Sunday, 22 July 2012

Hollywood Ending

Stage 20

I am going back to my regular blog after this.

Politics and Cycling in the South of France

It is over. On the other hand, the Tour 2013 has just begun. Its like that.

The final sprint played out exactly as I thought it would, to the finest detail. Mind you, I expect several thousand people also thought exactly as I did. It was EBH for the last leadout. He really is good EBH, although it is shame he was born at the same time as Sagan. Same thing happened to people born at the same time as Merckx or others. One deals with it. Maybe Sagan will win a few Classics before he decides to lose weight. Be interesting to see him take on Boonen and Cancellara while he learns about the Classics. I think EBH is the highest quality rider to lead out someone for the victory in the Champs for some time. And just before that, to help Cav out, straight up the Rue de Rivoli (a more or less flat surface), who can actually ride faster than Bradley Wiggins? Answer, maybe Cancellara, but today Bradley had the Yellow Jersey on. It was rather cool. A bit of panache to end it. If the French can get it.

But Cav took it. He seemed to go from a bit too far out for my taste, but still. First guy to win four in a row on the Champs. First guy to win it with the rainbow jersey. To be honest, it has so much a touch of Hollywood that I am glad I watched it live. It was live, right? I bet Cav is a happy guy. Bradley is a happy guy, which makes Froome a little happier, and with Millar (and Stannard) they seem ready for the Olympics. That is only six days from now. Bradley said he is going home immediately, and then doing the last preparations. He does the time trial too. It would be a bit much if Cav won the road race and Bradley won the time trial. Actually it would be TOO much in some sense that I am only beginning to think about. Although very solidly English/British people will almost certainly not like to admit that Sky riders are winning too much. A great British accomplishment, or at least a Welsh accomplishment, as that is what Brailsford is. You get loads of money from the Lottery, set up a programme to win loads of medals. Done. Then you try to win the Tour “with a British rider”. Although along the way this year, the only Englishman on the Sky team won Paris-Nice, Tour of Romandie and Criterium Dauphiné. You see my point. Should anyone or any team be that good? Even USPostal just did Tour/Lance, and then pretty much vanished. In addition, Cav keeps winning, when he is allowed by the Sky people. In fact the same people run the Sky Team and the GB Team. That confusion of roles, personnel, organisational structure and money always seemed a bit confusing. For example, who is going to do what EBH does on Sky? If it is a big sprint, most sprinters have a lead out guy. I ramble, but the point is that Cav is having a totally excellent year, no matter how you look at it. He wanted to make the Rainbow Jersey proud, he said that many times. He has. He even won, most of you won't know this, just before the Tour, some small Belgian flat stage race, which I had never heard of. He might have won one stage, maybe not. But he won the entire stage race. He has never won a stage race before. As I said, it was dead flat.

Lame French interviews on the sports programme after. Asked Brad if he had done this for his father. Really stupid and tactless question, if they had been prepared properly. Maybe it was one of those “tough questions” you thrust at a sports personalty in the studio about some difficult part of their life. But Bradley was just off his bike, just off the podium, totally spaced having won the Tour de France, and they ask him about his father. Any bike journalist knows that his father, an Australian cyclist, buggered off very early on, and Bradley does not have anything to do with him. He was raised by his mum. Bradley brushed off the question by sitting upright, making brushing motions with his arm and not even responding much. Someone's idea of how to try to bring guy down at a moment of fulfilment. That Stade 2 guy went way low in my estimation. Anyway shortly after that, the same guy tried to emphasize how much Bradley must feel good to be the first British rider to win, and how proud of him the country would be. Bradley did a double take and said, pointing to himself, I won the Tour de France. My country didn't win it, I did. Interesting. Terribly tasteless stupid interview. I think it might take a bit longer for the true intercultural understanding to happen. They have done it with Cav, but Bradley is trickier.

I keep realising what a management task it must be to keep the group sweet, the world champ, the yellow jersey, and the only guy who might beat the yellow jersey, plus two or three who could be leaders on another team (EBH, Porte, at least). Then there are the Sky guys left home, including some young ones who did rather well in the Giro. Brailsford seems quite clear, if someone wants to leave, they leave, get a buyer for their contract and they leave. I actually think he knows that a team of relatively happy people are more likely to win. Everyone has a chance. I was a little bit surprised that Froome behaved so badly. But he has not been at this high level for long, as Bradley suggested at one point. One reason I don't think there is a problem is that if Froome wants to leave, no one much will care. It is up to Froome to make sure he does what he is told. I mean the guy is team leader for the Vuelta. Mostly likely there will be some very classy younger riders to give him support. Not only to give him support, but to take his job if he leaves. They finished seventh and ninth in the Giro, and are called Henao and Uran. The Sky team is really very well constructed. I should think having loads of money does make it way easier. But you have to have the staff. The Katusha staff clearly did not do much to get Menchov and his support team ready. And they have the second biggest budget. BMC, probably the third richest, did get a consolation prize, but not even close to the big yellow. Money is not quite all there is.

