Sunday, July 22, 2007

TdF Stage 14: Disco Apocalypse

(apologies to Jackson Browne, if I must ;)

Down the mountain in the autobus
There be sprinters noodlin' two by two
Their jerseys open, laughs are few
And their bodies weary through and through
And it's a long way straight up to Plateau De Beille
While Johan gets on the radio waves

Gets big George on front, starts the fight
Peloton stretched, a tail on a kite
As the road goes up out goes the light
Then Popo hops on to give them a fright
Poundin' their hearts, swingin' their hips,
Turnin' their feet, lickin' their lips

Today's the day I'm gonna make you mine
Gonna dance on the pedals and make some time
Then Levi starts jumpin'
And some guys are crackin'
And there's Conta pumpin'
And the Chick is yackin'
And the world is right there waiting
At their finger tips
Disco… apocalypse

They've been clearing their throat, we knew they wanted to make a statement, things were looking a little risky for Levi, and finally today they came out to play in earnest. Bravo, boys, you're well on your way. Discovery played their cards to perfection today, and didn't appear to blow themselves up doing it, so here's hoping they can keep it up tomorrow and Wednesday. Don't get me wrong, I'd be perfectly happy for Cadel Evans and Andreas Kloden to still do well, and hope they come back strong in the next two stages. But for now Disco is the one making all the right moves.

What a fun time they'll have tonight at the dinner table. (In contrast to Saunier-Duval - yikes! - you couldn't pay me to sit in on that one.) Johan and the older guys will keep them focused on tomorrow, but they’ll have some laughs for sure. It's not always easy to see who's doing the work in the earlier part of the stage, so forgive me if I don't mention the entire Disco team, I'm sure they all worked at some point. But we have to give special mention to the final four.

There was George Hincapie on the valley road, setting a brisk tempo, and setting things up for the climb. And then when he faded as the climb started, there was my new hero Yaroslav Popovych. I've always loved him, but I really love him this year, he's just been outstanding. Catching back on on the previous descent, bringing water as Johan said, and then right up there on the final climb, setting a brutal tempo. My heart leapt the first time we got a shot of the group whittled down to about ten riders - yes, now we're getting to it! And then the group was eight, with three of them still being Discovery, well done. Then when Popo inevitably gave his gift to the commentators and "popped," Levi Leipheimer gave a nice little dig to keep the momentum going.

Then, after some delightful shadow-boxing amongst the final few, it was all Alberto Contador. Michael Rasmussen had been isolated for a while, he was looking a little panicky, and he could not shake Contador, try as he might. It looked like Rasmussen tried to make some kind of deal or something with Soler, because after they talked Soler shot up the road, but nobody took the bait, and then they all came up again. I'll be curious to hear what that was about.

Update: Something else I noticed upon the second viewing - when Contador took a minute to go to the back of the group, I thought this morning that he was just checking everyone out. But I saw this evening that he actually went back and picked up Sastre, and brought him back up to the group. (Sastre had dropped back with Kloden, who was just about officially dropped.) This accomplished two things: completely isolate Kloden, so he would have no help keeping tempo to limit his losses (until he got a teammate); and bring Sastre up as a little parting gift to Levi, since Contador was about to head up the road. Sastre is a steady climber like Levi, and since Levi didn't have to work, Sastre paced him right up the rest of the climb, until Levi put a little time in him at the finish. Brilliant!

And even more curious to hear about the argument Rasmussen and Contador were having in the final kilometers! Okay, we're finishing up one of the toughest ascents in the Tour, but let's take time and energy to argue! Too funny. You're in yellow, Michael, it's up to you to defend. Contador was working for Levi, he doesn't have to help you. Working for Levi? Darn right he was. The added bonus is, he helps himself in the process, and gets a coveted stage win. [Well, apparently it wasn't an argument, but a deal in the making. A deal Rasmussen promptly reneged on. Nice.]

Contador may yet end up in yellow, it's quite possible, but the key is he doesn't have to. He's so young and has plenty of time for future victories, not to mention plenty of youthful energy. And this sets Disco apart from the other two-headed monsters in the race. So Contador can push hard today and get his stage win, and if he can push hard tomorrow as well (and I think he might), great. But if he can't, he worked Rasmussen very hard, and Rasmussen will be softened up for Levi and whoever else wants a shot tomorrow. I may be wrong, but I think Rasmussen can be cracked.

Levi kept up his end of the bargain, coming in fourth and putting time in on the rest of the contenders. Makes me (and no doubt him) wish he had been able to do better in the TT yesterday. But finally today we saw him do more than just hang in there. He didn't light it up, but in his steady way, he ended up ahead of most of the pack. If he can build on that, he's still in it for sure, go Levi!

Cadel, buddy, I was counting on you! I was very sorry to see him fall back, but tomorrow is another day. And Wednesday. And Saturday. He's still got some chances. Kloden as well, especially with his TT skills. Alejandro Valverde, on the other hand, not so much. His legs may come good again, but no one is going to let him take back big time if they can help it. He's another young one, though, he'll be consoled if he can make it through to his first Tour finish.

I shed very different tears for Alexandre Vinokourov today. I'm glad he went for it yesterday, he had no other choice, and he got his stage win. Easy for me to say, but don't give up Vino, come back next year for another go! Third time is the charm! (Third time coming to the Tour to win, that is.)

But on the whole, thanks for a great day boys, you make me feel like dancin', I'm gonna dance the night away…


Yvette said...

Great wrap-up Julie, I'm gettin Disco fever!

cat2bike said...

Julie, I love your write-ups! I thought Soler was funny, the way he was hanging out with the big boys, attacking, then falling back, then offering Rasmussen some water! I know Rasmussen isn't as lovable as Floyd. He's probably more like Lance, except Lance was liked and respected in the peleton and by most of his I'm hoping Cadel can come back, or at least hold his own. And Contador has lots of time to win lots of Tours!

cat2bike said...

I'm not saying that I wouldn't love to see Levi win!!! That would be cool. Or Contador as well. I just miss Vino.....sniff, sniff...:(

Phil said...

It's interesting how we are affected by different riders and one manages to get our support before it's over. For me this year, it's not Evans who talks big but is not really that big, not the Chicken Man, I wasn't that crazy about him before the issues surfaced (with holding judgement of course). No, this year it is Contador. He is riding up a storm and has no quit in him plus he's an all around rider and that's what wins the Tour. Plus he has style.

Biggest disappointment is not only no Frenchman in the mix but none on the horizon. Not like tennis where there's a bunch coming on. As always, I look forward to Julie's posts and she should be on VS taking the boys down. She'd have that jersey in no time. I know live TV is different but seriously you should submit this blog to Velo, etc. If you don't we will :)

Anonymous said...

You said it Julie!!