The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Vino Down!

Well this is alarming news. Alexandre Vinokourov, who was cheated out of competing in last year's Tour but is now the last giant left in the field, had a nasty fall close to the end of today's stage. 2/3 of his Astana team stayed back to pace him forward, but they could never catch the peloton, and he ended up 1:20 back, with all of his likely rivals near the top of the standings. 1:20 is far from insurmountable, but it's a hell of a handicap to give up before the first mountain stage.

As for those rivals?

Well, this is a week late, but nothing much has happened in this Tour yet, so it's still preview-quality in terms of likely accuracy.

As even the most casual observer knows, doping has been the story of this year's Tour, even moreso than last year's, when the top 4 contenders were knocked out before the first day of riding. Reigning champion Floyd Landis is unavailable to defend, as he is defending his reputation - as well as last year's win - in the courts. Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso are both gone for good, hounded by drug allegations and admissions. As I said above, Vino's the only one left who really has the stature of a Tour champion, because, for all his unproven leadership abilities, he has simply shown in prior Tours that, physically, he can dominate a race the way that few could during the Lance Era (not to mention his overall win in the Vuelta a España last year).

But, once again, Vino is teamed with Klöden of Germany. Everything I've heard is that Vino's the definitive leader of his team, but a small slip - like today's - could well change that calculus in the accomplished Klöden's mind. For even more intrigue, Andreas also crashed today. He reconnected and finished with the peloton, but apparently broke his coccyx, which doesn't bode well for the next 15 stages. Vino may not want a rival on his squad, but he could surely use an able lieutenant.

Lieutenant describes most of the remaining contenders. Great American Hope Levi Leipheimer has returned to Discovery, also with assurances that he will be the acknowledged leader. But Levi has still not proven that he can take it to the next level as a team leader and champion.

Spaniard Carlos Sastre of CSC has pretty strong credentials - podium finish at the Vuelta and 4th place last year when he was suddenly thrust into Basso's no-doubt stylish shoes - and, more importantly, a strong team: probably the strongest team on the Tour, with accomplished specialists for each portion of the race. Strong climber who has learned to time trial. The only question is whether CSC will actually focus its efforts on Sastre - they've already spent 4 days defending Fabian Cancellara's yellow jersey.

Alejandro Valverde of Caisse D'Epargne has been mentioned in relation to the Puerto doping scandal, but he's here, and he's shown some Grand Tour abilities. At last year's Vuelta he finished second to Vino, and in the last two Tours he was riding well before injuries took him out. Not a great team, but a strong lieutenant in Oscar Pereiro (who could become the 2006 Tour winner by default if Landis loses his case).

OK, now that I've got this post out, maybe I'll be a bit better about keeping things up to date around here. Come on back.



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