Bastille Day Backlog

Catching up with Beltran, Versus, Riccò, Evans, and Alcohol

Happy Bastille Day! Did I miss anything?

Oh, right, Manuel “Triki” Beltran (Liquigas) was busy testing positive right as I was posting Friday's entry, kicking off dope scandal season at this year's Tour. Woops. First of all, that’s the last time I’m calling him Triqui/Triki, because my kid likes Cookie Monster too much for me to associate that particular muppet with such scandal. U.S. Postal team legend has it that Beltran earned his nickname because he couldn’t keep his hands off the sweets in the off-season, thus piling on the pounds, but given the course of recent events you have to wonder which of his apparent appetites it really referred to.

Regardless of what we call him, he did indeed get caught with his hand in the cookie jar – for EPO no less. I’m not going to join numerous other sites in hurling f-bombs his way, if only because at 37, he’s at the tail end of the generation of guys who were likely all part of a system, and being in the front group is a tough habit to kick. That said, I don’t feel too bad for him, either. At his age, he’s old enough know that this is the Tour de France, with more testing methods than a Salem witch hunt, not some damn grand prix des chaudières where anything goes as long as you wink at the right people.

Seriously, though, EPO? So five years ago. It would have been far more stylish to go out in a blaze of late 1980’s glory, with a shot of Kenacort in his left butt cheek, some Ton-ton in the right, and a neon headband on his noggin. At least the tests for that shit are reliable now. But with the EPO test, you apparently have a pretty good chance of getting caught even if you’re not doing anything, so banging a hot shot of 1990’s technology into your arm only boosts your odds of turning up hot in an already stacked game. “Wait!” you say, "Doesn’t that mean that there’s a good chance he’s completely innocent?" Maybe, and I wish I still had that sort of optimism, but I don’t.

Take Back the Ads

Well didn’t the Beltran positive just kick that Versus “Take Back the Tour” ad in the nuts? Do they have a plan to revise those things on the fly? How long does it take to get footage of Beltran to look all cool and grainy like that? As I pointed out before, the original “riding backwards” advertisement is a poorly thought-out effort. On the broad level, it just makes it look like Versus is out to profit from doping in cycling as much as everyone else by using scandal to promote their programming, rather than making the network look like some sort of caring benefactor as they intended. But it sucks on a lot of other levels, too.

If they were looking toward a bright new future, and wanted an advertisement that made other people look toward a bright new future, how did they end up with this? The ad only re-examines the scandals of the past 5 years or so, but doesn’t offer the ray of hope that I think they think it does. Other than plastering “take back the Tour” on the end, there’s no upshot, no optimism, no sense of how we are moving or can move in another direction. Just some amorphous instruction to the viewing audience to do something that, with minor exceptions, just isn’t in its power. To top it off, they use the “rewind” trick, which really just drives home the point that they’re looking backward, not forward.

And what’s the point? Most people watching the Versus broadcast are well aware of these scandals already – we watched them unfold on their channel. For those viewers who might stumble into the coverage and not be as familiar with the sport, is this the introduction we want to give them every seven and a half minutes? Simply begging for help isn’t the best way to draw people in, even Jerry Lewis knew that, and any good panhandler will tell you the same. Not that we should sweep the past under the pavement, but maybe, if we really want people to be optimistic about a clean future, beating them over the head with the dirty past isn’t the best strategy.

Though it’s certainly dramatic, with its whiney folk strumming and computer aged footage, this sort of crap really isn’t good for the business end of the sport, either. Know why? There are sponsors printed on every one of those jerseys. Some are still in the sport, others not, but it’s pretty likely that they’re all still operating as businesses doing whatever it is they do. Those sponsors are the ones who write the big checks, and while they might tell the team management that they’d appreciate a few wins every now and then (who wouldn’t?), they ain’t typically the ones with their finger on the plunger. Nevertheless, each of those sponsors had their names dragged through the mud when their respective scandals broke – how long will they have to keep paying the PR price for their investment in cycling? Look at Bianchi, which stepped in to pay the bills for that team after Coast shat the bed. For that small kindness, Bianchi is re-connected with Ullrich’s woes repeatedly, just like Rabobank is to Rassmussen. Vinokourov and Astana? OK – that connection is going to happen for the foreseeable future regardless of what Versus does, but even they’re making an effort to move on in their own way. But thanks to scandals being used in commercials, it’s hard to get a gap.

