Saturday, 2 July 2011

Stage One

Stage 1 – 2 July 2011

Plenty of people hanging out in the villages. A break of course … new jerseys, the green stripe for Sky instead of blue, the light white summer jersey for Garmin, UK champ helmet for Wiggins, some crashes, but not too bad at the beginning, some sumptuous housing, loads of “field art”, the commentators' voices in the background, closed roads leading to the parcours, with cars parked all along them, getting used to it all again, slowly, during the first stage. The usual run of classy castles, big houses, with the gentle voice of Jean-Paul telling us about them. Then we got to the highest point in the Vendee, and at the highest point of the highest point (church steeple of course) were the usual collection of people waving flags. Being on a tower (or a digger with the bucket up high) or doing something outside a stately home is always a way of getting on TV. In fact, the travel through the countryside of France gives a huge number of people, should they be be a bit creative, the chance to be on TV. The Tour, while “sports” for sure, is also a “spectacle”. The French countryside really is lovely, full of architecture from a number of centuries. No wonder more people spend holiday time here than any country on earth.

A slow first stage, no one really busting a gut to bring back the break before the intermediate sprint, Team Time Trial tomorrow, saving strength. So what can we say about the intermediate sprint? The new one, the big one, the only one except the final sprint. Not much really. It appears that no team was the least bit interested in chasing down the break, until the end. I guess it was a special stage, the first, and we will have to see how the new rules affect behaviour and strategy as things go on. It was certainly the case that teams took the intermediate sprint seriously, even if it was only for fourth place. No idea what happened to Cav and his team. They were there, doing the leadout, and suddenly they weren't. Must watch the replay. One place to watch replays of various bits is by checking them out on the video section of

Omega acting as if they are yellow already. Making sure Gilbert gets his chance to win (which he did). Jalabert saying, for most of us, that we love to listen to Jean-Paul Olivier describing for a minute or two, the cool buildings we see. A lovely first day.

Did you see the first black guy in the Tour, apparently the very first? I must check that out, it could be true. Europcar, Yohann Gene. He is French, from Guadaloupe, which is French territory. Seems to be able to do his job, riding in the front for Voeckler. Nice to see a peloton a little less than vanilla. What with the Maghrebin background riders El Fares and Kadri, the French are in the fore of darkening the whiteness of cycling. They also have a black track rider who can beat nearly everybody, Gregory Bauge. Note: I do not say the French are not racist, just that no one else seems to be able to find non-vanilla riders. Oh yes, the two Japanese, but I don't they are riding this year.

I genuinely enjoy watching the teams assemble at the front with less than 40k to go. All the ones who hope to have a victory, suddenly appear near the front in clusters. Trying to keep safe, trying to protect their riders, trying to be in place to counter attacks near the end. BMC, Omega, Sky, Garmin. Then, with only 15k to go, the teams try to arrange themselves for the last push. For me, watching it is like watching a very cool dance. Sadly, the list of riders who were NOT in the front, and who got caught by the last crash is quite long. Bad mistakes.

So Philippe Gilbert is the winner. Many predicted he would be, and he did it. He is meant to win stage four as well. The guy is astounding. No idea how long he will wear the yellow jersey, but currently he has every single jersey (except young of course). When this happens, the spotted jersey and the green jersey are worn by the second place rider. His team is not great at the TTT, but I should think they will be very heavily motivated, and if they won't win, they might not lose much time. He could also win on the next hilltop finish. So he could have the jersey for some time to come if the team does well in the ITT.. Amazing, the guy just executes the plan that anyone on earth could have figured. Stay at the front, use up every rider on the team, then just ride really fast to the top. What a rider! And a word for Fabian Cancellara who gave it a go and then just ran out of juice, and Thor Hushovd, who managed a third place (and was a favourite too). Admittedly it all happened in the last few k, but still, a good bit of racing. And Cadel Evans second, taking many seconds on his rivals. And we end up with a semi-unexpected event which could change a lot. It is true that everyone says there might be crashes in the first week, nervous, everyone with a chance. Vive the surprises. Suddenly the two overwhelming favourites have already lost a minute and half. Stunning. AND Gilbert had a yellow watch waiting to match the jersey he thought he might wear. Apparently, he had a tri-colour watch to match his Belgian Champions jersey. Must have a watch sponsor.

The young jersey, white, is worn by Geraint Thomas. He did this last year too. He really is a fine Welsh addition to the UK team. In fact, Geraint is sometimes considered the first possible winner of the Tour, although we still don't know how good he is in high mountains. Certainly he is good for a stage win or for classics wins.

I don't like crashes. All part of the game, of course. The race cannot stop if there is a crash at the end of the first stage. And the guys who were caught simply were not at the front, where Gilbert and Hushovd and forty others had been for some time. They made a mistake. Nevertheless, even if no one was hurt, I don't like them. As a result, the times of the finishers were varied. Some riders who rode in next to each other at the finsh have times of 1.20 behind or .06 behind. Some crashed in the right spot, closer to the finish. If you crash inside the three k mark, you get the same time as the group you were with. If you crash outside the three k mark, like Contador, etc, then you lose all the time before you cross the line. In any case, you can see from the GC (General Classification) who lost lots of time and who lost a few seconds. Nothing to do with when they cross the finish line as you can see from looking at the finish line sequence and the time lost (on the Cycling News site I mentioned, under results of the stage). Nevertheless, the two Sanchez, Hesjedal and Contador have some work to do.

Cadel looked good. Felt perky enough to gain a few more seconds on everyone and a lot on several rivals. Feeling strong enough to use the energy to place second. I was impressed. Did I mention that Voeckler was also a success, fourth. Many thought he would win or do well, and he just went and did it. Probably the French cyclist most liked for his modesty and attacking style and almost certain non-doping. They think he is an old time cyclist.

Significance of the crash? The Tour is long, many things can happen. One says this a lot, at least I do. But this particular happening happened pretty quickly. Clearly, there will be a little more attacking somewhere, since those who were caught out, S. Sanchez, LL Sanchez, Contador, Hesjedal, must all pick up time on at least Evans, Van Den Broeck (VDB), Horner, Kloden, Gesink, F. and A. Schleck, Vinokourov, EBH and Roche. Those quite serious riders, who did not get caught out by the crash, have go a huge bonus so early in the Tour. But while some of them will gradually lose or gain time on the others, when they hit the mountains, there will still be some of the lucky ones with that time gap advantage. It won't change a thing for tomorrow, and probably not for the sprint stage on Monday. But the next uphill finish, the Mur de Bretagne, on Tuesday, will be very hotly contested, by anyone who can climb a bit. Overall, we should see a bit more action than usual in the first week. Bigger time gaps. But in spite of all that, the race will probably still be won in the mountains, where minutes can vanish. Nevertheless, it is a huge time gap for a flat stage and makes the race better for sure.

As for the stage tomorrow, I reckon the top three teams will be Radio Shack, Sky and Garmin- Cervelo, or maybe HTC. I put my money on Sky to win.

Sorry it seems a bit hasty tonight, but I am going to a special festival of country music and commodities, in the next town. My wife has a recent, but serious passion for line dancing and this is a big event. I gotta go. In any case, the stage is over. We had some very fine performances, some favourites came through and damn those crashes. I figure it will be at least a week before all the effects of this time loss by strong riders will be erased. Maybe even longer.

Got back from the Country Festival at 23h30, so a bit tired, and really no capable of doing any more tonight. Usually I check the forums and various websites to see if I missed anything. Tonight, I will just have to let the errors slip in.

Vive le velo,