Friday, July 23, 2010

Wild and Wooly

A funny thing happened today in France.

I was up before the Sun this morning to watch the pivotal Stage 17 of Le Tour de France...the final day of climbing the High Passes of the Haute Pyrénées. This was to be The Showdown. This was the stage when the Winner would surely be decided by an epic battle on these storied climbs.

My anticipation was off the charts, just before I turned in, I scanned my Twitter Feed and found this one:
@lancearmstrong "Waking up here in Pau to a massive rain storm. Hmmm.. Will be quite the contrast to the heat of previous days.#notcomplainingatall!"

The thought of Schleck and Contador clashing on those mountain the rain, was too if this year's Tour hasn't had enough drama already!

The LIVE coverage began at 0330...I set my alarm to 0600...

While I slept, the racers climbed the first two 1st catagory climbs under overcast skies and drizzle. I woke up, tuned in, and saw the peloton approaching the bottom of the final 18.6km climb, the
hors categorie Col Du Tourmalet. As they climbed, they got closer and closer to the cloud deck, until they were finally in the clouds.

From the bottom of the climb, Contador's Team Astana, and Andy Schleck's Team Saxo Bank set a blistering pace. The tactic is to grind down the rival's team, dropping them one by one, until the rival has no teammates left to help him. That's when the attack is launched in earnest. Mano a Mano time, as the Italians say.

Playing out nearing the top of the Tuormalet, in fog right down on the deck, it was a classic battle between the two leaders. Schleck attacked again and again...Contador answered each time. At last, Contador attacked and Schleck answered instantly. Finally, they neared the finish line at the top side by side...after dropping all the other riders and catching the breakaway, that the two titans passed as if they were standing still. Schleck won the stage, the two shook hands while still riding their bikes.

A fitting day to celebrate the 100th year since Le Tour first visited these mountains.

Further down the climb, the peloton was chasing the leaders, the TV was all coming from motorcycle cameras because the clouds obscured the view of the camera helicopters. Suddenly, the camera's view was shaken as the moto slowed and a flock of sheep poured onto the road that was already filled with climbing racers! Wild evasive actions by riders, motos, and livestock saved the one crashed...a miracle...and another epic moment in the 2010 TdF.

I thought my heart would jump out of my chest...yikes!

Friday's stage is a flat one leading into Bordeaux, that favors the Sprinters. Just as well, the GC Contenders will need to rest up in the peloton...conserving their strength for Saturday's Individual Time Trial. Contador leads Schleck by 8 seconds. The Time Trial is where the overall winner will be decided. Sunday's final stage is another one for the Sprinters...for the GC Winner, it's a Coronation Parade.

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