Weeee!!!!

Well, I’ve made transition from occasionally (3-4 times a week) riding in the basement (in the summer!? what was I thinking) to commuting again. And boy oh boy I didn’t realize how much I missed riding outside and, alas, didn’t realize how badly out of shape I’d gotten. The only blessing about being out of shape so badly is how easy it is too improve. I started commuting on Monday night and already by Thursday the rollers take less starch out of my legs. I still get gassed way to easily and can’t just keep it in the big ring and spark up a a hill of any length. The most positive note from today was how tired my legs were feeling during the afternoon, but 10 minutes into my ride home that tiredness was barely a memory. 

 

Last Night

Well, I did a 105 minute “force” workout with seated “low cadence” intervals every five minutes from minute 20 for 70 minutes before I stopped. Afterwards, I was too drained to do much other than re-hydrate and go to sleep.

Notes on a Race

Hah, my predictive powers hold true, see I predicted Frank Shleck would take the third podium spot from Lance on Ventoux … and see, just as is the norm … I was wrong. 😀

However, it remains that one of the most amazing performances of the Tour was Christian Van Velde’s eighth placing acheived while riding in support of Bradly Wiggens. Why was this so amazing? Well, on an early stage of the Giro in May he crashed and fractured five vertebrate a rib and his pelvis. Seven weeks later he rides to a top ten finish in Le Tour. 2010 looks to be a great race …. Contador, Armstrong, the Shleck brothers, maybe Cancellara riding for a GC placing, Wiggins and Van Velde all to be look strong. This isn’t even mentioning up and coming riders like Boassan-Hagen.

I might note that it doesn’t hurt my partisan view of Van Velde that he grew up in the small village in which I am living now (even though right now he lives in Spain).

Le Tour Predictions: Stage 1

I’m horrible at predictions, marching so often to the beat of a different drummer and all. Yet for the fun of it, for notable stages anyhow, … my Tour picks.

Stage 1 is a short ITT with some technical turns. I predict Mr Armstrong will be outside of the top 10, and Spartacus (Fabian Cancellara) will win putting him in yellow. Evans, Menchov, Leipheimer, and Contador will be in the bottom half of the top 10 with other ITT specialists filling up the top 5 spots.

Two Days To Go!!!!

Saturday begins the Giro d’Italia, the first of the years three Grand Tours on the pro cycling calendar. This is a three week, sort of, stage race which begins on a Saturday and ends on a Sunday just over three weeks later with two rest days in the second and third weeks. Now, given that most of my readership is in the US and most US residents are not up to speed on bike racing as a sport, here’s a little primer. A stage race like this has a race on each of the non-rest days. During these particular races, i.e., Grand tours, race teams starting with 9 riders each compete. Like ball sports, each rider typically has roles to play during various stages. During each stage as well there are a number of races within each race going on. All of these “races” within the race have cash and other prizes associated with them. Normally these prize lists go “deep”, i.e., the payout and tally of placings is not just to the winner or top three but 20 or 25 deep.

  • GC. The GC competition is the primary race going on. It is the race at the Tour de France that Lance Armstrong won 7 times. This race is conceptually simple, the goal is to have the minimum overall cumulative elapsed time with one caveat. Riders finishing a particular stage are granted the “same time” as riders ahead of them if their front wheel “overlaps” with the rear wheel (or is close enough behind it) or if they were involved in a crash in the last 2 km then they are given the same time as the group they were with when they crashed. This is to limit damage and frenzy at the stage finish.
  • Stage winner. This is the winner of a given stage. That is to say, the prize which goes to the rider who won today crossing the finish line first. On a sprint stage this can be a photo-finish with a gap of millimeters (at 45+mph is a short timespan indeed). A well timed “bike-throw” can make the difference between places. 
  • King of the Mountain. Climbs throught the race are “categorized” by difficulty and points are awarded to the top 20 to top 50 riders. There will be stage KOM awards and the KOM jersey is worn each day (and awarded at the end) to the rider with the highest cumulative KOM point score.
  • Points competition. Most mass start/finish (not ITT or TTT stages) have “sprint” points designated along the route as well as a higher point payout for stage finishes. Accumulating the most points for the race gives one the sprinters jersey and locates the winner at the end.
  • Best Young Rider. This is a GC competition among riders under 25 years of age.
  • Team GC. The finishing times of the first three or five riders each day accumulate to award a “Team GC” placing.
  • Most Aggressive Rider. This is awarded by judges.
  • Lantern Rouge. The Tour de France offered a prize for this at one time I believe. This is the award for the last placed rider on GC. It’s not something sought by most riders.

