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Friday, July 16, 2004

Beginner's guide to the Tour, Part 2 

First of all, let me note something that I was surprised by: Lance went for it today!

Today featured a flat start to the stage, but at the end it it two Category 1 (very hard, but not quite the hardest class) climbs right at the end of the stage, ending atop the second mountain.

Most pundits expected that this would be a stage where the climbers would challenge each other but stay together. That didn't happen. On the first climb, the USPS team went out to the front of the pack to set a fast pace, and it was clear they were setting up a pack-breaking move.

What was a big surprise to me was how decisively it worked. Every pre-tour favourite lost a lot of time to Armstrong. He has hardly put the tour out of reach yet (there are just too many hard stages, TTs, and opportunities for bad luck to say that), but I didn't think he would be able to hammer away at great riders like Ullrich and Hamilton with such ease. He took over 2:30 out of Ullrich.

Of course, Ivan Basso actually beat Armstrong to the line. Unlike Voeckler (who showed his true form today by losing over 4 minutes), he's a potential GC threat. And he gained time on Armstrong.

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