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Stages 10-12, THE BAD BOYS: Jean-Luc Thunevin & A Flashback to Jan Ullrich

Jan Ullrich & Three Bottles from Jean-Luc Thunevin

Stage 10 began in Aurillac, just 240km east of Bordeaux, before running south and towards the region of Languedoc-Rousillion. And while there were a multitude of attacks in the final 10k, nothing could escape the force of HTC, a gale that stops short of nothing, when a Cavendish win is at stake. But wait…what’s this? At 400m, HTC peeled off so that Cavendish could thunder and roar, but there came Andre Greipel, the German rider from Omega Pharma-Lotto, riding up inside the center of the storm.  Sneaking inside the silence of the eye, he bypassed Cavendish for a first time Tour win, across the finish line.

I miss Jan Ullrich, another German, from the Eastern side of town…

As a rider, Jan displayed raw talent, joie de vivre, a voracious appetite, emotional complexities, and flaws; he was a full-fledged, multi-dimensional personality, and not just a racing machine.  And while he only won a single Tour in 1997 (nowhere near that seven win mark), he was the World Time-Trial Champion in 1998, who earned a place on the GC podium at the Tour, for a total of seven years.  A magnet of obstacles, Jan experienced a knee injury that led to a drunk driving conviction in 2002, when he also tested positive for amphetamines because he’d gone clubbing with a few hits of X.  Up and down the GC standings, and so the pendulum swung.  A twinkle or a twitch in the media’s eye, Jan fell pray to the press, who marked every off-season pound gained as another delectable morsels for their own frenzied feast.  In the 2003 Tour de France, the spun bottle turned.  When his long time nemesis, Lance Armstrong, had gotten caught on the strap of a spectator’s musette, Jan demonstrated fair game and big heart.  Waiting on Luz Ardiden for his rival to recover, Ullrich earned the title of Germany’s Sportsman of the Year for his gentlemanly efforts.  When Armstrong was recovered and back in the race, he attacked, smoking Ullrich and leaving Jan 40 seconds behind.  A few days later, Ullrich crashed during the Individual Time Trial, but still he put up a fight.  On the final day of the ’03 Tour, there he was, standing on the podium in 2nd place, a step lower and to Armstrong’s right.

Jean-Luc Thunevin

Born in Algeria, Jean-Luc Thunevin, and his wife Murielle Andraud, bought their first plot of unclassified Bordeaux vines in 1989, in Saint-Emillion. Working against the grain, Thunevin aimed for low yields and in 1991 released his first vintage of Chateau Valandraud, one of the world’s first “garage wines”.  Using new oak and favoring extraction, Thunevin rocked the industry in France, not caring what anyone was thinking.  Each year, Thunevin increased his production, while Robert Parker fed him points. In 1995, Chateau Valandraud wine won a 95 rating from Parker, and soon, its wines were out pricing established Bordeaux classified growths. Coined a “bad boy” and a “black sheep” by Parker, Thunevin crumbled the clos in Bordeaux, home to a very traditional practice.  And though he may not have been living it up in the off season, like Ullrich who played the game of life with desire, Jean-Luc began as an innovator from off the map, who modeled an alternative for the aspiring garagiste wine producer. A self-coined “modern winemaker”, Jean-Luc now produces six different wines at Chateau Valandraud, but he’s also a Bordeaux négociant for Jean-Luc Thunevin Selections.   Never missing a window to attack the peloton for a win, Thunevin, like Ullrich, marches to the beat of his own heart thumping skin.

Vines at Chateau Valandrund

In 2006, Ullrich retired after being fired from T-Mobile, following accusations of doping.  Segwaying smoothly into a second career, he launched Jan Ullrich’s Collection Bicycles, only to then be diagnosed with “burnout syndrome.” After denying allegations that he relies heavily on the bottle’s content, Jan took a break from the press.  “My big love ‘cycling’ had become a love-hate relationship for a while,” he reported toRadsport News just this month.  “But now this great sport is developing once again to my big love.” And “big love” goes a long ways for both the cyclist and the vintner.

From Blays-les-Mines to Lavaur–Stage 11–a hilly route with two categorized climbs, Team HTC stayed focused on their man Cavendish, hoping to deliver him first to the finish line.  No black sheep to winning, Cavendish has taken three stages thus far at this year’s Tour, and he wears the Sprinter’s Green Jersey; however, neither of these feats contributes to his overall standings. Stage races based on time (as opposed to points) favors the time-trialists and climbers, two events where the overall strongest players can slip away and ahead of the pack to gain a time advantages.

And though the Tours of recent years have been without a rivalry like that of Armstrong and Ullrich, the brothers’ Schleck have been regular Tour contenders for a few years now, hovering so near yet so far from wearing the GC Yellow Jersey.  An aggressive climb up Luz-Ardiden, at the end of Stage 12, led Frank Schleck from 4th place in the GC to 2nd , which enabled brother Andy to go from 5th to 4th.   Attacking on the descent of the Tourmalet, and then again just 300m from the line, Samuel Sanchez took the stage for Euskaltel, leaving us to watch Frank Schleck as he chomps at the back of Thomas Voeckler’s helmet.

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