Some teams will focus on one or the other jersey/race, e.g., GC vs Points. That will shape composition of the team they select from their full squad to send to the tour.

Tactics in a race influenced heavily by environment. Wind and elevation are key factors. Air resistance increases (to first order) with the square of velocity and begins to be significant when speeds exceed 20mph. At 25mph drafting behind a rider or in the peloton (that is the pack) reduces the work to keep that speed by 25%. This will increase even more at higher speeds. This can be the difference between riding at or above threshold (one’s anaerobic threshold is the power output point at which your oxygen consumption exceed your intake) and riding at a pace at which your heart rate and oxygen requirements are barely ticking over. Drafting in a large measure is what makes the race a tactical affair. Climbing speeds are low enough on the other hand that wind and drafting are no longer a factor. Other physiological and psychological factors come into play in climbing. Power to weigh ratios and climbing styles factor in more.

One final (personal) note: After almost three years and a fairly good off-seasons training under my belt next week I hope (expect) to essay my return to racing. A “training series” looks like it will return to Tuesday nights and either way I plan to try this as my first “comeback” race.

Quiet Night

Lack of sleep over the weekend leads tonight to a case of writers block. I started to write a post on Fleche-Wallone and L-B-L the two remaining spring semi-classics and classics respectively. Judging by my small collection of races from the 1990s and this decade these are my favorite classics. In my opinion the duel between Michele Bartoli against teammates Alex Zulle and Laurent Jalabert ranks as one of the best races ever (Zulle and Jalabert were at that time ranked as the #1 and #2 riders in the world).

Anyhow, have a good night and God bless.

Hell of the North

Pave. Le Enfer du Nord (the Hell of the North). Paris-Roubaix. Last week I began a short description of one of the jewels of the pro-cycling calendar, the one-day classics of April. Sunday the Ronde de Vlaanderen unfolded, one account can be found here. This weekend an even more famous or infamous race is to be held, namely a race from Paris to Roubaix. Pave, or cobbles-stones are included, in 28 sections on the race course. These vary in length between from 200m to over over 3km. These aren’t the even neat brick-like cobblestones found in American cities and alleyway. Pave in this and the other Belgium and spring races is a feature of the European farm-country. These are irregular large rocks. One American racer, on encountering pave for the first time rode on it a bit and remarked, “This isn’t racing, this is stupid.” See the photo on wiki for an illustration. Another feature of the early spring is of course that the weather is uncertain. As the race goes through muddy and rural pave sections and pathways, if it has rained recently or is raining then just completing the race is a challenge.

Terrain affects bike racing in a number of ways. Flat races and/or headwinds keep the peloton together leading to a sprint finish. A strong tailwind can help a breakaway effort. The effect of the cobbles are twofold. Cobbles take power to negotiate. This favors the stronger riders who need phenomenal bike handling skills. Additionally, crashes and mechanicals are common as the pave takes its toll on men and equipment. The pave is often narrow as well and a crash can impede riders behind the crashes significantly. So, to do well those who hope to win must stay at the front. As the most significant poritions of which start with the Arenberg section, which leaves over 100km in the race that means the “contenders” and race leaders need to ride at the front for 60 miles or more. For the non-participants (that is the rest of us) that is a good thing. That means the dueling. The give and take and tactical battles for victory takes place for a long time.

An April Treat

April brings spring showers … and the great one day classics. The professional cycling calendar runs from, well, January through October. July’s big race, the Tour de France is known by everyone. Many people and all cyclists know that the Tour is one of three “Grand Tours” three week races with the other two being the Giro de Italia which begins in May and the Vuelta a Espana which begins in late August or early September. These three week races are complex events with many overall races within races occurring and complex strategies unfolding over three weeks of racing.

