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  Stage 13 Beziers-Montelimar 230km July 15, 2006
by David Balkin

pixelAs usual, the peleton allowed a group of no-hopers, 5 this time, off the front to play in near 100°F heat on this 145 mile stage; the longest of the race. Oscar Pereiro mired in 46th at 28:50 down was the highest placed in the break of those without hope.
pixelAs usual the yellow jersey's team had the responsibility of controlling the amount of time the break was allowed to gain before pulling on the chain. All Phonak's men assumed their position at the front of the peleton with Landis riding 3rd or 4th wheel. Except for a very brief and very late stint by Rabobank, Phonak was at the front the entire 5 plus hours on this scorcher of a day.
pixelIt turned out their defense of the yellow jersey was hardly traditional. Indeed, they let it slip off Landis's shoulders allowing the break to gain an incredible 30 minutes. A shocked and delighted Pereiro is now in yellow leading the 2nd place Landis by 1:29.
pixelThe TDF's longest stage proved just how hard it is to compete over 3 weeks and how evolving strategy leads to unexpected outcomes. Phonak put the jersey up for grabs because it's a heavy load and they're conserving their energy for the Alps. Going into the race they were not considered a strong team but they have the bodies when every other team with a contender is sorely depleted.
pixelDeliberately losing 30 minutes and the jersey on this stage is not exactly what Phonak had in mind but in this poker game they were willing to go all in. They were hoping that other teams with men in the top 20 would come to the front to protect those placings and share the pace making. But no team will help the yellow jersey except as a very last resort and this wasn't it.
pixelThe other teams also didn't believe that Phonak would actually let it go and were waiting for them to ramp up the pace. The clear message delivered by all concerned is rest is more valuable than going after a higher placing now when it doesn't mean much, especially when the hardest part of the race is just up the road.
pixelAlthough nobody will come out and admit it, losing a half hour without a crash or other disruption is tantamount to a rolling protest against the severity of this particular section of the race. Once it entered the Pyrenees the TDF began a 5 day stretch with every stage a leg breaker. The excessive heat is salt in the wound.
pixelBack to Pereiro who is about the luckiest bike rider alive. From 46th to 1st defines out of nowhere and he didn't even win the stage. He finished 2nd and proves winning isn't everything. He's wearing the yellow jersey and his wife is about to give birth. Does life get any better? Being in 1st place makes him an automatic contender although he has no illusions about winning the race. He says that Landis will reclaim the jersey whenever it suits him. It's not quite that easy but let's hope it works out that way.
pixelNow that he's a marked man Pereiro isn't going anywhere and it'll be interesting to see how he holds up after this monumental effort. He'll most likely hang on to yellow tomorrow but come the first mountain stage he could be in real trouble unless his recovery is complete. The stage winner Jens Voigt jokingly said that he was now going on vacation and rest up until Paris.
pixelTomorrow's stage is another long slog with 3 hard climbs that brings the TDF to the foothills of the Alps and a much needed day off. Then it's 3 days of Alpine splendor.
pixelIt is from out of the Alps the winner will emerge and Landis looks very good because he's climbing with the best of them.
pixelIf that's not enough there's a 57km time trial following the last Alpine stage. That's his specialty and he wants to win it wearing yellow just as Lance did. Lance viewed the last time trial as his way to prove the yellow jersey is indeed the strongest rider in the race. Right now that's not the case.
pixelThe green jersey competition is fierce. Robbie McEwen and Tom Boonen are now unfriendly rivals with McEwen allegedly breaching etiquette by attacking during a pee break. Tradition says the yellow jersey decides when a roadside pit stop is to take place. Everyone slows down but McEwen was having none of it. He was looking for help to close the gap so he could sprint for full points. Riders don't have to look for excuses to get annoyed with each other and this didn't make Robbie any friends.
pixelYesterday Boonen bested McEwen in the bunch sprint but today it was Robbie's turn finishing 6th to Tom's 8th and picking up a couple of green jersey points in the process. McEwen has to be the favorite to win it although Oscar Freire can do some damage in the mountains.
pixelBoonen is back to being discouraged. He said he wasn't feeling at all well with side stitches and was half thinking of bagging it. As reigning world champion Tornado Tom can't abandon the race unless he crashes out or wakes up 75% dead. The lingering shame of abandonment far overshadows the temporary pain. It's supposed to hurt is the bike racer's mantra.


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