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Tour de France: Jambon Report - Stage 15
By Locutus
Date: 7/18/2006
Tour de France: Jambon Report - Stage 15

Golden Hams of the Day

  • Frank "Ogre" Schleck (CSC). He went in that early break, but Schleck was actually able to save his legs due to the huge amount of work done by David "Friskie" Zabriskie and Jens "Manly Man" Voigt. With his two mates chasing down the attacks and pounding the pedals to keep away from the peloton, Schleck was able to save himself for his big launch up the Alpe d'Huez. When Schleck went, few could follow: he set the pace up most of the climb, and his final attack shed Cunego and ensured his first ever Tour victory. Schleck's name will now go down with the legendary climbers of the Tour for his performance, and he announced that he is now a man who must be taken serioiusly as a GC threat in the future. Also, he is a GC threat in the present: his victory moved him up into 12th at 7' 07", and he has taken over 2nd in the race for the Polka-Dot Jersey. Look for more attacking from Schleck tomorrow as he pursues the Mountains competition and provides cover for his main man Sastre.
  • "Pretty Boy" Floyd Landis (Phonak). Who's the man with the funky limp who thinks he's walkin' like a pimp? Floyd! Daaaamn right. Floyd didn't have to attack today, but he did. He rode defensively for much of the stage, using the strong performance of his team to bring back the gap to the break and to lead him out at the base of the Alpe d'Huez. When Klöden counter-attacked, Floyd just followed his wheel rather easily and tried to attack again later when he met up with his man Merckx. Together with Klöden, Landis dispatched his closest GC rivals to take the Yellow Jersey once again. Floyd ended up crossing the line in 4th at 1' 10" behind Schleck. His lead on GC is only 10" over Pereiro, but he now has over 2 minutes on the men who are the biggest threats to the Yellow Jersey. Floyd has a firm grip on this Tour de France, and now he has to buckle down and try to maintain his advantage over the next two brutal days of climbing.
  • Damiano "The Omen" Cunego (Lampre) and Stefano "Cheekbones" Garzelli (Liquigas). These two men have both won the Giro d'Italia, and both got into that early break of 25 riders that kept the peloton on its toes all day. Garzelli attacked the first climb, the Above Category Col d'Izoard, and got a good gap on the rest of the break. Cunego kept behind his teammate Patxi Vila and saved his legs for most of the day. On the Alpe d'Huez, Cunego was the only man who could keep pace with Schleck. He eventually fell off the pace, but his 2nd place finish at 11" back shows that Cunego is starting to get a feel for this race. Despite being dropped early on the final climb, Garzelli hung on and even managed to outsprint Landis for 3rd place at 1' 10" back. That was a solid result for the veteran who will likely keep on the lookout for a stage win over the next couple of days.
  • "San" Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile). As Landis noted after the finish, Klöden was the strongest guy out there today. Klöden did most of the pace-making up the Alpe d'Huez, attacking several times and dropping everyone except Landis. Klöden only managed 5th on the stage at 1' 10", but he gained some important ground in his quest to reach the Tour de France podium for the 2nd time in his career. Klöden moved from 7th to 6th on GC at 2' 29", but more importantly, he is only 27" behind the man in 3rd on GC. Klöden proved today that he deserves the mantle of team leader for T-Mobile. With more climbing on tap for the next two stages, look for Klöden to keep on attacking whenever the road goes up.
  • David de la Fuente (Saunier Duval-Prodir). The man in the lead of the Mountains competition was a good candidate to lose his shirt today. However, de la Fuente once again went on the attack, taking 2nd on the first climb and 1st over the 2nd climb of the day. While two threats to his Polka-Dot Jersey, Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) and Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), got dropped on every climb, de la Fuente had the legs to keep fighting until the Alpe d'Huez. He now holds a 34 point lead over Schleck, and he doesn't look like he's ready to give up that Polka-Dot Jersey any time soon.