Sure, some will cry “all publicity is good publicity,” but there are also a lot of people making big money helping brands make and manage their “images,” so balance those two ideologies in your own head as you see fit. For those sponsors that have already gone through the doping wringer, there’s not too much point in worrying about it, but the real problem is the message this re-hashing gives to potential new sponsors. Namely, that if one of their riders goes astray, the company on the jersey will be associated with it not for days or months, but for years, and years, and years. That’s some hefty risk, and don’t think those companies’ “brand image consultants” won’t raise that issue when they’re reviewing sponsorship proposals.

But these commercials aren’t just ill-conceived, they’re sloppy, too. The original version of the Versus ad featured David Millar coming out of (or going back in to, as the case may be) a TT start house. Lots of people think Millar’s been edited out because the network has allied itself so closely with Garmin-Chipotle, for whom he rides now, but I’m going the other way on this one. I think Millar was removed because in their rush to get cute, Versus’ ad department used footage of him in Saunier Duval colors, the team he joined after his suspension and alleged reform, not the Cofidis colors of the team he rode for when he decided to use EPO bottles to create some mantelpiece ambience in his Biarritz apartment. I’m guessing the Saunier Duval squad didn’t take their undeserved inclusion too kindly (no, the people at Saunier Duval probably don’t watch American television, but some people at bike sponsor Scott probably do), and responded with entirely appropriate threats.

Or maybe it is the Garmin thing. Who knows? Either way, when they started the planning for this ad, one of the many, many things they should have done differently was to define exactly what a rider needed to do to be in the ad. Test positive (Landis, Vino)? Confess (Zabel)? Be implicated in a police investigation (Ullrich)? Get pulled by your team (Rassmussen)? Does your infraction have to be at the Tour de France (Landis, Rasmussen)? Does it not (Millar, Ullrich)? Are we showing everyone who’s soiled the sport, or just some people? What’s the selection process? Where’s Moreni? Where’s Basso? Where's Riis? Right now, they’re just all over the place.

Crappiness aside, for those who get all barrel chested and teary eyed at those ads, Beltran’s incident must really suck the air out of the room. But what did they and Versus expect? That in the widely publicized most-tested Tour ever, that there would be no positives? What the hell? Everybody keeps referring to this year’s efforts by governing bodies, organizers, and teams as the “crackdown” on doping. Do people know what “crackdown” means? It doesn’t mean that everybody suddenly thinks better of their illicit activity and stops of their own accord. It means you go out and catch the people doing it and put a stop to it. And you don’t do that without a few people doing the perp walk somewhere along the way. So think ahead, people, before you start giving everything the sepia-and-acoustic treatment like it's in the past. It isn't.

Finally, I’ve criticized the ad for, among other things, offering only scandal and no real light or look forward, so I won't be totally hypocritical and not offer anything myself. Here's my concept – they should have put together a bunch of babies and young kids, with the color saturation scaled back. They’d each be wearing one of the leader’s jerseys – yellow, green, polka-dot, or white – with the color saturation scaled up. In the ad, they’d be (through the miracle of digital media) lining the streets to cheer as whoever Versus wants to bet on as a “clean rider” goes past. They can do it in slow-mo and grainy, if that’s their thing. So you have the youth, the riders and fans of the future, looking on adoringly towards the clean guys, rather than just a lazy bleating recap of the latest scandals. Sure, one of their “clean guys” could pop a positive, which would pretty much kill the whole campaign, but at least they’d limit their odds a bit. Right now, pretty much anyone, say Beltran, testing positive makes the current campaign look a little more silly than it did already.