Stage racing is a major part of the professional cycling calendar but is not everything. There are also the one day races. The most prestigious one day races are the “classics”, four of which are coming up over the four weekends in April. In stage racing recovery is key, one can never go too far into one’s reserves of endurance and exhaustion because one is required to respond and be able to race well the next day. With one day races that is not a factor. The race is all or nothing with everything on the one finish. The Tour GC (overall time winner) can be won by a rouleur (time trial specialist) or a climber or a rider who is excellent at both. The spring classics are won by the “hard men” of the peloton. The spring classics are often cold and wet, littered with short steep climbs, and the road conditions often include Northern European cobblestones, or the pavé.

This weekend the first of the one day classics for this year will be held, the Ronde van Vlaandaren, or in English the Tour of Flanders. Here is a short interview with a former Ronde winner on this particular race.

During Those Dark Winter Months

I thought I’d give a quick update on this winters training. First a little background, for some years I raced bicycles (road). Two winters ago, I didn’t train very well during the off season with conflicts including family matters, work (business trips for example), and (uhm) time spent blogging. That meant I really only was on the road three or four days a week and usually even then wasn’t riding very hard. That doesn’t cut it if you want to race. With few exceptions you have to train every day. Subsequently at this time it has been a little over two years since I’ve sat on my bike lined up to a start. Early this summer, actually May through June I managed to ride every day except for about two over a 6 week period. My fitness started picking up. By mid-September I lined up my training program and began training in earnest. Since mid-October I’ve been working out 9-14 hours a week. And then …  last Friday we finally had some warmer weather. And … I left work a little early to ride.

I’m glad to report, that power metrics don’t lie. To borrow a phrase cycling pro’s occasionally use, I had “some good sensations” in my legs. I had a short 2 hour ride in the sun and the wind and did a hard 30 minutes in the middle. My recovery is quite good, which means I have some endurance. Basically, that means after a short 1-2 minute very hard effort I don’t have to ease up very long, just a few pedal strokes really, before I’m ready to go again. My power seems back. In short, I think I’m back to where I was at close to my best fitness levels. And best of all, it’s only March. I’ll still need to find some group riding or training races to remind myself how to corner hard in a pack and ride shoulder to shoulder in a bunch and I’ll likely still have over-estimated my fitness and will grovel at the back of packs whipping back myself into shape some more … but if the endurance is good that should go well.

However to put that in perspective … I should note I never was a top contender … and I likely won’t be one now. I’m a mid-pack age level (masters 40+) racer and only manage to hang on in national caliber Masters 40 fields. I would add, in my defense, that I could hang on in those fields on my good days which is saying something. If I can beat the hour again at the 40k ITT (Individual Time Trial) then I’ll be back to where I was at my peak. What I’m saying is that while I rarely win, but I do have fun.

Training/Cycling Update

Well, no essay tonight. I have on the other hand, worked out almost 7 hours this week (it’s Thursday and the workout week begins on Monday) and 125 “miles” as recorded on my indoor trainer (and that 7 hours includes 30 minutes in the weight room). That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. I did manage to do 6 sprint intervals and recorded over 1000 watts output on each of those efforts as well as 6 thirty second efforts averaging 500-600 watts. The sooner it gets warm around here the better. I’m not looking forward so much to the 6 hours scheduled for this weekend in the basement.

Superbowl -> Posting Might Be Light Tonight

Now … I used to watch a lot more football but in recent years Superbowl Sunday is a day to ride. In the 90s if it was warm enough … this is one of the best winter days to get on the road because by 3pm the roads are empty. Everybody is at their Superbowl bash to stay. However, this is a unusually cold winter, and while today is temperate by comparison … 33 degrees F … it’s still too cold log 80 miles on the road for me anyhow.

But … I’ve got the trainer set up in front of the monitor and this will be my first HD Superbowl. And unlike virtually everyone else watching, I will earn a large net negative caloric day. I’ll be eating and drinking during … but should burn over 2000 calories on the bike … which I will not be making up via GU packets and electrolyte packed drinks.

I will take a short break to change shorts (the switch to dry shorts is a wonder) at halftime.

Wish me luck … by quarter 4 I’m going to be wanting to quit I think. It will a long time to ride on a stationary bike. 🙂

My Excuse … And I’m Going To Stick To It

Blogging quality and quantity will likely improve in the spring and summer. I’ve been a little frustrated lately with my blogging lately, but being a little slow sometimes it took me a while to figure out what’s going on, i.e., why. When the weather is better (temps above 40 or so) my rides are outside. And, much of the time, those rides are LSD (long steady distance) or rides for recovery. I have a lot more time to think during those rides … and that plus the passing scenery plus the joy of riding keeps me occupied. However, while like tonight I ride for an hour or two (two tonight) on the trainer in the basement I watch Netflix DVD, and that doesn’t inspire blogging like the open air does.

