Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sad TdF News On A Rest Day
David Millar, a Brit who rides for the Saunier-Duval and one who has been caught up in past doping problems, says something with which I completely and utterly agree: "I just feel like crying right now." The news which brings these feelings is that Kazakh rider Alexandre Vinokourov whom I've mentioned in prior posts, has tested positive for homologous blood in his system or of "blood doping." A blood doping rider has his own blood taken and frozen prior to a race and then has that blood put back into his system during the ride. It increases the amount of hemoglobin in the stream and thus his oxygen carrying capacity. Personally, this is probably the sole "doping" that I have little trouble with. But my feelings are of no moment in this. It's against the rules and can be discovered. Which makes Vino's actions very hard to fathom.
Vinokourov, again as I've mentioned before rides for the Astana team which "has withdrawn at the invitation of the organizers" as the Versus site delicately puts it. Astana was a seriously strong team in this year's Tour. Two riders (Vino and German Andréas Klöden) were serious contenders for the win and Klöden was sitting in fifth place overall at the withdrawal of Astana. Both riders suffered a bad accident in one of the early stages which commentators thought might have taken them out of contention. Instead both fought their way back into the mix. Klöden in fifth place and Vino winning the Stage 13 time trial by nearly a minute and a quarter. Then Vino cracked in Stage 14 and speculation was that he might be done. After all, he is carrying something like 40 stitches from his crash. But then, reminiscent of Floyd Landis last year, blazed out of the starting gate in State 15 and lead nearly the whole stage picking up nearly a minute over the second place finisher.
All this high drama (and I mean that sincerely - this Tour has been wonderfully dramatic) is hurt by this. I still would prefer to see Levi Leipheimer (US - Discovery team) win but the underdog supporter in me was hoping Vino might take an historic win. O tempora, o mores!
But the Tour is not destroyed. There are still great stories: Fabian Cancellara (Swiss - Team CSC) taking the yellow at the start and holding it for several days. He's now over two and a half hours back in 117th place but he held yellow and that's something. The emergence of Spanish rider Alberto Contador (Discovery team) now in second place and holding the white jersey of the best young rider in the tour. He is a brilliant climber and has the charisma (provided he learns English) to be a Lance-like star. It doesn't hurt to be a rider for "the" US team. And finally, the gutty riding of Danish race leader Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) who, having taken the yellow jersey has simply refused to relinquish it. He is not a great time trialist but has fought young Contador to the finish on two Pyreneean stages. He's kind of freaky looking but has ridden a tactically perfect race for a very strong team.
And there are other great happenings, young riders Linus Gerdemann (German, T-Mobile team) winning a stage and taking the yellow jersey for a day (now in 42nd place over an hour back) and Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez (Columbian, BarloWorld Team) coming from nowhere to prove he is a world-class climber and win a stage. Clearly, there is much to look forward to in future Tours.

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