July 28 - Weekly RapThe Tour de France roared onto the streets of Paris last Sunday where the survivors of the three-week stage race wrote the final chapter of this year's unpredictable classic. This year's story will be remembered for the incredible, courageous and unprecedented victory by Amgen Tour of California winner Floyd Landis. The Phonak captain stretched the American winning streak to eight consecutive Tour wins and he joined the short list of U.S. winners that includes Lance Armstrong (7 wins) and Greg Lemond (3 wins). The boys from the U.S. of A have won eleven titles in the past twenty years. Who says cycling is a European sport?
Other winners to mention are the Sprint Points champion Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto); King of the Mountains champ Michael Rasmussen, who took home the polka-dot jersey for the second consecutive year; and Best Young Rider Damiano Cunego, the former Giro de Italia winner who competed in his first Tour de France for Lampre-Fondital. The Most Aggressive rider honor went to Saunier Duval-Prodir's David De La Fuente.
With Le Tour and the Giro de Italia now in the history books, things get a little quiet in Europe until the annual Running of the Bulls, a.k.a. the Vuelta a Espana, the third of the Grand Tours, which kicks off on August 26th. But there's always plenty of cycling action this time of year, also known as "Silly Season." Rumors, rumors and more rumors spread through the peloton and the cycling world about who will be racing for which team next season. While the talk has been quite loud since Le Tour finished on the streets of Paris last weekend, perhaps the biggest signing thus far has been Levi Leipheimer leaving Gerolsteiner to return "home" to race with Discovery Channel next season. The Amgen Tour of California King of the Mountains winner comes back to the organization that he came into prominence with a few years ago when he finished third in the Vuelta.
Speaking of Leipheimer, he will return to defend his Deutschland Tour (Tour of Germany) title next week with a powerhouse Gerolsteiner team that will be highly motivated to represent in their national race. Also German-based, T-Mobile will be sending a strong squad in support of the young Le Tour revelation Patrik Sinkewitz. Look for Saunier Duval-Prodir's David Millar to continue his comeback after a two-year absence from racing. After getting his racing legs by finishing the Tour de France strongly, Millar is inspired and has something to prove. The nine-day stage race starts Tuesday with the opening prologue, followed by a few stages for the sprinters before moving to the Alps for mountain stages that cross the border into Austria.
The one-day ProTour races also resume this weekend with the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg, Germany. Once again, the German squads will be amped for action with T-Mobile backing Tour de France stage winner and aggressor Matthias Kessler. Should his attacks not stick and a pack sprint decide the day, look for Amgen Tour of California sprinter jersey winner Olaf Pollack to seal the deal for the magenta and black team.
Kudos to Discovery Channel's 40-year-old phenomenon Viatcheslav Ekimov for finishing his 15th Tour de France. The Olympic gold medalist who has had an extraordinary career will retire at the end of the season and take a position with the team's organization. Out of respect for this remarkable athlete, the peloton let "Eki" ride onto the Champs-Elysees ahead of the pack to wave farewell to the crowd. It was a classy salute to this classy cyclist.
On this side of the world, sleepy Altoona, Pennsylvania is anything but sleepy this week. It's the scene of the week-long Tour de ‘Toona, which as expected is an intense battle between HealthNet, Toyota-United and Navigator Insurance. The leader's jersey has been passed between HealthNet and Toyota-United and after Friday's stage, the Top 24 riders are separated by less than a minute. The queen stage will unfold Saturday over 93 miles, with the last 43 miles being the hardest and hilliest. The attacks will be fierce and fireworks will be exploding. HealthNet's Karl Menzies currently possesses a nine-second advantage over TargetTraining's Frank Pipp, with HealthNet's Greg Henderson twenty-seconds off the pace.
The Cool Down
Many fans of cycling, whether casual, moderate or fanatical, become transfixed every July by watching the best cyclists in the world compete on television daily in the Tour de France. The casual often dust off their bikes in the garage and go out for a spin. Moderate cyclists might be inspired to sign up for their first race. The fanatics often suffer intense feelings of abandonment after the final stage concludes. After watching the race's endless hours of TV coverage over the course of three weeks, they suddenly wonder what to do after Phil, Paul, Bob & Al sign-off. We're sure that your spouse, family members and/or roommates are glad that you've finally surrendered the television so they can watch something, anything other than cycling. Spend some time with your loved ones. Take them out to a nice meal, a concert or sporting event. Talk about subjects other than cycling. Get the balance back in your life. We know it's difficult as The Weekly Rap is struggling with the exact same thing…