Friday, 11 July 2008

Aurillac - 11 July

Aurillac – 11 July

A couple of slightly different morning reflections on yesterday. I am a bit less tired and also have read the paper so I know what the controversies are. The crash of Schumacher, which almost certainly cost him the yellow jersey, is much discussed. I also cost Andy Schleck nearly forty seconds as his chain came off when he was impeded by the crash. Two other riders were also affected, Sanchez and Devolder, who also lost handfuls of seconds, caught behind Schumacher’s carelessness or bad luck. All of them were annoyed. But Schumacher was complaining the most, even though his front wheel was the one in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is no doubt what happened. Kirchen had just stood up on his pedals (“mettre en danceuse”), as had Schumacher. The action at the end of the stage was about to begin, and they were all ready, watching, waiting. When you stand up, at least in my experience, the bike tends to move from side to side a lot more than when you are just sitting down. I follow lots of wheels and I know that. Everyone knows that. If you are following someone closely, as Schumacher was, then you have to take that into account. You do that either intuitively, based on all your experience or calculating, using all your experience. Schumacher tried to avoid the movement of the Kirchen bike, but he was too close to Kirchen’s rear wheel. The rest of the reduced “strongman” bunch were quite close to each other (hence four riders being affected). When you touch the rear wheel of the rider in front with your front wheel, you almost always fall. Why? Because the back wheel is fixed, it does not move easily. It cannot wobble, so it does not move. The front wheel can move, it is meant to move, and so it does move. Check out your bike. If the front wheel moves too far too fast, you fall. The guy in front is (almost) NEVER to blame, although obviously he feels a bit badly about “causing” a fall. The guy in front cannot, simply cannot, look behind all the time to see where other riders are. Although if the leading rider is going to move sideways intentionally or spit to the side or throw away his water bottle, then they do look. It is the responsibility of the rider in back to be careful, because he is looking forward all the time anyway. So Schumacher complaining is way out of line as far as I am concerned. It’s his fault. It is a shame, but he should have been more careful, or maybe just a bit luckier. You win or lose Tours on luck like that. Certainly a jersey on a given day can be lost and was. In my view the guys that should be complaining more are the ones behind Schumacher who, on account of his bad luck or bad riding, were impeded. You can see an opposite and in my view wrong, interpretation of this event here. I have never been a fan of Fotheringham. Although it was good to learn that Ricco has been tested four times in five days as part of the “targeted testing policy” of the ASO. Amazing how detailed and geeky I can become!

The results. Although I am tempted to make my usual observations like what are the squares of yellow, perhaps fabric that I saw along the route, on the ground at the side of the road during the last part of the stage? Art? Or perhaps I could have noted the astounding amount of totally new road surface for the Tour. You can tell by the fact that there are not even any markings on the road yet. Or the fact that Aurillac was the host for the 13,000 strong, week long summer meeting/ride of the French Cyclotourist Federation two or so years ago. Or that it is often the coldest spot on the national weather report. Or how scary the sliding back wheel of de La Fuente was on that descent. Happened to me a few times in the distant past when I was younger and bolder. But I will go straight to results as I am pressed for time again today. I need to ring some people, who I can only ring at night.

It was, by all reports, a rather hard stage today. But I knew that the run-up to the Pyrenees would be hard, and that there would be some very tired bunnies by now. Up and down all day. Very fast pace from the word go. Even though the climbs themselves were not especially hard or decisive. Everyone agreed that it was a very hard day.

Sadness for the various riders that dropped out for various reasons today. The crash of Gadret looked particularly horrible. I will be curious what my least favourite rider, Christophe Moreau says about why he just stopped riding. Bad back apparently, never mentioned in previous long tedious interviews. Backstedt finshed, but outside the time limit (Hors Delai). We shall hear more of this HD later.

HD Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30          32.25
DNF Lilian Jégou (Fra) Française des Jeux                                  
DNF Mauro Facci (Ita) Quick Step                                           
DNF Christophe Moreau (Fra) Agritubel                                      
DNF John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  

Young rider. Schleck picked up over forty seconds on Lovkvist today, and is breathing down his neck. Poor Thomas did a huge amount of work for Kim Kirchen and as a result dropped back into the second group, who all finished 33 seconds behind the winner. Kreuziger also finished in the first group and gained time, as did Nibali, who tried a big move today, but failed. There are still six guys within two and half minutes, but the Pyrenees will show which young guy is the best this year. The young guys are better than usual. The jersey stays with Lovkvist.

Green jersey. Stays with Kirchen, and with his fourth place finish on the stage, he increased the gap on his competitors. Oscar Freire managed to just slip ahead of Hushovd today. He picked up four more points in the intermediate sprints than Hushovd. Those points could make a difference in Paris. The big news is that Kirchen might well stay in the competition for the jersey until Paris. It is entirely possible he will pick up points in the mountains, whereas Freire and Hushovd never will. I should add that Valverde is just a few points behind the two sprinters, and Cadel and Ricco round out the top eight. I still think there could be a non-sprinter in Green, for the first time in how many years? Since Hinault?

