Prologue – While Fabian Cancellara put the Tony Montana on the rest of the field as expected, it was the performance of Andreas Kloden that really impressed me. You could fit two Klodens in that Rainbow striped skin-suit that the big Swiss-made CSC tank wears, but he basically gave a body blow to the rest of the contenders on Day 1.
Unfortunately, DZ was not firing (I mean, he only did the Giro and the Dauphine right before the last-minute Tour nod. Knuckle up.) and I had a feeling something was wrong when he lost a handful of seconds to the Magic Karpets' ride immediately. At least Cancellara seemed more comfortable speaking English in front of the camera than Zab did a few years ago.
Stage 1 – He may only be 5'7" but I'm pretty sure you don't want to get into it with Robbie McEwen. My Father always says that he and the Pocket Rocket are the exact same size and I don't think you want to start anything with Mr. Arnold either.
The crash was terribly unfortunate for R-Mac but his domination of the other sprinters in the first stage will make the Tour a success for him regardless. Did he have an extra gear on his bike or something? It didn't even seem fair. It would have been fun to see him go at it for the rest of the Tour but if he kept the form from Stage 1, he would have been untouchable anyway.
Stage 2 – It's taken a little while to sink in but I think I'm okay with a guy named Gert winning a stage of the Tour. He seems like a pretty good guy and I always like it when the Donkey gets the glory over the Thoroughbred. Not that Steegmans is a Donkey but…you know what I mean. Donkey Kong maybe.
One of the things that impressed me the most in this stage was the form that Gertrude displayed in the final kick. It was slightly uphill and the Really Big Belgian domestique was rock solid while the Other Really Big Belgian superstar and the rest of the sprinters were flailing all over the place, hopping wheels and generally being spastic. But Gert's line was the cleanest and his form was far superior. Boonen couldn't come around even if he had wanted to at that point. But I think that Tomeke was genuinely happy for his leadout man.
Stage 3 - I watched the finish of this stage maybe 10 times and saw something different with every viewing. The race basically exploded all over the road from the little cobble section and Cancellara's attack was the dynamite. Guys were looking around like "Did someone on a motorcycle jump throught there?"
By the time they realized what had happened Scarface had snorted the whole bag and was unloading everything he had on the field. Once again, if you watch the finish closely you see how solid Cancellara was even at that point. Just rock solid while the other guys were wiggling all over the road. I think that was one of the best finishes I have ever seen.
Stage 4 - Big Thor Hushovd. Owes Julian Dean big time. Great leadout by the Kiwi.
I think that Al Trautwig may have a man-crush on Thor Hushovd like George Costanza with Tony, the Mimbo. What ever happened to Dan Cortese and MTV Sports anyway...?
Stage 5 - This was actually a great stage. It reminded me of Milan-Sanremo and had the feeling of a one-day race for some reason. Pippo Pozzato continued the proud tradition of the Velo Fro and did his best Cipollini impersonation to take the win from Oscar Freire. I kind of worried that Pozzato would get a little too cool after he won MSR last year but Pippo takes care of business. That mane is out of hand though.
The BIG news of the day was the Kazakh voodoo Curse of Borat that came out in full force on the Astana team. I almost expected to see Greg Brady's Tiki head from Hawaii on one of Vino's many gold chains. Put it back in the cave Vino, didn't the Bunch teach you anything? Maybe they only had the first episode in Kazakhstan and never saw Greg's wipeout or the tarantula in Part 2.
A-Klod was the first to deck it off the side of the road and fractured his coccyx. I've never done it myself, but that sounds heinous. The crash looked so weak though. Like a 2 on the Nascar fanbase-o-meter.
Then Vino got a little air after his chain slipped and absolutely shredded himself at a scary speed. The footage of the following motorcycle having layed it down to avoid hitting him after the crash speaks to how quickly it must have happened. It was a valiant ride in to the finish but I didn't think either Kloden or Vino would start the next day. Super tough.
Stage 6 - At this point it was almost a matter of checking Boonen off the stage win list. It was a dicey sprint though and T-Boo had to make about 4 significant moves before he kicked through in front of Freire again. The overhead shot of the sprints are always fascinating. It's ridiculous how chaotic that last k is.
