1. We're in the thick of the Pre-Tour build-up races and this past week's Dauphiné-Libéré didn't disappoint. Let's back our way down the final GC:
--Alejandro Valverde won another Dauphiné thanks to a superb effort on Mont Ventoux. Given his pending absence from the Tour's start list and a possible worldwide ban, one couldn't help but wonder if this might have been Valverde's last hurrah for a year or two. In my opinion, assuming he's not suspended from competition anywhere other than Italy, missing the Tour might just be the best thing for him. Why? Well, having won the Dauphiné in such fashion, Valverde and his entourage can now boast about "what might have been”, without having to face the reality of his inevitable French collapse. At this rate, Valverde and his team should hope for the best regarding a possible worldwide ban, then put all his remaining eggs in the Vuelta/World’s basket later this year.
--Cadel Evans rode yet another consistent race to yet another 2nd place. Does Evans’ style remind anyone else of Jan Ullrich? I might be alone on this one, but I’m just not convinced that Cadel has the stuff to win the Tour, namely, he doesn't have the acceleration to match the pure climbers, and he can’t time trial well enough to put the time he needs into the likes of other GC contenders—namely, Alberto Contador.
--Speaking of Alberto, he could be bluffing, but the Spaniard seems to be on track for another July victory. He was clearly riding within himself throughout the week, seemingly gauging his efforts on those of his rivals. This might not be such a big deal were it not for the fact that he rides for Johan Bruyneel, a director known for the perfect timing his riders’ performances.
--Robert Gesink rode well in the mountains to ultimately finish 4th. His role in the Tour will be interesting considering the presence of Denis Menchov. Actually, Menchov’s might take some pressure off the squirrelly climber, ultimately launching him to what could prove to be the best Dutch GC placing in years.
--Liquigas better start saving it’s money. Vincenzo Nibali rode with the favorites all week—both against the clock and when the race went uphill. In doing so, he’s become Italy’s newest GC-darling. With Roman Kreuzinger well-placed for a repeat-win in the Tour de Suisse, there will be plenty of suitors ready to over-pay for their services in 2010. With Franco Pellizotti coming to France following his 3rd place in the Giro, Liquigas will have—on paper at least—one of the race’s most dynamic line-ups. A Top-5 finish is not out of the realm of possibility for these two in what could turn-out to be the last time they enter a stage race without the pressure of being mentioned with the major favorites.
--David Millar rode himself to a 9th place finish, consistently placing well in both the time trials and the mountains. But hold-on before you start dusting-off your Union Jack—Millar is not a GC contender at the Tour. To me, his Dauphiné showing puts him on track for a transitional stage win, and maybe for a good showing in the Prologue (if he starts early and Cancellara gets a flat or is rained-on). That's it.
--It was heartening to see David Moncoutie and Pierrick Fedrigo win stages in the Alps. They’ll be carrying their nation’s hopes for a stage win in the Tour along with Thomas Voeckler and Sebastien Joly. Look for one of these four to win the French Championship in 2 weeks.
--And finally, how about BMC’s Brent Bookwalter? While his overall placing wasn’t too impressive, he rode at the front all week, and certainly turned some heads at key points in the race. Could a Pro Tour ride be in his future?
--One general thought before moving-on: if you by any chance caught the Versus coverage of yesterday’s stage, you surely saw at least one of the network’s “Can Anything Stop Lance” TDF commercials. Here’s a bigger question: can anything stop Versus from failing to acknowledge the 179 other riders competing in this year’s race? Yes, Lance’s return offers a fascinating sub-plot, but will Evans, Contador, Sastre, and the Schleck’s be reduced to the role of supporting characters in another Lance love-fest? Hopefully, Versus will get it right once the race begins.
2. The Tour de Suisse is under way with the final set of July contenders testing their legs. Roman Kreuzinger and the Schleck brothers have the most to prove, perhaps more so against the clock than in the mountains. All three will need to improve significantly in the time trial in order to have a real hope of challenging the other big favorites. Sunday’s final stage offers a 39km test around Bern. While the overall might be decided by then, it will be interesting to see the times these three can produce. I’m also eager to see the return of Christian Vande Velde as he seeks the last bit of form he’ll need to prove his Tour last year wasn’t a fluke. And don't forget Lars Boom. I'll peg him now for the win in the final TT; anything more than that and someone might make him a non-CX offer he can't refuse. We’ll do our best over the coming days to keep you aware of live streams when available.
3. A new feature went up last week on Rapha's Features page. It's a terrific run-down of what to expect from next month's Etape du Tour finishing atop Mont Ventoux. Regardless of whether you're riding the Etape or not, it's a terrific article with wonderful writing and photography. Read it here.
4. And now some doping! By now you’ve read at least one article about Bernhard Kohl’s L’Equipe interview and the UCI’s bio-diabolical passport program. If you haven’t, you should go here and here.
While I won’t re-hash what’s already been said, I will make one point. Kohl’s assertion that the UCI passport gives riders extra information which enables them to dope more effectively seems to support a contention I’ve held for quite some time: for every 1 dollar/Euro that goes into the research and development of methods to fight doping (in any sport), there are at least 2 dollars/Euro’s going into the research and development of ways to continue to do it without getting caught.
At some point, maybe we should just go back to the days of urine testing for amphetamines and anabolic steroids. Besides, the UCI doesn’t seem to be overly concerned about handling positive tests on a consistent basis anyway, leaving it to the national federations and teams to make the choices that it—the UCI—is too afraid to make on its own.
5. Things that make you go "Hmmm...": Check-out this photo of Cadel Evans climbing Ventoux. I could be wrong, but doesn't that look like a Powertap Computer on his handlebar? Do you see a Powertap rear hub? Would someone like to share how this is possible? I'm sure there's an explanation out there somewhere; I just have yet to read it.
UPDATE from an anonymous reader: "Cadel is using a CycleOps Cervo -- he can swap in and out his PowerTap wheel whenever he likes because of its Ant+ compatibility."
You can read more here.
6. Finally, some scary writing and photography in the "Good Wheels Gone Bad" department for fans of Mavic's R-Sys wheels. Ben Delaney from Velonews writes here about the explosion of his front Mavic R-Sys wheel. (Yes, he was riding it at the time.) Scary stuff indeed.
On that note, enjoy your week!