Sunday, 11 July 2010

Stage 8 11-7-10

Gradually we are learning more about this Tour. Although we had a couple of slow days, there is a fair bit of action already, much more to come. On Tuesday, when we begin again after a rest day, there are some serious climbs, especially Col de Madeleine. Although there is a long descent before the finish. Plenty of action left. And a rest day well deserved for us all.

What did we learn today?
Bradley Wiggins is not in such great form when the road goes up, or at least not today.
Lance Armstrong will either quit the Tour, go for one glorious stage, or work as a domestic for Levi Leipheimer. His Tour is over, we won't see him riding again after the end of July.
The big shot riders still tend to ride up a hill together and no one much attacks … yet.
The scenery is so powerful in the mountains that you almost want to live there.
Chavanel is a nice guy and not a bad rider, but he can't keep up with the best.
The Astana team is not as bad as people have said.
Ivan Basso and Roman Kreuziger can follow the best up a not very steep slope, but can they attack.
The Tour is very much open and anyone who thinks they can predict the winner is a more confident commentator than I.
Predicting Gesink to win the stage was not a bad guess.
The young riders are taking over the GC. Behind them are even younger riders learning and getting ready. The Tour turns.

I suppose that might be pretty much all I have to say, so it could be a very short blog. I did want to mention how rude Thierry Adam is to Fignon in the commentary box, and how often he interrupts Fignon or just talks right over him. But most of you don't watch the coverage in French so I won't say anything.

When the road goes up, and riders are gradually shelled out the back, dropped mercilessly by the accelerations of the peloton or perhaps of one team, the minor tragedies of the Tour are enacted. I think it is beautiful, one of the finest moments of the Tour, or any stage race that climbs. It is part of racing, so there can be no reason to complain. But it is a minor sadness each time. When Bradley Wiggins got dropped I felt a bit bad for him. He has many days to race, and his Tour is far from over. Nevertheless, his entire season was built on this race, and seeing him slide back, and in fact, slide right off the podium was drenched with sadness or even a bit of pity. He may come back, he may make the top ten, but when in fact there were a dozen or so riders who were NOT dropped at all, it was a bit of a shame. It WAS very HOT.

When it was obvious that Lance was dropped and he was not going to come back, I felt much better. I have never really liked the guy or his tactics, while still respecting his overall athletic ability. I saw the young guy, Brajkovic, riding alongside him. No real pain on the young guy's face, but age and recognition of the end leaking from Lance's face. The young guy should have been able to move forward, to catch the others and have a good Tour, but his job description this year was clear. He will, as the years unfold, remember vividly these moments, riding alongside the winningest Tour rider in history. It would have been nice to see Lance say a few words to him, but Janez just looked forward and kept riding. He probably had feelings we might one day learn about. Lance just looked … finished. I should say that I expect him to either quit the Tour during the rest day, or else actually try something on one stage. I am very glad his era is over. He is such a giant figure in the sport, it will be good to stop talking about him. After all, in his 'comeback', he never won a thing of consequence, but still made news every time he coughed. A huge personality.

Andy Schleck illustrated what might be his tactic to win the Tour today. He left it a bit late, but showed he can drop Alberto. Or maybe Alberto decided there was more to come, and he was not going to bust a gut so early. Ten seconds is no big deal. If Andy can do this every time there is a mountaintop finish, he might be fine. He was asked why he didn't attack earlier. He said, quite calmly, that he had a plan for the Tour and he was going to execute it. Apparently the plan does not mean attacks on Stage 8. Good to know there is a plan we can look forward to. He is a gifted rider, and it will be fascinating to see if he can gain enough time on Alberto before the final time trial. As most of you know, Andy will lose at least two maybe three minutes on Alberto on the day before they ride into Paris. As certain as anything can be in this Tour. So where will Andy attack and from how far out. With Fabian and Jens Voigt, as well as the rest of the very strong Saxo Bank team, he has options. Nice to see his first stage win ever in the Tour. Not the last.

I don't talk much about Cadel, but he is there now. In yellow. The rest of them have got to drop him sooner or later or else he will win. Very simple. He can ride a fine TT if he wants, certainly with the yellow jersey at stake he will do well. He knows all about riding the Tour, he knows about the podium, he appears to be in fine shape. I hope he not only makes the podium, but also gives us a little bit of entertainment and sporting excellence during the next few days. I wish I warmed to him more, that I liked him. He speaks Italian, French, English and maybe Spanish too. He likes to support Tibetans. His wife is pretty smart and very supportive and also good looking (unlike Cadel). Why can I not warm to the guy?

My wife is beginning to get bored with me shouting 'attack attack' at the TV. I am too. I know they are all trying to win. I know they are also trying not to lose. As a spectator, I am less excited watching the main GC guys just ride up the last climb in a clump. Yes, Rodriguez did attack. And Gesink. And in the last kilometre, Schleck. But we lacked the slow unfolding of an attack, the gradually lengthening of the gap, the gradual bringing back of the attacker, the counter attack, those mountain moves that make a Tour exciting, and are not merely attritional. Modern cycling is a bit defensive, a bit focussed on not making a mistake rather than the overt display of panache and risk. Oh well.

Looking at the GC after the first serious mountain stage, what can we see? First, it is looking about like it should. It also seems to show that there are not huge differences between any of the top riders yet. The results seem a bit uncertain, it is not clear if there is someone who can really dominate the others. I still reckon Alberto for yellow, but I can see why others might make a case for Schleck or Evans, at the very least. I suppose the best guess is that the podium in Paris will have the same riders as it now does, but maybe we don't know the order yet. If this is true it is a bit sad, but normal for the Tour. But behind the top three we have some others lurking.

