Sunday, 6 July 2008

Note how the Spanish colours are subtle, hardly visible, arm rings, shorts rings and stripes on the side. And the coloured helmet. Corporate advertising rules OK for a “real” champion.

Last year’s Spanish champion, same team. Clear enough what country he is from?

I can’t mention much about how the Caisse d’Epargne managed to dominate the national Spanish jersey for Valverde, rather than letting the colours of the nation dominate the colours of the bank’s normal jersey. But perhaps a picture or two will explain. Mind you, I do like the Caisse d’Epargne outfit, black and red, nice colours.

Actual piece of writing starts here.

I am reminded …

6 July 2008

As I watched the Tour the first two days, I was reminded of the various little bits of the Tour Spectacle that draw me to it every year. I am not talking about riding “the route of the Tour” near me in the inverse sense, as I did this morning with the club. I am talking about watching it on TV, which I try to do for as long as I can, every day. Naurika finds the flat stages a bit boring until the last few K. This involves about an hour and half a day, on average. Life really does have more to it than the Tour, so some days I just have to cut it short. But I picked up on the reminders.

I was reminded of the crashes. Suddenly, often through no fault of their own, a rider’s Tour is over, completely. Or they sustain an injury that means their goals will not be reached even if they keep riding for a day or even the whole Tour. This happened with Hervé Duclos-Lassalle, son of the two time winner of Paris Roubaix, Gilbert. The first day, before he even gets into it, the Tour is over. Not cosmically tragic, but nevertheless, a bit sad. Like life, of course. And Mauricio Soler. He limped in today, losing many minutes. But the possibility of him winning the young rider jersey, or the climber’s jersey (he was heavy favourite) is now pretty minimal.

I was reminded of the beautiful countryside passing by, brilliantly filmed by the helicopters and the motorcycles. I took a holiday once in Brittany and never went back. The TV coverage tempted me to try.

I was reminded of the funky displays that people make alongside the route of the Tour, hoping to catch the eye of the TV cameras. The displays can be anything at all, and a brilliant examples of folk art. Yesterday there was a guy who displayed this massive collection of jerseys, maybe 400, every one of them neatly attached to a huge background. And then every club in the region or various associations do something in a field of one of their members, with bales of hay, or people in formations, or coloured sheets or farm machinery. The ingenuity and work that goes into them is probably enough to bring drinking water to all the people in six African countries.

I am reminded of the changing shape of the peloton, as they speed up, slow down, go around corners, climb hills. I love reading the shape of the peloton to tell what is happening, at a glance. One day I would like to do a project of reviewing and editing various shots of the peloton making the changes. And without making a big point of it, when it looks like nothing is happening, I love reflecting on which team and which riders are leading the peloton when it accelerates a bit. Why are they there? What is their strategy?

I marvel at the skill and trust of the riders as they cruise along at maybe 50k an hour, within centimetres of the one in front, on both sides and in their rear. To me its no strange thing that they crash, I simply wonder why they don’t crash more often especially as the road suddenly get narrower. When I am following one wheel closely, less than a meter away, in my club, it takes all my concentration to do it without making a mess of it. Imagine doing that for five hours, at twice the speed we go. Madness. They have the slight advantage of being kind of dragged along in a bubble of riders, but nevertheless, it takes massive skill and experience to ride in a bunch. And in the sprints, I just cannot imagine being there.

I as reminded of “the escape”. Will they be caught? When will they be caught? Or maybe they will escape. That whole notion of “escape and capture” is worth an essay in itself. Wonderful to watch attempted escapes, wondering if they will be the “right one”, what the “right one” means and then getting moderately excited about how it will fare.

I am also reminded how little time I manage to carve out to do these little pieces and how I always have to stop before I get it all said. I don’t have time to try and tell you about the stupid French song they seem to have adopted as the permanent music fo the Tour. Totally insipid, especially after the past three or four years.

So Ricco is the young rider leader, the hot headed, big mouth, young Italian super climber. I am delighted. He claims that we will really see him in action at Super Besse and at Alpe d’Huez. I am ready. His idol is Pantani, and he wants to win at Alpe like Pantani did. So already he has targeted two wins and he might just do it.

One other small research project I want to do someday is to figure out, by interviewing riders and their bosses, how the peloton “thinks” or “decides”. We know they don’t like to catch an escape, if it is the “right” escape, until just before the end. If they catch it too far out, someone else might be tempted to attack and they would have to chase twice, very tiring. But how exactly does “it” figure out how to do it. How do they manage the shifting coalition of teams doing the work at the front riding at particular speeds and conduct the intricate communications between the riders, between the riders and their bosses and between the bosses. At a particular moment you have to “explain” why Caisse d’Epargne, Quick Step and FDJ are riding at the front. Very fascinating.

They went through a village called Mississipi, one p, today. I have not Googled it to see how the name got there, but I am sure I saw it. Looking quickly in my usual sources, I am unable to find this town. Maybe I imagined the sign. Hmmm.

We get nice interviews now on the after show, Lemond and Hinault today. Nothing fascinating really, but nice to see the two of them. You might not know that Lemond’s son is a very good cyclist and maybe …

Not much to say about the results today. Valverde was brilliant yesterday, the speed of his attack at the end. Just waited until the right moment and did it. So simple, just rode faster than anyone else. I doubt he will keep the jersey throughout the race. And I do not agree with Jalabert, who says that really he is at the top of his form and so therefore will fade out in the third week. And it is better to come to the tour at 90% and get better in the third week. Like the Schlecks and Sastre. We shall see. I think Valverde can hold his form, it will just be a question of whether he can go fast enough in the mountains and the time trials than the others who are better than him in one or the other discipline. Or whether his team can spring a surprise.

The sprint victory of Thor Hushovd was pretty well predicted, although nothing is certain. I am glad, as I like the guy and think he is honest and true. I found it interesting that two guys from Columbia, Ciolek and Kirchen finished behind him. And we still have yet to see Cavendish. Strong team.

Notice the lighter colour of the green jersey this year? I rather like it.

Must go now; it is late. More tomorrow if I can fit it in between a visit to the kiné, market day hanging out, going to the dentist and watching the video of the tour since I will be at the dentist. I will get into the routine as time goes on.

Vive le vélo. In all its uses and disguises.