Sunday, 27 July 2008

The End

The End - 27 July

These days you can see Paris is some detail, any street, any building, even frop street level. You can go along the street and find the hotel you stayed in when you first met. You can see the Louvre and the Rue de Rivoli whenever you want. Even the “Most Beautiful Avenue in the World” is available on the screen, any time. BUT, and it’s a big but, it’s not on the last day of the Tour. The traffic is not blocked off, and the riders are not in the picture. I think Paris is one of the finest places on earth, and I love the Tour when it arrives there. I admit the race up and down the Champs is a trifle boring, a bit like a criterium, the Criterium of Paris. So how can I explain that every year I watch it from the time it gets within sight of the Eiffel Tower, all the way through. Go figure. But I do.

Not a lot to say today. Gerd Steegmans and his Quick Step team took care of business as they have conspicuously failed to do during the Tour. Gerd will be immortalised as a winner on the Champs 2008. He looked really happy. He seems to be a good sprinter of a particular type, but I didn’t look closely enough to figure out why the Columbia guys failed to delver Ciolek. Or who followed whose wheel, or why Robbie did not do it or …. and so on. Next year Steegmans will (probably) be going to the Russian team that has loads of gangster money and is named after a missile. Maybe that name is a joke, but they do often refer to the Katyusha team, although it is spelled in various ways in English, or maybe French. I am not sure how to spell it. I guess we will all know soon. A missile! Rather more an artillery shell. I wonder who else they will hire, besides Pozzato. Maybe Evans?

So it is over, and I guess it is time for serious reflection. I often think I am going to do this, but in the end I am so glad it is over, that I return to my real life very quickly. It’s similar to when I get home from a holiday or a trip, I just get stuck in and get back to reality. I don’t sit around for a couple of days not doing anything and just reflecting on my trip or holiday. There are emails to answer, lawn to cut, weeding to do, people to see. I feel that way about the Tour every year. But for the sake of the blog I guess I should try.

My predictions. Mediocre, but not hopeless, as usual. I got the white jersey right. But so did thousands. I identified Cavendish as a great sprinter, and “a winner” of the green jersey, even if I knew he would leave early. But I didn’t really have a clue on the green jersey and mentioning Freire along with others does not count. The mountain jersey going to Kohl was not predicted by many. The best I can say is that in a list of possible winners, I did not mention him. Although I did say, as an afterthought, “Maybe young Kohl”. I don’t think that counts as a correct prediction. My podium was Evans, Valverde and A. Schleck. They finished second, ninth and twelfth. Not a great record really, although I doubt that anyone on earth had Kohl on their podium. If I had bet I might have won a tenner and lost about forty euros, so that was not a good year. On the other hand, I might have won something on various stages, so it’s not a fair test really. Next year I shall save up some money to bet in France.

The Tour itself was a great pleasure to follow. Our “day out” was average, all things considered. I liked best that no one had any idea who would win or even do well. I like there were surprises, new people. In fact, with the help of one of the forums I go on, here is a list of “Good things about the Tour”.

Folk art everywhere.

Laurent Fignon and Laurent Jalabert, commentators for whom I have nothing but praise.

Generally the excellent, alert, professional TV coverage.

The French countryside in all its glory.

The winner actually taking a stage of some importance. If Cadel had won?

The strategic moves of Riis.

Didn’t miss the time bonuses one bit.

Not so many flat stages in a row before the mountains. Should be kept forever.

The explosion of Cavendish onto the scene, totally unprecedented AND he is British.

Evans, even in his misery. Doing so much with no team, reminded me of ADR and Lemond.

Such a close race in several respects. More of the uncertainty!

Emergence in the Tour of Velits, Terpstra, Monfort, Siutsou, Lovkvist, di Gregorio, Nibali, Kreuziger, Kohl, A. Schleck, Cavendish and other youngish guys, or riders I knew nothing much about and who will no doubt enliven the future for us.

The colossal work and dominance of the CSC team. Next year Astana too.

The masses of people on the road.

The attacks of Ricco, and finding out he was doping (BOTH).

Those helicopter shots of the heritage of France.

With some exceptions including Philippe Brunel in L’Equipe who I dislike, a more balanced and less frantic coverage of some drug busts.

Good racing, maybe even honest.

Guys like Sastre and CVV emerging from being workers to take some glory.

The mass sprints, especially the replays.

No team time trial, which although pretty to watch kind of distorts the results for several days.

The mountains and the racing therein.

The descents. Oh the descents!

The riders being slowly dropped as the pace goes up, nice pace to it.

Wim Vansevant winning the lanterne rouge for the third time, a record.

The plucky French escapees.

Til next year, at the same place, in the same way.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

After the ITT

A rack of the Velib bikes in Paris

Riding the Velib bikes on the Place de la Concorde

After the ITT – 26 July

So it is Sastre. Good for him. He did the job today exactly when he had to. Cadel did not. Brilliant team, they protected him well during the entire Tour. Then he took off on the Alpe, again protected by Frank and Andy in the rear. Excellent strategy in the end, it worked perfectly. Seems a nice fellow. Honourable record, now a Tour winner. Shame about Cadel, but he just blew it. Probably, almost certainly worn out by the constant harassment of CSC, and his own lack of any team support to speak of. Noticed he was slightly impolite and referred to his obvious lack of support immediately after the stage. Can’t imagine he will stay with Silence, unless they hire several more decent riders at great cost. Popovych was a total dead loss. Sastre made no mistakes, made one decisive attack at just the right time, and had a great team, by far the best team in the race. They won the Team competition by miles over everyone. Sastre also was the fittest at the end of the race, partly due to his excellent team, who kept him sheltered except when he needed to do the business on his own. A totally worthy victor. Although he could have a little bit more personality.

As for the time trial itself, there were some surprises, for me anyway. And some final revelations from riders who had good Tours. Not meaning to harp on it, but Cadel did badly. He was expected by about 85% or all commentators on forums and on TV and in the papers, to take the time on Sastre. He failed. Race of truth. Everyone will now suspect Schumacher uses drugs. I don’t know, but he is now number one. He actually had a very good Tour in terms of victories, yellow jersey, and visibility in attacks, in every way. Not a climber though, so suffered overall. 37 minutes back, between Sylvester Szmyd and Yaroslav Popovych, is not really all that good for a team leader.

Cancellara did his usual brilliant job to finish second. I suspect he was a bit tired from all his support work, although he also finished fifth in the first time trial. Kirchen showed he is a superb TT man and a rouleur of great quality. I was impressed with him throughout the Tour, even if he is not that great in the high mountains. I am sure he is at the peak of his powers and will win a few more races in the next few years.

