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Monday, July 17, 2006
Pyrenees vs. Alps? Here are the differences

By Bobby Julich
Special to ESPN.com

Paying a visit to the team
Bobby Julich in happier days ... on his bike. (Photo: Getty Images)

There is no worse place to be -- at a bike race when you can't actually ride in it. I went to visit Team CSC and body therapist Ole Foli in Gap during Sunday's Stage 14 for treatment of the injuries I sustained earlier in the Tour de France. It was very weird. You see your teammates, say hello to them, but you feel like an outsider. Obviously, they have different priorities, and for good reason. But my main focus for being there was treatment. While Ole was able to drain a lot of the fluid in my wrist through lymphatic treatment, I am still feeling pain in my hip and adductor muscle, and I am dealing with the reality that my body is not bouncing back as quickly as I had hoped.

When you're flinching, protecting an injury by using other muscles to compensate, you feel it in other areas. I am wondering now if I was paying too much attention to my wrist injury and ignoring my limp. Did we overlook something? Normally, we cyclists ignore pain or deal with it. But now I am wondering if I need to pay more attention to my hip.

I am getting sick of taking days off from the bike. I am likely going to see a specialist over the next few days and see what my options are. If I need more time off, I might hit a point of no return condition-wise, where I'll have to take the rest of the season off. Or doctors might tell me there's nothing seriously wrong and I can return to training for the Tour of Germany. I hate to say it, but racing back into competition only to stop short of your goal isn't the most intelligent thing to do.

If I sound confused, it's because I am! I am hoping to get some answers soon. Either way, I plan to be in Paris to spend time with the team at the end of the Tour.

-- Bobby Julich

Now the real race begins at the Tour de France, and I believe the overall winner will be determined over the next three days.

While we've already seen mountain stages in this Tour, there are some major differences between the Pyrenees and the Alps.

• I saw all three Alps stages before the Tour started, and I was really impressed with the quality of the roads. The final climb to L'Alpe d'Huez on Tuesday, the most famous climb in all of cycling, is particularly nice since it leads to a resort at the top of the mountain. These roads tend to have a smooth layer of asphalt compared to other roads in the Tour that are really only used for the Tour.

A lot of roads along the Pyrenees routes are narrower and are chip-sealed (that is, a tar-based road with gravel over it). Those roads are a lot more tricky for riders, especially in hot temperatures -- the gravel can start to melt and tar gets on your tires or you can kick up gravel.

• Speaking of temperatures, another plus for the Alps is cooler conditions. I've experienced much cooler temps in the Alps compared to the Pyrenees, a benefit for any rider.

• The main difference between the two: gradients. I always like to climb at a greater pace, and the Alps have longer climbs with more gradual gradients. It suits my style! In the Pyrenees, you have to do major accelerations to get over the shorter, steeper climbs. I am sure half the riders in the field prefer the short accelerations, but I think the style of the Alps leads to a better race.

• One of the things you see along any mountain stage is the fans. L'Alpe d'Huez is the place where fans flock to see riders. In the Pyrenees, you mainly have Basque fans clad in Euskaltel orange. They wave flags and get out of the way at the last minute. There will be a sea of orange in the Alps, but this time it will be the Dutch. The L'Alpe d'Huez has been a pilgrimage for Dutch fans, who have produced many great climbing cyclists in recent years.

You'll see more security and wider guardrails along the Alps routes (although some parts are sketchy), but you'll also see (and hear) more rowdiness during Tuesday's stage. The fans can get very raucous, and quite a lot of beer has been tossed our way over the years, particularly on the switchbacks (or turns). The other two Alps stages won't be as crazy.

Each Alps stage has aggressive starts, and the riders will immediately climb out of the gate Tuesday. They might be in a valley, but it's not flat! Mentally, riders just have to be ready to suffer.

When a rider looks at the next three stages, he goes into it with a goal -- is he just trying to win a stage? Is he going for the overall lead in the general classification, planting himself out front at all times? For a sprinter, the race is about survival, and he won't be up front. Other riders who have a chance at winning, or at least the top 10 or top 5, might conserve more energy and attack on the third day in the Alps.

All the favorites, particularly Floyd Landis, need to be ready from the gun Tuesday. Landis likely will ride by himself. He might have a few teammates with him if there is an attack at the "beyond category" summit of Col d'Izoard at 53 miles. I don't think Landis needs to be overly aggressive Tuesday, but he has to be able to respond to the pure climbers when they attack, riders like Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov, Carlos Sastre and Levi Leipheimer. The destiny of overall leader Oscar Pereiro will happen by itself; Landis doesn't have to dictate it for him.

If you remember Stage 11, when Landis, Menchov and Leipheimer all rode together to the finish, all of them were alone, which is a fantastic and exciting finish to a mountain stage. But Landis' pedal stroke was so strong and he was in complete control. It will be interesting to see if he has the same power Tuesday. And if Landis is wearing yellow at L'Alpe d'Huez, there's no turning back for him.

Bobby Julich, a member of Team CSC, is providing an exclusive diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. The American has been a professional cyclist since 1992. He finished third overall in the 1998 Tour de France and won last year's Paris-Nice race. For more information on Bobby, check out http://www.bobbyjulich.com.