Friday, July 29, 2011

Evans Will Race in Colorado

Cadel Evans will compete in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado from August 22 to 28th, according to today's announcement from race organizers. The Tour de France champion will be joined by rivals Andy and Frank Schleck, who finished second and third respectively. In addition to their teams of BMC and Leopard-Trek, other world-class squads competing include American teams RadioShack, Garmin-Cervelo, and HTC-Highroad  and European teams such as Rabobank and Liquigas.

View race website:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tour Highlights

Coming down to the penultimate stage, the 2011 Tour de France kept us guessing until the end. Here are highlights from the three-week competition: the good, the bad, the ugly, plus what’s next.

  • CADEL EVANS: The 2011 winner of the Tour de France rode into the yellow jersey with an outstanding performance at the individual time trial in Grenoble. While he stayed aggressive every day, the penultimate stage proved the importance of a breadth of skills, not just mountain climbing, to take home the win.
  • ANDY SCHLECK:  Leader of Team Leopard-Trek, the Luxembourger orchestrated a series of mountain attacks and demonstrated the importance of the squad in cycling. Stage 18 was picture perfect strategy, as Schleck was aided by two teammates sent in an early breakaway in anticipation of his attack, though he did not gain enough time to win in Paris.
  • MARK CAVENDISH: The Manx Missile delivered five impressive sprint wins and the first green jersey for the U.K. The HTC-Highroad lead-out train is a sight to behold, like a chess/poker match unfolding at 40 miles per hour. Yet Cavendish’s most exciting victory came on Stage 5 when he clawed his way through a field of rivals.
  • THOR HUSHOVD: The Norwegian broke the curse of the world champion, as he tallied personal and team accomplishments. Hushovd wore the yellow jersey for seven stages and fought for two brutal stage wins that should have been too mountainous for the sprinter.
  • GARMIN-CERVELO: The American team came to life in their third appearance at the Tour de France with the team time trial stage win, Tyler Farrar’s spint win on the Fourth of July, Hushovd’s performance, and Tom Danielson’s finish in ninth place overall.


  • RADIOSHACK: The American team suffered some of the worst luck ever. Janez Brajkovic crashed out, Chris Horner and Andreas Kloden abandoned due to injuries, and Yaroslav Popovych quit due to illness. To top it off, Levi Leipheimer lost too much time following crashes, and the team got skunked for results, not a familiar situation for Lance Armstrong’s former team.
  • WHAT IF: The Tour de France always sends home riders with broken bones, but in 2011, too many of them were exciting contenders. We can only ask what if regarding: Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky, Tom Boonen of QuickStep, Alexander Vinokourov of Astana, David Zabriskie of Garmin, and more.
  • FABIAN CANCELLARA: Switzerland’s Mr. Fabulous was a highlight from last year’s Tour, time trial winner and patron of the peloton. This time around, he was M.I.A., due to the lack of a prologue to start the race and his eighth place finish at the time trial.


  • CAR CRASH: Accidents happen and riders get hurt. But the French television car hitting the leading group of riders on Stage 9 was shocking and outrageous. Thrown onto a barbed wire fence, Johnny Hoogerland finished the stage with blood pouring down his leg, and received 33 stitches. Fortunately, all the cyclists managed to finish the race, and the driver of the car was ejected.
  • POOR SPORTS: Several rival sprinters accused Cavendish of cheating to finish the mountain stages within the time limits. No evidence was presented, and in the days of YouTube and camera-phones, the claims are ridiculous. Frustrated that they could not beat Cavendish, these riders resurrected the ugly cycling tradition of slinging baseless accusations rather than proving their dominance on the road.
  • THE APPEAL: The Court of Arbitration of Sport will hear the appeal from the world’s doping agency and cycling’s governing body regarding Alberto Contador’s failed drug test from the 2010 Tour de France, which he won. Because the matter is unresolved, the Spaniard competed under a cloud and was booed by spectators at the cyclist introductions and the team time trial in the first week of the race. While the crowds turned in his favor later on, Contador and the sport suffered from the strange possibility that he would be retroactively ruled ineligible for the 2011 season.

