Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tour de France Stage 11

Route: Marseille - Montpellier
Riders remaining: 171
Distance: 182.5 km
- Côte de Calissanne 1.7 km; 5.6%; 4 category

The word I would use to describe Stage 11 of the Tour de France is flat. Even one small climb at the beginning of the day didn’t do much to help the profile, or to slow the pace. The average speed: about 30 mph. The temperatures didn’t do much to slow anybody down, either. Once again, the thermometer hovered around 90° F.

Like yesterday, and as is usual for these level middle stages of the race, the day was made for attacks by the lesser-known riders and the lesser known teams. Today those seeking recognition were on the prowl immediately, motivating counter-attacks by others endeavoring to gain an advantage. Yet, in the end, it wasn’t some unknown that profoundly affected the race results; it was Alexander Vinokourov and Team Astana that caused the damage --- namely to Christophe Moreau of Team AG2R Prevoyance, who fell eight places in the overall standing, and David Zabriskie of Team CSC who finished the race outside the time limit.

Around about the 112 km mark, when the group began to encounter a nasty crosswind, Team Astana (who had been loitering near the head of the peloton), decided to take a turn at pacesetting. A fair number of their riders, including Alexander Vinokourov, went to the front and worked to increase the average speed, much to the dismay of everyone. To those unfamiliar with cycling race tactics, the point and purpose of this move was to split the peloton in the hope that it may catch some of the overall leaders off guard in an effort to gain time on them. Of all the race favorites, Vinokourov needed to utilize this tactic as he is injured and almost eight minutes behind the maillot jaune. Fortunately, the observant men from Team Discovery Channel were able to respond effectively to this development and were not caught “asleep at the wheel,” as it were.

It was interesting that Alexander Vinokourov engaged in such tactics, given that the race doctors were (and are) so concerned about the injury to one of his knees. Remember, he crashed heavily in the early stages of the Tour de France, wounding his knees, his elbow, and his hand. Apparently, one of his knees has now become infected, causing some consternation amongst the medical staff. Mr. Vinokourov, on the other hand, doesn’t seem too concerned. Otherwise, why would he attack the peloton in such an aggressive manner?

It was all for naught, though. Vinokourov couldn’t hold off a charging peloton in the last three kilometers. He was caught, allowing the spinters to rule the day. One of those fast men was Robbie Hunter of Team Barloworld, the only South African in the race and (now) the only South African ever to win a stage of the Tour de France. In fact, with his win, Mr. Hunter becomes the first individual from the African continent to win a stage of the Tour de France…ever. Kudos to Barloworld and their talented rider!

In other news: Freddie Rodriguez of Team Predictor-Lotto, along with a few other competitors, misjudged one of the sweeping consecutive corners in the finishing stretch and slammed headlong into the barriers at the side of the road. Since the incident occurred with only 1 km to go, none of the riders lost any time.

Dave Zabriskie of Team CSC arrived at the finish line outside the allowed time limit for the day. Like Christophe Moreau, he was caught out in the peloton split caused by Team Astana and, suffering from persistent knee pain, was unable to make it back in time. The knee trouble is, apparently, from a 2003 car accident. Zabriskie’s joint was repaired with screws, making the knee quite sensitive to change. In May, Team CSC mandated different shoes for their riders, a modification that was too much for his knee to deal with before the Tour.

Team Discovery Channel status
The “Planet Earth” men are doing well with three riders in the top 20 overall: Alberto Contador in 5th place, Levi Leipheimer in 8th place and Yaroslav Popovych in 20th place. Of course, Mr. Contador remains in the white jersey as well. Discovery Channel did drop one place in the team competition (they now sit in third), but one good day in the Pyrenees could change all that.

The best part of today was the vigilance of the team. They recognized the “crosswind” move of Team Astana immediately and responded appropriately to keep Levi in contention for the yellow jersey. They also avoided the crash in the finishing stretch, again keeping everyone safe to ride another day. If they keep this up, the maillot jaune could be theirs in just a few days. We shall see.

Race Withdrawals Stage 11
- Sylvain Calzati (France)
- Igor Anton (Spain)
- David Zabriskie (USA)

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