Friday, July 31, 2009

Dry down after TDF 2009: Twitter wars: And Armstrong's financial impact

As the effects of the Tour this year continue to wear off, the hurt feelings between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador, the number 3 and number one TDF winners, continue.

Pic: Armstrong on ride in the Bahamas

First there was the press conference in Madrid, where Conti said he never liked Armstrong. Then there was Armstrong's Twitter replies, basically telling the 27-year-old Madrileno to grow up.

Then there was all the chiming in --or should we say--tweeting in-- among Tweeters about the Conti-versy.

Meanwhile, believe it or not, in between meals (see pic of empty table from Armstrong's Twitter page,) with his GF Anna Hansen and children, Grace, Luke, Bella, and the baby Max, Armstrong is riding his bike in the all flat Bahamas. Yup, you still have to train even when you are on vacation for a week.

Pic: The Armstrong table set for dinner in the Bahamas.

But flats?

Somehow, I don't picture LA either as a flat man or to put it quite succinctly, a family man. Maybe when he grows old?

Weighing in on all the Conti-versy were Twitters from other teammates and from Viatcheslav "Eki" Ekimov's page, assistant sports director for Astana, who stopped competing in the TDF in 2006: "LA is part of the team and no one thankful word to the all team from AC! NO RESPECT! Sad!" Earlier, he wrote, " Just re[a]d cyclingnews.com about Alberto Contador post race press conference comments on Lance Amstrong. Totally disagree and frustrated."

Olympic gold and silver medal winner Viatcheslav Vladimirovich Ekimov also has his own sports pages, but kept a low profile during this year's Tour.

But in the end, Armstrong has moved on from the Conti affair: "Thanks, Eki. Onward," he writes.

And behind the scenes, in almost a quiet way, George Hincapie twittered that he does indeed have a collarbone break which he sustained in a crash on July 22, in stage 17 from Bourg Saint Maurice, to Le Grand Bornand.

"No wonder that hurt, looks like I am out for a bit" he notes on his Twitter page, along with an x-ray of his broken collarbone.

"Take care now bro and easy. well recover give you quickest option to be back on bike," Tweets Ekimov.

With 54,709 followers for Hincapie, 5,703 for Ekimov, 1,630,008 for Armstrong, Twitter pages could be one of the new ways of monitoring a competitive cyclist's popularity, even though some don't always tweet, and not all those who are following actually read the tweets on a daily basis.

For real follow numbers, you can look at who is following on a regular basis, it's 101 for Armstrong, 18 for Ekimov, and 39 for Hincapie.

Along with all the broken collarbone tweets, the long-lashed Cavendish is caught asleep on the TGV from Avignon to the outskirts of Paris by Mark Renshaw, his second lead out in most of the field sprints. (Remember, first comes Hincapie, then Renshaw): "Now Cav is off to lala land... http://twitpic.com/bkxzo Now cav!!," writes Hincapie.

Renshaw returns the favor and Hincap tweets back, "The effects of Ventoux for @ghincapie http://twitpic.com/bkx5v Busted!!!

Renshaw also writes "Yesterday was amazing for the team! It felt so good to finish 1,2 on the Champs. I really nailed that last corner." Yes he did.

Meanwhile, the NY Times continues to try and stoke the Lance train to gain eyeballs, this time reporting on a controversy between Aspen Colorado city council members where Armstrong bought a $9 M third home last year, about whether to hold a parade for him or not.

The Financial Impact of Armstrong

The Tour continues to have a very strong financial impact on businesses, towns and products that are marketed around it. And of course, Armstrong is at the center of that.

As we mentioned in a previous blog, (which the NYT picked up on the next day) Armstrong's participation in the Tour this year boosted the number of visitors to the tour by an estimated 20 to 30 percent.

Livestrong tee-shirts were seen everywhere during this Tour, worn by people who are part of the organization or who support it.

Just in case you didn't know just how much business is being generated by the Armstrong-Livestrong business activity, you can just see for yourself the line in Japan outside a store that was releasing the first ever shoes designed for Livestrong by Mr. Cartoon.


Pic: The line for the Mr Cartoon/Livestrong AF1's outside the UNDFTD store in Tokyo

The design, which BBB finds really not too special, with out of the box twists and twirls you can find on the Adobe Illustrator graphics catalog, rendered in the omnipresent Yellow and Black of the Livestrong brand, inspired a storm of comments from hipsters who craved the new NIke made sneakers.

Never mind that in 1996 when BBB was making a film about disabled cyclists competing in the Atlanta Paralympics and called the good Nike folks looking for funding to complete the film about these noble cyclists who were racing with damaged or missing arms, legs, hands, and feet, or were simply blind and racing on tandems. What did they say? "Nike is not interested in cycling."

After Hypebeast did a preview of the sneakers, a stream of comments from people looking to buy them followed:

Wrote Qajqtape on July 13, "DANG TOO COOL WHERE CAN I GET THOSE THEY ARE STRAIGHT URBAN AND IN MY 2 FAVORITE COLORS HEK YEA IMA HUNT FOR EM,"

AirForce07 wrote, " I like the design and the colorway. All these look nice in the Mr. Cartoon, especially the gradient swoosh," as if that swoosh was invented yesterday.

Sejung kim said, "hey guys so If I go to the undefeated store in LA can I get this one??, " and Bornlegends wrote "Will these be availible on the nike website to buy?"

Many were sorry that they could not buy these shoes in their own towns (Chicago for example,) and would have to buy them online.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Post-TDF Dirt

Pic: Liberation.fr. Contador arrives in Madrid with his GF by his side to the sounds of the Spanish national anthem. The ASO played the Danish national anthem on Sunday instead of the Spanish anthem, which Contador said was "a big mistake."

July 28. 2009--By Jen Benepe
Yesterday the French Liberation newspaper published a story that questioned the legitimacy of Alberto Contador's win at the Tour de France, questioning whether he really was clean of drug use.

Though it focused largely on Contador's stunning physical feats, written by Antoine Vayer (the article reprinted below in French,) also implicated all of the top riders in using a cocktail of drugs that are not regulated but can help boost performance.

Let's not forget how much money is at stake: $2.5 million Euros, or approximately $3.2 million dollars a year is how much Contador will make as winner of this year's big race.

In a press conference after the Tour, Contador said he never liked Lance Armstrong, and even has no respect for him. “My relationship with Lance is zero. He is a great rider and has completed a great race, but it is another thing on a personal level, where I have never had great admiration for him and I never will.”

It's an amazingly brash statement from a man who disrespected Armstrong as the team leader on Verbier, not protecting him on the ascent, but passing him and beating him to the top.

