Stage 10 – Virenque, right on schedule.

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As I (and the vast majority of the cycling world) predicted, France’s cherished climber Richard Virenque went off the front today and claimed a hearty victory for his native country on Bastille day. It’s almost a bit boring watching him take a massive leap off the front at exactly the same place in the tour each year. You could almost set your watch by it. But when you calculate that he won the stage by over five minutes, it’s hard to call an effort like his anything other than staggering.

Leaving the peloton at the 30-40 km mark with partner in crime Axel Merckx (yes, son of 5-time winner Eddy), they got a remarkable 10 minute gap on the field at one point. Apparently the two struck a deal that Axel would let Virenque win all the coveted King of the Mountains points (which go towards the polka-dot jersey) if Virenque would stay with him and help Axel to the finish. But it seems Virenque felt Merckx was holding him back and strolled away from him with about 70 km to go. So Virenque did a solo time trial to the end, holding off the peloton just fine on the longest day of the Tour.

Lance & the other rivals sprinted in over five minutes, later, not terribly worried about Virenque’s place in the GC. (His performance usually fades after a few of these efforts, but don’t be surprised to see him do the same thing again within a day or two.) He’ll usually drop a good 20-30 min back eventually.

A sad note for Tyler Hamilton fans: as some of you may know, his dog “Tugboat” has been ailing for some time, and today they found out he has terminal cancer. Unfortunately, he will have to be put to sleep Thursday while Tyler’s racing. An absolutely awful tragedy for Tyler as he’s had this dog for a long time. As dog owners know, this will be quite a blow to his morale. But hopefully it will inspire Tyler to dedicate a stage win to Tugboat—perhaps on Alpe d’Huez? That’s my prediction. I've known Tyler since we ski raced together in New England and I hope he and his wife get through this the best they can. But if you’d like to send Tyler and his wife Haven your condolences, visit:

http://www.tylerhamilton.com/

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(w/ Tyler at the '98 Tour)

They Pyrenees start Friday, but tomorrow’s stage offers another opportunity for a good breakaway effort. It’s actually a rare stage in that it finishes 400 meters lower in altitude than it starts, but it is hilly throughout. I’m sure Virenque will go again, but maybe some young opportunist will up the ante.

As for me, I finally leave the states and fly off to France tomorrow, and I can’t wait another minute. Riding in Seattle has been fine, but it’s no comparison to the cycling heaven that awaits. I’ll actually land in Geneva but will be riding in the Alps ASAP. The daily riding reports will get much more interesting once over there.

Cheers, and I’ll be back with an update Friday night after the first Pyrenean stage.

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