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Stage 5: Tour Turned Upside Down

Consider this a beefier version of the winners and losers. And under losers look no further than Astana. As reported below, Andreas Klöden may be out of the Tour, if in fact his coccxyx is fractured. If not, then he got a good scare today, and Astana's only remaining problem is the 1.20 Alexandre Vinokourov just gifted his rivals today.

Actually, staying on Vino for a moment, Astana's next biggest problem may be even worse. We know Vino hit the deck hard enough to tear a patch of his shorts away. What nobody knows is how his body will react to the impact. There's a decent chance he'll have minor bruising and be none the worse for wear once he gets warmed up on tomorrow's flat transitional stage. If so, he'll rejoin the gang in time for Saturday's first Alpine test.

Another scenario though is more significant bruising. IMHO, the Tour is the world's greatest gathering of endurance athletes (under 200 pounds), where the difference between the strongest and weakest is infinitessimal, by any normal human scale. Races, especially in the mountains, are won by the slimmest of strength/endurance advantages... which is why doping is so tempting: when you're surrounded by guys who can all dial it up to 10, you want something that can help you go to 11. [And from this point on, my new euphamism for doping is "going to 11."]

Anyway, my point is that if Vino's body is diverting any portion of his resources to heal internal injuries, it won't take much to derail him from the lead group on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. Since it was one of those things, let's hope he too doesn't go out like that.

Yet another wrinkle: let's assume Vino is OK and will recover... but now he's tossed a minute to his rivals. Do they get complacent? Because if they do, Vino will almost surely make them pay with his attacks. Like any aggressive breed of dog, he's more dangerous cornered than if he were out in front, untroubled by his GC ranking. A minute is peanuts in the Alps and Pyrenees. So Cadel, Levi, Carlos, unless Vino is limping tomorrow, you might as well pretend that little lead you have on him doesn't even exist.

One last wrinkle: if Klöden is OK and Vino is hurt, at what point does Astana flip the switch? I'm expecting the worst on Klödi, so this may be irrelevant. But if he were OK and had some 1.45 on his captain, and if that lead were to go out at all... Astana would have to think hard, and fast, about who their leader is.

Anyway, we know who gets the losers tag today. Other W&L notes:

  • Sylvain Chavanel (winner) makes good by seizing an early KOM overall lead. Better still, he actually brings some pedigree to the maillot pois competition. Smart move by him: France will no doubt rally behind him for the next couple weeks, which given Cofidis' goals should mean fabulous exposure for the sponsor. Let's hope he can put the ~:> to the test.
  • Zabel (winner), Mr. Consistency. I'm pissed about it, but the majority says he's in his rightful place. There's no arguing with the basic logic: guys who want to win Green need to be able to get over at least some of the climbs intact. Freire (winner) gets in back in the maillot vert chase now too. Great drama!
  • Pippo Pozzato (winner)... he outsprinted Freire, Bennati and Zabel! OK, so he can't handle the mass sprints, but in his element, he's got a huge turn of speed. He's a classics rider, and in the end this was a classics stage.