Thursday, July 13, 2006

Today's stage of the Tour de France just ended, with Menchov beating out Leipheimer and Landis at the finish line. This was the big day, the first mountain stage with five category 1 climbs including the Tourmalet and the Portillon. They finished in Spanish territory at Baqueira Beret, a well-known ski resort in the Pyrenees. It's in the Aran Valley, a small corner of Catalonia where the native language is Aranese, not Catalan. Aranese is a dialect of Occitan, and it's spoken by like a thousand people.

I like the Tour de France. I like endurance sports, since the only sport I was ever good at was distance running. What I actually like most about the Tour is the French countryside, though.

In case you were wondering who all those people dressed in orange waving flags that look like the Union Jack in orange, green and white, they're Basques and that's the regional flag. Fine, great, wonderful, being proud of your land and supporting your homeboy cyclists is totally cool with me. The guys with the flags showing a large black blotch with four arrows pointing to it and the slogan "Euskal Presoak Euskal Herria" are not fine, great, or wonderful, though. They're ETA supporters calling for ETA prisoners to be concentrated in prisons in the Basque Country, which the government won't agree to because if they were all together they'd take the prisons over like the IRA did the Maze.

In the recent past the Basque fans, especially, have been notorious for getting drunk and spewing insults and spit at Lance Armstrong. This year they appear to be much better behaved.

I'm rooting for Juan Antonio Flecha and Levi Leipheimer this year. Flecha is from here in Barcelona, he's a gutsy middle-of-the-pack guy who wins an occasional sprint. He went on a break today with two other guys and stayed in front for at least half the race. Everybody likes him, too, he seems like a real nice guy. Leipheimer is a guy whose career I've followed with some interest; he used to be one of Lance's team and then struck out on his own in 2003, I think, and has done well, finishing in the top ten in the Tour every year since. I particularly like him because in his spare time he works to help homeless and abandoned animals, which is one of my personal causes. Leipheimer was in the front three today, the guys who sprinted it out, along with another guy I like, Floyd Landis.

Landis takes over the yellow jersey for tomorrow. Leiphemer is farther back in the standings, since he had a disastrous time trial that cost him five minutes.

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