Friday, July 25, 2008

Stage Nineteen: Roanne to Montluçon

Unexpected drama in the Lanterne Rouge standings: Wim Vansevenant finished at 1:54 after the stage winner today, while a group of nine riders (including former Lanterne Rouge Aleksandr Kuschynski, Sven Krauss, and Bernard Eisel) crossed the line well back at 14:45.

The group of mostly fatigued and injured riders had fallen off the back of the peloton with 40 km to go and limped in to the finish together. They're all trying their best to hang on until Paris.

This drops Bernard Eisel of Team Columbia into last position in the general classification by 42 seconds. It also means that he will be the first starter in the Saturday individual time trial. It is probable that Wim Vansevenant will not know a precise cutoff time (that would result in his elimination), but he may learn of Eisel's finish time before he crosses the time trial finish line and attempt to finish a minute slower. However, Vansevenant's primary and extremely critical task will be to scope out any peculiarities of the time trial course and relay them back immediately after his finish to his teammate Cadel Evans.

In the Stage 4 Cholet time trial, Vansevenant finished 60 seconds behind Eisel over a 29.5 km course. If both riders were fresh, he might be expected to lose something like 1:37 to Eisel on a 53 km course. But anything can happen! As Allen Gathman points out, the time trial will likely determine both the maillot jaune and the Lanterne Rouge for the 2008 Tour.

Will the time trial, and consequently the Tour's finish in Paris, see the peloton becoming a Silence-Lotto sandwich with teammates on both ends of the general classification? Oh, the suspense!

At least they're both soldiering onward! There were five riders who didn't successfully finish the stage today, reducing the peloton to 145 riders:
DNS Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre
DNF Christophe Brandt (Bel) Silence - Lotto
HD Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Rabobank
HD Romain Feillu (Fra) Agritubel
HD Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner

A fairly typical tale of woe is related by "Fabian Wegmann is experiencing . . . a nightmare. Numerous crashes have left their mark, as have the three weeks of stress. He had two nosebleeds during the stage yesterday, he says on his website, And not only do his injuries hurt, he is getting a rash from the bandages. "My fingers are so badly swollen that I can barely hold on to the handlebars. And my feet and bottom are bright red. They burn and itch like crazy. Normally you could treat that with cortisone, but not during the Tour."

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