  • Can Evans defy age to defend his title?
  • After three second-place finishes, will Andy Schleck return to win?
  • With the final appeal on his doping case to be heard on Monday, what is in the cards for Contador? Will his name be cleared, or will he be retroactively banned for the season and stripped of his Giro d’Italia win?
  • Will American George Hincapie return in 2012 to beat the record for most Tours ridden?
  • Can HTC-Highroad hold on to Cavendish, or will he bolt for British Team Sky? If so, which lead-out men will he take with him?

Stay tuned… The next two months will start to reveal the answers.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tour de France: Grand Finale

Chalk up one for the good guys. The mild-mannered Australian riding for an American team, Cadel Evans finished the 2011 Tour de France as champion for the first time. He joined the other pre-race favorites in dominating the three-week competition while providing a dynamic struggle that came down to the time trial in the penultimate stage. The sprinters also fought hard in high-speed chases to the line, and Briton Mark Cavendish brought home five stage wins and the green jersey for his American team.

The outstanding results for American teams come on the 25th anniversary of the first U.S. squad to compete in the world’s most prestigious race. In 1986, manager Jim Ochowicz brought the 7-Eleven team to France, and in 2011, he celebrates as manager of Evans’ squad, BMC Racing. The green jersey was won by Cavendish, riding for HTC-Highroad, the second of four U.S. teams competing this year. Another American squad, Garmin-Cervelo, won the team competition, and their sprinter, Tyler Farrar from Washington state, secured his first Tour de France stage win on the Fourth of July. Lance Armstrong’s former team, RadioShack, appeared to take all the bad luck for the USA, as four key riders abandoned due to injuries, including Tour of California winner Chris Horner.

Yet BMC captured top honors with Evans’ win over rivals Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck. BMC kept their leader safe from the kind of trouble which dogged three-time champion Contador. The Spaniard was booed by spectators at the race introductions because of the ongoing doping scandal, lingering from last year’s race until the appeal will be heard in August. Spent from winning the Giro d’Italia in May, he crashed four times in the first week, complained of knee problems, and was said to be riding with a sore saddle. Evans beat Contador to the line on Stage 4, demonstrating his determination and good form. While the 28-year-old Spaniard improved in the Alps and rallied at the individual time trial, he had lost too much time and finished fifth overall. Contador rides for Saxo Bank-Sungard.

Evans’ stronger rival was Andy Schleck, the 26-year-old from Luxembourg who, like Evans, was also a past two-time runner-up at the Tour de France. With big brother Frank, Andy led Team Leopard-Trek in prolonged attacks throughout the mountain stages of the Pyrenees and Alps. He won Stage 18 and eliminated Contador in a courageous ride admired by cycling legend Eddy Merckx, among others. On Stage 19, Andy attacked again, while Evans struggled to catch up following mechanical problems and a bike change. Andy snatched the yellow jersey for just one day, as his weak performance at the individual time trial on Saturday lost him the overall victory to the Australian. “I don’t feel like a loser,” said Andy, who finished in second place once again, but this time joined on the podium by brother Frank, who finished third overall.

Cadel Evans beat Contador, Schleck, and all the others with a smart, consistent, and aggressive performance. He rode at the front every day to stay clear of crashes. He attacked and took seconds on his rivals at every opportunity. He also took responsibility to chase down attacks from the other contenders, when fellow leaders failed to respond. The former mountain bike champion finally secured his win on Stage 20 at the individual time trial around Grenoble. Starting 57 seconds behind Andy Schleck, Evans raced out of the gate fighting for the greatest win of his career. An accomplished time trialer, he quickly gained back the time on Schleck plus more, creating a gap of 1 minute, 34 seconds ahead of his closest rival.

Evans had won the Tour de France, donning the yellow jersey for the final and most important stage into Paris. The last day is a ceremonial route for the general classification winner by tradition, and the win was secure.

Starting as a mountain bike rider, Evans served as two-time champion and competed in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. In 2001, he switched to road racing, winning the Tour of Austria shortly thereafter. His wins include the Tour de Romandie (2006 & 2011), Fleche Wallonne (2010), and Tirreno-Adriatico (2011). In 2009, he became world champion wearing the rainbow jersey, and in 2010, Evans switched to the new team BMC, which built its roster to support his Tour de France aspirations. This strategy included recruiting American George Hincapie, teammate of Lance Armstrong for all seven of his victories as well as the first of Alberto Contador. Team manager Ochowicz is considered the godfather of American cycling.

