TDF Stages 1-10 Recap: Best Race In Years!
Let’s all take a deep breath… in, and… ooouuuttt. Relax. The first half of the Tour is over and you can get off the edge of your seat for a day or so. It’s been anything but boring, and we’ve been treated to some of the best racing, and the most unpredictable Tour in recent memory. Here’s a recap of what happened in Stages 1 – 10.
According to Brad McGee, “shit happens”. Barely anyone could disagree with such a statement, especially British bad boy David Millar who looked set to storm to victory in the Prologue of this year’s tour. Millar’s closest rivals were at least 5 seconds down on him at the halfway checkpoint and few had any doubt that he was going to be sandwiched between two podium girls wearing yellow at the end of the day. However, such a scenario never took place as Millar found himself frantically trying to resurrect a loose chain in the closing stages of his prologue. Millar’s little technical mishap was down to his Mechanics whom no doubt got a stern talking to. One could understand why the Scot was feeling mortified but the elation of Brad McGee was equally understandable, as Millar’s misfortune had put McGee in yellow.
With six Giro wins under his belt, many people feel that Alesandro Pettachi will be Cipo’s predecessor and as Pettachi won stage 1, those feelings were enhanced. Pettachi clinched victory from McEwen and Zabel on stage one but the mass pile up of over a hundred riders was what was making all the headlines. The pile-up was one of the most spectacular I have ever witnessed and certainly had some serious consequences. Rabobank’s Levi Leipheimer found himself sprawled over the hot tarmac with a couple of broken vertebra, while Armstrong also went down but was lucky to only escape with a few bruises. Tyler Hamilton went down pretty hard as well and inspite of breaking/cracking more bones, he chose to carry on. The word quit seems to have eluded Hamilton over the years though as he was back on his bike for stage two against his doctor’s advice. This is not the first time that Hamilton has managed to cope with such excruciating pain as he ground down a fair few teeth during last years Giro coping with a broken shoulder. Perhaps it’s time for the dictionaries definition of tough to be erased and simply replaced with “Tyler Hamilton”.
This one came down to a traditional first week bunch sprint that saw Aussie, Baden Cooke, clinch victory. This victory along with McGee’s yellow jersey earned team Fdjeux.com their best season yet and it is no doubt “boomtime” for Aussie cycling again.
Petacchi found himself dropped on stage two but was up there winning again on stage three taking the bunch sprint which almost confirms that this new kid is to take Cipo’s place.
Stage 4 TTT
Stage one’s crash involved many of the favorite GC riders but it was stage four that was to decipher which GC riders actually had the teams to compete. The team time trial is notorious for the amount of rivalry it has created between USP and ONCE in the past. Manolo Saiz has often instigated a lot of talk about what a great team ONCE is as they always get one over USPS in the
TTT. Perhaps this is why USPS have been working so hard on their team time trialing. That work paid off as the Posties came in 30 seconds ahead of ONCE and grabbed first place while Jan Ullrich’s Bianchi squad took third. As a consequence of USPS’S first place, they placed the yellow jersey on the shoulders of Victor Hugo Pena.
Stage 5 & 6
With the TTT done and dusted, the sprinters had two more stages to look forward to. Perhaps we should rephrase that, “The sprinter had two more stages to look forward to.” Both Thursday and Friday were dominated by Fassa’s main man Petacchi. There is no question about the fact that this new powerhouse will be dominating sprints for many years to come. He has proved that he is simply a cut above Zabel, McEwen, and in the Giro, Cipollini. With a total of four stage victories behind his name, Petacchi couldn’t believe his luck, which immediately ran out as he entered the mountains.
The mountains so far have proven what a specialist sprinter this man is as on stage seven he was climbing so slowly that he could barley keep his balance. Eventually he just got fed up and climbed into the team car before joining a couple of Italian commentators on the finish line. Petacchi may have Cipo’s speed, skill and legs only good for sprinting but still lacks the charisma and flair of one of sport’s greatest names.
Stuart O’Grady and his Boulangere-Brioches breakaway compatriot were the men most deserved of victory on stage 5 as they went off the front and baked in 32 degrees Celsius heat for over 200km before being gulped up within the last kilometer of the stage. Stuart O’Grady was “devastated”.
