Stage 17 Jambon Report - Photos By Ben Ross from the
Joux Plane summit.
Golden Hams of the Day
Floyd "Fist of Fury" Landis (Phonak)
Are you kidding me? Floyd was on a mission of redemption today, and
he reached down into his back pocket and pulled out a big can of California
Whupass to open up on his rivals. His Phonak teammates went to the front to
raise the pace and lead him out on the first climb, the Cat 1 Col de Saisies.
Then Floyd attacked, and the other GC men tried to follow him. They couldn't.
Then he caught the 9-man break that was up the road, and rode them off his wheel
one by one. Only T-Mobile's Sinkewitz could keep pace with Floyd heading into
the final climb.
Floyd Solo Joux Plane Photo
c. Ben Ross
Floyd got a lead of over 9 minutes on the peloton, and they took far too long
to start to chase him. T-Mobile and CSC let Caisse d'Epargne burn themselves out
in the chase, but that was a mistake. Up that final climb of the Above Category
Col de Joux Plane, with the GC men attacking each other behind, Landis blew
Sinkewitz off his wheel and preserved over 5 minutes of his lead. Then he bombed
the descent to take out another 30 seconds on the field. Floyd pumped his fist
in anger as he crossed the finish line and got his first ever Tour stage win by
5' 42" over Sastre and 7' 08" over the Yellow Jersey.
He was on the attack for over 130 kilometers, he demolished the field, and
now he's up into 3rd on GC at only 30" behind the leader. In the recent history
of the Tour, nobody has ever seen a man pull off an attack like this on the GC
so late in the race. Floyd's ride today is one for the ages, and now he has set
himself up to win it all in the final time trial on Saturday. After his big bonk
yesterday, that is nothing short of miraculous.
Carlos Sastre Suffers. Photo
c. Ben Ross
Carlos "Sassy" Sastre (CSC).
Sure, Sastre waited a bit too long to put his team on the front of the peloton,
but when they led him out on the final climb he did his best to claw back time
from Floyd. Sastre dropped everybody else at the bottom of that climb, and just
like yesterday, he showed that he is the best climber in the race. Sastre
finished 5' 42" behind Floyd, but with his 2nd place finish he took a big 1' 26"
chunk of time out of his other big GC rivals and picked up a 12" time bonus in
the process. Now Sastre is only 12" behind Pereiro in the GC race. Unfortunately
for Sastre, both Pereiro and Landis are better time trialists. But with the
strength Sastre is showing along with his team, he looks like a lock for the
final podium at the very least.
Oscar "No Perro" Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne)
Pereiro looked like he was toast at the bottom of the Col de Joux Plane. Landis,
Sastre, Evans (Davitamon-Lotto), Menchov (Rabobank), and a few other men were up
the road. Pereiro was alone without any teammates. Then, after sitting behind
the T-Mobile train of Klöden for a while, Pereiro found his legs and took over
the pacemaking in his own defense.
He nailed back and then dropped Menchov and Evans, he put Klöden in deep
trouble, and he chased back time on Sastre and Landis. By the end of the stage,
Pereiro had managed to hold onto his Yellow Jersey by a mere 12" over Sastre,
but that's pretty darned good for a guy who looked beat at the bottom of the
last climb. After the stage Pereiro gave his old teammate Landis a big hug,
putting the finishing touch of class on what was a truly impressive performance
by the Spaniard. With the last of the big climbs behind him, Pereiro finds
himself in the position of being able to win the Tour de France in the final
time trial. Even if he doesn't win this thing, he should still end up on the
podium. For a man who wasn't expected to factor into the GC race in this Tour,
that is the ride of a lifetime.
Damiano attack on Joux Plane. Photo
c. Ben Ross
Damiano "The Omen" Cunego (Lampre/Fondital).
Cunego keeps looking better and better. He has the look of a young man who is
figuring out how to ride this most difficult race on professional calendar. He
rode away from the Yellow Jersey and many of the GC favorites on that final
climb, and though he wasn't able to catch Sastre (or stay away from Moreau), he
still did extremely well. Cunego came across the finish line 4th at 6' 40"
behind Landis, and this moved him up into 14th on GC at 17' 18". This also gave
him a slim 5" lead in the Young Rider competition, so Cunego will wear the White
Jersey tomorrow. Cunego is looking like he will come to this race and mean
business sometime soon. And if he'd only learn to time trial, he could be the
man to beat a couple of years from now.
Christophe Moreau Photo
c. Ben Ross
Christophe Moreau (AG2r-Prevoyance)
Moreau continued his resurgence today, attacking on the Joux Plane
and chasing after Sastre. While he never caught the Spaniard, he did manage to
fight off the pesky Cunego: at one point, the young Italian caught and passed
Moreau, but the experienced Frenchman just kept riding his pace and blew him
away near the top. Moreau finished 3rd on the stage at 5' 58", and this moved
him up to 8th on GC at 5' 45". Heading into the final time trial, Moreau is
looking at his best finish in years.
