Friday, 10 July 2009

Stage 7
10 July 2009

Very disappointing. I described the fantasy of one scenario that might happen yesterday, and it happened (more or less) exactly as I said. That means nothing surprising happened, nothing to make it a stage to remember. I have forgotten it already, other than the superb scenery, most of which my wife says I missed, as they were going up the wild side of the Pyrenées.

Two things not predicted. The non-GC escapees did not have any very well known climbers in the group, except Egoi Martinez, who would have been my pick amongst them to win the stage. He did nothing except keep up. The winner was the brother of a promising French sprinter, who had worn the yellow jersey for one day, and who sometimes wins a race, mostly in France. Right now the brother, Roman Feillu is ninth in the Green Jersey competition. His brother Brice, a skinny tall climber, managed to escape the group and win the stage, by riding for nearly six k in front. He attacked exactly where most people hoped others would attack. It is his first Tour. He has won minor French races, and for all we know, this might be the déclic for his career. Let's hope we see more of him and that this is not just a one off lucky ride. Although a huge breakaway and then his attack can't be all “luck”. Good for him and good for “the French”, who can rejoice again.

The other unpredicted thing is that while we waited for attacks and counter-attacks and a bit of racing, nothing much happened. Five k to go, four, three two and finally at less than two k to go Evans made one of his accelerations, not really “an attack”. He looked back after a bit and everyone was there. Then a bit later, Contador made one of his real attacks. Schleck attempted to follow and could not. Contador then proceeded to take less than twenty seconds out of the following group of GC guys, and managed to leap above Lance, so that they two of them are six and eight seconds behind the new yellow jersey. I think Alberto might get in trouble for that attack. I figure he was just bored, and that no one told him to do it. I mean, exactly what was the point other than to get yellow, which in fact, Bruyneel does not want to do this early really. There were also a few gaps created in the last kilometre and half, but nothing to write home about. Ronaldo Nocentini, an Italian who rides for AG2R, was the highest place rider in the escape, and took yellow. He is a fairly good rider who sometimes wins a race. The Astana-paced peloton was going so slowly it never caught the break (although it should have according to notions of Fignon and others) and never really dropped anyone much. Admittedly the Liquigas guys are a bit annoyed tonight, but still. I am happy for the new jersey wearers, but overall not really very entertained and gripped by the stage. This is one of only three mountain top finishes, so we might have to wait a bit for some climbing drama. Maybe they will all just stay together all the way up every climb and then the whole GC will be played out on Ventoux, and in the ITT the day before. Hmmmm.

The other possibility is that we will see the Astana train repeat the rather uninteresting but dominant riding style of the Discovery or US Postal trains of yesteryear. Hmmm. Even if they are the “best team”, it really does not make for a great race. The others need to attack!

We did find out that at the pace they went, given that only Cadel Evans made a feeble attack, Lance can stay with the best in the mountains. This means that he should have an excellent chance to finish in the top ten, and possibly on the podium. A good story for Lance, but not all that good for what one might call “real racing”. Real racing is when there are attacks, people get dropped, get back on, gain time and so forth. If all the time differences are made in time trials, and up Ventoux and no one attacks, I might as well record the live stages and go for rides or swims in the afternoon. In my opinion, it really is not such a great spectacle for us fans. But nevertheless, Lance, the old guy, stayed with the very best. Astana is a strong team. I should add that I am delighted to see Wiggins managed to keep up, although I don't know if that means the pace was slow or that he is becoming a GC rider. I hope the latter. And to see Vandevelde keep up too.

I shall think of some more things to say, but I doubt I shall find much. I am beginning to agree with my critical “negative forum” guys, that the route was not very well conceived, the race is going to be without surprises, and the Astana train will be all we see going up hills. The first week of the Giro was WAY more interesting. But I refuse to give up. I am sure there are surprises and much real racing ahead of us. Good for the guys that took advantage of the unfolding of the race, and stuck it out on the huge escape they made. Near the every end of the stage there were still thirty guys in the peloton. Look at the time differences. Given a few seconds here and there, there were as many as forty guys in the peloton not far from the top. Who ever heard of that on a mountaintop finish? One guy who was unexpectedly dropped was Roman Kreuziger, one of the great young hopes for a Big Tour. I am sure he will come back, but that too was a bit disappointing.

"That wasn't really to the plan," Armstrong said of Contador's attack that almost earned him the maillot jaune, "but I didn't expect him to go by the plan, so no surprise. It was windy, so it was hard to be alone in the wind. The wind wasn't conducive, you saw a big group there; [there will be] plenty of days at end of this Tour when there are only a couple of guys together."
From Cycling News … Can you see the tight smile?

A quick good bye to Jussi Veikkonen, the Finnish guy, who has dropped out of sight. Hope we see him again, he IS meant to be good. And I noticed that Arroyo, meant to be one of the two leaders to replace Valverde, is nearly disappearing from sight. Maybe he is saving himself to help Contador when Astana implodes. The mountains jersey competition looks really strange. Really strange. No one in the top ten, except Alberto at ten, was mentioned in ANY of the predictions I read. I expect that will change a bit if the “real?” climbers make an effort.

So tomorrow I wonder if we will see any attacks by the GC guys. I hope so. How are any of the guys below the Astana Four going to ever beat them? Bernard Hinault would know, ATTACK!