Monday, 19 July, 2004
Tour de France Update
Today is the second rest day of the 2004 Tour de France. After a week on the flats and a few days of climbing in the Pyrenees, the riders get a day to rest before the final week of racing in the Alps. As is usually the case, this year's Tour has been full of surprises:
- Lance Armstrong, going for a record breaking sixth consecutive win, has spent only one day wearing the leader's yellow jersey. He earned that by coming in second during the prologue time trial and then leading his U.S. Postal Service team to a smashing victory in the team time trial. He gave up the jersey the next day when a group of sprinters went off the front. This was no big deal, as the sprinters don't fare well when the roads turn up. But even after finishing well ahead of the peloton in the mountain stages on Friday and Saturday, Armstrong is still in second place: 22 seconds behind the race leader.
- The current race leader is Thomas Voeckler, a 25-year-old rider from France who is competing in his first Tour. He's the French national champion, so it wasn't surprising to see him lead the race during the first week, but to see him maintain his lead over the past few days is pretty surprising. Almost everybody thought he'd lose the lead on Saturday's brutal stage, especially when we saw how he was struggling on the big climbs. But he managed to tough it out even without much help from his team mates. I doubt that he'll keep the lead much longer; certainly not after the mountain time trial scheduled for Wednesday.
- Almost all of the riders who were viewed as challengers to Lance Armstrong have either dropped out of the race or are so far down in the standings that they have little chance of catching up. Jan Ullrich, considered by most to have the best chance of beating Armstrong, struggled over the hills on Friday and Saturday, and now is seven minutes behind the race leader. Tyler Hamilton, last year's fourth place finisher (with a broken collarbone no less) abandoned the Tour on Saturday. Haimar Zubeldia also abandoned on Saturday. Iban Mayo, a Spanish rider who beat Armstrong in a race last month, almost abandoned but was convinced by fans and his team mates to keep riding. He's over 30 minutes behind.
- Barring accidents or mechanical problems, the only real threats to Armstrong's sixth victory are Ivan Basso (1:39 behind) and Andreas Kloden (3:18). And taking a minute and a half from Armstrong during the final week of the Tour is pretty unlikely.
As with previous years, there's lots of real time coverage on the Internet. www.letour.com is the official site. From there you can get stage reports, standings, route profiles, and live updates during the stages. They also have a link to OLN TV, where you can listen live to the audio of the OLN broadcast. Other sites you might want to check are Cycling News, VeloNews, and The Daily Peloton.