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Friday, July 16, 2004

Beginner's Guide to the Tour, Part 2a 

Oh, and Susan at work asked me a question today about how the teams decide who the leader is. I gave her a few answers: the rider has a history of big performances, the rider shows strength early in the tour, et cetera.

I also gave her the historical examples of where there were two strong riders on a team, and what happened: Greg LeMond and Bernard Huinault (who were on the same team during LeMond's first Tour victory, in which Huinault was pretty much competing with LeMond) and this year in the Giro d'Italia (that's the second most important big bike race), when the Saeco team had last year's Giro winner (Simoni), who proved not quite strong enough to achieve victory again, and a young protege (Cunego) who, in the decisive mountains stages, was strong enough.

This may happen to Jan Ullrich's team (T-Mobile) this year: Ullrich was the third T-Mobile rider across the line today, which is not a good sign. He may have been holding back for Saturday's stage (which is so awesome that Armstrong jokingly described it as "a violation of our human rights" in one interview), but he may also be showing a lack of form. It may be that T-Mobile decides that other riders are better threats for the GC, and Armstrong could be riding for them! And if all else fails, T-Mobile also has a sprinter (Erik Zabel) who is competing for the green jersey in the "points" competition.

Watch the stage on Saturday though. Today's was a surprise show of force, but everybody will be ready to go all-out tomorrow. It may be the most important stage of the tour.

And yet, it may not. Looking ahead, there are still two different time trials, one up Alpe D'Huez, and the other flat, which will cause big time advantages, and more mountain stages. Any of those is big enough that a favourite having a good day (or a bad day) could make a huge difference in the standings.

This year's Tour really has a lot of action crowded into the last several days.

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