Winning salutes of Le Tour de France 09

The climactic finish at any one of the Tour’s stages is always a delight to watch. The phenomenal speeds of the sprinters as they dash past the line in a blur, a solo breakaway finally rolling in to an appreciative crowd, or the one-on-one duels as 2 sprinters battle it out to the line with no quarters given … and, of course, the contrast of the ear-to-ear smiles of the victor and the downcast face of the 2nd place winner.

This is Le Tour de France …

Here’s a collection of the TDF 09 stage winners::

Stage 1: Fabian Cancellera easily won the prologue TT with his superb bike-handling skills on the descent, even though Contador clocked the fastest split at the first check-point. Cancellera would even overhaul this year's Giro winner, Dennis Menchov, himself no slouch at TTing, who started a minute ahead.

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Stage 2: Mark Cavendish -- the peerless British sprinter on his way to a British record of 6 eventual stage wins.

Stage 3: 'Hi Mom, yea...I just won the 3rd Stage. What? Oh, it was ok...nothing too strenuous' The Manx Express, Mark Cavendish, now in green, takes another stage and impresses upon HTC that they did the right thing sponsoring the team.

Stage 5: Tommy Voeckler solos in to his first ever TDF stage win, and a triumphant French victory, driving the partisan crowd wild with delight.

Stage 6: A gritty Thor Hushovd from Cervelo Test Team triumphant after a wet, wet stage.

Stage 7: French win no 2 ... Brice Felliu, on his first pro showing, takes the stage victory for France. This guy is all skin and bones.

Stage 8: Breakaway specialist, Luis Leon Sanchez of Caisse d'Epargne wins the 4-man sprint in Saint Giron.

Stage 9: Pierrick Fedrigo of BBox seems to be flapping his way to the line while Pellizoti, the eventual King of the Mountains winner, just can't hide his disappointment.

Stage 10: Him again? Mark Cavendish crossing the line and nonchalantly wipes his green glasses, sending a message to Thor Hushovd that he wants back the Green jersey.

Stage 11: Cavendish yet again... getting to be a bit predictable, especially when the Columbia train starts sprinting away at the front, delivering Cavendish to the finish line in style.

Stage 12: Wild with delight, Dane Nicki Sørensen finally chalks up a deserving win after 10 years as a pro. His win also pushed Saxo Bank to the top of the team classification.

Stae 13: You would weep tears of joy too if you were Heinrich Haussler. It was the young Cervelo rider's first TDF stage victory, winning it in convincing fashion after an impressive solo breakaway.

Stage 14: Katusha's Russian boy Sergie Ivanov is one-up on the peloton in stage 14 after a solo attack on an 11-man breakaway group.

Stage 15: "'Bang, I got you". Alberto Contador with his trademark pistol salute, unleashes his climbing prowess, in the Swiss Alps, blowing away his rivals to take the yellow jersey. It was truly a commanding performance by this brilliant climber.

Stage 16: Astarloza of Euskatel takes a quick look behind..just to be sure ...

and shouts for joy, taking the stage after a brave attack on the 8-man breakaway group, 3 km to the line.

Stage 17: The Schleck brothers, Frank and Andy , make it a 1-2 finish ... Andy (behind Frank) seems to be saying with his hands that he's the #1 brother of the 2, which he eventually proved he was.

Stage 18: Contador the Matador stamps his authority as a highly-competent all-round rider by taking the individual TT stage, frustrating Swiss champion and TT specialist Fabian Cancellera into 2nd place. Cancellera later claimed that Contador was 'helped' by the lead motorcycles. All I can say is, 'A win is a win'.

Stage 19: Mark Cavendish taking his 5th stage win, this time despite the naysayers prediction that the slight uphill finish would not be to his advantage. All I can say is -- don't bet on the wrong horse (the one in green behind him) when the Columbia train starts rolling....

Stage 20: Rabobank finally salvages its pride when Juan Manuel Garate broke away with Columbia's Tony Martin, and beating him at the line for their only stage win of the tour at the spectacular Mt Ventoux.

Stage 21 ""I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I hadn't won it after they did such a good job." Mark Cavendish takes his 6th stage win and pays tribute to his team, and the best lead-out man in the business, Mark Renshaw (in 2nd place behind him).

After 3,459.5 kilometres, the maillot jaune on the shoulders of Alberto Contador crossed Paris' world-famous boulevard of the Champs Élysées. A celebratory glass of champagne seems to be in order.

On the podium in Paris is every bike racer's dream but this year, Contador is the man. His customary pistol shot salute says it all. There were many casualties, among them, team-mate Lance Armstrong, of whom Contador later admitted to the press that he had zero respect for. All I can say is -- well said, Contador.