Mountain jersey. Nothing of interest happened, Chavanel lost it. But then he was going to anyway. The Spanish rider, good in the medium mountains, de la Fuente from the Saunier Duval team, made an effort to win it. He did. He won’t keep it once we get to the Pyrenees.

Yellow is on the same body. Kirchen looks more and more comfortable in this race, even though it is hard to figure he will win the Tour. His team looks wonderful, although perhaps a touch light in the high mountains. Certainly for sprints and medium mountains they are totally adequate, in fact maybe the best. In any case, the exact same ten guys are in the top ten today as yesterday. Some lost a few seconds and others gained a few, but really nothing much changed. Noting the changes would take a long time, and only involve a few seconds each way. Evans looks strong, and still seems boring. But strong, smart and acting like a winner. In fact none of the top tem looked to be weakening and none made any mistakes. There really is not much more to say until Sunday, when we see who can “really” climb and who might drift out of the top ten. Millar tried to seize the jersey again, but this break got caught. I like the look of the guys lurking in the second ten, eleven through 20 in the standings. They are just waiting to make their move. I am getting twitchy to see who has the legs. You can see all the details here

It’s a bit late and I would like to stop. Flat stage tomorrow that should end in a bunch sprint in Toulouse. My guys, for purely sentimental reasons are first, Eric, second Mark. Otherwise I just hope there are no crashes, no one abandons, and everyone has an easy day before they hit the Pyrenees.

Good night and bonne route.

Super Besse - 10 July part 2

Something went wrong with my last post and the paragraphs at the end were unreadable. so I am posting them separately in the hope you can read them.

Speaking of guys I have never heard of, the seventh place finisher today, seven seconds back, was Moises Dueñas Nevado (Spa) Barloworld. Not only have I never heard of him, but both of my magazine supplements do not even list him on the team roster. One day I will look him up. Who is Moises? I remember a Moises from Spain a couple of years ago, but why is he not even on the team lists? 69th and 36th the last two years in the Tour, 27, formerly Agritubel. How did he do so well today?

My two favourite art works today were a family of “cave dwellers” who were also hanging out with a two tone green Deux Chevaux, which was linked to advertising the merits of the Chou de Magnat. This is apparently a very fine variety of Cabbage that is in danger of being lost to humanity, and happens to grow in this area. This family was shown sitting down to eat, in the usual large gathering, and was contrasted quite pointedly to two Dutch people who were also sitting nearby, next to their caravan, with a glass of orange juice on their table. The other art was a German plastic artist who was shown twice. The one I liked was what looked like huge blocks of Styrofoam cut out in the shapes of the letters spelling “maintenant” (“now” in French) which were anchored in a still lake on the route. OK, a third one, consisting of 600 children who were bending at the waste displaying a sea of yellow T shrits, within the outline of a jersey. When the helicopter came over, they stood up and waved.

We also went through the area where St. Nectaire is made, and no doubt other cheeses that were not mentioned while I was watching.

The first hill was no big deal, Fignon said he went up it in 1992 on the big ring. As did many of the riders today. He said that this morning he rode up it in the small ring. It was 8k or so at 5%, which is a hill that some of the guys in my club could go up in the big ring, but not quite as fast as the giants of the road.

Fabian Wegman for a big mountain move.

No doubt I have missed something today, but I really have to go to bed if I am going to beat this sore throat. I like how the tour is taking shape earlier than usual. By this time normally we would still be doing sprinting stages, waiting for the “real leaders” to begin to appear at the top of the GC. They are already there this year, so all we have to do is wait for some to rise and some to fall, and maybe some, like Cadel and Alex to remain where they are. I still hope for some surprises.

Super Besse – 10 July

You have to take some of my comments with a pinch of salt. I am always looking for some interest, excitement and events that matter. They make the Tour something I can enthusiastically follow. In my opinion there are always such events, every day. I also read L’Equipe every day, which is owned by the people who own the Tour. So they are unlikely to say that the Tour is boring or that nothing much has happened. The paper certainly goes wild if some French rider does something, anything. What I am trying to say is that there is very little we know about the Tour so far, before Super Besse. Although I could be wrong, we will not know all that much more after today’s stage. In fact, if I were to be perfectly honest, and brutally clear, there is little we will know until the last week of the Tour. The GC will NOT be sorted until then. The green jersey is a bit confusing now, and the next few days will not sort it. The young rider is related to GC and is totally unclear. The polka dot jersey, well, the mountains have not yet begun. Super Besse is not exactly the “big mountains”. Just a reminder to take my enthusiasm with a grain of salt.