Armstrong who is vacationing in Abacos for a week with his GF and children twittered back, "hey pistolero, there is no "i" in "team". What did i say in March? Lots to learn. Restated."

Armstrong was joined by Axel Merckx (son of the great Eddy Merckx who won the Tour de France five times, won all the classics except Paris-Tours won the Giro d'Italia five times and the Vuelta a España, won the world championship as an amateur and a professional,) who twittered on Armstrong's page, "A champion is also measured on how much he respect his teammates and opponents. You can win a race on your own not a grand tour."

Isn't that what we said when Contador announced that he "didn't need Lance Armstrong," in one of the mountainous stages? And we thought that _perhaps_ the comment was unnecessarily harsh because of a language disambulation.

Um, looks not so.

Now back to the Liberation article that ALL of Paris is talking about. It's title, "The Robots, distanced by the Extraterrestrials," goes on to express with logic and not proof, that Contador accomplished such great speed, and WATTS, that it was impossible for him to do so without being doped.

Vayer compares his performance to other great riders, who even on the flats were unable to achieve the same output. Then he states that there are certain drugs meant to be used for manic depressives, that can calm the nerves, and anti convulsants, hypertension drugs that regulate blood pressure, that (roughly translated) imply with slim proof that there have been blood transfusions to change the blood volumes [of the riders]. The proof is indirect, just as [measuring] WATTS is:
Qui tiennent à l’usage collectif de cocktails à base de neuroleptiques extrêmement puissants utilisés pour les syndromes maniaco-dépressifs. Notons l’usage d’anticonvulsivants, de médicaments hypertenseurs qui «régulent» la pression artérielle, mise à rude épreuve par les transfusions qui changent les volumes sanguins. Les preuves sont indirectes, comme peuvent l’être les watts.
He also goes on to say (loosely translated), "My old colleague, professor of EPS Manolo Saiz, when he left the Tour with the Spanish teams in 1998, said, "One finger was put, one finger in the ass of the Tour." This spiritual leader of Laurent Jalabert and of Contador then thought a good part of cycling so much so that today he is with the "Pro Tour." But before being stupidly stopped by the cops (he uses a phrase for cops that is essentially the 'narcs") in Operation Puerto (a Spanish Police operation against the doping network of Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, started in May 2006). Me, if I were on Twitter like Lance I would write for example, "Fist fucking for doping agency and police."
Mon ancien collègue prof d’EPS Manolo Saiz, en quittant le Tour avec les équipes espagnoles en 1998, avait dit : «On a mis un doigt, un doigt au cul du Tour.» Ce père spirituel de Laurent Jalabert et de Contador a ensuite pensé une bonne partie du cyclisme tel qu’il est aujourd’hui à travers le «Pro Tour». Avant d’être bêtement arrêté par les stups dans l’opération Puerto. Moi si j’étais sur Twitter comme Lance, j’écrirais par exemple : «Fist-fucking for doping-agency and police»
Vayer also writes in his article that it seems improbable and perhaps impossible that the 26-year-old Contador could achieve such incredible physical feats.

He writes, "After 15 stages, the Big Loop of the summer (literally, but figuratively, "of the holidays,") charges along at the least 40.78 km / hour. There is always in spirit the historic record of the Giro this year, of which the course profile have been full of accidents and difficult like this Tour: the Tour of Italy, 2009 was races at a record speed of 40.14 km/ hour. A French directeur sportif (whose team won) confirms that these speeds [of the Giro] were realized thanks to big winds from the west when the course was following the hands of a clock. Ha ha, the wind came from the east this year, with Serguei Ivanov, his team Katusha and his Russian missiles. The wind that lifts and pushes is that of hormones, of EPO bio-similar and the new products that one calls "neurosensitives." The completely nuts Giro was an omen for the spectacle to come in July, which is no less.
Après 15 étapes, la Grande Boucle estivale fonce à 40,783 kilomètres/heure de moyenne. On a toujours à l’esprit le record historique du Giro cette année, dont le profil était bien plus accidenté et difficile que celui du Tour : le tour d’Italie 2009 a été couru à la vitesse record de 40,14 kilomètres par heure. Un directeur sportif français (dont les coureurs gagnent) affirme que ces vitesses sont réalisées grâce aux vents d’ouest quand le parcours suit les aiguilles d’une montre. Hé-hé, le vent vient de l’est cette année, comme avec Sergueï Ivanov, son équipe Katusha et ses missiles russes. Le vent du levant qui souffle est celui des hormones de croissance, des EPO bio-similaires et des produits nouveaux dits «neurosensibles». Le Giro complètement toqué présageait le spectacle de juillet, qui ne l’est pas moins.
Vayer then goes on to talk about the indirect proof in terms of measured WATTS and output among the key riders, in particular Contador.

Splendid rise. The Tour? A grandiose spectacle, but I maintain it is not about the sport, but about because of the shortened rules by the organized doping. You would say to me, "it's not new!" What it is, it is that the hunt for the doped is weak. Thursday, during the stage of Vittel-Colmar [BBB first appeared in France for this stage which was in the pouring rain], 30 robots since Sonderbach, at the foot of Platzerwasel, had swallowed an infernal speed of 8.6 km with an ascent of at least 7.48 percent grade: 21.46 km/ hour pushing 420 watts, what I would consider proof of collective doping. What's more, these 30 robots were distanced by an extraterrestrial, author of a splendid rise [literally, but figuratively "feat"] : the German Heinrich Haussler, the winner of that day due to a solo breakaway, as good as the one by Tyler Hamilton (suspended for doping) en 2003 in Bayonne or of Michael Rasmussen (excluded from the Tour in 2007 for playing a game of hide and go seek with the anti doping agents) on the Ballon of Alsace in 2005. With all that one could foresee the worst.