Kloden, Pereiro and Zubeldia Photo
c. Ben Ross
Ham-Gazers of the Day
Andreas Klöden and Michael Rogers (T-Mobile)
You have to hand it to Klöden: he's had two bad days in the
mountains, but they weren't really that bad. Today he was struggling to stay
with Pereiro on the climb of the Joux Plane: he kept getting tailed off, but
then he'd fight hard to latch back on. He ended up limiting his losses, and he
finished on Pereiro's wheel in 8th at 7' 08" behind Landis. This kept him in 4th
on GC at 2' 29". So yeah, Klöden dropped a spot today, and heading into the
final time trial he'll have to make up over 2' 00" on Landis, Sastre, and
Pereiro to win the race. Klöden is a good time trialist, but that is a bit much
to ask… but he might still be able to overtake one or two of the guys ahead of
him to finish on the podium....
Suffering on the Joux Plane Michael Rogers Photo
c. Ben Ross
Rogers has also showed his quality in this Tour. The Australian has
ridden consistently for Klöden in the mountains, and still he has a very
respectable GC position. Take today: Rogers rode himself into the ground for
Klöden on that final climb, but he still managed to finish the stage in 22nd at
12' 34". That sounds not-so-good, but it was enough to keep him in 10th on GC at
12' 13" behind Pereiro. Remember, Rogers is the reigning World Time Trial
Champion, and with that course on Saturday he might just pull himself even
higher up the GC before the end.
Cyril Dessel (AG2r-Prevoyance).
The gritty Frenchman is still in there fighting to keep himself high
up on the GC. He struggled again today, but remember that this is a guy who
nobody expected to see going toe to toe with guys like Klöden and Sastre. Dessel
bombed the descent to the finish a little too hard, overshooting a corner and
picking up some road rash on his right side along the way. But he jumped back on
his bike, picked up the pace, and ended up 16th at 8' 49". Though he dropped a
couple of spots, Dessel is still in 7th at 4' 24". This puts him just ahead of
his teammate Moreau in the unofficial race for best Frenchman. It looks like
Dessel and Moreau will have their own little competition going in the final time
trial, but no matter who ends up on top, this has been a banner year for these
two riders, AG2r-Prevoyance, and the French riders as a whole.
Fothen struggles on the summit of Joux Plane. Photo
c. Ben Ross
Marcus Fothen (Gerolsteiner)
It's hard to believe this guy is so young. Once again he was up there
with the big boys, fighting hard up the final climb to limit his losses. He
ended up coming 18th on the stage at 9' 27", which is pretty darned good. More
importantly, however, he lost his White Jersey to Cunego by a mere 5", and
Fothen is now 15th on GC at 17' 23". Don't fret, Fothen fans: the pendulum will
now swing in his favor now that the mountains are over. Cunego can't time trial
to save his life, and Fothen is great at the ITT. So look for Fothen to take
back that 5" plus a lot more on Saturday and end up in the White Jersey in
Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner)
Levi went on that long attack yesterday, and he paid for it today.
Levi blew up big time on the Joux Plane, and came in 38th on the stage at 21'
23". This dropped him way down the GC, where he is 18th at 22' 01". This has
been an up and down Tour for Levi, which is a stark departure from his usual
solid consistency. Here's hoping he can finish strong, and come back next year
for another run at the top.
You Bet Your Sweet Bippy It Was Delicieux!
So, as I'm sure you've gathered by now, this column is about two things: the daily feats of strength, grace and heroism that are the elemental content of the great sport of professional cycling, and how everyone who participates in this beautiful sport looks awesome in lycra and funny sunglasses. But, to boil it down even further, my dear readers, this column is about THE LOVE. I love the holy hell out of Le Tour, and you don't need to look any further than the last two days to know why cycling really and truly is the best sport on earth.
In all my years of following this race, I have never been disappointed in the way it serves up the agony and the ecstasy, but this year Le Tour has outdone itself with an unpredictable roller-coaster of top-class drama. Seriously: Floyd Landis, people. I'm tempted to just write "there are no words" and leave it at that, but I can't, can I? In that case here's the first word that comes to mind: ROCKSTAR.