Riccò: Good, But Not Dope Rumour Good

Ricardo Riccò (Saunier-Duval) took a nice win yesterday in the first true mountain stage, which has already sent gums flapping and keyboards tapping about whether he’s getting a little illicit help of his own. Really? A 130-pound climbing specialist who poses no real GC threat taking 1:17 out of a bunch of GC favorites who are nervously awaiting the next day’s showdown at Hautacam rises to that level? I don’t think so, and I wish VeloNews hadn’t run this particular piece.

I do understand that Neal Rogers is basically reporting the “village buzz” in this daily column, and that may well be the village buzz, but it’s so thin and poorly substantiated at this point, he could have just held onto it. All of it would read just fine as background in the piece that would run if Riccò actually tested positive for anything besides good timing and shitty time trialing, which along with obvious talent in the mountains are what got him into winning position yesterday. As far as we know, anyway, and that’s all we should be discussing.

Among the reasons the column lists for people being suspicious of Riccò are that he emulates Marco Pantani, uses a masseuse who was involved in doping in the past, and that he talks a lot of trash. I don’t have much time after that Versus tirade, so for now we’ll just say that these can be easily answered with: what Italian climber his age didn’t emulate Pantani, how many long-time masseuses in cycling haven’t been involved in doping, and finally, trash talking is fun. Yes, Riccò makes things hard on himself in a lot of ways, the above examples included. But until he actually lights up the dope meter, I’m inclined to hope that he’s sort of cycling’s version of the straight edge kids -- he desperately wants all the tough-guy imagery of the bad boys, but might be making some different lifestyle choices than they did. Not everyone who climbs with their hands in the drops is a criminal, just like not everyone who listens to punk is out to defile your daughter.

God Intervenes to Make Tour Interesting

Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) crashed yesterday, and though he remembers a Spanish guy crashing ahead of him and getting up from the pavement, he has no idea what the hell actually happened to him. You know who else had an incident like that? The Virgin Mary. And that, my friends, is because in both cases, depending on your belief system, God might have stepped in to try to save humanity. In the most recent case, he’s trying to save us from a horribly uninspiring Tour de France win.

Since well before the Tour, Evans has promised to stop at nothing to bore his way to victory. Before the Tour, he told us that he’s content with the Indurain Tour de France formula – taking his ticks in the time trials and hanging on like a tick in the mountains, since he’s apparently physically incapable of being exciting there. Now that we’re underway, he’s studiously occupying places 5 through 12 on the road in a valiant attempt to stay out of the yellow jersey. Now that's racing!

Yes, it was all going according to plan until yesterday: he’d made no impression whatsoever, and was on a clear path to annoy his way through the mountains, take the jersey in the final time trial, and then ride in a protective bubble into Paris, where he would unzip the plastic, don his surgical mask, and accept the polite applause of the crowd. But then God’s mighty finger apparently dumped Evans on his ass, and leg, and shoulder, and arm, and head in an effort to, you know, shake things up a bit. Even the least religious among us, probably me, thank him for throwing a little kink into the works, enough to make it a little harder for the Aussie to hang onto the more explosive Valverde in the Alps and the Pyrenees, maybe creating enough of a gap to make the last TT interesting. Or at least rattle him a bit.

Evans should be thankful, too, but I doubt he is. He’s been handed his “Tyler moment” on a silver platter – he can milk the “riding through injury” angle for all it’s worth, even though 800-year-old Tour doctor Gerard Porte says it’s only a flesh wound. If he comes out of it with a victory, Evans has the makings of a story with at least a vestigial heart, rather than a surgical removal of a Tour title. Evans predictably started milking as soon as he crossed the line, taking the prima donna act he’s been testing out into production mode by refusing to talk to reporters after the stage, then handing journalist and countryman Rupert Guiness his cracked helmet through the bus window with a bitchy “here’s your interview.

I have news for Evans – Tour favorite or not, his list of victories on the road is a bit thin for that sort of crap. And what the hell is going on? Aussies used to be hardmen who traveled thousands of miles from home to gut it out on hard European roads. Some, like Stuey O’Grady, still maintain the mystique. Evans, on the other hand, should be on the lookout for Phil Anderson standing on the roadside waiting to punch him in his purty mouth, while Allan Peiper kicks him in the ribs. All in the national interest, of course.