I didn’t realise Vande Velde would be so good overall. He began well, continued to do well and never did anything badly the whole Tour. He rather stayed in the top five and I kept wondering when he would drop out of the top ten. Totally consistent in every stage, in every way, except the stage in the Alps when he crashed and had a bit of trouble. The three minutes he lost on that stage explains precisely why he is not on the podium. The USA people were probably going wild over his chances. Good to see a loyal and competent teammate move up a level. Fifth in the Tour is fantastic. Along with Kohl, I guess he is the most surprising in this Tour. That is, the ones who finished a good deal higher than anyone wouljd have guessed prior to the Tour. Kohl finshed the TT less than a minute behind Millar, a specialist, 16 seconds behind Cadel, a known TT expert and just two seconds behind his teammate Lang who is also a specialist. He rode faster than several known TT aces, but then he had the podium to ride for. I do not think I read or saw a single prediction that he would be on the podium. It was nearly unanimous that Menchov would take his place. He ended up only 15 seconds behind Evans. The guy had a brilliant Tour. Not to even mention that he snuck away with the spotted jersey. It is seldom that a guy in the spotted jersey does so well in the TT. This guy could win the Tour. He is only 26. In any case he should do well for years to come.

Menchov seems to lack a little something, a little here, a little there. A few seconds, some little mistakes that cost him about the amount of time he lost during the Tour on Sastre. He just didn’t have it. He can do everything, he just made a few mistakes and frankly, he didn’t have much of a team either. He always seemed to be alone, like Cadel. Millar is still good, at nearly the highest level in the TT, but not really the champion we all hoped he would be. He does look prettier than anyone on the TT bike though.

Andy Schleck needs to learn how to do a TT before he can win the Tour; both his performances were not winning ones. To finish four minutes back of the leader in the last TT when you are trying to fight off a known competent TT rider, Kreuziger, is not good enough. He also lost a minute and half in the first one. So that is over five minutes he lost in the TTs plus eight minutes when he forgot to eat. He is young, but he really should be better. I thought he was by far the strongest in the mountains, but that is not enough. He has to beat Contador (not to mention the other young guys) over the next few years. No way would Contador lose five minutes on anyone, in the mountains or in a time trial. I was wrong that he and Kreuziger would make it into the top ten. I still think he will win the Tour. And he seems a nice lad, good in English and French, plus he talks some kind of patois with his brother. They demonstrated it on TV.

“On all levels of society, only one language is used in oral communication: "Lëtzebuergesch". This is the everyday spoken language of the people, and the symbol of the Luxembourgers national identity. Although of Germanic origin (around the 4th Century), 'Lëtzebuergesch' has sufficiently differentiated itself from its parent language, so as no longer to be readily understood by many a German. German native speakers might well recognise this or that word or construction used in Lëtzebuergesch -in the same way that a German from one region can 'understand' a dialect from another German region- but are often caught out by 'non-Germanic' words or turns of phrase.

'Lëtzebuergesch' is taught in schools and in
language courses mostly addressed to the resident foreigners. Whilst it is an extremely practical and useful means of everyday conversation, it is a poor culture-bearer. As soon as a conversation reaches out into the higher levels of abstraction or refined sentiment, the limits of the vocabulary and grammatical constructions available are all too apparent and it becomes necessary to borrow from other languages.”

Valverde was a serious disappointment. He still can’t time trial, even if there was not a lot to ride for. He was supposed to have improved and did well in some other time trials. Finishing outside the top 30 is pretty pathetic, even Andy was 30th (36th, 4.25 back, just behind Stuart O’Grady and ahead of Christophe Riblon). Not a champion. In addition, he is not reliable in the high mountains. I think he is doomed to be a stage winner and top ten finisher until the end of his career, especially with the guys who are doing better than him at the same age and the younger ones coming up.

A quick mention for Sandy Casar and Sylvain Chavanel. They are not that great, but they are finally doing respectable jobs, which does make the French happy. Unless you live in France you can’t realise how much weight was on their shoulders even though they are just better than average riders.

The points jersey is seven sprinters and three non-sprinters now. I was wrong that it might have more non-sprinters than normal. It is about average, I would guess.

The team that did very well on the TT was Gerolsteiner. Not only did Schumacher win again; but Kohl and Lang (who finished 19th and worse in the first TT) finished 9th and 10th. How could they do so well at the end of the Tour? Anyway they took the team prize for the day. Just ahead of Garmin Chipotle and Team Columbia.

Looking forward to the sprint on the Champs. And to the slight quivers that go up and down my spine when they hit the Place de la Concorde. Photo below, showing a couple of the new bikes in the highly successful bike rental scheme in Paris. Riding on the Place de la Concorde. Really a very successful scheme.

Vive le vélo.

Friday, 25 July 2008

25 July

25 July

Just so you don’t think I am dead.

But I really have no desire to write anything and am ready to watch a bit of the TT and then the last hour of the champs. I will write something soon. Just not tonight.

Had a nice short ride today. With a neighbour who is going to ride all the way to England from the south of France. A real cyclist. I helped persuade him to buy proper shoes and pedals. He does have a very handy kickstand on his bike. I think he is going to have a wonderful time.

Here is a prediction I wrote earlier about the final order of the GC after the time trial.

1 Evans rides brilliantly
2 Sastre does OK
3 Menchov gains more than 1,06 on Kohl
4 Kohl loses less than three minutes on everyone and beats Frank
5 F Schleck beats Valverde by 4 minutes
6 Valverde beats Vande Velde by a minute
7 Sanchez beats everyone below him
8 Vande Velde loses a bit more than a minute on Valverde and Sanchez
9 Kirchen easily takes a minute on Valjevec and Efimkin
10 A Schleck gains two minutes on Valjevec and Efimkin
11 Kreuziger same except for less than a minute faster than Andy.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

St. Etienne – 24 July

St. Etienne – 24 July

NOTE. I am posting this now, unfinished, as there is a bit of thunder in the distance and I might not be able to post it later. We unplug during thunderstorms. Maybe that’s it until tomorrow. I might not have edited all that well, please forgive me. I will do it later.

Very busy tonight checking out a concert in an hour. I really am ready for the Tour to be over. It was a treat to watch three finishes tonight. That’s it really. Thought it was alert of Andy S. to notice that Kreuziger was gone, then to follow him to make sure he had the same grip on the white jersey as before.

