Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Good Will Tour

Thanks to the miracle of Tivo, I usually don't watch the morning Tour coverage until the evening, so little did I know that as I was mentioning Will Frischkorn (Garmin-Chipotle) in yesterday’s post, he was busy plugging away in the first successful breakaway of this year’s Tour de France. He came up just a bit short in the end, losing out to Cofidis smurf Samuel Dumoulin, but was awarded the red number of the most aggressive rider for his trouble.

If you follow domestic racing, you probably already know Frischkorn. It’s hard to believe that he’s still just 27 years old, because it feels like he’s been around forever – he turned professional with the powerhouse domestic Mercury team when he was just 19 years old. That team’s DS, John Wordin, had his share of troublesome issues, but spotting talent wasn’t one of them. Wordin also signed a young Baden Cooke, plucked Floyd Landis from the obscurity mid-pack NORBA racing, brought Henk Vogels to the U.S., and helped relaunch Chris Horner’s career after his failed early career stint with Francaise de Jeux. Wordin managed to do all that before the team absolutely imploded in a flurry of lawsuits after failing to get an invitation to the 2001 Tour de France. That mess, largely of Wordin's making, left the team’s later star signings like Peter Van Petegem and Leon Van Bon looking for other teams and suing the Wordin for wages, an ugly situation that contributed to the salary guarantee that ProTour teams have to pay at the beginning of the season.

But I digress. Frischkorn survived that debacle, and rode for the Saturn and Colavita domestic teams before signing with Vaughter’s TIAA-CREF development team in 2004. That team would later morph into today’s Garmin-Chipotle with the signings of big European names like Backstedt and Millar, along with U.S. ProTour vets Dave Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde. With that transformation, many were wondering how much of the team’s old guard (or young guard, as the case may be) would remain. Cuts were made, to be sure, but Frischkorn – originally brought to the team to help mentor younger developing riders – found his way through, and later onto the Tour team. Vaughters must be pleased with that choice now, with Frischkorn getting a lot of airplay during this year’s Versus coverage, whether in those close-up segments, through his epic break at this year’s Milan-San Remo, or during yesterday’s exploit on the road to Nantes.

What else can you say about Will? Neal Rogers pretty well covers it.

Frischkorn aside, I also made a quick reference yesterday to Brittany native, five time Tour winner, winner of damn near everything else, and all around cycling tough guy Bernard Hinault, likening him to Chuck Norris. When I wrote that, I was thinking of his legendary toughness, as well as his feisty personality. In particular, I was thinking of the timeworn story of Hinault, on encountering a road-blocking workers’ protest during a long-ago Paris-Nice, simply riding into them full bore and jumping off his bike with fists flying. After all, he had a job to do, and they were in his way. It was things like that that earned him the nickname “the Badger,” and yesterday, the Badger, now in his 50s, struck again. See the VeloNews report (and, more importantly, the photo) here, and remember – if Hinault is in the vicinity, you best keep your protestin’ to yourself.

Time Checks

Did everyone catch Garmin DS Jonathan Vaughters’ F-bomb during the ridealong for Millar’s time trial today? Liggett and Sherwen threw it to Robbie Ventura, who was riding shotgun with Vaughters with a lipstick cam on him, Vaughters, and Allen Lim in the backseat. Lim seemed to be disguised as a British DJ, but that’s a different story. Between Vaughters encouraging Millar over the radio, Ventura asks, “So how’s this going for you?” Vaughters, as usual, had been giving fantastically composed answers in all the previous segments, but, having just learned about Stefan Schumacher’s insane splits, he kicked off this answer with “Fuck, man…”

Ventura’s been doing a pretty good job on the coverage for a relative broadcasting newcomer, but he just plain doesn’t have the experience to just blow on through something like that on live television. He just froze with the “I can’t believe you just did that” look on his face – mouth open, eyes straining to the left, scanning to see if Vaughters has realized what had gone down. It was actually the same expression one of my college housemates had when he came plowing into my room on evening yelling “Where the fuck are we drinking tonight?” only to find my parents sitting on the bed. Fortunately, Pete was pretty used to getting himself in those situations, uttered a quick “Oh, I see your parents are here” and just turned and left the room. Though it wasn’t his faux pas, I got the feeling that Ventura would have jumped for it if Millar had slowed down enough to give him a shot at a good tuck-and-roll. Personally, I think it was Vaughters' calculated revenge after Ventura referred to their ride as the "Team Discovery car" earlier in the show.

Millar finished damn near the top after that little 29.5k jaunt – yellow jersey Romain Feillu (Agritubel) not so much. Feillu finished 168th, dropping 4:59 to Schumacher and falling from first to 40th on GC. Not that we had any right to expect Feillu to turn in some spectacular effort after being in the long break yesterday. And besides, he’s a utility rider who went in the right break, not a TT specialist or GC contender. Though legend has it that the yellow jersey gives you even bigger wings than a case of Red Bull, I’m sure Feillu wasn’t under any illusions of stardom either.

Still, I felt for Feillu during his ride today. Many riders who grab the jersey the way he did get to enjoy a nice start to the day in the peloton, getting pats on the back and a bit of the star treatment before the real racing begins. If they’re lucky, they can sit in the field and preserve enough of their lead to keep it for another day. If not, the camera will hang back with them for a minute or two as they slip off the back, and they can go back to being just another rider. Not so for poor Feillu, who landed the jersey before the first showdown ITT stage of this Tour. For his efforts, he got to have his solitary suffering documented for a whole 35 minutes, while the television timer documented just how much time he was hemorrhaging at every checkpoint. Nothing like having a camera trained on your every move as you step out, all alone, to well and truly kiss your yellow jersey goodbye. Nevertheless, I’m sure he wouldn’t trade his admittedly rough day in yellow for the world, and at 24 years old, he’ll be able to milk it for a good long time.

Now Feillu’s been replaced by Schumacher, who handed out some serious punishment to actual time trialists. I’m not going to go back and scan all his results, and Cancellara says he’s done some good TT’s in the past, so I guess I’ll just roll with it. But Schumacher’s never been a big TT hitter – certainly not like the specialists (Cancellara, Zabriskie, or countryman Fothen) or the GC guys, even in a post Armstrong and Ullrich world. He’s certainly a talented one-day racer, especially in the hillier classics, Worlds Championships, and the like, but I’d sort of always thought of him as an uglier but otherwise interchangeable version of Fabian Wegmann, not a monster against the clock.

Stage 5 Serving Suggestions

Why no drink suggestions for today's stage? Because time trials are to be endured, not enjoyed, and that goes double for spectators. But not so tomorrow. Stage 5 from Cholet to Châteauroux is the longest of the Tour at 232 kilometers, but it’s worth it. The stage cuts through the heart of the Loire Valley wine region, so choosing something nice to drink during the evening coverage is like shooting fish in a barrel. Also, the scenery is stunning in that area, which along with the wine should help make up for the lethargy that’s bound to set in during a long stage following a time trial.

Though choices from the region abound, the weather here at the Service Course is well into the stifling range, so we’re going to go with a nice chilled Sancerre, a dry white wine made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. We’re going with Sancerre not only because it suits the weather, but also because the appellation falls on the eastern end of the Loire Valley, close to the finish town of Châteauroux. Recommended vintages are 2003 and 2005, but really, we’re not that fussy. And if you’re looking for a fromage accompaniment, check with the Unholy Rouleur, who has some race-related cheese suggestions on tap.

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