From start to finish, Evans demonstrated a confidence and willingness to attack that he appeared to lack in previous attempts. He did not sit back and wait for the race to unfold; he raced forward to seize the win. At age 34, Evans is the oldest winner since World War II, though it is expected for him to attempt to defend his title next year. With big brown eyebrows and glassy blue eyes, he is a nice guy who actively supports charities and causes such as freedom for Tibet. It’s easy to cheer for Cadel Evans, the first ever Australian winner of the Tour de France.

While the Australian brought home the yellow jersey, there were several other races within the race. France’s Pierre Rolland was named best young rider for the highest finish by a rider age 25 and under. Spain’s Samuel Sanchez won the king of the mountains competition for taking the most points at hilltop summits. As mentioned earlier, the team competition was won by the American squad of Garmin-Cervelo. That race is decided by combining the cumulative times of the fastest three riders on the squad. Finally, the United Kingdom’s Mark Cavendish secured the green jersey as winner of the points competition. For the benefit of the sprinters, points are awarded at an intermediate point on the course and at the finish, with the highest rewards for the flat sprint stages. Cavendish had defend the jersey on the Champs-Elysees with Jose Joaquin Rojas unsuccessfully trying to snatch it off his shoulders.

Indeed, Cavendish and his HTC team treated us to a delicious dessert to finish the Tour de France. A line of HTC cyclists in white and yellow jerseys drove at the front of the peloton to set up the sprint finish for their man from the Isle of Man. Garmin-Cervelo worked for Tyler Farrar, and Team Sky tried to set up Edvald Boassan Hagen. Yet when the Australian Mark Renshaw launched Cavendish, the Manx Missile could not be beaten. The win marked: Cavendish’s fifth stage win in this Tour de France, his 20th career stage win at the Tour, his third annual win on the Champs-Elysees, and the first British cyclist to win the green jersey. The results are another amazing, elevating Cavendish to the best sprinter in the post-war era of the Tour de France.

Nearly 3,500 kilometers of riding over three weeks finished in Paris on Sunday. The 2011 Tour de France is in the books. We salute all 198 riders who started the race, especially the 167 who survived to finish. Vive le Tour!

Cadel Evan’s daily diary from the Tour de France:

Mark Cavendish’s entertaining Twitter page:!/markcavendish

Final General Classification Standings:
1. Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) 86h 12’ 22”
2. Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) + 01’ 34”
3. Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) + 02’ 30”
4. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) + 03’ 20”
5. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) + 03’ 57”
6. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) + 04’ 55”
7. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) + 06’ 05”
8. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) + 07’ 23”
9. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) + 08’ 15”
10. Jean Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) + 10’ 11”

Sunday, July 24, 2011

On the Champs-Elysees

I wake up in Paris. The long journey is over. On this warm summer day, I will witness sporting history when Lance Armstrong is crowned champion of the Tour de France for the sixth consecutive year. It is July 2004, and I leave my quiet hotel for the bustling boulevard of the Champs-Elysees.

Walking the narrow cobbled sidewalks, I feel in a dream. My travels began in southern France, where I followed the fields of sunflowers to the base of Plateau de Beille. I cheered the blue army of the U.S. Postal team, as it powered through the small ski town of Les Cabannes before disappearing up the ominous incline to the summit. The next day, I descended from the ancient hilltop castle at Carcassonne to join the crowds surrounding Armstrong, who would end the day in the yellow jersey.

When the peloton headed to the Alps, I detoured to the Riviera. The Texan battled his German rival, Jan Ulrich, while I gazed at the Mediterranean from the cliffs of Monaco, watched glass-blowers in Biot, and enjoyed Picasso’s seaside garden in Antibes. Phil and Paul updated me on the race each night on TV. In Cannes, I dreamed of Sheryl Crow speaking French.

The high-speed train took me north to the capital city, that seems to hum in anticipation of the grand finale. Or are the Parisians aware of the race at all? In the morning, I stroll up the grand Champs-Elysees toward the Arc de Triomphe. Looking back down the boulevard, the bleachers and barricades await the coming crowds. At the top of the vista, I feel triumphant, like I have accomplished something myself.

