Mark Cavendish – Kind of fast
The young speedster whom I have now dubbed “Teen Wolf” made a shamockery of the bunch sprints of the 2008 Tour de France. I'm still not sure if he is more of a Michael J. Fox or Jason Bateman version but time will tell. It’s actually difficult to comment on Cav's wins because he generally makes it look absurdly easy to jump 5-10 spots and then open a 3 bike-length gap in the last 200 meters. Team Columbia was very strong and the field was Petacchi and Boonen-less but still…it’s just not that easy.
And his look of “Well…yeah. Duh” whenever the interviewer says that he proved he is the fastest, is absolutely great. Someone get this kid a self-esteem coach. He needs to work on the confidence. Sorry Meatball, but lookout Beijing.
Danny Pate – Close but no paté
It was another close call for the Garmin-Chipotle crew as Danny The Pate made the break and finished third in one of the hardest mountain stages in the Tour. Following up Frischkorn’s effort in Stage 3, it seems that the U.S. rookies are handling the biggest race in the world with remarkable courage and some darn good form.
Although it was especially heartbreaking to watch the final meters and post-race interview, The Pate should be proud of the effort and continues to prove that you can get to the top without compromising yourself. I just hope nobody called him Paté in the French press room.
Vande Velde – Better than Ditka
Staying with the Garmin-Chipotle theme, how about Christian Vande Velde? The kid from Illinois is making the Super Fans proud and again, setting a great example of a good guy, getting great results, the right way. Even Ditka could learn a thing or two from VDV.
Regardless, the Chicago-land area is better known for Downers Grove and crit racing so it’s pretty cool to see VDV succeeding in France. Perhaps all his years in Boulder have a little something to do with that though. Actually, I wonder if he maybe he had a flashback of the annual carnage of Downers Grove after going so hard to bridge back up on the climb that caused him to crash on the descent. Just like home eh VDV?
Crashes and Descents – Winning and Losing the Hard Way
Speaking of crashing and descending, it seems like this Tour has been chock-full of both. Just about all of the favorites have hit the deck so far but there has also been an element of importance on descending in this year’s GC race that I don’t recall seeing much in the past. All crashes aside, I really enjoy the element of danger and risk that emerges when there is a tough descent near the finish of a stage. I’m guessing that Luis-Leon-Spinks Sanchez feels the same way after making his stage-winning move on the downslope.
Now, we all know that Pereiro has a flair for spectacular biffs but his aerial techniques apparently still need a little work. Matt Hoffman he is not. And as a result, his crash over the guardrail and onto the road below in Stage 15 was literally a nightmare. When the initial report came in that he had broken his femur (the biggest bone in the human body!) I felt like I was going to puke. Thankfully, he managed to escape with merely a fractured scapula so I ended up with just a little heartburn instead. I would imagine all the guys who had to ride past him as he lay screaming on the ground got a little verklempt as well.
Jon-Lee Hooker Augustyn’s Superman impression down the hillside was pretty scary at first but became somewhat comical once it was clear he was okay. Do we know if his bike ever stopped? Did he send a thank you note to the spectator that just happened to be standing there and helped him back up? These are the questions being overlooked in the Prime Time coverage.
Anyway, it will be interesting to see if the time that Menchov lost to Sastre, Evans and the Schlecks on the descent of the Bonette will come back to haunt him. I am always amazed that guys can work so hard and be so good on the climbs and then just lose it all back on the descent. It’s not a physiological issue – it’s all technique and mentality. To potentially lose the Tour de France because you can’t hold wheels on a descent is borderline inexcusable. Come on, you’re a Professional.
Bernhard Kohl – The Fish?
I have had the opportunity to see Bernhard Kohl up close and personal at the last few editions of the Tour of California and wasn’t really sure what to think of him. He’s a pretty tiny guy but his head is gigantic – so he kind of looks like a little kid on the bike.
But after watching him “swim” up the climbs of the 2008 Tour de France, as Bob Roll so eloquently described, I have become a huge fan of the young Austrian. I generally appreciate athletes with a lot of style and grace but often root for the guys that do it their own way – even if it looks weird. Kohl’s head-bobbing and swaying are almost like Jim Furyk’s golf swing or Rick Barry’s free throw shooting technique. Not exactly the prettiest to watch but certainly successful in getting the job done.
Now we just need to get Kohl a good nickname. I was thinking about “The Fish” but maybe we can do better than that. Perhaps “Porcupine Fish?” or “Puffer?” Hmm, I’m going to need to work on this one some more.
Sastre – It’s about time, literally and figuratively
There is not a single rider at the Tour de France that deserves to wear the yellow jersey more than Carlos Sastre. The diminutive Spaniard who Bjarne Riis and I call “Cahlos” has ridden a virtually spotless race so far and probably has the most accumulated credit in his Tour Luck Account. Plus, he’s just a really nice guy and has something like a dozen kids to take care of at home so he’s certainly going to be the sentimental favorite.
Anyway, Cahlos may not have gotten as much time on Evans as he would have hoped but I still believe that he can limit his losses and keep the jersey into Paris. The situation in last year’s final TT was very similar and Evans was not able to dislodge Contador. I see the same thing playing out this year except the gaps may be even smaller. Cattle has just been a little too rattled and tense, while Cahlos has been “muy tranquilo.” That will be the difference.
At the end of the day, or at the end of Saturday to be more specific, I see Sastre holding off Cattle Evans by a few seconds with Schleck holding on for 3rd, Menchov in 4th and Vande Velde slotting into 5th. It’s going to be tense for everyone and I just hope there are no mechanical issues that influence the GC.
Chavanel actually won a stage (I kid, but Sylvia has been working hard and deserved some success), so clearly anything can happen in this Tour de France. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.