Monday, July 23, 2007

Tour de France: Stage 15

Foix to Loudenvielle 196 km

A kite soars over the Pyrénées. GNB Sports. Hello.

What? It's a pretty red bird floating lazily above the riders.

  • The Category 2 Col de Port (at 27.5km)
  • The Cat. 2 Portet d’Aspet (at 99.5km)
  • The Cat. 1 Col du Mente (at 114km)
  • The hors categorie Port de Bales (at 159.5km)
  • The Cat. 1 Col du Peyresourde (at 184.5km)
Just a lazy day in the mountains. 163 riders still in the race. Filippo Pozzato (LIQ) and Philippe Gilbert (FDJ) abandoned overnight. Alexandre Vinokourov (AST) had a horrid day yesterday, losing contact with the leader's Yellow Jersey peloton with 7 km to climb on the penultimate ascent, then crashed on the final climb when he ran into a spector. He finished in the gruppetto 28:50 back dropping from GC 9 to GC 30 at 34:12 down. His Tour hopes are over.

Two abandons so far today. Dessel (A2R), and Christophe Le Mevel (C.A) who crashed descending the Col de Port and is enroute to the hospital. We're down to 161 riders.

Doping. Doping is the other story of the Tour. We'd hoped so much to avoid this till tomorrow when we have a feature but even the riders themselves are chiming in. Is Michael "the Chicken" Rasmussen a doper? What is certain is he has failed to notify the UCI of his location twice for out-of-competition testing and has been cited for it. Under UCI rules 3 citations in 18 months is treated equal to a doping violation. Innocent till proven guilty, yes. But Rasmussen's violations leave him right on the bubble of a ruled administrative UCI doping violation. This is not the same kind of violation as having a hematocrit of 50% or above; that gives you a blood doping violation presumptively on the grounds that no non-doping human has a natural hematocrit with 50% hematocrit or more. What the Yellow Jersey holder is bumping up against is a pure administrative violation, that the only reason anyone would miss locating themselves 3 times in 18 months is to avoid doping controls.

Rasmussen avoided locating himself to the UCI twice in 18 months. He's been cited 4 times in 2 years, twice each from UCI and from the the Dutch for each incident. He is claiming these incidents are simply oversights. Most people not on his Team or Dutch -- read, the French and English -- are loudly claiming he should not have been allowed to start the Tour because he is under suspicion for doping. His Team is telling everyone to stuff it as well as being a wee bit reluctant to sign the anti-doping pledge at the start of the Tour (which we read and frankly think is a nasty abuse of due-process and human rights.)

What has really set matters on fire is this: Two days ago Rasmussen was the subject of an article in VeloNews by a former friend of Rasmussen's who claimed that five years ago Rasmussen gave him an experimental human blood substitute (made from bovine hemoglobin) in a shoe box and asked him to carry it through customs back to Holland from the United States. The friend talked to a pal and they decided to pour it down a sink. Rasmussen is alleged to have asked if the friend had, "any idea how much that shit costs?" This story has been in the cycling press for five years, always given anonymously. Everyone has refused to publish unless the source was willing to go on record. Two days ago he went on record, giving as his reason he got sick when Rasmussen in Yellow told people in response to a question about doping in the Tour, "Trust me."

Since the VeloNews article many articles have tagged on to the initial article, including some which we can only describe as hit pieces (yeah Bicycling Magazine we mean you. No, we're not giving you a link.) Those determined to discredit the Tour are going nuts. Those after individual riders and countries are going really nuts. The self-righteous fools among us are using this to prove they've been right all along. And the French popular press has gone totally freaking insane, yet again.

What to make of all this? Is Rasmussen a doper? We don't know. Are people on the Tour using drugs? Yes, some are, we're quite sure. What to do? We're uncertain although we'll float some ideas tomorrow. For now, we intend to report the Tour.

Glad to see the French are being their usual even-handed selves. The French custom cops pulled over four Tour team buses today and searched them as they rode an off-course route to the end of stage 15. Teams Astana, CSC, Discovery Channel and Rabobank were searched thoroughly by French authorities. Nothing was found and the Tour buses were allowed on their way. The teams chosen to be searched were said to be at random.

Searched at random:
  • Astana - Switzerland
  • CSC - Denmark
  • Discovery Channel - USA
  • Rabobank - The Netherlands
Not searched today were the following teams:
  • AG2R Prevoyance - France
  • Agritubel - France
  • Barloworld - Great Britain
  • Bouygyes Telecom - France
  • Caisse D'Epargne - Spain
  • Cofidis - France
  • Credit Agricole - France
  • Euskaltel - Euskadi - Spain
  • Francaise Des Jeux - France
  • Gerolsteiner - Germany
  • Lampre - Fondital - Italy
  • Liquigas - Italy
  • Milram - Italy
  • Predictor - Lotto - Belgium
  • Quick Step - Innergetic - Belgium
  • Saunier Duval - Prodir - Spain
  • T-Mobile - Germany
Randomly not searched by the French.