Booze Update

Obviously, I’ve fallen a bit behind in attempts to provide you with appropriate drinking suggestions for the most recent stages. The Unholy Rouleur, however, is right on cue with some sustenance tips. I’ll try to use tomorrow’s rest day to catch up, and get everyone prepared to liquor up until well into the Alps.

Tivo Fever

Plus Some Recommendations and the Wine Report

Like many people, I make judicious use of Tivo while watching the Tour. Of course, it lets you skip commercials, or repeat them, if that’s your thing, but it also lets you do nerdy crap like this: I’ve identified my favorite seven minute stretch of yesterday morning’s live Versus broadcast, as referenced by that delightful little counter at the bottom of the screen.

1:00 – Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) is working his way back up through the caravan to the tail end of the field after having stopped for a piss and a bike adjustment. As he draws even with Com 1, the two gendarmes on motos move left to let Evans pass. Apparently, they didn’t do it quick enough, because as he passes several seconds later, Evans slaps the gendarme on the shoulder has he passes and angrily points to his own eyes in a “watch where the hell you’re going” gesture.

Sometimes, in racing, the motos get in the way, but they’re a necessary evil. But watching the Evans incident, I didn’t really see the interference at all – any DS worth his salt could have driven the team car through that gap, and maybe the bus as well, so getting a bike through looked to be easy. I guess that need for a three foot buffer zone is why Evans doesn’t turn up at the Tour of Flanders. As Liggett and Sherwen pointed out, Evans’s overreaction to the perceived injustice seemed to be a mark of some real nervousness on his part. I’d tend to agree – it was a Cat. IV overreaction to a common and not very threatening situation. We didn’t see if he said anything to the gendarme, but I'm pretty sure I heard him shouting, “Hold your line! On your right! Pothole! Gravel! Gravel! Gravel!” as he made his way back through the peloton.

If he’s wound that tight with an hour and a half to go to the final climb, I’m wondering how this Tour is going to shape up for him. Has anyone ever lost because their head just exploded?

1:03 – Phil Liggett is discussing the local topography a bit during an aerial shot, referencing the extinct volcanoes that dot the Massif Centrale landscape. He continues, “Some of these extinct volcanoes are 400 feet deep, and they’re perfectly symmetrical.” What? Really? Any volcanologists reading this that can explain what he might be talking about? Are volcanoes symmetrical?

1:05 – Versus cuts to an in-car cam and microphone trained on Team Columbia DS Brian Holm, who’s driving their car with Rolf Aldag sitting shotgun. As part of the intro, Liggett adds, “They know we’re listening in, so they’re going to behave themselves, I’m sure.” Still stinging from the Vaughters incident, eh? I have to wonder if they've started putting a little delay on the in-car shots.

1:07 – The peloton is riding through a town in a bit of a drizzle, and Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) is riding no-handed, unzipping his yellow jersey to stuff a sheet of plastic or paper down the front to fight off the chill. Liggett comments, “They can do anything on the bike, but I emphasize to not do this at home, because you’ll fall off and take your clubmates down and they won’t be pleased with you.”

For the sake of amateur racers everywhere, this comment should be made into a public service announcement, and aired every bit as often as those poorly-thought-out “Take Back the Tour” ads. Those ads probably won’t do much to save the Tour at all, but the “don’t try this on your group ride” announcement could save countless teeth and wheels around the country.

(As an aside, I was worried about Liggett earlier in the season, when he seemed extremely off his game during the classics. But he’s ridden himself into form nicely for the Tour, the usual verbal ticks and foibles notwithstanding.)

Helping Those Least in Need

I saw a few notable things perusing the Internets, on which this whole Tour de France lark seems to be getting quite a bit of airplay. Not that they need me to steer any traffic their way, but here are some links from the bigger guns I thought were notable:

I gave Chris Carmichael a bit of a hard time the other day about his Valverde article on Bicycling, but as I pointed out, he has some good knowledge rattling around, and when he lets it out, it’s good stuff. In this piece, he gives some good insight on the challenges of the Massif Centrale and how the Tour organizers can influence the race through route selection. And I have to hand it to him, he’s cranking out a tremendous amount of copy, writing for at least two outlets as well as his company’s Tour de France newsletter. Coming up with a couple different workable angles on a single race can be a tough grind. Trust me.

