The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Jul 2010

The Spoke Word: Tour de France Stage 3 report

An untimely flat dealt a serious blow to Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France hopes as the most anticipated day of the Tour’s first week delivered on the hype. The cobbles of Stage 3 shredded the peloton, rearranged the overall standings, and knocked one favorite out of the race altogether, as Frank Schleck went out with a broken collarbone.

Norwegian sprinter Thor Hushovd, of Cervelo Test Team, won the stage, sprinting out of a six-man group that included Prologue-winner Fabian Cancellara, who moved back into yellow, and Cancellara’s Saxo Bank teammate Andy Schleck. The latter is Frank’s teammate and younger brother, and most observers’ number-two pick for the overall behind Alberto Contador.

BMC’s Australian captain, Cadel Evans, also finished in the front group and moved up to third overall, 39 seconds behind Cancellara, with Schleck now sixth, at 1:09. Contador, the only other pre-race favorite currently in the top ten, sits in ninth at 1:40. Armstrong, who was near the front group and almost a minute ahead of Contador when he flatted with about 10 miles to go, dropped to 18th overall, 2:30 behind the yellow jersey.

Today’s 132-mile route from Belgium to northern France included six sectors of harsh cobblestones toward the end of the stage. Armstrong’s hope was that he would be able to gain time over featherweight climbers like Contador and Andy Schleck, who tend to suffer on the rough roads.

With about three sectors to go and the field broken up into several small groups, it looked as if Armstrong would indeed gain time on Contador and, at the very least, not lose any to Schleck. He flatted while riding in the gutter next to a section of cobbles, however, and his rivals distanced him as he waited for a wheel change. He spent most of the remaining miles riding alone, trying to limit his losses and rolled across the line more than two minutes down on Schleck and 55 seconds behind Contador.

After three crash-filled stages that have seen off not only Frank Schleck but also GC contender Christian Vande Velde of team Garmin-Transitions—while leaving nearly every other rider in the race with cuts, bruises, or hairline fractures—the race enters four flat, relatively calm stages that should see little change to the overall as the sprinters come to the front.

The next shakeup should come on Sunday, as the race enters the Alps.There’s not a rider in cycling who has shown that he can climb with Contador when the Spaniard attacks. His rivals could target the time trials, but this year’s Tour has only one, a 31-mile test on stage 19—and Contador has developed into one of the best time-trialists in the world, anyway.

Right now Evans would seem to be Contador’s biggest threat, as he can climb and, unlike Andy Schleck, can also time trial. But Evans’ career is littered with mid-race meltdowns—off days that see him drop down the standings. It’s true that anyone can have a bad day. But it’s also true that Contador has never had one, at least not in a race he was trying to win. This Tour is now his to lose.

—John Bradley


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Solar Plane Attempting 24-Hour Flight

A Solar Impulse model HB-SIA  airplane took off from Switzerland Wednesday morning in an attempt to be the first solar-powered plane to fly for 24 hours, according to CNET news. The plane is designed to fly at night with solar power stored during the day.

After climbing to an altitude of nearly 28,000 feet during daylight, pilot Andre Borschberg will take the plane down to 4,900 feet and attempt to keep the plane in flight until sunrise Thursday, local time.

If the attempt is successful, the Solar Impulse team will try a trans-Atlantic flight in 2011 in a slightly lighter model, followed by an around-the-world attempt in 2012.

Seventy designers, engineers, and other specialists began the project seven years ago.  The HB-SIA was unveiled last December and underwent test flights in May.

Updates on the flight are available on Solar Impulses home page, blog, and twitter account.

--Michael Webster

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Video: Rider Relief in Stage 4

Stage 4 of the Tour de France was relatively easy compared to the cobblestone attack of yesterday. Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador stayed close to the front of the peloton. Alessandro Petacchi took first place in the stage, and Fabian Cancellara retains the yellow jersey.

For more videos check out For race analysis check out The Spoke Word.

--Aileen Torres

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Video: Fabian Cancellara Update

Fabian Cancellara, who holds onto the yellow jersey after Stage 4, talks about what he likes to do when he's not in the peloton and about Frank Schleck being out of the game after a collarbone injury on the rough cobblestone streets of Stage 3.

For more videos check out For race analysis check out The Spoke Word.

--Aileen Torres

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Field Tested: The Best Summer Hydration Packs

A few weeks ago, my friend Aileen and I made a rookie mistake, despite being inveterate outdoorsy types. We hiked 12 miles through Santa Fe National Forest equipped with only an 18-oz water bottle between the both of us. Not the smartest move, especially in high desert. Luckily, just when our mouths felt like drywall and the conversation had turned to Will Ferrell's latest hydration technique, we reached the safety of my car. But not before I'd learned a critical lesson: Don't ever leave home without enough water.

Dehydration, simply put, is having too little water in the body, and when untreated can lead to headaches, dry mouth, lethargy, sunken eyes--and brain damage! With summer heating up, it's more important than ever for athletes to stay hydrated. But achieving the right balance of keeping quenched and staying mobile is trickier than it sounds. Fortunately, there are all kinds of hydration systems out there to choose from, some better than others. Depending on the sport, there is an art to wearing water. Here are my top pack picks:

Nathan10_intensityThe Nathan Intensity: One of the main drawbacks to running with a hydration system is sounding like a high-powered washing machine. But this past weekend I ran a half marathon wearing the Intensity, and I barely noticed any water sloshing at all. The straps, made from a breathable, incredibly soft wall mesh were ultra comfortable, leading to a snug, secure fit that didn't restrict movement. Plus, with a two-liter bladder, I had no need to slow down for aid stations. A smart addition to any runner's arsenal. ($85;

Osprey Osprey Raptor 6: The Osprey Raptor 6 just looks badass, and let's admit it, that's half the fun. Streamlined, and more durable than the rest of the systems I tested, the Raptor 6 boasts a clever magnetic clip to keep the 180-degree bite valve in place, as well as sleeves for bike tools and room for a shell. While I found the Raptor 6 a bit sturdy for trail running, it was perfect for hiking and tearing up the singletrack on a mountain bike. Brownie Points: I left the Raptor 6 in a hot car for 24 hours and was surprised to find the two-liter reservoir had kept my water as ice cold as when I had filled it. ($79;

CamelbakCamelBak 2010 Octane 18x: The Octane 18x feels like a favorite blanket--with a two-liter water system and straps. Made from ultra-light materials, I was surprised by how comfortable the Octane 18x was. Boasting the most intuitive design of all the systems I tested (it felt like a regular backpack), it was also the most roomy. I fit a jacket, a phone, a digital camera, a map, and a sandwich inside and that was without unzipping the expandable pocket. With large mesh zippered pockets on the waist belt to keep keys, cameras, and cell phones safe, I was quickly using this pack off the trail, too. A perfect pack for hiking and daytripping. ($90;

--Shauna Sweeney

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