Sunday, 24 July 2011

Cav takes five.

Stage 21
24 July

I watched most of the stage, then the show after, then I got a whole lot of phone calls of a semi-important nature, and it is already 2100, and I have two hours. Not a great day today for disciplined, well edited work. Maybe, just maybe, I will beg your indulgence about my superficiality tonight, and try to reflect and write a bit during the next week. Usually I am so involved in the Tour that if I don't get out of the “Tour zone”, and begin to do more other things, like stacking the four cubic metres of wood that are coming tomorrow, I get depressed when the Tour zone is no longer. The end of the Tour brings a lot of emotions, none of them deep deep, but still pretty real. Over the years I have learned a few tricks, and usually can avoid the post-Tour void, without too much problem. And this year I got ill in the middle and also had heavy family events. I probably held my life a bit together with the Tour blog. Anyway, I always write it for myself anyway, but I like to share as well. One pal offered to fix me up with some kind of tool which will tell me how people got to the blog, how long they stayed, where they live and so forth. I thought about it, and ralised that I would not learn much that I need to know from such a device. I won't get that puffed up if someone likes it, as some people have liked it for years. I had a very good certified judge of writing who says I can write well, in a certain way. Its not a bad blog. And if it turns out that almost no one reads this, then that really doesn't matter either. I know a few friends read it, maybe as much to find out how I am, as to read a flawlessly written and very knowledgable blog about the Tour.

So it's over. We know almost all there is to know. Slowly over the next few days and weeks, we will find out much more. Details from behind the scenes, how things happened backstage that we never knew. Endless (for those who know where to find them) analysis and lists of best moments, biggest disappointment, best team-mate, revelations of the Tour, etc.

For me it was an excellent Tour. There was uncertainty about all the jerseys almost to the very end. Tour 2011 had magnificent feats. I would say that at least once each and sometimes more than onc from Voeckler, Schleck, Evans, Contador, EBH, Hushovd. Rolland, Sanchez, loads of riders did magnificent feats. There were worse than usual bad bits, the crashes of many riders including a huge proportion of the contenders, those who realistically aspired to top ten. It is best when nearly all the riders are in good shape, uninjured and finish the Tour. Even though crashes and injuries are obviously a part of racing. The most obvious example is Contador. One day we might know what his physical problem was. I am sure that he had mental problems, a lot on his mind. Every jersey was won by someone who worked for it and is deserving for outside the Tour sporting reasons as well as fitting into the Tour rules for jersey winners.

Who better than Evans, for all around performance, and some feats of daring and risk?

Cav, well, there are people who don't like him. I once really liked him, then started to dislike him, and now like him again. If he were my neighbour I might not be best friends or anything, but he would make a good neighbour, within limits. And the incidental thing is that he is the fastest sprinter on earth, with the best leadout train on earth, so he won sprints and the green jersey. Every Tour some teams thinks HTC have a weakness, and that they can exploit the strategy that will destabilise Cav and his train. Turns out they can for a stage or two, Cav does not win every single stage. Knowing that Cav can be beten doesnot mean the opposition can actulaly do it much. Its not like the strategy is new, it been going for four years. They can't beat him, alhtough no one can win every race, even if they are the best. He has already won more stages of the Tour, faster, than anyone in human history. Unless something happens, there is no really good reason to doubt he will surpass Armstrong and Darrigade, which means two more victories. Then in a matter of a couple of years, Hinault will be caught, and eventually assuming things move along OK, he might surpass Merckx in Tour victories. That is 34. The guy is the best, and its good for him to win green once in his career. Now he can leave it for others, unless he gets a taste of it and just win more stages. But as in life, so in the Tour. He may never keep going long enough, fast enough to equal Hinault or Merckx, we just don't know..

Who better than Samuel Sanchez as climber of the Tour? He nearly won two mountain stages, and definitely won one? Almost always there with the best. He never tried to win the jersey, just to win the Tour in the mountains. In my view the most appropriate winner this year. It may be true that all things said, he could be the best climber in more than one GT. He can descend as well. Second place, went to Schleck, who is really not very good at descending. You can't be a good climber if you can descend. In my view. Sanchez can do both and did both during the Tour.

As for the white jersey, I think Pierre is great for it. No one picked him at all, it is humbling and fun to have surprises. On the other hand is well known enough in his own country, has won a few races, and no one is deeply surprised. This Tour could well be the turning point of his career. The question is whether he will be at the level of Chavanel, Gadret, di Gregario, Casar or Voeckler or will be he the level of top ten globally. No one knows yet. He is a very quiet, nicely behaved lad right now.

Reminds me of a story I heard today. A friend or mine and I were having a coffee in the cafe. I like doing that. He said his kid (14), who is a dirt bike fanatic, was glued to the Tour for the first time. Normally he says what kids often say about road bikes. He thinks Voeckler is great. He thinks Rolland is amazing. Alpe de bloody Huez! He wants his dad to buy him some kind of road bike before the school starts up. The impact of the Tour. I tried to fully get into how excited and inspired this kid (who I know) could be, assuming it is not a passing fancy, which I don't think it is. Loads of riders were into many things in their childhood, and it is not until they get older that they get into road racing. Usually as a result of the Tour de France. Sadly this kid may never play out his enthusiasm as my local club does absolutely nothing to encourage or teach or help young people get into cyclo-tourism or cyclo-sportives. Maybe the support is hidden, and I will have to look for it. Anyway, if you can, imagine begin 14, French, into cycling of some sort and being hit between the eyes by the Tour for the first time. The lad knew about it of course, but I mean hit by it between the eyes. So that is my favourite Tour story, except it must have happened many thousands of times in France alone. In fact, a 50 year old friend of mine saw the Tour come by one day years ago, and he became a genuine Tour nutter. The drugs seem to have put him off lately. The Tour bug will bite big with this Tour.

The stage was pretty good too. A quite short little promenade into one of the best known cities on earth. View of many tourist attractions, helicopter shots of everything, then the parade around the downtown area. Same parcours for years. The bit I love best is along the Rue de Rivoli to the end, where it takes the zig left and the zig right in the Place de la Concorde to get into the last few hundred metres of the sprint. I really do like that bit.

Rojas seemed to have more or less given up after the intermediate sprint. Naturally I had picked him to get me a few points, but he didn't mange the top ten. Don't know why, but if he didn't try,he is a bit of a wuss for me. Admittedly it was pretty hopeless after the intermediate sprint which he contested. But hey, it was the Champs Elysée for goodness sake. I think he still could have (logically)won by winning the stage and Cav out of the first fifteen. Who knows, maybe he just decided that Cav was the best this year and he was second best. For me Rojas was one of the revelations of the Tour. He has to be in the list of the “current best sprinters in the world”. What I did like about the stage is EBH trying to beat Cav. I mean EBH has had a great Tour, could not be better. If he snuck past Cav, he would be noticed by all, big time. As far as I can see, the only reason EBH is not fully recognised as a very high class rider is that he has had injury problems for two years. For example, I really would like to see Sagan and EBH go head to head on some of the uphill sprints in races over the next ten years. Unless EBH can learn to climb high hills. Then … Having two young talents like Peter Sagan (too young for the Tour) and EBH, not to mention all the others (Geraint Thomas), bodes well for pro cycling.

By all the others, I mean the five young riders in the top fifteen. This is unheard of. Lose a few of the big leaders, and some excellent young riders step up. I guess, although I have talked about it before, the success of the young riders, French and other, has been one thing that has marked this Tour for me. Often, the older guys were a bit disappointing, but the younger ones played way above what we used to think was their weight. We await future results to know if this younger generation is going to provide us with better sports entertainment. Always a good idea to read over the list of the best young riders at the end of the Tour. Try to remember what they did, what they look like. You will see them again.

In a funny way, although this Tour got rid of way too many very good riders via crashes, it also confirmed some of the more experienced riders. Evans for the best example. He rode an excellent Tour. Did nothing as amazing and historic as Schleck's ride up Galibier, 60k of solo riding in the highest mountains. That is the stuff of legends. That ride will live forever. Mind you some of Evan's towing along a group of others for tens of kilometres, his wee victory early on, his totally massive time trial after three weeks of racing, all that was excellent. Totally deserved victory. Some day I would like to understand the strange deep dislike of Evans in certain circles. He is not pretty, true. He grimaces a lot, looks like life itself is a constant pain, smiles when he cries, cries when he smiles (in public), has a squeaky voice, has self doubts and reveals them, involves himself in deviant causes (Aboriginals and Tibetans), has a complex wife and relationship (unlike some wives and relationships, to my mind), he is just too weird. Sadly for such people he wins races, and sometimes by feats of daring attack or massive solo effort. He seems a more than vaguely interesting cyclist. Probably, almost certainly, rides without doping.

Anyway, I am going on. No need really, the Tour is over. It was a good Tour, the results are known, more little mysteries will be revealed, deals between riders and new teams will begin to leak out in a few days. We will see what lives on from this Tour, what dominates the analyses that should come out in the next month. Should be fun. I do think we had a vintage Tour.

Oh yes, a small fact I learned that I never knew before today. Might be common knowledge. The financing of the Leopard Trek team, essentially the Schlecks, has always been slightly mysterious. Big money comes from this real estate magnate who suddenly decided to put big money into a procycling team. Bazzi, or whatever he is called. I wondered idly now and again why he did it. He clearly is not advertising a product, Leopard is not a product. The other sponsors, like Trek bikes, cars, clothing and tyres and so forth are paying normal advertising rates. They have products to sell. It turns out that Johnny Schleck, the ex-pro father, has been a hunting buddy of this rich Luxembourgeois for 25 years. That's how the team got financed. I never knew about the hunting connection until yesterday.

One last thought. In the unlikely case that I either write or collect “Tour assessments”, I will put them on the site within a month, maybe even a week. So pop back once or twice in the next month, in case I do it. I shall do this next year, unless something happens. Same address, I hope. I wrote 22 blog entries over three and half weeks. They were all somewhere between 2,000 and 1500 words. Not that well edited sometimes, if I were tired or undisciplined. That could be well over 40,000 words in three and a bit weeks. I guess that is how people write books, but at a less frantic pace and stretched out a bit. I am impressed. Too bad I lack discipline and focus. It is fun to do though.


Evans does the job, Schlecks flop

Stage 20
23 July 2011

Even the day before the end, we still could have one change, presuming nothing bad happens. We can watch the parade into Paris with a bit of attention to the intermediate sprint and the ride around the Champs with the hope that no one falls off. If it all goes as expected the final jersey, the green one, will be settled. It would be a huge surprise if it were not Cav who wins it.