Bradley Wiggins actually put in a decent ride although he didn't seem too enthused about a solo day. It was fitting that a Brit got the most airtime that day and it did bring attention to the anniversary of Tom Simpson's death. It actually seemed somewhat callous that the Tour did not recognize it in some way after the British rider's request. Don't even get me started on the ASO right now though.
Stage 7 - Linus Gerdemann gave German cycling a brief rest from all of its recent grief by shelling his breakaway companions and enduring one vicious case of cotton-mouth on the final ride over the Colombiere and into Le Grand Bornand. He took the yellow, polka-dot and white jerseys along with the stage. Safe to say, it was a pretty solid result for the young Hilary Swank look-alike.
Big thumbs up for Bob Stapleton and the possibility of a truly clean team...oh, what? Huh...
Stage 8 - The first real mountain stage ended with a Chicken in Yellow and a Goat in the French National Champion's jersey. Rasmussen continues to basically just call his shot, pick a stage and leave everyone behind in the mountains. It's crazy. Never asks for help and guys just drop off his pace. He doesn't accelerate super hard, he just goes. People are underestimating him and he knows it. Don't sleep on Chicken.
Moreau attacked. Guys covered him. He attacked again. Got covered. Repeat. Repeat. French get all lathered up about his chances despite apparent mental handicap. Repeat. Repeat.
That group could have put BIG time into Levi, Sastre and the other guys that played it cool. But Moreau ruined it.
A-Klod impressed me again by nursing Vino through this stage while an easy-looking Kashechkin followed Moreau's antics. Kloden played the Number Two role again, but I think he may have kind of given up the Tour at that point after his crash. I don't know, it's such an odd dynamic with those two.
- By the way: I saw an interview with Horner the other day and he flat out called Kashechkin (usually but not necessarily accurately pronounced 'Kash-Ay-Kin') a name that I had never heard before. I'm pretty sure he called him "Cassius King" but I could be wrong. It could have been "Cassius Keen" as well. It certainly wasn't Kashechkin though. Does C-Ho know something that Paul, Phil, Bob and I don't? Horner makes me question my reality sometimes.
The "Not So Fast Young Man" Award went to Michael Rogers after crashing out of the most dangerous break of the Tour so far. Yes! NO!!!!!!!!!!!
Stage 9 - It was unfortunate that the results sheet couldn't decide whether Juan or Mauricio Soler won the stage but one of them did. And he did it in a pure "These Are Not Mountains To Me" display of Colombian climbing bravado. How do you say "Altitude Schmaltitude" in Spanish?
Contador was riding like a crazed spider-monkey that had gotten on a bike at the circus and was roaming around the course and Popovich reminded me of a Russian mobster. I bet he's broken thumbs before. Disco is kind of a hard team.
Vino really cracked which was sad to see. It was interesting to see Horner and Vandevelde in the Vino and Cassius Keen group though. Even though they lost a chunk of time, that was a pretty select bunch.
Stage 10 - The record books say that Cedric Vasseur won the 10th stage sprint into Marseille but I'm still not entirely sure. In my world Jens Voigt goes in the break, Jens Voigt win the race. I know there are other possible realities but we'll see. I think JV presented by Chuck Norris will still have something more to say about it.
It did remind me of Henri from Cheers, yelling "France Wins! France Wins!" followed by Norm saying "Wow. You don't hear that very often" though. Which was nice. Is it wrong that Henri is my favorite French guy ever? The "telephone number contest" episode with Sam is pure gold.
Stage 11 - So much for another mellowish flat stage. Astana caught Christophe Moreau and AGR2-D2 sleeping after Le Chien and Gerrans touched up and all of the sudden...no more French podium contender. One couldn't help but think that Vino woke up mad and would have shelled anyone if they missed the split, but it must have been a little more encouraging to know that it was The Dog getting dropped. Moreau was the one attacking when Vino struggled up the Colombiere.
Oh and Robbie Hunter won the sprint and Freddie Rodriguez got taken down in the final stretch. Freddie continues to bear the curse of Emeryville. Maybe living that close to IKEA messes with your mojo.
Well, that's the first 11 stages. A lot has happened but I still have no idea who will win the Tour. I do think people are understimating Rasmussen but I could see Valverde, Evans or Levi winning the thing in the final TT. Levi has the praying-Landis aero position and technique now. And I know it's hotter in Santa Rosa than France so he should be in good shape for the final week.
We really won't know anything about the podium until that final TT though. But it should be a fun week.