Raid splendide. Le Tour ? Un spectacle grandiose, mais je maintiens qu’il ne s’agit pas de sport car les règles sont tronquées par un doping organisé. Vous me direz : c’est pas nouveau ! Ce qui l’est, c’est que la traque aux dopés semble affaiblie. Vendredi, dans l’étape Vittel-Colmar, trente robots depuis Sonderbach, au pied du Platzerwasel, ont avalé à une vitesse infernale les 8,6 kilomètres d’ascension à 7,48 % de pente moyenne : 21,46 kilomètre/heure en poussant 420 watts, ce que je considère comme un dopage collectif avéré. De plus, ces trente robots ont été distancés par un extraterrestre, auteur d’un raid splendide : l’Allemand Heinrich Haussler, vainqueur ce jour-là à l’issu d’une échappée solitaire digne de celui de Tyler Hamilton (suspendu pour dopage) en 2003 à Bayonne ou de Michael Rasmussen (exclu du Tour 2007 pour avoir joué à cache-cache avec l’agence antidopage) sur le Ballon d’Alsace en 2005. Dès lors, on pouvait pressentir le pire.
But, he goes on to write, more specifically about indirect logical proof based on past performances, for the use of substances to boost performance among the robots and extraterrestrials in this Tour:

"But let's talk about Verbier. Alberto Contador was marvelous the day before. He climbed Verbier in 20 minutes 55 seconds at 24.38 km/ hour after Chable [the 10 km point from Martigny, and the beginning of the worst part of the ascent,] on 8.5 km at least of 7.6 percent grade. That is a staggering 490 watts of power... after five hours of riding. The Valaisan climb, relatively short, is worth pondering this exploit. It was Bjarne Riis (today the leader of Saxo Bank of the brothers Schleck) and his climb up Hautacam in 1996 of 480 watts that belongs to the world record of doping. The Riis record is even better than Armstrong's in his time of splendor. And Lance? Just below his best tours. At Verbier, between him and Contador, there are seven other extraterrestrials. Those are the brothers Schleck. Behind them, the usage newly legal of old corticosteroids permitted for the sake of looking good at 425 watts, more than to finish as usual with a wet chest. A national technical director told me it was 20 years since he did that so that the the "heavy" products, in the way of EPO, would not pass [be detected]:
Mais parlons de Verbier. Alberto Contador a été merveilleux avant-hier. Il a escaladé Verbier en 20’55’’, à 24,38 kilomètre/heure de moyenne depuis le Châble sur 8,5 kilomètres à 7,6 % de dénivelé moyen. Soit 490 watts en puissance étalon… après cinq heures de vélo. La montée valaisane, relativement courte, pondère certes l’exploit. C’est à Bjarne Riis (aujourd’hui patron de la Saxo Bank des frères Schleck) et sa montée sur Hautacam en 1996 de 480 watts qu’appartient le record du monde du dopage. Le Riis d’Hautacam, c’est encore mieux qu’Armstrong du temps de sa splendeur. Et Lance ? Juste en dessous de ses meilleurs tours. A Verbier, entre lui et Contador, il y a sept autres extraterrestres. Dont les frères Schleck. Derrière, l’usage nouvellement légalisé des bons vieux corticoïdes permet à des gars de faire bonne figure à 425 watts plutôt que de finir comme à leur habitude dans le ventre mou. Un directeur technique national m’avait glissé il y a vingt ans qu’il fallait cela pour ne pas qu’«ils» passent aux produits «lourds», genre EPO.


Finally he comes to his logic for why Contador is doped:

"On the physio side it's rotten. For Contador with an effort of 20 minutes at 90 percent of VO2 Max, his weight of 62 kilos, his maximum aerobic strength would be 493 watts, which gives a consumption of oxygen of 6.17 liters/ minute: 99.5 ml/minute/ kg! And the foot of the mountain of Verbier was torched after a "warm up" of 200 km at 27 km per hour. The equal reference point of the Englishman Bradley Wiggins, Olympic champion in the pursuit, on a level track and for only 4 kilometers.

Côté physio, on est gâté. Pour Contador : avec un effort de vingt minutes à 90 % de VO2max, son poids de 62 kilos, sa puissance maximale aérobie serait de 493 watts, ce qui donne une consommation d’oxygène de 6,17 litres/minutes : 99,5 ml/min/kg ! Et le pied de la montée de Verbier a été torché après un «échauffement» de 200 kilomètres à 27 km/h. Des «repères» égaux à ceux de l’Anglais Bradley Wiggins, champion olympique de poursuite… sur un anneau plat et pendant quatre kilomètres seulement. Renversant.

Below is the article reprinted in full for those of you who speak French, with a link to it where you can find similar stories.

In effect, no proof, but what rests is the disbelief in the physical feats performed at this year's Tour.

Des robots distancés par des extraterrestres
Par ANTOINE VAYER

Avec Fred Portoleau, nos écrans étaient en mode veille technique cette semaine. Semaine avalée à une allure diesel d’enfer, sûrement pour ménager le vieux lion de 37 ans avec ses sept Tour de France à la ceinture et ses injecteurs un peu bouchés.

Après 15 étapes, la Grande Boucle estivale fonce à 40,783 kilomètres/heure de moyenne. On a toujours à l’esprit le record historique du Giro cette année, dont le profil était bien plus accidenté et difficile que celui du Tour : le tour d’Italie 2009 a été couru à la vitesse record de 40,14 kilomètres par heure. Un directeur sportif français (dont les coureurs gagnent) affirme que ces vitesses sont réalisées grâce aux vents d’ouest quand le parcours suit les aiguilles d’une montre. Hé-hé, le vent vient de l’est cette année, comme avec Sergueï Ivanov, son équipe Katusha et ses missiles russes. Le vent du levant qui souffle est celui des hormones de croissance, des EPO bio-similaires et des produits nouveaux dits «neurosensibles». Le Giro complètement toqué présageait le spectacle de juillet, qui ne l’est pas moins.

Raid splendide. Le Tour ? Un spectacle grandiose, mais je maintiens qu’il ne s’agit pas de sport car les règles sont tronquées par un doping organisé. Vous me direz : c’est pas nouveau ! Ce qui l’est, c’est que la traque aux dopés semble affaiblie. Vendredi, dans l’étape Vittel-Colmar, trente robots depuis Sonderbach, au pied du Platzerwasel, ont avalé à une vitesse infernale les 8,6 kilomètres d’ascension à 7,48 % de pente moyenne : 21,46 kilomètre/heure en poussant 420 watts, ce que je considère comme un dopage collectif avéré. De plus, ces trente robots ont été distancés par un extraterrestre, auteur d’un raid splendide : l’Allemand Heinrich Haussler, vainqueur ce jour-là à l’issu d’une échappée solitaire digne de celui de Tyler Hamilton (suspendu pour dopage) en 2003 à Bayonne ou de Michael Rasmussen (exclu du Tour 2007 pour avoir joué à cache-cache avec l’agence antidopage) sur le Ballon d’Alsace en 2005. Dès lors, on pouvait pressentir le pire.