The holder of the white jersey preserved it with a fine time trial. Andy Schleck, the holder of the yellow jersey did a pretty bad TT, and Evans did a brilliant one. So he wins the Tour. I am pleased. Don't quite know why I went off both Schlecks, but I certainly have. They seem like very talented, extremely fit, slightly flawed, child-like, strategically rigid, whining rich kids. In spite of his not conventionally lovely looks, squeaky voice, and terrible French, I like him. Especially the “him” that has begun to appear over the last two years. He has a bit of depth, the Schlecks seem shallow.

Lets look at the TT. A few less obvious things. Pierre Rolland should have been beaten by Rein Taaramae, who should now have the white jersey. And Pierre WAS beaten. But only by 47 seconds, and Rein failed to win the jersey. So Pierre, after his win yesterday on the Alpe, has kept the white jersey. A minor triumph for a very good time trial under pressure. And a nice little cherry on the cake of the French Continental (second division) team Europcar. There is no doubt that Rolland is going to become another young chou-chou of the French. But it also looks like he might be able to take a step up from being one of the “new hopes”, and become a new “core rider” for the French. He did very well, as he is not a rouleur, not a specialist in the TT.

For me the biggest surprise of all is the fourth place of Thomas De Gendt, from the second division Vacansoleil team. I had no idea whatever that he could time trial (not that I know anywhere near everything, although I did know he likes long escapes), much less beat everyone in the peloton except Martin, Evans and Contador. He beat Porte (another youngish guy who is known as a good TTer), Peraud (former French TT champion), Sanchez, Cancellara, Danielson, EBH, Millar and so forth. I will look for an explanation. The poor showing of Cancellara shows he is unwell or knackered. I wonder when was the last time trial, in any race, where he was beaten by seven guys. Millar, normally an excellent TT rider, finished nearly four minutes behind. Beaten by Cunego! I have to remember that for many of these guys there is no obvious point in trying hard when they nothing to gain. But the case of Millar also requires explanation, as he usually is in the top ranks. You'd think he would ride well just for pride. Or to help his team win the team competition. When is the last time Millar finished 32nd, nearly four minutes off the pace.

Tony Martin is one of the best in the world right now, and he showed it. Contador is also a superb TT rider, and tried his best to overtake Voeckler for fourth, just out of pride I suppose. He finished third on the day. Even Thomas Voeckler tried hard at the end, finishing a respectable fourteenth, 2 minutes behind Martin.

The guys who lost most were the Schlecks. They simply rode badly, pulling nothing out of the bag. Andy, after boldly asserting he would win the Tour yesterday, finished 2 and half minutes behind Evans, and lost the Tour. No doubt he also lost the Tour because their plan, rigidly adhered to, was to NOT attack in the Pyrenees. They lost it there too, but they didn’t even come close in the TT. In fact, almost as if they were riding together, looking for the other brother constantly, they finished only three seconds apart. Andy particularly should have done way better than Frank. Quite a bad performance. Many of you have not heard of Richie Porte, but he was expected in the top ten and did well out of pride, as he was way down the GC. J-C Peraud, who was riding his first Tour at the age of 34, used to be a mountain bike. He managed to prevent Pierre Rolland from finishing in the top ten by riding a good TT. Put another way, he was the second best Frenchman and finished in the top ten on his first go. Four French in the top 14. Twenty percent of the top twenty were young riders.

The guy who rode the most important and meaningful TT is Cadel Evens. He throughly beat both Schlecks and rose to the top of the tree. The gap he created was way wider than anyone thought. Unless something happens, he rode himself in to the yellow jersey for good. In fact, had he ridden a little bit faster, 8 seconds over 42.5 k, he would have WON the entire time trial, and beaten every single rider. This would be incredible, given the work he did on his own, in the mountains. So it was an awesome ride on his part, and added to his earlier stage victory, and his towing the entire GC peloton up many mountains, makes him a totally deserving victor. No need to say “but” in any way. Bravo to Cadel.

Just to keep things in perspective. The slowest rider, the cyclist who just rode fairly comfortably to the end, only took 11 minutes more than the winner. In other words they are all riding very fast, but a few faster than the others. Nobody is loafing, pretending to be a cycle tourist.

As a quick summary of how uncertain and unpredictable this Tour has been, we can go back and review the predictions of the experts in the editorial team of Velo magazine. This is the classiest mag in France. Most of them make their living in the cycling culture, learning about and writing about cycling throughout the world, but certainly during the Tour. NONE of nine predicted Evans would win. NONE of them predicted that Sanchez would win the mountains jersey. ONE of them guessed Cavendish would get the green jersey, and even if Rojas should win, none of them picked him. And lastly NONE of them picked Rolland to win the young jersey (even though he is French), or Taaramae if he should somehow win. So out of the 36 possible correct picks for all the jerseys, they got one correct. This is a percentage of 3% correct, rounded UP.

So much more could be said, but a time trial sometimes leaves one a bit bereft of words. After all, although it is the race of truth, it does JUST consist of one rider riding on his own for a fixed distance. At the end there is a fixed time. The times are rank ordered. No battles, nobody being dropped on a climb, no crashes, no real action of a collective sort. The best way to watch a TT is with a few friends, near a curve, a slight uphill or a downhill. One after the other, same spot. Sounds boring, but it is not.

Cav and HTC should win tomorrow, but I picked Rojas to get more points. One last word about my fantasy teams. I think that without a shadow of a doubt, unless I get some heavy bonuses at the end, this is the worst I have done in years, probably the worst I have ever done. I was a bit hasty and casual with my picks, and really should take it more seriously or just stop. It is not much fun when you do so badly. Its like being in a race and getting dropped early on.

Last blog tomorrow, unless I feel inspired to do a wrap up reflection. I always think I should, but in fact, I am usually glad it is over, and normal life can begin again. Maybe two or three days after the Tour is over, check the blog, see if I have actually done a reflective piece. My cold is almost gone as well.

Do watch the parade to Paris, the first sight of the Eiffel Tower, and the last sprint. There is something really exciting and aesthetically fascinating as they ride across the Place de la Concorde for the last time. Presumably with HTC, probably Renshaw the last guy, after Goss drops them on the Place, towing Cav to the line.

Until tomorrow.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

France wins, Contador loses

Stage 19
22 July 2011

I admit I missed the first fifteen minutes, but to my mind this was a superb stage. As good as anyone could want. I was on the edge of my seat for what must have been three hours. I admit that I had trouble finding a break to pee, although the bit in the valley before the Alpe was a little bit less riveting, but way more interesting than I thought. Climbing and descending are the best. I doubt if I would want there to be a third stage like this without a bit of a rest. In fact, the suspenseful bit of the Tour is pretty much over. I have never got wildly excited about a Time Trial, even if this one will decide the winner, although the podium should be sorted now. Two Schlecks and Evans. Absolutely fabulous start and a totally superb ending. Creation or consecration of heroes at every level. Great racing. One of the best Tours I have ever seen.

I guess most of you know what happened. Contador animated the entire day with his attacks, which in some sense were ultimately unsuccessful. That does not mean they were not brilliant racing. He is obviously not that well. No idea if it is the crashes, the very hard Giro, the tension of waiting for the drugs axe to fall or something else. Maybe all of it. Can you imagine what might have happened if he had been in good shape and without worries. I am sorry about that, but getting to the Tour is good shape is part of the game. He is clearly a magnificent champion, a great racer, even he ends up busted for not watching what he eats. Or shoots up.

The jerseys changed. And it is likely even now, they might not be resting on the final winners' shoulders. What more can we want for suspense? Usually all the jerseys are long decided and the final day is for third or seventh place. Andy Schleck, with his superb ride yesterday, set up the inevitable. He beat Voeckler to the top of the Alpe by many more than 15 seconds and got the yellow jersey at last. The Schlecks were outridden on the Alpe by Contador, but his 34 second lead at the end of the day was not enough to make a big difference. Good for the spectators though. Evans stuck with Andy all the way, and finished in the same time as them, which means that tomorrow he has to gain 4 seconds on Frank to finish second and 57 on Andy to win the Tour. Both of those are possible. Andy is a better time triallist than people think, so he too, if he rides out of skin, could win the Tour. Either of them deserve to win. They have both exhibited huge abilities and big hunger during the Tour.

Cavendish finished with the grupetto nine seconds over the time limit, but all the latecomers were allowed to remain in the race. There was only Leukemans who was way behind, he was eliminated. So Cav will win the jersey, unless he makes big mistakes in the intermediate sprint on Sunday and in the finish on the Champs. Otherwise that jersey should be in safe hands. I am glad for the lad, although I have to say, you find many people who just do not like him. They think he is a great sprinter, but has a deeply flawed character, overly laddish behaviour and a big mouth. I can see their point, but I don't dislike him. He should win one green jersey in his career.

The stage winner, at last, was a young French guy. Pierre Rolland, the faithful companion of Voeckler, was released today (by Voeckler) so he could ride his own stage. Winning a race up Alpe d'Huez is a lifetime experience, you can get free drinks on that til you die. Pierre was so happy he radiated joy, mixed with a bit of pain. He did keep up with and out-sprint Samuel Sanchez and Contador for the victory, so he was very deserving. Such a nice lad on TV. For two years at least, he has been a “promising rider”, and now he has no doubt become “a winner”. He also managed to ride well enough to take the white jersey of the best young rider off the shoulders of Rein Taaramae. I can't say whether he is good enough to keep it after the ITT, but I am sure he will do his best. He needs to finish less than 1.33 behind Taaramae and he will be the victor, assuming nothing serious happens on the ride to Paris. I should think that the entire Europcar team will be riding with him and protecting him. What a day for the lad. He was asked if he knew who the last French rider to win at the Alpe was, and he said no. When told it was Hinault, he was a little taken aback. Then a few minutes later they shook hands. Those young guys did well. In the top twenty there are still four of them.

Voeckler will still be the bet French rider on GC, which no else cares about except the French. This first French rider is often mentioned in the cycling press.

At last the spotted jersey has found its proper home. Since there are no more mountains, the final winner, assuming he makes it to Paris is Samuel Sanchez. He won it rather easily, simply by trying to do well in the Tour, and finishing with a first, and two seconds on the mountaintop finishes. That, to me, is the way it should be won. He is totally worthy and deserves it utterly. He had to beat A. Schleck to the finish to win, so he did. Andy was riding with his brother anyway, having done enough to win the yellow jersey by a long margin. He clearly preferred to ride with his brother than win the spotted jersey. Still, once again, over and over, no one ever cares about that jersey. It just comes by accident.

What I particularly liked about the stage was the uncertainty of the finish, who would get dropped, who would win what jersey. In addition, there were several races going on throughout the day, which I always enjoy. The one we never saw and never will see, is the way the gruppetto of 80 riders or more finds its speed, gathers the lads together, times the last ascent, so they all make it through. In a world of individualist behaviour, its is refreshing to see the lads gang together and co-operate so that none of them get eliminated, even though several of them could no doubt go faster and make sure that the slowest get dropped. They don't do that in the autobus. No idea why Leukemans got dropped so badly. But also we had Contador's first attack and what it brought, and his second attack up the Alpe. Both of those were quite separate in some racing sense, and fascinating to watch unfold. Then there were the minor races for this or that jersey, slowly working their way out during the fight for the stage. And although I have hardly mentioned it much there has been the battle for 'best team', now pretty much won by Garmin, although even that is not totally certain. Really complicated and hard to predict, my favourite kind of racing.

