Well, did I say it or did I say it? Day before the rest day, GC contenders tired from the TT yesterday, lower placed guys looking to make something happen = successful breakaway.
Sylvain Calzati, another French winner, took the stage today in front of a delighted crowd in the heart of Brittany. Brittany is considered by most French to be the heart and soul region of French cycling. Brittany is home to riders like Louison Bobet and Bernard Hinault, both former winners of the Tour. Calzati is a classy rider who is frequently in the results, though this is his first race win. Usually, you read about him in doomed breakaways, riding for the team. He's proven today that he is plenty strong and deserved the win. Granted, a lazy and disinterested field let him get away with a few other riders, but when he sensed that his companions were going to get caught, he took off on his own to secure the first and biggest win of his career. I never would have thought I'd be typing that a second French rider has won a stage of the Tour this year. That's two stage wins for French riders in the first half of the event. Who'd-a-thunk it possible?
Tomorrow is the first rest day of this Tour. Domestiques will be resting their tired legs and getting ready for the real fight ahead as we get to the first mountain stages this week. GC contenders will be working on their strategies and riders will be out for light spins to keep the legs loose, but mostly just lounging around resting their legs and fueling their bodies. Eat, drink, sleep, massage, team meetings and then more of the same. GC leaders will have to do the usual press stuff, but for the most part the rule of the day is rest.
Stage 9 is darned near board flat, with a slightly downhill finish. It'll be the last chance for the sprinters to do anything other than huddle at the back of the pack and cry all day. Soon the speedsters will be suffering like... like... like I do when the road points up. By stage 10 the heroes of the Tour will be the guys who look like they haven't had a good meal in a few months (and they haven't). This will be when we enter the time of year when skinny little bony guys are as popular as rock stars. Boonen and the other fast guys will be reduced to whiny, snivvly little babies as the real climbs get served up. Wednesday is the first real climbing stage and it comes right after a flat stage, so people will really be sufferin' to adjust to the type of riding. Without Lance here to stamp his authority on the event, like years past, expect crazy crap to happen. Yesterday's TT might seem a lot less like fiction once we hit the real climbs on Wednesday. The Col de Soudet will hurt, as it is an HC (Haute Categorie- that means "above category"... which means "will reduce grown men to crying babies"), but the Col de Marie-Blanque is oh-so-steep. Expect time losses and expect them from people you wouldn't expect to lose time. I predict some of the pseudo favorites will be shelled into oblivion. Landis might even try to crack a few folks... if his legs make the adjustment to the change in tempo and pedaling style.
So now it is time for the riders to take a nap... they've earned it.