|Tour de France: Jambon Report Stages 20-21|
|Tour de France: Jambon Report Stages 20-21|
|Golden Hams of the Past Two Days|
- Lance "El Jefe" Armstrong (Discovery Channel). My favorite Tour t-shirt is still the yellow one that says "France: Who's Your Daddy?" Lance went out one final time in the Stage 20 time trial to give his critics a big helping of Shut the Hell Up. His victory by 23" over the mighty Jan Ullrich pushed his GC lead up to 4' 40" over Basso. By staying upright today, he piled one more layer onto the history books just for good measure: a lucky seven Tour victories in a row over some very strong and determined opposition. Love him or hate him, Lance changed the sport for ever. He's the greatest Tour de France champion we've ever seen, and none of us will likely live to see such a Tour champion again.
- Jan "U-Boat" Ullrich (T-Mobile). As always, the mighty German went down swinging. He blazed into 2nd in the Stage 20 time trial only 23" behind Armstrong, a performance that pushed him up into 3rd on GC at 6' 21". It was a joy to see Ullrich on the final Paris podium again hugging Armstrong, giving Basso a Euro-man kiss, and playing a bit with Basso's daughter. Ullrich is pure class: he never spoke ill of his teammate Vinokourov's knuckleheaded attacks, he never spoke ill of the competition, and he was gracious and humble in defeat. As Armstrong noted in his podium speech, it is now going to be a battle between Big Jan and "Bello" Basso next year for Tour de France dominance, which bodes very well for the sport: sure it's biggest champion is retiring, but the heirs to the throne are both great sportsmen who treat the race and each other with respect.
- Francisco "Neckbrace" Mancebo (Illes Balears). Did you catch that the crooked Spanish climber actually got a respectable 9th in the Stage 20 time trial at a mere 2' 51" behind Armstrong? This kept both Leipheimer and Vinokourov at bay and got him up to 4th on GC at 9' 59". This was one heck of a competitive Tour, and Mancebo actually came out with the best result of his career. This was truly a spectacular three weeks for "Neckbrace," and he did his sponsors and his fans proud.
- Alexandre "Ants in His Drawers" Vinokourov (T-Mobile). Maybe he has really bad saddle sores and has to get out of the saddle and attack a lot to ease the pain. Maybe he gets bored easily sitting the peloton. Whatever the case, Vinokourov ended his very erratic Tour de France with two outstanding performances. First, on Stage 20, he showed once again that he knows how to time trial by coming in 3rd at 1' 16", a performance that moved him up into 6th a mere 2" behind Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) on GC. Then today, he attacked to get a 2" bonus, but that was still not enough to get him over Leipheimer. Finally, he put in a stunning attack with only 2 km left in the stage to rob all of the sprinters and the very fast Bradley McGee (FDJeux.com) of their final chance for glory. Vinokourov's win on the Champs Elysees gave him the (controversial) time bonus he needed to jump into 5th on GC at 11' 01". This final statement will make him a very attractive team leader for some lucky team next year.
- "Gorgeous" George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) and "Dobby" Bobby Julich (CSC). We Americans are spoiled. After barely even making a mark on the Tour for so long, American riders have won the race half of the time over the last twenty years (Lemond in '86, '89, and '90 and Armstrong from 1999-2005). With Lance retiring, though, we still have a lot to look forward too. Look at George and "Dobby": they busted out some of that house elf magic and smoked that final time trial, putting four Americans in the top eight places on the stage (Armstrong in 1st, Julich in 4th @ 1' 33", Landis in 6th @ 2' 02", and Hincapie in 8th @ 2' 25"). Not only that, they both had strong GC finishes: that time trial moved the Big Hink up to 14th at 23' 49" and Julich up to 17th at 24' 08". That means there were five Americans in the top twenty on GC. Sure, Lance is retiring, but American cycling is still looking good. With veterans like Hincapie, Julich, Landis, Leipheimer, and Horner likely to return and young guns like Tom Danielsen (Discovery Channel, not in this Tour) on the rise, we can look forward to another fun summer in France in 2006.