I still don't like the Alps, but they were gorgeous from the helicopter. It is a total bonus to be able to see all that natural and human made stuff flowing past during each stage. Takes one's breath away.

I even enjoyed watching Thomas lose the jersey. I don't know if he would have kept it had he not tried to follow Contador and just knackered himself completely. Had he stayed with the peloton of leaders, he would still have arrived at the foot of the Alpe with everyone, and would have been way fresher. I would say he made a mistake and paid for it. Still, he radiated pleasure and astounded all of the French for days. Without his riding “the French”, and perhaps all of us, would have had a lesser Tour.

So tomorrow we have the time trial, and Sunday the parade to Paris, before we race around the Champs and have the final sprint finish. I am keen to see how the TT goes of course, whether Cadel wins the whole Tour. The nice thing is that tomorrow I can take a nap for sure. I am usually happy to watch 30-40 riders do the TT. I shall try to see Fabian and Tony Martin and a few others, but really I can't be patient enough to watch all of the riders do the same route, one after the other. Live it is much better, you pick a corner or a downhill or whatever, you have a picnic and you can see how each rider does it, and gauge their relative speed, keep track of who is coming next, whether they are late or not. But it is feeling like the Tour is nearly over. Best one in ages. I am glad I was able to spend the time on it.


Thursday, 21 July 2011

Schleck, A. makes his move

Stage 18
21 July 2011

Well then, what did you think of that one? I fail to see a missing facet in that little jewel. Not one. I should think that this stage will go down in the history of the Tour as one of the very best. The highest (elevation) finish ever in the Tour, and they raced all day really, in bits and pieces, here and there. Supposed to be 3 degrees and windy at the top of Galibier. My goodness, what a great stage. Exactly what the Tour organisers and corse designers had hoped. They must be glowing. AND we have two more days of suspense ahead of us.

I must write this quickly, as I had NO NAP today. I just could not figure out what to miss, and so I was there all afternoon. Glad I stayed. I have to say I find the Alps a little bit inhuman, too pointy and rocky. But awesome on the big HD screen, from a distance. I suspect tomorrow might be like that, nothing to miss. So I need to get this done fast and get to bed early. I should be ready for another day without a nap. The stage is so short there should be action all day, with a repeat climb of Galibier, by another road. My cold is almost gone, by the way.

One thing I noticed when I tuned in was that it took a moment (without using computer displays), to figure out who was where. It was a lovely, confusing and uncertain stage they gave us. Even the gruppetto, the slower guys, made the commissars break the rules, or bend them anyway. Over half the riders were outside the official and objective time limit for the stage. They should have been eliminated. But they weren't and they knew it. What stupid rule applier would eliminate half the field. No way. Some other rule or exception will be cited, like the wind or whatever, and they will all be back racing tomorrow. Or rather struggling with another very hard stage and its even more severe time limit. I would attempt to explain the time limit, but it consists of a predetermined calculation, based on the time of the winner. On hard stages they give the riders more of a break. But there is a precise limit, known when the stage winner crosses the line. (Article 22) Sad bit is that Cav, while staying in the race, loses points on the green jersey for being so slow. Rojas, no dummy and a bit of climber, was in the previous group who made it within the limit, so he gets closer to Cav. Suits me really, if Cav wins on the Champs, he wins. Fair enough.

Its was great fun to ask ourselves for a long time, did Andy do this 60k lone ride for himself, for the yellow jersey, for a stage, for Frank, or was it a big mistake. Views varied. He had gained two minutes after the climb where he rode away from everyone, not one rider followed, except for Rolland, who realised he should stay with Voeckler. Nearly everyone thought he would lose the lead on the descent or in the valley against the headwind. The yellow jersey peloton was full of guys who had a reason to ride hard and cut the gap. Maybe seven or eight. But sadly, they could not come to any agreement, and never made a serious chase. Here we found our second hero of the day. Cadel Evans, who clearly wants to win the Tour, had to work for many kilometres, up a bloody great hill, nearly always in front. In fact he took two minutes out of Andy on the last climb. His team mates were out of it, seemed like no one could or would help him, and he managed to save Voeckler's jersey and his own chances. Mostly by himself. I sure hope Thomas thanks him a bit. Another other hero who emerged was Voeckler, although he has been an unexpected bonus for the Tour for several days now. The wilder French think he might still win.

But the total hero was Andy Schleck. Many people wondered if either of the brothers would ever attack. I reckon they had this plan long in advance. Andy just went away from the entire group on the second last climb, 60k or so from the end. No one does that these days. Usually they wait until the last few ks of the last hill and then someone attacks. As it turned out, Schleck gained time on the first climb, on the valley (huge effort by Monfort) and then finished it off on the last climb. A legendary escape without a shadow of a doubt. Totally worthy of a winner of the Tour. Although it is not over yet. The thing I liked about Andy's attack was that we could sit and discuss why he was doing it? We now know it was obvious, take minutes out of everyone, win the stage and win the yellow jersey, plus the Tour. In one glorious day. The first race he has won since the last Tour. What a brilliant way to do it.

Those are my guys for the day, Cadel, Thomas, Andy. But also Pierre Rolland, who has climbed alongside his leader throughout the Tour, helping, just being there. This guy has now emerged from being a new French hopeful to being a strong candidate for “revelation of the Tour”. Maybe EBH, but he already is an established rider. I noticed that Tom Danielson (older, but riding his first Tour) and his assistant Christian Vande Velde managed to stay with the group, crossing the line sooner than Contador or Sanchez. That Danielson is steady. They all just seemed to have ridden out of their socks. Great racing.

The commentators were funny (sad funny) when Alberto and Samuel Sanchez were chatting at the back of the peloton, trying to figure out what they could do about this move of Andy's. Turns out that whatever they wanted to do they couldn't, both of them lost time, too much time. But the commentators said “They are talking in Spanish”, like they should be talking in French or something! Those commentator guys betray themselves after hours in front of the microphone.

One question that needs a bit of answering, and I might not have time tonight to speculate. Why is it that nearly all the time the group of GC riders was chasing, did almost no one whatever help out Cadel. Sure, they had a few riders help for a bit, but basically for the last 45 minutes, I saw Cadel riding on his own. Were they all whacked? All? Did they not care about preserving time and their jerseys? Could they not speak to each other and make deals? How could a peloton of leaders of the Tour not manage to bring back a smaller and smaller group in front of them? Cadel was a hero, but the rest were something or other. Lazy, shiftless, calculating riders.

Prudhomme had a stern word to say about the boys/men who run alongside the riders, many with their TV time costumes. Prudhomme was well pissed off. My wife says they should have tasers for those guys. I say their falling bodies might cause damage to a cyclist. They just scare me. In fact, because there is so little damage, contact, injury in spite of these stupid lads, this shows me that the Tour is privileged and special event. That all of French history and world justice watches over it. Otherwise there would be injured people spread throughout the route. That behaviour alone is a severe, but incomplete, critique of modern society. Individualism run rampant. Still, “boys will be boys”.

So the jerseys. Vanendert is still wearing the mountains jersey, but new competition has arisen, almost by accident. He will keep it if he wins the stage tomorrow, beating both Schlecks, Evans and Sanchez. I fear he has no real chance, unless he is first over Galibier in a break tomorrow. The other guys just win points for the jersey because they climb faster up the last hill than anyone else. And they will win points tomorrow too. The GC guys all care about the yellow jersey, and the spotted one comes along as a side effect. I am talking about Evans, Sanchez, and both Schlecks who could wear the spotted jersey tomorrow and keep it to Paris.

Voeckler saved his yellow jersey by 15 seconds, thereby becoming an French icon forever. I bet at the end of the year he will beat Yannick Noah and Zinedine Zidane as the most beloved French sports figure. No doubt he will lose it tomorrow, but then we have said that before. Hard to figure Andy can't climb the Alpe fifteen seconds faster than Thomas. Or have we said that before.

The best young rider is no longer Rigoberto Uran, who got dropped big time, but a young French rider replaced him. OK, an Estonian rider on a French team, Rein Taaramae. Uran lost only three minutes on his competitors, but lost the jersey as the race was so close. He maybe able to recover the time. He can still climb, and also TT very well. This is the first time I can remember when the white jersey as been up for grabs for so long. This is a good race in many respects. Three of the top five young riders are French, and four of the top five ride for French teams. Excellent for the French. Not one stage win, but some hope. And then there is Thomas.

The top ten is much the same, even though there was exciting action all day. In that respect it is a bit like a brilliant 0-0 draw in football. Uran dropped out and was replaced by J-C Peraud. Realistically speaking there are only four guys left with a chance for yellow in Paris, the two Schlecks, Evans and Voeckler. However, if another attack of anthology happens tomorrow or someone rides the TT of their lives, we could have a fifth who just creeps in. Viva the unexpected. Green jersey is much the same, but Cav loses 20 points on account of being outside the time limit. So he has to win on the Champs. But he still leads Rojas by 15 points. He really does have to win in the Champs and maybe pick up some points on the intermediate sprint on Sunday.

If there is anyone who shows up as the worst person to interview, saying nothing and barely saying anything either, it has to be Bjorn Riis. Doesn't matter his rider had a bad day, he is always like that. Says nothing, acts like it is a big favour to allow himself to grace a mike for us fans. Someone should talk to the guy.

For tomorrow I have invented a Schleck scenario. They both go up the Alpe fastest, Andy leads Frank much of the time. Then Frank moves out from behind Andy and wins the stage, gaining 40 points, giving him 96. Cadel has been following them and gets 32 for second and totals 82, andy gets third, giving him 94, which is two points less than Frank, who endosses yellow. Nothing else happens on the ITT or the last flat stage and Frank wears spots and Andy wears yellow in Paris. On the podium. Could happen. But first, they have to do well against Evans in the ITT, which will be nearly impossible, so Evans could win. I would not even try to predict the winner tomorrow, no idea at all. Although I will reveal I picked Coppel for today. You can see he did pretty well, but no win.

That is enough for today. There was plenty to write about, a wonderful stage. Must get to bed early.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

EBH AGAIN. Norway rocks.

Stage 17
20 July 2011

Unless you have found and used the SRM reporting URL I sent early on, you might not know that up the hills today, most of the riders (sampled by wearing computer thingamajigs that measure), went up at 140-150 beats per minute. I was testing you, by starting with a geeky sentence, wondering if you would stop reading.