Mais parlons de Verbier. Alberto Contador a été merveilleux avant-hier. Il a escaladé Verbier en 20’55’’, à 24,38 kilomètre/heure de moyenne depuis le Châble sur 8,5 kilomètres à 7,6 % de dénivelé moyen. Soit 490 watts en puissance étalon… après cinq heures de vélo. La montée valaisane, relativement courte, pondère certes l’exploit. C’est à Bjarne Riis (aujourd’hui patron de la Saxo Bank des frères Schleck) et sa montée sur Hautacam en 1996 de 480 watts qu’appartient le record du monde du dopage. Le Riis d’Hautacam, c’est encore mieux qu’Armstrong du temps de sa splendeur. Et Lance ? Juste en dessous de ses meilleurs tours. A Verbier, entre lui et Contador, il y a sept autres extraterrestres. Dont les frères Schleck. Derrière, l’usage nouvellement légalisé des bons vieux corticoïdes permet à des gars de faire bonne figure à 425 watts plutôt que de finir comme à leur habitude dans le ventre mou. Un directeur technique national m’avait glissé il y a vingt ans qu’il fallait cela pour ne pas qu’«ils» passent aux produits «lourds», genre EPO.

Côté physio, on est gâté. Pour Contador : avec un effort de vingt minutes à 90 % de VO2max, son poids de 62 kilos, sa puissance maximale aérobie serait de 493 watts, ce qui donne une consommation d’oxygène de 6,17 litres/minutes : 99,5 ml/min/kg ! Et le pied de la montée de Verbier a été torché après un «échauffement» de 200 kilomètres à 27 km/h. Des «repères» égaux à ceux de l’Anglais Bradley Wiggins, champion olympique de poursuite… sur un anneau plat et pendant quatre kilomètres seulement. Renversant.

«Un doigt». Et côté stigmates ? Les garçons arrivent sur les podiums frais comme des gardons, avec des petites grimaces pour nous rappeler qu’ils sentent tout de même un peu leurs jambes. On va vous donner quand mêmes quelques débuts d’explications. Qui tiennent à l’usage collectif de cocktails à base de neuroleptiques extrêmement puissants utilisés pour les syndromes maniaco-dépressifs. Notons l’usage d’anticonvulsivants, de médicaments hypertenseurs qui «régulent» la pression artérielle, mise à rude épreuve par les transfusions qui changent les volumes sanguins. Les preuves sont indirectes, comme peuvent l’être les watts. Mon ancien collègue prof d’EPS Manolo Saiz, en quittant le Tour avec les équipes espagnoles en 1998, avait dit : «On a mis un doigt, un doigt au cul du Tour.» Ce père spirituel de Laurent Jalabert et de Contador a ensuite pensé une bonne partie du cyclisme tel qu’il est aujourd’hui à travers le «Pro Tour». Avant d’être bêtement arrêté par les stups dans l’opération Puerto. Moi si j’étais sur Twitter comme Lance, j’écrirais par exemple : «Fist-fucking for doping-agency and police» (1).

(1) Approximativement : «J’encule les agences de lutte contre le dopage et la police.» * Professeur d’EPS et ancien entraîneur de Festina, Antoine Vayer dirige AlternatiV, cellule de recherche sur la performance.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

TDF 2009 Stage 21: A Paris, Les Champs!

Photos: Benepe and ASO
Pic: The podium 2009 TDF (Benepe (c))


Yesterday's manifestation in Paris was the ultimate in public-sport spectacle.

It was not really a race day, even though a race of sorts took place. Everyone who's watched the Tour before knows the last day is largely a symbolic prance through the streets for all of Paris and the world to see.

The race itself, from Montereau-Fault-Yonne is 164 km, 53 km of which are performed in a circuit up and down the Champs Elysees, with nine opportunities to see the riders go by, much of it on the old cobblestoned streets of Elysees.

The mood was captured perfectly by a 5-year-old girl who screamed "Allez-y le maillot Jaune," or "Go Yellow Jersey," every time the peleton passed.

Pic: "Allez y le maillot jaune," five-year-old Parisienne who was also taping the stage (Benepe (c))

The Parisians are a strange lot though. The little girl who has been to every single Tour since she was born because her parents work for Versus, the cable channel that is broadcasting the event in th U.S., was shouting the loudest.

Most Parisiens it seems are a little blase about the whole thing, and seemed to come out more for the event than because they cared about cycling.

Nevertheless the crowds were so dense, it was as if all of Paris had come to watch, it was almost impossible to pass in some areas, particularly near the top of the Champs, at the Place Charles de Gaulle. The heat was overwhelming, and people lined up for ice cream or sat on the ground to wait for the teams to come through.

Pic: Parisiens watching race one of several giant screens along route (Benepe (c))

Roadside stands served crepes and soft drinks, and people walked in and out of the shops on the Champs Elysees while they waited for the riders. Massive Zara, Addidas and other major brand name stores were open and doing a brisk business.

Pic: A turn in front of the Arc de Triomphe (ASO)

Cafes on the avenue were packed, dogs held on leashes quivered, and Parisiens stood in front of the several giant TV screens to watch the riders approaching Paris. Later they also watched as a breakaway and the peleton behind them snaked their way through the 6.5 km circuit.

As the cyclists entered the Champs Elysees the first time, the crowds cheered. In the VIP section someone had given about 700 fans white boater hats with black ribbons. Many of them stood to cheer the riders as they came in, a wave of white rising and falling as they stood and sat down.

At the start of the race, Alberto Contador went out in front of the peleton in a symbolic gesture of his leadership. After that the peloton rode steadily without any attacks until the 11th kilometer had been reached.

Pic: Exhausted fans waiting for the riders to arrive at the Champs Elysees (Benepe (c))

Once they hit the pavement in Paris, Calzati (AGR) attacked and was chased down, that followed quickly by Beppu (SKS) before the Champs Elysees, and he took six others with him, including Veikkanen (FDJ), Coyot (GCE), Dumoulin (COF), Pichot (BBO), Barredo (QST), Wegmann (MRM) and Beppu (SKS).

But everyone knew that Mark Cavendish had stated his intention to win the stage in Paris. Columbia HTC took control of the peloton and all nine riders from Cavendish’s team stayed on the front of the bunch from the moment it arrived on the Champs-Elysées, with a 3 km exception when Garmin Slipstream took went to the head of the peleton.

Five kilometers from the finish George Hincapie took the lead at the front and began the Columbia set up that we all know so well now. First Hincapie, then Mark Renshaw, the Cavendish, the Manx man, fastest man in the world powered through over the finish, his arms up in the air.

Pic: ASO

“I’ve always said that I wanted to win on the Champs-Elysées, " said Cavendish. "Every sprinter dreams of putting their hands up in the air as they cross that line, seeing the Arc de Triomphe in the foreground and it’s an amazing feeling to do so." He also praised Hincapie whom he said was incredibly fast in the lead out, and Renshaw who captured second in the state. Other teams never came to the front, he added, forcing Columbia to do almost all the work in this last stage.

