Golden Hams of the Day
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- "His Royal Majesty, King of the Mountains, the Reigning Sovereign of France, the Hero of Bastille Day," Richaaaard Viiiireennnque (Quick Step-Davitamon). Boy, the French press will be cover-to-cover with the exploits of the homeboys on their national holiday. You could see it building in the TV coverage: while some interesting things were happening in the peloton, the coverage kept jumping back just a little too quickly to those varied expressions of pain and tongue-wagging Virenque was cycling through on his attack. And what an attack it was, over 200km off the front and first over all nine climbs. This put His Worship way up in the mountains competition, 16 points ahead of Merckx and lightyears ahead of everyone else. Also, Virenque racked up what must be his greatest single-day victory of his impressive career. Those legions of long-suffering French cycling fans who were going crazy on the sides of the road will have a lot of undergarments to launder tonight.
- Thomas "No Doubt" Voeckler and his Bun Boys (Brioches la Boulangere). Though not a climber, Voeckler hung tough on this incredibly long and demanding stage. His teammates drove the pack almost the whole day, and kept things in check for their man in yellow. Voeckler, for his part, did the Yellow Jersey proud, fighting all the way when almost off the back on the Cat 1 climb of the Col du Pas de Peyrol. Then, in the final sprint of the peloton, he came out to take fifth. This will practically insure that he will keep the Yellow Jersey until at least Stage 12 when the serious mountains really hit. For a man and a team looking for a sponsor, these guys have ridden brilliantly, and some lucky company must now surely step up and take advantage of their talent for next year.
- Erik "The Big E-Z" Zabel (T-Mobile). On a stage with so many climbs, Zabel was there to contest the sprint for 2nd. He took 3rd behind his teammate Kloden, who for some reason didn't pull off and allow his man to take maximum points. Still, this moved Zabel into 2nd in the Green Jersey competition only 10 points behind McEwen. Zabel has been a constant presence in the finales and it seems only a matter of time before he takes a stage. And if McEwen doesn't watch it, the Big E-Z could snake that Green Jersey as well.
- Lance "El Jefe" Armstrong and his BlueBerry Boys (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). Armstrong and his main rivals were just marking each other today, looking for weaknesses and waiting for the big showdown this Friday, when the crepe will really hit the fan. Still, Lance was vigilant and finished the sprint in 6th, staying near the front to avoid the time gaps that claimed a lot of his compatriots. "El Jefe" must feel great about his team's performance today too: Jose Azevedo (22nd), Jose Luis Rubiera (43rd), George Hincapie (65th), Floyd Landis (66th), and Benjamin Noval (67th) all finished with the diminished peloton of seventy-one riders who survived the climbs. While it's troubling that climber Manuel Beltran finished in 116th, 24' 24" behind Virenque, the team seemed strong today, and ready for the challenges of the stages to come.
- Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears-Banesto, 4th), George Totschnig (Gerolsteiner, 7th), Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze, 9th), Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi, 11th), Ivan Basso (CSC, 13th), and Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile, 15th). On that nasty uphill finish, these GC men stretched their legs and showed that they are ready for the mountains by finishing on the right side of a split in the field. Ullrich fans may be troubled by his being at the back of this group, but "The Big Diesel" needs time to get his uphill engine running, so his performance on this short climb bodes well for his form. Each of these men can finish in the top ten, and they did some good work today to take 7" from some of their key rivals.
- Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo). Alas, the big Belgian couldn't hold Virenque's wheel on the steepest climbs, putting an end to his long breakaway and hopes of a stage win. Still, this was one heck of a ride by the son of the greatest. Merckx is a powerful rider, and it was good to see him let loose today to see what happened. It didn't work out today, but who knows about tomorrow?
Grazed Hams of the Day
- Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank, 17th), Gilberto Simoni (Saeco, 19th), Tyler Hamilton (Phonak Hearing Systems, 26th), and Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros, 44th). These men were behind that 7" split, losing time to Armstrong and the other men listed above. Yeah, 7" doesn't mean squat when you think about what will happen Friday, but these riders must be concerned about their legs if they couldn't stay near the sharp end of the peloton in this finishing uphill sprint. It may mean nothing, but it could also be the first sign that some of these riders aren't quite at their best. After all, Armstrong accelerated, and they were left behind. We'll find out for sure in two more days.