Anyhow, things will get better in mid to late March. In past years, my blogging “won” vs my conditioning for the racing season … and for two years I didn’t race. That priority has changed this year, I bike before I blog and it’s showing … especially now that it’s cold.

Training Update

This weeks “recovery” week went well. My lower back, which was strained late last in a heavy lifting session is just a little bit stiff, and the heavy lifting in the weight room is now down, the remainder of the year are “Strength Maintenance” sessions. If I remember correctly, I should see some small improvements in the weight room during the season, but most of the “resistance work” is done via low cadence high tension sessions on the bike which is a more focused resistance movement which make sense as I’m not seeking general strength, but for a specific motion, i.e., cycling.

Monday I begin a 2 week (+ one recovery week) cycle labeled “base 2”. In this cycle I begin strength and high intensity sessions on the bike while continuing developing endurance, which remains the primary focus. Sunday calls for almost 4 hours on the bike, which because it’s just a stationary indoor bike ride … I may juggle things and reduce that to 2:40 or so. I do also have two days out of town (one night) working with a long term customer … but I’m hoping to get a morning ride and an evening ride on the respective days and that should cover that.

On a good note, a sporadic electrical connection on my power tap/indoor trainer is working again … so direct “power” measurements will return to the training regime, which is really great news. My tempo time trial exercise Saturday put where I dial in about 150 bpm heart rate and measure power … at about 270 watts. That should be sustainable for some time … the question remains how much I can improve on that before spring. 🙂

Training Update

Base cycle #1 completed, week one was repeated after a week which missed several days of training due to travel. This week is a recovery week, which is much appreciated as I’m feeling a little “over-trained.”

Training Update

On the workout front … this is a short work-week … and interestingly enough the first week since my training program began that I will be spending more time training more than my 11 year old. Geesh … if that doesn’t make act to spur you on … nothing will.

For a little more detail, last week, I made my workout goals actually repeating the first week of the first base cycle, for 12.5 hours in the gym and on the bike. This week … two more hours get tacked on. That 70 mile or 3 1/2 hour indoor ride will be, uhm, the tough bit next weekend … I’m hoping for warm weather to do that outside … but this has been a cold November so I’m not going to bank on it.

A Great Race

The new discovery (for me) of Universal sports on Digital broadcast TV paid off well today. I watched, timeshifted at home, the live broadcast of Alessandro Ballan’s victory in the World championship Road race in Varese, Italy. The Italian team played a strong hand, and came up winners. Ostensibly they were riding for the Cricket (Bettini) but he was marked by every other ride out there and it should have been obvious he wasn’t going to be in the winning move. When the entire Spanish, Belgian, and French teams are watching you … that is not a race you will win.

I have to mention as well, Marzio Bruseghin rode like a monster. He seemingly on his own, on behalf of his team, annihilated an 18 minute gap to an early break. He drove the front of the peloton for more than an hour (5-6 11 mile laps). At the final, when the gap was down to two minutes the writing was on the wall, he “attacked” on one of the two hills and it was clear that although he was keeping the pace up and still cutting into the lead of the three breakaway riders … that nobody behind him was in any difficulty matching his acceleration, which was clearly costing him. My hat is off to him, it was an awesome display and a big reason why the Italians looked the strong men out there today.

Cycling Update

Well, travel and jet lag from the vacation in Europe has faded and for the second week I’m getting regular rides into my legs. After almost a month off, they still don’t feel great, but if this time goes like in the Spring, in about 3 weeks I should feel like my legs and fitness are “coming back”. At that point … I’ll get my training plan in place, join the gym for a 3 month membership for some weight work and get serious (and finally get back to shaving my legs weekly). I remain determined to get in good enough shape to return to racing in the spring. But … a lot of hard weeks are between here and there. And most importantly, I have not have the missed weeks of training any longer, no interruption. Business travel has to include time in a gym on a spinner, that’s the biggest thing. I used to do it. I’ve got to get back in the habit.