On more important matters, it was another stage that apparently began with 100 kph of deciding which break was “the good one”. A break that had enough teams represented, nobody terribly dangerous to the GC, no huge imbalances. By the time I turned up, the break had six minutes and the rest of the day was sorted. It was pretty clear, fairly early on, that the break would stay away. Although Europcar tried to make sure that the highest ranked man in the break did not threaten the yellow jersey, it was also Garmin who rode. They were trying to protect the ninth place of their man Tom Danielson. In other words, there was no panic, nothing much to lose, nobody who mattered. Having said that, the Tour organisers managed to produce a very exciting spectacle at the end. They have done that a few times. Just to make me happy, it was EBH of the Sky team who won. I have been a fan of his for some time. Nice young Norwegian lad, room-mate of that other nice Welsh lad, Geraint Thomas. Watching the moves of the breakaway as the riders tried to sort out who would win the stage was very entertaining. EBH now has two stages (and a second) in the bag. This haul would make any rider's career. So if anyone doubts it, EBH is now a officially certified ace rider. He is also a massive descender. He really does rank up with Thor, Nibali, Fabian, S. Sanchez as one of the smoothest and fastest descenders in the peloton. Only a short descent, but a tricky one, even dangerous. Good ending to a stage that didn't change much, yet. Foundations have been laid for changes in the next three days.

The second part of the stage race was between the GC guys. There were half hearted attacks on the last climb, but toward the end, Sanchez followed Contador on an attack, and they slipped down that descent quite quickly. Behind them I saw at least three guys go off the road. Tricky. The camera was mostly on the two escapees, riding like blazes for the time gain on the rest. But the last few k were flat, and the two (both of whom will finish in the top ten ITT standings on Saturday) we simply overpowered by the guys they dumped on the descent. There were seven, containing at least two who are also among the best TT guys as well. Plus five helpers. Evans pretty much saved the Schlecks today, I guess.

Did you notice Fort de Fenestrelle, built on a kind of high island in the middle of a mountain valley in Italy just over the border. Incredible structure. Incredible site. Sooner or later it will become a movie set or a holiday resort.

Reporting on the jerseys, not much to say. The white, mountain and young jersey are all pretty much the same. Other than the two leaders, Vanendert and Sanchez, not many other guys are getting ideas about the mountain jersey. It is clear that Sanchez has bigger fish to fry, and will pick up points simply because he is a good climber. Chavanel is showing interest, but is neither good enough, nor soon enough to win. Suddenly it seems to be Vanendert who will win in Paris. I personally had never heard of two weeks ago (even though he has a good classics record this year and I might have known about him). Saw an interview where he said he was thinking of going for the jersey. Kind of accidental. He has to make some effort, since it looks as if Sanchez will always finish ahead of him. So he needs to stick with Sanchez and sprint ahead once of him once or twice at the top … or attack early to get the points ahead of Sanchez. There are only two more days he has to do it, so watch for him popping out. He didn't make the break today, he really just fell into the jersey. No one tries for it any more.

The white jersey is interesting, for the first time in years. It should be fun to keep track of the whereabouts of the white jersey of Uran, mostly red one of Rein Tarramae (Estonian?), the FDJ one (the one with the clover) of Jeannesson, the nondescript blue and white one of
Jerome Coppel (failed pick for today) and the Green of Pierre Roland. That is a great subs-tory that should run until Paris. Very exciting really, the white jersey competition would normally be over by now. Allez the young lads. The Belgian whose name I can't spell Ruijgh has fallen back too far and probably can't gain back enough time. White jersey turned out to be quite interesting, even if nothing happened today to the top five. Or you could say that the finest riders in the world, on this particular finish, were not really able to totally drop these young lads. Oh I forgot, one of them, not the top five, won the stage, his second. The young lads are GOOD. So far. Tarramae gained a bit on Uran, Coppel is about the same, but he is in fifth place. It is a race, each day there will be gains and losses. I hope Uran gets it. It would be good for French cycling is Coppel, Rolland or Jeannesson got it. Even Tarramae since he rides for a French team.

This is a very good little video that I got sent twice today Old time tour stuff, all sorts of people and riders and situations. A wee gem.

There is a phrase, amongst many, that is used to indicate that while pedalling as fast as you can down a hill, wanting to go faster, but being unable to spin your legs any faster, you've run out of gears. These guys go so fast down hills that they cannot pedal faster and so just move into some kind of scary looking aerodynamic position and just glide. Really is quite wonderful to watch. I never run out of gears. And I have smaller ones than they do. They go really fast. EBH was a great example today, since we already knew about Contador and Sanchez. So smooth, so safe, so right, as they glided around those corners. I would watch a race with the ten best descender in the peloton. As long as I knew beforehand that none of them crashed, I could really get into it. I don't like that element of fear. Mine, I mean.

I liked seeing Thor, World Champion and winner of two stages, holder of the yellow jersey for some days this year, the guy with probably the best Tour of his life and of anyone this year, being the water bottle carrier to his team in the front as they tried to save the ninth place of Tom Danielson. Which they did.

As for tomorrow, it should be some kind of fun to watch at least from about 1200 CET on. That is, all day. No idea how I shall fit in my nap. The climb of Agnel should be hard. Maybe the GC guys will stay grouped, but surely the others won't. So we are almost sure to have two races again tomorrow. Unless one or two of the GC guys get really frisky. Most of you have NO idea how awesome these riders are, all of them, even the slow sprinters and the guys who are just plain tired. To give you a perspective on what they are doing, the highest mountain in all of England is Scafell Pike. 978 metres high. They begin this stage at 355 metres and climb steadily until about 13.30, at which time they are at the height of Scafell Pike. For the next three and a bit hours, they climb, descend, climb, descend and climb again, NEVER lower than the highest mountain in England. My guess is that they will spend maybe even an hour over 2,000 metres, either up or down. That is when your physical body is actually seriously affected. Things will happen. We just don't know what. So I guess Contador is the best bet for this stage. Or if A. Schleck has anything to show. Or maybe someone else. I picked Coppel for yesterday in the end. Missed, but got the idea right. I think Coppel and the French young riders are going to come out of this Tour feeling pretty perky, even though none of them will come close to winning, and some might not even finish in the top ten. So if I don't pick Contador, I will tell you tomorrow.

Haven't mentioned my fantasy teams much. Mainly as none of them are doing all that well. Basically I got a bit unlucky, as did some real teams. Most of my teams had guys who crashed out or were injured. Too many. And maybe I picked some of the wrong guys too. Not a good year.
"I don't like a lot of attacks, it's better with one pace," Boasson Hagen said of his decision to punch his way clear of his companions. "I saw Chavanel attack so I had to close that down. I didn't want to stop because the attacks would start again, so I just kept going and nobody followed. On the downhill, I did it in training and I knew it, I knew I could go quite fast and nobody could catch me."

“The Team Sky rider, who finished alone after countering an attack from French champion Sylvain Chavanel on the Cote de Pramartino climb, said he was eager to get stuck into the descent alone because he had ridden the climb twice in training and watched it several times on video.
"I was looking forward to the descent," he said. "I wanted to go up the climb alone and not have any more attacks, so I bridged up to Chavanel and then went on my own to do the descent at my own rhythm."” Let me tell you, the bits I saw, he was doing it so smoothly I was stunned. My man Eddie.

A story about the rich guy who built or rebuilt Pinarelo and lobbied for a stage should be here. Got his dream. Very interesting, but I don't have time tonight to look up stuff and write it.

A reminder that you can always find pretty good photos of the race, stage by stage, on There is also a very good site for photos on, the Big Photo area, but I often can't find it, like today.

Good night. And Thursday and Friday should be long days too. Whew.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Contador returns to action, Thor does it again

Stage 16
19 July 2011

Feeling good enough to write a short report today. In general, I want to observe that whatever else I might be saying about this or that, I have been entertained, at least at the end of each stage, throughout the Tour. They have managed to construct a route that has made the event pretty interesting, and we think the best is yet to come in terms of big drama in big country. I wonder what would have happened if an entire team (Radio Shack) had not been decimated and the leaders of other teams crashed out. Would have been even better. Nothing is perfect. This does seem to be the year when more important riders crashed than is usual.

Let's look at the jerseys. The mountains jersey is pretty much without serious rider interest. The two leaders are simply those who did well on two mountain stages. As a result of doing well, they got points. There is no one who has yet shown the least interest in actually winning it by positive attacking in the high country. Last year's winner (Charteau) has slipped back into obscurity, although one might claim he is helping Voeckler. Although he is not the last one there for him, Rolland is. So it will probably be won by whoever does well at the finish of each of the next three stages. But only because they want to win the Tour. The polka dot jersey itself is of no interest. In my view they should just get rid of it.

The green jersey, barring something happening, is now in Cav's hands, he has to make a big blunder to lose it. It has a been a pretty good contest. I have not added up the sprint points yet to be won, but in an interview, Cav seemed to think he had won. My guess is that if Rojas or Gilbert looks like they are interested, for example by going in a break to sweep up the few points left, then some HTC action will unfold. But likely they know the results too. Should be fun to see if Cav can take the jersey to victory on the Champs. I imagine the team will be incredibly motivated to do just that. Good photo too. HTC will be pleased to win it, as they set out to do just that. Cav will have to wait until next year to overtake Armstrong and Darrigade for number of stage victories. If he keeps up his current rate, he will have only Hinault and Merckx to beat by August 2012. The guy is good. No idea what might happen if he goes to Sky. Will they treat him as well?

The young (white) jersey, contrary to what I expected, is still very much up for grabs. Given that there are three hard mountain stages and a time trial, during which any rider can lose minutes, the fact that there are SIX young lads within five minutes is incredible. There are six young riders who are currently in the top 20. This is NOT usual. To have six young guys, so far, in the top twenty means that there is a new generation of stars on the way. In fact, since nearly any rider would consider a top twenty very respectable, these guys are already low level stars. This is a good sign. Furthermore, although it might be for bad reasons (crash), the guy whom everyone whatsoever picked to win the white jersey, Gesink, has not even managed to be within shooting distance. He is 32 minutes behind. I never wish ill to any rider, but I do like uncertainty and surprises. This jersey is still up for grabs. While I am slightly disappointed that EBH and Geraint are not high in the standings, I am delighted that Uran is leading. Not that I predicted this, but I knew about him at least. Mind you, I knew about all the young guys except Ruijgh, whom I had never heard of.

To the Big One. Who will wear yellow at the end? I cannot say I think that Voeckler will. Today was a good example. When it went up a bit (second category is not a big deal) and there were serious attacks, he got dropped. It was only a little hill, with a descent that allowed some time to be regained, but he lost 20 seconds to Contador, Sanchez and Evans. He finished quite respectably with Rojas (yes, the sprinter), Gilbert, Taaramae, Velits, F. Schleck, Cunego, a quite respectable crowd really. But not the finish of a winner of the Tour. Most people agree that Evans is now in the best position. If he can follow Contador, or only lose minute on a stage, then he has the Tour in the bag, unless something happens. However we don't know about that, and won't for some days. Don't you love uncertainty? A. Schleck seemed to show nothing much today, he lost more than a minute on Evans and Contador. He couldn't keep up with over twenty guys, including Rojas. So he has to attack. Contador needs to pick up some time before the ITT, so he has to attack. Although he odes a fairly good TT himself and might be able to beat Evans. The Schlecks have to attack. Others might get the idea too.

