Yesterday's stage was notable to me for many reasons, Mikel Astarloza won his first race as a pro, we were treated to perhaps the greatest hair based breakaway duo of all time when Pellizotti Bawn Chicka Bawm Bawm and Karpets wah wa wa wa wa owww got away together, and Jens Voigt had to abandon because of a nasty high speed crash on the last descent. I am, like many cycling fans, very fond of the racing style and cheery attitude of Jens. And if I am to be honest, Jens is the racer that I want to emulate the most, and I think that because I am delusional. But my personal misconceptions aside, I do hope that Jens makes a complete recovery – as watching races without him involved is a thought too depressing to face.
Yesterday also saw another chapter written into the Lance and Alberto saga. Alberto bounced away with Kloden briefly on the climb yesterday, leaving Lance with the other contenders. Lance then waited a bit and jumped up to Alberto's group, you know, to make himself available to help or get water bottles or giggle hysterically despite himself if Berto were to slip off the side of the mountain. Alberto did appreciate the help of course - he said so himself:
"I value very much what he did today. He made a great effort to come up to the group, but in the end I didn't need him," said Contador.
See? He's totally thankful for Lance – he just doesn't need him.
Today's stage is a big one with four cat 1 climbs and a cat 2 thrown in just to be annoying. This is a day that will shake up the race's outcome like a Yahtzee cup at a retirement village. Today will require some audacious attacks from anyone hoping to move up the GC, as the race is running out of sloped opportunities. This could be a day when Sastre finally does his "big attack", or Menchov will finally realize that it's July, Andy Schleck may look down at his Hello Kitty watch and see he's running out of days, and we could even see Cadel risk it all by going from the gun and salvaging a dismal Tour - wait for it... Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!
117k to go, and I tune in to the delightful sight of Thor SMASHing his way off the front of the race. Will this year's Tour ever stop enchanting me?
Thor SMASH is off the front of the race to get the few green jersey points in the valley after this climb – which is something that you would see Cav do if he were in green, I'm sure...
I can't wait to see Thor SMASH his way down the descent here.
The Cervelo team car comes up to Thor SMASH, he tells them, "I am to the SMASHing right now, can you the hand to me my bottle of herring juice?"
113k to go, the group behind is arriving at the summit, but I've been so transfixed by Thor SMASHing up front, I have no idea who they are.
Thor SMASH is on the descent now, the roads are straining under the weight of the SMASHing.
VDV moves to the front of the pack on the climb.
106k to go, Thor SMASHing the descent. He radios back to the team car, "I am dropping the Cadel like the goat drops the used grass."
97k to go, Columbia complaining that Thor SMASH isn't chasing enough today.
96k to go, I am so enthralled by this Thor SMASH descent that I am forgoing using the bathroom.
They show an overhead shot of the pack moving through a snaking descent, which does not help with the forgoing of the bathroom usage.
94k to go, Thor SMASH is at the green jersey sprint line. The SMASHing is complete, he looks at the camera, grabs his green jersey and says, "I have to achieved the maximum points, now I shall ride through the next hill as a time of resting."
It looks as if Thor SMASH will try to stay out and get the next green jersey sprint. He's not going to fall back and let the race dictate his success – George, did you hear that?
So if you had said a few days ago that Thor SMASH would be off the front solo for about half of stage 17, you would've assumed that Bob Roll had said it while on a Ripple binge, no?
VDV interview – he says that Wiggo will be looking to crush people in the ITT tomorrow.
82k to go, and look who's still SMASHing.
81k to go. Whoooooa! Thor SMASH almost Schlecks it on the wet descent! He leaves a divot on the road where he put his foot down – which he will have to go back and replace, bike racing is like golf in that way.
The break gets to Thor's SMASH divot and guys hit the deck, Menchov falls, as does Txurruka – making a noise with his bike that sounds like his name?
77k to go, Thor SMASHing gingerly - is that possible?
76k to go, Menchov is taken out by a white line – ™ Tom Boonen.
Thor SMASH has two minutes on the chase group. Incredible!
71k to go, Menchov Tchmils the road furniture. Can he see more than 15 feet in front of him?
Here's an Andy Schleck interview - how is it that he sounds more like my mental Thor SMASH than Thor SMASH himself does?
Sastre falls back to the team car, to get his rear derailleur lubed, and just happens to get to hold onto the car for a long time, those two facts are just a coincidence, of course.
67k to go, Thor SMASH has 2 minutes on the chase and 5:44 on the main field. He's got one cat 2 climb to go before the last sprint points of the day.
Has Menchov crashed again? Is Razzy in the team car directing him?
63k to go, Thor SMASH still holding his advantage, I doubt he'll hold off the pack on the last two cat 1 climbs of the day.
Here's a Lance interview – Frankie asks about when Lance beat Kloden in 2005 on the same finishing climb as today. We hear a whimper off camera.
61k to go, Astana take over the pacemaking, trying to reel in the SMASHing. That sentence makes me giggle.
Cadel slipping off back again, unable to match the SMASH?
