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Boonen Takes Stage Win; Mountains Beckon


Stage Six
Semur en Auxois-Bourg en Bresse
199.5 kilometers/123.9 miles
Stage: Tom Boonen (Quick Step)
Maillot Jaune: Fabian Cancellara (CSC)
Green: Tom Boonen (Quick Step)
Polka-dot: Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis)

We spent most of the day watching the peleton ignore and finally chase down Bradley Wiggins, who took off five kilometers from the start and led until there were seven kilometers left. The peleton played cat and mouse with him in the later stages of the stage. Wiggins rode a brave race, but there was just no way that he was going to take the peleton today.

My favorite image of the tour (and indeed my fave image in sports today) continues to be the sight of the peleton just as it pounces upon and chases down a breakaway – from the point of view of those being caught, caught from a motorcycle. Though it is 180 riders strong, the peleton takes on a life and churning energy of its own as it relentlessly eats up the pavement and the riders in front of it. I read somewhere that a rider in the middle of the peleton does a third of the work of someone at the front, so much energy is expelled by the sheer number of riders. (The converse, of course, is that those who ride in the middle and back are more susceptible to crashes and injuries.)

Today race officials showed the peleton just over Wiggins’ shoulder as he was being turned over and sent to the back of the pack.

Phil: “Wiggins is being cooked, overcooked.”
Paul: “He is cooked, overcooked and pan-fried.”

The peleton again seemed not to pay much attention until the end, and if it seems as if the teams don’t know what they’re doing, it should be said that not once, so far, has anyone got away from the pack for a stage win. And after it chased down Wiggins, the peleton seemed nervous and unsteady going into the finish, with no team taking charge until Quick Step’s Tom Boonen finally got a stage victory, and he will wear green into the mountains tomorrow.

I have been questioning Boonen’s strength after he wasn’t able to put the pedal down at the end of sprints, even losing once to his lead-out man, Gert Steegmans, but Boonen, led out again by powerhouse Steegmans, looked great in the win, his first stage tour win in two years.

As much as I love to watch how the sprint stages play themselves out, like everyone else, we are all waiting for the mountain stages to begin. Who will have the yellow jersey at the end of Sunday’s race, which looks to be one of the most challenging stages of the entire tour?

Alexandre Vinokourov and Andreas Kloden, both highly regarded as possible winners of this race, survived another day, although how they are actually feeling remains to be seen. Vino is bandaged up, looking, as Phil said, more like a mummy than a professional cyclist. We saw Kloden trying to stretch out his tailbone at one point, his poker face revealing little.

I still wonder what Astana was doing at the back of the peleton. Given that Astana is considered a tough team with strong riders, why weren’t they in front instead of riding at the rear? Didn’t they study Discovery’s Armstrong wins and watch the way those teams dominated the peleton? I’m calling it the tactical blunder of the tour so far, and it could cost the team dearly.

After Vino’s erratic but exciting 2005 performance and his exit from the tour last year when Astana couldn’t field a nine-man team in connection with the Spanish dope inquisition, I have been really looking forward to see how the mercurial rider would perform in perhaps his last serious try for the title. Will it open to the door for silent up-to-now Levi Leipheimer or Christian Valdelde? Or some new rider from a lesser-known team.

We will know more after that first category climb at the end of Saturday’s race.

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