Toward the end of the stage Laurent Fignon said it was a transitional stage. There was a flurry of argument among the lads, as they could not figure out what it was a transition TO. Finally they agreed that it was a transition to Paris. But that is not how the notion is used. What it means is that nothing happens that affects anything, that there are no great difficulties and other than the stage finish, which is usually interesting, nothing happens. That is what happened today.

The concert was not that great, I can write a bit more.

In l’Equipe, today or yesterday, and in a Bernard Hinault special they sold for the Tour, Hinault said he is back on the bike. A Hinault bike of course, carbon. No more details given. He famously stopped riding altogether and worked on his farm for many years. Although of course he worked for the Tour as well, part-time. Recently he sold the farm and moved into somewhere near Dinard, I figure, although its not clear. He goes out for sure twice a week (sometimes three), with two of his buddies. Although maybe more buddies, the details were not clear. His hairdresser, and an old pal who is something in the cycling organisational world in Brittany. They go a hundred k in three hours. Elsewhere he mentions 30kph average. That is why he looks a little bit fitter on the podium. I reckon that’s a pretty good rate of speed for three hours. Brittany can either lumpy or flat depending on your exact route. One of the guys in the club did the route of the Tour near us, Narbonne to Nimes. He averaged 32k, on his own. So Bernard is getting pretty fit. Apparently he has done one and intends to do two more, cyclosportifs in his area, in August. When he retired, I wondered about the “hanging up the wheels” that he was so into. Really loud about it. It’s good to see the bike come back into his, or for that matter, anyone’s life. They asked him what jersey he wore when he went out. He claimed it was a non-descript jersey. He even expressed some disdain for guys who wear the jerseys and ride along at 15kph. I think it’s a good story.

The feature for the “Legends of the Tour” series of shorts was Yvette Horner. Jean Paul Olivier does this short bit on whatever bit of history he has found film for. I must have seen the Hinault Lemond Alpe finish five times this year. Have not seen much of Lance yet. But today’s story was about Yvette Horner, who nearly everyone of a certain age knows about. In what seemed to be the early years of the caravan, she rented or bought a small car, cut a hole in the roof, built a metal sun shade and was part of the caravan. She played the accordion the whole way. Obviously she might have stopped and sat in the car during the long bits of countryside between towns. I think the “chicks” on the other caravan vehicles stop waving for most of the route too. She was a great accordion player, really classic French with terrible fast fingers. Everybody knew her. I can imagine, although the clip did not show it, that she might stop in a town to play a song everyone knew and could sing along with. She was a bit older for the interview, but still looked fine. You don’t get this if you watch the Tour live.

Having been a bit snappy with the stage, it did provide four finishes in one day. At the front was the choice between

Next was the minor escape that Schleck bridged to when he saw Kreuziger in the break. They are the only two left in the young jersey competition. Still left, usually by now it is well sorted. I am sure Andy will not lose enough time on Kreuziger in the Individual Time Trial, but no one knows. In fact this time trial will become a reference for the two for a couple of years. Neither of them have done one in the Tour, the last long one. And they both have something ride for. So for a few years this will be the reference for both of them. As for anyone in the top fifteen or anyone who thinks they can win. I am sure guys like Schumacher, Kirchen, Millar, Cancellara and Voigt might give it go. Although if Cancellara or Voigt does well it will be a miracle. Mind you they are all pretty tired. It will be a reference for any of them really, but I have got off the topic. Every one is talking about the TT and speculating about who will gain how much on whom. I will no doubt watch the last hour at least, maybe with friends since there is not really any “action”, just guys riding around alone.

Then there was the sprint for the few points left for the peloton, after both breaks finished. Freire beat them all, scoring ten pints, but ore importantly, more than Zabel and Hushovd who each got one point less. There will come a time when Freire logically and mathematically will be unable to be beaten. I suspect that will be after the TT. People do the maths, but I am not really into it tonight. There are so many points left, if Zabel wins all the sprints he can or at a given moment cannot beat Freire. But if Freire just finishes behind Zabel every day, he has it locked. I think Freire can even finish 30th one day. In any case we don’t want any bad luck to any of them. If no bad luck then Freire has it. I notice that Duque is still trying. Good for him. I figure they all will be serious on the Champs, including Robbie. I am looking forward to that sprint. Freire has won enough prizes that he should be searching for an ultimate aesthetic move, winning on the Champs with the green jersey on. Very cool. Zabel will want to win one more big one before he goes. The Champs is as big as it gets for a sprinter. I mention no one else, as I want Zabel to take it. Then retire.

The last race was whether Cunego would make it. He crashed heavily at the beginning of the stage. He was severely knocked about. He got back on the bike and three or four of his teammates helped him ride the whole distance, losing only 12 minutes on the last of the buses, and 20 minutes on the winner. I don’t fully grasp why he didn’t lose more time, as he only had his colleagues there to push him up hills. They did show shots of just this happening. I noticed they pushed him on his saddle. When guys in my club push me up a hill or when a gap has appeared in the bunch, they push my lower back usually. I like that, I bet Cunego did. Anyway he has gone down in the annals of Tour history for that. He will always be referred to as a guy who can endure plain, who can suffer, who has character. I reckon he does. He is often referred to by the commentator who fills up space, as “the great failure of the Tour”. I am not sure this is true, but he did hope to do a lot better. He will be back. It’s a good crop of riders, and if none of them get caught doping and keep riding well, there should be some good classic confrontations over the next five or six years. I doubt that anyone will be able to dominate like Miguel or Lance did. Cunego wil be a player someday, for the GC. But he will be a wiser man for all this. He won the young rider two years ago, and I think he thought he had the Tour figured out. If he is not already humble, he might be now. It helps. There is no doubt that the Tour is the hardest race on earth. Not for the route or the climbs or whatever. One could argue other tours are harder. But because everyone is there. Every one. The riders make the tour. All the chief strategists are there, the first team is in play, the stakes are global. More now than ever.

So four races in one. I guess I could reluctantly admit that something happened, even though nothing really did. Know what I mean?

Note what happens to Columbia team standing when they have one guy who gains lots of time on one stage, with a couple of other guys finishing with everyone else. They win the competition of the day. Or draw, as Quick Step is equal for the exact same reason, they had one guy way ahead, and no one is the second group. The prize is the cumulative time of the first three team riders on each stage. Note that AG2R and CSC stayed exactly the same as all their riders were in the third group, same time for the first three.