The final time gaps were rather huge for recent Tours. I am afraid I am not going to look up how long is has been since such and such a gap existed between the first guy and the tenth or the second or whatever. But big gaps, really quite big. And NOT a mountainous Tour. Interesting.

Just so I say it in one sentence, in spite of the fact that their sponsor is a super-rich liar, and cheat, and truth distorter, that Sky team said they would do something and they just went and did it. Bravo.

Not a lot I need to say really. I could tell you how I did on the Fantasy teams. Me and my Lancaster friend lost interest and never even used up all our rider change options during the Tour. I am not going to do that kind of league, it just silly. You got what you got. There are no substitutes in the the Tour. Don't know if I beat her or not. We were pretty much even. On the cobblestone Fantasy League (all year round), I have been trying to beat this guy from one of my forums. I seldom if ever manage it. I am always second, sometimes third in our forum sub-league. Looks like I might whip his ass on the Tour. A minor delight. As far as the season-long, outside run fantsy league that many of my forum people enter, I am much as usual. It appears that one of our guys, who also wins the winter quiz, might have won the entire global competition. I think there are about a thousand in that league. I am about 250th, and within my forum, I am about sixth or so. My usual. Still good, but I am not often lucky as well as skilful. Through injury, I lost Sanchez and Gesink from my team this year. But it turns out Gesink might not have done a thing this year anyway. To win or do well in a Fantasy Game, you have to do the right thing and not lose anyone. So a good team would have Sagan, Cancellara, Wiggins, Tejay, Greipel and Cav for sprinters, Evans and Froome, with careful use of extra credit on certain stages, and that is exactly what our guy did. Actually he had Voeckler and did not have Nibali. So the overall verdict on the fantasy league is as usual. Not that bad, not that good, with rare moments of excellence. After picking Cancellara for double points, and having two or the top four riders and whatever, I was eleventh for the first day of the Tour. Cancellara … I guess we could hope that he disrupts the pattern of Sky domination a bit. Bradley has won enough this year. Unless he wants to go and ride for Chris Froome in the Vuelta. (laughing out loud icon). My performance was about like finishing 47th in GC and 21st in the mountains competition. A cross between Nerz and Fedrigo. Moments, but not a great performance.

Tejay is the third Etats Unien to have the young rider's jersey after Greg and Andy Hampsten.

Apparently Sagan had more points than anyone since Sean Kelly. Sagan really did wipe them all out. No contest. Came second on the Champs in case anyone forgot him in all the Sky glory. The guy is nearly flawless. Nice shy smile. Modest in his Italian speech. Probably speaks English too, certainly can understand French. Assuming he does not get corrupted by the high life, fall in with the wrong crowd, use drugs, get injured badly, stop training to have holidays with models, transfer teams who promise him everything …. then he should be one of the greatest race winners there have been. He does have to lose weight if he is going to keep up in the mountains. Oops he already can in the high mountains, until the heat is turned up. I will have to look up who else besides, Merckx and Bartali had any kind of record equal to his. He really is just a few months older that Thibaut Pinot. And Tejay.

Which reminds me of the young riders. I know I am always excited abut young riders coming up, holding their own. Because I live in France and know how much the French really would like a big winner, I find the new young lads quite exciting. Must check with my cynical clubmates to see what they think. Pinot is my guy. I have, sadly, come to dislike Rolland, even though he is a superb young climber, capable of winning a stage in any Tour he enters. Whoops, he already has done that. Thing about him is that he really can't time trial, in fact, Pinot can't yet either. They need to learn fast or they are only going to be an “occasional stage winner”, like the last generation of French heroes, Chavanel, Gadret, Pineau, Casar, Voeckler, Feillu, Casper and others. As a spectator, I am tired of those guys. They don't do much all year (except Chavanel) and put it all on theTour. Too French, not global enough. Too far down the top level. I want someone who can win a stage in the mountains by being clever and strong. And, in fact, both Pinot and Rolland have done this. Rolland twice. I have not even mentioned the young French sprinters who won't ride the Tour until next year or even later. I am not saying they will beat Cav, Goss, Greipel, Sagan in every race. They are young. But they have beaten serious opposition. We shouldn’t forget Tony Gallopin who was doing outstanding riding including some serious climbs, until his guy went wonky. Tejay and he are the guys for the future on that BMC team. The guys from the past, Gilbert, Evans, Hushovd have not really done very well at all this season. BMC have Taylor Phinney too, not in the Tour this year. Anyway, all we have to do is wait a bit and see how they do in the next few years. I think if I am lucky there will be another generation after them that I will have to get to know. Guys who are about 14-15 right now. Probably not even riding road bikes yet.

