Sunday, 3 July 2011

Stage 2 - 3 July 2011 TTT

Stage 2 – 3 July 2011

I am trying to write some of this before the stage, so if the tenses get confused, read deeply.

Let me take a moment to help you understand the weird finish yesterday. It might not concern you much, so skip this paragraph (actually two paras in the end). If you look at the stage finish results for stage one (now, and notice that the first 31 placings seemed quite normal and then suddenly someone fished at 1'20”. You might think, ah, there was a gap between riders due to the crashes. OK. Then suddenly the 37th rider finished only six seconds back, even though he crossed the line at the same moment as the 36th and 38th rider. And throughout the rest of the results there is an alternation of six seconds gap and 1.20 (or more). Keep looking through and it will be obvious that on numerous occasions, a rider got a time only six seconds after the winner, even though they finished WAY behind riders who lost more than a minute. In fact, if you look at Matthew Goss (the extreme case), finishing 183rd, the guy in front of him lost 4.56, the guy behind him lost 5.33, and he only lost six seconds. How can this be?

The rules are fairly clear. The second big crash, the one that happened 2k+ from the finish involved all the people who got a six second gap in the final GC. You can see exactly how many there were. If you have a crash in the last 3k (or a mechanical problem or a puncture), everyone in the group who crashed (or those with bike problems) gets the same time as the first guy who finishes, from that group (not Gilbert's time since he sprinted away from the group at the end). The judges have a device which reads the transponders of every rider at 3k, so they know exactly who was in the group at that moment. But the “classification” of each rider, the order they crossed the finish line, is strictly when they cross the line. Hence the 183rd guy to cross the line really did cross very late, but only lost 6 seconds because he was with the first group at 3k.

This rule was constructed to prevent a Tour being lost solely by the speed, jostling and pushing and danger that comes with every sprint finish. This rule means that in the last 3k, very dangerous, the NON-sprinters can hang back a bit and let the sprinters and their lead-out men duke it out. The guys who hang back don't lose time, and the sprinters have space to do their stuff. Sprinters are happy and GC riders are happy. So for some reason I don't know yet, Goss and Gesink took ever such a long time to get over the line. Although you have to search long and hard for their names on the finish list, they were clearly in that first group, the group that got entirely missed the first crash (because they were in the front), nine k from the finish. Alberto took some time to extricate himself from that first massive pileup, but not THAT much. Check out the videos which must be appearing by now. When there is a big crash, especially one spread out across the road (it had ditches on both sides too), some riders have to check or be checked if they are injured. Others have to wait for a new wheel or even a new bike. Others have to wait for an actual way to be clear for them to walk with their bike on a clear road to get back on. Of course some, the ones in the front, are not injured, have a bike that works, and are off. Over the distance between the first crash and the finish, riders caught up with others and finally, it appears from the times, that a rather large group got in 1.20 after the winner. They got their actual time of arrival since their crash was outside the protected zone. Gesink and Goss knew the rules, as did many others who were in the second crash, and many of them just took their time getting to the finish. Why rush up the steepish hill, they had nothing to gain? Had Contador, the 2 Sanchez and Hesjedal, for example, been WELL in front at the nine k mark, like the other 80 odd riders were, they would have avoided the crash and only lost six seconds, like the Schlecks, Wiggins and Evans. Bad riding, bad luck.

Note that all this rule does NOT apply on Wednesday for the finish on the Mur de Bretagne, which is treated like a mountaintop finish, not a flat, sprinty one. Games are complicated, sometimes you have to dig to figure out why the rules are there. Sometimes they are just stupid. Enough of that.

If I keep my promise I only have a few hundred words left for the TTT. Usually there is a bit less “event” in the TTT than in a proper road stage. The results will shake up the GC briefly. I predicted Contador would lose more time, as he has a poor TT team. My pick, Sky, almost won. Wiggins is even better placed. And Thomas is knocking on the door of Yellow, wearing white. But Garmin won, and Thor wears yellow. Fantastic. I like when the yellow is worn by many different riders during the Tour. I like immensely when rider who “deserves it” actually wears yellow for a day or more. Remember Sean Yates and Jens Voigt.

