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Arvia: Pay attention to first steps toward Tour podium

Plainfield resident Johnny Principa16 shows off helmet he wfor finishing first place Warrior Dash June 17. | Supplied photo

Plainfield resident Johnny Principato, 16, shows off the helmet he won for finishing in first place in the Warrior Dash on June 17. | Supplied photo

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“It is a bit ironic because he was almost a 10-pound baby and he was born with his hips dislocated. He had to wear braces on his leage 24-7 for two straight months, which made his legs bend up like a frog. ... The day the doctor took his braces off, he started laughing and kicking his legs nonstop.”

Mary Principato, on her son, Warrior Dash champ Johnny’s, beginnings as a runner

Updated: August 2, 2012 10:30AM



By the time you read this, but a snip of the Tour de France will have been run, just a four-mile prologue in advance of Sunday’s first stage in the world’s most prestigious bicycle race.

How important are the first four miles — or 40, or 400 — of a race that will stretch 2,173 by the time it finishes July 22 in Paris?

More than you think, if you listen to Lemont’s own Christian Vande Velde, twice a top-10 finisher in the Tour and a member of the defending team champions.

“You just have to start on top and stay on top,” he told NBC Sports Network. “From the prologue through the first week, staying out of trouble, staying in the top five, staying in the top 10, getting into the mountains, having a good ride the first couple days in the mountains, that just gives you so much more of a head start to the race.”

Those were not the words of an old Tour hand speaking in the abstract. The 36-year-old Vande Velde expects to find himself squarely in the mix for the yellow jersey he first flirted with in 2008, when he finished fourth.

Why? His conditioning is as good as it has ever been heading into a Tour, according to those who know him best. And the course is as good as it gets for a rider such as Vande Velde.

“Oh, no doubt. This course supersedes all the courses I’ve ridden for the last five, 10 years,” he said. “This course is a good course for me. My time-trialing skills are always a little bit underneath the radar, and that’s totally fine with me.”

This year’s Tour has more than 62 miles of time trials — not a lot, but nearly double the total of 2011. Neither is this an especially mountainous course — bad for the great climbers, good for an all-around rider such as Vande Velde.

Plus, Vande Velde’s team is awesome. Garmin-Barracuda enters the Tour not only as defending team champion, but coming off a win for one of its members, Ryder Hesjedal, in the Giro d’Italia.

“As far as stuff under our control,” the Boulder-based cycling team’s CEO, Jonahan Vaughters, told the Denver Post last week, “it should be the best team we’ve ever had at the tour.”

Hesjedal, Vande Velde and last year’s top American finisher at the Tour, Tom Danielson, all are capable of a top-10 finish. Though none is held in the esteem of defending champ Cadel Evans, of Australia, or this year’s favorite, Bradley Wiggins, they ought to be close enough to make a run at the podium.

Why not? After all, the ranks already have been thinned by the drug suspension of 2010 champ Alberto Contador, and the injury to the man awarded the 2010 title after that suspension, Andy Schleck. Plus, Schleck’s brother, Frank, is unwell, ill-suited to the course and riding for a team in disarray (its CEO, famous for working with Lance Armstrong, opted not to attend — go figure).

As for Wiggins, a Brit never has won the Tour. Evans? Perhaps. Hesjedal? Set aside for the moment that a Canadian mountain biker winning the Tour would be like a French figure skater winning the Stanley Cup.

Hesjedal sounds like he might be inclined to ride for Vande Velde, with whom he roomed during the Giro.

“Christian has based his season around being ready for the Tour,” Hesjedal told Velo News. “Mine was the Giro and now he’s building for the Tour. Christian has had a little quieter spring than me. He got sick at Caralunya, but he was able to come to the Giro and support me there. He got to a very good level at the end of the Giro. I am confident that he will be even stronger for the Tour.”

The ultimate Warrior

Each of the more than 22,000 folks who signed up for the Warrior Dash — a 5K mud run and obstacle course held Father’s Day weekend in Channahon — got a fuzzy “helmet” upon checking in.

“My coach told me to bring mine to (cross country) practice,” Plainfield Central junior-to-be Johnny Principato said last week. “I ended up bringing the big Viking helmet.

“That was cool.”

Cool? Sure, that works. If metal and horns and an inescapably Erik the Red vibe are your thing. And, as prizes go, it’s better than a Dri-Fit shirt and a gift certificate for a podiatrist visit.

Principato covered the 3.1-mile course in 19 minutes, 22 seconds, more than a minute faster than anybody else over two days of racing.

Not bad for a 16-year-old who missed the end of last cross country season with a throat ailment.

“I was having fun the whole time,” Principato said. “But I was still going hard. ... Then, at the end, jumping fire ... ”

I know, that was cool. Not literally, of course. But cool.



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