For some reason my wife (and I) decided to watch a bit of the English ITV4 coverage. We often turned it over to the French coverage, as the Brits have a huge number of adverts, really quite disruptive to view. Anyway we heard Bradley’s speech. The one that started with the joke about the raffle tickets being drawn now. He grabs a mike on the Champs Elysée, crowds of I don't know how many tens of thousands of people, and he cracks a joke about raffle drawing. The French won't even get why taking a mike for a simple guy from Kilburn would automatically turn his mind to that. Then he said banal things, then mentioned specifically his mum who was there and who would be totally happy, dream come true. Then at the end, he said drive carefully, don't drink too much tonight. All totally Bradley and he said it in english. Usually on French TV, in fact, ALWAYS, he speaks excellent French. Not perfect, but better than 90% of all English immigrants I have met here. Good street expressions too. Then we turned over to the French coverage and they were just translating the speech. Weird that. The French are behind the actual live event, I guess so they can take care of errors … Anyway, the translator is very good. I have listened to her voice for three weeks and am perfectly able to judge her work rendering the English into French. Although Brailsford, Millar and Bradley always speak good French. The translator is good. Could you believe it? They didn’t mention the raffle ticket joke, deleted. They mentioned something about his father, NOT his mother, and they just skipped the joke about not drinking too much tonight. His speech was really short. I got really upset about this. They just didn't mention don't get drunk. They claim he mentioned his father, when it was his mother. This is serious French messiness, the kind that blew up the Rainbow Warrior. I hope Hollande apologizes for the public TV station.

Later in Stade 2, the big sports Sunday show, they offered Brad a pint of some kind of amber liquid. Probably some French stuff. Bradley made a little automatic gesture, but said no thanks, he had the Olympics just around the corner. It wasn't a joke. I don't think the guy is going to get drunk to celebrate, until maybe after the Olympics.

Nice interview, or part of it, with Bradley.

Getting quite late. Must hit the hay. Sometimes I promise a wrap up reflection blog. But I have not written one for years. Time for the Tour to be over.

I am going back to my year round blog. Its been hectic, but fun. See you next year.
Politics and Cycling in the South of France.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Time Trial, Must be Wiggo

Stage 19

Let's see, what is there to talk about today? Nothing about tactics. The riders ride as fast as they can for 50k. All by themselves. Admittedly, only a very few of them ride as fast as they can, most ride pretty fast. Many ride only as fast as they need to ride to finish within the time limit. There are some points at stake, but after the first twenty or so, whether one finishes 65th or 68th is really of utterly no importance to anyone. Just finishing the Tour is a major accomplishment for anyone, even these guys. Riders who finish that low are usually working hard for their leaders and the GC has no bearing on whether they have done their job or not. Others had bad days, like Rein Taaramae, my choice to young rider, or Cadel Evans. Rein rode well in the TT, mainly to recover a bit of pride. As it happens this year, there were not many questions the time trial would solve.

The first was whether Bradley would beat Froome. If he did, then he would win two stages, and would demonstrate that he is the very best time triallist, and also nearly the best climber. That is precisely the combination that would win this Tour. Not THAT many mountains. And Bradley won very comfortably. We will never know if he was riding as fast as possible or whether Froome was riding as fast as possible. We think so.

Another question is whether the young French lads, Roland and Pinot would ride well enough to remain in the top ten. They both did, rather comfortably. Of the two, I think I would bet on Pinot to turn into the real GC contender, the first Frenchman to win since 1986. But maybe one day, Pinot and Rolland will be duking it out with Tejay to win the Tour. It is a bit noteworthy, to see that three (Rolland is almost young) young riders ended up in the top ten. Obviously we don't know where Tejay would have finished if he didn't have to work for Evans, just as we don't know where Froome might have ended up if he didn't have to work for Wiggo. This is often the case in the Tour. These matters will entertain us cycling buffs during the months to come.

One could not avoid mentioning that Evans had a terrible time trial. He lost the Tour some days ago, but I thought he might pull out a good time trial to save face. No luck. He was totally demoralised or else has some kind of physical problem we don't know about yet. He had, perhaps, the most disappointing Tour of anyone. During the time trial there was a moment when the young Tejay overtook the not so young Evans, both are on the same team. That was not a happy scene, although watching the young come up to the top, and the old one stop riding well is certainly quite normal and has been going on forever.

None of the jerseys changed. The changes in the top fifteen were minimal. Evans changed place with Zubeldia, as Zubeldia beat Evans by 22 seconds, enough to take sixth place from Evans. This should never have happened. Evans has not said anything, I think he was just crushed by his performances. Roche and Kloden changed places, Roche doing a good time trial. I won't search much further, but nothing else changed in the top fifteen.

Some results to note would be Pinot's rather good ride two and half minutes out of the top ten. He really does need to do a little work on his trialling. Tejay's rather promising work in the TT was noticed. I see that Peter Velits was quite fresh at the end, perhaps he should move to a team that uses him a bit better, supports him more. We can see that even after doing all that work for Wiggo, Richie Porte was still fresh enough to do an excellent TT. I think he might find himself moving to Orica Greenedge soon, as they don't really have a GC contender on the team. No doubt Richie could finish in the top ten with a bit of support. Menchov had a very disappointing Tour, since he was meant to be an outsider and because of crashes or lack of form or whatever, he really never appeared in the picture that much.