1 Team Columbia                                               13.44.43
2 Quick Step                                                          
3 Credit Agricole                                                 3.33
4 Agritubel                                                           
5 Euskaltel - Euskadi                                             3.35
6 Cofidis Credit Par Telephone                                    6.39
Ranking yesterday
1 Team CSC Saxo Bank                                         223.50.44
2 AG2R-La Mondiale                                                9.27
3 Rabobank                                                     1.01.06
4 Euskaltel - Euskadi                                          1.11.01
5 Caisse d'Epargne                                             1.11.45
6 Silence - Lotto                                              1.13.29
7 Lampre                                                       1.18.05
8 Credit Agricole                                              1.28.33
9 Gerolsteiner                                                 1.29.03
10 Team Columbia                                               1.29.48
Ranking today

1 Team CSC Saxo Bank                                         237.42.06
2 AG2R-La Mondiale                                                9.27
3 Rabobank                                                     1.01.17
4 Euskaltel - Euskadi                                          1.07.57
5 Caisse d'Epargne                                             1.11.56
6 Silence - Lotto                                              1.13.29
7 Lampre                                                       1.18.16
8 Team Columbia                                                1.23.09

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Alpe d'Huez

Alpe d’Huez – 23 July

We know more now, but oddly enough, the Tour is still not over. We don’t know the yellow jersey winner, although all the smart money seems to be on Evans. We don’t know if Kreuziger will beat Andy Schleck in the time trial, by more than two minutes to take the white jersey, although it is highly unlikely. But the green jersey and the spotted jersey are fully sorted. Congratulations to Freire and Kohl, for doing just what needed doing to win the competitions. Kohl certainly looked like he gave it all he could today. I think he knew that there are hardly any climbs left and went for it.

Without wishing to appear ungrateful for the excellent spectacle on the last climb, and without wishing to be critical of the greatest sporting event on earth, it was just a tad boring today, for nearly the entire stage. Perfectly explicable, very rational, hard to really criticise; but nevertheless a tad boring. One can watch the strongest team in the race riding tempo for only so long without wishing something would happen. Even if the work they do is phenomenal, and even if my admiration for Cancellara and all the CSC guys is immense, even if the strategy of Riis might just turn out to be the good one, I was a bit hungry for more action. Loads of spectators. The scenery was spectacular. I have no desire whatever to go into the high Alps on my bike. Way to full of arid barren landscapes and pointy hills for me. But good on TV.

Andy Schleck has now convinced me he is the best, the strongest rider in the peloton. Laurent Jalabert agrees. I really am sorry he forgot to eat and drink and had his “fringale” on the climb to Hautacam. Today he was working like three mountain domestiques. In fact he was so full of himself on the climb to Alpe, that he really didn’t know what to do. He kept riding up and down the peloton looking at people, and then going back to the front. As if his earpiece did not work and nobody was telling him anything. He could not attack Sastre really, he might bring someone up to him. He could not leave his brother really, they are buddies. So half the time he made the pace for Evans, both Schlecks did. I never could figure that out. Once Sastre was gone they should have been invisible, except for four or five lightning attacks that would ruffle Evans. Andy is young. He seemed to be able to launch attacks at will, but never quite sure what to do next. He was like an untrained puppy. He was so far behind that if he attacked, it would never have been clear that Evans or anyone would have followed him. We shall see how he can time trial to preserve his jersey. If he does a good one, then precisely where is he weak? Anyway, I look forward to him being back next year and in the years to come. I wonder if he can beat Contador, which, to anticipate, should be the major question next year.

After Carlos Sastre’s predicted (by some) ride into both yellow and the stage today, the congratulations for Riis and the CSC team are flowing from everywhere. Carlos has a good reputation and has won at the Tour before. Remember the stage winner who took out his baby’s dummy which he had been carrying around in his pocket for days? He then stuck it in his mouth as he crossed the line. That was a younger Sastre. There are little complaints about the CSC strategy, such as the one I just made, but they did the right thing. Frank is probably a bit sad, but I bet he knows he is not a Tour de France winner. Deep inside. The question that everyone is asking is will a minute and half on Evans be enough for Sastre. It is pretty clear that 2,39 is enough on Menchov. No one else could possibly gain enough time on Sastre to take the jersey. This all assumes that both Evans and Sastre get to Saturday in a healthy state. I might not have time tonight, but one day I will do an analysis based on comparative time trial results. People, even on French TV, have done this already, and the verdict seems mixed. No one knows what the effect of having the yellow jersey will have on Sastre. No on knows what the possibility of winning it will have on Evans. I expect both will ride a cracker of a TT.

One thing. In my usual optimistic way, I kept thinking that something might happen in the next two days. I looked at the race profile for each stage and tried to invent a strategy. I tried to figure out how many seconds could be won and lost. I more or less failed. I cannot see how CSC, combined with Gerolsteiner, combined with Silence, will not control anything dangerous to the top three for two slightly hilly days There are some hills, but not very big ones, nothing to break things up. But I still say it, “something could happen in the next two days”. But more likely it is simply whether Evans can beat Sastre by more than one minute and thirty four seconds. No one knows and the uncertainty of this Tour 2008 continues.

There are 300 cyclists a day who climb the Alpe, and there are seven big dustbins along the route.

I was struck that there were so many attacks, after the initial one of Sastre and before the final one of Sanchez. They were very short, none sustained, often for no apparent reason. It just seemed like everyone but CSC had no strategy at all. Even their strategy made no good use of Andy, he just kept riding up and down round about, looking for something decisive to do with all his extra energy. Shame really. Mind you, Evans had a good strategy. Slightly boring I will admit. Not a plan to endear him to many sports fans, except those who like strategy. He just stayed with Schleck, and stayed with Menchov, and waited for the end of the stage. He is a gutsy guy, obviously suffering a fair bit on that stage, everybody more or less against him. No teammates again. He really should go to a team who promises him loads of money to buy quality climbers to stick with him and two guys for the flat bits. Sounds like the missile team from Russia. Still the attacks were good TV entertainment.

I tried my best to ignore “the lads” on Alpe, the ones who have been drinking all day and want to get on TV. The ones who run alongside their alleged heroes, scaring the shit out of me and maybe them. I did a pretty good job of ignoring them. Except they are everywhere. Enough said.

The real nature of the Tour was revealed today. For some reason that must have to do with money, instead of the usual lasses on the podium, somehow Michael Douglas and the owner of the LA Lakers basketball team got on the podium and gave the flowers and so forth to the riders. I was disgusted. How can they do that? I don’t care if they love the vélo. I love the vélo, and I even ride it. They are just rich pricks. They were not even in the line of local hacks that get to shake hands; they were actually on the podium. Because they are rich!

