18 July, 2009

The Hincapie Near Miss Blame Game

After Stage 14, the world is embroiled over who is to blame for George Hincapie not riding into the Yellow Jersey. Much of the discussion, I can't believe. From what I saw, I think there's plenty of blame all around.

First, George should take some blame here. Five seconds is nothing. There were so many places to get it. To me, it didn't look like Hincapie was riding smart enough to take yellow, but maybe he had bad legs.

Second, his team should take some blame. There was a director in George's ear. What was the guy saying? It sure didn't look like Hincapie was digging deep. Next, Columbia shouldn't have led out the bunch sprint. Like most people/entities, they wanted it all ways. They probably figured they had the jersey and could get Cavendish some points in the green jersey competition. Now, not only do they not have yellow, but they might be out of the green for good, thanks to Cavendish's relegation.

Third, I do think Astana played a part, despite what Armstrong and Bruyneel say. I think Astana has some kind of deal with AG2R. Don't know why they need it, but they certainly could have refused to help at all until Nocentini himself was doing some of the chasing. It's not like the AG2R guys were totally flogged; most made it to the line with the pack. They could have called back team rider Nicholas Roche from the break to help with the chase (side-matter; what was Roche doing attacking near the end? Did his team think they had already lost the jersey). Astana could have waited several more minutes before riding tempo. Considering that Astana probably wants to keep the leaders together until the final climb tomorrow, I don't think Columbia would have hurt Astana tactically. I think they could have given George another five minutes and he'd still lose the jersey tomorrow--the finishing climb is 8.8k at 7.1%, with a climbing lead-in. I don't see him climbing with the leaders in most situations, and especially after being in a break all day.

Third, Garmin-Slipstream. I'm pretty sure that Hincapie, or a partner of his, is a sponsor of the team. Howalesko Partners is a sponsor this year, and was H3O on last year's jersey. Hincapie is one of the H's. I don't think Garmin was riding to deny George. I do think they were either hoping to get Farrar some points or keep their GC riders safe or both.

Fourth, we're discussing a conspiracy at the most important bike race in the world. No one should expect gifts. Would the pack have sat up for Stephane Goubert or Inigo Cuesta, two riders older than Hincapie and with far fewer palmares?

Finally, credit should be given to Johan Bruyneel who takes issue with Garmin coming to the front for a few seconds, when his team spent all day at or near the front. A great, if disingenuous commentary from the Astana DS.

Swiss tourism industry bullish on Tour Visit

the Tour visits Switzerland Sunday, stays Monday for the rest day, then rolls off to Italy Tuesday. This means BIG PROFIT for the Swiss--they collected all the underpants.

At least that's what Swiss Info has found out.

"'The impact will be substantial, because there will be some 4,000 people who are directly linked to the Tour de France staying in our region for two nights,' said Patrick Messeiller, director of the Verbier-Bagnes tourism office.

"But officials expect the see effects in the longer term as well. The Tour de France will offer a tremendous showcase for the region. As a sporting event, only the Olympics and the World Cup attract more media coverage than the Tour de France.

"More than 1,900 journalists from 630 media outlets will be there to cover the race, which will be broadcast in 186 countries - figures which Barben has not failed to notice."

An American First at the 2009 Tour

An American working as chef to a pro team in the Tour?

"Sean Fowler, an American chef who runs a restaurant, El Racó d’Urús, in the Pyrenees. The team had eaten there during training sessions and hired him on the spot.

"Fowler, 43, and a native of Wondervu, Colo., has a lofty résumé. A graduate of theCulinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., he is thought to be the first American chef at the Tour de France.

"'To have Sean cooking and all the fresh stuff makes a big difference,' the rider David Zabriskie said. He’s even making me beets, which I like a lot. Helps move things along.'”

The Times might be right. One of the first chefs hired by an American team, Seven-11 in this case, was, I believe, Willy Balmat, a Swiss

What do do when the Tour Visits Your Town

Act like sophisticates?

"So what did we do? We lost it. Joyfully. We acted as yokels and loved it. We got Tour fever just as everyone else has done in every other quarter of the country the past 100 years or so.

"Even the visiting Parisians entered into the spirit, in their aloof way, which meant shouting things in English to Mark Cavendish, the 24-year-old sprint phenom from the Isle of Man, as he passed.