Tourists pass by wearing yellow wristbands. Everyone wearing Lance’s team cap or an American flag on his t-shirt wears a band. Even French couples and kids have them, too. It signals their support of today’s man in yellow, and I feel a little left out. I stop a cute young woman on the go selling the bracelets for the Livestrong Foundation. For two euros, I buy one for myself, another for a fellow cycling fan back home. A few weeks later, his business colleagues in posh suits are eager to get ahold of the wristbands. “Where did you get yours?” they ask him. “The Champs-Elysees,” he replies to their surprise. I don my bracelet, a wink to the fellow Armstrong fans swarming Paris.

Hours before the cyclists arrive, my daydreaming dissolves as I plot my viewing strategy. No more coffee, no more water, no more bathroom breaks. Groups stake out territory along the barricades, and I feel foreign and vulnerable looking for a spot to stand for the next six hours. A middle-aged man in a Texas cap sits with another couple, all wearing Livestrong bracelets. I figure we’re on the same team and ask if I can join them. Cheerfully, the man welcomes me, revealing a British accent. A cycling enthusiast, he is working in Texas and joined his English brother and sister-in-law in Paris for the race finale. I relax as the French race announcer talks non-stop over the loudspeakers and pop songs play in the background.

The mostly French crowds start to fill in the wide sidewalks, and the next few hours are a lesson in the European disregard for personal space. I have traveled a long way and will not give up this spot at the roadside. I stand elbows out with my feet shoulder-width apart and firmly planted on the ground. My American flag pokes out of my bag like a weapon. If someone tried to tackle me, I would stay standing. In the moments before the riders arrive, the crowd swells, and a French family tries to push their kids in front of me. I do not give an inch. Sorry, I’m not moving, not even for kids.

The race caravan streams into town with hot girls dancing like Mardi Gras and cars in the shape of the Laughing Cow and her triangular cheeses. The noise grows, and the crowd pushes toward the barricades in anticipation of the riders. A young Frenchman squeezes in through the spectators and plants himself up against me, literally up against me. Do I give up my space to escape this creep? Do I ask the British-Texas guys to defend my honor? I will not be moved and do not give in. Just in time, the creep slithers away.

Finally, the cyclists race in for the first of eight circuits around the boulevard. The sprinters are looking for a stage win, and they drive hard at the front of the peloton. I’m thrilled like a girl catching sight of Justin Bieber. They’re here! They’re amazing! In a flash, the riders shoot by, turn at the Arc de Triomphe, and head back down the opposite side of the street. Now, we wait for them to return. The loudspeakers play a recording of Sheryl Crow, Lance’s then-girlfriend. “All I Wanna Do,” they blast, but I think more appropriate would be “Everyday is a Winding Road.”

At each circuit, I try to cheer and wave my American flag and take pictures, but what I manage best is to see the riders. Those skinny little arms are even skinnier after three weeks of competition. They’ve been racing since before the Fourth of July, and they still take the incline at remarkable speed. The spectators applaud every rider, each time they come around the circuit. A few men are exhausted, trailing off the back. They receive applause meant just for them. We are in awe of their accomplishment—finishing the Tour de France. Everyone recognizes the physical punishment these athletes have endured and remembers the colleagues sent home early with broken bones. The riders who persevered to the finish line are honored by the crowd. The stage is won by Belgium’s Tom Boonen, and the cyclists take a final, honorary lap at a leisurely pace.

All eyes search for the yellow jersey. Escorted by his teammates, Lance travels with the peloton up and down the Champs-Elysees. Everyone cheers and waves, and the jubilant mood seems to create a halo around the champion. Especially for the French, it is an accomplishment to finish the Tour de France, and a triumph to win it. Armstrong is elevated to cycling legend, alongside Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain, and Bernard Hinault, also five-time winners. In the following two years, Armstrong even surpasses them, reaching a record-setting seven victories. Back on the Champs-Elysees, I wave my American flag as he rolls by on his victory lap in the afternoon sun.

The crowd roars for Lance Armstrong.

The cyclists finish the final circuit, and the winners are presented on the podium with the Arc de Triomph in the background. The green jersey to the winner of the points competition, Robbie McEwen. The white jersey for best young rider to Vladimir Karpets, and the polka dot jersey to king of the mountains, Richard Virenque. I cannot get close enough to see Armstrong stand at the top of the podium to receive the yellow jersey. I will watch tonight on TV, back at the hotel.