Ham-Gazers of the Day

  • Denis Menchov (Rabobank). Menchov showed today that he is a fighter. He attacked early on the climb, but when Klöden and Landis countered, he blew to the sky. Still, he used his teammates and kept turning over the pedals trying to limit his losses. He ended up finishing in 11th at 2' 21" behind Schleck and 1' 11" behind Landis and Klöden. This was good enough for Menchov to hold onto his 4th place on GC, but he's now 2' 12" behind Landis with Sastre, Klöden, and Evans breathing down his neck.
  • Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) and Cyril Dessel (AG2r-Prevoyance). Both of these men struggled today, unable to keep pace with men like Landis and Menchov when the whip came down. However, both rode like heroes to maintain the high overall position on GC that each gained by virtue of a long breakaway earlier in the race. Neither of these men was mentioned for a top ten finish before this race started, but now they are looking like it might even be difficult to dislodge them from the top five. Pereiro finished 14th on the stage at 2' 49" behind Schleck and 1' 39" behind Landis. He is now 2nd on GC only 10" behind the leader, and he is now a serious candidate to finish on the final podium. For his part, Dessel finished the stage in 19th at 3' 04" behind Schleck and 1' 54" behind Landis. This kept him in 3rd on GC at 2' 02" behind Landis. While Dessel will likely fall behind the three men in 4th-7th over the next few days, he is still looking like he will land in the top ten by Paris. More importantly, he has a big lead in the unofficial competition of best Frenchman in the race. That would make this the best race of his career by far.
  • Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) and Michael Rogers (T-Mobile). It wasn't a banner day for the Australian contingent in the GC. Evans looked good for a while, but then he hit the wall and struggled to the finish. By the top he was only 16th at 2' 49", which caused him to slide from 5th to 7th on GC at 2' 56". Rogers did his work for Klöden, but was still able to defend his position by the end of the day. Rogers finished just ahead of Evans in 15th at 2' 49", which kept him in 8th on GC at 5' 01". Tomorrow is another day, and Evans is still within 54" of the podium. But now he will have to gain time on men like Menchov, Sastre, and Klöden, and that won't be easy. Rogers will have to do the best he can while riding to defend his teammate, and that rarely ends well for the domestique.
  • Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner). It actually wasn't that bad of a day for Levi. He yo-yoed off the back of the Landis group for most of the climb before falling behind for good. Still, by finishing 10th at 1' 49" behind Schleck and 39" behind Landis, he continued his inevitable climb up the GC: Leipheimer jumped from 15th to 9th at 6' 18". Levi is a climber, and there are two more hard days of climbing ahead. If he can keep on riding like this, there is a strong chance that he could claw his way into the top five by the final time trial.
  • Christophe Moreau (AG2r-Prevoyance). The tongue-wagging Frenchman had a miserable day, falling way back into 25th on the stage at 3' 48". This caused him to drop from 10th to 11th on GC at 6' 22". But the real indignity is that his French teammate Dessel is now putting the wood to him in the race for best homeboy in the Tour. Moreau might still rebound, but it looked today like his team has made its choice and Dessel is their man.

Delicieux? If You Have To Ask, You Don't Deserve Le Tour!

I have to be honest: I'm a little overwhelmed today!

The Alpe D'Huez always delivers, and yesterday's lycra-clad slog up her -- what? 7453 remorselessly cruel switchbacks? -- was no exception. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves, here! When you don't know where in the hell to begin effusing senselessly, I guess there's always THE BEGINNING.

Kicking of today's recipe for a delicieux episode of Le Tour: a break featuring not only cycling's biggest professional dreamboat, George Hincapie, but also the long, bronzed legs of that big sexy vision in green, Axel Merckx! That right there would have been awesome, but that's not all! Throw in another episode in the endless series of Jens Voigt's ever-popular "Superman's got nothing on me" routine; a nice, healthy dose of the on-the-bike stylings of Stephano "mascara" Garzelli; some antics starring little Italian bike monkey Damiano Cunego with some form coming on; hardman-style domestique self-sacrifice from wise-acre deluxe Dave Zabriskie; Latin lovelies Egoi Martinez, David De La Fuente, and Inigo Landaluze; and wait! That's not all! We also got ultra-charming baby-faced secret CSC weapon Frank Schleck showing the world that he may look like a schoolboy, but in fact he's all Alpe D'Huez conquering man, and 15 other guys entirely clad in lycra that I dare you to shake a stick at!

Oh man! That just sounds too good to be true, but... Pfft!! Like that's all you get!

Just a few minutes behind the deluxe parade of delicieux that was that break, Floyd Landis was looking like one cool, unbeatable customer, playing a little cat and mouse with his G.C. Rivals. Andreas Kloden was giving him a run for his money, and guys like Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, Levi Leipheimer, and Denis Menchov were cracking wide open under the pressure, but digging deep into those suitcases for the will to go on!

And, to top it all off, we got a beautiful, career-making Alpe D'Huez victory for a young rider who didn't quite know he had it in him, but who played his cards just right on the day... A guy this column has totally tipped for being all hopped up on charm.

Like I said: a little overwhelming.

Especially nice to see today? Floyd's poker face, the way he looked like a guy who is so not gonna lose, and how bitchin' he looks in yellow:

Big Daddy Floyd.
This just never gets old!Photo c. Ben Ross

Also: Menchov's fighting spirit, Big George hanging tough, Voigt for the usual reasons, Merckx and Zabriskie riding their hearts out for Schleck, Garzelli and Cunego on the attack, heroic efforts from Cyril Dessel and Oscar Pereiro... the list goes on and on, and it's only going to get longer today.

Goddamn, I love Le Tour! Everyday is like Christmas in July.

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