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My Tivo cut off the last several kilometers of yesterday’s stage to the top of the Col du Tourmalet. At the time, it was frustrating, and I cursed the damn thing and it’s seemingly non-existent understanding of bicycle racing, but once I was able to see the final kilometers, I realized my dear Tivo was really just trying to save me 20 minutes.

Like so many things in life, Stage 17 didn’t quite live up to the hype, at least from the heavily worked “final showdown” angle. To many, it seemed that Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) had quaffed some sort of psychotherapeutic Pepto Bismol to quell the anger in his stomach. And Alberto Contador (Astana), having keyed in on the readily apparent truth that people hate it when he attacks but love hollow dramatic gestures, holstered his pistola, made the peloton wait for Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel), and gave away a stage win. Could it be that Contador is finally getting his head around this whole PR business? Because after yesterday’s charm onslaught, if he promises lower taxes and reduced unemployment, he could be well on his way to public office.

But before we get too down on Stage 17, let’s remember that it’s been one of the first excitement deficiencies of this Tour. The start on the narrow roads of the Netherlands, the Stage 3 cobbles, and the Ardennes all lived up to their billing, one way or another. The Alps showed us the fall of Armstrong, the struggles of Evans, and the tenacity of the French; the Pyrenees brought more of the same, plus the drama of the chain drop, the last waltz, and Jens Voigt on a circus bike. Remember last year, when nothing happened for two solid weeks? Yes, this year’s battle for yellow has been, with one glaring exception, a fairly uninspiring case of waiting and waiting some more, lasting so long that now all we have to wait for is a final time trial. And let’s face it, those final time trials are only truly climactic once every 10 years, and I’m doubting that this is that year.

Which isn’t to say that the last few days of this Tour won’t feature some interesting racing. By the time this is posted, we will have seen another green jersey showdown in Bordeaux, and depending on how the sprinters have come through the mountains, the tight battle between Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) and Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) could carry all the way to the finish of the world’s greatest criterium on Sunday. And though I like to dismiss time trials, Saturday could produce some surprises as well. I think it’s a given that Denis Menchov (Rabobank) will overtake Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel) to take the third spot on the podium, provided he can keep his TT bike upright. What I’ll be interested to see is how close he can come to Schleck and a Contador who many seem to doubt will be the same as the Contador we saw in last year’s TT closer. Nearly four minutes is a huge gulf, so I don’t expect Menchov to get across it, but the final podium spread could be a lot closer than it is now. The other thing I’ll be on the lookout for is whether Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) can improve on his current 8th place standing. While 6th place Robert Gesink (Rabobank) might be too far afield at 2:37 up, 7th place Joachin Rodriguez (Katusha) might be accessible at a 2:15 advantage.

The other final question to be answered, assuming all works out as people assume it will? How gaudy will Contador's Champs Elysees bike and kit be?


  • At 32 years old, with your Rabobank contract up, young Dutch teammate Robert Gesink sitting safely inside the top-10 on GC, and countryman Vladimir Karpets failing to live up to expectations, Mr. Denis Menchov, smile and say, “Hello, Katusha!”

  • Even if the (second) Tourmalet stage didn’t have all the action fans had hoped, at least it had a lot of hairy, nearly naked dudes. Did you see Andy Schleck crack a smile right when the Borat trio fell back? He has such a Boy Scout image, it felt almost like he knew he wasn’t supposed to smile and tried his best, but he couldn’t help it.

  • I know I said we shouldn't get down on Stage 17, but damn, if that wasn't the case for bonus seconds on mountain stages in a nutshell, I don't know what is.

  • It took a long time to dawn on me, but this year’s route gave the RV people of the Tourmalet a two-fer. Watch Stage 16, hang around, drink, or ride away the rest day, then watch Stage 17 come back the other way. End result? That mountain is going to smell like urine until about a week before the next Tour comes through.