Cavendish had made a promise to win Paris after Thor Hushovd made a formal complaint about his sprint, and won back the Green Jersey because 15 points were deducted from Cavendish's tally. It didn't matter that Hushovd took off on a solo break for the bulk of stage 17 (see The Stained Green Jersey) and won 15 points legitimately.

Pic: ASO
Hoshovd made light of their public gauntlet: “We talk a lot when we’re riding but we had a big battle during the Tour de France – especially after he was relegated, that was a hard time – but we’ve talked about it and have forgotten it. The last few days we had a good ride and good race for this important jersey," he said.

Seeing Cavendish pedal furiously up the Champs Elysees was one of the highlights of covering the tour. He looked like a massive galloping horse, like nothing could stop him.

In the end, the 15 points really cost Hushovd more than it gained him. It seemed like all of Paris turned its back on him. As he rode down the Champs after the race, the cheers were intermittent. He looked like a star whose audience had waned.

Pic: Columbia team in the front during last few laps (Benepe (c))

When Hushovd was being interviewed by reporters, he was not mobbed by other reporters, as these riders normally are. The reality is Cavendish may be the fastest in the sprint, but he can't do so in the mountainous stages, and Hushovd can.

“I think I won this jersey because I’m more experienced. I know how to win it," said Hushovd after the stage."Cavendish is the fastest sprinter but I’m the most consistent one… and that’s why I won this jersey," he added.

After the race, the Spectacle

On the final day of the Tour, all of the rich and famous--and important--come out to see the vedettes or star racers do their thing.

An elaborate awards ceremony that involves the Minister of Sports, Roselyne Bachelot, the same person who publicly criticized the Astana team in Colmar when they showed up one hour after being woken two hours before they were supposed to be tested. Other heads of departments were there in a special shaded box from the boiling sun that even at 7:30 pm was extraordinarily strong.
Pic: The Armstrong kids and mom wave to the crowds (Benepe (c))

But even though French office holders and pols, in particular Bachelot, and by inference in an interview, also France's President Nicolas Sarkozy have continued to make public statements that cast a shadow over the drug-free status of the Astana team and in particular, Lance Armstrong, today the spectacle, the crowd, the most recognition, went not to Yellow Jersey winner Alberto Contador, but to Armstrong.

After finishing the awards ceremony and stepping to the podium with Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck as the third place finisher, Armstrong was surrounded not only by his mother and first three children, but also by his girlfriend Anna Hansen who walked outside the barriers with their newborn Max Armstrong who was so small he looked like he was going to fall out of his carrier.
Pic: Anna Hansen, Armstrong's GF after putting Max in the air ala Michael Jackson (Benepe (c))

(Later after the ceremonies were over, Hansen took Max out of his carrier and held him up in front of the stands to someone in the crowd- and shades of Michael Jackson came to mind, you remember, the time he hung his baby from the window.)

This was spectacle at its finest.

As the French ministers and department chiefs paraded in and out of their exclusive box, the gendarmes pushed journalists and fans away. The pomp and circumstance quotient went sky high, as photographers pushed and shoved to take photos first of the ceremonies and then of the small event that took place inside the tent with the top three finishers. It was a chance for the biggest media outlets who paid the most for access to interview the winners.

Pic: Okay you know who this is by now (Benepe (c))

Not that Conti--or Contador--wasn't the star winner today. Oh sure, he was radiant as he rolled down the Champs in Yellow, his broad smile flashing, a red flag tied around his shoulders adding a touch of fiery red which blurred brilliantly with the yellow as he rode past the crowds. He was a like a gorgeous slim canary in a sea of Astana Jerseys.

But once again, gosh darnit, Armstrong stole the crowd. BBB knows he didn't mean to. In fact he purposefully pulled away from Contador so he wouldn't ruin his spotlight. But don't you know it, the crowd still cheered louder for Armstrong.

The exception was when Contador rode past the crowd from Spain who belted out his name in ringing cries, Contador! Contador! Contador!

But this isn't a popularity contest, it's sport, right?

Pic: Armstrong after podium and exclusive press conference, with his daughter looking back at him "Come on daddy, let's go." (Benepe (c))

Heck with the sport. This was street theater at its bes reminiscent of the outdoor summer opera in Verona, Italy, replete with horses and carriages rolling onto the stage. When the main actor came on stage everyone shouted, their voices echoing against the stadium walls.

So what's so great about Armstrong? Besides winning seven Tours, the guy has never been caught drugging.

You can talk all you want, but even before he was rich and could afford the expensive doctors you have all conjured in your minds as aiding and abetting a before-the-curve performance enhancement drug, he was winning then too. Armstrong wins like someone would win a chess game, not like someone who wins at hand wrestling.

Pic: Guard of exclusive press conference after podium. On the lamppost is posted a list of the riders who are being sent to anti-dopage (Benepe (c))

He's also great at self-promotion and using the tools available to further his cancer cause. Yet the aura and the fame does come from the man himself.

We're not going to debate the behind-the-scenes talk among journalists, including one from a large U.S. based sports media outlet who said that Contador is "all jacked up" with performance enhancers, as are "the top ten finishers in the Tour."

Pic: The Columbia Team in the slow after race parade up and down the Champs Elysees. They had one motorcycle lead, Astana had five (Benepe (c)).

This is fully unsubstantiated gossip, even captured by the normally conservative NY Times who reminded us that with Italian rider Danilo Di Luca, "positive tests could emerge long after the race was done." In early July, Di Luca, tested positive for taking the blood-booster CERA at the Giro d’Italia, tests that were taken in May when DiLuca was a runner up in that event.

Contador was also allegedly involved in a Spanish doping ring in 2007, but his involvement was never proven.

Pic: French sports minister (center) hobnobbing with other pols in the VIP tent that was heavily guarded by gendarmes (Benepe (c))

But in an interview with BBB he made it clear that his brush with death in May 2004, when he was found on the side of the mountain by teammate Santiago Fernandez Zubizarreta while competing for Liberty Seguros in the Tour of Asturias, made him determined to win and to win cleanly.

After being taken to the hospital that day, Contador learned that because of a congenital malformation of his veins, he had a cerebral lesion. It gave him and his family pause because his younger brother Raul suffers from cerebral paralysis. "It was a particularly difficult time for the whole family," said Contador's brother and manager, Francisco Javier talking to the press.

Contador underwent a three hour operation on his brain, with 70 stitches to cover the cut. He comes from a family of little means, and started cycling as a little boy, with an old steel Orbea, used shorts, and a shirt that doubled as a bike jersey, according to a report by L'Equipe.

Pic: Sign company Doublet guys watch parade twhile race is replayed above them (Benepe (c)).