On the day from Lyon to Morzine, “hell in the Alps” were about to take place. As soon as Jean-Marie Leblanc’s departure flag dropped signaling the start of the race, a Credit-Agricole rider flew off the front of the pack like a bat out of hell! What the heck was this kid thinking breaking so early? Surely this was only going to be a little suicide mission, however it was not to be as it proved to be the decisive move of the race. A small group soon caught him, which included Quickstep rider, Paolo Bettini. Bettini was soon learnt that his teammate Virenque was on his way over and gestured to his compatriots to slow down and let Virenque join them. Naturally, they weren’t too keen on the idea, which lead to a little squabble. Virenque soon caught up with them though and broke away to the cheers of his home crowd screaming Virenque!, Virenque!, Virenque! France’s favorite son held on to take a solo stage victory along with the yellow jersey. It was Virenque’s first yellow in eleven years.
Now many of you may remember that before the Tour, Gilberto Simoni was talking in much the same style that a heavy weight boxer does prior to a big fight. “It’s doom time for Armstrong” spluttered Simoni “I am going to drop him!” Big words indeed for Simoni which got him noticed but ended up making him look a fool as he was no where to be seen on Alp d’Huez, was saw the biggest battle in years. The mountain was rammed with over 400,000 fans and barley any black tarmac was visible, as every inch of it seemed to be covered in big creamy white words. All the big names were together prior to the base of the climb, however, Armstrong soon hit his team’s nitrous button and the little blue train screeched away from many including Ullrich. As the US Postal train began to lose its carriages, Armstrong came to the front and bought Mayo, Hamilton and Beloki along for the ride. Beloki launched a vicious attack on the defending champ that Armstrong could not contain. Agony and distress was etched all over Armstrong’s Oakley clad face. Was this Armstrong down? Many thought so but Beloki soon slipped back before again launching even wilder attacks on Armstrong. The attacks were not immediately covered but Beloki always seemed to just end up back with Armstrong. Broken bones or not, the courageous Tyler Hamilton even had a few stabs at Armstrong and Beloki himself but he only left them with little scrapes. Could those little scrapes have been massive wounds has Tyler been 100%? A lot of action took place between these three but among it all, Iban Mayo of Euskatel-Euaskedi powered away from the lead group to take the stage followed by Vinoukorov of Telekom. Armstrong sprinted it out for third just
edging past Beloki and at the top of Alp d’Huez he found himself in yellow.
A mountainous stage was to occur on Monday from Bourg d’Oisans to Gap and although smaller in comparison to the previous day’s stage, it still had plenty of drama. Alexander Vinokourov bettered his previous day’s performance by one spot as he took the stage thanks to a perfectly timed attack but it was Beloki that was making the headlines. While flying down the last mountain with Armstrong on his tail, both in pursuit of Vinoukorov, Beloki’s back tyre blew. Belokis wheel powered out to his eft before violently jumping over to the right. This sent Beloki down as he slammed the tarmac with a hefty bang before eventually grinding to a halt leaving a nasty trail of blood behind him. This sudden occurrence forced Armstrong to veer to the left of Beloki and the yellow jersey soon found it’s self flying across a brown field before eventually rejoining the race. Armstrong crossed the finish line intact while Beloki made his way across it in the back of an Ambulance with three broken bones, which included his wrist and femur. Beloki’s Tour was over with a bang. Months of extremely hard work had been shattered. This accident has proved tragic as Beloki really had the form to perhaps grab the yellow jersey but now his season is done and he will have to spend months recuperating.
Tuesday’s stage was one where the GC and sprint contenders took a break and allowed a nine man break escape to the tune of twenty odd minutes. It was Jakob Pill of CSC that got the glory as he out sprinted Fabio Sacchi of Saeco for the win.
Today is the rest day although Armstrong is in yellow, he could very easily be stripped of his prized jersey despite Beloki’s absence. Ullrich does not look to be much of a threat anymore as he failed to produce any significant rides in the Alps, but there are still the Pyrenees, so we’ll see. Iban Mayo and Tyler Hamilton are now Armstrong’s biggest threats. Mayo lacks the ability to time trial but should he produce a few more remarkable mountain performances he may find himself in yellow. That is an unlikely proposition though as Lance Armstrong should be able to contain him. Hamilton has proved that his climbing and time trialling abilities are up there with Armstrong’s, so all Lance needs is one bad day and he could easily slip out of the yellow jersey (but he’s only had one since he started winning Tours). As challenged as Armstrong may seem, he has lost a very serious threat in the name of Beloki that should have lifted a huge weight off his shoulders despite how sorry he may be feeling for Beloki. Beloki is gone but Hamilton remains a big threat along with a non pre-race favorite, Vinokourov. Even with Belokis absence, another Tour victory for Big Tex is anything but decided.