Cyclingnews is finally doing what I’ve been wishing an English-language outlet would do for years – they’re publishing diaries from big riders from non-English speaking countries on non-English speaking teams. Yes, I love to hear from our relative locals, and it can be easy to relate to our fellow Anglophones, but it’s nice to get the broader coverage as well. There have been earlier efforts, but these are the best to date.

For this Tour, they’ve landed Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) , who’s having a hell of a season now that he’s finally managed to shake the “next French Tour winner” albatross the press hung around his neck early in his career. I like his attitude in his latest entry as well, saying essentially that he’s there to make the race interesting to the fans, and if he’s gassed the next day, that’s part of the job. He did a good job of it yesterday, hanging on over the first Category 2 climb by the skin of his teeth to snatch the polka dots from Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom). He says that he’s happy to hand it back over for awhile, but I still have to wonder why Cofidis didn’t send someone up the road to grab those third place points and give him a little bit of padding over his countryman. It didn’t look like it would have been that challenging, but then again, I’m watching on TV.

They also have Stijn Devolder (Quick.Step), the closest thing Belgium has had to a contender since, I don’t know, Michele Pollentier? His entry is a bit more cut-and-dried than Chavanel’s, but we’ll see if things pick up in the mountains.

VeloNews has been getting pretty heavily into the online video scene over the last year or so, and they’ve been posting video diaries from George Hincapie (Columbia) and Magnus Backstedt (Garmin-Chipotle). Probably more interesting are the on-the-spot interviews from the stage finishes, which give a good sense of what the media scrum at the finish of a big race is like. When I went to my first few, being a polite lad, I had this feeling that I should give riders a half-second to catch their breath before shoving a recorder in their face. In these clips, you can see why I had to revise my strategy pretty quickly.

Finally, and unfortunately, here we go again. And again.

So there you go, after a few days of kvetching, I’ve spread some unicorns and rainbows around. We do quite a bit of critiquing of media outlets, riders, and associated peoples here, sometimes a bit harshly for the sake of making a point or getting a chortle. But in the end, everybody’s making their contribution, and we’re glad they’re there. So don’t be mad, baby, I only hit you ‘cause I love you.

Stage 7 Booze Cruise

Just a quick one today, as the race enters the Cantal hills of the Auvergne on its way down to the Pyrenees. The Unholy Rouleur has a little writeup on Cantal cheeses to enjoy during your viewing, and a rigorous 5 minutes of Googling on my part reveals that the Beaujolais we discussed yesterday should go just fine with that selection. So assuming you picked up a bottle for yesterday’s stage, you’re all set for this evening, too. If there’s nothing left from the bottle you cracked last night, seek help.

Wines and Punches

Today's sixth stage of the Tour de France runs from the southern borders of the Loire Valley along a sweeping southeast arc to the resort of Super-Besse. The little community of A-frame style houses sits in the hills near the extinct Puy-de-Dôme volcano, just outside the regional center of Clermont-Ferrand. The Puy-de-Dôme is famous in cycling circles for being the spot where, in the 1975 Tour, a French spectator punched Eddy Merckx in the stomach hard enough to do some real damage. He continued, of course, only to crash three days later and fracture his cheekbone. He continued again, but eventually lost that Tour to Bernard Thevenet, which was probably the intent of the punch in the first place.

So the Puy-de-Dôme is a famous place to punch people in the gut, but apparently, that’s not all they do there. They also make wine – reds, whites, and pinks as it turns out, mostly from Gamay grapes grown on the plains outside Clermont-Ferrand. Gamay is mostly renowned for its use in the region’s Beaujolais, a young, light red wine made famous and extremely available in the United States by Georges Duboeuf (Google it, the results are overwhelming). So ambitious is old Georges’ distribution scheme that his wines are available in most normal, non-uppity supermarkets (or liquor stores, if you live in one of those states) and it’s inexpensive, about $8-12 a bottle. Look for the bottles with the distinctive flowery labels. Most people like Beaujolais slightly chilled, which is good for people who like red wine but don’t relish the thought of downing a glass of lukewarm grape syrup on a hot summer’s day.

