Tour de France 2008




Finishing Parade
Dateline: 26-Jul-2008

GC Standings 26-July-08

1 Carlos SASTRE
2 Cadel EVANS at 1:05
3 Bernhard KOHL at 1:20
4 Denis MENCHOV at 2:00
5 Christian VANDEVELDE at 3:12
6 Frank SCHLECK at 4:28
7 Samuel SANCHEZ at 6:32
8 Kim KIRCHEN at 7:02

Carlos Sastre wore the yellow jersey with pride - and put up the best TT performance of his career. As a result he takes the pole position as the race heads into Paris. While the Aussie battler, Cadel Evens, suffers a repeat of the 2007 result by coming second to a Spaniard in the final outcome.
On the stage its self Stefan Schumacher showed that he could repeat his earlier TT result and pushed the favourite Cancellara into second place. For British interest David Millar was not far behind in 5th and Chris Froome put a great ride that surprised many (myself included).
Bernard Kohl takes both the Polka Dot jersey and a fine third place on the GC to the closing ceremonies tomorrow.
Oscar Friere looks almost certain to retain the Green Points jersey and even has the form to take the prestige sprint on the Champs Elysees.
Victory again for Spain and no fair tale ending for Evans. The 2008 Tour de France proved to be a very tough race where the result was in doubt right to the end. Now all we want is these results to stay unchallenged until the 2009 Tour starts in Monaco.

Round 4
Dateline: 25-Jul-2008

GC Standings 24-July-08

1 Carlos SASTRE
2 Frank SCHLECK at 1:24
3 Bernhard KOHL at 1:33
4 Cadel EVANS at 1:34
5 Denis MENCHOV at 2:39
6 Christian VANDEVELDE at 4:41
7 Alejandro VALVERDE at 5:35
8 Samuel SANCHEZ at 5:52

Despite the doping set-backs and the withdrawal of both Barloworld and Saunier-Duval from sponsorship, the Tour goes on. And the mood amongst both the media and the fans seems still to be positive.
The GC standings this morning all seem to predict a strategy of no changes today and everything thrown into Saturday’s time trial. Looking back at the same stage last year the winner was Levi Leipheimer with Cadel Evans 2nd. Taking Cadel’s time as the basis we had Frank Schleck at 4:27, Carlos Sastre at 2:33, Bernard Kohl at 3:47, Christian Vande Velde at 3:07 and Alejandro Valverde at 2:46. So it is possible that Cadel can take the lead on Saturday - but with a gap that is likely to be less than 1 minute. But last year the TT was 2.5km longer and only Cadel was fighting for the yellow jersey. So this year it should be even closer - and Menchov was not in the equation last time.

Round 3
Dateline: 17-Jul-2008

Scrap all my favourable remarks about Riccardo Ricco. Today it was announced that Ricco had failed doping control and was out of the race. The rest of the Saunier-Duval team have not failed the testing but have been withdrawn by the team management. So Ricco emulates his own cycling idol - Marco Pantani - by being thrown out of grand tour while wearing a leader’s jersey. In Ricco’s case two jerseys - the white and the polka-dot. RIP Pro Cycling.

Round 2
Dateline: 14-Jul-2008
Five days on and this year’s Tour winner is still hard to predict. The GC favourites seem to be struggling rather than getting into a clear pecking order. True Cadel Evans is now in yellow - but only by 1 second. But Valverde is now down to 14th and seems to be going backwards. Menchov is in 4th and still within 1 minute of Evans; climbing well but not able to establish a break on his rivals. Cunego is back in 16th and Andy Schleck is over 8 mins adrift in 22nd place. Filling the gaps created by the slipping favourites are Frank Schleck, Christian Vande Velde and Bernhard Kohl - mainly thanks to their excellent climbing efforts.
One of the stranger sights today was that of the Green Jersey of sprinter Oscar Friere climbing in the leading break - while the Polka-Dot Jersey of mountain climber David De La Fuente was being dropped on the climbs. With the retirement of both 1st and 2nd favourites for the mountains prize the capable new leader is Riccardo Ricco.
So the rest day sees closely bunched situations in all three of the main competitions - but the White Jersey looks firmly fixed to the shoulders of Riccardo Ricco. Can he also take the Yellow before Paris?