The stage was really good. At least after I woke up from my nap at about 1530, I was entertained for the rest of the day. I gather the first hour or two was not that great, just fast riding in a bunch and breaks that never lasted. The countryside was pretty good, I was told. I was actually hoping that EBH could beat Thor in the sprint, but frankly, with a leadout man as well, Thor showed who is the experienced wily guy with big legs. EBH has now has a first and a second, so he is doing quite well for a young lad. No doubt he is a star in the making, as everyone thought. He made his move at the right time, after getting in the right break. Thor has had a magnificent Tour. By the way, did you know you say his name exactly like Tour. I noticed he didn't even bother sprinting for the intermediate sprint, which he would have won. I guess has done his sums and knows he is out of it. Looking at the standings of the stage, I am struck by how badly Andy did. He just cannot descend. Basso dropped two places to make room for Sanchez and Contador, losing 30 seconds. He is still not out of it. Cunego and Danielson stayed pretty much the same. Uran moved into the top ten. We are starting to get to the stages where big drops and changes in the GC will occur. So I am going to have to print them out and compare. My impression is that by this stage, there are usually bigger gaps in the GC.

Put succinctly, assuming that Voeckler does not last until Paris, we have seven guys within two minutes of each other, with Voeckler nearly two minutes ahead of them all. All to play for. The only one of them who does not have to attack is Evans. The rest must attack to win.

When we think about “the best team” in the race, it is a bit difficult to figure out who that might be. The computational system the Tour uses is to add up the best three times, the three best riders, for each day's stage for each team. The team with the least time on a stage for their three best riders, is the stage “winner”. So today that was Garmin Cervelo, because they had first and third and 28th, making a total of 10h 39' 58" to ride the stage in total for their three best riders. Each day one adds the day's total to the ongoing total for that team and rank them. Currently Garmin is seven and eight minutes ahead of Leopard and Europcar. But in many people's mind the best team might be HTC. They have the most victories, they are the best organised for the sprint, they ride in front all day sometimes. But when you look at the GC (not the same as the”team calculation”) their top guy is 15th 10 minutes back, 32nd 24 minutes back and 70th 1 hour 15minutes back. All the rest are 124th or worse. In other worlds they specialise and do not give a fig for the GC or the “team prize”, only for stage wins and the green jersey. And in that respect, they are the best. In the tour team competition they rank thirteenth, fifty-one minutes behind Leopard. That is because they only finsh up front during mass sprint stages, which means that other riders are often given the same time as HTC sprinters.

I should also mention one other thing. Although the two expert mags that predicted the winner of the green jersey all thought Cav was worthy of a picture and mention, NEITHER of them mention or have a picture of Rojas or Gilbert, who are second and third. Experts? A Tour of surprises actually. Maybe they got the winner right, if so it will be Contador or A. Schleck.

There are still eight teams who have not lost a single rider.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Cav wins in Montpellier

Stage 15
17 July 2011

Still in the grip of this cold, no desire to write. On the other hand I had to watch most of the stage, as the route went through the southern limit of where I cycle all year. The roads I know fairly well. Such a treat to see the villages and countryside from the air, and realise I live here. It would've been a good stage to write about. As for the finish, it was not a big surprise, but I could have brought back some nice shots from the busses, the people and so forth.

On the other hand yesterday would've been good to write about too. It would have been fun to write about how interesting a stage could be when nothing much goes on with the GC. It seems that it is all going to unfold in the last week, as many suspected. On the other hand there has been plenty to keep us entertained as spectators. Not least Voeckler. Is he in yellow becasue he is good or because the others don't make many serious moves. We shall see.

Sorry about this gap, I really don't feel like writing. Maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Voeckler and Vanendert are Stars

Stage 14
16 July

Huge stinking cold has overwhelmed me. Watched the entire stage, would've loved to comment on it. But I won't. I am going to bed.

Hope to see you tomorrow.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Hushovd? You are kidding.

Stage 13
15 July 2011

Note: Feeling a bit poorly today, so probably won't write much. Hope this cold does not get worse.

A stage where not much was expected by most commentators, and if one considers the GC, not much happened. All the leaders rode up the hill and down pretty much together. There was some suspense and there was an interesting break. In fact, we have another example of the break winning in the end. We also have an example of when the peloton showed almost no interest whatever in bringing the break back. None of the escapees threatened any jersey anyone cared about. None of them were in the top twenty.

As usual with the Tour, there was a bit of sadness and a bit of glory even in an uneventful stage. Jeremy Roy, a seemingly average rider, has suddenly become the escape artist of the Tour. He rode off with the break for the fifth time, and this time it looked like he might possibly win his stage. He attacked, he got free on the Aubisque and then tried to ride the descent and the flat bit to Lourdes. Oddly, given his reputation as a sprinter and his bulk (even if he has lost weight to climb better), it was Thor Hushovd, also in the break, who rode up the Aubisque and more importantly down the descent to catch Roy and beat him. It may well be that Thor's descent might be one of the high points of the Tour. Very sad for Poor Jeremy and well-deserved and well-ridden for Thor. Normally we don't see a bulky sprinter riding up a huge climb faster than most riders and then getting the victory. There was also Moncoutié involved, but he was not really up to the task, even though we have to give him credit for trying to win the stage.

Roy got the spotted jersey for his efforts, but he really was on the verge of tears because he didn’t win the stage. We have to remember that winning a stage of the Tour can make a rider's entire career. Roy just was not as strong as the former yellow jersey and current world champion. Roy, even though he lost, makes the other guys look like lazy buggers who are not in shape, not ready to race. No, I still have no idea whatsoever who might actually be trying to win the spotted jersey. So far there is not one rider who indicates by his actions that he want to wear it into Paris. Not one.

Green is still a race between three riders. Cav lost a crucial point or two at the intermediate sprint. He was cruising on automatic behind his leadout guys, waiting to win the stage, when suddenly, as if Cav had not seen him or even been looking, Rojas sped past and took the sprint. Quite careless really. In fact, when he didn't win, Cav got a bit annoyed and pretended that someone else had done something wrong, but he was just being petulant. No irregularities took place. Gilbert raced ahead of the peloton at the end when he realised he could pick up a few points and move into the top ten. He is still serious. All three of them are, separated by only a few points. Hushovd moved back into an outsider position by winning the stage, which was NOT a sprinter's stage at all.

The young riders' jersey is still up for grabs. Differing from the usual scenario, there are only five minutes between the first six riders, none of whom is an obvious victor. But I have to admit that most of the big name young guys have dropped well back. The sixth place guy is someone I have never ever heard of, and have no idea how to pronounce his name, Rob Ruijgh. I am waiting for the young Colombian, Uran, to make his move.

Great shots of the vulture sanctuary. The helicopter shots around the Pic de Midi Ossagau were excellent. It is the first time the Tour has been near this awesome peak. Great in HD.

Jalabert predicted no one much will attack today. He was right. Many had the same thought. I am finding Laurent way too nationalistic for the “reflective commentator”. I am used to it from Thierry Adam (the guy who fills up the space), it is almost “normal” that he be like that, as the Americans and the Brits and the Aussies are. Probably the Italians and the Spanish. But the reflective guy, the expert, is not meant to be quite so against Anglos, Cav, Thor and others. He also has never liked Moncoutié and shows it. Further, Jalabert gave no real credit to Thor, who had a fantastic and surprising stage. Gerard Holz was happy for Thor and says he has panache, which he does. Holz finds it easy to be enthusiastic. Jalabert has a harder time.

Apparently Lourdes is the third most visited Catholic site on earth, after the Vatican and Guadalupe in Mexico.

Yellow jersey, top ten, Gilbert moved up a couple of places with his attack near the end, but otherwise nothing changed at all. It is the general consensus that tomorrow there will be changes, and gaps, and that we will have some serious racing. I await enthusiastically.

Had a nice chat with my neighbours about the Tour. I was walking home and I heard the word Contador as I passed, so I drifted over and chatted. You can do that easily during the Tour. Many people, especially but not exclusively men, have notions to share. Me too.

This was a typical transition stage. A “transition stage” is a stage which is between the stages where real racing between the GC contenders happens, and it is also NOT a “sprinters' stage”. The transition stage is where someone totally unpredictable wins, mainly because no one else really cares that much. The GC guys are resting, getting ready for the “real stage” which will shortly happening in the big mountains. A transition stage is often needed just to cover the distance between the important stages, without train or plane transfers which riders do not like. But it is strange to have a “transition stage” with the mighty Col d'Aubisque in the middle. Still, there is some “racing” in the transition stage, and often a very good story about the escape that usually wins. We had that today for sure. Even after all these years, it is still strange to see an entire peloton of fifty or more riders just cruising up a mythic hill. Although their idea of cruising is faster than anything any of my pals or I could even dream of doing.

Andreas Kloden has stopped riding. Too much back pain from a crash. Levi Leipheimer is the only one of four 'leaders' still left for Radio Shack. Bad luck. Chickens coming home to roost maybe. Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) was a non starter, while Vladimir Isaichev (Katusha) and Lars Boom (Rabobank) dropped out during the stage.

Tomorrow is a very hard stage. I would be shocked if there are not battles, tragedies, changes in the top ten. Well, not shocked, but seriously disappointed in the riders. This is where they can attack and make a difference. There are two second category climbs, two first category and a “beyond category” climb at the end. Oh, a third category as well. The Col D'Agnes, about sixty K from the end, is meant to be rather hard, and might be where serious attacks 9from afar) could happen, assuming all the big guns do not wait until the last climb to do their stuff. Most likely the GC guys will just ride together until the end, then try to gain a few seconds, although I dearly and desperately hope I am wrong. Maybe a few of the climbers who have lost huge amounts of time might go for a break. If there is anyone at all who cares about the mountain jersey, they really have to make themselves visible in this stage. They should be in a break after the sprint, which is only 36 k into the stage, after a second cat climb. If some climber in the break succeeds in getting a substantial lead, then they will have the spotted jersey and might well try to defend it in the Alps. I would say Roy might try, but surely he cannot attack like that three stages in a row, in the mountains. Evans should pick up a few points, but he must be too far behind to ever catch all three sprinters in the green jersey competition.

Winner … I said Tom Danielson on my forum, just because the real favourites were taken. I figure it will be one of those who think they can win the Tour, but I really don't know which one. Basso, Alberto, Schlecks, hard to pick really.

