|Golden Hams of the Day|
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- "Pretty Boy" Floyd Landis (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). On the hardest day of the Tour, Lance's friend and powerful domestique was right there for his boss until the bitter end. He put the hurt on all of Lance's rivals, driving the pace forever on some ferocious climbs in blinding heat (and I should know: I was sweating to death on the Col de la Forclaz when they went by). Floyd even had a shot at stage glory, but alas, it was not meant to be. Still, Floyd has once again proved his worth as a brilliant rider. It would be a big loss if he left US Postal, but he certainly deserves to lead his own team.
- Lance "El Jefe" Armstrong (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). Over the last few years, Lance has struggled when it came down to sprint finishes. Check his record at the Amstel Gold and you'll see what I mean. For some reason, this year he has rediscovered his sprint. We first saw an indication of this when he beat Ivan Dominguez and a number of other great sprinters to win a stage of the Tour of Georgia. Now, in the Tour de France, Lance has reached deep into that can of Texas whupass to serve up a couple of sprint victories as well. The time gap he has may not be as big as he's had in previous years, but the thrashing he's given his rivals this year should leave no doubt as to who is the best man (and the best team) in the race.
- Jan "Big Diesel" Ullrich and Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile). While a handful of their fans may have acted like twits, these two have continued to show their quality and class in this Tour. They were right with Armstrong all day long, dogging him and attacking near the line to try to snatch victory. Armstrong won the battle, and will likely win the war, but big Jan and cagey Klöden are truly great opponents who have made him earn it. They have both gotten stronger as the Tour has gotten longer, and their battle for the podium should make for an exciting time trial.
- Gilberto "G-Man" Simoni (Saeco), Christophe "Bug-Taster" Moreau (Credit Agricole), and "His Royal Highness, King" Richard Virenque (Lotto-Domo). It took a lot of courage to attack on such a long and miserable stage, but these three champions have never been short on that characteristic. While Virenque sealed his umpteenth King of the Mountains Jersey, Simoni and Moreau tried to pull themselves up on GC and take out the stage. As they rode by on the Forclaz, their faces were etched with a mixture of pain and concentration. Their pace was high, and when we heard they were caught, we were surprised… the relentless chasing of the US Postal train was just too much. Their breakaway gave way to the big GC battle in end, but it is attacks like this that make these men such popular riders.
- Nobody. Come on… there's no way I could give out ham-gazer awards on such an epic stage. The heat and the relentless pace of this final week make anyone who finishes a winner.
Crazy Jane's Le Tour Delicieux!
Another victory for Lance "Hotpants" Armstrong? And a sprint, at that? Lordy! I guess that makes it four in a row, and I'm betting there are too many more questions from the peanut gallery at this point. I'm liking the celebratory exuberance of Armstrong's victories lately. I think last year's near-loss experience is making him really enjoy this one.
There's a lot of talk today on the subject of taking the win vs. letting the other guys have a go. Clearly, neither Ullrich nor Klöden had the strength to attack today, and when they didn't make a move, Armstrong wanted to let Floyd have the stage win. Frankly, after the job of work Floyd did for Lance all day, that would have been beee-oootiful, and I would have loved to have seen Floyd get some glory; but since Ullrich and Klöden weren't having any of that plan, (I can't say I blame them, I mean, it's one thing to get beat by Lance, and another to get punked by the Armstrong's domestique, who just ripped your legs off on the last climb of the day!) I say, WHY NOT? Plus, Armstrong's sprint offered up the added bonus of saving that handsome creature Ivan Basso a few precious seconds against Klöden for the Time Trial on Saturday.
But you know, this brings me to another thing. When will everyone stop bitching that we are watching a man make history? "Meh! Le Tour is boring! Meh!" Lookit: in order for a guy to break the all time record on Tour victories, he has to win a lot of tours. Duh! If he isn't your favorite, I recognize that it means your man has been losing for years on end, but honestly, if you love this sport, and enjoy seeeing someone kick ass on a bike, I think you've got to frickin' give the man his due! People, lord knows, I love me some Jan Ullrich. That man is all class, and with those long, honey-colored legs, the freckles, all that brawn and angular Germanic bone structure, he's delicieux, as well. If anyone not only deserves glorious lycra victory, but has the raw material to make it look good, it's Jan; but he got beat. Period. So did everyone else, and that's because Lance Armstrong is faster, and his team is unstoppable. Maybe if we're lucky, and Jan brings his A-game next year, we can have a real battle, but it's not doing the other guys any favors to blame Armstrong for being better. In conclusion, Le Tour is SO not boring. Have you seen the hams on these guys?
Still, I have to admit that Armstrong's victory today would have been more delicieux on another postman's shoulders, and that man is, of course, the incomparable Floyd Landis, who was the biggest and the baddest today, by a long shot. As the only Postal rider left at the sharp end on the Col de la Croix-Fry, he not only whittled what was left of the field down to only the strongest men in the race, but he actually neutralized Jan Ullrich's ability to attack. I could just tell that Jan Ullrich had the itch, too; he was boring holes in Landis and Armstrong with his eyes today! I have never seen a more aggressive look in Ullrich's face that the one he wore up the Col de la Croix-Fry. That was HOT. There's the rub, people: as a fan of bike racing I would have loved to have seen a full diesel power play from Jan today, but he didn't have it. Instead, I got to throughly enjoy seeing a super cool guy like Floyd Landis drive that big German beast so hard he couldn't attack. Whew! Floyd's our boy today:
Floyd "MVP" Landis
Photo by Jaime Nichols
Rumor has it that Landis has a big offer from another team, but if I Postal's new sponsors are smart, they'll do everything they can to keep this fish in the pond. Floyd's often been touted as the next big American tour rider, and I'd say the evidence is in: he has it in him. Additionally, Floyd knows how to rock; and dudes? He's just cool.
That five man duel to the line was pretty thrilling, but I have to admit to being a little disappointed that Gilberto Simoni didn't get to drive this one home. I loved his sprint to the top of the Col de la Madeleine to deny Virenque! Gilberto's got his pride, people. It's been a rough year for that little Italian dynamo, but he's a tough man, a champion, and he'll be back with plenty of game in the future. There's always a lot made of Simoni's talk - talk of going well in the tour, of mounting a challenge to Lance - as if people are affronted that he would dare to compare himself, a mere lowly worm, to the Gods of Olympus, but people, what do you expect? He's a winning athlete, and if he can't believe he can win, he's cooked! Gilberto's had an off year, yes; but I liked to see that there's some fight in him, even now. I can't wait to see him back on top, because he's small, but he's working some nuclear weapons grade Italian charm, and take it from me: to know him is to love him.
White Jersey Watch gives us another precious day with Thomas Voeckler, and like every day, he was glorious, although that little man lost time on stage 17 to both Vladimir Karpets and Sandy Casar, who are now yapping at the former Maillot Jaune's heels at 45" and 1'56" respectively. Ladies, Ti-Blanc's lead is slim. If there's still some fight in that guy, he should be able to hang on tomorrow, when the climbing gets relatively easier, but I'm a bit nervous about the Time Trial on Saturday. Neither Casar nor Karpets is a exactly a Time Trial monster, but Voeckler went down to both of them in last year's Tour de France Time Trials, and his chance at white is looking tenuous. Karpets is the most likely suspect at this point, and it's concerning me just a little bit how much he hasn't been hipped to the fact that helmet sports call for short hair.
Achtung, race fans! 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!