The region makes plenty of other wines as well, various iterations of Côte d’Auvergne being the most visible. But for pure affordability and accessibility, it’s hard to beat old Georges. And spending more than $10 on a Tour-viewing bottle of wine just wouldn’t be as spiritually consistent with our table-wine swilling frères on the French roadside today, would it? But even they wouldn't drink on an empty stomach - the Unholy Rouleur has a few suggestions for snacks as the race rolls into the Massif Central.

Good Will Tour

Thanks to the miracle of Tivo, I usually don't watch the morning Tour coverage until the evening, so little did I know that as I was mentioning Will Frischkorn (Garmin-Chipotle) in yesterday’s post, he was busy plugging away in the first successful breakaway of this year’s Tour de France. He came up just a bit short in the end, losing out to Cofidis smurf Samuel Dumoulin, but was awarded the red number of the most aggressive rider for his trouble.

If you follow domestic racing, you probably already know Frischkorn. It’s hard to believe that he’s still just 27 years old, because it feels like he’s been around forever – he turned professional with the powerhouse domestic Mercury team when he was just 19 years old. That team’s DS, John Wordin, had his share of troublesome issues, but spotting talent wasn’t one of them. Wordin also signed a young Baden Cooke, plucked Floyd Landis from the obscurity mid-pack NORBA racing, brought Henk Vogels to the U.S., and helped relaunch Chris Horner’s career after his failed early career stint with Francaise de Jeux. Wordin managed to do all that before the team absolutely imploded in a flurry of lawsuits after failing to get an invitation to the 2001 Tour de France. That mess, largely of Wordin's making, left the team’s later star signings like Peter Van Petegem and Leon Van Bon looking for other teams and suing the Wordin for wages, an ugly situation that contributed to the salary guarantee that ProTour teams have to pay at the beginning of the season.

But I digress. Frischkorn survived that debacle, and rode for the Saturn and Colavita domestic teams before signing with Vaughter’s TIAA-CREF development team in 2004. That team would later morph into today’s Garmin-Chipotle with the signings of big European names like Backstedt and Millar, along with U.S. ProTour vets Dave Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde. With that transformation, many were wondering how much of the team’s old guard (or young guard, as the case may be) would remain. Cuts were made, to be sure, but Frischkorn – originally brought to the team to help mentor younger developing riders – found his way through, and later onto the Tour team. Vaughters must be pleased with that choice now, with Frischkorn getting a lot of airplay during this year’s Versus coverage, whether in those close-up segments, through his epic break at this year’s Milan-San Remo, or during yesterday’s exploit on the road to Nantes.

What else can you say about Will? Neal Rogers pretty well covers it.

Frischkorn aside, I also made a quick reference yesterday to Brittany native, five time Tour winner, winner of damn near everything else, and all around cycling tough guy Bernard Hinault, likening him to Chuck Norris. When I wrote that, I was thinking of his legendary toughness, as well as his feisty personality. In particular, I was thinking of the timeworn story of Hinault, on encountering a road-blocking workers’ protest during a long-ago Paris-Nice, simply riding into them full bore and jumping off his bike with fists flying. After all, he had a job to do, and they were in his way. It was things like that that earned him the nickname “the Badger,” and yesterday, the Badger, now in his 50s, struck again. See the VeloNews report (and, more importantly, the photo) here, and remember – if Hinault is in the vicinity, you best keep your protestin’ to yourself.

