When it’s over, it will be very hard for anyone to discuss this 98th edition of the Tour de France, without mentioning the numerous, high profile, and wild crashes that have marred the first half of this year’s contest. Not only has there been an extremely high number of riders hitting the deck, but there have been some highly unusual and spectacular wrecks with many involving the biggest stars in the sport. Since the race started 10 days ago, so many cyclists have tasted pavement that it would be easier to name the few who haven’t fallen than count the ones who have. Out of the 198 that started the race in Passage du Gois, France on July 2nd, there are now over 20 abandonments, with some of the biggest names shipped home broken and busted, such as: Bradley Wiggins, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Alexandre Vinokourov, and Tom Boonen. Team RadioShack has suffered way more than its fair share of this carnage with all of our ‘danger’ riders either out of the race or in danger themselves right now of dropping out of any top placement on the overall general classification.
While the race is not quite at the midway point in stages with 10 completed and 11 to go, it is past the midway point in distance with 1751 kilometers down and 1685 to conquer. These final kilometers however, include all of the high mountains this year with 6 stages coming up in 8 days where the racers will be climbing hard. And RadioShack will have it harder than most with the remaining riders missing the support of those that have been forced to abandon, or are part of the pedaling wounded and perhaps operating at less than 100%.
With Janez Brajkovic out with a concussion and broken collar bone, Chris Horner out with a concussion and a broken nose, and now Yaroslav Popovych out battered, bruised and with a high fever, things will be difficult at best for the final 6 riders on the team. Most of the remaining squad have crashed themselves, some multiple times, with bandages and tape holding some of them together. Amazing to see how tough and resilient these riders are, with visible scrapes and scratches as they power down the road.
Andreas Klöden is pressing on as the top placed hope on the team. He now sits in 8th spot on the overall general classification at 2:43 behind the yellow jersey. This placement is actually better than it seems with the top 10 riders all still very close in the standings, so Andreas is in a good position. But Andreas had a bad fall himself aggravating an old back injury. Good that there was a rest day on Monday, but he’s still pedaling in pain, and one can only hope it subsides progressively each day before the Tour heads up into the mountains on Thursday July 14th. It seems Levi Leipheimer has been picking himself up off the road almost daily and though none of his wrecks would be deemed major, they take their accumulated toll. Levi is now sitting 7:16 back in 36th place, a very difficult gap to surmount given the key competitors sitting minutes ahead of him on the GC. He may still surprise, but will likely be supporting Klodi’s efforts at this point.
Haimar Zubeldia is 5:14 back in 25th place. A very respectable placement right now given his role at the outset of this Tour riding in support of RadioShack’s 4 protected riders on this team who all started with well-founded podium hopes: Brajkovic, Klöden, Leipheimer, and Horner. Wow, how fortunes have changed! The rest of the squad appears to be solid: Markel Irizar is in 98th 32.25 back, Sergio Paulinho is 107th, 36.48 back, and Dmitriy Muravyev – 172nd, 1hr 5.32 back.
Whether injured or not, all the riders in the peloton will be suffering on Thursday’s Stage 12 with 3 major climbs, the cat 1 La Hourquette d’Ancizan, and the two off category climbs up the Col du Tourmalet, and Luz-Ardiden. Together, these 3 mountains amount to over 40 kilometers of uphill pumping that average a 7.3% grade. Lets hope the racing gods will curb their wrath for the remainder of this race and give our boys the fighting chance they deserve.
By George Hurst, staff wr