Reasons to stay tuned into the Tour (cont.)
2. The Feuds. First it was Lance vs. Alberto. And how tongues wagged after Stage 7 on the Andorre Arcalis! Remember? When Contador unceremoniously dropped the best riders in the world -- including his Texan teammate -- the talk was all about how he'd somehow been insubordinate; committed some vague treason. This wasn't the strategy the Astana boys had discussed on the bus before the stage! Contador was freelancing. It wasn't cricket!
All that discussion of the Spaniard's alleged treachery, combined with LA's explanation that as a loyal teammate, he couldn't chase Contador, created a fog around a truth that was stripped bare on Sunday: The 37-year-old no longer has the legs to climb with Contador, who is 11 years his junior, and who will have screw up royally to avoid winning his second Tour de France.
That contretemps has been eclipsed by the blatant ill will between Garmin and Columbia High Road, whose George Hincapie slipped into a breakaway in Stage 14, and was poised to claim the yellow jersey. Even if the Big Hink had only worn it for a day, as was likely, it would have been a career highlight.
Instead, Garmen got on the front and not only drove a relentless pace, but, according to one Columbia team member, recruited other teams to help them work. Hincapie, one of the most selfless, popular guys in the bunch, missed out on yellow by five seconds, and was visibly crushed. One of the first guys I saw when I got here was Garmin GM Jonathan Vaughters, who had nothing to do with his director's call to drive the pace up front, but who nonetheless had some pretty spicy hate mail on his Blackberry.
3. The British are Coming! If it isn't the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish of Columbia, bagging four more stage wins in this Tour -- he's won eight in the last two Tours de France -- it's Wiggins, the former flatland specialist who dropped 20 pounds from his 6-2 frame (he now goes 152; his rib cage looks like a xylophone) and is always among the leaders in the high mountains. The speculation was that, since he's never been a podium threat in the third week of the Tour, he'd be in terra incognita in these last five stages.
Wiggo may crater tomorrow, but he was one of the strongest guys in the mountains today. Don't forget, Thursday's stage is a flat-as-Olive-Oyl, 40-km time trial around Lake Annecy. If Armstrong can stay ahead of Wiggo tomorrow, he may be leapfrogged by the Englishman in the TT, which should reshuffle the standings, but not as much as Saturday on ...
4. Mont Ventoux. Never have Tour organizers been so cruel -- or inspired -- as to put an hors categorie mountain on the race's second-to-last day. With eight of its 21 kilometers pitching up at over nine percent; with its malevolent appearance and tragic history -- British cyclist Tom Simpson died on this climb in the 1967 Tour, his bloodstream adulterated with amphetamines and alcohol -- this is sadistic obstacle, indeed, to cast before a bunch of guys already 20 days in the saddle. It's going to be electrifying.