Here's what happened: Floyd Landis blew up big on the wrong day. His ride on stage 16 easily ranks up there with the moments of greatest horror in my recent cycling memory; like that time when George Hincapie pitched himself head-first into a ditch on the road to Roubaix; or the episode where Cadel Evans -- barely able to turn his pedals over -- cracked wide open that day in Italy; or even the time when I realized that I had totally failed to record my first-ever, hour-long, in-depth interview with then U.S. Pro Champion Freddie Rodriguez the first time I attended a bike race as a journalist. We are talking HORROR, here, and people, I tell you: I could barely look at the television as Floyd toiled and moiled up the last kilometers of that seemingly endless climb looking like death, and losing time, time, time. There is no sport that brings the pain like cycling, and watching someone fight through total physical impasse like these guys sometimes do is not for the faint of heart.
At this point, I'd like to pause before I continue my paean to American bike-racing's new superhero to give some props to his teammate, that good-lookin' Axel Merckx. It's always a pleasure to see a long, tall drink of water like that guy, but when he's also the teammate who's there to pace his faltering captain to the finish after riding all day in the break, then it's not just a pleasure, it's Delicieux. There are very few things in the sport of cycling more stirring that the way a guy will dig for that extra bit of strength and give everything he's got left to help his captain, but here's what's great about bike racing: Axel wasn't doing anything special when he towed Landis to the line, he was just doing his job. My friends, the selfless valor is built into into this sport, and what can I tell you? I love it.
So, yeah. Floyd finished the day in spectacularly awful fashion, losing beaucoup time and looking for all the world like a beaten man. How could he possibly pull back the 8+ minutes he'd need to win Le Tour now? Maybe if he were secret agent Ethan Hunt in "Mission Impossible" with some scowling cinematic arch villian to vanquish and a Hollywood budget for all the explosions that would be necesary, but Floyd Landis? With Andreas Kloden, Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov, Cadel Evans, and Oscar Pereiro to contend with? No way.
Was it the degenerating hip that laid him low on Thursday? Floyd says no, the hip was not a factor. Was it a bonk? Floyd says no, he felt like crap all day, and when the action kicked up, he just couldn't hang. Was he devasted? Yeah, for about an hour, which is when he had a beer and decided that Le Tour wasn't over yet, and he was going to go down fighting. When Floyd Landis went to bed that night, he was already a man with a mission, and while I was drying my tears, and trying to think about how best to say that he'd fought valiantly, but was now a brave, dead soldier, Floyd was (if you'll excuse me for mixing my sports metaphors) steeling himself for his Hail Mary pass: an epic three hour time trial to serve up a nice big plate of "how do you like me now" in Morzine.
What can I say about that ride, people? That was all guts and glory, and I could wax poetic, but somehow it doesn't seem appropriate for Floyd. Here's the thing: I know I called him a superhero a few paragraphs back, and on the road between St-Jean-de-Maurienne and Morzine, Floyd Landis pedaled his way into Tour de France history, but thinking of him as superhuman simply does not do justice to his accomplishment. Floyd Landis is a guy from Pennsylvania who rode his bike to places he could only dream about as a boy. It wasn't a magic trick or a revelation, it was just a guy stepping up to do what he was capable of doing. Floyd works hard, he doesn't whine or bitch, he's not cheating, and yesterday, he showed us, unequivocally, that he is a champion. He did what he had to do, and nothing less would have been sufficient.
Cycling is full of human poetry written by the legs of winners and losers alike, but I'm not going to get flowery here; at the end of the day, results are cruel, and if this sport is about anything, it's about clear, undeniable, objective superiority. Why has Lance Armstrong been the boss for seven years? Because no one could touch him. Why didn't the rest of those guys nail back Floyd's blistering attack yesteday? Because they couldn't. Amen.
I'd just like to add that when dawn broke over marblehead in the peloton, and Jens Voigt went to the front shouting exhortations to his teammates, brought out the gritted teeth, and dropped his suitcase full of hammers to try and bring Floyd back, aided by that delicieux creature Frank Schleck and two of my favorite American boys in lycra, Christian Vandevelde and Dave Zabriskie, this reporter felt just a little bit faint. There's only so much a girl can handle, man.
Props also need to go out to Carlos Sastre, who has ridden like a hero for two days straight, doing better than admirable duty for his team, whose leader was left behind before the start, and also to that little Italian bucket o' charm, Damiano Cunego, who's ride in this year's tour is showing us that despite a lackluster season last year, he was never a fluke. Cunego steps up past Fothen in the competition for the Maillot Blanche, and he's got a sweet smile, so that is just lovely.
And with that, dear readers, I'm off to board the airplane that will take me to Paris, where I will catch the TGV to Le Creusot, and check out these scrumptious morsels in person. Just imagine: Crazy Jane, loose at Le Tour with a camera! I hope to bring you special, eyewitness reports of the grand finale of the awesomest race ever, so stay tuned!
Le Tour Delicieux needs you! Send all your nominations for the Delicieux distinction to email@example.com!