Saturday, July 28, 2007

Outstanding, Blue Team, Outstanding (II)!

The Tour de France this year has been a gripping contest to watch—even without the circus of disqualifications and withdrawals for rules violations.

Never before in the history of the Tour have three top contenders finished so close to each other.

Particularly as we came to the end of the Tour, we got to enjoy a rare sight: the top overall riders duking it out mano a mano in mountain finishes. First it was the top seven or eight, all climbing hard together toward the summits. Then the top five, then the top four.

Today’s time trial started with three top contenders distinctly leading the rest of the field. They were one or two minutes apart from each other; the next nearest guy was more than three minutes behind.

Coming out of the time trial, the three top contenders are now within about thirty seconds of each other. The nearest guy is now more like six minutes behind. The order hasn’t changed, but once again it was thrilling to watch as three very closely matched—and enormously strong—riders fought it out to see if they could change the order at the top.

Levi Leipheimer, already a good time trialist, rode the trial of his life, finishing with the fourth fastest speed ever in a Tour de France time trial—behind the likes of the legendary Miguel Indurain.

Even without the added noise of the contenders and would-be contenders who are no longer in the race, this year has been a gripping contest right down to the finish.

Traditionally, no matter how close the standings are going into the final stage, the race is not contested on the last day. It’s a day for riders to take it easy and sip champagne as they ride into Paris, exhausted and happy after a draining and exhilarating month in the saddle. Leipheimer has already said that even though he’s only eight seconds behind Evans, Cadel doesn’t need to worry—Leipheimer’s not going to “pull a Vino” and try to steal those seconds back at the end.

To get a sense of how dominant Discovery’s team has been this year, you can look beyond the team results (Discovery is winning) or the final podium results (Discovery has the No. 1 and No. 3 riders—I haven’t heard anyone say yet whether that’s the first time one team has had two guys in the top three): Take a look at today’s top 10 finishers. Discovery had four of the riders in the top 10—Leipheimer, Contador, Popovych, and George Hincapie, who now has carried water for the final winner in eight Tours.

In fact, that’s four of the top seven finishers.

So it’s been a good year for Team Discovery. Me, personally, since I’m from California, I would have loved to see Levi Leipheimer take the top slot in the overall competition. But I’ll settle for what we’ve ended up with: Levi’s had a stage win (his first ever), and he’s on the podium, and with three of the top eight riders in the general classification, the team has ridden hard and strong.

1 comment:

Papa Bradstein said...

Just when you thought it was safe to ignore the Tour, another surprise pops up. Now we have to see if they race or honor the traditional gentlemen's agreement tomorrow.

As for dual podium places from one team, you need only go back as far as 1996, for Riis and Ullrich, who went 1-2 in the final GC. Of course, ASO has now removed Riis from the listing for the 1996 Tour, since he admitted to doping during the race. They haven't transferred his first place status to Ullrich, probably in light of his recently revealed long association with doping--in addition to revelations that Telekom was engaged in teamwide doping at the time.

They could skip over Ullrich, then, and give it to Virenque, who came in third, except Virenque's about as clean as a clogged septic tank. So, then there's whoever was in the number four spot, except he was also on Virenque's Festina squad, and pretty much everyone knows how the Festina squad managed to ride so fast. (If not, just Google Willy Voet.)

OK, so go to the number five guy, whatever his name was. . .except the name of his team was Carrera, which was the team of Marco Pantani. Want to know how they rode so fast? Just Google Marco Pantani.

Um, yeah, so they just took Riis' name off the list, and left everyone else where they are. Or were. Or something.

But, the point is, in 1996, two guys from the same team both had pretty good pharmacists, er, results in the final GC.