Tomorrow nothing will change much either, as no riders will attack until the Champs Elysée. The first few attacks will be harmless and give riders a chance to show themselves and their sponsor's jersey, especially if they have not done all that well during the rest of the Tour. But the result that seems most likely will be a victory for the Sky Train and Cav. The only question will be whether some other team or individual will mess up that ending. It is quite possible, but unlikely. British sports fans will be delighted. I noticed they are flooding in now with comments on newspaper stories, and revealing that they know nothing about cycling, except that a British guy won. Fair enough. They might spend a bit of money or a bit of elbow grease and get out on a bike. Now THAT would be great.

It was a good Tour in the sense that some stages were quite good racing for a few minutes or longer. On the other hand, for the most part, the suspense was not that great. There were more surprises through crashes than through good, daring riding. Let's be honest, the total dominance of Sky pretty much smothered the suspense that makes a race exciting. The mountains jersey was uncertain for a bit, but only because no one much cared until the last couple of stages. The green jersey was won at the end of the first week. And although Pinot put up symbolic opposition, the young riders' competition was not a competition. It was a good Tour, but not enough uncertainty. I prefer when five or six guys wear yellow rather than two. I am not that disappointed, for example, the revelation of how good some of the young riders are was quite uplifting.

It also has to be said that Sky were well organised, had a plan, had the form, did the job. It was maybe not such good spectator sport, but it was a team who did what they said on the tin. Bravo. I especially liked watching the French try to incorporate a British winner into their understanding of what was “normal”. They might take months or even years to really accept it. When you see riders “warming down” after a stage, you can remember when that change happened. Thank Wiggo and Sky.

Tour gossip from l'Equipe this morning.

I guess you have all noticed the emergence of the terminology "Colonel Wiggo", which somehow amuses some French journalists, and allows them to use all sorts of military metaphors to describe the planning, and execution of the plan for the Tour by “the British”. I find it slightly annoying, but maybe it suits someone.

Never knew Dave Brailsford, who speaks very good French, was a mediocre rider for ASPTT St. Etienne for three years in the 80s. His father was a mountain guide too, so he spent much time in France. Apparently he learned attention to detail from his dad, or so they say.

Bradley will use his usual black TT bike with a bit of yellow, but his front brake will be yellow (instead of blue) to celebrate.

Froome the latest to be connected by rumour to offers from Astana. Brailsford quoted as saying it is very simple, someone can stay with the Sky team or not. If they want to look elsewhere to be happier, let them go. Sky bought out contracts and so can anyone else. Omega Pharma interested?

The first twenty riders got a fast helicopter ride last night to today's stage, the rest took the bus. Apparently there are no fast train connections and not enough planes to rent, or whatever they do with plane rides. Sounds strange. A lot of the masses of the riders are moaning a bit, but I can understand that. Michelin tells me that it is four and half hour drive from Brive to Bonneval. That means arriving at about 11h00.

Apparently the Brits are putting the stages at the weekend on ITV 1 instead of ITV 4. Indicating they think the masses might want to watch.

Usually rubbish being spouted by Virenque in a continuing strange feature interview. A fake interview is constructed by the editors, and Virenque (or another riders) corrects it. Millar had one, Wiggo. Kind of stupid. N idea why they did Virenque, hwo is not even a rider.

The French are still working out what having the first British winner of the Tour means, and therefore what being British means, and how they are different to the French, and so forth.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Cav IS fast, Sky Preparing Three in a Row

Stage 19

Before you continue reading this, due to a visit by some French family, I did not actually see more that a few live minutes of the race today. Just after they left, and just before I took my nap, I saw a bit. The escape was away, looked like my pick for the day was not in it. I drifted off, but clearly underestimated the finish time. They must have ridden faster than predicted. Later I found out they had indeed ridden really fast. Still, I got the idea, saw the replays. Watched the interviews, and am pretty well convinced I missed nothing much. Sorry about that. Read on if you wish.

Those people with dogs really piss me off. Not the dogs, the people. There are somewhere between 11 and 15 million people who watch the Tour, live, free, on the road. Some of them put their folding chairs actually in the road, on the road side of the curb. I saw some yesterday. Some race across the road seconds before the riders arrive, thinking they are somehow clever to have done so after the motos have passed to put things in order for the riders. Some stand in the road or poke their body and camera into the road to get “a good photo”. I have seen dozens of such Tour photos and they are usually complete rubbish. In fact, I used to take them. The people would be better off to use their eyes, ears and memories. This bad behaviour always happens. Happened once with a cop even, Jalabert got wiped out. There are always photos on the web. Good ones. Then there are the people with dogs. Dogs NOT on a lead, which they should always be on in such situations of crowds, noise, action, movement, and vehicles. Most of the time, for say 10,999,999 spectators, or whatever, nothing happens. So their complete ignorance and/or stupidity goes a bit unnoticed. This time that nice family of two plus two, and their unleashed fluffy huge dog caused a chute. If I were Gilbert, and that crash deprived me of the Olympics, then I would sue the incompetent, ignorant, irresponsible people. But he won't. Neither would I. Those Twinkies won't get anything but a bit of sympathy from their neighbours about how they must have been frightened when it all happened and that they hoped the dog was OK. There is utterly no way at all to prevent this happening, cannot ever be stopped. As the riders would say, and did say in interviews, “That's the Tour”. Rant over. You are lucky I have not felt overwhelmed this year by the drunken lads who run along with the riders. I think they should … stop … one rant per blog.

