July 14 - The Weekly RapHappy Bastille Day. Today is France's big national holiday and once again it began with an American wearing the yellow leader's jersey at the Tour de France. Amgen Tour of California winner Floyd Landis (Phonak) claimed the lead after yesterday's merciless mountain stage by virtue of an eight-second time bonus that he gained for taking 3rd place on the grueling stage. The route went over four category 1 mountain climbs and the Col du Tourmalet, which is so difficult that it is beyond categorization. Santa Rosa, California's Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), Amgen Tour of California's King of the Mountains winner, finished 2nd on the stage as part of an elite trio comprised of Landis and stage winner Denis Menchov of Rabobank. The general classification turned upside down yesterday, with the climbers soaring up the overall while those not climbing as well drifted down the GC precipitously and out of contention.
The past week of Le Tour has seen some highs and lows. It began with the first big test: last Saturday's long time trial. Amgen Tour of California's 3rd place finisher Bobby Julich crashed out when he overcooked it on a tight turn. Julich had been expected to lead CSC in the absence of Ivan Basso so it was a real blow to the team. Time trial phenom and Amgen Tour of California's 2nd place finisher Dave Zabriskie was expected to go for the stage win, but he came up short, landing outside the Top 10. Discovery Channel's George Hincapie and Paolo Salvodelli also weren't able to deliver top finishes. If you're going to have a bad day in Le Tour or in any race for that matter, make sure it's not during a time trial because there's no where to hide. Unfortunately Leipheimer just couldn't get going and he lost over six minutes to the other major contenders. T-Mobile's Serguei Honchar, a former world champion time trialist, put the hurt on the field and came up with the big win, which put him in the yellow leader's jersey. Landis encountered a problem with his bars and had to endure a bike change during the race that ended up costing him precious time. Impressively he still managed to finish only a minute behind Honchar, which set him up perfectly to take the lead in the mountains. Davitamon-Lotto's Cadel Evans also delivered a strong result as did T-Mobile's Andreas Kloden, thus setting the stage for the battle that unfolded yesterday in the Pyrenees mountains.
The competition for the green jersey kept the first week exciting with thrilling sprint finishes between Robbie McEwen, reigning World Champion Tom Boonen and three-time World Champion Oscar Freire. McEwen has collected three stage wins and Freire has swiped two, which has thus far left Boonen frustrated and empty-handed.
Wednesday was the first mountain stage of Le Tour, but it didn't alter the GC as dramatically as Thursday's stage did. When it came time to lay down the law, T-Mobile assumed the leadership role initially and the boys in pink and black took command of the front, constantly pushing the pace. After the fourth of five mountain passes, Rabobank took over and they proved to be the stronger team in support of Menchov. In the end, it came down to five riders – Menchov, Leipheimer, Landis, Evans and CSC's Carlos Sastre - who were clearly superior on the slopes to the rest of the peloton. T-Mobile's Kloden and Michael Rogers finished close behind and remain overall threats as well. While the Top 10 looks to be the men who will likely finish in Paris in the Top 10, it is way too soon to think that this race is settled by any means. Next week, there are three mountain stages in the Alps and there's another long time trial that also promises to shuffle the mix. This year has been one of the most wide open and unpredictable Tours in many years. Stay tuned because you never know what might happen next in "the greatest show on earth."
On Monday's rest day, the cycling world was shocked to learn that Landis will undergo hip replacement surgery next month. He broke the head of his femur in a training crash in early 2003 and has been in chronic pain ever since. He's already had surgery multiple times, but the pain has persisted and the hip is essentially "dead" as blood isn't flowing properly into the joint. Landis has suffered quietly for years and disclosed the serious situation in a press conference. We all wish him the best with the surgery and his recovery and look forward to seeing him on form next February when he'll attempt to defend his Amgen Tour of California title.
Last week, Discovery Channel's Tom Danielson won the week-long Tour of Austria. Tommy D. used the Amgen Tour of California as part of his early season training program, but perhaps he'll come back next year to give the overall title a shot. Look for Danielson, who many consider to be the heir apparent to Lance Armstrong, to lead the Disco boys at the Vuelta de Espana in September.
In the U.S., TIAA-CREF's Craig Lewis won the U23 (under age 23) USA Cycling National Championship road race. The team, which has won the title now in three consecutive years, is focused on developing tomorrow's pro stars and Olympians.
In Bend, Oregon, the Cascade Cycling Classic is underway and after the first two stages, USPRO reigning champion Chris Wherry holds the lead for Toyota-United. Sergey Lagutin of Navigators Insurance is 2nd with three HealthNet riders holding the next few places – Jeff Louder, Scott Moninger and Nathan O'Neill. With the leaders separated by less than thirty seconds, the final three stages will be fought fiercely by these domestic powerhouse teams.
"Superweek," a.k.a. the International Cycling Classic, continues in Wisconsin with daily road, circuit and criterium races that began last week and run through July 23rd. Pros from HealthNet, Jelly Belly, Toyota-United, TIAA-CREF, Kodakgallery.com/Sierra Nevada and others are battling it out with elite amateurs in this annual summer festival of bike racing.
The Cool Down
How do cyclists race over 100 miles day after day in long stage races in all kind of challenging weather conditions? Amazing, aren't they? Recovery is crucial in stage races like the Amgen Tour of California. Riders typically sleep, eat, race, eat, recover, eat and do it all over again, day after day. During the race, they're typically fueling themselves not just for the day's stage, but for the next day's stage. After the stage, it's important to quickly put on clean, dry clothes (lots of bacteria comes out in sweat plus the riders are covered in "road grit"). They immediately begin replenishing the fluids lost while racing by drinking plenty of water along with a recovery drink that contains a mix of proteins and carbohydrates followed later by consuming a healthy meal. Stretching tired muscles is very important. Riders often put their legs up, which helps drain the lymph nodes system. Massage gets the blood flowing to stimulate healing as well as flushes the lactic acid out of the legs that accumulated during the race. Icing the legs help reduce swelling, which impedes recovery. Some pros even soak in an ice bath for ten minutes. Lastly, it's important to get as much sleep as possible; at least eight hours is ideal. After all, they've got to race again the next day…
It's coming...stay tuned to this website for announcements next week about the 2007 Amgen Tour of California…