Tour De France (Stages 1-5)

I awaited the arrival of the 95th Tour de France with excitement and bewilderment. This particular Tour seems up for grabs. There is no clear favorite. The #1 team in the world, Astana, with last year’s winner, Alberto Contador, was not invited because of unfounded doping allegations. Lance Armstong, the perennial favorite for 7 years, is no longer racing. No one has dominated the early season either. Doping scandals continue to rock the world of cycling. Everyone seems to have a chance at victory. I am not a Lance-hater by any means, but I am kind of glad Lance is no longer racing. Even with the likes of Marco Pantani, Jan Ulrich, and Ivan Basso you just knew it was a matter of time before Lance took the lead and crushed everyone. Now there is more parody. My list of top riders to watch for this year are Alejandro Valverde, Ricardo Ricco, Damiano Cunego, and Cadel Evans. If I had to choose a winner this year it would be the Australian, mountain biker-turned roadie, Cadel Evans. We’ll have to wait and see.

The excitement for me is the inclusion of Garmin-Chipotle and Team Columbia into the Tour. This will be the first time there have been 2 American teams in the Tour. Ironically, there are only 4 or 5 American riders this year with 2 teams. Injuries and the exclusion of Astana have decreased the American ranks. My heart goes out to David Zabriske who climbed well in the Tour of California then crashed out of the Tour of Italy and fractured his L1 vertebrae. Who doesn’t like David Z.? I have also been waiting to see what Jonathan Vaughters has up his sleeve. To see how a legitimate domestic team will fair against the best teams in the world. Even though he is young I can see him being the next Johan Bruyneel.

Stage 1, even before it began, was interesting. There was no prologue and last year’s winner was not in the race. So the winner of stage 1 would grab the yellow jersey. All 180 riders had a legitimate chance at the maillot jaune. It did not turn out to be a sprinter’s stage as the last 1.5 K were uphill. Team Coumbia rode hard to set up Kim Kirchen for the win but he was passed by Alejandro Valverde in the last 200 meters to take the stage and the yellow jersey. A very unexpected result as contenders for GC rarely win “flat”stages. His team will now have to decide whether to defend the jersey.

Stage 2 was poised to be one of the those early race “sprinter’s stages” but, the god of thunder, Thor Hushovd had something to say about that. He is a sprinter but not one the best. He is a strongman’s sprinter which is why he won this slightly uphill finish. However, the exciting moment for me was when, the fastest man alive, Fabian Cancellara, attacked in the last K. Reminiscent of last year when Cancellara was wearing yellow and attacked with 1K to go and won the stage. This time he was not let go. It made for an exciting couple of seconds though. He is a certified bad-ass, you never want to let him go. Valverde retained the yellow jersey.

Stage 3 had me on the edge of my seat the entire stage. Gamin-Chipotle infiltrated THE break with Will Frishkorn and 3 French riders attacking from kilometer 0. Amazingly they held off the hard-charging peleton and 3 of the 4 riders sprinted it out for the stage win. There were attacks, counter-attacks, and bridges. Frishkorn gave it his all but fell short getting 2nd. Later, during an interview with Frankie Andreau, you could really sense the agony and pain from Frishkorn. I felt for him as that was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. The bright side was that Garmin-Chipotle was now leading the team classification. Pretty cool for their first time in the Tour. Overall contenders Ricardo Ricco and Dennis Menchov lost 38 seconds to other GC men as they were stuck behind a crash near the end of the stage. Valverde kept the jersey.

Stage 4 was a telling 30 km time trial. Alejandro Valverde lost almost 90 seconds to new leader Stefan Shumacher. Cadel Evans made the most noise as he finished 4th but well ahead of other overall contenders. David Millar missed wearing the yellow jersey and winning a stage for Garmin-Chipotle by 18 seconds. The cream is beginning to come to the top as most of the overall contenders did well. The distance wasn’t long enough to lose loads of time. Dennis Menchov, who lost 38 seconds yesterday, made a strong showing finishing only 34 seconds down to Shumacher. He might have been in yellow had it not been for yesterday’s crash.

Stage 5 ended in a field sprint with Team Columbia rider Mark Cavendish taking the stage. I can’t wait to read some quotes tomorrow as he is fast and knows it. 38 year old Eric Zabel took second. The Hardy Breed trophy of the day goes to George Hincapie who had a mechanical within 10 miles of the finish, bridged back up to the group, when straight to the front, and helped lead out Cavendish.  Shumacher stayed in yellow.

The television coverage this year has been better than expected. Versus has seemed to reduce the amount of cycling coverage so their Tour coverage has been a pleasant surprise. Did anyone catch the in-car camera with Robbie Ventura and Jonathon Vaughters? You got to hear exactly what Vaughters was telling Millar during the time trial. It was really cool seeing that side of the sport. Getting a glimpse inside professional cycling.

Whether you like Frankie Andreau or not he does some intersting interviews. He asks questions I would ask. His interview with Will Frishkorn says it all. You could really see the emotion in Will. Frankie’s 7 Tours give him good insight into what the riders are thinking. My only problem with Versus’ coverage are those hideous shirts Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin wear. Pink, come on? I haven’t had a chance to check out the 3-hour episodes with Bob Roll. Two hours is more than enough for me until we hit the mountains.

Go Garmin-Chipotle!