“Age and treachery
will overcome youth and skill.”
Fausto Coppi, Italian
"Champion of Champions"

  _July 2005



Tour Diary - First Impressions


The long and winding road of the Tour



Stage 17: Pau – Revel (239.5km)

The Long and Winding Road

The long and winding road that leads to your door,
Will never disappear

As the Tour wound its way under the blazing sun of the Massif Centrale many of the weary riders must have been hearing Paul McCartney's famous words echoing through their heads.

On this longest and mostly flat stage of the Tour, 17 riders quickly created a break that exceeded 20 minutes at one point. None of the riders were a threat to Armstrong and with most of the teams represented up front, the main bunch was happy to let the Discovery boys set tempo.

With 45km to go Erik Dekker (Rabobank) started the hostilities up front no doubt hoping to relive his happy stage winning days in the 2000 TdF. That was not to be as repeated attacks fragmented the leading group and eventually four riders were alone. The remaining kms were sheer excitement with Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC) and Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery) locked in a high speed ‘death struggle'. For the second time this year one of Armstrong's teammates came out the winner.

Twenty-two and one half minutes back the Yellow Jersey group came in with Discovery's Popovych taking the sprint. This was a very small group that was created in large part by Jan Ullrich attacking very hard on the final Cat 3 climb, which was only 6kms from the finish. This was a long stage mostly devoid of big action. The run into Revel showed once again that being attentive at all-times is critical. Cadel Evans and Floyd Landis were two of the victims of Ullrich's last minute attack and they paid for it by dropping one place each on GC.

Once again the Discovery team came out laughing. With Savoldelli winning and Rubiera also in the break they relieved T-Mobile of the lead in the team classification. After all of T-Mobile's failed efforts to crush Armstrong in the mountains, this was really adding insult to injury. So on the Long and Winding Road to Revel maybe the T-Mobile boys were tortured with these closing words from McCartney's song:

You left me standing here a long, long time ago
Don't leave me waiting here, lead me to your door





Race watching: up close and personal


Stage 18: Albi – Mende (176km)

Which race are you watching?

My long suffering family has come to accept and even enjoy my passion for cycle racing. Yet still they have a big problem understanding how races like the TdF work. Yesterday and today combined, Lance was almost 34 minutes behind the respective stage winners. He has not yet won a stage whereas two of his teammates have. “How come he is in the Yellow Jersey?” This is how the general public views the race. They do not understand it, but they celebrate Lance's multiple wins with enthusiasm.

Race fans are a little closer. They understand how the race classifications work. They know who the main contenders are. Their race focuses on the big names and when you get stages like today or yesterday they are seen as “boring”. Watching a bunch of “no names” ride away from the field, stay out there for hours and then ‘stealing' the stage is of little interest to them.

Race connoisseurs savor their sport in the same way that a wine connoisseur appreciates great wines. The nuances, intrigues, dynamics and sheer complexity of the event are all there for the discerning connoisseur to enjoy. Before today's big break formed Alex Vinokourov went hard for the first intermediate sprint at 13km. His second place earned him valuable seconds in his quest to move up the GC table. Following the sprint a group of notable riders formed a break. Discovery hunted them down. At about 40kms another break formed which contained no dangerous names in terms of the GC. Discovery and the other teams let them go and Marcos Serrano (Liberty Seguros) won the day in lone splendor. Behind him Discovery destroyed the peloton and Armstrong, Basso Ullrich and Evans came in ahead of the remnants of the bunch.

Basically what we have seen over the past few days is Basso trying to get closer to Lance. Ullrich is trying to eat into Rasmussen's lead in order to claim third place on the podium in Paris . GC places five to ten see a daily struggle between Mancebo, Leipheimer, Evans, Vinokourov, Landis and Moreau. They are all eyeing Saturdays' long time trial. The Points race and the Team race hold their own dynamics to add more complexity to the daily battle.

Today was absolutely not a boring stage. But then it depends which race you were watching!





TDFC, Always one day ahead of the Tour


Stage 19: Issoire-Le Puy En Velay

Surviving the Tour

Today was another day dominated by a long break. Giuseppe Guerini (T-Mobile was the worthy winner finishing just ahead of his long time three fellow break companions.

Now, as the tour closes in on Paris , what are the riders experiencing. This question is partially answered by the riders of the Tour de France Challenge (TDFC) who are riding every single stage in it's entirety but one day in advance of the actual Tour.

The TDFC is a fundraising event benefiting both the Tyler Hamilton Foundation and the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Kevin Mahaney is a cancer survivor and has committed to cycle every kilometer of the 2005 Tour de France. Destination Cycling has organized the trip and together with Kevin created an organization that mirrors a top pro team. Every day they have been sending back daily reports. This one from Stage 18 (Albi – Mende) gives a graphic picture of what the TdF peloton is living out on the roads of France :

Suffering, is the word the pros use and the only word there is for this. Every day, another hotel, another city and another 8 hours on the bike. I now know why everyone who has ever ridden the Tour has reverence for it. You don't ride it, you survive it. Almost 20% of the pros will not finish.

The first week it hurt but you looked forward. The second week is a good hurt of surviving the mountains. The last week is a bad hurt. You are tired, sore and do not think of getting to Paris . Only surviving one more day knowing that soon it should end. You have no modesty, you change into your bike gear in the middle of the city. You pull barely to the side of the road to pee. You do it on your bike and couldn't care now who sees. There are no beautiful castles, hillsides or valleys anymore. It is only another hill to climb, a valley to ride thru, you don't have the strength to look around. By the end of the day only your legs know what to do, you do not even know you are there. The highlight of today was our finish on an airport runway at the Aerodrome in Mende. For me and the other two pilots on the team this was the ultimate way to end the day.

Check out their daily rolling updates and then make a contribution here: http://www.destinationcycling.com/tdfchallenge2005/tdfcru.html






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