Masses of people leave the Champs-Elysees. Pedestrians fill the streets, the cafes, and the bars. I am exhausted from six hours at attention and head back to the hotel. The next morning is gray and cloudy. I sleep in and cancel my sidetrip to Madrid. I don’t want to leave this experience in Paris. I want to stay right here and dream on.

Today, I watch Cadel Evans, joyous on the same Parisian boulevard. I dream of being there, cheering with the crowds, now even larger and more international. The Tour de France, the world’s most prestigious cycling race, an epic athletic competition, an inspiration, an adventure.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stage 20: Winner Revealed

The penultimate stage of the 2011 Tour de France proved that to win the yellow jersey, a cyclist must excel in every discipline. He must climb mountains and descend, stay out of trouble on the flats and hills, keep a solid team around him, and finally, race hard against the clock. At the individual time trial in Grenoble, Cadel Evans climbed to the top of the leader board with his prolific performance, while Andy Schleck dropped to second place, unable to hold back his last rival and once again heartbroken.

Coming into today, the race was down to three riders whose cumulative time over 19 stages was within one minute. Brothers Andy and Frank Schleck of Team Leopard-Trek and Cadel Evans of BMC had gained enough time on the other leading riders, knocking them out of the competition for first place overall. Most importantly, defending champion Alberto Contador had lost nearly 4 minutes due to crashes and weakness in the mountains, bursting his hopes for a repeat win. Both Andy and Cadel had been runner-ups to Contador, and now they would face off to determine the new champion.

The individual time trial is called the “race of truth,” because the cyclist races alone against the clock without the benefit of teammates or motivation from competitors. (For an experience of the time trial, see my earlier post “Pacing the Time Trial” from the Tour of California.) Evans excels at the discipline, while it is known as the Achilles heel of the Schleck brothers.

Andy Schleck came in as race leader with a 53 second advantage over big brother Frank and 57 seconds over Evans. Andy’s goal was to hold off Evans, while the Australian aimed to race into the lead on the 42.5 kilometer circuit around the eastern town of Grenoble. The course was nearly the same as the time trial of the Criterium du Dauphine in June, where Evans competed and finished sixth on the stage.

While Tony Martin of HTC-Highroad set a fast leading time with an early ride, the final three cyclists out of the gate were Evans, Frank, then Andy Schleck. Evans burst out of the gate and drove hard through the finish line, missing Martin’s time by just 7 seconds for second place on the stage. Frank’s performance was as expected; he finished in 20th place. The disappointment came from Andy’s ride. While the Luxembourger is known to be weak in the time trial, wearers of the yellow jersey sometimes show special powers, rising to the occasion and surprising the critics. This was not to be for Andy Schleck today, and no one is more disappointed that he is. Andy finished 2 minutes and 31 seconds behind Cadel Evans, surrendering the champion’s title on the day before Paris. A consolation is that the brothers will stand together in second and third place on the final podium.

His victory confirmed, Evans wiped tears from his blue eyes. The 34-year-old former mountain bike champion secured the first Tour de France victory for an Australian. The win is the highlight of a cyclist’s career, and the joy and relief emanated from Evans as he donned the yellow jersey as race leader. By tradition, no one attacks the race leader on tomorrow’s finale stage into Paris, so Evans’ first place is secure.

However, the stage win is still up for grabs, and the sprinters will vie for one more notch on their belts, making for a dramatic grand finale. When the peloton arrives in Paris, they complete eight circuits with the big finish on the Champs-Elysees. Mark Cavendish will seek a third straight win in Paris, and rivals including Tyler Farrar, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Jose Joaquin Rojas, and others will try to spoil his party. Once the race is over, the winners will be crowned in grand fashion, including the victors in the king of the mountains, points, best young rider, and team competitions.

But all eyes will be on Cadel Evans, the first Australian to win the Tour de France. A two-time runner up, he will top the podium for the first time as champion. Bridesmaid, no more.