So the break is away. Looks like they might make it. They tried hard, some of them, including Nicolas Roche, who looked like he might have the edge on Luis Leon Sanchez, the last two of the break. “Suddenly”, although they had obviously been working on this the entire stage and most of the break must have known, the bleedin' yellow jersey sweeps into vision, leading out EBH and Cav. Except you can't always see Cav is he is low down and small. This just what I thought I would see in Paris. Exactly. But with more Sky guys, there were only Cav, EBH, Wiggo and Froome. Then Brad peels off, no idea exactly how long he had been racing to catch the break at the front. Froome even did his bit. Then you can see the distinctive white jersey of EBH, and you know exactly what is happening. So then EBH peels off, and suddenly you can't really see Cav, at least I could not. Then he is eighth back, then he is behind one wheel, then another, just riding up to the front. Alone. Then he begins to sprint, a good deal sooner than usual. He gets up to the last wheel, Sanchez, and just swings across half the road in a legal, “not impeding anyone” way. In the last fifty metres he must have gained five metres on the rest. The rest including Sagan and Goss, who were both left for dust. I don't remember a more dramatic last few metres, in terms of brute speed. Cav seems to have lost no speed at all. Sagan knew all about this move. Sagan was on Cav's wheel a few hundred metres earlier. Goss had his leadout and was still surprised. So Cav is tied with Andre Darrigade and Lance Armstrong for the fourth place in number of Tour stage victories. Six more in his lifetime and he passes Andre Leduq and draws even with Bernard Hinault. Ahead of him, of couse is Merckx with 34. Cav might not make 34, but he should make 29 which will make him second in human history. How many years can Cav keep winning? No one knows. Cav was recently elected best sprinter in Tour history by a team of cycling people put together by L'Equipe. Today was remarkable. If you put it with his win on the second stage with no help, and then compare it with the Sky train on the Champs on Sunday, you have an excellent short film to demonstrate the nature of sprinting. You pause it to give the lessons. Stupendous.

Jalabert was discussing the victory and moaning a bit after the race. Partly his cycling views, and partly his intense anti-Sky or British prejudice led him to say that the riders in the break had worked hard, some of them have not won a stage and this might their only chance. So what Sky should have done, (and the whole peloton in fact, as there were two other known sprinters just behind Cav, Goss and Sagan), was to slow down so Roche and Sanchez could duke it out for the stage win. I love the escape and nearly always hope it eludes the clutches of the powerful peloton. But today, the catch and sprint was lovely see. During this Tour, the escape has often got away. But seeing it caught only a hundred or so metres from the line is fairly normal, I have seen it before. LL Sanchez pounded his fist on his handlebars once before, when the peloton, led by Bradley caught him in Agde. In between then and now, he won a stage, so I have no idea why he must be so demonstrative. Good theatre I guess, like Froome. I miss Fignon.

I was wrong. I said the winner would be someone from the break. But in my daily competition, I picked Sagan, so I am not complaining.

The very sad thing is that nearly everyone expects Froome or Bradley (my money is on the guy from London) will win the TT tomorrow and Cav will win the sprint on Sunday. Three in a row. Have they won too much? I have the impression that Sky is one of the least-liked team in the peloton. Respected. Imitated. Good place to work maybe. But not liked. Add up how many stage victories for Sky this Tour. Might be too many. Riders have to earn their keep. Between French wins and Sky wins, there might have been a bit more left for the other teams. But I guess those other teams just weren't up to it. Training and support methods?

All jerseys remain on the same shoulders. Pending a disaster, all of them will be worn by the same people in Paris. What’s left? Hmmm. Seeing the cathedral on TV? What will be the exact order of Bradley, Froome, Evans, Tejay and maybe one other, in the ITT tomorrow? Will anyone beat the Sky train and Cav on the Champs Elysée? Although I love watching a time trial live, and might try to do it again, watching it on TV is slightly boring for me. I will no doubt dip in and out. Its just a question of who rides fastest, and then some interviews. I will watch the arrival on the Champs of course. I like seeing those streets, many of which I have myself walked on or near. I like when the TV cameras see the Eiffel Tower. Second or third most visited place in Paris, therefore France. Notre Dame and the Louvre are first and second, I think. I suppose the most common thing for a cycling fan of any sort is to walk up the Champs Elysée, just like it is on TV. I feel like I have LIVED on the Rue de Rivoli, leading across Concorde and into the last few metres on the Champs. I love it. But like any sprint stage, only the last fifteen k really matter or are interesting for racing. Do you think Vino will try to duplicate history? No way.

