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  Rest Day Updates July 10, 2006
by David Balkin

pixelAfter 8 stages and 807 miles the TDF takes a break and flies south to Bordeaux where it gathers itself for an assault on the Pyrenees.  Those high mountains come into play after tomorrow's stage 9, the flattest of the race, and 2nd shortest at 105 miles.  Nothing is easy but this is as close as it comes and could be the sprinter's last hurrah until Paris.
pixelThe one jersey I've not written about so far is the white awarded to the best young rider 25 or under. It takes years to develop into a bonafide contender in stage racing. The ability to ride hard and recover over 3 weeks requires a level of physical and mental maturity that young phenoms have to grow into. It's a GC competition, just like the big boys, with the fastest overall time deciding the winner.  
pixelNone of the names leap out as a possible winner. Marcus Fothen a German rider on the other German team, Gerolsteiner, is the current leader by a minute but what that means with the mountains coming up is probably very little.  From 1st to last in this 23 rider competition spans 34 minutes with Aitor Hernandez a Basque holding down 23rd.  His team Euskaltel-Euskadi, is all Basque (a requirement) and state sponsored by the phone company and regional government.  
pixelBasque riders live in the Pyrenees and are born to climb. I have no idea what Aitor is capable of but on his home tarmac he'll move up.  The team and its leader Iban Mayo, after a stellar TDF ride in 2003, have been a huge disappointment everywhere ever since.  There's talk of the sponsors pulling the plug and if that's not enough motivation the mountain roads will be lined  for miles 10 deep with their Basque countrymen, by far the craziest fans in cycling; they love their team with passion and frenzy.  Running that gauntlet scared the hell out of Lance.  In no sport are spectators in such close contact with competitors; indeed they're part of the game.
pixelThere is also a team competition, decided by GC but winning it is like kissing your sister.  In this team sport it's all about one teammate finishing in yellow.  Discovery never won it because they all killed themselves for Lance and after doing so peeled off one at a time to recover and ride it in under the time limit.  
pixelT-Mobile won this last year while rife with dissent.  They couldn't decide which of their stars to support and chased each other down losing any slim hopes they had of beating Lance.  This year they're riding like a unified team and seem to have a stranglehold on it. Strange that it works both ways. They lead Phonak by 3:09 and 16 minutes separates top from bottom.  Yawn.
pixelThe KOM competition is about to get real.  Last year Michael Rasmussen had it pretty much wrapped before the big mountains and was also a GC contender.  So far he's completely missing in action but he can really climb.  
pixelFrenchman Jerome Pineau still leads but Sylvain Calzati by virtue of his solo win yesterday harvested enough points along the way to move from nowhere into 4th showing how early it still is. The best climbers are also GC contenders and save themselves for crunch times when they have to respond or lose time to a rival who really matters. That makes accumulating mountain points on random climbs a low priority.  
pixelThe green jersey seems to have eluded Tom Boonen who is very puzzled by his lack of success in the finishing sprints.  He says he's now going to ride mid pack and not put any pressure on himself. Ordinarily I'd say he’s playing poker and look for him to win tomorrows flattest of all stages. But Robbie McEwen is on fire and will be hard to beat.  This stage may be the last time his name appears for a while.  The mountains will require considerable soul searching before he's over them.
pixelFloyd Landis hopes and expects to keep the American winning streak alive.  He just revealed today that he is going to have hip replacement surgery sometime after the TDF.  It hurts a lot but lucky for him it's at its worst when he walks. He's had this degenerative condition for a couple of years and it seems strange timing to announce it now.  I won't read any more into it than that.
pixelThe French are finally doing well in their national treasure and passion.  It's the first time since Bernard Hinault won the race 5 times in the mid to late 1980's.  Two stage wins so far and they may have another one up their sleeve on Bastille Day.  July 14th is a transitional stage between the Pyrenees and the Alps.  It's rolling and long but with no super hard climbs and that's for sure by design.  
pixelHey, it's their race and what's the point of home court advantage? A lot depends on the standings to that point but the peleton can be compassionate and allow French no-hopers to escape off the front with a few others of no importance and have a chance to battle for glory. Last year a French rider won on Bastille Day and 2 others finished in the top ten.  That was their walk off home run.
pixelI've been asked why they don't throw in an early mountain stage to spice things up.  If they did that and some good rider gained a bunch of time the GC winner would be almost be a foregone conclusion.  That's just like when Lance rode. The lack of suspense is why a lot of aficionados, me included, are just as glad he's not riding.  Don't get me wrong Lance is great to watch but it's time for something new and totally uncertain.  Come back next year Lance; the suspense will be palpable.



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