Should be a good stage, from 1400 CET on, with the real action starting around 1500.

Can't wait.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

First Mountain Stage, Sanchez attacks

Stage 12
14 July 2011

We know a bit more about the Tour now. We also are beginning to accumulate a few heroic stories, more bad luck, more emerging stars, and gradually getting an idea about the yellow jersey. The Tour has definitely reached a serious stage. Tomorrow, I doubt if the stage will be won by a star. After the only climb of the day, a very hard one, the Aubisque, there are forty k downhill mostly, to the finish. This usually means that many of the GC guys will ride up the hill together, no one will attack, since they would be caught on the descent or the flat bit near the end. However, if a a couple of non-threatening riders from one of the GC teams are in the break, and they get to the top with a small time gap, their star could attack at the top of the climb, and catch up with his mates on the descent, then time trial to the finish. It has happened. Mostly likely there will be a break, maybe with a few guys who are close to the spotted jersey, or who want to win it.

I would have liked it better if Geraint Thomas, becoming one of my favourites, had won the Goddet Prize for getting over the Tourmalet first. But he was second. Nevertheless, a very good showing for the lad. It must be added, also for his companion, Jeremy Roy. They still use newspapers sometimes for descending, too keep the wind from penetrating the jersey when it is all sweaty. Others like Thomas V., have a specially made cycling gilet. In his case, yellow. I do love watching descents, probably because they are a bit exciting and dangerous, and also because I cannot descend fast, too scared, too cautious, not a good enough bike handler. So I can only watch the guys who can and enjoy it.

As expected by some, the GC guys just climbed the Tourmalet together and nothing much happened until the last climb. And then, GC-wise, only the last few kilometres. Views from the helicopter were missing. Fog. Nevertheless, we know more.

Chavanel tried for glory on the 14th, but he is not in good shape. Geraint and Jeremy Roy did a fine breakaway display. Pierre Rolland did a spectacular job for Voeckler, crossing the line in plenty of time to save the yellow jersey. Next to Thomas and Roy, he impressed me most today. A young French hope, only 24 and capable of climbing with the very best in the Tour. Voeckler was pretty superb as well.

Of the Top Ten, several had bad days, or are not going to figure in the GC this year. Tony Martin and Peter Velits dropped out of the top ten. So did Philippe Gilbert, Klöden, LL Sanchez and Jacob Fuglsang. They didn't totally disappear, some of them will be back. Maybe. Tony Martin is not a great climber, but has also been busting a gut for Cav. I expect he might hang loose until the ITT at the end of the Tour, and forget going up mountains fast. I can't explain Peter Velits just yet, he might come back. Gilbert has discovered that he can't really climb in the high mountains, but he certainly kept up until the very end, so maybe he will find a new identity in this Tour. Fuglsang is a bit of a surprise, let's hope it is a temporary setback. He is one of the last guys that is meant to be with the Schlecks. He wasn't. LL Sanchez has yet to really succeed in the high mountains.

To fill those empty spaces there are some overall contenders for the GC drifting up. Ivan Basso rode without a mistake, and is in fifth. Cunego also followed the wheels, but was unable to do anything except finish very respectably, now in sixth. Contador moved up to seventh, and has to figure out if he can do better and whether he can attack. He still is two minutes behind Frank, and while he is obviously physically troubled, maybe even mentally, he needs to find a space to attack. Maybe the Alps. The Schlecks found him out today, one attack, another attack, and when he didn't follow, it was Frank who took off. Mind you, no one else responded either. Maybe they were all not very worried about Frank getting a few more seconds. Samuel Sanchez moved up to eighth with his fine ride today. No reason to suppose he won't stay there, he seems in excellent shape. Tom Danielson, the 33 year old American who has promised much, but never ridden the Tour before, enters the top ten. Filling it out we have Nicolas Roche, who has been lying low for days. When the road went up, he was ready. The top ten now looks very much like it could be at the end of the Tour. Not sure who might crash it, until I look …... Yes, still room for plenty of new faces in the top ten, notwithstanding events. Maybe the way Voeckler has ridden, he will keep the jersey for two more days, but eventually he will make way for another rider. Ten guys have to gain five minutes on him in the next few days, and then he is out. Maybe he will cling on and finish “Top French Guy”, that would be cool. Mind you he can't time trial to save his life, so probably he will drift down slowly and disappear just before the Champs.

The guys who might move into the top ten include Velits, Tarramae, Leipheimer, Uran. Of course, for the sake of courtesy there should be a couple of French guys, maybe Rolland or Coppel. Sometimes the top French guy is only 25th. I hope there will be surprises in the top ten. Certainly quite a few good riders, who might have just had a bad day, will be making breaks in the next week or so. These are the good riders, who have lost 10 minutes or more already. Take a look at the list, there are plenty of them.

Tomorrow, the green jersey intermediate sprint is JUST before the Aubisque. It is a bit lumpy before that, so I think Gilbert might take the points, after the escape mops up the big ones. Gilbert is 26 points behind, and there are 20 on offer, even if there is no escape. None of the three big contenders will make it over the Aubisque and contest the final. Although I suppose Gilbert might … Of course we might also watch Evans in the next few days, he should get a few points, more or less for finishing with the leaders in the mountains, maybe even nicking a stage. For example today he picked up 11 at the finish. And then there is Rojas.

As for the mountains jersey, Samuel Sanchez earned it today by finishing first on this stage. It is not obvious he will go for it, we shall have to wait for two days to know his intentions. No way he is going to be allowed in a big break anymore, he is way too dangerous on GC. So I doubt he will be wearing it in Paris. Who then? I have no idea yet. Too many mountains to come, and everyone who scored mountain points today earned them, but almost by accident, by winning a stage or by being in a break. No one was really trying to be the mountain king. Do glance at the standings, they will tell you nothing. Where is Anthony Charteau? Does anyone care?

Gesink was a big loser today. He seems poorly. The young jersey is up for grabs. Contrary to my expectations and predictions, there is NOT a huge gap and the best young rider contest is very close indeed. Given that one can easily lose five minutes on any climb, the fact that the top ten young riders are within 8 minutes of each other, means this race, which will be one of attrition, is still going. That's great, and a bit of a surprise. Nearly everyone said it would be Gesink in a walk. Nearly everyone. And yet, people you may never have heard of are in the top ten. Nice extra event to observe. Speaking of young riders, Kreuziger can descend very well, and yet he did not catch Geraint and Roy coming off the Tourmalet. Something is wrong with him, especially since he is young rider and should not be so far down. He is the leader of Astana for goodness sakes.

Cool watching the peloton with all favourites on the last climb. Looking. Wondering. Deciding. Doing ... what? Mostly waiting, conservative so far, no big attacks. The Schlecks did well, but could have done better. Evans just hung on. Maybe they will try harder tomorrow. I love to watch the reduced group of climbers while they wonder what to do and when.

Big losers. Gesink, Kloden.
Little losers, Contador, Gilbert, Velits, Fuglsang.
Big winners, Voeckler (had a special gilet yellow), Sanchez (two prizes, stage and jersey).
Little winners, Schlecks (especially Frank), Cunego, Basso, Jeannson (didn't even know he could climb), Cadel, Levi, Vanendert (How many of you have ever heard of him before?), Cavendish, Tom Danielson, Rolland.

They ride at 35kph average for this stage, up three climbs I could not do in a day. I can ride that fast on the flat, for one k or so. Respect. Mind you, they are all young, and that's all they do. Still.

I won't have to learn to spell young Galimzyanov's name this year, he did not finish. That is, he finished, but somehow got dropped by the big peloton of slow guys, and finished outside the limit for the day. Each day, riders have to finish within a certain percentage of the winner's time, based on how hard the stage is. So if you loaf along taking it wasy in themountains or are injured, and finish way behind, you are out. Although they make exceptions sometimes for heroic finishes. Galimzyanov is Russian, so no exception. Feillu did not start, tendonitis he said. Two sprinters have had enough. I reckon we will see the young Russian back in years to come.

The historical story of the day on TV, with movies and stills, was about Eugene Christophe, interviewed by Robic or Bobet, great heroes of France. He was the first guy to wear yellow, in 1919. There was no jersey before that. In fact, you might not know that the green jersey only appeared in 1953, the mountains jersey in 1933 and the white jersey in 1975. I rode with Christophe toe clips for years.

Lourdes, stage finish tomorrow, has the second most hotels in France behind Paris, 200 or something. 11,000 buses a year. Who might win? Well, I guess Gilbert might take the points at the intermediate sprint, or I suppose Rojas or Cav could, it depends a little bit on the break and a little bit on how lumpy the route really is in reality. Lumpy, Gilbert. Not so lumpy, Cav. Unless, HTC want someone to try for the stage. Since they really don't have anyone very close on the GC, maybe they will just do Cav for the day.

It feels good for them to be in the mountains. Things happen more, riders move up and down, weaknesses and strengths appear. The stage unfolds more slowly, better drama. Scenery is superb, especially if the helicopter works. In a couple days I shall, if nothing happens, be watching in Montpellier. Doubt if you will see me on TV, there are sooo many people at the finish. I will try to get a few pics, as I won't be able to write much, with the travel and so forth. Still, Cavendish will win.

By for now.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Cav gets number three

Stage 11
13 July 2011

I am really quite glad the stage was not terribly eventful. Tonight is the night they do the fireworks and I want to get this posted before I go. As I suspected, I am mostly looking forward to tomorrow, trying to figure when I should take my nap. I climbed the Tourmalet exactly how they are doing it, except I stayed in St. Marie overnight before I set out. I always like this bit of the Tour as I met a guy who I am still pals with in the hotel that night in St. Marie near where Eugene Christophe famously fixed his broken fork. My pal might even be reading this. Hi John.

The stage itself was quite standard, I fear there is more than me getting a little bit tired of a break that consists of majority French guys and another one or two. The six stayed away nearly to the end, when the sprinters' teams caught them. Then today, with it being flat, there seemed to me nothing anyone could do about the HTC lead out, and Cavendish finished it off. What an excellent team they have. I love watching the changing jerseys at the front for the last fifteen k, and especially the last few k. I must watch the videos of these sprints ten times each. I thought Cav was a bit short of help toward the end, but I guess not. He also took the green jersey, and I expect he will not want to part with it. There are two more stages where there is a sprint finish, the one I am going to in Montpellier and the the final in Paris. I figure Cav for one of those, at least. They do say he is going to sign for Sky next year, and I wonder if he will miss his leadout guys. Maybe Thomas, EBH, Swift will subordinate their personal careers in the Tour to lead out Cav, but I wonder. He has the finest leadout in the world now and I wonder if he would be wise to change. In any case, I picked him for today, so I get a few points.

Cav claims today that Greipel made one of the finest sprints he has ever seen yesterday, and that they get along fine. Odd thing to say. Not even gracious, as if it took the greatest sprint ever to beat Cav, then...