Nothing really to say about today's stage. The Yellow Jersey and tour leaders are all together. There's a small breakaway. Everyone's racing to the finish with 25 km to go with one last cat-1 climb to go, then a steep descent to the end.

Oh... Vino has raced across a bunch of gaps after yesterdays collapse and is now in the leading breakaway. He may well win the stage. No, he can't possibly win the Tour. But what heart.

Only 5 km to the top of the final climb. Vino leads the breakaway. He needs to get over the top with a little advantage so he can ride ahead all the way to the finish, otherwise he'll have a hard time taking the stage. Vino attacks. Vino succeeds. Vino is out front all alone by a solid 20 seconds. If he gets over the top by himself and doesn't crash on the nasty descent he should win the stage. What a recovery overnight. A large part of the difference between a professional rider and even a talented amateur is their recovery time. A pro can go into the red zone, drop back out, then ride themselves back into contention and keep going. An amateur can not. The recovery is even more amazing overnight as Alexandre Vinokourov is demonstrating yet again.

The Spanish crowd loves Vinokourov. He may never win the Tour but Vino is beloved. He's sacrificed his body for the Tour. He races up the mountain like a flaming arrow shooting straight into the sky. What a climbing fool. Vino is over 28 seconds ahead of chase 1. Chase 4 has Michael Rasmussen and Alberto Contador attacking each other back and forth, leaving the rest of chase 4 behind, now the two of them all alone coming up to the summit. This young kid Contador will not win the Tour this year but likely will some year. Contador is about to break Rasmussen by a few seconds but it won't be enough. Rasmussen is holding just 2-3 seconds behind him and now he's back on his wheel. Over the top these two stuck together. What a ride. Plus an extra 15-20 seconds out of Cadel Evans and the other leaders.

Vinokourov with 2 km to go holds a 52 second lead. The stage is his. The crowds are screaming. Alexandre Vinokourov wins stage 15 of the Tour de France a full 51 seconds ahead of anyone else.

George Hincapie drags Contador and Rasmussen to the line. Contodar hits Rasmussen with 1 km to go but Rasmussen is directly on his wheel. Contador leads out coming to the line with Rasmussen straight behind. They're putting time on the entire field and as they cross the line there's no fight, they cross the line Contador and Rasmussen, 10 and 11 across. Evans comes across a full 1:37 behind the two leaders. The race for Yellow is down to two men and will likely be decided Wednesday.

Questions: Does Contador at 2:23 back have a chance Wednesday of taking away Yellow from Rasmussen on the last mountain stage? Can we please make it through one Tour without doping? Just one? Please? Yeah. Sorry, that was rhetorical. As is this... How about Johan Bruyneel of Discovery? Isn't he managing his team to perfection? Did you hear Vinokourov's Secretary of State attended the Tour today. Promised to sponsor a Tour team for the next ten years. Yeah baby! I wonder who their Team Manager might be?

Tomorrow is a well deserved rest day. Wednesday our final day in the Pyrénées, an early HC, two category-1s, and then the long, steep, you ain't seen brutal yet HC summit finish of the Col d'Aubisque. We'll be back tomorrow with a feature on doping. See you then. GNB Sports; ciao.

Stage 16 LIVE in the U.S. on Versus: Gods What An Early Start: Wednesday, July 25, 6:30 - 11:30 AM ET/3:30 - 8:30 AM PT.

Today's video highlights -- Great Tour coverage at VeloNews

A Feast on Wheels: Behind the scenes Tour coverage by correspondent Bonnie DeSimone of ESPN, Boston Globe and the Oregonian.

Cyclelicious -- What's Your Source of News for Le Tour?

TDF Stage 15 Results -- Top 5:
1. Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ) AST - 196.0km 5h34'28" (35.16km/h)
2. Kim Kirchen (LUX) TMO at 51"k
3. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP) EUS at 51"
4. Juan Jose Cobo (SDV) at 58"
5. Juan Manuel Garate (ESP) QSI at 2'14"

TDF: Standings after Stage 15
1 058
RASMUSSEN, Michael DEN RAB 69:52:14.000 00:00:00.000
2 112 CONTADOR, Alberto ESP DSC 69:54:37.000 00:02:23.000
3 041 EVANS, Cadel AUS PRL 69:56:14.000 00:04:00.000
4 111 LEIPHEIMER, Levi USA DSC 69:57:39.000 00:05:25.000
5 196 KLÖDEN, Andréas GER AST 69:57:48.000 00:05:34.000
6 031 SASTRE, Carlos ESP CSC 69:59:00.000 00:06:46.000
7 071 ZUBELDIA, Haimar ESP EUS 69:59:41.000 00:07:27.000
8 195 KASHECHKIN, Andrey KAZ AST 70:00:08.000 00:07:54.000
9 027 KIRCHEN, Kim LUX TMO 70:00:38.000 00:08:24.000
10 073 ASTARLOZA, Mikel ESP EUS 70:01:35.000 00:09:21.000