"We crowded the roadside for hours, picnicked with strangers, wore dumb hats, danced to disco from car stereos and looked with desperation for places to "pipi." I still wonder at the reactions around the Joël Richard sawmill company when all those soaked logs were found the next day."

Hinault picks Contador for the win

Never one to mince words, The Badger sees Alberto as the man of the tour.

"I don't think so. He's of a certain age, and Contador is able to build a big lead in the mountains...In the time trial in Monaco, Armstrong lost 20 seconds in the first five kilometers, the uphill part. Believe me, it's a sign."

I've learned lots of stuff on my summer vacation

Jerry Davich has learned alot about the Tour de France. A Lot.

"I've learned that the annual race is broken down into day-long "stages," and the rider with the fastest time is allowed to then sport a famed yellow jersey and stuffed lion mascot. Similarly, the rider who places second in points wears a green jersey, and the daily "King of the Mountains" rider wears a white jersey with red dots.

"I've learned that since 1903, more than 10,000 riders have attempted the race - with only 6,000 completing it - collectively pedaling the distance between the Earth and the moon. And every district in France has hosted the race, as well as each bordering country.

"And I've learned that this year, competitors in the 96th Tour will use high-tech equipment and old-fashioned determination to earn the same bragging rights of a century ago.

"Simply put, the only way I'll probably ever tour France is through the Tour de France."

Jerry is a metro columnist for the Post-Tribune newspaper.

So tough, when shot, they remove the bullets themselves

Two cyclists were shot during the 13th stage of the Tour. the shooting appears to have been from an air gun (people don't kill people, guns do). One of the two victims, Rabobank's Oscar Freire, removed the bullet himself during the stage.

They Shoot Cyclists, don't they?

Not too many places in the US would it be news if someone decided to ride 21 days in a row, even if htose 21 days share calendar dates with the Tour de France.

But Corpus Christi, TX is not just any place. And Wes Cheslak has his Tour de Corpus. It's news to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

"Cheslak said the idea came to him at the start of last year’s tour.

'It was the first ride, the first stage of the Tour and I was like, ‘You know what?’, I’m going to ride 21 days this month,' he said. 'So I did it.'

Editorial Board of Concord Monitor Endorses Lance

You don't see too many editorials rooting for an athlete, especially one who isn't a local. The Concord Monitor of New Hampshire leaves no question of their feelings with the editorial, "Rooting for Lance to make it eight."

The board has bought the company line.

"Armstrong, who nearly died in 1996 from testicular cancer that metastasized to his brain and lungs, has long been the subject of speculation about illegal drug use. He vehemently denies allegations that he ever used performance enhancing drugs. His medical history and his seven consecutive tour wins have made him perhaps the most heavily tested athlete in history.

'I tell you, Armstrong will be particularly, particularly, particularly monitored,' France's sports minister, Roselyne Bachelot, told reporters.

Armstrong's performance this year gives lie to the accusations. Despite breaking his collarbone in a fall in March, he went on to place 12th in the 2,147-mile Giro d'Italia in May. Today, after 11 stages of the Tour de France, Armstrong remains in third place."

The Talking Laptop Gives Armstrong Sound Bytes

This should be news. Lance Armstrong doesn't talk to the press these days. He talks to somebody, presumably the Team Astana Press Secretary, who records comments onto a laptop and then said press secretary takes the laptop to the newsroom. He plays the laptop to the assembled press and they write down the comments.

Follow the link. The Times Online's Owen Slot has some worthwhile reading. "Armstrong is trying his damndest to a) start a fight and b) clamber his way up to the moral high ground. But the only suggestion that Contador has taken in any of Armstrong’s mindgames was his electric breakaway on the Arcalís climb on Friday. That was a considerable riposte, fulfilling to the letter the old cliché about letting his legs do the talking."

Yes, taking out 21 seconds in two uphill headwind kilometers was possibly the most impressive feat of any rider all Tour. He had the best riders in the world alongside him. he had a headwind, which effectively flattens a climb, and he still killed everybody.

Here's another thing to know, "Armstrong will not give an interview to The Times, and that is despite swearing that he no longer has a black list of the newspapers and journalists to whom he will and won’t speak. There are many to whom Armstrong will not speak. And so we make do with the soundbites and bombs from Philippe Maertens’ laptop."