Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 9: TLC

Today was a day to take care. For the GC guys, take care of their current standing and their bodies and save as much as they can for tomorrow. Most of them accomplished this well, although Cadel Evans had a great fright on the body front. We didn't see the crash, but it must have been a heart-stopper, considering the spots where he lost clothing and/or skin - the top of his back, the top front of his thigh, and an elbow. There was also some injury to his shoulder, we'll have to wait for the post-race reports to see if it was anything too worrisome.

Cadel's team took immediate care, hovering as he got a bike change, and then all around him as they worked their way back to the peloton. After he caught his breath, and at a convenient point in the road, Evans made his way back to race doctor Gerard Porte. We don't get to really hear what is said in those visits to the doctor's car, but I always get a clear sense of Dr. Porte giving tender loving care to his riders. Not that he's too gentle, have to give those wounds a good scrub, but he checks them out head to toe, does everything he possibly can for them, and sends them on their way with a kind pat on the shoulder. His ability to do this at high speeds on changing roads with all serenity never ceases to amaze. Equally amazing, of course, is the ability of tough-as-nails riders to receive such treatment balanced on their bikes, never wavering as raw flesh is assaulted with antiseptic wipes. Evans will get further nursing from the team tonight, with hopes that any stiffness from his injuries will hold off until the rest day.

We saw all the teams taking care of their leaders on this first test in the mountains. Caisse d'Epargne were all over the place, sending riders up the road if that suited, then dropping them back if they were needed there, setting pace when they had to, generally showing their strength in numbers and climbing ability.

Gerolsteiner were also hard at work, to mixed results. Sebastian Lang led the day for quite a while, before his head shook in resignation as Riccardo Ricco zoomed past. Stefan Schumacher made a brief bid to gain some time back, but not only could he not hold it, he ended up gapped at the finish. Bernhard Kohl made a gutsy push at the summit of the final climb to try and secure the mountains jersey for teammate Lang. He took third away from David De La Fuente, but unfortunately fourth was enough for him to hold on to the polka dots. I also felt for the lone Gerolsteiner soigneur at that summit, trying so hard to care for his guys as they came by. He was a little surprised I think to see Ricco come over first, and then neither Lang nor Kohl were interested in a musette. He was finally able to give one away, to Markus Fothen, so at least it was worth the trip! And Lang will have the red number tomorrow for his efforts.

Team Columbia were a bit scarce in the final selection, but they had worked so hard all week caring for both Kim Kirchen and Mark Cavendish, you can hardly blame them. And though Kirchen struggled a bit, he held his own and finished with the first group. Meanwhile, Papa George Hincapie had a virtual arm around young rider Thomas Lovkvist, seeing him home safely. Lovkvist lost the white jersey, but Hincapie made sure he didn't lose his way and paced him steadily down to the finish.

Garmin-Chipotle were of course looking after Christian Vande Velde. Danny Pate and Ryder Hesjedal gave solid efforts before falling off the pace, first Danny and later Ryder. David Millar lasted even longer, just slipping back towards the end to finish in the third group. Trent Lowe stuck with Vande Velde on the final climb, and finished in the second group. As Christian mentioned a couple of days ago, he took very good care of himself and finished with the leading group, and now sits in third place. (I'm sure the TLC from his wife last night helped as well.) Christian Vande Velde, in third place overall, after the first mountain stage, in the Tour de France. Go ahead, read that one a few times, it never gets old.

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