Looking at the green jersey competition, as it is the only one of interest now, we can see that assuming Cav wins one stage more, and picks up a bit in the intermediates sprints, he has the jersey. Maybe Gilbert has a strategy. For example, stay with the peloton and take points at the intermediate sprint, even if it is after a climb or two. We already know that Gilbert is going to see how he goes in the mountains for the first time. He will not join the back-markers, the bus, like Cav will. If Philippe goes well, then he could take a few points and maybe compete. But I somehow doubt it. It is very remiss of me, but I keep forgetting Rojas. He is serious, and is very capable and fast, without a huge long train like Cav. I guess Rojas has made his name, but I wonder if he can beat Cav, ever. If Gilbert fails to get points in the mountains, then it will be as it is now, in Paris. I am secretly hoping I am wrong and there will be a bit more up and down in that competition. But I don't think so. Mind you, there are a lot of mountains between here and Paris, so anything can happen.

Notice in fifth and sixth place two young sprinters, EBH whom I have already mentioned often enough, and the young Russian, Galimzyanov who has steadily placed and shown he will one day win a stage or more.

No change in GC, no change in yellow, no change in spotted, no change in young rider. Nothing to report. Actually nothing much to observe either. Other than the appalling rainstorm. We had a terrific one here as well. But the weather is meant to be good in the mountains during the next days. Hoogerland probably won't be able to keep up tomorrow, and with big points on offer, he will lose the jersey. Although apparently everyone loves him on the roads of the Tour. People will always remember him now, his identity is made. Since he is also a good rider, maybe his career is made. We will see how Gesink goes tomorrow. If it all goes as predicted he will not even get threatened on the white jersey. Heroic Thomas, we shall see. He should get dropped during the climb of the Tourmalet, but maybe will last until the final climb if they are all cruising along in a big group. Even up the Tourmalet they can do that sometime. It is the French National Day so Thomas will try hard to stay in yellow. Last thought, we have utterly no idea whatsoever who might be interested in the Mountains jersey, so as the green jersey competition dies off a little, the mountains jersey becomes slightly interesting, maybe. As it should be.

John Gadret out. Just wasted after the Giro. Like he said he was. His boss made him ride. Shame really, he was on one of my teams. Feillu out too apparently, tendonitis. He thought he would try for his victory one more time. I have not become fond of Feillu, even when he gets interviewed.

Usually, at this point of the race, I can take the top fifteen and note that several of them will disappear as soon as the road goes up. The sprinters, for example. But this time, there has been so much action with crashes and hill finishes that the top ten does look full of riders who can climb as well. No sprinters left in that GC. Most of those guys will still be there tomorrow night. I will say, and I will try to remember when Paris comes, that ALL of the guys in the top ten, will be from the top twenty on today's GC. Merely a question of who goes down and who comes up. Presumably Voeckler will go down, and Contador, for example, will come up.

But such speculation is not what I want to do tonight. Its the fireworks. I need to eat and be gone before it gets dark. I need to hang around a bit, see who is there before the fireworks start. After I will just come home. Should be a big day in the mountains, and I want to get a ride done in the morning.

As for predictions, I don't really have any strong feelings or intuitions. It could be someone from a break, someone who is way behind and just has a really good day. Guys like Uran, Gautier, Van Garderen, Moncoutié, Dupont. I predict a French winner if this scenario happens. Or it could be the winner from a wee pack of heavy guys who ride up together, Evans, Schlecks, Contador and whoever can keep up. Or someone ambitious, but not an immediate threat, could ride off and no one chases fast enough on the last climb. Like Danielson, Cunego or Vande Velde. Most likely it won't be one of the big stars, as I think they will ride up together and none of them will attack. The outsider winner would have to be from a team that is unlikely to win the Tour, as all the workers for that team (BMC, Leopard, Saxo, etc) will be keeping their boys back to stay with the leader. The leaders will be cautious on this first climb. Oh yes, and I reckon another leader will fade out of the GC today, but I don't know who.

Another small thing to watch is whether Evans will manage enough points in the mountains to threaten Gilbert or Cav. I don't think there are points for the ITT, otherwise Evans would have a good chance to overtake. We shall see.

See you in the mountains.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Omega outwit and out-ride Cav and HTC

Stage 10
12 July 2011

I might be a little disorganised or might write poorly for a bit (like I did Sunday night). Tell you about it later, but my apologies. Heavy lightning tonight. Must send this out without editing. Sorry.

Racing results first, then extra stuff if I have time and energy. I really did appreciate the rest day. Tomorrow when I write, I will be looking forward to the big mountains. The Tour starting to come together, although sometimes it seems to be falling apart. Like life.

Reflecting on the past week or so, I really found myself getting upset or disturbed by the injuries or potential injuries to so many leading riders. There have been some good racing moments at the end of nearly every stage. Take a team like Radio Shack. They started with four guys, any or all of whom could be in the top ten, suddenly, with many days to go, might have NO fully functioning guys to ride for the GC. I don't even LIKE Radio Shack. We won't find out how well Leipheimer and Kloden really are until Thursday afternoon. Popovych is also hut for them. As for missing riders, it is more or less normal to have only nine teams of the 22 with all their roster intact. Maybe a bit above the average, as we have not even reached the mountains. But the thing about this Tour is so many outsiders (anyone who might get in the top ten except Schleck and Contador) are invovled. Out or injured. Kreuziger, Contador, Leipheimer, Gesink, for example, are still riding, but if you read a bit, it appears they are not at all in good shape. Haven't heard anything bad bout S. Sanchez or Evans yet. Chavanel might not be able to win a stage, he is suffering. Thank goodness for Voeckler, from the French point of view. However, a guy like Samuel Sanchez who is meant to threaten the podium, is not meant to be five minutes off the pace BEFORE the mountains and without a long TTT. This means it is a Tour of surprises, but on the other hand, they are not really good surprises.

Overall. Doing well enough, Evans, S Sanchez (stretching it), both Schlecks, Kloden if his back doesn't go, Basso (not out anyway),P. Velits ... Out, Wiggins, Horner, VDB, Vino, Kreuziger (probably, lost six more minute today).

Green still with Gilbert, who is deadly serious about it. He wants to take it to Paris. Today he knew he would not beat the sprinters, so he decided to help out Greipel beat Cav. He was actually a team-mate. He attacked, as far as I can tell, to try and upset the pattern of Cav getting to the finish with five guys in front. It worked. Cav actually was alone when he attacked, following the wheel of Daniele Oss, from Liquigas, who was just trying to win by attacking from afar. First Greipel was following Roelandts, his teammate. Then Greipel followed Cav's wheel, pulled out, and went past him. Not many can go past Cav, unless they planned well and Cav and his boys were affected by Gilbert's attack. That is, the HTC team had to work really hard on the hill just before the sprint. Some of them never even were there at the end, Renshaw, Eisel. Admittedly Gilbert lost some points for green, but he still finished 14th.

Yellow is the same. Nice to see Thomas V. in the last escape, green and yellow in the same little group ahead of the peloton. Not terribly sure I would have gone when Voeckler did. Why not let the others get away and not care? Just hang at the front of the peloton, just behind the HTC lads. Surely it was obvious there was nothing to be won today, as Gilbert must have known. By the way, no time to discuss, som epeople are not Voeckler lovers. They think he has made mistakes. Later.

Spotted jersey carried all day by the hero, Hoogerland. I don't want to exaggerate, but I saw the crash. I saw the cuts. I saw him get stopped by being caught in mid air by a barbed wire fence. Then he kept up with everyone today. He is a hero for me.

Gesink still in white. We don't know whether he is getting back in shape or whether he is still weakened. Thursday. They asked him how to pronounce his name. It is NOT a hard G. It something a bit like in Hebrew when they say Chutzpah. A kind of guttural H. Hesink more than Gesink, but with gutturals in the H.

They found the “woman in yellow” whose placement on the side of the road caused several riders, including Contador to lose over a minute on the very first stage. L'Equipe found him and brought him to meet Contador on rest day. Nice picture of them shaking hands. Yes, him. Just about 13. A kid. Never been to the Tour before. Mostly plays rugby. He swears that his feet were never on the bitumen, he was on the side of the road. He was looking toward the disappearing back of riders to identify the French ones. He even has a mark on the large T shirt he wore. Also an autograph from Alberto. That's the kind of story I would go for if I were a reporter on the Tour. Kid has funny hair.

More in the paper about Alberto's knee. No one knows. He has fallen three times or is it four, did he fall today? Anyway it hurts. You can't ride a bike well with a hurt knee, you just can't. We will see Thursday when someone else attacks. There are plenty of riders with motivations to attack. Including Alberto of course. I really hope someone goes for it. Anyone will do. A young French lad, A Brit, a Basque guy, anyone.

Someone found this site, I think from my forums. It use is self-evident, and useful in the moutnains especially. while we are at it, someone also pointed out this interview with Rigoberto Uran, the Colombian who rides for Sky. I think he will win big one day, and I am not alone. He was in one of Thomas's videos, sleeping on the way to the race start.

The feature articles specially written for rest day in L'Equipe were about the caravan and young French riders. No time tonight to reflect on the caravan articles. Maybe after I go to see the sprint finish on the 17th. Might gets some pics to illustrate. With the young guys article, there was a long series of quotes about French cycling in general and why it is really a bit mediocre now. All of the principals were French team directors. Again too lengthy for this blog, but most French observers have discussed this over the last two years. The actual NEW young French guys they tip to move up are Romain Sicard 23, Tony Gallopin 23 (written before the break today), Johan Le Bon 20, Thibaut Pinot 21, Arthur Vichot 22 Cyril Gautier 23, Olivier Le Gac 17 and Arnaud Demare 19. Voila. Now you know the names. You just have to wait. OR go to Wikipedia or the team sites for more info. I had a guy figured three years ago, Fabien Taillefer, then he got sacked and some kind of doping problem and …

Good article on Hoogerland and the crash.

The sprint was rather full of somewhat hidden meanings for some of you. Greipel used to ride for HTC, until this year when he left to ride for Omega. Greipel and Cav did not get along well, sprinters are a bit strange and maybe more individualistic than others riders. Cav has said many times that there is no way Greipel could beat him. Greipel was a second rate sprinter, Cav was best. Except today. I see the result, the defeat of Cav, as a well worked, carefully devised strategy to figure out “how to deal with Cav”. Today there was a hill just before the finish, and that is where Gilbert attacked. Hard. By doing so, he wasted maybe a couple of Cav's train, and tired him out a bit, so Greipel could beat him. Which he did. The third place guy, Rojas does not appear to have gained much ground after Cav attacked. Feillu wasn't that close. Thor stopped pedalling when he saw he would lose the stage. By the way, I now think that Thor is NOT that serious about green. Watch the video. He stopped pedalling before the finish, once he had lost the stage win. The green jersey is now mano a mano, Gilbert vs. Cav. One important stage will be the one that finishes in Montpellier. Flat. The interview with Greipel after the stage was really really boring. He spoke like a dumb cyclist. Told us nothing. I prefer Cav for interviews.

