Thursday, July 13, 2006

TDF - Stage 11 - Discovery disappointed at Pla de Beret

I've never seen the 1972 Robert Redford movie, The Candidate, but its last line is legendary. In the film, Redford plays a young lawyer, recruited to run for the US Senate against an unbeatable incumbent. Except that he turns out not to be unbeatable, and Redford wins. As the movie ends, he's looking at his advisors and wondering, "What do we do now?"

If Johan Bruyneel and the Discovery Channel cycling team hadn't had that conversation yet, they're having it tonight. We were told repeatedly that they had a virtual embarassment of riches, that the only reason they hadn't chosen a leader was because there were so many viable options. Was Hincapie going to succeed his good buddy Lance? Or would it be Paolo Savoldelli who'd fight for the Maillot Jaune? Possibly, it could be Jose Azevedo or Yaroslav Popovych. But today, with those long climbs, we'd certainly see the strength of Discovery. Yes, no one had a great time trial, but today we'd see it happen.

What we saw was Hincapie get dropped on the climb to the Col de Postillon. What we saw was a lead group reach the base of the 5th and final climb of the day with only one Discovery Channel rider attached, and we saw him get dropped fairly early on that climb. There was devastation on the climb to the Pla de Beret, and no one was more devastated than Discovery.

There are teams in the race with sprinters, working to capture sprint points and the green jersey. Discovery isn't one of them. There are teams in the race with climbers, working to capture the polka-dot jersey. Discovery isn't one of them. Discovery is there to win yellow. And that's not going to happen. The team that looked like a machine in support of Armstrong the last couple of years could not do anything today, on an inhumanly brutal mountain stage. Azevedo was the highest placed Discovery rider, 4' 10" behind the stage winners. Popovych finished 6' 25" down. George Hincapie, who spent a day in yellow earlier, who had legitimate aspirations of winning the tour, even after a somewhat disappointing time trial last week, lost 21 minutes, 23 seconds, and any hope of getting back into contention.

So what are they doing for the next 12 days? Presumably, they've got to start hunting for stage wins, because that's all that's available to them. Their highest place GC rider is Azevedo, who, absent Landis crashing, isn't going to make up 7' 27", never mind pass the 16 men between them. In other words, their goal coming in is gone. They've got to find something else to work on, because they aren't going to be able to get what they came for.

The real question is, how much strength and focus and energy are they going to bring to the rest of the race? They're all exhausted tonight, and the exhaustion is compounded significantly, I would think, by the disappointment of finding themselves in their current situation. It'll be very interesting to see how they respond to it...



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