Thursday, 7 July 2011

EBH Takes the Cake

Stage 6
7 July 2011

A rather long stage today, the longest. Dreary weather, and although the road was frequently wet, not as dangerous as yesterday. Without apologising too much for being repetitive, those of you who are not checking out the incredible architecture and countryside of France are really missing something. I would like to spend more time in front of the box, taking that in, doing little errands, checking things on the computer. However, often, as today, I only caught the last fifty k and missed the intermediate sprint. Must mark the mountain stages on my diary and make sure I devote time to watching on the new TV. As I suspected, with big screen HD, everything is better. I liked the picture setting that made everything brighter, my wife liked it more realistic. Typical of us both. Can't wait for the mountains.

A few things that I'd like to mention before the results. If you look carefully, it was certainly clear today, there are long sections of road which are newly made. The tarmac is so new they sometimes don't have time to paint the lines on it. When the Tour comes to an area, you can almost see the route by finding new road surfaces. They don't mess about, the tour is money, and no one wants crashes due to bad roads in THEIR region. On the last wee climb and toward the end it was obvious today.

The spectators sometimes park their cars on the side of the road, then instead of watching between cars, they watch between their cars and the road. This means that when the riders were taking up the entire road, which they often do if not going really fast, and the spectators didn't know about bikes and races, which they often don't, neither the riders nor the spectators had anywhere to go to avoid each other. Its like the spectators forget, or wilfully don't think that the road is for the riders, there is a race on. A ROAD RACE. They came so close to collisions, so many times. Like the yellow dressed woman the other day, except she knocked over a rider and herself got knocked over. So thoughtless, so stupid. Mind you, the same thing happens to bikes ridden on ordinary streets and roads, but as the Tour passes they should all know there is a race on for a few minutes of their lives. Mind you, considering the millions of people on the road it is always something to explain how they get through with so few deaths and injuries. It is not just luck, there is something more profound.

As for the race, although you don't know it, I did, in the end, pick Edvald Boasson Hagen, EBH. I really thought about it and thought he would actually win. Although I picked him partly because no one else picked him, and I would get big points in our league. I am pleased because I have been a fan of his for a couple of years, he is a shy and modest fellow (in English anyway), clearly an immense talent, and he has been plagued by injuries for two years. This year, for example, he came down with an attack of shingles a week before the Tour. Brilliant lead-out from Geraint Thomas, himself a great talent and WELSH. Earlier Ben Swift buried himself for EBH. EBH was riding in front of Thor, Feillu, Gilbert, Goss (plus the others) and no one gained an centimetre. Notice how when the Rabobank guy took off, it was instantly Geraint on the wheel with EBH behind. In one of his interviews, EBH said when you follow Geraint you can just trust him, he is that good. Note how Geraint looks around, sees who is where, knowing EBH is on his wheel, and drifts off to his right, continuing to ride hard, but subtly blocking other sprinters, then slowing up seconds later. EBH also made a very good move when he chose the right time to leave Geraint's wheel, when he saw the right opening (you can see the space he went into), to begin his sprint. Just enough space and perfectly timed. Master class. Watch that sprint on the videos for sure.

Other riders who struck me during the day, although I have noticed some of them before. Laurent Roux did a nice little futile attack near the end. He almost won the French jersey this year, and if he had, I bet he would ride even better. In any case, he is a young talent in one day races or stages. I was also immensely impressed with Adriano Malori, the Italian TT champion this year. Not many could have ridden in front of a serious peloton at the end of the stage for that long. IN ADDITION to riding in the escape. If he ever gets in another escape with one or two serious rouleurs, we can expect someone to react quickly or he will be gone. We also got a wee thrill with another futile attack by Thomas Voeckler. He does have that fighting spirit, but just is not quite good enough to pull it off. On the other hand, try and try again and you eventually make it. He will , and has. He really is a liable guy when interviewed. Kid next door. Confident, but modest, if that is possible.

Arthur Vichot (FDJ) right up there today. Arthur Vichot? Guess we better watch him. You don't get in the top ten on a finish like that by luck. Can he climb? Apparently. Romain Feillu also seems to be having a good Tour. Still don't like him much.

A very amusing and realistic interview with Chris Horner.
Compare Hinault's predictions with the results.

Someone who runs the Specialised company should take a look at the bikes they are sending to Contador/Saxo. He has been changing them a lot. Its not that he has (Shimano) electronic shifting, as he uses SRAM gear (same one that betrayed Schleck last year). I have heard of several riders mumbling about bikes which shift on their own, but not much in the press. Anyway, Contador seems to be upset quite often with his bikes. I really don't know why, they have mechanics, the bikes should be fine. Puzzle.

I was self-critical too soon, the new intermediate sprint system is giving us two good sprints a day, but not two catches. I just watched the video of Cav in the intermediate one, and HTC just did a classic lead out, perfect. Lovely to watch. I notice Rojas was there and Farrar and Gilbert, so they are still very serious about the green jersey. I love it, but bring on the mountains.

Cadel was the first Australian to ever wear the mountains jersey, and when it got handed over to Johnny Hoogerland (whom we see attacking later, for sure), it was the first time a Dutch guy had it since Gert Jan Theunisse, who was a drugged climber from the eighties.

Might I recommend some quite good informal videos that Geraint Thomas is making. Sky has three of the top six young riders at present. I wonder if they can keep them all for a few years. Overall doing well and quite visible in this Tour.

Last “feature” bit from a story in L'Equipe today. About the companies and budgets. Seems it is easy enough to identify the “big teams”. The dividing line seems to be 10,000,000 euros a year as a budget. The average budget is apparently 9.5 million euros. Over ten million are Saxo, Leopard, Garmin, Astana, Radioshack, Sky, BMC, Quick Step, HTC and Katusha. Katusha (named after a missile, by Putin) leads with 15 million, but I think this includes a junior team too. Saxo, Astana, on 12. Astana seems the odd one out, not really worth all that money. Following Shack at 11, we have Garmin, Quick Step and HTC on ten. The rest have smaller budgets. I am not saying money buys a good team, just pointing out that a team like Euskatel and Europcar on 6.5 and AG2R on 7.5 are simply never going to have the best riders. Money talks. By the way, I have no idea if these data are correct, but they are the only ones I have. Euskatel (94), Rabobank (96) FDJ (97) and Cofidis (97) have been in the peloton longest, although AG2R was a co-sponsor in 1997. Lampre has been with us for along time too. It does seem like the French teams have the most stability, since Europcar has been around for years with different names. Then again so has Movistar. In fact with all the chopping and changing, it is hard to tell when 'a team' stops being a team, since it can be the same team, same admin, same riders, but the sponsor's name changes. They advertise simply because it is cheap and effective. It is just business, although it helps to have a cycling fanatic at the top of a company. Quick Step, for example, said that when they began advertising in 1999, 0.55% of the population recognised their name. In 2011, they say 51%. Effective.

In case you missed Mont St Michel, this video might help. Turn down the sound though. Second most visited place in France, apparently, after the Tour Eiffel. I have been there. If you know you are a tourist, and realise that tourists/pilgrims have been coming for several hundred years, it is an amazing place.

Feillu doing well, but wandering about all over the place looking for an opening.

As for the stage tomorrow, I will just bask in my accuracy for a day. Nearly everyone on my forum has picked Cav. Probably right. The stage finish is completely and utterly flat. Before that, there is nothing whatsoever resembling a hill. So I pick Ben Swift. Unless I change my mind after I send this off. Maybe Tyler Farrar would be a better pick for second or third.

Soon, the mountains.