Where's Jan Ullrich when we need him?
Stage 7 is in the books.
Stage 7 is in the books. The 2006 edition of the Tour de France is coming into focus.
More clearly than ever, we see that this was the Tour designed for Jan Ullrich who, unfortunately, is absent, after being eliminated from this year?s competition along with several others in connection with the Spanish drug bust called Operation Puerto.
?It?s lucky Jan Ullrich is not here; otherwise the tour would be over,? Johan Bruyneel, Manager of Discovery Channel told Reuters after Saturday?s Stage 7, the 52-km individual time trial from Saint Gregoire to Rennes.
Ullrich, on past performance, would have cleaned up on this time-trial course. The winner, Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile), rode a splendid race; but he is not in Ullrich?s time-trialling league.
What Bruyneel was saying is that Ullrich the time splendid trialler would have taken some serious time out of his General Classification competition in this year?s Tour. And the fact that four of his teammates finished in the top
As it was, Gonchar?s nearest competition was Floyd Landis, who finished a minute back. This has to make the laconic American the favorite ? but certainly not the overwhelming favorite ? to wind up in yellow in
Landis lost time Saturday, as he did in the prologue, with a mechanical problem. But even when taking that into consideration, he was far from dominant.
In Landis?s favor, however, is the rapidly diminishing number of possible competitors for him in next week?s climbs in the Pyrenees, the following week?s climbs in the
Alejandro Valverde (Quick Step - Innergetic), a real potential competitor, crashed during Stage 3 and his injuries forced him out of the race. Bobby Julich (CSC) failed to negotiate a turn in Saturday?s time trial, fell and hurt his wrist, and is now on the sidelines. Julich might have made things interesting had he made it into the mountains.
George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) has been boosted (mostly by American media) as the successor to Lance Armstrong, but he failed to shine in the time trial, finishing a disappointing 24th, 2.42 behind the winner. This is not an insurmountable margin for Hincapie to make up; but this was not a performance of a would-be Tour winner.
But most inexplicable of all was the flame-out of Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), who finished 96th, six minutes and five seconds in arrears of Gonchar. Leipheimer, the subject of cute commercials running on the U.S. OLN network which carries the Tour daily, was among the favourites after Ullrich, Basso, et al were forced to exit the day before the Prologue.
Not all Landis?s competition, however, is disappearing from view. The GC Top 10 has Cadel Evans (Davitamon ? Lotto) 8th at 1.52 and Denis Menchov (Rabobank) 9th at 2.00. Both are all-rounders who might do something in the mountains to make things interesting for Landis.
Paolo Salvodelli, 13th in the GC at 2.10, Carlos Sastre, 16th at 2.27, and Hincapie, 17th at 2.30, can?t be discounted, at least not yet. All could shine in the mountains. Hincapie could redeem himself in the second ITT.
Otherwise, Iban Mayo (Euskatel ? Euskadi), 58th at 6.11, and Damiano Cunego (Lampre ? Fondital), 75th at 7.06, demonstrated that they can?t be seriously considered for the podium due to weak time trialling abilities, whatever possible miracles they are able to pull off in the mountains.
Please visit our sponsors. Visit our 2006 Tour de France coverage section for live updates, rider diaries, virtual stage maps (in live updates section) and more.