It feels good to be riding again. Today was beautiful, clear, cool (about 60) and very little wind. All too soon will be the long dark winter in the basement watching DVDs and maybe some football if I get in good enough shape for that (note: I had a good hard “football” workout I used to do … but I couldn’t do that today … maybe by late October).

Quick Update

Well, things are going well at work … but the hours were long. Anyhow, I did catch this quickly. Take a look at this article, and note especially the last picture.

That man is a professional bike rider, he can ride better and faster and longer than anyone you know. And look at his face. What a race, no?

Training Progress

As the long (long) time readers know, I used to race cycles, specifically road bicycles. For the last two years, however, life has intruded to the degree where I couldn’t train hard or consistently enough to justify racing. You can’t train 5-6 hours a week and expect to be able to race, unless you are really really blessed by your parents genetic makeup. For the last 6-8 weeks, I’ve managed to put in 10+ hours per week, which has done wonders. If (and only if) I manage to keep that pace and even add a few hours per week to that tally (a 14 hours pwer week average would be fantastic) then I’ll be back for the thrills (and occaisonal spills) and all the benefits of racing to boot.

In the short time I’ve been training, I’m already seeing results (besides having sore leg muscles much of the time). The area in which I usually ride only has short climbs, but compared to a month ago, I’m climbing faster in bigger gears at the same (or higher) cadence. The same slopes for which I was using a 39×17 a month ago (little ring) to climb, now I’m using the 53×17 (or 19) and usually seated. The human body is truly an amazing thing in how it responds to training.

My plan is to continue basically to continue unstructured training until mid-to-late-September at which time, I’ll begin periodization and structured training. I’ve a 2-week vacation in August during which little if any riding will be done. The riding I’m doing now is to build a base.

If, you ride often and enjoy riding (fast) and are considering what it would take to jump into racing. My advice would be to start with time trialing. In the Chicago area, besides more informal club time trials, you can find a time trial offered several times a month at distances between 20 and 40k.  That availablilty of time trials is likely available almost universally throughout the States. So try it. A time trial is a race against yourself. There’s no need for direct comparison to the “rest of the field” and more importantly, no peleton to stay with and with which if you cannot … then your race is done.

What you are mostly trying to do is to compare your time less to others, but to yourself. That is to the time you clocked in the last outing. How much did you improve (or not)? If you can get your 20k time under 32 minutes … you’re easily fit enough (especially if you can sprint) start mass start races (that time is for the men’s field).

Le (Nouveau) Tour

Le Tour is very different this year than past one’s run. There was no prologue, that little inconsequential state which didn’t serve to really create time gaps that meant anything, but could serve as tea leaves for those trying to discern who was on form for the hard stages in the final two weeks. Additionally, like many tour’s of the 90s there is no team time trial, the time trials are shorter, and … no time bonuses for stage wins. Time bonuses of 20, 12, and 8 seconds in former years would be awarded to the top three finishers of each day’s stage. This meant that after battling up a mountaintop there was often a sprint at the line for those final seconds and in the first week, sprinters would battle for those time bonuses to inch their respective total times to where they might incrementally snatch the coveted yellow jersey (which by the by also meant they incrementally snatched also some coveted cash rewards for wearing said jerseys).

So far three stages have completed. The first two were, un-traditionally (gosh what a surprise) not made for the sprinter. They were hard uphill sprint finishes … and one of the tour favorites, Alejandro Valeverde blasted clear to win the first stage. One of the favored traditional sprinters managed to win the 2nd stage and for the third, a surprise for the first week, the sprinter’s teams failed to get calculators out (or their cell phones) and the break stuck. For the rest, the GC might have been shaken up, not by the break, for they didn’t really get enough time to matter in the long run, but by a crash. A crash 10k or so out from the finish split the field. Two GC hopefuls, Denis Menchov and climber Riccardo Riccò were trapped behind the crash and couldn’t claw back to the front bunch (which was of course desperately trying to avoid being so clawed back). I didn’t think Mr Menchov had as much of a chance this year, even with the exclusion of Astana (the Kazahk team that was dis-invited after winning the Giro d’Italia arguably on political grounds … the excuse being doping). The reason Denis Menchov has a smaller chance this year is that he is an excellent time trialer and … the time trials in this years tour are shorter giving him less road with which to put time between himself and the smaller (less powerful) climbers who do so well when the road tilts up, but not so well blasting straight ahead into the wind.

