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   Stage 5 Beauvais-Caen 225km July 6, 2005
By David Balkin

pixelLet's start with the Americans because they're going to be big news later on but once again they rode conservatively, doing as little work as possible by not sticking their noses in front. That's still 5 hard hours of saddle time that sometimes requires soul searching replete with moments of desperation.
pixelCrunch time is what they signed up for and no matter how they feel their job is to remain upright and finish in the same time as the winner. Chris Horner at 8 minutes back is the lowest placed of the 7 Americans remaining. He lost that time in an earlier crash. One hand is injured and for the past two stages he's raced and finished with the leaders. These are tough men but that's more than just sucking it up for another hard day at the office because the TDF is no ordinary office. Just finishing is an accomplishment every competitor points to with pride and if Horner makes it to Paris he's going to be one proud man.
pixelLet me try to describe how hard this is going to get. For those who know Portsmouth NH (and for those who don't) Sagamore Hill is a nothing little bump about a quarter mile at about 6%. In the real world, half the recreational riders walk their bikes up, half the halfway decent riders struggle a bit and almost nobody floats over it. Today's stage was flat but had 2 category 4 climbs each the same grade as Sagamore Hill but 5 times as long.
pixelThat's nothing! Upcoming are days of ridiculous climbing with the longest, Col Du Galibier, an astounding 27 miles (42.8km) or 108 Sagamore Hills except hugely steeper with sections at 12%. There are 30 killer climbs between now and Paris that are as hard in their own way as the Galibier. Horner is riding with one hand - here's hoping.
pixelBack to the American contenders whose true strength we won't know until the race reaches the mountains although Saturday's 52km time trial will be the first indicator of who among them are legitimate contenders.
pixelFloyd Landis and David Zabriskie are the best time trial riders of our bunch and perhaps the best in the race. But all our guys are good at this discipline and of particular interest will be George Hincapie's time. He's improving in this discipline and if he's within a few seconds of the winning time that will mark him as Discovery's protected rider when the roads begin to go straight up.
pixelToday's stage was more of the same. An early break of two riders, no-hopers, which means no threat to win any of the 4 jerseys, yellow, green, polka dot and white (best young rider) were allowed off the front. In the 5 hours they were away they stretched their lead to almost 13 minutes but the field picked them off with 3km to go resulting in another mad dash to the line.
pixel139 out of 172 riders finished with the same time including all the Americans of which the highest finish belonged to George Hincapie in 23rd. The riders who finished behind were crash victims including Discovery's man of the hour yesterday, Egoi Martinez who had elevated himself to 5th overall, but lost over a minute today and is now 88th 1.39 behind and no longer a threat even if it was more strategic than real.
pixelOscar Freire a 3 time world champion won today's stage with Tom Boonen the reigning world champion 2nd and Robbie McEwen 5th. Boonen increased his yellow jersey lead by a few seconds because of time bonuses and also took points out of McEwen with a higher finish. McEwen remains in green by 1 point and almost from nowhere Freire is also in the hunt only 7 points off the lead. Thor Hushovd who won it last year and was trying to defend it is now out of the hunt. He was relegated to a no points place yesterday because of a bad line he took in the sprint. He's now too far back to make them up. That's a tough call.
pixelThe life of a fast man is not easy. Boonen is used to winning road race sprints but says he's nervous and it's hard to win if not relaxed. He acknowledges it's the same guys he races against all season but in the TDF they do crazy things to try and win and that makes him nervous.
pixelMcEwen misses our American specialist Fast Freddie Rodriguez his lead out man who crashed out. The teammate trying to assume Freddie's role pulled off a few moments too early leaving Robbie with no open place to go.
pixelFreire had it easy. After days of worrying why he wasn't doing better he says he and his wife had a vision he would win. He says he started his sprint too early but it didn't matter because it was predestined. He admits it really doesn't work that way except on this day it did.
pixelTomorrow's another flat day but it's relatively short at 118 miles so it's possible a group of no-hopers can stay away until the end and deny the sprinters another day of glory. I hope not. With all due respects and you know I have a lot, cycling is boring to watch unless you have a rooting interest or are an aficionado.
pixelIt's like watching baseball where there may be a lot going on but nothing's happening.
The TV coverage is superb but after 3 hours of guys moving their legs up and down the viewer deserves to see 100 men charge toward the line. Just the anticipation of whatever mayhem may result makes it special.


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