Basically the real joy is WATCHING a TTT, not writing about in a daily blog. Poetic writing maybe. For me anyway, there is an aesthetic pleasure watching the different teams try to ride a perfect TT. It actually is very hard, all things considered, to ride a bike at 60kph or whatever they do, about five centimetres from another back wheel. For a LONG time. Around corners. After the messy stuff on the first stage, we can settle down to watch how the guys ride in a “pure team” way. Watching the TTT is relaxing.

The unusual nature of the first two days' stages does mean we should have some more attacking later in the Tour as the big fellows try to make up the gaps. A few riders who might want to attack for the stage win are also more likely to be let loose, since they have lost so many minutes already, no one cares what they do. So any of the last 40 riders, the ones who have ALREADY lost more than three minutes, will be likely to make a break.

We get another look at how “peloton” will deal with the intermediate sprints. Should be a good strategic story as the Tour unfolds.

Loved seeing Thor Hushovd in the mountains jersey! Very pleased for Thor. No idea why, but I reckon he is clean, nice and Norwegian. [later] And now yellow. The beauty of the Tour.

Getting annoyed with the stupid spectators booing Saxo and Alberto. Not cool. They should be booing the UCI and the Spanish Federation.

Big turns by Fabian. Nice to see. Sky looked lovely too and you could tell that BMC had done plenty of practice. Frank S. not taking any relays at all. Andy not taking relays either, at the end. Saving them? They can't time trial? Feeling poorly? Sorry, my attempt at gossip.

Wiggins says he weighs 13 kilos less than Beijing, he now weighs 69k. Usually that draws a breath from serious racing guys. He clearly wants to climb better. Jalabert immediately was worried about reserves for three weeks.

Saxo, good morale, very good result. They are not a strong team, but managed to be quite respectable. On the other hand Alberto is now behind Schleck by a very significant time. When Andy lost 42 seconds to Contador on the prologue last year, he never got the time back, and lost the whole Tour by 39 seconds. Contador has lost way more. I can only think this will make the Tour more interesting. Contador simply has to get the time back. So he has to attack, both Schlecks, Evans, Wiggins, Basso and any other chancer. If he attacks, some won't be able to follow, some will. That is what makes a good race. Mind you, there still might be plenty of “events”. We have many stages to come.

Evans quite impressive. Long relays. Big winner. Took more time on all rivals.

Gilbert will never get the yellow jersey back at the end of the stage up Mur. Must have been a mental treat for him to think he had all three jerseys today. Can't have happened more than a few times, must check. He is probably a cycling legend already. Should he win the fourth stage there will be no question. “Remember the 2011 Tour when Gilbert just rode away from every rider in the Tour, twice!” Maybe he might even carry on to the end of the Tour and try to get the green jersey. THAT would be fun.

Jean-Paul Olivier is a very knowledgable commentator. He is part of the French TV team. They showed clips of him answering questions on a quiz show, like “who was fourth in the second stage of the Tour 1970”, for example. He described the six guys in the break, remembered who got dropped and who won the four man sprint. And several other questions like that. He was good!

I do apologise for not saying much about the race, but the TTT is not really a race, more like an aesthetic exercise. It is over. The results will not distort the overall race very much, which is good. Interesting gaps emerging quickly, but it is still very early, no mountains. I cannot imagine anything but good coming from this for the quality of our Tour. Uncertainty is always the key to a good race. I think so far, the route planners did a good job.

So tomorrow is almost certain to be a sprint. Maybe one or two of the usual sprinters teams will be too tired to chase. I doubt it, but it could be a victory for a breakaway. Plenty of riders want a spot of glory before the serious stuff starts. On the other hand, the total odds have been on Cav for this stage since it was revealed. I pick him too. But I would like to see Thor win in the yellow jersey. Such a cool ending. So tune in for the last 45 minutes maybe or half an hour.

That's it for tonight. I am quite tired from staying up to finish after the Country Fete. I didn't even get out for a ride today, just felt tired. Voila.