“What the French make of a cycling hero” Not all that bad.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Valverde Back, Sky Does the Business

Stage 18

I can feel the end coming. Admittedly there is a slightly bumpy stage tomorrow which will be won by someone in the break. Then a time trial, which will be won by Wiggo, unless Froome tries to upset the party. Then a stage on the Champs Elysée, which always is rather nice, but will be won by Cavendish behind the Sky lead out team, all for one and one for all. I suppose there could be surprises, but frankly, I can only see that they would be bad ones. Since I rather like competition and surprises, the final days might see me losing a certain degree of enthusiasm. If you are new to this blog, it happens every year. I would say it was a pretty good Tour, although totally dominated by Sagan, Greipel, Sky, Wiggins and Froome, Voeckler, young riders, French riders, British riders, … actually not dominated in its totality by anyone. A fair bit of variety for everyone.

Today was the last day that we could really be surprised. And we were not. Sky controlled the race, Liquigas tried hard, as did Nibali, but it was never going to happen. I was quite happy to see Voeckler decide to win the spotted jersey and then pull it off. He was the best climber to try and win the jersey. Even if there were only two of them who tried. Kessiakoff, while second, made a name for himself and probably is pretty pleased, since not a soul would have picked for second. No one. The countryside was sumptuous, although I could tell it rains a bit in the area. Lots of moss. But totally attractive looking in the sunshine.

There were a number of high spots today and throughout. First, I am delighted that the French have done well. Not just the young guys, but the ones that have been part of a generation that has been mildly disappointing over the last ten years. They still manage to win stages in their own race, Voeckler, Pineau, Fedrigo, Chavanel are still there. I do think it will be a bit of lift to Tour fans to be watching Pinot, Gallopin, Rolland, and the missing young sprinters in the next decade. I am not neglecting Tejay, EBH, Kittel or Taylor Phinney, just mentioning the French up front. It was with a minor frisson that I liked seeing Pinot coming in right behind Froome and Wiggins today. Seconds behind, in his first Tour, at the end of three weeks. Pinot was stronger than any other riders in the entire Tour.

A big disappointment in the Tour has been Menchov, who was quietly invisible, although he did show his face in front today for a bit. He really has done nothing much except lose time in dribs and drabs everywhere. He was meant to be maybe 5th or better and he is fifteenth. Bit sad for him too. Radio Shack is the best team, but no one on the team did much of anything, just rode along better than nearly all the riders, except the good ones. "Best team" is fair enough, but they had none of the best riders. Haimar Zubeldia, their best rider, lost two places today, just could not keep up. Although they lost Sanchez, the Euskatel team failed to shine, even though they would have riders in the breaks and one thought they might do something. But there were many teams who came away with nothing much to show for three weeks of hard work, so picking out disappointing results is easy enough.  I think I will stop.

In spite of the fact that they shut down all the competition, thereby making the yellow jersey contest a bit less than wildly exciting, one must admit the Sky team and their one-two was very impressive. They said they would win the Tour in five years. It took less time than they thought. People made fun of them or dismissed them. But in the end they did what they said. Sure, they had more money than any team in cycling history. But you still have to pedal.

Felt bad about Evans and BMC. They have not had a good year at all. But they will be back and they showed excellent organisation and unity. Just that Evans was not ready, or too old, or something. Hope Cadel does a spiffing time trial. I like the guy. He is, for a cyclist, pretty eccentric, but has made it to the top. Tejay has probably learned a thing or two, riding at Cadel's side during the entire Tour. Next year.

A word about Chris Froome is in order. I felt his behaviour on this stage was at least ambiguous and unprofessional, and at worst appalling and theatrical. He signed up for a team that had a role for him. He has been ill for ages, from a parasite that comes and goes, caught in Kenya or South Africa. Sky stuck by him while he did nothing much this year (fourth in the Dauphiné). They thought his ride in the Vuelta was not a fluke, and he had trained well using Sky methods and support. He was probably stronger than Wiggo in the hills, and if the cycling world were not as it is, he might have just ridden away and won the Tour. The time he lost on Wiggins was a minute and half for a puncture ten k from the end of stage one, and the thirty seconds Bradley took off him in the ITT. He really should have just stayed calmly with Bradley, there was no great hurry for the yellow jersey, nothing much to prove, no extra time was needed on Nibali. Instead Froome would accelerate, and then look back, as if to tell the world he was the strongest. We got the message days ago. An ungracious teammate. I guess he will have to wait a year or so to win with Sky. Or he can find someone like BMC to buy up his contract. No doubt we will have rumours flowing from this moment on. I hope Sky gives him a strong team in the Vuelta, so we can see a ding dong between Contador, Rodriguez, Valverde, A. Schleck, Froome, Cobo and anyone else who turns up.

Oh yes, delighted to see Valverde back in some kind of shape. I like him, even if he is an ex doper. He got in the escape, used his team, attacked at the right time, and held off the Dynamic Duo from Sky to win the stage. True, if Froome had been let loose he would have beat him. IF …

Sagan. What can I say? The guy is brilliant, even though we knew that. His riding in the Tour was a bit beyond most expectations. The only question in my mind is whether he will lose weight and be able to climb, or whether he will just win stages and one day races, several a year. He already has a better win record than any recent one day hero at his age. No one has a clue what he can really do as he grows up and gets more experienced.