You can see why AG2R are the second team. They are the only other team than CSC who have two guys in the top ten, and on the last climb had three of their rider left, like CSC. The team prize is still up for grabs, although it looks like CSC has really done enough to win it. Oddly, since CSC has so many riders in the top ten and needs their own people to protect the riders, they won’t have such freedom as the AG2R riders might. So who knows how this one will go.

As for the white jersey, I have never, ever seen such a tight race. Until Monfort and Nibali got dropped today by the CSC train, there were four guys in with a chance. Even now, Kreuziger is a much better time trialist than Schleck and might just peg back the gap. I just have no way to compare them. Actually Andy turns out to be better than I thought. Last time trial of the Giro 2007 he came sixth just 50 seconds behind Zabriskie and 12 behind Bruseghin. He can motor as well.

Kim Kirchen lost lots of time today, but I think he will ride himself into the top ten in the time trial. He has had a very good Tour really, and it should be fun to see him back next year, but this time with the certain knowledge he can make the to ten.

As for Valverde, he lost 5.24 on Schleck during the Hautacam stage. He is now 5.35 behind Sastre. This means nothing much as if he had been a contender and had not lost the time, others might have ridden differently as he might have done. But it gives the idea that if he can avoid a bad day, he is clearly a contender.

Have you noticed that there are STILL four riders within a minute and half after all the tough stages are done. And the fourth place won IS likely to win. All in all I prefer this kind of race to a race with a “patron” or a team that is too dominant. Although CSC is very good, very good indeed.

I am sure there are things that I should have commented on. But I rode this morning with the club and am a bit tired frankly. I am off to bed.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Second day in the Alps

Second Day in the Alps – 22 July

Written before the Stage? And for no good reason, kept in the blog post. Predictions. Attack on descent of La Bonette by Sanchez or Nibali. Attack on descent by anyone who can do it. Several attacks by anyone but Evens on the ascent. One long attack by CSC on the Ascent of La Bonette. Nothing of interest, except scenery for most of the stage. Evans loses maximum of a minute on one or two contenders. Valverde doe something or other. Kohl does nothing. Either Sastre or Schleck fall out of contention. An escape of nobody special stays away and one rider makes beg advances in the GC that no one cares about.

The organisers of the Tour, and the riders, have continued to provide us with days and competitions that are full of uncertainty. Suddenly the third place guy in the white jersey is first. Well, actually, that’s about it at the end of the day, in terms of changes. The green jersey stays the same, the polka dot jersey stays the same only more so, the yellow jersey stays the same only more so. Yet, it was a rather good day of viewing, or rather a very good last hour or so. The stage winner was French, which is fine, since they have done so badly, they really should have another stage in their own Tour. They have tried so hard with the escapes nearly every stage.

Cyril Dessel is a lesson for us all. No one has ever said he was a champion. No one, except maybe the French, even suspect he is a “real winner”. Not like guys who are in contention for every race they enter “seriously”. He is a good climber, and good descender, not so bad a rouleur. He is a better than average French rider, which means he is average in terms of the riders who are in the Tour, who are the very best in the world. I have not Goggled him to check the details, but he has had a quite good year. Rather than be slowed and hampered by injuries, as he often has been, he has been well and has maybe three or four serious victories. He is not cited in my French mag as even an outsider for any jersey. Yet, he can say, all his life, in any context he wishes, “I wore the yellow jersey” and “I won a stage in the Tour”. And not just any stage, but a huge mountain stage. He speaks with a lisp. If you ask him a question he goes on slightly faster and longer, but a bit less boringly than Christophe Moreau. Couple of years ago they had a good year, sixth and seventh was it? But whatever goes on inside Cyril, and he seems a bit odd to me, he kind of overwhelms you with both his ego and his modesty. They seem to alternate. In the post-Tour show he went on far ages about his childhood and when he came to the area at 14, which he did. Or about today and the details of today, or about his trails and tribulations in recent years. Dessel goes on once you push the button. I would much rather interview him than one of the guys who is determined to say nothing interesting, or who has been trained to say nothing interesting, or who actually has nothing to say. Cyril is a good story about the Tour. I never have liked him at all, but I can see that one thing that is often forgotten is how the winning a stage can change a rider’s life. Dessel knows this too. Winning the Tour, of course, automatically changes your life. But even a stage can. Even a breakaway that almost succeeds can do it. In fact, when you get down to it, just riding in the Tour de France (or knowing someone who did) is a childhood dream for some hundreds of millions of people. It is not like driving a Formula One. In cycling you can ride the exact roads on the exact bike the giants of the road do. Cyril is just a regular guy. French. Good cyclist. But just a regular guy. He is now immortal, even if he does nothing of any national or global significance the rest of his life. I love the Tour. It is a bit like winning a million on the 15 question show called whatever it is in your country. “Qui veut gagner un million (euros)?”

I had the nap after I saw quite a bit of the first minutes when some part of the peloton attempts to form an escape. Over and over. The escapes were on from slightly before the waving of the starter’s flag, after the “fake start” but before the “real start”. I am glad I spent the time. I have a great idea for a new tape. Although someone must have done it. “The Escape”. I am trying to write about that elsewhere. The tape would be the case of maybe twenty or thirty escapes forming (or not) in various races. Maybe some attempts on the same day until one “works”. Other escapes might be very famous, for instance, a few “royal escapes” where the composition of the escape looks like a Classic one day race. Some escapes could be included from very average races, although most should be from the Tour. The escape of Chiappucci et al, that only got pulled back in the last time trial. Over this TV action you have a voice-over explanation, with arrows, and cool graphics that explains why the escape failed or why a few succeed. You could do judicious editing, so some of the real time interminable nature of an escape can be left out, but that you get the feeling nevertheless.

An escape like today’s would never have been allowed to get away the first day in the Pyrnees. But today, it was more or less allowed to get on with deciding who would win the stage, while the battle for the yellow jersey took place in another peloton. Although everyone rode together for much of the day (over the first huge climb), when the pace went up on the last long hard climb, lots of riders were just dropped. They were the third peloton and the suspense for them is will they finish within the delay and stay in the race. Everyone knows that third race is “fixed”. No way they would eliminate eighty riders or more. So in hard mountain stages you really just stay inside the big bus. Every day, three races, if we are lucky. The race for the stage was pretty good. The race to get inside the time limit was not anywhere near close. And the yellow jersey race promised much, but in the end, not a lot is terribly different. This means that Evans and to a lesser extent Menchov have to be the two most obvious possible victors.