"Questions are inevitable when you win a race like the Tour de France. As I have said before is that I have submitted to 65 days of anti-doping control of all kinds, and I am happy to be able to do it so that things are as clear as possible," he said on Saturday night after his win at Ventoux. "If anyone has doubts, they can address them with the UCI, the AMA, and the AFLD who can certify that I have nothing to hide."

Pic: Conti leaving the exclusive press conference on his bike (Benepe (c))

In all, Conti is the perfect example of the Tour de France racer, a scrapper who comes up from a humble position with little in his pocket and a lot to prove. Add to that a brush with death, and the hovering uncertainty that his congenital defects could resurface, and it's a similar story to the rise of Armstrong.

Brought up by a single mother, a father nowhere to be seen or heard from, and a massive brush with death from cancer. Those elements helped make Armstrong determined to win.

But still Contador showed in this Tour that he is still a little green.

Pic: ASO

His mistakes on the mountain taking off from his own teammate on the Col de Romme, and attacking Armstrong in Stage 7 on the route to Arcalis, as well as statements made to the press after winning the difficult stage to Le Grand Bornand when he announced, "I didn't need Armstrong," but was seen tucked in behind his predecessor during the flat stages to preserve energy, were perceived by the public and others on the Astana team, including his director sportif Johan Bruyneel as evidence of his immaturity.

To his credit, Contador believed from the beginning that the team leadership was designed to keep him as a helper to Armstrong, a role he did not plan on playing after he saw Armstrong struggling in the climb in the Andorras.

In an interview with the French press, Contador described what he felt was unbearable tension in the team after he took off in stage 7 to take Arcalis. "I quickly saw that he was there to win the Tour. But there wasn't room for two. I made my own race because I wanted to win, I knew it was up to me to make it happen. I don't have to give gifts to anyone. Now the race is over and at the end of the year, our paths will separate..." he said.

Pic: As a crowd watches the ceremony a video replay of Armstrong and his family plays behind them (Benepe (c))

In the end, Contador said he and Armstrong never meshed. " Out ambitions, our personalities, and our ways of doing things were not compatible. Next year, he will be on a different team from me, and it will come to the Tour to win, and no doubt for revenge."

Like Pilgrims to the Temple of Cycling: Hats off to the Texan

Photos: Benepe (c)

Like Pilgrims to the Temple of Cycling
"Hats off to the Texan"

Yesterday's ascent to the ultimate climb of France, the bare-faced, hard rocked tempestuous top of Mont Ventoux was like pilgrims flocking to the temple of cycling.

According to media reports, about 600,000 people lined the route to the Ventoux, and more than a million in total sat along side the entire route that started in Pontarlier yesterday.

With its harsh rocky surface that made climbing difficult and dangerous--one slip and you could be down one of it's cliffs--and roads so narrow and winding with sheer drop offs that a single mistake would find you hurtling through the air into an abyss of terror; and winds so cold that they whipped your cheeks into submission.

Let's not forget the 18 km climb, which for most of the cycling fanatics--for that is the only way you could describe them, was accomplished either on foot, or by bicycle.

Some lucky people made it up towards the top with help from cars belonging to journalists, (more about that later,) but the majority had to climb, just like the Tour de France competitors whom they had come to see. If they will suffer, so shall we in making our way to the temple, just to show our devotion.

No one cared, no in fact, they wanted to enjoy the pain they experienced coming up here. BBB managed one half of the ascent in the tortourous sun, meeting all kinds of cyclists along the way, British, Spanish, American, French, and Australian.

One 65 year old man from Spain who climbed almost half of the distance up Le Ventoux said he had already ridden about 60 km on flat land, and that he had a heart irregularity.

When BBB expressed concern for his health climbing up 11 percent grades in the broiling sun, he said it was fine because he would know when he was having a heart attack, he wouldn't be able to breathe.

The Israeli Cycling.com group that I met in Annecy took a bus at 4:30 am to start the ascent from the Bedouin side, the same side that the riders took. They climbed almost to the top.

Other cyclists and trekkers, some with their children in tow either on foot or on bike, sat in the sun after their enormous effort. The unrelenting sun punished anyone who dared to come here on this day by frying their skin as if it were an egg white on a skillet.

Yet because of the cold winds that blew incessantly, the top was at times cold, and in the shade it was downright freezing. The thin air made staying awake difficult, especially for those who gotten up early to breach the summit. BBB became dizzy and lightheaded while perched atop a pile of broken stones. It was like being on the moon.

At the top bikes lay on the sidelines, hung on the temporary fencing, and everyone seemed to be carrying knapsacks full of provisions, just in case they should need food or water because there was little else than the rocks, the sky, and the wind, and about 18 km to the next meal. Okay that's somewhat of an exaggeration, but the truth is the one little cafe on top would never have been able to feed this profusion of humanity in case they should not be able to get down.

People sat on the hard rocks taking in the sun, many of them behind shelters from the wind. Some lay exhausted on the ground. Others shared picnics, waved flags, or found the best position to see the finish, hours before the cyclists were to arrive.

Even the gendarmes enjoyed watching the tour, as did the film and radio crews, as they watched the footage from their own trucks as the race took place below the mountain.


"Hats off to the Texan!"

Today the Tour de France will come and make a big show in Paris. The race course is largely symbolic though it is expected that Mark Cavendish will sprint to the finish line. Well, we told you he more or less threw down the gauntlet to Thor Hushovd the other day when he said the Green Jersey was "stained," but that he would beat Hushovd anyway in Paris. Quite likely he will.

The controversy between him and Hushovd is already an old story, and no one has yet to explain why the tour organizers ruled on behalf of Hushovd, deducting 15 points from Cavendish, and handing Hushovd the Green Jersey, including the organizers themselves who have changed their reasoning behind the ruling three times.

Their last ruling said that Cavendish had made an irregular sprint. Okay, so what is that exactly? I guess you have to now register the line you're going to take before you do a sprint. Anyway, that's a good one on me, because if all sprinters resorted to asking for infractions, racing would come to a standstill.

But what is most interesting is that not only is the Tour widely anticipated here in Paris, the TGV train from Avignon, the closest location to Mont Ventoux, to Paris this morning was packed with TDF fans, journalists, and cyclists.

Bike boxes clogged the doorways of the trains, they belonged to people who had used the tour as a way to spice up their cycling tour and were coming to see the symbolic end to what one French man described as "the greatest cycling race in the world."

This morning, L'Equipe newspaper which is all about sports had the front page headline, "Hats off to the Texan," with a huge front page photo of him sticking to Contador and Andy Schleck. Under the photo it read, "Lance Armstrong preserved his place on the podium of the Tour 2009."