Cav did what he had to do, given that he just didn't figure in the Sky plans for this Tour. I only hope he wins on the Champs, and then all will be OK. And I wish I had known they were not even going to give him the time of day. I would not have picked him on my fantasy team.

Just to review, Sagan really cannot lose the green jersey, although I am pretty sure he will be going for points or for wins, tomorrow and in Paris. He is so far ahead of Greipel that if Greipel won the stage tomorrow, won the time trial and also the sprint in Paris, he still could not earn enough points. Voeckler has the mountains jersey as there are virtually no rated climbs left. He must have a terrific crash to lose it. Tejay Van Garderen has won the young rider's jersey, unless Thibaut Pinot beats him in the time trial (Tejay was four minutes faster in the first one) and/or gets in some escape and takes several minutes out of Tejay tomorrow. Almost impossible. Wiggins has yellow, unless he get totally whipped by Froome in the TT, or crashes. Radio Shack is so far ahead in the team competition that they would all have to fall off their bikes to lose it.

So aside from awful things happening, the Tour is over. The only matters left are which member of the break will win tomorrow, and will there be something that causes one or two people to change places in the top fifteen. Since all teams are interested in that NOT happening, it probably won't. I suggest you might see some rather unusual teams riding in front tomorrow, preserving ninth place or something. AG2R protecting Roche in the top ten, for example. We don't know if Froome or Wiggo will win the time trial, I certainly hope Wiggo does. The only likely riders to beat them are Tejay or Evans, and I somehow doubt it. Then there is the final question as to whether the Sky train will work well and Cav will finish it off. It is unlikely that there will be too much crashing in Paris, as the roads are really wide, and if anyone crashes into the yellow jersey train and causes them to lose the race by injury, then this will be a bad deed indeed. Cav will most likely win, a little gift from his team who have not helped him very much during the race.

Good night.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Voeckler Again

Stage 16

The Tour is slowly working its way to an end. There was a little dispute between the two French commentators today. The guy who fills up the minutes with prattle and patriotic enthusiasm said that it was a great stage, and that feats of the French were once again heroic. Voeckler was having another day of glory (as in La Marseillaise). Laurent Jalabert, who was a champion cyclist and adds analysis and colour to the programme said that nothing much happened during the stage. This was about the time they finished climbing the third climb, and was essentially true. He was admonished by Thierry Adam, the continuity guy, who said he should not say that. I can understand that, they were, after all, trying to get as many people to watch as possible and make it interesting to Mr. Tout le Monde. Both were right of course. My wife even said, after we had spent several enjoyable hours in front of the telly, that nothing happened. She knows a bit about cycle racing. The top ten looks pretty much as it did, except the downward slide of Evans. It is almost utterly certain that Evans cannot win the Tour. In that sense, the collapse of Evans' challenge happened, but not much else.

There is a slightly different view, which takes each stage by itself. That is, we think of each stage as a classic race, where winning it or performing heroically gives a rider a place in history. Even if nothing changes in the overall (Grand Tour) race itself. In that sense, we would find this stage incredibly interesting and astounding. This view is OK, as it gives more importance to the exploits of each day. But it is a certainty, an absolute certainty, that when the escape went off, the big names, the leaders of teams, would NEVER have let it go if they were not interested in the overall GC, the overall victory. So the angle of “nothing happened” must be seen, as well as a lovely day of racing.

Having said that, the hero of the day was, once again, Thomas Voeckler, the darling of the French and many others too. Although strangely disliked by many keen cycling people. He not only won the huge mythic stage over the four totally famous cols of the “Circle of Death”, Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde, but did it in his usual way, hitch onto an early attack having lost so many minutes that no one cared. Voeckler then then crosses each of the cols first, gathering enough points to win the King of the Mountains jersey. In fact, the last two cols he crossed totally by himself, which is very heroic indeed. However you look at this day, you really cannot do much more. The escape had 38 riders in it, all of whom could be ignored by the GC riders, who rode together to the end of the stage, Nibali, Wiggo and Froome taking one minute or more on the top ten rivals (except Evans who lost 5 minutes). Voeckler's feat was actually very impressive as his ride gives him a four point lead on the former holder of the spotted jersey for the “best climber”. So tomorrow is the day when either Voeckler or Kissiakoff will win the jersey. Nice Day. Bravo, Thomas. That is the second stage he has won this year, both after the rest day. It does bother me slightly that if you asked everyone who knew anything who is the “best climber on the Tour”, I cannot imagine more than 1 of 20 would say Voeckler or Kessiakoff. Last year it was Sanchez, and I bet approaching 9 or 10 might have said he was the “best climber”. End of hobby horse.

For much of the day, Voeckler was accompanied by Brice Feillu, who won a mountain stage in the Tour in 2009. Since then he has done almost nothing whatever. But today, suddenly, after years of nothing, that he was going to do something big. However, he got dropped by Voeckler and finished fifth. He was on the edge of tears many minutes after the stage was over. He is someone who was supposed to be the new generation of French riders, but turned out not to be all that good. A small sad story. He has a brother, and they tried to stay on the same team, based on Brice's victory, but the edge wore off and they are on two teams. One of many small tragedies of any day on the Tour.