However, we seem to know that Ricco is not going for the yellow jersey, but for spectacular mountain work. We seem to know that there are some young guys who might well do something in all the categories. We are watching some newish, “clean” teams heading the team competition, which one day I must describe and explain. We seem to know that Cadel Evans is in good shape and has not put a foot wrong, even if he has done nothing of interest. We do not know who his leading challengers will be; for sure. We know that we know nothing at all about the climbers’ jersey as the last winner has quit the Tour. Given his crash and earlier his poor TT performance, we suspect my man Alex will not be as strong as we thought. We have seen the official birth of a new British hero, Mark Cavendish, but he won eleven times last year, so this is not a big surprise, just a consecration. So the Tour is very young and we really don’t know much. There have been very few injuries and not many abandons yet, so we don’t know how that will affect matters. And yet, and yet, I seem to think something has happened. And, by gum, it has.

Should you wish to read comments from guys who think that both Millar and Cavendish are NOT fine people, look here I am not sure why they are so anti-Cavendish. I drew my own conclusions from approximately two minutes on French TV. So what do I know? I have always liked Millar and his interviews, which I have only heard in his very good French, while these guys don’t like either of them.

Late afternoon. The results are in and we have begun to get a hint about what the Tour might become. It looks like a great Tour to me. The yellow jersey changed bodies. There was a moderately interesting finish where the young loudmouth Ricco did just what he said he would. Some of the contenders lost a bit more time. Cadel Evans followed Valverde right up to the finish and lost no time. Valverde seemed to put to rest possible side effects of his crash, although maybe he would have won if he had not had the crash. Valverde’s team rode as if he already had the jersey, which might turn out to be a mistake as they must be getting a bit used up. Oscar Pereiro is ensconced in the top ten although he has not really “done anything”. I am just waiting for Haimar Zubeldia to “do nothing” and end up sixth in the Tour. The countryside was gorgeous, woods and hills and lakes. We even had some intriguing art, both folk and professional, along the route. We even had some slightly worrying crashes, the yellow jersey and my favourite old geezer, Eric Zabel. Did you notice how quickly Eric came back to the peloton, even though they were going up hill? He really is a rider to remember, and I do hope he wins a stage.

Sylvain Chavanel snatched the polka dot jersey from the shoulders of Voeckler by making a break that no one cared about, and scaling the first second category climb before the peloton caught him. He finished nearly five minutes back, as if the effort to ride up a second category hill was all he could manage in a day. I have moaned about the polka dot jersey being of no real value, mentioned how obvious non-climbers can win it with a careful plan, how there has not been a genuine battle for it for a decade (I think Virenque had maybe one time when he had a competitor), and how it generally is a drag to watch who wins the jersey. I hope this year is different and that Chavanel, NOT a climber, loses it soon to a real climber. Bit harsh that!

The yellow jersey; on the other hand drifted onto the shoulders of Kim Kirchen. He also managed to take the green jersey away from Hushovd. Tomorrow the green will be worn by Hushovd, as no one can wear two jerseys at the same time. Kirchen is beginning to look like he might give a bit of trouble to someone hoping to take either of these jerseys. Most people agree he should die a bit in the high mountains, but in the medium ones, he seems a superb rider. Four of the top eleven riders in the green jersey competition are already NON sprinters. And soon we shall be in the mountains; where sprinters gain ZERO points. This competition might be interesting in more ways than one. Although you have to remember my idealistic desire to see uncertainty in all categories. As for the overall look of the GC, it is now is clearly something like it will be in the end. Some really superb climbers might work their way into the top ten, but we seem to have most of the GC riders already present in the top ten. There are a few in the top twenty who should vanish in a few days, like Van de Velde, Millar, Knees, Hincapie. Although writing those names I am not so sure. Certainly I think that in the next twenty there will be considerable progress made by Kreuziger, Nibali, Zubeldia, Ricco and Cobo Acebo. I rather like looking at the top twenty, even though we all know that after the Pyrenees there will most likely be about five or six guys with a good chance. Could this year be different?

Cadel is up there still. Doing nothing you can ever see, but never letting people get very far from his front wheel. He is doing exactly what they say, “being regular”. It would be nice if he shows himself sometime during the Tour, makes a move, strips off his button down shirt and lets us see a bit of panache. Still, you get paid to win the Tour, not to show panache. On the other hand, he does not actually win many races, that is, finish first across the line on a stage. We cycling fans like that once in a while. He has never won a stage in the Tour. So until he does, I am not supporting him.

The young rider competition is shaping up nicely. I am surprised to see Maxime Monfort still there in the top four, but then again I don’t know a lot about him. It still looks like Schleck, Lovkvist, Kreuziger and Nibali will fight it out, maybe even for the top ten. Ricco? Nah.