60k to go, Thor SMASH 2k away from the top of the climb, he's starting to look like he going to pass a stone. And a Thor SMASH stone is the size of Gorka Marcotegui.
58k to go, Thor SMASH gets the maximum mountain points. He radios back to the team car to have them tell Pellizotti Bawn Chicka Bawm Bawm that he's his spotted lady llama.
Thor SMASH gets one more descent off the front before the grim reality of gravity takes over on the last two climbs.
The Schlecks will have to try to dislodge Wiggo today, as they TT like Germans break dance – slowly and sometimes disastrously.
The SMASHing is back on the descent. Menchov is chasing back on to the back of the break, just in time to eat it again on the descent?
45k to go, Thor SMASH has a few kilometers to go until the green jersey line. Which might signal the end of the day's SMASHing.
Thor SMASH goes over the green jersey line, his gap to the chase and the pack has been drastically reduced. He turns to the camera and gives a thumbs up as Levi drones on about crashing and such.
41k to go, Thor SMASH still SMASHing, the break is going to catch him soon.
Barredo catches up to Thor SMASH, you may remember Barredo from his desperate attempt to try and drop Marcus Burghardt as he fiddled with his zipper on stage 18 of last year's Tour, yeah that didn't work out so well...
37k to go, Sastre jumps on the climb, and the race begins.
36 k to go, Sastre passes Thor SMASH.
Sastre is working at the front to try and drop anyone with dead legs. Voeckler jumps up to Sastre to get some TV time for his "Tommy Face".
35k to go, VDV and Wiggo are riding with the contenders. Frank Schleck at the front, trying to drop a struggling Andy? He's covered by Awareness.
Andy Schleck attacks, Berto covers. Lance and Wiggo get to the move also.
Andy counters Franks effort, Berto covers with Kloden. Lance, Wiggo and Frank gapped. Frank jumps up to the front move.
32k to go, Wiggo is riding tempo, VDV catches back on with Briskie. Will Lance allow Kloden to move ahead on GC? Can he do anything about it anyway?
So it's now the Schlecks against Berto and Kloden at the front of the race.
Sastre is now falling back, did Thor SMASH climb better than Sastre today? Is Thor SMASH going to do a Wiggo now and go on a crash diet? How will he limit himself to just one smoked goat a day?
30k to go, will Lance jump up to Contador and Kloden to "help" again?
29k to go, there goes Lance, Wiggo follows. Lance working for Garmin? That seems like it merits a -1 on the phallometer.
Wiggo starts to work with Lance, as he's no fool.
27 k to go, VDV gets back to the Wiggo group who are at 1:12. If Lance is playing the loyal teammate, he will just follow the Garmin moves right now, anyone thinks he's going to do that? Anyone?
26k to go, there's two descents before the finish, Frank Schleck releasing a bit of pee in his shorts.
24k to go, here comes the final hill. Wiggo. Lance and VDV at about 1:10. Kloden is the virtual Lance on the road.
Kloden has a discussion with Berto, replays message from the Hog telling him that his tires look really, really flat.
21k togo, VDV giving Lance a show on teammating.
19k to go, the Schlecks are working to gap Lance and Wiggo, as tomorrow is a ITT, which is not so good for them.
Kloden might be setting himself up to hit the podium in Paris, um, yay?
18k to go, VDV dropping, there's always the descent, sigh...
C'mon VDV hang in there!
16 k to go, Andy goes to the front and Berto counters! He drops Kloden. I hope Alberto has a good food taster at the hotel.
Is Alberto trying out for Saxo Bank today?
If these three stay together, is there any way the Schlecks blow the win?
15k to go, the Hog comes up in the team car to Kloden – tells him to try and make it up to the 3 Saxo Bank riders up the road.
Wiggo and Lance are 2:30 back.
14k to go, Lance attacks to move up and "help" Kloden.
11k to go, Berto and Frank have a discussion on the descent, Alberto asks how nice the Saxo Team bus is.
10k to go, Kloden riding desperately to hold off Lance. Is Paul commentating on the same race that I am watching?
Up front Berto, gives Frank a pat in the back. Asks for Bjarne's email address.
Kloden holding off Lance by 30 seconds. Ignoring the steady chorus of "Wait for Lance, Wait for Lance." that's coming through his earpiece.
So will Contador gift the Schlecks a win today, for helping him to drop Kloden?
3k to go, Berto sitting on. Will he screw the Schlecks over?
2k to go, Alberto pushes Frank ahead.
There's the finish, Frank wins, as discussed amongst the 3 Saxo Bank riders earlier.
Lance catches Kloden, and now rides to limit his losses to... Contador?
Lance gaps Kloden at the line, reminding Andreas that payback is a bitch. -1
Wiggo drops 3:09, which the Schlecks might drop in the first 500 meters in tomorrow's TT.
You know that old box of bike parts you've put in your closet?
Recorded inside the press room at Grenoble Velodrome, we bring you Episode #8 of the Insider from the 2011 Tour de France, our final podcast.
Recorded 1,850 metres above sea level atop the famed Alpe d'Huez, we bring you Episode #7 of the Insider podcast from the 2011 Tour de France.