Then below that the story read, " A similar performance realized by [a person] close to 38 years old and after four years of absence is simply exceptional." Further below, it read, " Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck turning around to verify that Lance Armstrong was always behind them. The American got away at the final 5 km of the stage and even dropped his principal rival for the 3rd place overall."

And they say the French don't like Armstrong? So I asked a barman around the corner from where I am staying, "Is it true that the French don't like Armstrong?" He looked at me confused. "Well no, of course they like Armstrong, everyone here likes Armstrong."

So then why have we heard the French don't like him? "Because they don't like it when only on person is winning," he said.

Well now that Armstrong is not only in third place but also apparently drug free (that is according to the French he wasn't drug free before, but now he is,) people are liking him again.

On the second page of l'Equipe the headline reads in bold letters, "Armstrong, with Experience." The photo caption reads, "On the old route [to Mont Ventoux] the American succeeded in giving his place on the podium symbolic value."

And then on the third page, another headline with Armstrong's name, "Climb to the third place: the Ventoux only interim to the podium where Lance Armstrong preserved his place."

So please unless the Equipe is totally out of it, my bet is that the French really like this guy.

Last Stage in Paris

Today the riders will come into Paris on the symbolic last stage. Millions of people will be here to watch. We'll keep you updated.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

TDF 2009 Stage 20: Relentless Attacks Could not Break Them

Photos: ASO
The biting wind, stunning sunlight, and craggy rocks of Mont Ventoux served as a dramatic backdrop to the race that unfolded there today.

Just as the sharp rocks of the mountain form an unstable terrain, sometimes tripping you, so did Andy Schleck try to destroy his rival Yellow Jersey holder, Alberto Contador.

As flags of Luxembourg held by fans of the two Schleck brothers waved over the last hundred meters to the finish, below them a hard game was being played to exhaust the leader, Contador. But he just wouldn't--no, he couldn't--let them win.

"Andy really did make me suffer a lot. He didn't make any mistakes in the race, and he rode really intelligently," said Contador about his primary rival in the race today after he secured the Yellow Jersey in this second to last, but most decisive stage.

And right along with him was Lance Armstrong looking stronger and more resilient than he has in the past four days, including the time trial where he won back 3rd position overall.

In the end, the top three positions were cemented in the harsh environment of Le Ventoux, the dust blowing from the loose stones that cover the mountain providing the final flourish. And it was the Astana Team that walked away with the fruits of their labor.

"Yes it was a good day," said their directeur sportif johan Bruyneel, after the finish. "When we saw the attack, and we saw Alberto Contador follow the attack, after that it was really the race for the third spot," he said.

Wiggins also managed to keep Frank Schleck down to take fourth position overall, with Frank fifth. But the outcome could have been different if Contador had not had the strength to best his competitors, whom he dusted handily in the time trial in Annecy two days previous, and continued to best in every mountain stage.

"I think you could easily say that Alberto Contador is the best rider in the world," said Bruyneel, a fact that became apparent in Verbier when Contador pulled away from his antagonist, Andy Schleck, at the same time dusting his teammate Armstrong. That’s when the focus of the team—who was being played as the favorite shifted from Armstrong to Contador.

Today, Contador played the team role to the max, having learned his lesson on the Col de Romme when he attacked and lost his own teammate Andrea Kloden: despite eight attacks from Andy Schleck, Contador made it clear that he would not pull away from his competition, because he was waiting for Armstrong.

“When we saw Alberto Contador follow the attack of Andy Schleck, after that it was really the race for the third position on the podium,” said Bruyneel, referring to Armstrong’s standing from the time trial stage in Annecy two days earlier.

The podium he said “is a very good one, with two young guys, Contardor the best rider in the world, and Andy Schleck the winner of the White Jersey, and Armstrong who came back to cycling after three years in retirement, he was their hero when they started racing.”

Though no one from the Astana team will discuss it publicly, the addition of Amstrong may have been a disappointment to Contador initially because in the beginning he was the star rider.

But Armstrong’s star power, regardless of his strength can eclipse even the best riders, as it did on this Tour—until Contador strutted his stuff on the climbs and asserted his dominance in the time trial. He would leave no question about who was the best in the tour, besting Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara’s time by three seconds.

It wasn’t even clear that Armstrong was going to race this year’s Tour said Bruyneel. “It was very doubtful three weeks after Armstrong’s crash, he was down and already it seemed like he was going to have a hard time,” he added. Bruyneel admitted that there was tension between the two star riders.

But now with Armstrong’s announcement that he will be pairing with Radio Shack for a U.S. team, it is clear that the two riders will no longer have to deal with one another except as competitors. And although it has not been officially announced which team will be sponsoring Contador, “he is looking to his future,” and another team, said Bruyneel.

A stage that no one could miss

Entire families, couples, children, and even men and women well into their 60's and 70's walked or rode their bikes in the boiling sun 18 km from the bottom of the famous mountain at Malaucene just for a chance to see the teams reach the summit. For them, seeing the final winners on this mountain was not to be missed.

Though much of the action was playing out below their vantage point some 18 km from the top, the summit was jammed with people holding flags, dressed in warm jackets to fend off the wind that whipped around the few buildings on top, the old chapel of Saint Croix and the observatory with its red and white tower visible from miles away.

Some 14 km away, near the base of Ventoux, the two Schlecks were at it again, with a harsh relentlessness that would have taken down lesser competitors, but not Contador and Armstrong. Andy and Frank, almost as if in a replay of stage 17, attacked and attacked and attacked, but only managed to thin the field behind as Contador, Armstrong, Jurgen Van den Broeck, Andy Schleck, Bradley Wiggins, Roman Kreuziger and Vincenzo Nibali stuck to their moves.

First Frank attached, with 14 km to go, at the base of Mont Ventoux. That move thinned the field down to the chief players, who managed to stay on. But Andy Schleck began the relentless attacks, eight in all, dropping even his own brother, who played out his own game with Wiggins and Armstrong.

Armstrong then attacked and joined Contador and Andy Schleck. At intervals it looked like Andy was waiting for Frank, hoping to help secure him once again, third place on the podium, and to push both Wiggins and Armstrong down in the standings.

But it was not to be. Frank could not keep up with the three, and Armstrong bettered him, holding on to his third place win. It was a day of returned loyalties as Contador also waited for Armstrong, and seemed to be pacing him up the mountain: He could afford to because of his four minute 11 second lead over Andy Schleck.

Meanwhile another battle had been taking place since the beginning of the stage, at 13 km a group of 13 men escaped from the peleton, among them Roulston (CTT), Garate and Posthuma (RAB), Martin (THR), Riblon (ALM), Kuschynski (LIQ), Geslin (FDJ), Dumoulin (COF), Righi (LAM), Bonnet (BBO), Bouet (AGR), Lemoine and Timmer (SKS).

