I suppose it's partly a function of being here, among the energy, but I can hardly think of a more exciting day in American pro racing than this stage. Added in 2004 (after some griping by Lance Armstrong about the lack of a mountaintop finish), the climb up Brasstown Bald is not only the most difficult in American pro road racing, but also enjoys an international reputation as ridiculously difficult. It's in stages like this - where most riders are just focused on surviving - where the best of pro riders can capture the race for themselves. And we're not short of riders who think that they just might be able to do that.
Things get rolling in Blairsville at 11am [time corrected], starting on an 88.4 mile (142.3km) course to Brasstown Bald. The temps will range from the mid-50's to lower 70's (and perhaps back again, as the riders ascend), with a decent chance of some rain. Check out the profile and more after the jump.
The routing of the course, gives the peloton time to warm up on some (relatively) flat valley roads. Sprinters get a points opportunity around mile 39. There's a feed zone at mile 52, but we get our first KOM opportunity immediately after that, at mile 57 in Hogpen Gap. Riders descend from there, with just a little bit of time to recover before the second KOM line at mile 74 (Unicoi Gap).
While Sunday's circuits through Atlanta yield some theoretical possibility of a continuing GC contest, it's rather unlikely. If any of these contenders are going win the 2008 Tour de Georgia, it's going to be at Brasstown Bald. So, let's look at the GC possiblities.
Slipstream's Trent Lowe is the man in yellow, but (as noted here on PC) you can't help but wonder if team owner Jonathan Vaughters didn't intentionally make him a hopeless caretaker in order to keep his GC options wide open. Tom Danielson is definitely out of the running, having lost 17" on yesterday's stage. However, both Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriske share the same time as Lowe (Lowe picked up the yellow on a very technical tiebreaker related to his position crossing the line in the TTT). I'd certainly love to listen on in that conversation at the Slipstream hotel tonight. My money say that Vande Velde, the second podium step in last year's TdG, is tapped. Levi Leipheimer - along with Chris Horner - is only 4" back right now. Now, as much as one might think of Vande Velde or Zabriske's talents, it's not hard to imagine Leipheimer putting more than 4" into these guys (esp with the help of teammates Horner and Colom - both of whom are at the same time as Levi) . Oh, and who's only 6" back, perhaps capable of opportunistically taking advantage of these guys watching each other too closely? That would be George Hincapie. I thought - and he said - that he was pretty clearly out of the running on this year's race. Maybe not so much. After these folks, chances fall dramatically, with Bobby Julich leading a trio who are 13" seconds back, and it going down from there. So, to review:
The top ten overall, at the moment:
- Trent Lowe, Slipstream-Chipotle
- Dave Zabriske, Slipstream-Chipotle
- Christian Vande Velde, Slipstream-Chipotle
- Levi Leipheimer, Astana, +4"
- Chris Horner, Astana
- Antonio Colom, Astana
- George Hincapie, Team High Road, +6"
- Kanstantsin Siutsou, Team High Road
- Bobby Julich, CSC, +13"
- Inigo Cuesta, CSC
While the GC is the race everyone's paying attention to, the KOM competition is finalized today, with a decent haul of points available over the three KOM points on the stage. The first over the Hogpen Gap climb gets 10 points (going 7 deep), first over Unicoi gets 8 points (going 5 deep), and first up Brasstown gets 12 points (going 10 deep). So lots of possibilities for the non-GC mountain goats today. The current standings are:
The top five in the KOM competition, thus far:
- Ted King, Bissell - 13 pts
- Valery Kobzarenko, Team Type 1 - 10 pts
- Cameron Evans - Symmetrics - 10 pts
- Moises Adalpe, Team Type 1 - 6 pts
- Tim Johnson, Health Net - 6 pts
The KOM competition is wide open. There aren't enough sprint points to affect the sprint jersey (held by High Road's Henderson), and Slipstream's Trent Lowe has 50" over his nearest competitor (Symmetrics' Christian Meier) in the young rider competition. So we'll worry about those in Atlanta, instead.
And what of the area that makes this stage possible? Blairsville is a quiet little Appalachian town (and remember, it's not "appel-a-shun", it's "apple-atchan"). Brasstown Bald isn't a town at all, but rather the top of the tallest mountain in Georgia. All in all, it's some beautiful Eastern mountain country, and if you ever get the chance (and have the legs), you should ride it.
Now, I know you're waiting for it. The easy shot. But no, I'm not going to do that (despite the fact that Deliverance was, indeed, filmed just a few miles away from here). And anyway, folks around here have a sense of humor. Instead, I'm going to change it up a bit, reaching outside of Georgia for the music and use it to frame the story of this stage.
There's a story, you ask? Well, I was looking through previous years' results earlier today, and I noticed something - almost all of the podium finishers on this stage have been once-close leaders/lieutenants who end up in competition with each other. Now, I know that this describes much of cycling, but there's really a closely connected set of stories here. Consider the drama of 2005, when Lance (former Postal) sat on Floyd (former Postal), killing Floyd's GC lead (with apparent malice) over Lance teammate Danielson, who would take both the stage (a certain Levi was 2nd) and the overall as a result. Next, in 2006, Danielson (Disco) wins the stage, but couldn't shake Floyd (Phonak) despite his and Popo's (Disco nee Postal) best efforts. Then there's 2007, where Levi dropped Disco teammate Danielson in pursuit of a Gilberto Simoni attack, resulting in Levi's winning the stage (by 38 seconds) over Danielson, despite an earlier understanding that Danielson would be taking the stage. So, in light of all of that and the poetry that is a well-timed attack on an hors catégorie climb, here is today's music - The Ark's This Piece of Poetry is Meant to Do Harm:
You've been watching over me
Saying you're keeping me company
I should be grateful, I suppose
and compare you to a summer's rose
You've been talking sweet to me
about peace and loving harmony
But I know what you say about me
So now I tell you cause I gotta break free
That I can't give you no false affection
I can do without your phony charm
This train ain't moving in your direction
This piece of poetry is meant to do harm
Enjoy Brasstown Bald, folks.
How to watch the race Live video from WCSN will start at 12:00pm EDT. Those of you outside of the US, can get it free from Cycling.tv here, time uncertain. The Tour Tracker should start its coverage when the things get moving at 11am EDT.
- Mark Blacknell for PodiumCafe.com