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Stage 6 Lisieux-Vitre 189km July 7, 2006
by David Balkin


pixelAnother flat stage and this time an early break of 17 took off gaining over a minute before it was promptly reeled in. Why reel so early? Surely they know from experience they can pick up any break before the line.
pixelThe difference this time was Tom Boonen. There's absolutely no way the teams with overall contenders would let anyone wearing yellow off the front. It's just way too dangerous. If a crash disrupted the chase the jersey could gain a chunk of time.
pixelIn an early TDF stage a couple of years ago a break of no hopers gained an incredible 35 minutes after a bad crash and it took Lance's men days to get the time back. Give Boonen that kind of an opportunity and it would make life truly miserable for the GC contenders. Keeping a strong man down, or at least in his place, was the emergency order of the day and the break was quickly toast.
pixelAfter that it was pure formula as 3 men were allowed to stay away until the final kilometers when they were swallowed up in time for another sprint finish. Robbie McEwen won convincingly proving he is the fastest of the fast men. His lead out man got it totally right this time and set him loose 100 meters from the line where he won by a bike length, aka a country mile. He now has a 10 point lead over Boonen in the green jersey competition.
pixelFor a man off his form Tom Boonen is amazing. He finished third and his previous comments about being nervous were right on as he interrupted his sprint for a brief moment and that ended his chances of winning this stage. So far this season Tom Terrific has won 17 road races. There are riders that come close but don't know how to win but that's never been Tom's problem until now and it's a big surprise to everyone.
pixelThe Americans did what they had to do. Stay out of trouble and wait for the race to come to them which it's going to start to do tomorrow. There's no hiding in time trials and even less in the mountains.
pixelLast year there was Lance Almighty and this year there are a dozen guys with a solid chance. Just as day turns to night there will be a whole new list of names to watch, some who haven't been mentioned before, and maybe one or two that are complete shockers.
pixelThe highest profile name missing in action is Michael Rasmussen last year's KOM who hasn't yet participated in that competition. BTW Jerome Pineau keeps picking up stray KOM points but for the first time in years it appears the KOM competition will be decided in the high mountains and that ramps up the interest tenfold.
pixelLast year Rasmussen elevated the KOM competition because he was also a contender for GC but fell from 3rd to 7th overall when he had a disastrous time trial on the penultimate stage. Three bike changes and flipping over the bars twice and he still finished ahead of half the field on that horrible day. That means he can do it if he remains upright.
pixelBut where Rasmussen really shines is as a climber and he's been riding as conservatively as the Americans and like them has his sights set on the mountain stages as well he should. The "chicken" needs a better nickname but his scrawny build and great strength make him as good a climber as there is in this race. This year his energy reserves are in place for the monstrous climbs ahead and if he does a competitive time tomorrow watch out he could get hot and be a GC contender.
pixelThere are a dozen men that can post the best time tomorrow. Michael Rogers is the world time trial champion and his sponsor T-Mobile is bike racing's biggest spender, some $30 million annually, and wants results especially now that their super super star Jan Ullrich was kicked out.
pixelFloyd Landis is supremely confident and really good. David Zabriskie likewise and it's said he has the most aerodynamic position of any rider. That's a huge edge as 90% of a rider's energy is spent pushing through the wind.
pixelI'm rooting for British rider David Millar who is back after a two year doping ban. I picked him to win the prologue (he was 7th) which was wishful thinking because 2 years of no competition is too much to overcome. But he too has been riding conservatively and is only 41 seconds down which means he's on form, wasting no energy and anxious to redeem himself in a discipline at which he excels.
pixelMillar is a good guy who admits his mistake which is refreshing in a world of red-handed denial and has taken the pledge to be a role model. In these self-serving times where truth, justice and the American Way have taken a hike it's hard to believe in anyone you don't know but I believe in Millar. And for the record, Lance Armstrong is another man I don't know and believe in.


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