Week 1 Round 1
Dateline: 9-Jul-2008
Only part way through Stage 5 and already the Tour is throwing up some surprises. The biggest is probably the retirement of mountains favourite Juan Mauricio Soler. Certainly no luck for Soler as he suffered a repeat of his Giro problems - crashing early then struggling on before being forced to retire.
However the time trial win by Stefan Schumacher was also a real surprise - since Stefan is not even the German TT champion. Not only did this upset the odds-on predictions of a Cancellara victory but it also blocked David Millar’s strategy for taking the Yellow Jersey. Instead Millar was 18 sec adrift and had to settle for “joint second” on GC.
Another surprise was Kim Kirchen who tied with Millar in the TT and has moved up to the rankings to be a serious GC contender - if mountain climbing abilities can stand the test.
Amongst the sprinters only Thor Hushovd has delivered the goods so far. But today is another chance for glory before tomorrow’s mountains. [Update: today’s break was caught in the finishing straight and Mark Cavendish took the stage]

Ready To Go
Dateline: 4-Jul-2008
It’s the start of July - and so the start of three weeks with cycling at the centre of the world sporting stage.
The main players on this stage are those aiming for overall victory in Paris. And according to the betting the favourites are Cadel Evans 3.25 to 1, Alejandro Valverde 4.25 to 1, Denis Menchov 8.50 to 1, Damiano Cunego 11 to 1, Andy Schleck 13 to 1 and Carlos Sastre 17 to 1.
However there are plenty of other important players - the sprinters, the climbers, the time triallists and the breakaway specialists - who will get there share of the prizes and the hundreds of hours of TV coverage that will be produced.
Amongst the sprinters Thor Hushovd, Oscar Freire and Robbie McEwen are expected to take the most points overall even though Erik Zabel can still beat the “youngsters” and both Robert Hunter and Mark Cavendish will be in with some real chances
For the climbers it is not so obvious - mainly because some recent winners overall have achieved their victory through a single all-day effort through the big mountains. The betting is on Juan Mauricio Soler to take the polka dot jersey with Christophe Moreau, Leonardo Piepoli and Riccardo Ricco not far behind. However I would have never had Moreau down has a climber of this quality - but then what do I know [very little I guess].
Amongst the young riders, Andy Schleck and Roman Kreuziger are the two obvious favourites
But the Tour de France is a long - very long - race. During the 90+ hours of racing almost anything can happen. To be the winner in Paris a rider needs preparation, planning, fitness, determination - and just a little bit of luck.

Team Line-ups
Dateline: 4-Jul-2008
The TdF is just too important for any invited team too miss out - and any potential sponsor to capitalise on. IMP03530IMP03849So additional sponsors have got onboard with CSC (Saxo Bank), Slipstream and High Road in time for the Grand Depart tomorrow.
This will mean that Mark Cavendish (right) will replace the white jersey of last weekend with the new blue Team Columbia jersey. So look out for blue in the likely sprint finish to Stage 1.
And David Millar (left) will be riding in the new colours of Garmin Chipotle - even though the previous argyle design will stay.
From a purely national view, Cavendish and Millar are the only two GB riders in the Tour this year. [Update: Chris Froome was Kenya but is now officially GB] And this makes the promise of a British pro team in the Tour by 2010 seem even more ambitious. Perhaps this year the Olympic ambitions have had to take priority - with so much funding being dependent on Olympic results.
Australia on the other hand has 9 riders down to start - including season-long favourite for overall victory, Cadel Evans. Certainly creating an all-Australian pro-team that could compete with the best in a future Tour would seem to be an easier task than for the British.
The USA has four at the start this year - three of them in Garmin Chipotle; William Frischkorn, Danny Pate and Christian Vande Velde (leader). George Hincapie has years of Tour experience and is the “captain” of the multi-national Team Columbia - but it seems to me that a grand tour podium is a step too far at this stage in his career. The team are looking to Kim Kirchen to provide their best chance.
The rider numbers have been issued today and - in the absence of Contador and his team - it is Cadel Evans gets the number 1 “dossard”. For the superstitious the number 51 has gone to Mauricio Soler of Barloworld - with number 13 going to Fabian Cancellara of CSC-Saxo Bank.


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