Hejsdal was not well on the climbs. He was good last year.

The first break was interesting for me. Vichot is one of the very young, 22, hopes for French racing at World Level. He is good at everything, and most people think he needs a couple of years to mature a bit, and then bingo. El Fares, who is what they call a “puncheur”, good in strong fast bursts that are longer and harder than sprints (Gilbert, for example), is also “from the diversity” as some now say. He is of Maghrebin (North African) origin. This is the exact time of history when non-vanilla French guys are breaking into top level cycling. I think it is exciting and well worth paying attention to. El Fares is also pretty good, but he is 26 and so he should be producing victories now. Will he? So seeing Vichot and El Fares in the break was kind of additional interest. Not to say Cyril Gautier, 23, puncheur, who also interests me French wise.

I suppose it will be on You Tube, but both my wife and I rather liked watching Thor (or anyone) change shoes while riding or rather while hanging on to the car while not pedalling. Take a look.

Best display for the day in the farmers' competition was the map of France, quite accurately outline in a field, with a dot in it. It said “Vous Etes ici”, which was, of course nowhere at all. Excpet it worked, I remembered. It was Almayrac, Almyrac. Check it out. First prize so far. I could not figure out what material they used to make the white marks for the map.

I was wrong about the break today, it was a sprint. So tomorrow, I don't even know if I should guess. Fewer climbs, last fifteen k look almost flat, the last five k are totally flat, even a bit downhill. I imagine any person wishing to appear wise would say Cav. I do too, although I will try to guess someone else, to win more points tomorrow. In our fantasy guessing, you don't get as many points if you guess Cav, along with ten other people. Speaking of which, my Fantasy team in one league is not doing well at all. I tried going for really cheap sprinters, and spent my money on climbers and GC guys. AND I picked Wiggins and VDB, both of whom are out completely. Also picked Leipheimer, who seems to be limping. In short, my cheap sprinters did nothing, and I don't have many GC guys left. It might be worse than last year. Still I have spared you the details of those fantasy leagues. But they do take up time.

Until tomorrow.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

More crashes, Voeckler in Yellow

Stage 9
10 July 2011

Where we had our picnic

Tomorrow is a rest day, and after Thursday, we can relax a little and maybe not have such a bunch of crashes. I am getting upset more than I like.

News of the day, bad news overall. Two leaders of teams out with a crash. The day after vino almost won a stage, he crashes out. Not really a happy way to end your Tour career. In the same crash, Jurgen Van Den Broek also crashes out. I already mentioned that I don't like crashes, not because I don't know that life is full of bad breaks, but because it is such a tragedy for the spectator and for the teams. But it happens. So we have had several team leaders out or injured already, Chavanel, Brajkovic, Van Den Broek, Vinokourov, Wiggins, Zabriskie. I don't think this is usual. Two big crashes and 8 abandons in one day. Millar crashed, Kreuziger injured. And lately, rumours that Contador's small crash at the start (caught his handlebars in Karpets' saddle) was not so small and that his previously injured (another crash) knee might be affected.

But hey, Thomas Voeckler in yellow! How about that. I doubt that very many cycling fans would not like to see Thomas in Yellow. He is a kind of well mannered, modest, moderately talented, attacking type rider. He knows and says that he is not that great, but yet he wins and does so in pretty interesting ways. In my mind, the jersey is not so much for this escape, he could have missed it. It is a mid life reward for the general way that he rides. It is the universe saying we like a totally clean, attacking, modest, non-'people' type rider. I so think he is riding clean that if he got caught doping I would be really sad, for many days. “Many years ago, Thomas, you wore this sacred jersey, it helped you become who you are today. Its time you wore it again. Clearly you are not going to win the race, but here is the jersey, we want to write about how cool you are.” Even non-French people like him. I just thought those two actions in the Tour were typical of a good Tour, no matter who wins. Voeckler wearing yellow and crashes wiping out team leaders, favourites or other good riders entirely. One makes you happy the other makes you sad. Can't get away from it.

Nice award to Hoogerland and Flecha for “most competitive”. And a sort of justice that Hoogerland will wear the spotted jersey for another day if he can actually ride. I suppose it should be easy to watch that car swerve suddenly to avoid a tree in the road, apparently not seen before the last moment, just when he was passing a little thoughtlessly. Both left wheels were already off the road, he should have never been there. I figure the guy made a bad driving mistake. If he had crashed into the tree, I guess all the riders would have got wiped out. Choice, should he have knocked over two riders or all of them and wrecked the car and held up the whole Tour. Both wrong, he should never have been in the position to make one of two horrible choices. He drove badly. He should apologise to those at the very least. Maybe have a huge fine, and loads of points. Maybe jail. Certainly off the Tour.

I don't have every cyclist's correct name spelling in my spellchecker. Thomas, I have had on for ages. His team also rides Colnago, like I do. One thing I don't understand is why some people call him Tommy. Sharing the name, I assumed you stopped calling boys that “diminutive” (unless they like it, for example in the Southern USA where there are adults called Tommy, or Jimmy or Billy) when they grew up. I think the French commentators call himThomas.

Hushovd quite happily gave up his yellow jersey, it just was not worth knocking the team out over long, heavy roads, for a jersey that had a good life on Thor's back. Thing I like about Thor and Voeckler is that they have good smiles. When they are happy, they show it. Not all riders do that. Makes the spectators like you, if a rider does that. Thor was a great leading man in the show for a few days. And Thomas … really, you could not pick a better rider to wear yellow for a bit than Thomas. No way he can keep it all the way to Montpellier on the 17th, where I will l watch the finish near the rugby stadium. But Voeckler COULD keep it until Bastille Day on the 14th, only two more days of riding. It would make good photos to have Voeckler, ex-French champion strips on his yellow jersey, doing more than just wearing it on that day. Maybe doing something with panache. Sadly it is up some heavy mountains, so I doubt Thomas will have the jersey in the evening of the 14th. Hope he keeps it till then. The French put on the show, they should have one of their own riders do a little bit of good stuff now and again. Rather Voeckler than Casar, any day. I know the French have not really got anyone remotely like the big champion they want, but they have Thomas. He will do for a bit. Maybe he will make a desperate last sprint on the 14th, trying to keep the jersey from some climber who attacked. Even Voeckler in yellow could not possibly keep up with a good climber for long. The climber finishes, Thomas struggles, the countdown starts, and then, at the end, after very good close-up shots, Thomas (fill in verb) the yellow jersey. Good show, good rider. More like him would be GOOD.

The green jersey has now got a serious front runner, Gilbert. If he keeps riding in the medium mountains like he has been, then he can pick up a fair few points, even if he can't out fight the real sprinters on a flat stage. Not too many of them left in the competition anyway. Quite good this little battle for green. The other thing is that Thor can now ride solely for the green jersey. We shall see whether he is really interested. I hope so. There an increasing number of sprinters who are losing ground fast. If the guys in sixth place or lower do not win a fair few points, then they will leave all possibilities for green in the thighs of four guys. Still could be loads of fun, especially since we have two sprinters who can do really well in hills, and a couple who can't, including Cav and Rojas.

The white jersey is still Gesink, but everything I read says he is in bad shape, not feeling well, and not at all confident of doing well in the Tour. Could just be disinformation or bad gossip, we shall see. He seemed perfectly sound today, at least at the end. His team will feel better as well now they have won a stage. I will try to find out something inside about Gesink, he does look good.

I noticed on the climb that in the second row, I saw EBH a few times. I wonder how he sees all this, and what Sky wants to do. EBH and Thomas have excellent possibilities, but perhaps not this year. We can also see that Flecha is no slouch, and was given some space to make a move. Too bad the guy ran him over. Anyway, I think I have become, during this Tour, especially after the loss of Wiggins, a Sky supporter. Their strategy must have an element of tragedy, improvisation and creativity to it now. This should be fun. Although my enthusiasm is dimmed by knowing what happened to Flecha. I figure he could have won that stage.

The full results for the stage are that same kind of result we had the other day. It looks like one group “lost” time, and of course technically they did. I must watch the finish, but I bet it is just a matter of when the commissars say there is “a gap” between a bunch of straggling in riders, up quite a hill. It can even be one is working hard, but a bit casual, following a wheel, but without noticing that the wheel one is following is not quite following the previous one, that “a gap” has opened up. Suddenly you loose a few seconds.

So the jerseys are changing, and the spectacle (sometimes tragic) continues. But so far it is only by elimination that we get results. No one has attacked. Gesink and Contador still riding, but both with unknown levels of distress due to their crashes. Contador fell today again, apparently on the same knee he injured earlier. Gesink and Alberto were present in the right group today, but they could have problems, as could anyone really. Crash, out of the Tour. I think I shall now keep watching Hoogerland, I am impressed with him. Wearing the spots today, what a day.

I won't be writing tomorrow, I take a rest too. So can't tell you who I think will win the stage on Tuesday. I was right about a breakaway today, was I not? Tuesday is a slight downhill finish, perfect for dramatics from a mass sprint. Thing is, they put one big hill and one little hill, not to far from the finish. Maybe the two or three sprinters who can climb would contest it. Or a break. I have no idea who will win, but I will tell you if I got it right on Tuesday night. Today, who did I settle on? Geraint Thomas. I was wrong, but I had a great story worked out. In fact, it was Flecha that enacted the first part of the fantasy. Thomas finished just behind Gesink and just in front of Basso and Kloden. In my opinion, he will soon be in the same kind of place in the final GC. Maybe not this year. I really am keen to find out if he can climb. I even have a wee fantasy that sometime soon, the first Brit to win the Tour would be Welsh! Cool.

Absolutely trivial and meaningless video about room-mates and hotels in the Tour.

A friend asked what I meant by “heavy roads”. I am not sure I am using the word correctly, but for me it means up and down all day, not much time where you can just ride along on the flat for a bit. It also means, for me, that the surface of the road is not so perfect, that it is rough, paved badly maybe, the edges ill-defined, there are potholes or obstacles. Basically you have to use one gear less to ride the same speed, it is just incessant slightly harder work. Not like climbing a big mountain which is hard work for a bit, then not. That’s what I mean. Today was on heavy roads, and I think Monday as well. But on the 17th, the roads from Limoux to Montpellier will not be that heavy as the roads in the sticks, up and down hills all day.

So have a nice rest day. I will. Both rest days are on Market Day here. I can go in to the Market a bit relaxed, not feeling under pressure to write. A wee holiday, I can go for a little ride in the afternoon if I want. Flat roads, if really hot, up a hill, if not. That is a poem. Anyway I am invited to a pool birthday party, in the early evening. So I am glad I don't have to write anything tomorrow.