Overall standing after Stage 20:
1. Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) 83h 45’ 20”
2. Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) + 01’ 34”
3. Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) + 00’ 53”
4. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) + 03’ 20”
5. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) + 03’ 57”
6. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) + 04’ 55”
7. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) + 06’ 05”
8. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) + 07’ 23”
9. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) + 08’ 15”
10. Jean Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) + 10’ 11”

Friday, July 22, 2011

Stage 19: Every Second Counts

After three weeks and over 82 hours of bike riding, Andy Schleck leads the 2011 Tour de France by less than a minute. On Stage 19, the captain of the Luxembourg team finally donned the yellow jersey and prevented rival Cadel Evans from gaining any time. With Alberto Contador out of contention, Andy and his big brother Frank will face down Evans in tomorrow’s time trial to determine who will top the podium in Paris. Second place will be a matter of seconds.

A vigorous attack was launched by three-time champion Alberto Contador on the first of three Alpine climbs. Having lost too much time, the Spaniard aimed to bring home the stage win at the epic finish at L’Alpe d’Huez as a consolation for an unusually poor performance at a Grand tour. Yet the valiant effort wasn’t enough to get back in the race or even to win the stage. Schleck and Evans followed defended well enough to keep Contador away from the overall win, keeping him out of contention. At the same time, Frenchman Pierre Rolland jumped ahead of Contador and Sammy Sanchez to take the stage win, the first stage of this Tour de France won by France’s own. Contador crossed the line in third place, disappointed in every way.

Australia’s Evans had to fight to keep his place today. On the first climb, at the Col du Telegraphe, the BMC rider had a mechanical issue and changed bikes. It took him nearly one and a half more climbs to recover, much of the ride in a Schleck sandwich between brothers Andy and Frank. On the final climb, the infamous L’Alpe d’Huez, Contador drove ahead, while Evans and the Schlecks followed together.

The Schleck brothers fought all day as well. When Andy took the podium as the new wearer of the yellow jersey, he wore a peaceful, satisfied smile, while the crowd chanted, “Andy! Andy! Andy!” The son and grandson of professional cyclists remained focused on the final competitive stage, Stage 20, the individual time trial at Grenoble. By tradition, no riders attack the general classification leader on the final stage, Stage 21 into Paris. Therefore, the 42.5 kilometer circuit around Grenoble will be the final challenge. While Evans is known as a better time trialer, Schleck has improved in the discipline and has the advantage of coming in as the race leader, according to Lance Armstrong and other. “Many riders say the yellow jersey gives you wings,” said Andy. “I hope that is the case tomorrow.”

The final time trial is nearly identical to that at the Criterium du Dauphine in June earlier this year. The winner was Tony Martin of HTC-Highroad, and the second, third, and fifth place finishers have all crashed out of the Tour de France (Bradley Wiggins, David Zabriskie, and Janez Brajkovic). Cadel Evans finished sixth, but this time, he will be fighting to make up nearly one minute on the brothers from Luxembourg. The Australian is better skilled at the discipline, so he is likely to make up time. However, the relatively short course leaves him minimal opportunity to catch up to the cumulative times of the Schlecks.

At the time trial, the last placed rider starts first, while the first placed rider starts last. Time trial phenom Fabian Cancellara is the one to watch for the stage win, yet Martin and American Levi Leipheimer may place well. Evans and the Schlecks will race for the overall win in the final hour of television coverage.

The two favorites—Evans and Andy Schleck—have finished the Tour de France in second place two times. Two runner-ups had dislodged their common nemesis, Contador, from the race. Now they join Frank Schleck, who has finished in fifth place, to determine the podium positions in Paris. As Andy and Frank dreamed three weeks ago, the brothers may stand in first and second place, unless Cadel snatches back those precious seconds.

It all comes down to the last three riders to start on Saturday. Who will win?

Overall standings after Stage 19:
1. Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek)
2. Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) + 00’ 53”
3. Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) + 00’ 57”
4. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) + 02’ 10”
5. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) + 03’ 31”
6. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) + 03’ 55”
7. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) + 04’ 22”
8. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) + 04’ 40”
9. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) + 07’ 11”
10. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) + 08’ 57”

Levi Documentary

Check out this preview of the upcoming documentary on American cyclist Levi Leipheimer to be released in October:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Stage 18: Luxembourg Legs

Long legs, long arms, long face, skinny. He’s built like Woody from “Toy Story,” but he’s got a deep manly voice. Today, this gangly cyclist from Luxembourg showed the world that he plans to the win the 2011 Tour de France. Andy Schleck put the hammer down on Stage 18 and eliminated three-time champion Alberto Contador. Now the race is down to Andy and Cadel Evans, with a good chance for Frank Schleck to finish on the podium with his little brother. The legs from Luxembourg delivered.

