Lance Armstrong clinched a seventh victory in the Tour de France today by decisively winning the Stage 20 Time Trial. I was not surprised that Lance won or that Jan Ullrich finished a close second. What did surprise me, however, was the relatively poor performance of Ivan Basso and the incredibly bad luck and nervousness of Mickael Rasmussen.
When I talked with Phil Liggett a few days ago, he confirmed that Stage 20 was very hilly and technical. This is how it appeared when I looked at the course using Google Earth. If this was clear to me, you'd think it would be clear to the Director Sportifs and other personnel of the leading teams.
One of the things I noticed was that the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team chose spoked wheels during Stage 20. Most of the other leading teams opted for rear disk wheels. Rear disk wheels are better suited to less technical courses. They tend to reduce the maneuverability of a time trial bike rather significantly.
The race was pretty significantly affected by these choices. Mickael Rasmussen fell while trying to get around a traffic circle near the beginning of the stage. He had equipment problems, was unsteady on his bike for the rest of the race, and lost 7 minutes 47 seconds overall. Ivan Basso rode strongly at the very beginning of his time trial, but looked very tentative in the middle. OLN analysts later suggested he had gone out too quickly at the beginning of his ride, but that doesn't explain the way he handled his bike in the middle third of the course.
Santiago Botero of Phonak, who also rode a rear disk missed a turn and rode into the crowd early on in the OLN broadcast. The worst handling problem that befell Discovery was Paolo Salvodelli at the first traffic circle, but he was not riding a rear disk. He was able to keep the bike under control and didn't crash.
In spite of these issues, I thought that this was one of the most exciting time trials I'd seen in a long time. The course was really challenging. The television crews from OLN and France Television did a fantastic job in terms of getting the right pictures on the screen at the right times. About the only thing to complain about from a TV-watching standpoint was the chyron graphics that OLN made itself. In some cases, they were poorly timed or not up to date. This is not the only time this has happened to OLN during the 2005 Tour, but Liggett and Sherwen did a good job of correcting information that was put on-screen that wasn't correct.