1) American Cycling is on the rise (but not necessarily on the up-and-up – see #2). Three Americans in the top 10, two in yellow, three with stage wins, a few near misses from Chris Horner, Discovery Channel with three stage wins and it’s second grand tour win of the year. And just imagine if Tyler hadn’t been busted…
2) There’s some new dope out there. After the Festina Affair in ’98, Le Societe du Tour de France decided to begin shortening the race, in an attempt to keep riders from being pressured to dope for the sometimes 300k+ stages of the early to mid 90s. After the shortening, average speeds did not increase. But then this year – whoof. 41.654 kph! People don’t seem to be climbing that much better (a massive increase in watts produced by mountain stage winners in the 90’s is considered one of the first notable effects of EPO), but anytime the race was flat for the first two weeks, people were flying. Maybe “The Clear” has worked it’s way from the diamond to the peloton? Of course, there’s still no test for HGH, either.
4) T-Mobile needs to fold already. Seriously. It took a legendarily high hematocrit for Bjarne “Mr. 60%” Riis win the team’s first tour in 1996. The tailor-made 6% slog up to Arcalis, no pressure from team management, and the inconsistent, one-dimensional riding of Pantani and Virenque put Ullrich in yellow in ’97. And since then, T-Mobile has been one crazy circle of self-destruction. Vino had escaped it until this year, when his teammates gobbled up his attacks time after time. The worst part is that team management continues to insist all is well, despite the obvious infighting. Erik Zabel isn’t getting old, he’s just getting worn down by the sick Teutonic soap opera that is his training environment.
5) Alexandre Vinokourov can win the Tour de France. Remember what happened when Basso joined CSC? Fassa’s reason for letting him go was that “he could never win the tour.” As much as I respect Johan Bruyneel, I think he’s underestimating just how much of a dent being on T-Mobile for a few years can put in your riding ability. Put Vino on a no-ego squad like Ag2r, get the UCI to award them Fassa’s Pro Tour spot, throw in a few climbing domestiques and get the heck out of the way.
6) There aren’t enough time trials. How is Jan Ullrich supposed to have a shot at winning the Tour when there’s only one TT that can really impact the GC? Tour organizers have diddled with courses to try and avoid giving riders like Eddy Merckx Miguel Indurain an undue edge; so why did the organizers play to Armstrong’s favor by basically eliminating his rival ‘s favorite discipline? Tours of old used to have 3 or 4 TTs, not including a TTT and prologue. I know it’s less exciting to watch, but the lack of a real selection in the first week of the ’04 Tour eliminated several contenders before the real GC race even began. The Tour needs TTs, or you’ll end up with 200 riders taking crazy risks on every sprint, descent and corner in hopes of snaring just a day in the Maillot Jaune.
7) Next year’s Top 5:
Alejandro Valverde, Illes Balears, avg. speed 42.1 kph
Ivan Basso, at 31 seconds
Alexandre Vinokourov, Credit Agricole at 58sec
Yaroslav Popovich, Discovery Channel, 1:01
Jan Ullrich, T-Mobile, 2:59.