What a first week itís been at the tour, a veritable crash fest that has spared virtually no one. The weather has been atrocious and the desire to win has almost been palpable in my lounge as I watch with my heart in my mouth. But best of all NZ cyclist Julian Dean has been on fire.
Not only do we have a kiwi in the tour this year but heís been in amongst the action almost every day. While I continue to nurse bruises on my forehead from repeatedly banging it on the coffee table every time some sports presenter announces where Julian finished the stage and that he is 121st overall, I am well and truly consoled as I watch him drill the field from 700m out.
Stage 8 finally paid off for Deanís Norwegian team mate Thor Hushovd, as he bolted to the line to claim the victory after a blistering lead out from our man. The win catapulted Hushovd back into the running for the maillot vert (green jersey). The battle for the green jersey is already shaping up to be the one to watch. While there are two or three riders in the hunt for the yellow jersey I feel that good old Lance will prove to be too well prepared. Meanwhile, the battle for the green jersey is turning into a see-saw battle with the lead changing almost every day. The changes being wrought largely by misfortune as the riders career across roads that look like theyíve been smeared with Vaseline.
Itís looking like a five man race with a couple of Aussies at the top at the moment. Going into the rest day is Aussies top whinger, Robbie McEwen who holds a nine point lead. Itís rare to see an interview with Robbie where heís not pissed about something or someone. Despite having the charisma of a drowned Koala heís damn fast. He took the jersey back off the perennial Aussie battler, Stuey OíGrady, who also joined McEwen the other day having a whinge about other riders sprinting. Imagine that, other riders trying to beat you for the win Ė inconceivable. Iíd like to remind our Tasman neighbours that they too used to be those other fellaís getting in amongst it before they hit the big time. Itís a bike race guys, just race.
The Aussie wonít have it all their own way though, with a couple of wily Germans in there, the sorcerer and his apprentice if you will. Erik Zabel, a winner of the maillot vert on 6 previous occasions has quietly made his way up to third spot. This guy knows how to win the jersey and continues to have the form to do it. Some of that knowledge he passed on to former team mate and lead out man Danilo Hondo while at Telekom, who is also within striking distance. Hondo has proven very consistent so far but Iíll be keen to see just how the hillier stages treat him.
Of course my favourite is (and always has been) Thor Hushovd. Heís fast but heís also strong being a former U23 world TT champ. Heís likely to survive longer on a lot of the hillier stages and pick up points, with the only other rider in the top five likely to stay up there being OíGrady. Heís also getting faster as the tour goes on relative to the other guys and with the best lead out man in the bunch is going to be right up there.
And thatís just the green jersey. While the yellow jersey competition doesnít hot up for a few more days yet weíve already seen the hopes of a few riders dented, none more so than Iban Mayo. A crash as the riders approached the first pave section put pay to most of his tour hopes. The crash occurred in the most unlikely place, right near the front of the bunch with Armstrongís team mate Benjamin Noval one of the first to hit the deck. Thereís been a lot of debate here too about tour etiquette, something the big Texan tends to make a song and dance about. He didnít seem too stressed about it though when he joined with the other contenders to put the boot into poor old Iban. I couldnít help feeling sorry for Iban as he bounced along the cobbles in a ridiculously large gear looking like a fish out of water (or on a bicycle at least). Of course, some would say that driving it through the cobbles to drop those riders who struggle there is just good tactics. Much the same as a 50kg Spaniard riding hard up a mountain. I couldnít agree more.
And France has found something to smile about in tour leader Thomas Voeckler. Hopefully for the sake of those that are actually road side theyíll be yelling something other than Allez Richard (said Ullay Rishard). Itís no wonder that French cycling is in such a sad state when their cycling hero is a self confessed tackler with all the looks and poise of a brill creamed weasel. Allez Thomas. Iíll refuse to drink French wine if Virenque wins the KOM again. Fortunately the new rules mean that this is a lot less likely and for the first time in a few years the guy who wins this title might actually be able to climb. Apart from the break Virenque made last year how many mountain top finishes did you see him at near the front.
Things are about to get exciting. Keep an eye out also for the Lanterne Rouges top excuses to use on your boss to explain your absence after being glued to the screen all night.