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Reality check

Was Saturday's time trial bad sign for Americans?

Posted: Sunday July 9, 2006 3:43PM; Updated: Sunday July 9, 2006 10:36PM
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A quick dispatch dashed off between filing the Scorecard essay for this week's SI and leaving for the airport, so that I might actually see some of this year's Tour in person:

Sunday's transitional stage from Brittany down toward the Pyrenees is being contested as I type. It is all but assured of being much less significant than the events of Saturday, which, for American cycling fans, can also be called Reality Check Saturday. Going into the semicircular, 32-mile time trial from Gregoire to Rennes, there had been talk -- not exactly discouraged in this space -- of an all American podium. As the inspired headline blared over a recent SI piece on the Team USA's World Cup soccer ambitions, "Goodbye To All That."

The first day the Dauphine-Libere went into the high mountains, not quite a month ago, Floyd Landis lost in the neighborhood of nine minutes to Levi Leipheimer, the eventual winner of this prestigious Tour tune-up. A few days later I spoke with Floyd's wife, Amber, who confirmed what I'd suspected. When Amber had asked him, "Why didn't you go?" he explained that, while he didn't feel particularly bad, his legs didn't have a whole lop of pop that day. Rather than dig deep to summon some superhuman effort that would have compromised his preparation for the Tour de France, Landis said, in essence: You go, Levi. I'll see you in July.

There was no shortage of bad news for Americans at Saturday's time trial. CSC's Bobby Julich, or, as OLN's Phil Liggett proved incapable of not calling him, "Poor Bobby," overcooked his turn coming out of a roundabout, crashed hard and left the Tour in an ambulance. ("Overcooked," in the argot of cycling, means "took too much speed into." I appropriated it, in this case, from Cyclingnews.com.)

Leipheimer, who'd raced a sluggish prologue a week earlier, turned in what he later described as "the worst time trial of my life." I remember the shock of Liggett and Paul Sherwen when Leipheimer's first time split was announced over race radio. The Gerolsteiner captain had lost a catastrophic 90 seconds to the leader in the first 16 kilometers. That can't be right, they said.

It was, sadly, true. Unable to find rhythm, power, mojo, Levi finished 96th of 170 riders, more than six minutes behind stage winner Serhiy Honchar of T-Mobile. It'll be too tall an order for him to claw that time back in the mountains. Sixth last year and hoping for better in '06, Levi rode himself right off the podium Saturday.