July 21 - The Weekly RapEveryone wondered what the post-Lance Armstrong era at the Tour de France would be like. No one could ever have imagined what's been taking place in France this month. Last Saturday, Floyd Landis and his Phonak team let a break getaway for thirty minutes, which gave Caisse d'Epargne's Oscar Pereiro the yellow leader's jersey thinking that he wouldn't be a threat in the mountains for the overall title. Wrong. Although Pereiro lost the jersey to Landis the first day in the Alps, he reclaimed it the next day after Landis "bonked" in spectacular fashion, losing ten minutes on the day to stage winner and King of the Mountains leader Michael Rasmussen of Rabobank. It looked like Landis had lost Le Tour as he was eight minutes back of Pereiro and six minutes behind other race favorites like Carlos Sastre (CSC), Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile), Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) and Denis Menchov (Rabobank).
Then the unimaginable happened yet again. On Thursday's final Alpine stage, Landis launched a fierce attack on the very first of five mountain passes and the yellow jersey's lead pack simply couldn't match the pace. Off the Amgen Tour of California winner went on a 130 km solo mission for what humbly seemed like only a stage win. Surely the leaders would never let Landis make up enough time to get back into the race for the overall title. But Landis kept pouring it on, mile after mile, mountain after mountain, and he took back minute after minute from the Tour favorites. After clearly running out of gas on Wednesday, Landis kept taking food and water bottles from his team car to keep his energy up and keep himself cool in the sweltering temperatures. He caught the breakaway group containing no real threats for the overall race win. They were shocked to see Landis when he reached them. They tried in desperation to hang onto his wheel for as long as possible, but Landis rode like a man on a mission and there would be no stopping him.
Meanwhile, the pack seemed uninspired or unable to chase so Landis kept making up the time he lost the previous day. At one point, he actually reclaimed the yellow jersey on the road. When word got out to the leaders about what was happening, they finally mounted a chase on the last mountain. Pereiro fought bravely to keep his jersey and did by just twelve seconds. Kloden, Evans, and Menchov suffered and gave back significant time to Landis while perhaps unknowingly surrendering their chances of stepping onto the podium in Paris on Sunday. Sastre, a magnificent climber, was the strongest of the remaining contenders and he was able to pull away from the pack to limit his losses to Landis on the final climb, but he's got only eighteen seconds advantage over Landis heading into Saturday's race-deciding time trial. Landis has already proven that he is one of the best time trialists in the race and he miraculously set himself up with a strong chance to take the GC win.
After Landis reclaimed the lead on Tuesday's stage that finished atop L'Alpe d'Huez, the French media criticized the American for not attacking or having panache. What Landis did yesterday was unprecedented, heroic and full of, yes, panache. It was one of the greatest one-day performances ever in Tour history. No matter what happens in the long time trial Saturday, Landis has proven that he is a conquering warrior with the heart of a champion.
The U.S. also witnessed an exciting stage race finish in Bend, Oregon at the Cascade Classic. Toyota-United's Chris Wherry and HealthNet's Jeff Louder battled it out like gladiators. After five days and six stages of racing that was dominated by their powerhouse teams along with the always tough Navigators Insurance squad, incredibly Wherry and Louder were equal on time for the overall win. The race had to be decided on the tie-breaker, which was placings in each stage, thus Wherry took the win. Only twenty-five seconds separated the Top 5 finishers with Navigators' Sergey Lagutin taking the third step on the podium.
In Wisconsin, the International Cycling Classic a.k.a. "Superweek" marched on with daily road, circuit and criterium races. Many domestic pros and even some Euros were there getting their racing legs for bigger events. Toyota-United, HealthNet, Jelly Belly, Kodakgallery.com/Sierra Nevada, and TIAA-CREF have already collected at least one stage win.
Up next on the National Racing Calendar is the Wells Fargo Twilight Crit in Boise, Idaho on Saturday. On July 24th, the week-long International Tour de ‘Toona stage race gets started in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Expect that one to be another dog fight between Toyota-United, HealthNet and Navigators Insurance. Each team will have their big guns blazing.
The Cool Down
What's "bonking?" It's a term that endurance athletes like cyclists use to describe what happens to the body when it runs out of fuel. It's also known as "hitting the wall." When the body becomes depleted of energy sources like carbohydrate stores, the power can disappear as fast as turning off a light switch and the body can stall quickly. It can take days to recover from bonking, which is why it is especially something to avoid in a stage race like the Amgen Tour of California where you don't have days to recover and rebuild your energy reserves. The way to avoid bonking not only includes eating and drinking properly the night before and the morning of your event, but also during the race. You have to constantly keep the carbohydrates and proteins coming in as well as keep yourself properly hydrated. As we saw happen to Landis, once you bonk, there's nothing you can do that day to salvage your race. You can lose everything in one day…unless you are superhuman like Floyd...