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The Hidden X-Factor

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Just a short post over lunch; though fear not, Girbecco will be back this evening. While little changed today, the Block Haus Battle was nonetheless a big surprise to me. A mere two days ago I drove a stake through the hopes of both Levi Leipheimer (still dead) and Danilo Di Luca (very much undead). I celebrated the upcoming battle of the race's two strongest GC riders, Sastre and Menchov, the two clear winners on Monday. I surmised that after a rest day the battle would resume on the slopes of La Maiella, home to the Block Haus route. Barring the usual x-factors.

What I hadn't counted on -- an underappreciated factor -- was the rest day itself. This is an element of the otherwise accessible sport of cycling that us tifosi can't fully appreciate: why resting for a day is such a bad idea. But GC riders can usually be heard grumbling about an upcoming rest day prior to a megastage, for two reasons. First, they are bike riders, not media stars (usually), so lounging around a reporter-infested hotel for a day doesn't sit too well. Worse, a day off would be fatal to many sets of legs amidst a three week race. Maybe someone else can provide the physiological explanation, but my rudimentary understanding is that your body wants to start healing, and it's important to keep the legs moving to stave off the healing and retain the snap in your legs. I suspect there are riders who do fine after a mellow day, but they aren't the majority, so GC guys cover their bases by spending the "day off" hammering up and down the available roads to stay loose.

Well, the rest day definitely came back to bite Denis Menchov, and may have gotten Carlos Sastre as well. The former said as much -- he knew from the start that he didn't feel great. Sastre hasn't admitted any problems, telling AS "I have not found evil, they simply were better than me." OK, but two days ago you were better than they, and the only intervening factor was the rest day. So maybe, Carlos, you found evil after all.

Anyway, I just wanted to raise this. We try to find predictable elements in this sport, but there's always something else out there which can turn the race on its head. Granted, the only part of the race to be literally upended is the third step of the podium, but if Di Luca and Menchov repeat today's efforts on Friday, Menchov's jersey will be in jeopardy. I am not counting on that; I suspect Menchov has paid his rest-day punishment in full. But, well, you can once more understand why doping was so de rigeur for so long. Cycling is one endless succession of X-factors, thanks to the nature of the human body, so anything you can do to control the unknown is tempting indeed.

Oh, and researching this piece caused me to see who won the Champs' League final, which I am supposed to watch in about six hours. The sacrifices I make around here...