They were chased by Perez Moreno (EUS), Gutierrez (GCE) and Delage (SIL).

Mont Ventoux was not the only climb of the day, it was just the last and the worst. Before then the lead group of 13 were chased by the peleton over several category 3, 4 and 5 climbs until Bedouin at the base of Mont Ventoux.

As they began the climb that group splintered and among them, Juan Manuel Garate of Euskatel and Tony Martin of Columbia HTC battled it out to the top, with Garate taking the stage win.

The Astana team came to the front of the peloton after the fourth climb (121.5km) when the first breakaway group of 13 was eight minutes and 15 seconds ahead.

With 30km to go, the pace of the peloton caused it to split. The GC favorites were all represented in the first group of 42 riders. Carlos Sastre (CTT) was caught in the second peloton that was 30” behind with 25 km to go.

At the base of Mont Ventoux, the yellow jersey’s peloton had 24 riders – including the top 12 of the general classification. At that point, they were a little more than 4 minutes behind the first breakaway at 19 km to go.

That's when Garate started attacking and was joined by Martin, and briefly by Riblon and the the rest of the breakaway was swallowed early on in the climb.

And who were the fans cheering for? Just about everyone, the Schlecks, Contador, Garate and Armstrong. “People used to not like Armstrong because they did not like an easy victor,” said Pierrick Tabouret, 27 who made the entire ascent by bike with his friend David Nogues. “But they like him better this year because he is not the big leader,” he said, and now most people he speaks to say they want Armstrong to do well.

That might be a big switch for the French, who for the past Tours that Armstrong dominated were said to dislike him because of his dominance of a race that many thought should be more open to other winners, including and especially Frenchmen. But now that he’s third on the podium, he is the underdog, and they want him to win.

We’ll see what happens next year when he attempts to win his 8th Tour.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

TDF 1009 Stage 18: Contador Dominates, Armstrong Upsets


Contador take stage beating Cancellara at his Game: Armstrong Takes Third and Announces Radio Shack Partnership

Alberto Contador took the win for the time trial in Annecy today, showing that he can not only keep the Yellow Jersey but handily fend off any contenders, especially Andy Schleck by a margin of 4 minutes and 11 seconds.
Pic: Lance Armstrong after coming into finish today

Lance Armstrong showed his stuff coming in one minute 30 seconds after Contador, bettering the time of both Andy and Frank Schleck and allowing him to move into third position overall in the Tour.

Andy Schleck kept second position in the overall class, but came in one minute and 45 seconds behind Contador.

Bradley Wiggins of Garmin Slipstream moved up to 4th position in the overall class, and Andreas Kloden of Astana assumed 5th, knocking Frank Schleck to sixth position.

But maybe the biggest surprise of the day though was Armstrong’s announcement that he will be leaving the Astana team for a deal with Radio Shack next year.

It was a close one for Contador in the 40.5 km mostly flat stage: His time of 48 minutes and 30 seconds going at an average speed of 50 km/ hour, was 3 seconds ahead of Fabian Cancellara, Swiss time trial champion, and one minute and 45 seconds ahead of Andy Schleck, both of Saxo Bank.

Armstrong’s performance knocked out his biggest threats as well, Bradly Wiggins by 9 seconds, Andy Schleck by 15 seconds, and Frank Schleck by 34 seconds.

The other stage winners were Fabian Cancellara who came in second, and Mikhail Ignatiev of the Katusha team who came in third, 15 seconds after Contador.

Gustav Larsson of team Saxobank made an exceptional run, ending 33 seconds behind the leader. He managed to beat out two time trialing champions, David Zabriskie and David Millar.

Contador’s time advantage will be hard to beat either in tomorrow’s flat stage, or in the final decisive stage at Mont Ventoux, unless he has a bad day, or becomes isolated again with the two Schleck brothers in the mountain. Anything is possible.

In all it was a day full of promise, but also full of surprises. The race took place on the edge of the expansive blue lake in front of Annecy, and the weather went from sunny to rainy, with big droplets falling to the ground.

For a couple of minutes it looked like the weather might spoil the course for the riders who still had not gone, mainly all the top riders. But the sun finally came out and stayed out.

Fans crowded the entire length of the roadway inside the town of Annecy, making it impossible to pass from one area to another. The race took place on a postcard worthy backdrop of a blue lake framed by mountains and cumulus clouds, and painted with families old and young with children and dogs in tow and people dipping themselves in the warm water.

It was also the day when Armstrong, disappointed with his performance said the first half of the time trial was good: “I was aero and I guess there was a tailwind,” he noted. “But I was not very good on the climb, and I just did not feel very good on the second half.”

“I guess I just ran out of gas,” he said, after leaving doping control. “But it was nice to move onto the podium,” he noted, with not just a little modesty.

But he had a smile on his face when he spoke about the decision announced today that he will be moving to a sponsorship with Radio Shack. “The partnership with Radio Shack is very good for us,” he said.

That partnership will be between Armstrong’s cancer foundation, Livestrong, and will complement “the usual suspects,” other smaller sponsors like Nike and Trek, he said, though those deals had not been finalized. They chose Radio Shack because of its pre-existing close relationship with Livestrong, and its strong commercial presence in the United States.

Armstrong stated yesterday his intent to complete at least two more Tours de France.

But he was still is not sure if he can bring Johan Bruyneel with him to the team. “He is the best directeur sportif, and he is also a good friend, but I just don’t know if he’s in a situation within the [Astana] team that will allow him to go.”

As for the day after tomorrow’s stage to Mont Ventoux, Armstrong’s objective is to protect his podium position from Frank Schleck: “I’ll just watch for the moves and not let him get away,” he said.

Cadel Evans who reportedly had never done a reconnaissance ride of the course this morning came in 12th in the stage, one minute and 14 seconds behind Contador, and beating Lance Armstrong.

Cancellara spoke to the press before the final results where in, noting everyone was tired from yesterday’s stage: “We are tired, but the two brother will do the maximum. If not they should make it up in Mont Ventoux,” he said.

Today’s stage was also more evidence of how different towns offer different levels of freedom of access to the riders. And in Annecy, after a valiant effort by thousands of police and special forces, as well as the ASO security, they broke down and allowed fans to congregate outside the “anti-dopage,” or doping control center.

A French boy of 11 years, Corentin Long who stood with his fingers grasping the fence, waited for the riders to exit. Inside was Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, Lance Armstrong, Andreas Kloden and Bradley Wiggiins. Who is your favorite rider? “Armstrong, and Contador,” he said.