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  Stage 7 Saint Gregoire-Rennes 52km Time Trial July 8, 2006
by David Balkin

pixelThe time trial is called the race of truth but the overwhelming truth is it's rocket science without the rocket fuel. Startling advances in aerodynamics combined with precise physiological monitoring, pushes these motors to the edge, and have changed the time trial discipline into a scientific experiment. Everything's on the edge; the motor, the riding position and the bike itself that only wants to go in a straight line.
pixelThe bikes cost upward of $20,000 each and are extensively wind tunnel tested to reduce drag to its minimum. 90% of a rider's energy is consumed by wind resistance. To illustrate, the world land speed record on a bike is an astounding 81mph with a theoretical top speed of 90. That's from a standing start on flat land on something that's built as low to the ground as a caterpillar.
pixelThat's against the rules and impractical and while these bikes are within guidelines their practicality is not so much. Disc wheels in the rear and deep dish front wheels are de rigueur on these affordable rocket ships that are as dicey to handle as their billion dollar cousins. Disc and deep dish wheels are much faster at the expense of control. Here's a friendly tip, on any group ride avoid anyone riding two disc wheels; not even the pros do that.
pixelToday American Bobby Julich was a crash out because his bike skidded going into a lazy left turn on a well swept course. Rolling over a few stray pieces of gravel was all it took to bring him to the pavement; he never had a chance. Compounding the problem is the extreme aerodynamic position that saves minutes but it is unnatural and makes emergency handling impossible.
pixelToday the Americans were supposed to shine but only Floyd Landis stepped up to the plate. He finished 2nd a minute behind stage winner, T-Mobile's Serguei Gonchar, who is now wearing yellow by that same minute ahead of Landis who's 2nd in GC. Landis lost maybe 30 seconds with a bike change early on and in the first time trial he came to the line 8 seconds late. Maybe it's not their fault but his pit crew isn't ready for Indy anytime soon.
pixelDavid Zabriskie finished a semi-respectable 13th but a man of his time trial credentials isn't going to write home about it. He's 10th overall and not where he hoped to be after this stage; still he's only 2 minutes down and theoretically not out of it but with Julich out his team is in disarray and he's too inexperienced to be a strong contender.
pixelGeorge Hincapie finished a very disappointing 24th. That places him 17th overall 2:30 behind. He's easily within striking distance but this performance doesn't inspire much confidence. Same in spades for Levi Leipheimer who finished 96th 6 minutes back and that may be the worst time trial of his life. It's a disaster for a man who expected to be in the top 5 and was touted as a possible stage winner. The TDF demands no bad out of 20 racing days to be a GC contender and it'd be a miracle if he recovers from this.
pixelBut miracles happen. Levi or George or anyone it seems could rally and do something sensational up the road. Last year on a long mountain stage Alexandre Vinokourov (a non-starter and innocent victim of the doping scandal) lost any hope for a podium finish after getting left behind in a mountain stage and he lost a chunk of time. He was expected to roll over and play dead but the very next day was another mountain stage and Vino attacked from the start and rode solo all the way to win the stage.
pixelOkay, who is Serguei Gonchar? He's Ukrainian, a seasoned veteran at 36 and with more ways to spell his name (Serhiy Honchar, among others) than Whitey Bulger has disguises. He was brought on T-Mobile to support Ullrich in the mountains. He's also a former world time trial champion (2000) and throughout his career he has been a consistently strong finisher in Grand Tours although never winning a stage in the TDF. Conventional wisdom suggests he'll keep yellow for the next two stages and maybe beyond. Only two things wrong with that; conventional wisdom is an oxymoron and this year's TDF is wide open.
pixelT-Mobile's resurrection, even before they were officially dead, is good for a sport determined to rid itself of illegal drug use at any cost. They came expecting to win with Ullrich and put together a strong supporting cast that now finds itself occupying 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 11th and 14th. With 2 stage wins and a man in yellow they are now faced with defending the jersey and well positioned to do so.
pixelDiscovery is by no means dead. They have a team populated with climbers and that's where the winner of this race will ultimately be decided. In the past these guys killed themselves in the mountains to deliver Lance as fresh as possible and there's no doubt they're capable of repeating that effort but which of them will be protected and asked to seal the deal? Whoever is climbing the best when crunch time comes is as good a guess as any.
pixelBy actual count there are 36 climbs before the ride into Paris and 16 of those are Category 1 or harder. There's more than ample time and terrain to sort it all out and perhaps have someone new burst on the scene. But just in case it's still close there's a 57km time trial on the penultimate stage when legs and psyches are at their limits. This day's results can't be relied upon to predict the future.
The cycling media and bookies have named Floyd Landis as the TDF favorite but he lost his two most important teammates to suspension and if he prevails he will have to do a lot of it on his own; that's not the best scenario because he can't have even one moment that doesn't go well.
pixelGonchar's too old for the experts to believe in but the yellow jersey sees men rise to the occasion and T-Mobile has the horses. Andreas Kloden a 2nd place finisher 2 years ago, is waiting in the wings should Gonchar fade.
pixelTomorrow's a rolling stage with 4 short climbs and most likely it will end in a bunch sprint. Watch for Discovery to lose the Harry Potter act and show themselves. It may well be that Lance was the glue that held it all together and if that's the case we'll know soon enough.
pixelFinally Tom Boonen rode well within himself and was thrilled with his time in yellow and happy to have it over. From the start his was a quest for green. It'll be a battle with McEwen all the way to Paris and look for both of them to be back at each other tomorrow.


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