Time Checks

Did everyone catch Garmin DS Jonathan Vaughters’ F-bomb during the ridealong for Millar’s time trial today? Liggett and Sherwen threw it to Robbie Ventura, who was riding shotgun with Vaughters with a lipstick cam on him, Vaughters, and Allen Lim in the backseat. Lim seemed to be disguised as a British DJ, but that’s a different story. Between Vaughters encouraging Millar over the radio, Ventura asks, “So how’s this going for you?” Vaughters, as usual, had been giving fantastically composed answers in all the previous segments, but, having just learned about Stefan Schumacher’s insane splits, he kicked off this answer with “Fuck, man…”

Ventura’s been doing a pretty good job on the coverage for a relative broadcasting newcomer, but he just plain doesn’t have the experience to just blow on through something like that on live television. He just froze with the “I can’t believe you just did that” look on his face – mouth open, eyes straining to the left, scanning to see if Vaughters has realized what had gone down. It was actually the same expression one of my college housemates had when he came plowing into my room on evening yelling “Where the fuck are we drinking tonight?” only to find my parents sitting on the bed. Fortunately, Pete was pretty used to getting himself in those situations, uttered a quick “Oh, I see your parents are here” and just turned and left the room. Though it wasn’t his faux pas, I got the feeling that Ventura would have jumped for it if Millar had slowed down enough to give him a shot at a good tuck-and-roll. Personally, I think it was Vaughters' calculated revenge after Ventura referred to their ride as the "Team Discovery car" earlier in the show.

Millar finished damn near the top after that little 29.5k jaunt – yellow jersey Romain Feillu (Agritubel) not so much. Feillu finished 168th, dropping 4:59 to Schumacher and falling from first to 40th on GC. Not that we had any right to expect Feillu to turn in some spectacular effort after being in the long break yesterday. And besides, he’s a utility rider who went in the right break, not a TT specialist or GC contender. Though legend has it that the yellow jersey gives you even bigger wings than a case of Red Bull, I’m sure Feillu wasn’t under any illusions of stardom either.

Still, I felt for Feillu during his ride today. Many riders who grab the jersey the way he did get to enjoy a nice start to the day in the peloton, getting pats on the back and a bit of the star treatment before the real racing begins. If they’re lucky, they can sit in the field and preserve enough of their lead to keep it for another day. If not, the camera will hang back with them for a minute or two as they slip off the back, and they can go back to being just another rider. Not so for poor Feillu, who landed the jersey before the first showdown ITT stage of this Tour. For his efforts, he got to have his solitary suffering documented for a whole 35 minutes, while the television timer documented just how much time he was hemorrhaging at every checkpoint. Nothing like having a camera trained on your every move as you step out, all alone, to well and truly kiss your yellow jersey goodbye. Nevertheless, I’m sure he wouldn’t trade his admittedly rough day in yellow for the world, and at 24 years old, he’ll be able to milk it for a good long time.

Now Feillu’s been replaced by Schumacher, who handed out some serious punishment to actual time trialists. I’m not going to go back and scan all his results, and Cancellara says he’s done some good TT’s in the past, so I guess I’ll just roll with it. But Schumacher’s never been a big TT hitter – certainly not like the specialists (Cancellara, Zabriskie, or countryman Fothen) or the GC guys, even in a post Armstrong and Ullrich world. He’s certainly a talented one-day racer, especially in the hillier classics, Worlds Championships, and the like, but I’d sort of always thought of him as an uglier but otherwise interchangeable version of Fabian Wegmann, not a monster against the clock.

Stage 5 Serving Suggestions

Why no drink suggestions for today's stage? Because time trials are to be endured, not enjoyed, and that goes double for spectators. But not so tomorrow. Stage 5 from Cholet to Châteauroux is the longest of the Tour at 232 kilometers, but it’s worth it. The stage cuts through the heart of the Loire Valley wine region, so choosing something nice to drink during the evening coverage is like shooting fish in a barrel. Also, the scenery is stunning in that area, which along with the wine should help make up for the lethargy that’s bound to set in during a long stage following a time trial.

Though choices from the region abound, the weather here at the Service Course is well into the stifling range, so we’re going to go with a nice chilled Sancerre, a dry white wine made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. We’re going with Sancerre not only because it suits the weather, but also because the appellation falls on the eastern end of the Loire Valley, close to the finish town of Châteauroux. Recommended vintages are 2003 and 2005, but really, we’re not that fussy. And if you’re looking for a fromage accompaniment, check with the Unholy Rouleur, who has some race-related cheese suggestions on tap.