Stage 18 was the second of three brutal days of climbing in the Alps. Today, the course began in Italy and returned to France at the first summit at Col Agnel, where the altitude reached 2,744 meters (9,002 feet) and gradient surpassed 10% for nearly one third of the 23.7 kilometers of climbing. A breakaway of 19 riders included two men from Leopard-Trek, the Luxembourg team built around native sons Andy and Frank Schleck. The peloton struggled, as all three climbs were rated Hors Categorie, “beyond category.” Current race leader Thomas Voeckler threw his race radio to the roadside in frustration.

Leopard-Trek riders Jens Voigt and Stuart O’Grady drove a hard tempo up toward the second mountain at Col d’Izoard, and at 5K to the summit, Andy Schleck attacked. It was an outrageous move with nearly 70 kilometers of racing to go. If he could not sustain the solo effort and gain time on the other leaders, he would waste immense energy and likely lose the whole race. Commentator Phil Liggett called it “the biggest gamble of his professional career.” Schleck’s rivals did not expect such an early move and did not respond. Past the tree line, alongside the dusty brown landscape, he pulled ahead and starting building a time advantage.

While Contador eventually responded, Andy quickly gained 2 minutes on his rivals. He reached teammate Joost Posthuma who was in the breakaway and got a break riding in his slipstream. On the descent, he reached the other Leopard-Trek rider, Maxime Monfort, recruited to the team to help Schleck in the mountains, and got another break. Meanwhile, the other leaders rode without a concerted effort to catch Andy Schleck. Contador and Sammy Sanchez, Spaniards on different teams, talked on the descent, perhaps discussing how to work together to catch the Luxembourger. Yet the long-legged Schleck continued to gain time, nearly 4 minutes ahead of his rivals when he started the final climb alone.

An epic climb, the road to the Galibier was covered with snow just days ago. Today, Schleck powered ahead with Cadel Evans leading the rest to catch up. Lance Armstrong called Schleck’s strategy “gutsy and smart riding,” and regarding Evans he tweeted, “To say he’s doing all the work would be an understatement. He’s hammering.” Evans led all the top riders chasing Schleck, including Contador, Voeckler, Basso, and Cunego, and singlehandedly limited Schleck’s gains. Andy “Woody” Schleck crossed the line first, gratified by the success of the team strategy and his personal performance. He had successfully announced that he would fight for the win and he had the legs to make it happen.

Nearly 2K to the finish, Evans was the only one left racing to win the Tour de France. Contador was dropped, ending his chances to win the race and revealing weakness he has never previously shown in the mountains. Booed by the crowd at the race introductions due to his unresolved doping issues, he crashed four times in the first week and was said to be riding with “a sore bottom” in Week 2. The Spaniard did not recover from the setbacks, and only a major crash to the race leaders would allow him to finish in the top three this time around.

While Contador’s weakness was a surprise, so was the tenacity of Voeckler. The Frenchman held on enough to keep the yellow jersey for one more day, a remarkable accomplishment for a rider known as a middle-of-the-pack cyclist. He held Schleck off by 15 seconds.

The battle continues tomorrow at the ride to L’Alpe d’Huez. Thousands of spectators have camped out to see the competition and will line the route, shouting encouragement and waving flags at the riders like bullfighters taunting bulls. The ninth kilometer of the final 13.8 kilometer climb is at 11.5% grade, one of the last opportunities for an attack from Evans or Schleck. Evans will have the advantage in the individual time trial on Saturday, so Schleck must secure sufficient time before that.

After nearly three weeks, it is really down to those two riders—the Australian and the Luxembourger. The road up to L’Alpe d’Huez and the final race against the clock will give us the winner. Paris awaits.

Overall standings after Stage 18:
1. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar)
2. Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) + 00’ 15”
3. Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) + 01’ 08”
4. Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) + 01’ 12”
5. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) + 03’ 46”
6. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) + 03’ 46”
7. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) + 04’ 44”
8. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) + 05’ 20”
9. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) + 07’ 08”
10. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) + 09’ 27”