August 11 Weekly Rap: Tour de France/Tour de SuisseBy Rick Scott
It’s a grand week here at The Weekly Rap, your professional cycling highlight reel. This issue is packed with action from the sweet Tour de Suisse and the most famous bike race in the world: the Tour de France.
Tour de SuisseThe second major race the peloton uses as final preparation prior to the big rendezvous in France is the Tour de Suisse, which was held June 14-22 for the 72nd time. Five climbs welcomed the riders to Switzerland in stage 1 (146 kms) with the summit of the final climb located 15 kms from the finish in Langnau, which is also where the race started. Rabobank with help from Gerolsteiner drove the chase of the main break. Absorbing them less than 2 kms from the finish gave the sprinters the chance to unleash their speed. Rabobank’s Oscar Freire timed his sprint to perfection to collect the first yellow leader’s tunic. In the second stage, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton outlasted his six fellow survivors on the 10-km climb to Flumserberg to win the stage and inherit the general classification lead. The day was marked by a long solo escape by AG2R’s Martin Elmiger, a Swiss rider who at one point amassed an 18-minute advantage. He ended up finishing 17 minutes back of the winner. Ouch.
Rain drenched the peloton’s 155-km ride from Flums to Gossau in stage 3. Three men – BMC’s Jeff Louder, Herve Duclos-Lassalle (Cofidis) and Rene Weissinger (Volksbank) – were away for 140 kms before being reeled in with 10 kms left. Silence-Lotto delivered feisty fastman Robbie McEwen to the finale where he is hard to beat. The Australian celebrated the win while Anton remained in yellow. Stage 4 (171 kms) looks almost like the same script as the day before. Three riders – BMC’s Jonathan Garcia, Jerome Pineau (Bouygues Telecom) and Matej Jurco (Milram) – departed the field after only a few kilometers and stayed away until about 6 kms remained before the finish in Domat-Ems when the teams of the sprinters pounced on their prey. Once again, Silence-Lotto rocketed McEwen for the win just ahead of Freire and High Road’s Gerald Ciolek, the same two in the same order McEwen finished ahead of the previous day.
Stage 5 spawned the video clip seen around the world. On the 190-km hilly stage to Caslano, CSC’s Frank Schleck was away in a bid to take over the yellow jersey when he was joined by Gerolsteiner’s Markus Fothen. The two worked together and the GC lead was certain to become Schleck’s. With 4 kms to go, Schleck misjudged a treacherous right corner, flipped over the guardrail and plunged down the side of the mountain. The spectacular accident could have been tragic, but somehow Schleck climbed back up, got on a new bike and rode to the finish with only minor cuts and bruises after such a fearful fall to behold. Fothen won the stage and Anton was lucky to wear yellow for stage 6, 188 kms from Ambri to Verbier. The mountaintop finish produced a change in the overall when stage winner Kim Kirchen (High Road) arrived at the summit ahead of Anton and the favorites. High Road collaborated with Anton’s squad to close the gap on the day’s main break while CSC put in the effort to try to give Schleck another shot at the overall, which proved unsuccessful. CSC would have to wait a day to taste victory.
Finishing near his home, CSC’s Fabian Cancellara showcased his world champion time trial skills when he audaciously attacked the break 5 kms from the finish in Lyss and managed to hold off the bunch by a scant two seconds at the line. The move formed on a category 4 climb with fewer than 10 kms to go when Silence-Lotto’s Leife Hoste made the first move, which drew out Cancellara and Fothen. Sensing danger, Kirchen and Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux) bridged across. When the assassin “Tony Montana” made his Spartan move, he was not to be denied. Neither was the crowd who rooted their local hero home.
The showdown for the overall came on stage 8, a 25-km mountain time trial to Col du Klausen. Inexperienced as a race leader, Kirchen was unnerved by the pressure and lost 3:25, causing him to drop down the GC to 7th. 22-year-old Liquigas rider Roman Kreuziger was simply sensational, leaping from 2nd into the yellow jersey with his stage-winning ascent. Astana’s Andreas Kloden was 49 seconds back of the youth heading into the final stage. The Tour de Suisse closed with a 168-km trek from Altdorf to Berne, Cancellara’s hometown. After the day’s five-man break was collected, Gilbert jumped alone with a kilometer to go pulling away from the field with victory looking certain. But the Swiss assassin wanted it. With an awesome effort that only Cancellara can muster, the Amgen Tour of California prologue winner took off with incredible fervor with 600 meters left, drilled it beyond human limits, and passed Gilbert less than 100 meters before the line to win the stage in a dominating display of power and determination. Kreuziger finished safely in the bunch to win the overall with Kloden 2nd and Anton 3rd.
Reflections of FranceA couple weeks have gone by since the peloton sped over the famed cobbles on the Champs-Elysees in Paris to tie a bow on the 95th edition of the Tour de France (July 5-27). While this website posted detailed coverage after each of the 21 stages, we wanted to take a moment to honor one of the grandest endurance events in all of sports.