Tomorrow the time trial … again a change. It is usually at the end of the first week, not on Tuesday. Will the swiss rouleur, Cancellara take it and the yellow? That’d be my guess, if I were a betting man, which I’m not.

My Excuse

Well, no “longer” post is appearing tonight. My excuse … it’s the bike. As (really really) devoted readers know, I used to (road) race bicycles and I hope to get back into racing … perhaps next year. Anyhow I’m riding again (about 8-10 hours a week right now) and while often my ride allows me to think about stuff and develop some for a new post … tonight I did intervals so my brain turned to mush, during the ride.

For those don’t run or bike semi-competitively intervals are basically the only way to get faster. To ride faster, you have to … well, ride faster. Specifically, ride a lot faster than you are accustomed for shorter periods of time in order to stress your body and train it to be accustomed to working harder. That makes your heart, legs, and circulation stronger. The other two main types of training needed are slow (high cadence) easy spinning days, known as active recovery, and LSD. Not the drug, but LSD stands for the acronym Long Steady Distance … to encourage somewhat surprising “low level” biological changes in your physiognomy. The changes to your system include the obvious, training the liver and muscles to store more glycogen, recruiting and growing more capillaries in your legs, and what surprised me is that muscle cells actually begin to have greater numbers of mitochondria as a result of LSD. Pretty cool … however it’s fairly clear that the 90 minute to 3 hour rides are very different from the 7-9 hour LSD rides done by Professional cyclists.

If I manage to keep my training up, my resting heart rate will be back where it belongs in the mid to lower 40s. 😀

Schedule Shift

With the longer days, Mrs Pseudo-Polymath has requested that my daily bike ride take place in the early morning, i.e., I’ll be getting up at 5am to ride (sun-rise 5:20).

It’s late enough already having gotten home at around 9:30pm from Father’s day visit with the in-laws. Anyhow, hopefully the evening will be clearer for thinking about posting and I’ll have a morning meditation while riding to jump start my day … if I can scare myself out of bed at 5.

Wish me luck!

It Begins or The Hard Men Come Out To Play

The NCAA basketball tournament is winding down (or coming to its climax depending on your point of view), which means April is here and the real racing season is getting under way … that is cycling’s one day spring Classics season. Five one day “classics”, major races which unlike the Grand Tours, which take 3 weeks are under way. In a grand tour, recovery is key for the riders. There’s always tomorrow, you can’t dig too deep, go too hard, because you have to recover to race and ride hard tomorrow. On the one day classics, that’s not the case. You can ride easy, sleep in, tomorrow. But today, there’s a race to ride.

The first of the classics has already run, in Italy (Milan-San Remo). Tomorrow the first of the somewhat more grueling races in Northern Europe are about to commence. The Tour of Flanders is a 260 km (~160 mile) race over short sharp hills mixed with cobbles. The weather tomorrow promises wind, rain, and cold. Tomorrows race includes the Koppe:

Then it is on to the Koppe, the Koppenberg. This climb was made famous by Jesper Skibby when he almost got crushed by the race director’s car in 1987. It has been in and out of the race the last few years. The initial route announcement earlier in the year had not made space for the monster, which rises at a maximum gradient of 22%. Eventually, though, it was put back in – to the delight of the protagonists.

A 22% grade is difficult to walk up, much ride a bike up it, much less race that bike up that hill. Additionally, it turns out, the road isn’t just on a rediculous 22% grade, it’s narrow and uneven. Which means if you want to not lose minutes you have to be in the front and not behind any riders who have trouble. But … remember it’s not just one person that wants/needs to be at the front to have a chance to win … there are 25 teams of 8 riders each in the race. They all want their rider and hopefully one or two support riders to help in in the “break” at the front. That means in the miles coming up to each of the obstacles like the Koppe the pressure at the front as every team tries to position its riders to the front to the race means … well the pace will be murderous.  Read here for more.

Le Tour: Stages 13 and 14

From Saturday to this Wednesday is the block of stages that will most likely define the tour. Vinokourov won the time trial, but the knock on Vino is that he goes too deep on one stage and thereby has some really bad days. Today was an example. I’ll peg him for another stage win before the end, but there is no podium or even top ten for him this year.

