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  Stage 12 Photo  
  © 2010 A.S.O. Amaury Sport Organisation - All rights reserved.  
  Stage 12 Luchon-Carcassonne 212km July 14, 2006
by David Balkin

pixelDiscovery did something. They won a stage and in the process moved one of their riders into the top ten. Yaroslav Popovych elevated himself into 10th place 4:15 behind Floyd Landis who retains his same 8 second lead over Cyril Dessel a Frenchman who is riding well above the expectations of his countrymen. If he lands on the podium he'll be an immortal for a while. Landis finished with the pack 4:25 back but so did all the contenders and the GC standings remain the same.
pixelThe final break of 4 not surprisingly included a French rider on this Bastille Day. Christian Le Mevel had an inspired ride but as the line drew near Popovych kept attacking to rid himself of Oscar Freire who is a great sprinter and on form, as proven by his two earlier stage wins. If Popovych tows Freire within a smell of the line he can't win the stage and was relentless. Le Mevel was the first man dropped followed by Freire and only Allessandro Ballan could maintain contact until the last few hundred meters when Popovych rode away from him too.
pixelOver the next two stages that's the way the race will play out. The contenders mark each other and nobody with any hopes will be allowed to get away. The yellow jersey team has the major responsibility to keep everyone in their place but a top ten placing in the TDF is huge and no rider or team will let anyone threatening their man slip away to steal their spot.
pixelAccordingly, Phonak a Swiss team (hearing aids) in protecting their yellow jersey spent most of the stage at the front setting a tempo that was hard enough to discourage any contending riders from going off the front. At the same time they were not interested in riding hard enough to catch the leaders, only in controlling the amount of time they were willing to lose.
pixelDiscovery will have their hands full to repeat today's performance. Popovych is now a marked man and he will not be allowed to leave the group of contenders unless the team makes a heroic effort to get him away. That's very unlikely but tomorrow look for Discovery to try to get another rider into the break and win the stage.
pixelA place on the podium for Popovych would be almost a miracle but go a long way in mitigating the nightmare they've been through up until now. Popovych has the credentials. He won the white jersey last year as the best young rider and now at 26 is still a bit before his prime as a stage racer but very highly touted. Lance thinks he's the next team leader. If he were an American there's no doubt he'd have been the one from go for this year's race. But the promise of this American team is to deliver one of us to the top step and not some Russian rider that nobody in this country has ever heard of. Then again, Discovery is international and they can have it both ways; they know that.
pixelOnce again the green jersey competition heated up with Oscar Freire in the winning break finishing 3rd and gaining a few points on his two main rivals McEwen and Boonen. McEwen after finishing well back (130 something) in the 2 mountain stages was seen talking to his team car in a vain attempt to try and get his teammates to chase so he could be there to compete with Freire in the final sprint. That was not happening because they're now interested in saving their energy for Cadel Evans who is 4th in GC only 1:17 behind Landis and almost everyone's choice to land on the podium.
pixelBoonen who despite his whining about how inhumane these transitional stages are also has not given up in his quest for the green jersey and won the bunch sprint finishing 4th just nipping McEwen at the line. McEwen leads in this competition by 25 points over Freire with Boonen 3rd 4 points further back. The amazing Erik Zabel finished 8th adding to his points total but he's too far back to win this thing unless those ahead of him crash out or abandon. It'd be great to see him win a stage.
pixelIn defense of Boonen, he's right; this is an inhumanely portion of the race. Not incidentally, rider protests are common when race organizers go too far which they sometimes do. There have been rider strikes in past TDF's but they're different. The riders show up for work but ride slow for a while or delay the start until something is agreed upon.
pixelAlso part of the fabric of past TDF's have been worker strikes and protests that block the race course. It's all very civil and respectful; the riders are their heroes. It's about making their point and get some TV time. The riders are very sympathetic they come from the farms and are working men too. Some have been known to ride with signs supporting whatever the grievance.
pixelThe KOM competition is also heating up with David De La Fuente holding on to a slim lead over Cyril Dessel, Fabian Wegmann and chicken man Michael Rasmussen who is in 4th is also last year's KOM. All of a sudden the chicken has come alive and decided to play while helping his teammate Denis Menchov who won yesterday's stage. The KOM is a completely different competition than last year's when Rasmussen had it wrapped up long before the major climbs.
pixelAnd speaking of heating up, the temperature today was 99°F and the radiated heat off the tarmac was 122°F. Other than heat the weather is perfect. There have been no god awful days; no fog so thick at a mountain summit that it's not possible to see 2 feet. Or no snow or driving rain and high winds that can knock riders off their bikes.
pixelTomorrow's stage is a mind blowing 143 miles with 4 small but punishing climbs in another 99F day. 4 riders abandoned today including 2 from Discovery a team that prided itself in the Lance years of finishing everyone and only once did not achieve it.


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