Jurgen van den Broeck, or Jerry, is doing well. He seems to have quietly kept up with most everyone and seems able to keep that up. Certainly last year he announced his presence very clearly and is not following that up with a fine ride so far. I have no idea if he is capable of attacking, but if he is, that should prove a very intriguing new element in the mix. Another big surprise in the top ten is Ryder Hesjedal. Although I knew he was good, and even mentioned him in the intro to this blog, I still am a bit surprised to see him up there so high after two days in the mountains. I was never sure if he could climb that well. I don't even know anything more to say except that maybe Garmin has found a new leader, after the sad withdrawal of Christian van der Velde. In some ways, seeing Levi Leipheimer in the top ten is not a huge surprise, but to see the rest of the Shack team so far distant is not what I expected. How Shack support Levi during the rest of the Tour will be fascinating, as he certainly can do a very fine TT at the end of the Tour. In addition, sitting nicely in the top ten is Nicolas Roche. Another surprise for me, in terms of success in the high mountains. He so looked like he was suffering today, I thought he was losing minutes when I saw him. Nearly everyone tips him for very good performances as he ripens, and I guess this is an example. But can he possibly survive in the high mountains?

In terms of disappointments, we still have not seen any kind of moves from Basso or Kreuziger. If the Liquigas duo are gong to make a move, I guess they will be waiting for the Pyrenees. As is Schleck. As is nearly everyone. Should be some good racing, for sure. But Basso, if he doesn't do something quickly, is going to be a domestic for Kreuziger, who is sitting less than two minutes behind Evans, while Basso is another minute back. Still, that duo could be very dangerous indeed. They don't seem to have stretched themselves, and seem to be riding quite comfortably. To make things simple, there are a dozen riders within three minutes of Evans. And to make the podium all of them have to attack or at least follow an attack. Even Contador might feel the need to attack, although he can bank on gaining a minute or so on everyone in the TT.

One piece of relevant information, maybe, is to look at the top twenty, those within five minutes of Evans. Somewhat unusually, there are 18 teams represented. That is, except for Liquigas (Kreuziger- Basso) and Sky (stretching it a bit, but Wiggins and Lovkvist), none of the other teams have two riders. I was just thinking that this give those two teams a bit of room for strategic manoeuvres the others don't have. No idea if they will use it to make some moves. On the other hand, many teams have climbers capable of keeping up in the mountains, who can also be part of moves, even if they are not in the top twenty.

Enough for today. Rest Day tomorrow. Doubt if there will be a posted blog from me.
Stage 7 10-7-10

Today was meant to be the day when we tasted the big mountains, although no one really thought there would be any big differences between the GC riders. The general notion was that they would ride up to the top together and someone who could climb a bit would win the sprint after the final three kilometres, slightly downhill at the end. Before that they cruised through a rather nicely forested mountain landscape, just behind the break of five which had been away the entire afternoon. Both the maillot à pois (mountains) of Jerome Pineau and the champion of Germany, Knees, and the pocket rocket Samuel Dumoulin were in the break. I guess everyone knew it would be doomed. Except for Pineau trying and keeping the jersey.

A bit less to say today, birthday party that will start just half an hour after the end of the stage. Even a nutter like me does not let the blog stand in the way of all events with real people. Have to say that the descents seem a great pleasure on this route through the Jura. Long, but not too steep, not necessary to use the brakes much. You just uncurl down the mountain. At 90kph, very pleasant for the riders. Nice friendly mountains, apparently the coldest place in France -41 a couple decades back. Also hot in summer. You tell I am writing this as the stage unfolds. Just grabbing their musettes with food and drink as I type.

Friend rang, so I lost the 'live thread'. To be honest, watching the big time lads just move up the mountain at their leisure. No real sense of urgency. A few people had fun racing. Chavanel crowing about his great job. I guess he did OK, but a race where a second string rider like Sylvain wins two stages does not say much about the others. On the other hand he was the only one who cared, so I guess he got his reward. I just can't like him much. His interviews are really really boring. Legs of fire, that's the velo, hundred percent, my courage and panache, and so forth.

Notice Andy is back in White, so things seem a bit normal, although Chavanel and Pineau I hope change tunics soon.

So I got back from the party at nearly 0100, very late indeed, for me, but totally sober. I can't drink presently. So no blog work. If I spend much time on it this morning, it will mar the day, already full with the Tour and the Footie. So let me me just post this. Sad for me to see Edvald Boasson Hagen (EBH) dropped so dramatically. Ditto for Geraint Thomas. I guess it leaves them both free to help Wiggo now, but I had hoped to see more of those two young riders in the future, maybe even later in the Tour. Good to see Hesjedal up so high, although I wonder if he can handle heavy mountains. I don't think so. I have no explanation for why Klöden got dropped, maybe he has some clever move planned for today, on the last climb. Sacrificial attack or something. Reading down the top ten I find it really odd to see Van Summeren's name there. Great hunk of a guy, not someone who should be in the top ten after a climb.

Glad Fabian has had his moments of glory, but also that my rivals in the Fantasy League stop picking up points for him. I am way down the table now, as I didn't pick him and he has done really well. Bad mistake.

Must get ready for today. Should be able to get something written between the end of the Tour and the Footie, although some of you don't have to watch the after Tour show, like I do.