Yellow jersey. What did not change? Who is wearing it. The closeness of the gaps between six contenders. Who is most likely to win. The general feeling and high entertainment value of the mountain stages (and sometimes the other stages). Seeing the tragedy of one or two people losing. So Frank still has it. Evans still knows he is going to take it after the time trial. Several people have the utterly obvious objective reason to attack tomorrow or pull of some clever strategic move. Sadly, you could have said that yesterday, about today. But no attacks really and not big strategic moves. The result is that everyone high in the GC basically stayed together and no one got any significant time on anyone, and no one lost all that much. Details.

Looking at the GC, comparing it with yesterday you see that the first three positions have not changed at all, even in time difference. Then you realise that Menchov lost a bit of time. Not a big amount, but he has done this three times before on stages, either by not quite finishing it off well, or by accident. This is bad luck for a Tour winner. And he is not as good as Evans in the time trial. Vande Velde seems to have drifted right out of obvious contention, losing two and a fair bit minutes on yellow today. Sastre and Kirchen are still there, about where they were. I really did not believe that Kirchen would be in the top ten, although some said he might be. I say the same about Kohl, no way would I have put an each way bet on the guy at the beginning, although I noticed the odds were exceptionally good. I am sure over a hundred to one for the win. Valverde and Sanchez have every right to be in the top ten, no one would disagree. And then the question arises, who will be the slightly less than expected top ten rider, besides Kirchen and Kohl and Vande Velde?

So the same necessity for attack is valid for tomorrow. I think the CSC guys lost the Tour today. It was not really their fault, but I figure they blew it. They never could execute the plan if Frank was on an off day. And any plan would have Carlos attack the rest and then see what happened. They did not dare do that today as maybe Frank would be dropped. Then the others would smell blood and attack. But maybe Carlos was not tops either, or the idea of attacking your own yellow jersey was too much. In any case no one really attacked. They just put young Andy in front to ride hard to see who would get dropped. It turned out that all his competitors for the young rider jersey got dropped. He did not get dropped at the end. So he has the white jersey. And none of the other contenders had the legs or the will to attack. So Cadel just sat on the best guys and will wait until the time trial. Although I still say that CSC were the losers today because they just could not figure out how to use three riders to put Evans in difficulty, given Frank’s and Carlos’ condition today. In any case it is obvious that if Andy would just concentrate and eat and drink like a professional, he would have been in contention too. Valverde will never get back enough time on Alpe, he was a bit challenged on the last steep bit of the climb, where a “puncher” like him might look a bit better. On the other hand, the alpe is not that high or that long, maybe he might make a move. He has “top ten” sorted, and I figure by the time the time tidal is over, might be up in fifth or so, or sixth like last year. Although circumstances of the race might dictate otherwise, the race must really be decided by the time the lads get up the Alpe.

I am a bit glad really. I am already looking forward to the end of the Tour, it just takes up too much time for too long. I look forward to the day and the lifestyle, when I could consecrate my entire day for all three weeks, to the Tour. Even then, I think about halfway through the last week, I would still be ready for it to be over. I bet most of the riders are too, even if they have hopes of snatching a stage in the last four days. The time trial can be ridden very easily by all but about twenty riders. Not shamefully, but not for big prizes. The Champs Elysées means you have to do the same routine every year, although the outcome is different. You ride around the Paris area, joking about, and then race up and down what the French are fond of calling “The Most Beautiful Avenue in the World”. After tomorrow, the order will be established for the Tour 2008. Obviously some things can change during the time trial, but probably not much. The two stages in between the Alpe and the TT are for people who get lucky. No one would be allowed to gain so much time they threatened anyone’s top ten or their podium or their jersey. So it is for the lower ranked riders to make a go of it, or for the sprinters’ teams to shut down escapes. Although the breaks will want to get away, the sprinter teams, the GC teams, the jersey teams will all want the status quo. All of them. Maybe if we get lucky two CSC guys might be six and ten seconds behind Evans. Or Menchov might be. Then we could do a little more suspense. But basically it’s over after tomorrow. I am gong to take a day off, I need to start winding down into normal life soon. I need a break of landscape to ease the Post Tour Blues, when emptiness invades my life, and I stop buying L’Equipe every day. Until the bleeding Olympics. Maybe I will give the Olympics a miss, watch the edited daily programme. Not buy the paper.

White jersey. Schleck lived up to his billing and devotion to his brother and the CSC team, in that order. In doing so, he accidentally dropped all the other young guys in the race. It would be an injustice if he does not wear the jersey in Paris. Besides, even though it was a quite normal guess, it would mean that one of my predictions would come true. My small scenario guess for tomorrow is that somehow, Frank and Bjarne Riis say to Andy that he can just ride as fast as he can up the Alpe. Frank follows for as long as they can, until they drop everyone in the race, then Frank motors slowly to the top and Andy takes the stage of legend. They really don’t need Andy’s help after this stage tomorrow, assuming Frank does not crack. Frank should do well as today was a bad day for him and most good riders do not have two bad days in a row. If he does it is proper that he should lose the Tour. Anyway Andy has white and should keep it. If my prediction comes true then I deserve to be published in lights. I noticed that yesterday, John Lee Augustyn; the guy that fell over the edge of the road, is now in fifth place, only four minutes down on Andy. Just one good day and things can change a bit in some competitions for jerseys. He was 48th with six points before this stage, and now suddenly he is fourth.

Spotted jersey. I guess the guy who wants it is Kohl. He seems in fine shape so should do the right thing tomorrow, and then jersey is his. He deserves it I suppose, but really, talk about a damp squib of a competition. I mean, until a few days ago a time trialist had the jersey. So Kohl. The only interesting thing might be if former yellow jersey winner Tommy Voeckler, the regular guy of French cycling, who made it big, managed to do something to get more points than Kohl. Voeckler can go in any escape. No one cares in the GC. Kohl could NOT go in any escape. So my fearless prediction is that Thomas will go off if he can, grab some points and try to hang on to win the jersey. Let’s see how many points are up for grabs for the winnerof each mountain climb. Eighty points are up for grabs. Suppose Voeckler picks up 40 and Kohl is trapped behind a large escape, with the leaders. So he scores 10. they would be even. So one long escape like today could mean a close competition. Probably not. Too bad Kohl is second on GC, he could have the jersey wrapped up with a tiny escape.

