Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tour of California 2009 Stage 4: You Had To Be There

That was going to be my entire post, you had to be there. (And by there, I mean on the other side of the country, watching online.) So much happened today, any commentary/analysis couldn't possibly begin to do it justice. First and foremost, of course, was the brilliant sunshine. Morale has been low in the peloton, and the boys were very happy to see the sun this morning. Oops, I'm using riders' Twitters as a source for my post, Frankie Andreu wouldn't approve. But I'm not a real journalist, so maybe he'll forgive me. You don't have to Twitter yourself Frankie, just sign up to follow others' tweets, much easier that way!

What a thrill it is to see these stages from the very beginning, I wish we had more opportunities to do that in the Grand Tours. In the neutral zone, I got to enjoy Dave Zabriskie chatting with Levi Leipheimer, and then DZ taking his customary surge right out of the pack. A few minutes later, my heart was in my throat as Zabriskie sidled up along Floyd Landis. There they were again, laughing constantly, one can only imagine at what ridiculousness. When Floyd won the Tour, that was the sight I was most anxious to see on the final cruise into Paris - Floyd and DZ side by side, cracking each other up. What a trip to see it again, after so much has changed.

Many a rider diary has provided eloquent descriptions of crazy stage starts, but there's nothing like seeing it for oneself. The riding was hardcore for nearly two hours straight, completely insane. One attack after another, providing great entertainment. There was Christian Vande Velde and George Hincapie in the same break, wouldn't that have been fun! No one's letting either one of them back in the race though, no dice. And classic Jens Voigt - enough of this messing around, just ride as hard as you can. Frankie was giving Tom Danielson a hard time for sitting on Jens, but I don't think Tom was trying to get in a break. With Jens so high up in the standings, I would guess Tom was pegging him just like Chris Horner was, either on his own behalf or Zabriskie's. I think it was Horner, there were so many combinations in that flurry, it was hard to keep track. And Floyd again, doing his best to get in the break any way he could. But like all the other big boys mentioned above, he's not going to be allowed back in either. The TT and Palomar will give all these guys another shot at showing their stuff, I'm looking forward to it.

Francisco Mancebo, dear, I know you want the KOM points, but if they're not letting guys five minutes back in the break, do you really think they're going to let you? He finally saw the light - well, let's be honest, was made to see the light, and the boys could finally breathe again. Seeing Lance set tempo for long stretches at the front of the entire peloton is quite a sight. He's worked piecemeal for teammates in the past, but never quite like this. Another thing I still can't get used to, that beefy upper body. I wonder if it will still be around in May and July.

With several horrible crashes yesterday, I was hoping for a safer time in the sun today. No such luck, with sickening crashes involving Kim Kirchen, Oscar Freire, and Scott Nydam; still waiting to hear on prognoses. [Yikes, both involved jackets and Scott was almost run over, broken bones all around.] Another scary moment came when Vande Velde went down, clearly hurting his knee. He was pretty well out of contention, but I'm sure he wants to do a solid TT, I hope the damage isn't too great. Kirchen and Freire were both in a lot of pain, it's such a horrible sight to see someone's season go south right off the bat. The upside is they have time to recover for big races down the line, but Freire clearly had his sights on winning the day, such a shame. His teammate took a flyer at the end to try and salvage the day for Rabobank, but it was another day for the sprinters.

The chalk art on the home stretch was really beautiful, quite impressive, but they really need to rethink that concept. We finally got a clear, dry day, and still couldn't see the sprinters amidst all the dust! Garmin's Tyler Farrar made a nice effort, but Mark Cavendish wouldn't be denied today.

Most courageous of the day went to Tyler Hamilton - I figured that one was coming, given how that jersey was shaking out. Snarks and irony aside, the present facts are these - his mother is battling cancer, he sacrificed training to be with her, and he's done a workman's job for his team all week. Including today, working for Mancebo before having the break to himself.

The Tour Tracker was in fine form today; things go a lot smoother with plenty of live video and all systems firing. And they had fun guests - Dave Towle and Frankie Andreu make a great pair in the booth. Lively, meaty discussions about what was happening on the road and cycling in general, much more engaging than the watered-down prattle on Versus. JoE Silva is a lovely man, but his pacing can be excruciating; the flow with Dave along was much better. I think JoE just needs to stop trying to do so many things at once. I know, easy for me to say, but just let Frankie talk for a minute if you need to figure something out. Bobby Julich also stopped in again, always great to hear from him. I did my part to get Frankie and JoE to mention the Team Fatty/Bob Roll Head Shave Challenge, but perhaps my e-mail got there too late. Maybe tomorrow!

Production assistant tip of the day: Actually, Phil and Paul, Levi doesn't know the route at all. He just said as much on your broadcast, not five minutes ago.

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