While to the novice, cycling is a sport for individuals, for the second year-in-a-row one team proved that bike racing truly is a team sport. Last year, Disco dominated the roads of France when the late Discovery Channel team won the general classification, Best Young Rider and team competition, this year’s race witnessed an incredibly selfless and disciplined performance by Team CSC-Saxo Bank, which won the same categories as Discovery Channel did. Veteran Spanish climber Carlos Sastre launched only one salvo over the three-week, 3,560-km event, but he made it count. The attack came on the fourth climb at the end of the 210.5-km stage 17 on the legendary ascent of L’Alpe d’Huez. Driven to the base of the climb by the force of nature known as Spartacus (Cancellara), the wizard of Oz (Stuart O’Grady), the ageless Energizer Bunny (Jens Voigt) and the stage 11 winning Prince of Norway (Kurt-Asle Arvesen), CSC-Saxo Bank’s three-prong attack –Sastre and Frank & Andy Schleck - was locked and loaded prepared to pummel the contenders into pretenders. The epic 13.3-km climb with 21 turns that averages 8.6% in steepness smacks the riders square between the eyes in the second kilometer, the steepest section of the mountain at an 11.2% grade. It was there that the lithe Sastre launched a solo flight into orbit that proved to be not just the stage winner, but the race winning move. Gooooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllll! The Schleck brothers rode like perfect teammates marking the moves by favorites Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and eventual King of the Mountains winner Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner). Tour rookie Andy Schleck garnered the white jersey as Best Young Rider with the stellar work he did in the mountains in support of Sastre and older brother Frank, who held the yellow jersey before handing it over to his teammate.
When crunch time came a few days later in the 53-km time trial in stage 20, tailored to time trial specialist Evans, Sastre delivered perhaps his best race against the clock ever to hold off the Australian’s final bid to snatch the yellow jersey. The humble Sastre couldn’t thank his team enough for their efforts and sacrifices, which allowed his one lone attack to be the differential. A stressed out Evans finished 2nd overall for the second consecutive year, this time 57 seconds in arrears. Kohl ended up a terrific 3rd GC, a place no one would have predicted prior to the Tour.
The Tour got off to an exciting start in Brest. Instead of a traditional prologue, the point-to-point stage ended with a 2-km uphill finish at 5% that rose to 8% some 300 meters before the finish. The Green Bullet, Valverde got the fiesta going when he shot from the bunch and blew past Team Columbia’s Kirchen, who had fired what looked to be the winning move. Valverde broke the piñata first and pulled out the first yellow jersey prize. His team looked impressive in defense of the jersey, but Valverde faltered in the Pyrenees, which cost him a shot at the overall. Kirchen held yellow for a stretch and perhaps his Team Columbia expended a bit too much energy in defense of the prize leaving them depleted in the Alps. But the American team, headquartered in San Luis Obispo, California, had an extraordinary Tour de France en route to winning five stages. The fastest man in the race was head and shoulders above the rest. Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish was unbeatable in the final couple hundred meters on the flat stages and the 23-year-old put four notches in his belt thanks to brilliant lead-outs by the Team Columbia train. After Cavendish went home early to rest for the Olympics where the sprinter will compete on the track, teammate Marcus Burghardt capped off a day-long two-man escape by adding a 5th stage win to the team’s accolades.
America’s other team, Garmin-Chipotle, also had a remarkable trek throughout France. Veteran Christian Vande Velde surprised everyone, including himself, when he found the legs to hang with the favorites on the mountain stages. A strong time trailer, Vande Velde, who finished 3rd at this year’s Amgen Tour of California, was in the hunt for an overall podium position until one bad day in the mountains derailed his plans. However, he discovered that he has the goods to ride with the best and will return next year motivated to advance from a strong 5th place GC to a step on the final podium. Two of his American teammates who made their Tour de France debuts, Will Frischkorn and Danny Pate, got into successful breaks that enabled them to score podium position in individual stages.
While no one was faster than Cavendish, three-time World Champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) got the better of Cavendish at the end of a lumpy stage and was the most consistent finisher overall, thus he became the first Spaniard ever to win the sprint points competition. Not only did Kohl shine for Gerolsteiner on the climbs, but his German teammate Stefan Schumacher was frequently on the attack in the mountains. Perhaps more impressively, Schumacher surprised by stomping the competition to win both individual time trials (stages 4 and 20).
As per usual, the French were particularly active in breaks and the host nation had a good Tour with stage wins by Frenchmen Cyril Dessel (AG2R) and Cofidis riders Samuel Dumoulin and Sylvain Chavanel while Thor Hushovd and Simon Gerrans won stages for French team Credit Agricole. Conversely it was not a good race for Italian squads Liquigas and Lampre, the latter of which saw its leader, Damiano Cunego, unable to climb with the favorites in the high mountains and eventually crash out of the race after stage 19. The Spanish have plenty to celebrate as for the third year-in-a-row the country produced the race winner. With the likely return of Astana to the grandest tour of them all next year, that streak just might continue if last year’s winner, Alberto Contador, has anything to say about it.
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Rick Scott is president of Great Scott P.R.oductions, an entertainment and sports public relations, marketing and management boutique. He can be contacted through www.greatscottpr.com.