Green jersey looks sewed up too. Oscar did the business. He did everything right, even though the young English kid whupped them all four times. But when the kid was gone, Oscar then won the stage. Said he was glad to win, but the kid was faster. Sadly, the kid left the race, leaving Oscar a near certitude. Kirchen could have made it slightly more interesting by not blowing the mountain stage so badly. Like he got ZERO points today, same as the Sprinters. I still support Zabel, just one more time. One more stage, one more jersey, and he can kiss the training goodbye. Out at the top. But I am I dreaming. He will probably finish as he does in the sprints these days. Fast but not the fastest. Wise, but not the youngest. At the front, but not a winner. I want Eric to win one more time. Hushovd didn’t do anything really wrong either, he just was not the fastest for some reason we may never know. Maybe he could win a stage too.

I often ignore the team competition. They calculate the team standings by taking the top three finishers on each team, adding their times, and averaging for the team. Then they continue this each day adding the time to the previous total for the whole race. In the end there is a total for “the first three riders” on “each separate day”, for “each separate team”, added up from the first day. Often this ranking system corresponds with what you think it should be, that is, a list of the “best teams” in the Tour, in a relative ranking. This indicator is constructed like most quantitative measures, they are refining it all the time. “Being the best team” used to get you a guaranteed invitation to all the Top Tours. This is a prize worth going for, if you have the possibility of doing it. So in the last few days of the Tour that this comes into the construction of strategies. So at present, the best team is Team CSC, rather closely followed by AG2R. Then there is an awesome, never-to-be-breached gap to all the other teams. The others have no chance at all of beating the two top teams. Each of the others is slightly better than the next one down the ladder. But the difference is slight and can change in one day. For example, fifth could be third by the end of the Tour. Rabobank is third, followed by Lampre, Euskatel, Gerolsteiner, Caisse, silence, Credit Agricole and Team Columbia. There is something more or less satisfactory about that list. But if it were a Tour de France geek quiz, I would ask the perfectly answerable question, “Explain the position of Euskatel and Columbia with regards to the failings of quantitative ranking systems.” I presume that you, like me, think that Columbia is a brilliant team, and Euskatel has one guy with class. But maybe you agree with the rankings. Or even the idea of rankings.

They went so slowly up the Lombarde, the first big pass, that the sprinters were not even dropped. I know why, but this is a bad spectacle. When you can only guarantee racing excitement for an hour and it is televised for four, then the product needs improvement. On the other hand, some people like watching cricket. In the Tour you can have two races in one, like we did today. In cricket, there is only one game at a time. It is even slower to develop.

I love the controversy about the “highest road in Europe”. This is what the French believe the road over the Col de Bonette Restefond is. The Tour is the greatest event in cycling, and possibly in all sports. The highest climb in Europe fits right in with the hype. BUT, what this really means (to eliminate the more than three thousand metre road in the Sierra Nevada in Spain) is the road today is “the highest paved road that doesn’t just go to the top and stop being paved or even stop entirely. “A dead end” as we used to say. Sans Issue, I now say. On the other hand, there was some mention of Austrian passes which were actually higher. One of the French commentators, the one in charge of “Cocorico”, tried to claim it is the highest. Fignon sort of snorts in the background, and Jean Paul Olivier, with his sense of accuracy and keenness on facts, does bring up the Austrian rumour, without giving the name of the pass. Its hard when a pass might not be highest and you always thought it was. On the other hand, there are two passes, the Iseran and the Stelvio, in Italy, which WERE higher than La Bonnette. But someone decided in 1961 to make a wee loop in the road going all the way to the very top. This meant that instead of being third, La Bonette became top. As long as you ignore Austrian claims and claim the road has to be paved both up and over. You have to find stuff to talk about in a long Tour. I did a bit of goggling and I think the French might be right. The highest pass you can ride a road bike over, fast, is La Bonette.

The brother story is always a good one. Fathers and sons does well on the Tour too. Brothers and sons of former riders always adds spice to the storyline. Although Sebastian just dropped out, the Chavanel brothers were one story. But the Schlecks clearly have moved it to a new level. One in yellow and one in white. I wonder if this has ever happened, and won’t take the time to find out right now. I reckon its a first.

Further, we have had six different riders wear the jersey. I would like to, and can, invent a scenario where we get past six. It can be “hoped” that Kohl, Menchov or Sastre wears yellow, or even someone else, as a result of some outstanding or lucky performance tomorrow. I would like that. Things would be so uncertain that maybe we would find an eighth rider before Paris. But the odds seem to be that when and if Frank loses it, he will lose it to Evans. Stuck at six.

Must go now. I get to ride the bike tomorrow and must get some sleep.

All the best. Nearly done now.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

First Day in the Alps

First Day in the Alps – 20 July

We got a bit of action today, but very slow to unfold. Other than the two crashes, which are not the kind of action I want to talk about, we have a few changes, and plenty of material to speculate about. Did I mention that the stage was very slow to unfold. I had a nap between the climb of the huge mountain and 50k from the end and apparently missed almost nothing. I took my nap when I realised that no one was going to do anything on the first big climb. And virtually no one was dropped, as the pace was so slow that practically any rider could keep up. It does happen in the Tour, frequently, but I will admit that I am always hoping for someone to make a significant move. I understand totally why no one does, but as a spectacle we mainly have the countryside. As for my taste in landscape, I say the French bit was loads more interesting than the Italian bit. I did my first week long taiji intensive at 1600 metres up a back road from Chateau Queyras, so I love it when they go on that road. I still remember the one time we left the mountaintop encampment (Sommet Bucher) and drove down the road with Pink Floyd on the stereo. Never cycled around there.

After our club ride this morning, we had a quick coffee speculating about the Tour a bit. We all agreed that no one has any idea what is going to happen. Nice ride though, 77k, 600 metres of climbing, but mostly just riding along. The eight k, false flat, descent down the valley from Seriès to Avène was a particular pleasure. I am surprised I could keep up after my cold and ten days off the bike, but since “keeping up” sometimes means sticking with two guys ten years older than me, it was almost a pleasure. Got a push or two when my morale was flagging.

The two crashes today in the Tour were reminders what can happen at any moment on the bike. And the odd thing is that nearly everyone gets up and keeps riding after them. You would think that crashes would always cause serious injury, but they don’t. Oscar Pereiro however, went to the hospital, although it could have been worse. It actually looked loads worse. Can’t actually see what happened on the replays. Just a wee mistake, misjudging a turn, avoiding a patch of gravel, a touch of the brakes. It can just happen.

