when he was the hammer that put the final nail into delicieux favorite George Hincapie's brave ride in Paris- Roubaix 2001, but on that occasion it was impossible to stay mad for long when I saw his beaky-nosed charm and heard him speak halting, Dutch-flavored English. I mean, broken English can do a lot for a guy's charm, right ladies? Those two victories show-cased Knaven's raw strength, and brilliant opportunism, but he's also an unstinting yeoman, and he's been hard-driving it for days to reel in the breaks, keeping the likes of Tom Boonen and Paolo Bettini in contention. Guys like him are the reason the finishers make it to the podium at all.
While I'm on this topic, there's always reason to mention U.S. Postal's "Engine Room", but I want to give a special tip of the chapeau to George Hincapie, who always seems to be right there for his captain, and has shown his usual steadiness and strength as an essential lynchpin in Lance Armstrong's bid for Tour de France Mastery. I could have mentioned George for some reason every single day of this tour so far, so impressive is his strength and total dedication to his job, but for the sake of variety, I've been saving it up. The bottom line is this: Lance Armstrong is lucky to have a man as faithful and capable as Big Hink in his corner. It's a shame they couldn't get George into yellow earlier this week, and we all know that he's is more than man enough to ride for his own results; but I know that for George, the satisfaction comes from doing his work better than any other guy out there, and getting El Jefe into Paris in the Maillot Jaune. I said earlier this week that Hincapie is the Cadillac of domestiques; since then, he's been proving me right everyday, and that is the very soul of delicieux. As if that weren't enough, George is humble, genuinely good-natured, and undeniably the handsome one. Big George, in short, is aces.
Saeco, T-Mobile, Credit Agricole and Brioches la Boulangere all worked hard for their boys today, with Credit Agricole's hard riding paying off with a big victory for burly Norwegian Viking Thor "the Thunder God" Hushovd. My hat's off to all of those hard-working bike monkeys today.
All that hard work from the domestiques keeps the contenders from having to show themselves unless it's absolutely necessary, and in a long freakin' race like the Tour de France, the name of the game is energy conservation. One man I've seen neither hide nor hair of thus far is Jan Ullrich. The big German has yet to make any kind of significant effort. He's playing those cards close to the vest, and seeing him ride just off Armstrong's wheel every day looking stoic and entirely unpressed really makes a girl wonder what's under the hood. Here's what I can tell you about how Jan is looking: tall, fit, serious, and seriously studly. He's 55 seconds off on Armstrong's time, but he looks scary, and everyone knows that it won't pay to underestimate him.
It would never do if I failed to mention that crazy Dane, CSC's Jakob Piil. What is this man doing?! Piil is riding like an absolute maniac every single day, and has become an amazing breakaway driving machine! So far, his efforts haven't paid off in stage victory, but at this rate, one hopes it's only a matter of time! Piil has some write-in votes from the readers of Le Tour Delicieux who feel like his blondness demands attention, and think his beautiful, tan legs look lovely all soaking wet. Who am I to argue with that?
Delicieux favorite Stuey O'Grady relinquished the green today, so we're back with Robbie McEwen, but White Jersey Watch gives us another day of little Tommy Voeckler living his sweetest yellow dreams while his cute countryman Sandy Casar does the honors in the Maillot Blanc, and Le Tour Delicieux rolls on... But, wait! Did I just write an entire column without mentioning le coureur le plus délicieux de tous, Fabian Cancellara? Oh no. We can't have that. Unfortunately, I didn't see that charming creature even once today!
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 email@example.com, or post your comments at Le Tour Delicieux!