Saturday, July 21, 2007

TdF Stage 13: Proud Vino

As if TTs weren't nerve-wracking enough, we get rain too? I'm so glad it let up for the later guys, but so sad it ruined Fabian Cancellara's day! I didn't want to see that face again coming across the line, the same he had in Stage 2. Ah well, if he's not too banged up, the final TT probably suits him better anyway! I don't know how these guys do it (and I guess some of them don't), the TT is such an intense, nervous endeavor. And when there's climbs in the TT, lordy! There was that guy running with the flag, I couldn't believe it. Hey buddy, this isn't Alpe d'Huez! And another fan appeared to give a butt smack, I think it was to Vino. Somebody lock these people up!

TTs are something of a paradox. The riders are so vulnerable, out there all alone with the vehicles having to keep a certain distance. And yet they show such great strength, cutting through the wind with enormous power.

Alexandre Vinokourov's ride brought me to tears, big surprise. Tears of pride and awe for his fighting spirit. He's such a quiet man, but what a fire he has deep inside. I hope there is some left for the mountains. I wonder if his thinking is that the TTs are where he needs to make up the most time, because he is impaired on the climbs by his knees. But his knees may also be getting better, we'll see tomorrow. Today was also perhaps his best chance at a stage win. In any case, he knew that today was a day to go for it and pour all of that frustration into one angry pedal stroke after another. Like Cancellara in the Prologue, Vino was here to win today.

And quite notably, Vino did not take all kinds of risks to do so. He rode very sensibly. He poured it on when he could, and eased way off when he had to. He rode a patient race - with fierce strength, but also with patience. Who would've thought it, that "crazy Kazakh" taught the peloton a lesson in control today. If his knees are coming around, and he can go for it in the mountains as well, perhaps there is a silver lining to the rough time he's had up to now. It prevented him from going all-out for three weeks solid and possibly blowing up at some point. So maybe now he'll be able to put in a concentrated effort in the final week and drag himself back to the podium. Speaking of the podium, he was quietly proud there this afternoon, just how he rode the stage.

His wasn't the only lesson of the day. Whether it was dumb luck or untoward risk, a lot of guys fell today. But a lot of them got right back up and got on with business, still taking the top placings. And it wasn't as if they all fell and that equalized it, they were mixed in with guys who managed to stay upright. I don't know if anything can really help the nerves (mine or theirs!), but it's a good reminder that even if disaster strikes, you can still be right up there if you don't panic. So hat's off to Andreas Kloden, Yaroslav Popovych, and Valdimir Gusev for keeping it together and finishing strong while their kits were torn and tattered.

Astana was the team of the day, but Discovery had a good showing as well. Alberto Contador is sitting pretty in third with the mountains coming up, he'll be fun to watch in the coming days. Levi Leipheimer was disappointing, it has to be said, but ended up not doing too bad. Definitely second-tier though. Interesting to note, I believe it was Dirk Demol in Levi's follow car. So I assume Johan Bruyneel was driving Contador's. Contador is higher in GC, so it makes sense, but you know, just interesting. Heck, it could just be a language thing, I gather Contador doesn't speak English. I already mentioned Popovych, and want to add that he gets an A for effort so far in this Tour. You can see it every day in his face, and it's producing great results.

But when it comes to really disappointing, thy name is Alejandro Valverde, ouch! He's been going so well so far, I was happy for him, happy that we finally get to see what he can do when he makes it through a couple of weeks in the Tour. But today was a hard, hard day in the saddle for him, getting passed by Michael Rasmussen no less. Now, Rasmussen showed he can actually TT today, so that's not quite the stigma it might have been, but still, not good to get passed by anyone if you're going for the whole ball of wax.

As for Rasmussen, you have to give him much credit for not folding under pressure today. Not only the pressure of yellow, but the doping stories as well. I don't know if anyone expected him to repeat 2005, but they expected him to lose more than he did today. I'm not sure how he'll go in the Pyrenees. I don't think it's a sure thing that he'll be able to pedal away on all three stages. He's used to doing one big stage and then trying to hang in there on the rest. He was struggling on the Galibier, though still towards the front. It will be interesting to see what he can do.

Good on Cadel Evans! He also handled the pressure well, and showed that his fine form in the mountains is translating seamlessly to the TT. Of course now the pressure will really start, but if he can keep up with Contador in the mountains, he's looking good for yellow. But not a lock by any means.

Today shook things up, but I'm not sure it sorted things out. Given how guys are going hot and cold, it could very easily end up entirely differently in the mountains. Even for the guys who lost big today, I wouldn't write them off. Any one of them could tear it up in the next three stages, and maybe no one can follow on the final climb. It's not such a guaranteed thing anymore, that if you've shown strength up to now it's going to stay at a certain level for the remaining week. And that's not necessarily a doping comment. Maybe that is a factor, but we also don't have a Michael Jordan in the bunch, they're more evenly matched plain and simple. Who knows what tomorrow brings, in a world few hearts survive…


Camille said...

I will be up in plenty of time to watch it live in the morning. No more of this "Oh, I still haven't watched the stage, I'll catch it later." No way! I just wish I didn't have to wait so long. I can already feel the DT's I'm going to have when this whole thing is over.

cat2bike said...

Great post Julie. I'm taping cause I'm on-call til 1pm; and then I'm watching, with no commercials! I was really proud of the guys today. Oscar is showing he's not what he appeared to be last year(surprise-NOT) and Valverde is a mystery to me. I know he's one of Sara's favorite riders; but I'm not that crazy about him. And he's only been a pro since 2002; and LOOK at the money the man has!! That's what I noticed! Compared to him, Floyd is massively underpaid! Or Valverde is or the other!

I'm really proud of Cadel Evans. And Vino's ride goes without saying, it took my breath away. Great stage!

And Camille, you are finally getting Tour fever!! I love the sprinters, but the last week is really something.

Anonymous said...

CANT WAIT for the next three stages! These guys are going to have to go ALL out with plenty of team strategy involved. This is going to be a GREAT race, girls!

Another excellent report, Julie!!