3 different reactions on the podium in Paris:: Andy Schleck -- "I'm happy to win 2nd, for now". Alberto Contador -- "Hey, that's the Danish national anthem they're playing instead of the Spanish one???" and, of course, .....

...... Lance Armstrong, the sore loser megalomaniac -- "Dude, I ain't going to your celebration party. So there."

Here’s hoping next year’s tour will be even more exciting to watch — Contador likely to be in a new team bankrolled by Spanish compatriot, F1 driver Alonso Fernando, (and one that’s 100% behind him), Andy Schleck comes back more determined than ever to win yellow, and Lance will be riding under the Team Radioshack banner (with a new team that’s 110% behind him, never mind if they’re younger and better than him).

Very exciting indeed.

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Edge-of-the-seat Giro finale.

What a Giro finale! I still can’t believe Dennis Menchov won — and that after falling off his bike at the very last few hundred metres of the final time trial of the tour!

As the final day of the tour,  it had all the makings of a classic duel (a 14 km individual time trial in the heart of Rome,  and in the shadow of the Coliseum, no less) — seemingly, 2 gladiators duking it out to the finish —  Menchov a mere 20 seconds ahead of 2nd place Danilo Diluca in the General Classification. The race was being telecast live on the EuroSport channel.

Diluca was 2nd last to roll off the ramp, and he had chosen to go with a normal road bike, given the condition and nature of the course — 4-5 tight corners plus a few cobbled sections … but worse of all, it had started to drizzle again.

Danilo Diluca

Danilo Diluca, 20 seconds down to Menchov at the start of the TT. As a better bike handler but lesser TT rider than Menchov, he chose a road instead to better negotiate the tight and wet corners.

Diluca started strongly, even chalking up the fastest time of the day at the first checkpoint. Then Menchov, opting for a TT bike was the last to go, and then the first shocker — Diluca was 5 seconds ahead when Menchov rode past the 1st checkpoint!

giro09st21-menchov

But Menchov, ever the cool, calculating rider, was pushing a much bigger gear. True enough, at the halfway 12 km checkpoint, Menchov was not only pulling out all the stops, he had upped the ante by taking 14 seconds from Diluca!

Diluca finished as 6th fastest for the day, and all attention shifted then to Menchov.

Then it happened…

Menchov testing his butt against the cobblestones

Menchov testing his butt against the cobblestones

Less than a kilometre to the finish line, (the commentator was already congratulating Menchov) and before you knew it, Menchov crashed on the wet road! And it wasn’t even a corner, just cobblestones, although it must have been treacherous when wet. Check out the video of the crash as seen from the helicopter following the race. The mechanic should be rewarded for the fastest bike change ever in a race:

On-ground and close-up video of the crash:

menchov-remounting2

Hey, come back! Menchov picks himself up within seconds and goes after his bike.

menchov-remounting

There, there...are you alright? Seconds later, he would chuck this bike unceremoniously by the side of the road when his mechanic came to his side with his replacement bike.

The whole neighbourhood must have heard me shouting in disbelief at that heart-stopping moment. But what was even more amazing was that when Menchov picked himself up, the team car that was following him had his spare bike out in a matter of seconds. He got on his bike, started off a little wobbly and ….  rode off to the finish line, still a winner by 41 seconds on Diluca! Unbelievable!

How would you react if you were one Menchov’s team mates watching the race in anticipation of victory? See the team’s  reactions here when the crash happened:

What a finale. Menchov, understandably, was very elated at his win, punching the air and whooping victoriously. As I said, what could have been a more fitting venue for such a duel than by the ruins of the Roman Coliseum?

menchov-Victory

Yea! Go to Rabobank for your loans! Yea!

menchov-podium

Well, the Giro has ended … and my favourite team took home the Maglia Rosa (that’s the Pink Jersey of the winner, for the less informed :). Come to think of it, the race is Italian, the winner is a Russian sponsored by a Dutch bank, and powered by a made-in-Taiwan Giant bike. How cool is that?

Now, let’s see if some of that Giro magic will rub off on my Giant and I … in about 3 weeks time.

Damn ankle sprain 😦

A giant drop for Pedro Horillo

Team Rabobank’s Pedro Horillo took a bad crash desecnding St Peter’s Summit in stage 8 of the ongoing Giro d’Italia. The poor guy suffered multiple fractured ribs, a fractured leg, a broken kneecap, a perforated lung and head trauma.

The bike

The TCR Advanced SL fared better than the rider who fell 60 metres down a cliffside ravine...ouch!.

60 metres

Paramedics rescuing Pedro

Team