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  Stage 10 Cambo Les Bains-Pau 191km July 12, 2006
by David Balkin

pixelWhen the roads go up all bets are off but still it's hard to believe what's going down.
pixelThe race split apart on this first mountain test and if the Americans had anything to do with it that'd be exciting but they did nothing special except remain in the pack and lose a 7 minute chunk of time that could easily turn out to be significant.
pixelToday's 119 mile stage featured 2 monster climbs, the first a hors category which was the harder by virtue of being longer at 8 miles than the Category 1 climb of 5 miles that came later. That's just the beginning and softens the boys up for tomorrow's 128 mile stage that climbs 5 mountains starting with a hors category and then 4 category 1 climbs. That's enough to take anyone's breath away.
pixelA journeyman French rider, Cyril Dessel on one of the weaker teams in the race, Ag2r, is wearing yellow after finishing 2nd to Spaniard Juan Miguel Mercado in a two up sprint. They finished 7:23 ahead of our guys who all finished with the bunch in the same time.
pixelDessel is 7 years a pro and has won a total of 4 races. He says he wasn't thinking about yellow (no kidding) but also says he's surprising himself so far and climbing is his strength. Heading into the first climb he had his sights set on escaping off the front to compete in the KOM and capture polka dot. He is now the mountain points leader too but tomorrow he'll proudly wear yellow. It's doubtful he'll be able to keep it for a second day without a team to help protect it. It'd be great if I was wrong because that would really cause panic among the contenders.
pixelMercado is now 2nd overall and has one TDF stage win previously to his credit. Until today that's been the highlight of his career. His team Agritubel is the weakest in the race and was a last minute wild card choice over much stronger teams; but they're French and the race's last name is France. The Italians favor Italian teams in their Giro and the Spanish likewise for the Vuelta. Anyone surprised?
pixelCaring for the yellow jersey is hard work. T-Mobile made a valiant effort to defend their man Gonchar by riding 7 strong on the front trying to limit the time loss. But they're two men short of a full team and no matter that the two missing men were mega stars, they just needed the bodies. It's something like playing 2 men down in soccer for an entire game and 2 overtime periods. Their best hope is Andreas Kloden in 9th 5:35 down even though Gonchar is now in 3rd with a couple of minutes on him.
pixelThe Basque team, Euskaltel-Euskadi rode well with riders finishing 3rd and 6th on a stage that's in their back yard. They know how to climb and were under a lot of pressure to perform by their government sponsors who threatened to pull the plug; let's hope they're pleased. This is the only team that's unified by nationality and it's different, kind of cool.
pixelNow a listing of the American results in GC order: Landis 5th @ 4:45, Zabriskie 12th @ 5:38, Hincapie 19th @6:15, Vandevelde 23rd @ 7:10, Leipheimer 58th 10:26, Horner 84th @16:04. It's hard to know exactly what it means except they all lost time and that's not the stuff out of which legends, dreams or contenders are made. Only Landis, Zabriskie and Hincapie remain as legitimate contenders but if they don't start making their presence felt soon any hopes will be wishful thinking.
pixelThere's little doubt in my mind that Discovery will do something exciting before this race goes too much longer. If the Patriots had to play with Doug Flutie instead of Tom Brady at quarterback that'd be a disaster but they still have good players who'd at least make their presence felt.
pixelNot so for Discovery but this is the same strong team that ruled the front of the peleton last year while sheparding Lance around France dropping him off in position to dispatch those that had slim hopes. This year they may not yet know who they should be working for and maybe that person won't be able to deliver the knockout punch as Lance always did. Maybe the uncertainty is getting to them.
pixelLandis and Phonak were a bit more visible but still let T-Mobile do all the chase work even when it was apparent they'd given up defending their yellow jersey and were willing to let a no-hoper take over possession. Landis was clearly good with too that but he and the team will have to go on the attack at some point very soon.
pixelNobody is worried about Dessel whose team is incapable of defending the jersey. They won't be able to ride at the front to limit the time loss when the inevitable breaks start to go up the road. Dessel is now a marked man and he won't be allowed to sneak off. His lead in the mountain competition may also be short lived.
pixelFor the aficionado this uncertainty is refreshing. Some of my friends think this is a lousy TDF because we're doing nothing and don't even show any style. Even Lance who was on Leno last night showed no passion and little interest in talking about the race and only said he's very glad he's not in it. He's training for the NYC marathon and hopes to come in under 3 hours.
pixelTomorrow's arguably the hardest stage in the race and that's generally when the strong teams attack. If our guys don't make their presence felt it doesn't look good or bode well. Still it's a race of attrition and so far the weather's been tolerable but that can change. These guys ride in truly horrific conditions and those that excel when the roads are slick can change the race overnight.


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