Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Stage 17
22 July 2009

Lots of racing today. Changes in the GC, which will change tomorrow after the ITT and will change again after the Ventoux on Saturday. Lots of little tragedies and joys as well. Happy bunny, me. The thing that surprised me most was Thor Hushovd doing his climbing attack, out in front of the entire peloton and the escape as well to get his points for the green jersey. I am sure he knows that, barring some accident of blunder, Cavendish will win on the Champs. Probably Thor will finish behind him or certainly within shouting distance. So it IS all locked up for Thor, even without this rather dramatic demo. In some way, I think he felt strong, needed no team support to do what he did, and felt he had to make something clear to Cavendish and all of us (“you are young and fast, but I am older, wiser, more experienced and can do many things you can never do”). He really is an excellent and complete rider. I am totally glad he has the green jersey, even if I picked Cav in the forum pool.

The Schlecks announced they wanted to mark the Tour's history today. They said they were going to attack. And they did. But exactly where everyone thought they would in exactly the way everyone thought they would. My wife claims they are boring and Germanic. I see what she means, but they nevertheless did well. No one will forget how they rode off into the mountains, and left behind everyone but Contador. It appears that no one can leave him behind. Contador gave them the stage, and between them they decided to let Frank win, the older brother. The two Laurents thought it should be Andy, Thierry Adam (the space filler) thought it would be Frank. I wanted Andy because I picked him in the forum pool, but I lost. In any case, for the next 24 hours anyway, the Schlecks look like they have succeeded. Sadly I fear that after the time trial, they will be like Nocentini in the yellow jersey. It is just a matter of time before they tumble down. Then they will have only one chance to get on the podium, Ventoux. That last hour on Ventoux should be very interesting indeed. I think we are guaranteed some racing that day. However, the Schlecks did what they said, when they said and you gotta respect them for that.

In case any of you wonder how my teams are doing in the two competitions, I would say average, or maybe slightly more than average, but not much. I made a couple of bad choices in each team and am paying for it. I will learn. Maybe.

That Astana team is pretty much dominating the whole race. Jalabert says smothering. It does not look like it now, but after the time trial it will be obvious. They seem to be able to control the race each day for long enough to let their excellent GC riders take it from there. Jalabert made a face when Holz asked him to comment on the excellent racing. While Laurent is usually pretty positive, he knows very well what has happened to this year's race. Astana is too good. On the other hand, they have the best rider on earth, Contador, ready to attack, hang in, whatever is need to win. They also have the German shadow who does nothing except be a good team mate and still manages to beat nearly everyone else. And then they have Lance. He was supposed to fail in the mountains, too old, not in good shape. Well, most teams would be utterly delighted to have their leader fail like he has. There are two guys from the same team who are temporarily ahead of him. No one except Contador can beat him. Although many hope someone will beat him. So far, they just can't do it. Holy mackerel, the guy is excellent, and old and very much NOT out of shape. Whatever happens in the Tour he can be absolutely happy and so can all his fans. He really has done well, and with only one more mountain stage to come, even if he fails badly, and there is no evidence he will, he will have made a huge success, for an old guy. I mean, all you want from a mountain guy is that he can attack and keep up. He has done both. I figure he will beat everyone but three guys in the ITT.

Sastre gave it a try today, but has not got it. Kreuziger was up there and then drifted back. Evans has never been in the picture. Menchov fell off twice and is an embarrassment. Egoi Martinez never really took on his job to win the jersey. LL Sanchez and Kim Kirchen were outsiders, and neither of them is even remotely close to the top ten. Tony Martin had a bit of glory and then fell far. Moncouti√© never woke up. The Tour is full of disappointment. One minor disappointment is that the lanterne rouge, Kenny van Hummel, “one of the worst climbers in Tour history”, fell on a descent and left the race. He was supposed to be a great descender, but probably desperate to catch up after his awful climbing today. He gets dropped first of all riders, a bit like me actually. Except I can't sprint either. Too bad, apparently he was becoming a hero in Holland.

Pellizotti has done well, as has Hushovd. But neither of them was a secret. The biggest surprise continues to be Vee-geens, the Brit. Commentators are now beginning to think he might actually make the podium, a first for a British rider. Robert Millar was fourth once. I must look up some interview with Veegeens to get an impression. The only interview I saw, very short, was after the Verbier stage. He was surly and stupid sounding, but then again he had just climbed at the limit of his possibility and someone pointed a mic at him while he was sitting on the ground. I hope he sounds better later. Nibali and Vande Velde lived up to their promise even if they have not set any stages on fire, they have done really well. Goodness, there is still a Frenchman in the top ten, so we gotta say Le Mevel is a French hero.

Must get to bed, sorry for not having time for more. I am actually a bit depressed about not going to Ventoux on account of the colitis flare-up. My wife is not happy either. Total drag.

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