- "Rabid" Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo). The sprinter and Green Jersey wearer finished in 164th at 25' 18". This was about 48" behind the large grupetto. While McEwen is a Tour veteran who knows how to dose his efforts in the mountains, this finish today raises some concerns about him making it through the mountains. There are some monster stages on the horizon, and I'm betting McEwen is there to contest the sprint in Paris, but he'd better be careful, or he could end up just watching that sprint on TV.
- Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile). He had a spectacular crash on a descent, hitting a pole and spinning like a top after striking it. Kessler is a key man for Ullrich, whose role is comparable to that of Floyd Landis on US Postal. The tough German remounted his bike and rolled to the finish within the time limit, and then had to go off to the hospital. I wouldn't be surprised if he has some severely bruised or cracked ribs where he hit that pole, but here's hoping that this talented man's injuries are minor and that he can make the start tomorrow.
Crazy Jane's Le Tour Delicieux
It's Bastille Day, my dear readers, and there can be no doubt that it has been a delicieux one for French cycliing fans. With Richard Virenque, arguably the most popular French rider now in the peloton, taking the stage and putting his own, special stranglehold on the King of the Mountains competition, and young French champion Thomas Voeckler, maintaining the overall lead and the Maillot Blanc, French bike racing aficionados have got to be feeling pretty well-chuffed with their countrymen.
Virenque struck out somewhere around kilometer 35, with big, blonde Belgian dreamboat Axel Merckx, and I can assure you that there was much rejoicing chez Crazy Jane. Sadly for us ladies, Merckx would eventually falter on the Cat. 1 Puy Mary, and be reabsorbed by the chasing pack, while Virenque carried on to take the stage out of an epic breakaway lasting more than 200 kilometers. All I can say is that I hope Axel find some other method of being followed by the cameras all day long on some future stage, because that was all good.
I'm sure you've all heard before now that the pixie-ish Richard Virenque is a renowned French heartthrob, and I hereby acknowledge that status, but I have to admit that Virenque's victory today cast my mind back in wistful nostalgia for the last Frenchman who won the Bastille Day stage: the magificent Laurent Jalabert, in 2001. Ah, the panda. How I miss him! His charm could have leveled entire villages!
While we're getting all French, I have got to give some time to Little Tommy Voeckler, who struggled and suffered on the last climbs today, reporting after the stage that, as everyone knows he isn't the strongest climber. Despite that, Voeckler, perhaps driven on by the magic of the golden fleece, hung tough with the help of his team to do the Maillot Jaune proud; even, in the last meters of a long and difficult day, looking for points in the sprint. Voeckler has acknowledged that the big boys of Le Tour are on a whole different level, but says he'll struggle to stay in it for as long as he can.
Thomas Voeckler, basket boy
Photo by Christine Grein
He's our posterboy today, because since the day he took over leadership of Le Tour, Voeckler has been all class, all heart, and all delicieux. On top of that, his boyish smile from the podium has the ladies of Crazy Jane's panel hoping he's well stocked-up on yellow footie pyjamas, and most of us agree that he's so cute he ought to be sleeping in a basket.
Other delicieux details today? Well, in case it wasn't clear enough the first time, Axel Merckx is very high on the list of hottest riders in Le Tour Delcieux, because, sweet Jesus, would look at the rig that guys is working? I think it's safe to say that Axel's legs go all the way to the ground. Erik Zabel needs some special notice today for being right there at the finish at the end of a long day of climbing. It's a shame his teammate didn't leave him the sprint points, but Zabel has been bitchin' for years, and it's always nice to see him do well. I also want to mention yesterday's delicieux favorite, Inigo Landaluze, who was kind enough to give a foundering Thomas Voeckler a bottle on the last climb of the day today, when the Maillot Jaune was struggling to stay with the pack. Very nice. Oh! and before I forget: Fabian Cancellara.
Finally, I can't wrap it up without a word of sympathy for one of the most delicieux bike racers ever to step foot on planet earth, and that's Tyler Hamilton, who lost his cherished Golden Retriever, Tugboat, to cancer today. Tyler was breakin' my heart, wearing Tugboat's tags around his neck, and I can only say that I would be devastated if anything happened to my dear little dog.
Tyler, all of us at the delicieux copy desk and Jambon Report are so sorry for your loss!
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 at Le Tour Delicieux!