Well yesterday was all about climbing and today was all about riding fast, both up and downhill, but also being able to keep a level head and a straight line through the twisty narrow roads of the Vaucluse. These riders are just as unbelievably fast through the tightest towns and villages as they were up Mont Ventoux. The stage from Vaison La Romaine to Grenoble took in some of the prettiest roads in the region and the most breathtaking scenery this side of the Alps.
I doubt the riders cared much for the view. The early sections were tricky and in parts dangerous, but as many riders say it’s all part of the job and after riding parts of toady’s stage it’s safe to say that they risk a lot more than missing out on a bit of sightseeing.
All bike races need smooth roads and no traffic. The roads in the early parts of today’s stage were far from smooth and in parts totally unmade, there were even road workers fixing pot holes as we drove the course in the morning. But the riders sailed across them.
The Dauphine is a great race to watch the stars and not get stuck in too much traffic, there are plenty of spectators but far less than there will be at the Tour in three weeks time. If you can get the time and you want to see a pro race up close then try a stage or two of the Dauphine, it’s so much more accessible than the Tour and in many more ways friendly and welcoming. Riding the Parcours is easy too and the Gendarmes are far less anxious than when on Tour duty, so you can ride and watch, without the hassle of thousands of spectators and with much of the traffic avoiding the route, the roads are quiet too.
As for the race it was certainly a day of perfect conditioning for Lance and co. Axel Merckx is without doubt a chip off the old block and today launched an audacious attack from a breakaway of 13 that had formed on the Col de Premol, the first real mountain of the day. This breakaway pulled a big lead out of the tired ‘Ventoux weary’ peloton with all the race favourites in it. On the following Col de Banchet, Merckx looked comfortable and in control. Interesting that he rides a Merckx bike and the rest of his team ride Ridley, such is the power of the name, I’m sure Axel gets fed up with the comparison to his father and he is a very different rider and personality. Today he showed he has the same ability to make a break stick, from a long way from home.
The chasing group didn’t seem to be bothered about him, more so about each other. As they followed him two riders escaped Mazzoleni and Landaluze. The bunch appeared at this point to have given up on the chase and Landis’s Phonak boys were well in control of things at the front of the main field. Merckx won a fantastic victory after a break of over 100 kms, he’s put himself in a great position overall, however more mountains tomorrow may spell the end for the big man from Belgium.
Levi Leiphiemer had a spill on the way into Grenoble but appears to be uhurt and finished in the main field. After riding some of these roads myself I’m amazed that he was the only casualty and as for how fast these boys go… you just have to see it to believe it, I am full of respect.
1. Axel Merckx (DVL – BEL) 5:15:01
2. Inigo Landaluze (EUS – ESP) @ 2:15
3. Ben Nozal (DSC – ESP) @ 5:45
4. Eddy Mazzoleni @ s.t.
5. Paolo Bossoni (FAS – ITA) @ 6:15
Peloton @ 9:36
1. Inigo Landaluze (EUS – ESP) 20:41:15
2. Axel Merckx (DVL – BEL) @ 2:32
3. Levi Leipheimer (GST – USA) @ 2:51
4. Lance Armstrong (DSC – USA) @ 3:12
5. Alexandre Vinokourov (TMO – KAZ) @ 3:17
Leiphiemer, Landis, Vino, Botero, Armstrong and co are certainly working hard to win this race and looks as if tomorrow could be the chance for the Texan to attack his nearest rivals – tomorrow’s finish is perfect for a dig as only Armstrong can, from the front. He will be aware there is danger coming from several areas, areas he has never expected before and his team mates will certainly be busy fending off early attacks. Should be a good one.
LOADS more pictures in the Gallery. It’s being updated daily so keep an eye on it.