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Stage 8 Saint Meen Le Grand-Lorient 181km July 9, 2006
by David Balkin


pixelWithout Lance the Discovery team is a different beast. Blessed with the fastest gun for the past 7 years the team intimidated the field and humbled even the strong. The Lance years saw Discovery in total command while this year's team not so much. Yesterday's time trial bore that out.
pixelNobody from Discovery rode well except 40 year old Viatcheslav Ekimov, by far the oldest man in the race, who finished ahead of Hincapie; not exactly what either anticipated. Not that it matters but at Hincapie's age Ekimov was winning everything in sight.
pixelThe post mortems for the Americans after yesterday's unhappy outcomes were much the same; head scratching and the generic excuse that they just didn't feel right.
pixelIt could be anything; these motors aren't exactly fragile as much as they're always close to the red line where anything can happen. Furthermore, keeping a running score over 20 days of intensely physical competition requires a level of mental discipline that's as hard as the riding.
pixelAn American roundup: Rodriguez and Julich have crashed out. Hincapie sounds puzzled more than worried, Leipheimer is both and sounds resigned to an unhappy fate, Zabriskie is taking one day at a time, Horner's hand must be mended and he's happy with how he and his team are going. Haven't read anything about Vandevelde, but at 23rd in GC and 3 minutes down he can't be singing the blues.
pixelFloyd Landis in 2nd overall is quietly confident. He's riding within himself and is a solid hope. He's a very good climber and has proven he can win stage races with big victories this year. Floyd won the Tour of Georgia and the Tour of California, major events on the international stage racing calendar. They're well funded and well run and big deals regionally. Most Americans haven't heard of them; maybe one of these days.
pixelJohann Bruyneel, Discovery's manager, is quietly concerned but upbeat. He went in with a strong team loaded with climbers and that discipline is just about to take center stage. Tomorrow's a much needed rest day for his beleaguered team but soon they're going to show what they can do. There's endless time that can be gained or lost in the high mountains and that's when pretender or contender comes clear.
pixelToday's stage before a rest day was like a day at the office before a long weekend; almost AWOL. The teams that were within striking distance of a yellow, green, or polka dot jersey were only interested in advancing the plot. That they accomplished with no significant changes in any of the standings.
pixelEveryone was preoccupied with either licking their wounds or basking in the glow of unexpected success. For any number of good reasons, the pack wasn't in the right mood to swallow up a break. With the yellow jersey and 5 highly placed GC riders T-Mobile had the luxury of sending one of them with the break that stuck (Matthias Kessler 11th @ 2:03) just to cause a bit of concern and then they sat back letting others lead the chase. BTW if they'd sent out Gonchar or Kloden (something they'd never do) the break would have been reeled in quickly.
pixelPhonak came to the front to protect Landi' 2nd place position. If Discovery had the 2nd place rider they'd have done it. Anyway, Phonak rode just hard enough to keep the 6 man break within striking distance. Off the front the break split in half when the eventual stage winner sensed it was going to be reeled in. He attacked with 20 miles to go and 2 riders tried to follow. The others including the T-Mobile rider let them go and were soon reeled in. With Kessler back in the fold the teams going for GC lost interest delegating the chase to the sprinter's teams. They're always motivated but after a hard time trial they just didn't have the legs. That's how this break succeeded when every other one so far has been caught.
pixelA Frenchman on a French team, (Ag2R) Sylvain Calzati had the ride of his life; he had to in order to stay away. Calzati rode in solo two minutes ahead of the two men that also managed to stay out.
pixelCalzati couldn't believe it and kept looking back just to make sure nobody was lurking. As he crossed the line he held high a small picture of his wife and daughter. He's another great French cycling hope who's been injured and underperformed. For a generation the French have had hopes but been on a strict diet, okay starved for TDF winning moments. They'll take this and perhaps it will ease the pain of today's World Cup loss to Italy.
pixelRobbie McEwen did win the bunch sprint for 4th gaining another 7 points on Tom Boonen who finished 9th. Those two look to be the only riders with a chance for green and McEwen with a 17 point lead looks like the winner.
pixelBack to the World Cup for a moment. Our media's mentality just isn't with it. At every opportunity they perpetuate the myth that winning is the only thing. In reporting the results of the 3rd place match between Germany and Portugal, ESPN's on air personalities were dismissive, almost ridiculing the hoopla and excitement over a "meaningless" game. Get a clue guys, 100,000 plus fans in the stands, the eyes of the world watching with keen interest, and two nations riveted on the outcome, doesn't add up to meaningless. How do they miss that?
pixelTomorrow's a rest day and then another flat stage, the shortest of the race at 170km, where a sprint finish is almost guaranteed. Then it's the Pyrenees and a 191km stage with the first 2 major climbs an above category 15km brute at 7-11% followed by a category 1 that's 10km at 8-11%. The fun is just beginning.


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