Stage 13 17-7-10
Another, and perhaps the last, transition stage. From now on, nothing is easy, although the stage into Bordeaux might be a bit easier for most teams, and certainly the very last stage is the easiest of all. But from now on, there will be many minutes lost and won by nearly everyone. The GC should change a good deal, with at least three or four people entering and leaving the top ten. Today, however, nothing much happened, except that the green jersey changed hands again (Pettachi today), and Vinokourov won the stage that some thought he should have won yesterday. He attacked on the last hill, only a few kilometres from the end, raced away from everyone, including the peloton. No one could catch him today. The sprint for the green jersey points was won by Cavendish, without his last lead-out man. Cav did not, however, win his fourth stage, as his team and the others were not strong enough or well enough organised to catch Vino. No changes in the top ten on GC, the spotted mountain jersey or the white jersey for best young rider. Yellow jersey still on Schleck's shoulders.
This green jersey race is still wide open. It is hard to see how Cavendish can win it, assuming that he wins both sprint stages that are left, and assuming that one or the other of Hushovd and Pettachi fish very close behind him, there is no way he can actually gain enough on the two of them. If they both ride badly and finish seventh or eighth on both stages, then by winning Cavendish can take the jersey. But I think he lost it many stages ago, the day he just gave up before the end. We shall see. By the way, it is important to note that Cav won the mass sprint for second place, WITHOUT his leadout man. So those who thought he was useless without Renshaw must have to re-think a little.
1 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 187 pts
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team 185
3 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC - Columbia 162
I took a long nap today, getting ready for tomorrow and the following days, when I will have to be on the alert, at my post, for much longer. I want to see those mountains, even if the racing is slow for the first few climbs. I want to see the various climbs and mountains unfold in front of me. And I also want to see who takes the climbers' jersey from the fakes that currently have it. Having climbed the Tourmalet from one side, I shall be very interested in that stage. I should say stages, as they climb the Tourmalet from both sides, and one stage ends at the top.
The escape was a good one, Not really enough riders to succeed, but the three that were in it were quality riders. Flecha, Chavanel and Fedrigo could probably have done a bit better, but they knew from the outset it was futile, or at least after 50k. It was clear that the sprinters' teams wanted to have another go at points for the green jersey, and so they all co-operated to limit the gap. Then at the end, they just swept (nearly all of them) up. The fact that Vino got away from them all on the last small hill was actually hard to believe. But he is a very strong rider, full of the winning mentality. I still remember his victory on the Champs Elysées when he just put it in high gear and rode like a maniac for the last kilometre and no one could catch him. He can do that. We do hope he is not doping as before, but he is known for this kind of riding. No one is deeply surprised, only impressed that he could pull it off. It should be mentioned that when Vino attacked, Contador moved to the front and slowed down the pursuit, perhaps just enough seconds to give the stage to Vino. Check out the video. Good teamwork.
A word on the team competition, which I have completely ignored. The competition for the 'best team' is decided for one day, as well as for the whole Tour. The calculation for the day is made by adding up the time of the first three riders on every team. Or it was a few years ago, I have not checked if the rules have changed. Then each day's total is added to the overall total. The team with the least time for its best three riders each day, added up over the Tour, wins the prize. The other day, for example, when Moreau sprinted for the mountains points that did not exist, there was a Radio Shack guy who followed him. I forget who it was, but I wondered why. The guy had nothing to do with the mountains jersey, none of the Shack riders do. Then I realised. No Caisse d'Epargne rider was to be let go without a Shack rider right behind him. The reason is that the two teams were first and second in the 'best team' competition. One rider who finishes way ahead of the others can be enough to change the standings. Today they are as follows.
1 Team Radioshack 189:31:13
2 Caisse d'Epargne 0:00:21
3 Rabobank 0:16:13
4 Astana 0:18:17
So if ever there is a mystery as to why a Shack rider follows a movement by a Caisse rider or vice versa, they are trying to make sure the minuscule difference does not change. The explanation is a bit hard to follow, but just remember they add up the times of the best three on each day. So you want to have three riders doing pretty well, rather than one rider winning the stage and the next two down in 20th place or lower, many minutes back. This prize is pretty incidental, but for Shack and Caisse, who have no chance at all in the GC, they at least can win this consolation prize. So watch for the two teams with red and black kit battling it out. It is almost certain that the Shack riders will do better than the Caisse riders in the last time trial.
Bring on the mountains. In fact, tomorrow, the second last climb is the hardest one, and immediately after it, with no respite, they start up the final climb. It is totally unlikely that no one will attack, and that no one will lose minutes on this stage. I am virtually certain that not only will one or both of 'the big two' attack on the climbs, but some of the top ten will also attack. Should be loads of fun to watch.
If you have never heard Alberto speak English, which I have not, he does Spanish in response to French on my stations, check out http://video.bicycling.com/video/2nd-Exclusive-Alberto-Contador
See you at the TV tomorrow. Maybe 20k before the Pailheres climb.