*Here's the Updated Part*. I woke up this morning kicking myself because I also forgot to mention the hope for American cycling inspired by the brilliant season of David "Friskie" Zabriskie (CSC). A crash eventually forced the smirking American to withdraw from the Tour on Stage 9, but not before he beat Armstrong in the opening time trial (and everybody else by a huge margin). This gave Zabriskie not only the Yellow Jersey, but also a stage win in three consecutive grand tours. Zabriskie is only 26 years old, and he has shown some great improvement in his climbing skills. If he can continue to improve on that climbing, he can be a real GC threat in the not-so-distant future. With his perfect time trailing position and his blazing legs, Zabriskie now gives Americans a favorite for the first Yellow Jersey for the next six or seven years. And who knows, maybe he'll be a threat for that final Yellow Jersey before too long. Heal up soon, Dave!
- Thor "Big Norskie" Hushovd (Credit Agricole). He didn't win a stage, but so what? Thor did what he had to do, attacking and sprinting and clawing his way to a big victory in the Green Jersey competition. His 7th place on today's stage gave him a 12 point victory over 2nd place O'Grady (Cofidis), making Thor the first Norwegian ever to win the Green Jersey of the Tour de France. His popularity has led to live coverage of the Tour in Norway, and like Lance, he has brought the sport to a whole new population. Good work Thor! Now go rest on the beach before you have to go back and freeze your butt off in your icy homeland.
Ham-Gazers of the Past Two Days
Grazed Hams of the Past Two Days
- Ivan Basso (CSC). In the time trial, Basso started very strong and had the best time at the first checkpoint. Basso has improved his time trialing a great deal since last year, and he looked to be ready to cause a huge upset. Then he ran out of gas, struggling on the parts of the course that should have suited him. He ended up 5th on the stage at 1' 54", which wasn't that bad: he preserved his 2nd spot on GC at 4' 40" behind Armstrong by a comfortable margin. Looking forward to next year, though, when Basso will likely duel with Ullrich for Tour supremacy, the Italian showed that he has a lot of room to improve before he can start to challenge big Jan in the time trials. Still, Basso came in 2nd in this Tour through his constant, blistering, leg-breaking attacks in the mountains. He is a truly great rider, and he looks like he's only going to get better in the years to come.
- Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto). Well that disqualification for headbutting O'Grady put the Little Emperor out of the race for the Green Jersey, and Vinokourov's attack today put the final stage win out of reach. Still, it was a pretty good Tour for Robbie, as he took three stage wins and took the stuffing out of Boonen on a couple of occasions. Along with his stage wins against Petacchi in the Giro, McEwen showed in this Tour that he is at least the equal of any sprinter on the planet.
- Iker "Don't Call Me Igor" Flores (Euskaltel-Euskadi). The mighty Basque rider struggled this year after being so aggressive in last year's race. He finally limped across the line in 144th today, and ended up as the Lanterne Rouge, or the last-placed rider, in the Tour: he finished in 155th on GC at 4h 20' 24" behind Armstrong. Unfortunately, the official Tour website and several journalists missed the boat today and said that Iker was the Lanterne Rouge in 2002 as well. Not true: that was his brother Igor, who also rode for Euskaltel-Euskadi. Still, if you know anything about the how the French treat the Lanterne Rouge, you know that it is a position of honor: it symbolizes the man who overcomes illness, injuries, bad legs, bad form, and/or bad talent to still finish the 3, 608 km slog through France without getting eliminated from the race. If you've ever ridden over any of those Tour stages, as I did with Igor Flores last year, you know that this is a colossal feat by any measure. So I want to join the French in saluting Iker for simply finishing the Tour, a race where even ham-gazing is an incredibly painful, difficult, and challenging experience.
- Michael "Bone Machine" Rasmussen (Rabobank). The nutritionally challenged Dane has had better days than the Stage 20 time trial. He crashed, twice, and then had to change out his machine repeatedly for who knows what reason. I haven't seen a meltdown like that in a time trial since defending Tour champ Bjarne Riis (now manager of CSC) lost his temper after a mechanical in the 1997 Tour and threw his bike like a discus thrower. The crashes and meltdowns led the Dane to a dismal 77th at 7' 47", which cost Rasmussen four spots on GC. Still, Rasmussen has had a brilliant Tour: his attacking in the mountains got him a stage win and the Polka Dot Jersey, and landed him in 7th on GC in Paris. No matter how you slice it, that is one successful ride. And speaking of slices, Michael, please go eat a pizza or something now that the Tour's over.
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