For race-starved fans in the northern hemisphere craving news of any sort, Silly Season for the TdF06 got underway a little earlier than normal. Actually it began back one Sunday in July, when George Hincapie took his first ever stage win…atop the Pla d’Adet no less.
Just like that, a contender is born.
It started out innocently enough. Faithful George was sent up the road by his team boss in a defensive manoeuvre. His loyalty through the years was rewarded as Lance Armstrong sat in the bunch and watched his teammate climb all the way to the top step of the podium.
New Year’s Eve – We Ride With The Pez
With all eyes still focused on the GC in Paris, George’s win was soon forgotten. But with Lance Armstrong’s retirement, Disco management and fans alike began to wonder who might lead the team’s 2006 TdF campaign.
Wouldn’t we all love to know what Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Hincapie are cooking up for 2006. Armstrong might not be racing, but he’s up to his elbows in the team.
Personally, I had never thought of George. Then after a New Year’s beer (or two) over a call to PEZ World Headquarters the possibilities seemed endless. The Pez and me got going on like it was one of our ‘group rides’ on the cobbled bergs of Belgium.
The Yellow Burden
He can’t climb I argued. ‘He won the stage to Pla d’Adet’ the Pez countered. True I acknowledged. However, with Armstrong, Basso and Ullrich content to control the GC from behind it wasn’t a fair test I said…still, he won it, I added.
Big George has Big Shoes to fill.
The Pez sensed an opening. ‘George had to ride for Lance every day – think of what he could do if he had the whole team working for him’. Fair enough I conceded. Then I countered with a psychological blow – ‘it’s different wearing the yellow jersey. It comes packed with the burden of an extra 20kgs when you have to defend every day’.
I continued with my own acceleration sensing I had the Pez roped. Did you see Popo put in that final attack on the climb to Courchevel I asked? Armstrong could barely hold his wheel. He’s the future I said…like I would know.
Can’t TT? Here’s Popovych closing down Vinokourov’s move into Briancon.
I heard a voice behind me – the Pez was still right there, refusing to let go. ‘How is Popo’s time trialling?’ he quipped. I was unable to answer this latest parry. And then the Pez attacked me again – ‘George can TT as well you know’. Not so fast I said. He was almost 2:30 behind Armstrong on the Tour’s final TT and had to breathe the fumes of Basso, Vino, Landis and Evans as well.
‘Sure’ says Pez ‘but how about the prologue’. OK – so he pipped Ullrich in the prologue – but it was just a prologue of…ummm 19km. Pez saw me shifting up a cog and immediately fired another shot – ‘hey, didn’t he also win the prologue at the Dauphine Libere’?
Could Hincapie in Yellow become a common sight?
I mentioned something about grabbing another beer, trying to deflect his latest attack while I regrouped with one of those cheesy tows from a team car passing up bidons. It was hopeless – I couldn’t answer the Pez’ relentless jumps and I imagined his rear wheel winding up the Monteberg in the Belgian fog as I fumbled with my gears.
Why Doesn’t He Pull Through?
He doesn’t have to – he’s Italian…We were both left wondering why Riis had agreed to let Basso ride the Giro. ‘He had to’ said the Pez – ‘Basso is Italian’. I know, but what about the Tour, I wondered aloud? Then again, Il Falco, Discovery Channel’s other likely Tour contender, will presumably be riding to defend his 2005 Giro title.
Bruyneel is keeping his cards close to his chest.
So has Bruyneel already thrown in the towel on the 2006 Tour, hoping instead to gain some major victories at the Belgian Classics and the Giro – races where he knows he has the horses for the courses?…or does he really think Hincapie can climb?