|Tour de France: Jambon Report Stage 10|
|Tour de France: Jambon Report Stage 10|
|Golden Hams of the Day|
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- Alejandro "Prince Valiant" Valverde (Illes Balears). He said he had mild ambitions in this Tour, hoping to take a stage and then go on to do well in the Vuelta. However, the kid had his "A" game today as he hung on to Armstrong and then came around him to take his first ever stage victory. This pulled him up into 5th on GC at 3' 16". With a ride like that, how can he not ride for the GC now? He was hurting as much as anyone today, but he showed that he can handle the pain and the pressure and beat the best. Valverde now owns the White Jersey for best young rider, but regardless of what he does in his career to come, this will likely always count as his greatest single victory. Why? Because Valverde went toe-to-toe with Armstrong in his final Tour, battling with him all the way to the top of a mighty mountain… and won. Tell me that he's not going to put that one in a special place in the trophy case.
- Francesco "Neckbrace" Mancebo (Illes Balears). He finished 4th in the stage at 9", but he was right there with Armstrong until the final 500 meters. Not only did he move way up on GC (7th at 4' 00"), but he put in a lot of work in that break to help his young teammate win the stage. Everybody in that group was working, but Mancebo looked to be suffering the most. Of course, with his twisted riding style, he always looks like he's suffering. On a day when CSC and T-Mobile were supposed to put Lance under pressure, it was Mancebo leading his young teammate in a one-two punch that snatched the stage from Armstrong and left most everybody else in the dust. Now we'll see if they can keep this up all the way to Paris.
- Lance "El Jefe" Armstrong (Discovery Channel). Lance should have worn some baggy pants and shuffled around at the start line, because it was Hammer Time today. Annoyed by the digs at his team and angered at those who doubted him, Armstrong opened up that trademark can of Texas Whupass to put most of his big rivals far in the rearview mirror. Exhorting the men who could hang with him, Armstrong led that charge up the Courchevel and almost took the stage. Alas, the amazing Valverde snaked that prize, but the Yellow Jersey was Armstrong's. He now is in 1st by a mere 38" over Rasmussen, but he's got everybody else right where he wants them. Now if he could only figure out how to ditch that crazy Dane…
- Michael "Bjergmester" Rasmussen (Rabobank). The feisty Dane stretched his lead in the Polka Dot Jersey race to a commanding 70 points, but with those big turns at the front in the Armstrong group he helped bury some of his GC rivals and took a big step towards the podium in Paris. He finished the stage in 3rd at 9", and he is now the only guy who looks like he's actually a serious danger to Armstrong. Sure, Lance will bury him in the final time trial, but if the Bjergmester keeps climbing like this and Lance has even a mildly off day, he could pull the upset of the decade. Another possibility is that Lance could let Rasmussen go a bit and take the Yellow for a stage or two. Whatever happens, Rasmussen is clearly the breakout new star of this Tour.
- Ivan "Bello" Basso (CSC). Sure, he got dropped by the Armstrong group, but he still came in 5th at 1' 02". That's a solid ride that put him into 3rd on GC at 2' 40". There is still the big question as to whether the Giro took too much out of him, but right now Basso looks strong and capable of making a run at the lead. Basso could just be finding his legs, which means he could be an absolute menace in the Pyranees.
- Levi "Button Fly" Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner). Leipheimer did amazingly well today, finishing the stage in 6th at 1' 15". He was able to fight back onto that Armstrong group for a while, but eventually succumbed to the constant accelerations. Still, he gave up just a dozen seconds to Basso and he took big time from a lot of his GC rivals. Leipheimer now sits in 6th on GC at 3' 58", and I still think he has a real shot at the podium. Leipheimer has a history of getting stronger in the 3rd week, so the fact that he is riding so high already bodes very well for his chances in the Pyranees. He may not be a threat to Armstrong, but he certainly has a shot at guys like Moreau (4th on GC at 2' 42"), Valverde, and maybe even Basso.
- Jose Luis "The Punisher" Rubiera, Paolo "Blue Falcon" Savoldelli, and "Gorgeous" George Hincapie (Discovery Channel). So, what was it that happened on Stage 8 again? On the final climb up Courchevel, Rubiera and Savoldelli blew the remnants of the peloton to tiny bits. For good measure, Hincapie then pulled through and started blowing world-class climbers off the back of the group. By the time they were done, Armstrong's rivals were either gone or on the rivet. Lance is now back in control of the race, and his team looks ready to defend him all the way to Paris.
Grazed Hams of the Day
- Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile). As usual, Ullrich had a bad first day in the mountains, coming through in 13th at 2' 14". This put him a distant 8th on GC at 4' 02". While the German press will eat him alive, it would be a mistake to count Ullrich out of the race. Ullrich always bounces back from that first bad day in the mountains to ride like a locomotive. He'll be on the attack in the Pyranees, and he'll be a big threat to win that final time trial. Despite all that's happened to him so far, Ullrich could still land on the podium in Paris. He's just that good.
- Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile). I gave Vino the kiss of death yesterday by predicting that he would be Armstrong's biggest challenger. He came off the Armstrong group relatively early on the final climb, eventually coming across in 25th at 5' 18". This puts Vino a distant 16th on GC at 6' 32". Vinokourov will be back, attacking like mad and maybe even taking a stage. But don't expect to see him anywhere near the final podium in Paris.
- Jens Voigt (CSC). The brave Yellow Jersey wearer fought like mad to cling to the back of the peloton up the penultimate climb. Then on the final climb he blew sky high, losing 31' 29" and finishing 107th on the stage. Jens is a fighter and an attacker: he'll recover and be off the front again on some of the smaller mountains stages to come. I'm just glad he got to wear the Yellow Jersey for a day: a warrior like him truly deserves it.
- Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros). Another bad prediction of mine: I thought Heras was looking good, but he was one of the first guys shelled on the Courchevel. He limped across the line in 42nd at 9' 49", and is now so far back in the GC hung that he'll start thinking now about the Vuelta. He may try to soldier on, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Heras pull out of the Tour in order to begin that buildup for defending his Vuelta title.
- Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi). Don't expect to see Mayo hanging around much longer either. The fragile climbing enigma says he's nursing a sore knee, and his ride today indicates that something is seriously wrong: he was popped off the back on both climbs, eventually finishing in 97th at 21' 31". Supposedly, Mayo doesn't handle adversity well, and with the loss of morale from this poor performance added to his ailing knee, I would be surprised if he even made it to the Pyranees. Hopefully he'll be able to recover and be at his best in the Vuelta, because Mayo climbing at his best is really a sight to behold.
- Yaroslav "Jiffy Pop" Popovych (Discovery Channel). Of all the great performances by Discovery riders today, Popo's was perhaps the most impressive. The designated future of the Discovery Channel team, Popovych had an embarrassing crash with the CSC team car. But Popovych bounced up and was back on duty as Armstrong's number two man on the final climb. With the rest of team gone and the peloton whittled down to a handful of men, Lance gave Popo the word and he blasted up the mountain like Homer going after a donut. That gave Lance the springboard he needed to fly up the road with only a couple of men to worry about. With that kind of grace under pressure, I starting to believe the Popovych just might be able to win the Tour some day.
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