Did You Say, "Turd Inference?"

The Tour de France just passed its midpoint, winding this weekend over the middle of France from two hard and important stages in the Pyrénées last week to three even harder and more decisive stages in the Alps next week.

In Thursday's second Pyrenean stage, the Tour's eleventh, Floyd Landis, the American riding for Phonak, took the yellow jersey from Cyril Dessel, a Frenchman on the AG2R team. I was a bit disappointed to see Dessel slide to second because, as Samuel Abt reported in the Times, he rides with a hearing aid - possibly even a Phonak device, since two years ago he rode for Phonak as a kind of riding advertisement. Sharing a hearing-aid brand is probably the oddest tie I've ever had to an elite athlete, if you're keeping track at home.

Landis gave up the jersey after wearing it for just one stage. On Saturday, he ceded it (apparently by plan) to Oscar Pereiro, who had started the day's stage in a whopping 46th place, almost a half hour down. Pereiro, of the Caisse d’Épargne team, and Jens Voigt, an aggressive rider with the weakened CSC team, were the survivors of one of the longest-ever breakaways in the Tour de France; Voigt got the stage win while Pereiro got the big prize, which he wore through the last transitional stage on Sunday and into Monday's rest day.

Now, the Alps loom. Three horrific stages include a total of five climbs so tough that they are listed as "hors categorie" (HC) - beyond classification - and will almost certainly decide the winner of the Tour. Tuesday's stage 15 forces the riders over the Col d'Izoard before ascending the storied l'Alpe d'Huez. Seventeen times, the winner of the stage to the Alpe has also won the Tour. Wednesday's even harder stage 16 includes two more HC mountains, including the 50-kilometer-long Col du Galibier and Col de la Croix Fer; its sheer difficulty may seal the previous day's results or show up the victor on the Alpe as an impostor. If there's anything left to decide after those two days, Thursday's Alpine coda, featuring one HC climb at the end of the stage, will go a long way to deciding it.

The consensus is that Landis is in control. Like the last American to win the Tour, he's a very good climber with a funny first name. And though he's never yet won a road stage in the Tour, he might as well do it this year, en route to standing atop the podium on the Champs-Élysées. Tactically, giving up the yellow jersey was a way to create a debt which Pereiro's team can balance by helping help Phonak in the Alps - an alliance that will surely strengthen Landis at the expense of other riders and teams in the Alps and thus afterwards, all the way to the time trial in the Tour's penultimate stage. We'll know how things have played out by the time the first racer hits the twenty-one switchbacks of l'Alpe d'Huez on Tuesday afternoon.

email: christopher at tassava dot com