Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Tour resumes normality - for the Tour

The Tour - well well. It has been a bit unpredictable at the start, but now we are back to the Lance performance. Taking the yellow jersey so soon - it was too soon, or would normally be considered too soon. Sure, his team is probably the strongest in all of cycling, but the race is young. And, this shows in the first of the mountains, when all of a sudden Lance is alone, on a climb, with three T-Mobile riders in the same group. And, each one of the three is considered a threat for the yellow. But no Discovery riders are there! Where are they?

The next day the Discovery team is there, at the front, making a show of riding the pace, and they are not slow. They are riding strong, but we have to wonder if it is just to regain lost face from the day before. Even though they are riding strong and fast at the front, they are also doing more work than other teams this day. And in spite of this there is an escape group - a group with at least one rider who has been in yellow before. Jens Voight is not considered a threat, but he is a strong rider this year, and the Tour always has surprises. When the day is done we see a new name for King of the Mountain - Rasmussen, who has been powering over the first climbs to gain KOM points. When the last climb is done he feels like his legs are good, so he goes for the stage win - and takes it. But Voight picks up enough time to be 4 minutes ahead of Lance. This is a risk for Lance, but he doesn't seem worried, and the Discovery team doesn't try to reel these guys in.

Normally this would be the strategy - let these early guys go. But the mountains have started early this year, and the number of mountain stages is changing the pace of the race. Jens is a strong rider. If he can keep up with Lance through the next few mountains, he will be a real threat. Four minutes could turn out to be insurmountable as a lead. But, too, Voight is not his team leader, he is there for another man who is his team captain.

Today's race though - now we see the Tour come around to it's usual style. Voight could not stay with the lead group and lost his 4 minutes plus another dozen or more for good measure. One rider said it well - now we will see the contenders and the pretenders. Today's stage has shaken the picnic blanket, and the hangers-on are away and off on the grounds below the feast. Sure, things can change, but now I think it is down to two, and perhaps three, men. The strongest of the strong, the Names, are too far back. Vino, Ullrich, Kloden, Basso, Leipheimer, Julich, take your pick. They would have to get a real break, and somehow manage to take big time out of Armstrong. Nobody will let them get that far ahead, and the Discovery team has shown their usual strength and teamwork today. Today, we feel assured that Lance will take the yellow in Paris, and his position as the strongest bicycle rider of all time. At 6 Tours, he was close to Eddy Merckx. Now, it is Eddy Merckx who will have to be close to Lance Armstrong. Of course, we are playing with dreams and mirages, comparing riders from such different eras. Both riders were so dominant, though, and both for so long.

It is a good Tour. Rasmussen and Valverde look great. I think we may see them again next year. And perhaps we will see Voeckler again next year too. He hasn't done much this year, but he is still young. Next year Ullrich will be a little older. I think Vino and Kloden will have a better chance at the podium next year. We shall see, and this year isn't done yet! There is plenty of room for surprises and attacks, even if you won't find my money anywhere but on the Lance spot!


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