Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tour de France Stages 7 & 8: You Can Count On Me

Instead of focusing on the guy who let down his team, let's celebrate the ones who didn't. Team Columbia put on another fantastic display today. At this rate, we're going to run out of ways to describe their strength and success! Columbia did their job leading the peleton for much of the day, in utterly miserable conditions. Through flat tires and slippery spills, they hustled back up to the front and got right back to work. We saw George Hincapie patrolling his troops, presumably giving out directions and encouragement. It's so enjoyable to see him in this role. He's good at it and looks to be having a lot of fun doing it.

After letting some of the other teams hammer away towards the finish, Columbia got back on front again in the closing kilometers and gave everything they had left to lead it out for Mark Cavendish. Some of the other riders got back in front in the last K, and I was worried Cavendish might have gotten lost. But he still had Gerald Ciolek with him, and the two of them poured it on and came out with a brilliant one-two. Cavendish is so young and powerful, he hardly needs any extra push. But as he's said, with a team like that, you just can't let them down, and they're all there with him in spirit as he crosses the line.

Credit Agricole worked like dogs towards the end, you have to feel for them and Thor Hushovd for not having that same reward awaiting them. Also working hard were Liquigas, desperately trying to have something else to talk about after the stage than Manuel Beltran. I feel for them in more ways than one. I know tossing the whole team out is meant to be a powerful disincentive, but it apparently doesn't work as such, and is so unfair to the other teammates. Indications are that they will not have to leave, and I’m fine with that.

I was out of town yesterday, so didn't get to see Stage 7 until late, after the Beltran news broke. As I was just starting to read about it online, the start of the show was playing on my DVR, and there was an adorable little boy in a yellow jersey, riding the finish in some pre-stage event. That gave my heart a tug. Come on guys, let's give that kid a sport to grow into, and a day to be proud of.

On Stage 7, CSC-Saxo Bank looked great amassed at the front in the split, even if there was disagreement on their tactics. Each one so strong, so talented, so impassioned, it was a stirring sight. Congratulations to them for taking over the yellow numbers. Hearing that the rivalry between the Schleck brothers and Kim Kirchen may have had something to do with it does sour the feeling a bit. But at this stage of the game, I think CSC were making a statement beyond that, and racing for their own gains rather than out of spite. [Frank Schleck agrees, disputing the rivalry at VeloNewsTV (also worth watching for an adorable bit where Jens collects his autograph for a kid!)] And you know Jens Voigt could care less about such silliness, he just wants to race hard!

Garmin-Chipotle did some animating of their own yesterday, and though it didn't work out quite as planned, it's great to see them mixing it up and riding their hearts out for each other. David Millar looked all heart, slathered up in sunscreen, busting his butt in the break as his tire went flat. Despite the dashing of his grand plans, he hung in again for a decent finish. As usual, he gives a fascinating full description of the drama in his diary. Sounds like he had drama again today with a mechanical right at the end, and again his team came through, pacing him back to finish with the pack. The quiet heart of Christian Vande Velde is shining through, as he continues to delight in his new role. He stuck to the front on a very hard and changeable day, finishing with the final select group to hold his fourth place. Tomorrow will be a big test for his GC hopes, and his team and the fans of Argyle everywhere can count on him to give it his best effort. Garmin-Chipotle is the very embodiment of the audacity of hope, and I will keep my eyes on them rather than those whose skulls are too impossibly thick to get the message.

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