Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tour de France

As an avid cyclist I have been watching the Tour de France religiously the last 2 weeks and what an unbelievable tour it is.

First, many of the top contenders were kicked out, including Jan Ulrich and Ivan Basso, because of a doping scandal before the race even started.

Next there was the surprisingly bad performance of the American contenders in the opening time trial (with the exception of Floyd Landis). George Hincappie, Levi Leipheimer and Dave Zabriskie all had bad days. Bobby Julich crashed on the time trial, broke his wrist and was out of the tour.

The Discovery Channel team, winners of the last 7 tours with Lance Armstrong are struggling mightily. Currently the highest place Discovery rider is Jose Azevedo in the 19th spot, 34 minutes behind the leader. What a huge fall for a once dominant team. The team leader, George Hincapie thought it might be his year to take over for Lance and win the yellow jersey. He's currntly in 32nd place, one hour and 7 minutes behind.

Then there was stage 12. With Floyd Landis starting the day with a small lead, Oscar Pereiro and Yaroslav Popovych went on a breakaway and the peleton let them go. They finished 30 minutes ahead of the yellow jersey group and Perieiro went from 28 minutes down into a 1 and a half minute lead over Landis. Incredible.

Stage 15 saw Landis get the lead back from Pereiro on the famed L'Alpe d'Huez and it looked like he was in total control of the race.
Then, the unthinkable happened yesterday on stage 16. Landis cracked on the last climb, La Toussuire, and lost 8 minutes to Pereiro and dropped to 11th place. It looked like the man whom many had picked to win the tour had dropped out of contention for the yellow jersey.

But hold on. Stage 17 and another crazy day. The final day of big climbs in the Alps, and Landis attacked. He rode away from the peleton up the first climb of the day, the Col de Saissies and ended up winning the stage by almost 6 minutes over Carlos Sastre. He gained back much of the time he lost yesterday and now is in third place, only 30 seconds behind Pereiro and 18 seconds behind Sastre. With the individual time trial to come which is Landis' speciality it looks like he's once again the leading contender to win the race. But who knows. So many crazy things have happened in this years tour it's impossible to predict the outcome for the last few days. I can't wait for the time trial!

One of the great things about the Tour de France is it makes me want to go out and ride my bike. Not that I don't ride a lot already. I'm just more excited about doing it. I watch these amazing athletes perform day after day and it motivates me. I push myself a little harder. I ride a little farther. I truly believe that professional cyclists are the best, most fit athletes in the world. They endure long hours of incredible suffering on the bike. What they do is amazing. And despite what many might think, the sport is quite dangereous. Serious crashes occur every day in the peletons. Or riders crash on the steep descents. I think those descents are crazy. They can reach speeds of 60 mph on a bike! I lose my nerve at about 40 mph. At 45 mph I think I'd fill my shorts.


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