Posted: Friday July 14, 2006 4:24PM; Updated: Friday July 14, 2006 9:06PM
Yaroslav Popovych proved last year's best young rider honor was no fluke in winning the Tour's final mountain stage Friday.
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Highlights from the Stage 12
Stage: The 12th stage took riders on a 131.4-mile trek from Luchon to Carcassonne.
Winner: Yaroslav Popovych, a Ukrainian on the Discovery Channel team, in 4 hours, 34 minutes and 58 seconds. Italy's Alessandro Ballan of Lampre was second, and Spaniard Oscar Freire of Rabobank was third.
Yellow Jersey: American Floyd Landis, the Phonak team leader, retained the overall leader's jersey for second day.
Quote of the Day: "Emergency! We were just desperate." -- Russian veteran and Popovych teammate Viatceslav Ekimov on Discovery's hopes to bounce back from a so-far mediocre Tour with a stage victory.
Next stage: Saturday's stage is a mostly flat 112.2-mile ride from Beziers to Montelimar in southeastern France.
Austin Murphy will answer questions from SI.com users.
It is an old, European cycling expression that Lance Armstrong picked up early in his career. When a team has a bad day, there are "a lot of faces in the plate" at that night's dinner.
By some oversight, I was not extended an invitation to join the Discovery Channel team for dinner last night at the Hotel Husa Tuca in Betren, Spain. But I guarantee you there were a bunch of guys with faces in the plate -- with the exception of Paolo Savoldelli, whose face was in the hands of the Tour doctor who stitched him up after the Italian rider opened a cut over his right eye when a spectator stepped out in front of him as he rode down the mountain after Thursday's finish.
The Husa Tuca sits at the foot of the Pla de Beret, the Pyrenean peak up which the Disco boys struggled at the end of Thursday's Stage 11, which qualifies as one of the worst days in Johan Bruyneel's eight-year tenure as team director. Disco began the day with six riders in the top 33 of the general classification. Five mountain passes later there were but two Discovery riders in the top 39. Putative leader George Hincapie dropped a shocking 21 minutes to the leaders, his dream of mounting the podium in Paris turning to dust on the switchbacks of the Pla de Beret.
As one team official said after watching Discovery's demotion -- the team that has owned this race for the better part of a decade now finds itself with zero contenders for the general classification -- to marginal status: "Sometimes it's a good thing to be brought back to earth."
We would find out much about this crew by the way it responded to Thursday's calamity. The men in teal got off the mat, went to their corner, then came out swinging on Friday. (Well, seven of them did, anyway: Savoldelli abandoned the race with 10 stitches -- not to mention what team spokesman P.J. Rabice described as a "cartoon bump" -- above his right eye, plus an injured neck, lower back and knee. Benjamin Noval pulled out with leg and back issues.)
Hincapie, seeking redemption, attacked early in today's long (211K), hot (temps as high as mid-90s), bumpy stage from Luchon to the ancient walled city of Carcassone. His breakaway was marked, but Yaroslav Popovych had better luck. The 26-year-old Ukrainian, who captured the "best young rider" jersey at last year's Tour, is a crafty racer who won a stage at this year's Tour de Georgia. Midway through today's stage, he found himself part of a four-man breakaway that was allowed to escape from an oddly apathetic peloton. Robbie McEwen told reporters after the stage that with the breakaway a scant 15 seconds up the road, race leader Floyd Landis suggested a rest stop. (You never see this on OLN, but it is a common sight during stages for scores of riders to pull off the road and -- while straddling their bikes -- answer the same call. Others are able, by turning sideways while lowering their Lycra, to answer the call without stopping their bikes. Again, kids, don't try this at home.) While I was unable to confirm Landis' involvement in Whizgate, we know this much: The breakaway got clear and was never again threatened. It included Popovych, Oscar Freire (McEwen's chief competition for the green jersey awarded to the Tour's best sprinter), Alessandro Ballan, an Italian, and Christophe Le Mevel, a Frenchman questing for glory on Bastille Day.