The victory of Simon Gerrans, who in no way resembles or pretends to resemble a climber, was something that I believe no person on earth predicted, including his partner, his kids, his mom and dad. He was just not supposed to be there winning the first stage in the Alps. Although Fignon contended it just was not a difficult stage and I tend to agree. Especially after the fact. . Furthermore any break was supposed to get mopped up by the guys trying to win the stage and race. In fact, it almost did get caught. They only won by four minutes and this can easily be attributed to the two crashes which really made the peloton think a bit about the conditions, and the point of it all. More power to Gerrans, who has now got a made career. “Simon Gerrans, winner of stage in the Tour de France”. This Tour is so unpredictable. The experts on the box only had four guys to pick from for the stage win, and could watch them closely for a hundred k. They thought Pate was hopeless, and he was not. They thought, unanimously, that Martinez would win. Although one or two did have a good word to say about Gerrans and Arrieta (loads of “experience”). In fact, Fignon had a nice comment about how Mrtinez might be good, and might be a good teammate, but he had not really learned to win. Apparently two wins in his career. Fignon really is good. But I don’t feel bad when I mess up.

As for the stage itself, things changed at the end, but not massively. No one got eliminated or lost a lot of time. I notice that one totally outsider, Devolder, has dropped out. And Cavendish is off to train for the Olympics on the track. It is pretty common knowledge that for a sprinter to climb hills does not get them ready for the track. Cadel lost the jersey, but he has six seconds (so far) to make up and can time trial better than anyone in the top ten. So they are going to have to do a lot better to make me think he is not going to win. I would not be at all worried if I were him. Although I noticed that he really has no team at all when the going gets tough. I am not sure I saw Popovych all day. He finished over seven minutes back with a load of no one in particulars. Evans did look to be suffering a bit. The last few k up the hill were full of attacks. Mostly they were by Andy Schleck, who showed that the lost time (a disaster in fact) on Hautacam was indeed mostly due to not eating and drinking enough. He is pretty good climber really. As good as anyone else.

So yellow jersey is so up for grabs I defy anyone to give me a solid case for anyone, except Cadel. That is purely based on his superiority in the time trials. I am utterly certain that I have never seen a Tour where there are six guys within 50 seconds with only two mountain stages to go. You could easily say that since Evans is superior by minutes over these other guys in the time trial, the closeness is an illusion. There is sense in that, but at this moment, it is really close. Closer to the time I shall compare the last time trial in 2007 with the gaps that exist by then.

Although it may be just stubbornness, I don’t even think that Valverde is totally out of a podium place yet (4,11 downon Frank). I don’t think Andy S will make the top ten. I think he will now sacrifice ALL for his brother or Carlos. And come back next year a little bit more experienced.

There are still some surprises in the top ten. People I am pretty sure no-one predicted would be there, although no doubt there will be some who clam they did. Bernhard Kohl was an outsider for the polka dot jersey, but NOT for second place. Christian Vande Velde was not mentioned by anyone I read for a top ten place, much less fifth, 39 seconds from yellow. CV only lost ten seconds to Evans in the first time trial! Although Kim Kirchen was mentioned, I personally am still way surprised he is still there in seventh place. And although AG2R, a continental team, might have had big hopes for Efemkin and Valjevec, I doubt they really thought 9th and thirteenth at this stage would be a serious hope. And then Maxime Monfort, the revelation of the Tour, for me personally, as I had never heard of him. Cunego is not doing nearly as well as many had hoped, including him;

As for the close gaps, I really find it mind blowing. I am glad Frank has the yellow jersey. This will take pressure off Cadel. It will also make the race interesting since CSC are the only team that can be guaranteed to do whatever they want on the flat bits, and the only team who are guaranteed to have THREE guys in the small group at the end of the last climb. They can just work over anyone, anytime. I should think that Sastre still has moves to make. And Andy Schleck will work over the small group of leaders until he is dead, so that his brother can win. Although he might help out Sastre if needed too. CSC is very powerful and will have everything to say about who wins. Cadel will just hang on, never attack and beat them in the time trial. Or so he thinks. But since there are still two big stages to watch, we don’t now; that’s the beauty of it, we just don’t know.

Young rider. It is now totally clear who are the four best riders in this category. The only one that keeps surprising me is Monfort. I had no idea he was that good or that consistent. He is seldom mentioned as a serious candidate. He must be very proud of his Tour so far. There other three are very well known quantities. I still pick Schleck, although I am pretty sure Nibali and Kreuziger can time trial better than he can. I can tell you one thing, to have four guys this close at this stage of the %tour is something that has never happened in at least 15 years. The Tour of Uncertainty.

Polka dot jersey. You can see clearly what happens when no one seems to want the jersey. A break goes away, over only two decent climbs today. Suddenly the four guys in the break, three of whom have nothing to do with the polka dot jersey, are in the top eight, Martinez third, Gerrans fourth in the standings. That’s what I mean about the jersey being a joke. You look at the green jersey there are no jokes. You look at yellow, the guys are all real. White is simply the young guys who are also doing well. But really, Lang and Gerrans, second and fourth best climbers. For me, it is just not a genuine jersey competition anymore. Hope something happens, although it appears that Kohl is the only one who is trying to win it. Mind you, with one long attack, someone could suddenly be a threat. But it looks like Kohl. He will be very motivated, as he is in with an outside chance of a podium. No way in my book.

I will tell you one thing that disturbs me a bit, although I don’t know why. At this stage of the Tour, this morning, the third week, there were ten of the twenty teams that have every single rider on their team still in the race. And there are six more who have only lost one rider. Although I refuse to look it up just yet, it seems to me that this is unprecedented. Very few riders are dropping out. Half the Barloworld team and all the Saunier Duval, fair enough. But hardly anyone is dropping out of the other teams. Very bizarre. Usually by the end of the Tour there are only three or four teams with full rosters. Why is this Tour so “easy”?

Simon Gerrans. Apparently was seriously injured during his previous sporting career and started cycling when a neighbour, Phil Anderson, lent him a bike to recuperate. He was good and so gave up the previous career. And now, his life has changed!

I do love it when we get two races in one. Seems such a good deal. It did take along time to get interesting, but when it did it was nearly exciting. Good Tour so far!

Good night. Tomorrow is market day and I look forward to hanging out on the street with the club guys who don’t work. We should have the Tour sorted by noon.