Rasmussen suprised everyone with a good ITT effort Saturday and then blasted clear with the Disocovery youngster Contador to take today’s stage. Yesterday’s packing of the top finishing places by Astana will, in my view, result in doping suspicions, but … the top riders are all tested automatically so if they’re doping … then true to form the doping tech is still ahead of the testing tech. Actually Vinokourov’s remarkably bad performance today might be evidence that his win was undoped. He needed some recovery, but didn’t get it today.

Tomorrow’s stage is a hard mountain stage, but … as always, it’s not the course that makes it hard … it’s the competition.

Le Tour: Stage Eleven and Twelve

A difference a day makes. Yesterday tactics took hold as after a crash, contender Christophe Moreau had crashed. He recovered, but was getting tended to at the back of the pack. It’s not clear (to me) how a split occurred but after a break between front and back occurred teams competing for GC went to the front and pushed the pace hard. That made a 3:20 gap between the two groups at the finish, which will hurt Moreau’s chances.

Today no such break occurred and a standard sprint finish ensued, with Boonen taking it for a second time in this year’s tour.

Tomorrow the race of truth … the Individual time trial. No teams. No drafting. Just wind, mind, pedal, pain and the road.

Le Tour: Stage Eight

As per my usual, a good account, results and pictures are to be found over at cyclingnews.com. It was a mountain stage, and the best climber for the last few tours Michael Rasmussen aka “The Chicken” took the stage. In the last tour Rasmussen did a yeoman’s work for his team’s GC choice before he was given the slip to ride for himself. In past years he couldn’t time trial to save his life, so … next Saturday will the check for Rasmussen and Rabbobank. Who are they riding for. Did Rasmussen work on his weakness in the off-season.

Discovery look like it’s going to have another rough tour “post Armstrong”. Leipheimer and Popovyich had a bad day. If I had to pick a winner for two weeks from now, I’d pick any of the riders who finished in the top ten, except Rasmussen alas.

What is it with Europeans and their sports figures knicknames? Rasmussen as “The Chicken”, Panatini was “Elephantino”. My (current) favorite rider, Bettini is “The Cricket” which is marginally better.  Man those dudes are harsh.

Le Tour: Stage Seven

www.cyclingnews.com presents the 94th Tour de France
The vocally antidoping young T-Mobile rider Linus Gerdemann gave fresh hope to fans looking for an exciting, clean Tour when he attacked a break of 15 on the final climb of the day. Heroically pushing through dehydration, cramps and fatigue, Gerdemann launched his attack with 10 kilometres to go up the fan-packed Colombière pass, and then plummeted down in a daredevil descent into Le Grand-Bornand. With the win, the 24 year-old German gained enough time to take over the race leader’s Maillot Jaune, the white jersey of best young rider and most aggressive rider in one fell swoop. Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Prodir) finished the 197.5-kilometre stage second and third at 42″ and 1’42”.

Le Tour: Stage Two

Bunch sprint and a big crash today in le Tour. The Tour moved out of the UK and back to the continent to day, finishing in Gent (Ghent?) starting in Dunkirk. We’ll have to see if and how many riders were injured too badly to continue and how that plays out for the three week campaign. With a finish in Belgium, the riders of that nationality wanted to make sure they took the podium. Gert Steegmans and Tom Boonen made that happen for Quick-Step.

Update: And the BBC gets it wrong. Boonen and Steegmans are teammates … there was no “edging out” of Boonen on that win.

Le Tour: Prologue and Stage one

7.8 Kilometers. 4.8 miles. In (just) under 9 minutes. 33.4 miles per hour! On a bike. Unassisted. Hop on a bike. Try to just hit 33.4 on the flat. It’s fast. Very fast. Now imagine doing it on the flat, with no pack, no draft, just you and the pain in your body building on and an on. Relax your concentration for an instant, and the speed will drop like nobodies business. That pain looks like this. Doff your hat to Fabian Cancellara (account and more pictures and full results here). American George Hincapie finished on the podium in 3rd, just 23 seconds off the pace.

The tour is in the UK for the start. Aussie Robbie McEwan is one of the top two or three sprinters in the world (and with Petacchi out due to possible doping problems) few will be able to beat McEwan in the sprints in this tour. McEwan won even though he crashed hard earlier in the stage. Let’s hope he starts tomorrow. Pics and results here.