Hot Potato!

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The yellow jersey is being tossed around like a hot potato this year, and though Floyd Landis showed the patience and power necessary to win the Tour de France today, the best thing that could happen to him right now is for Cyril Dessel to win a time bonus sprint and reclaim the jersey tomorrow afternoon. Landis might actually want to encourage him, maybe even give him a lead-out.

Having Dessel in second place overall by just eight seconds is an unusual opportunity for Landis. Typically, after a decisive mountain stage that completely shuffles the overall standings, all the men in the top five are threats for the overall lead, so the man in the yellow jersey has to work to keep it. Dessel isn’t a threat to win the Tour this year, and his team leader Christophe Moreau doesn’t appear to be either, so there’s a chance that as a Frenchman, Dessel might indeed contest a few intermediate sprints tomorrow in order to reclaim the yellow jersey on Bastille Day.

Giving up the jersey to a rider who is certain to fall in the standings as soon as the race hits the Alps is a good option because it relieves the Phonak team of the stress of setting the pace at the front of the peloton during the transitional stages across southern France. It also means Landis doesn’t have to stick around for the podium ceremony, press conference, and dope control that are required stops for the race leader after each stage. This again reduces stress and can make it easier for a rider to recover after long days in the saddle.

Reducing the amount of work he and his teammates have to do in the next two stages is important because the next rendezvous with hard mountains is coming on Tuesday, directly after the Tour’s second rest day. The three back-to-back stages in the Alps are going to be harder than the two stages in the Pyrenees were. Stage 15 is a summit finish atop the 21 switchbacks of l’Alp d’Huez, and Stage 16 is another summit finish at La Toussuire. You also have to remember that the Alpine passes tend to be at higher altitudes than the ones in the Pyrenees, which means athletes have to deal with thinner air. Some riders perform well at altitude, whereas others start to struggle when the roads ascend upward of about 5,500 feet above sea level. Landis is going to need all of his strength, and the collective strength of his teammates, to control the race in the Alps and consolidate his lead over men like Denis Menchov, Cadel Evans, and Andreas Kloden.

The Other Americans
In terms of the other Americans in the race, Stage 11 saw Levi Leipheimer return to the front of the pack. Had he not lost six minutes in the Stage 7 individual time trial, he might have ridden himself into position to challenge for the yellow jersey today. However, with the deficit he has to overcome, it seems like the best he might be able to do is a top five finish… assuming he continues to ride as powerfully as he did today.

George Hincapie lost contact with the lead group on the penultimate climb of the day and lost more than 21 minutes to Landis by the time he reached the finish line. While his chances of challenging for the yellow jersey are over, Hincapie is going to play an important role in supporting Jose Azevedo, the team’s top rider in the general classification.

Christian Vandevelde of the CSC team rode well today in support of his new team leader, Carlos Sastre. Vandevelde stayed with the lead group until the penultimate climb, and after having done his work, backed off the intensity to save some energy so he can continue riding well for Sastre.

Far behind Vandevelde, another CSC teammate, Dave Zabriskie, finished safely with the sprinters’ group. At the very back of the race, a large group of riders forms because there’s safety in numbers. They don’t need safety from cars or fans, but from the time cut. Riders can be eliminated from the race if they finish a stage too far behind the winner, but by forming a large pack, the riders protect themselves from the time cut because the race organization isn’t going to eliminate 50 riders in one shot. Zabriskie is in uncharted territory right now. Last year, he dropped out of the Tour de France at the end of the first week, so even though he’s ridden the Tour of Spain and Tour of Italy, he’s busy learning and gaining experience in his first mountain stages of the Tour de France.

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