  • Halfway up the Tourmalet, Omega Pharma-Lotto still had Mario Aerts and Matthew Lloyd in the main group with Jurgen Van den Brouke. It was an astounding effort for a team whose lack of high mountain prowess was near legend during Cadel Evans’ tenure as the GC hope, and I have to wonder if it chaps him a bit that the boys seem to have a bit more bottle now that they have a Belgian leader to support. And it’s not that Omega has a drastically improved mountain roster. Some of Evans mountain support during his tenure at Whoever-Lotto? In 2007, he had Aerts and Chris Horner. In 2008, Aerts again. In 2009, he had Matthew Lloyd and Van den Brouke. If it’s been a matter of motivating the troops, I think Evans’ performance this year will serve him well in the future.

  • Sheep! And people wonder how cycling’s different from other sports…

  • A note to ASO: You successfully manage a portable city, your own air force, a mobile circus, and what I can only assume is enough bureaucratic red tape to circle the globe. So I know you can get 10 kilometers worth of metal fencing up a mountain. Don’t get me wrong, I love those tunnel-of-humanity, wall-of-sound images from the Alps and Pyrenees as much as the next guy – they can literally give me goosebumps from 3,000 miles away. But I also like it when the riders have enough room to attack in the last 5 kilometers of a mountain stage. You know, if they decide they’d like to.

  • Though he’s won the points competition at the Giro d’Italia in the past, I never thought I’d see Petacchi really contest the green jersey at the Tour de France. It’s been refreshing over the last few years to see the super-sprinters go after the green, rather than leaving it to the more versatile O’Gradys and Frieres of the peloton. I like those guys just fine, but having the top fast men in the running lends more credibility to the jersey. Too bad that Petacchi looks to be getting sucked into a new Italian doping investigation, so it may all yet implode.

  • Hats off to Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) for giving an astute and malice-free assessment of the great chain drop issue on Versus two days ago, and for, thank goodness, asking for people to stop to all the “waiting” talk. Frankly, I didn’t think he had it in him, but he did. Carlos Sastre had some similar, if more strongly worded thoughts on this year’s great ethical debates, while Hesjedal wins the Editors Award for Brevity with his assessment of the Great 2010 Waiting Debate: “If you draw your sword and drop it, you die.”

  • While everyone was focused on the whole Schleck versus Contador etiquette issue, many (except those in Ireland) missed the great Nicolas Roche (AG2r) versus John Gadret (also AG2r) issue on the same stage. Seems that on the Port de Balês climb, Roche had a front flat, and his assigned minder Gadret refused to give up his wheel, rode on, and then attacked to top it off, riding fairly obviously for the unofficial “top Frenchman” GC placing. As Roche describes, AG2r director Vincent Lavenu was screaming at Gadret – both on the radio during the stage and on the bus afterwards – that he was supposed to help Roche defend his top-15 classification spot, not leave him on the side of the road with a flat and ride for himself. Given the situation though, I have to wonder if some of Lavenu’s scolding was done for Roche’s benefit. At a French team like AG2r, it would be understandable if it were determined that “first Frenchman” was more valuable than a top-15 GC placing by an Irishman. At the same time, Roche is shaping up into quite a talent, so Lavenu can’t afford to alienate him by backing Gadret.

  • I’ve seen a few assertions that, since the French fans are booing and whistling at Contador, it’s pretty obvious he was in the wrong. Really? Why? Because they’re French people and they’re at the Tour de France? Do you assume Americans at the Super Bowl are experts on professional (American) football? While I know there are some are particularly knowledgeable French fans, remember that for the most part, the people watching the podiums and stage starts are just that – fans, probably of widely varying degrees – or curious locals, or people on vacation, just like you or I would be if we were there. Believe it or not, being French, just like (gasp!) being Belgian, does not automatically confer immense cycling wisdom on a person, nor automatically validate (or invalidate) their opinions. I'm probably preaching to the choir, though, because if you’ve found your way to my little corner of cycling, you’re probably capable of forming your own opinion.
*Not really, but something tells me Dirk Hofman doesn't mind a little free advertising from time to time.