Tuesday, July 17, 2007

3 days in the Alps

With the Tour de France running clockwise in 2007, the riders run through the Alps first this year, and it's been an eventful 3 days. Not so much in terms of one of the favorites - or anyone for that matter - putting their stamp on the Tour as the guy to beat. But it's been more about the favorites just sorta hanging around near the top, or crashing out altogether.

Monday was a rest day and then Tuesday's Stage 9 opened with an HC climb - that's Hors Categorie, French for Beyond Category, which is bigger than a Cat 1, which is kinda like the guys who come up with these rankings took a look at the HC mountains and just said, "Aw fuck it, we're going over it anyway, but I'm not ranking it." In any event, I can't remember a time when I've seen a stage start with a climb like that right out of the chute. And then, later, there was a Cat 1 climb that led straight into the Col du Galibier, a famed HC climb in many Tours before.

SOLER HERNANDEZ Juan Mauricio, a relatively unknown Colombian rider on a Wildcard South African team, took the stage win. Michael Rasmussen, who picked up the Yellow Jersey after a stage win in Sunday's vicious stage that included a Cat 4, Cat 3, Cat 2 and 3 Cat 1 climbs, held onto Yellow after today's stage. Levi Leipheimer (Discovery) finished 6th overall on the stage for Tuesday, and remains the top American in the Overall Classification - that's "Standings" for us Americans. He's 3:53 behind Rasmussen, who's about as big around as his bike frame, but can climb like a madman.

Leipheimer continues to ride strategically and has yet to strike out in an effort to put time into the other major contenders. But, this is only Day 3 in the Alps, and the Pyrenees loom ahead next week, so there's more miles to cover and more mountains to climb.

In the last couple of days, it's been real interesting for some of the supposed contenders. Alexander Vinokourov lost more than 3 minutes to the stage winner today, and more than a minute to the Yellow Jersey. Sunday, Michael Rogers was the Tour leader on the road - meaning that if the stage had ended at that moment, he'd have been in Yellow. Well, it did end right then...for him anyway, after he slid into a guard rail and suffered injuries serious enough that about a 1/2 hour later he abandoned the Tour and is out. I'm sure his injuries were significant, but in cycling, there's alot of mental anguish that goes into it as well, and I've been out on the bike before and not felt that good physically, and you can find yourself sinking into a bit of despair as you turn the pedals over. I'm sure that played into it some for Rogers as well on Sunday.
So it's on to Wednesday and back to some flatter ground for a few days. There are some climbs, but only 4 I think and they're of the Cat 3 and 4 variety, so it should be a bunch finish set up for a good sprint. For those who are left, anyway. Robbie McEwen, who won the first stage of this Tour, is out after finishing outside the time limit on Sunday. Danilo Napolitano, another sprinter in the group, is out as well.

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