It should be said that the two top competitors for Wiggins (and Sky) had quite different fates today. Cadel Evans, who was everyone's joint favourite, along with Wiggins, got dropped on the third climb and never really recovered, or was it the Tourmalet. He dropped another five minutes on the GC guys, and is now in seventh place. Oddly enough, his faithful lieutenant, a young American called Tejay Van Garderen is now a few seconds ahead of him in sixth. The management decision today clearly was to let Tejay ride his own race, and leave everyone else to help Cadel. Tejay did fine, kept up with the yellow jersey peloton almost all the way. We will see him contending for the victory next year, or the year after for sure, as he can climb and time trial. If he were not obligated to help out Cadel, we have no idea what he might have done, but a job is a job. It is a rather good way to learn how to win a Tour is ride next to a potential or recent winner, help them out.

The other contender left, usually considered a bit of an outsider, is Vicenzo Nibali. He managed one serious attack about five k from the top of the last climb. It was indeed a powerful attack. At the end of the attack, there were only three of them left, and they rode to the finish together. Sadly for Vicenzo, the other two were Christopher Froome and Wiggo. He simply could not drop the two Sky riders. In fact, neither of the Sky riders seemed to be in the slightest difficulty. Nibali accelerated, got a hundred metres maybe, and the Sky riders just rode back up and said hello. Maybe took the Sky guys 500 metres or so. No problem. Wiggins never even had to get off his saddle. I am sure Nibali might give it one more go tomorrow, maybe from a bit further out. The finish is at altitude. However, I think everyone pretty much thinks that there is no one in the peloton, and more importantly no team in the peloton, that can beat the Sky team and the two best Sky riders. Simple as that. Unless something happens.

If it weren't for the remnants of the escape (ESCAPE wins again) that would have been an almost perfect example of a “royal escape”. That's when the top GC riders, ride away from everyone else. But it was an imperfect example because this royal escape finished 11th through 13th. Still and all it was kind of dramatic in a low key way, quite mythic pictures will come from that little sub-escape.

There was a long article in l'Equipe today about Sky, giving all the personnel, the various vehicles, the mattresses and pillows for each rider. One thing is clear, some of these “continental” teams have no idea how the “Anglo Saxon” mind/culture (that's what the French call the Brits, and other nations) can get down to details. The list of vehicles was quite impressive. One bus, one camping car, 2 race cars, back-up race car, one workshop truck, one large truck, three small vans, 3 VIP cars. Incredible, as usual, what money can buy. It is pretty well known that they have the biggest budget of all teams, maybe matched by the Russian national team, called Katusha. The French or Spanish or Italians don't really have a team like Katusha or Sky. Kazakhstan does. The USA doesn't, yet. I think they might have a budget of 20 million quid. 15 at least, no one really knows. The budget of my French town of seven thousand is 21 million. Nothing like a big football team of course, but there is some money in top level bike racing. The Sky team have a cook who inspects the premises of every hotel they use. If it is not clean enough, they find alternatives. It is not unusual to get some kind of gastro, if you eat carelessly, or clean your hands carelessly, in France. Especially in strange hotels every night. Maybe everywhere, but certainly in France. Some teams (like Europcar), take along a dining/cooking van, where the riders eat. Think about it. In addition we learned that Bradley is on a NO residue diet. No fibre. Pretty interesting for some people. Like me, who knows those diets well. You can win the Tour on a no residue diet. There you go, stuff you didn't know.

Did you know that if there are only two yellow jersey holders this year, as looks to be the case, it would be the first time since 1999 that only two riders wore yellow. I know from memory that the most is 8 different yellow jersey wearers, and on at least three occasions, a rider has worn the yellow jersey for the entire race. Nope, don't remember who, and might not have time to look it up. I tried after all, but after fifteen minutes, I quit. You can look up who wore the yellow jersey through an entire Tour, if you are keen.

I do like the apres-Tour show on French TV. Today they interviewed a complete Tour nutter and keen cyclist who runs a hotel. He has displayed Tour related bike stuff everywhere in this hotel's public rooms. Jerseys, photos, bikes and anything that has to do with the Tour are everywhere. He has a bike of Fignon's, for example. A gift. Then ... he took the TV cameras to a room which no one is allowed into. In fact, he carries the key around with him 24/7. In the room were piles of jerseys and water bottles, and other stuff we didn't even see with the camera angle. In fact, he showed us one water bottle that was given to him by Virenque, whom he obviously thinks is a great rider. He shook it and said that the water left in the bottle, was from when he was given it. Honest. That is what he said. The camera really did not show the entire store room, so I have no idea what is in the rest of it. It was just a reminder that there are other people whose Tour fanaticism is worse than mine, as it lasts all year. Mine only lasts the duration of the Tour. OK, a bit of reading and checking out before and after, but basically during. This guy is at it all year round, and very publicly.

One pleasing detail of today was watching Vinokourov and Voigt in front of the race attacking, trying to win the stage. Both old guys, riding their last Tour. Voigt is an honest worker, of the highest caliber, winner of stages and races. Terrific rider. Vino is a bit of a rascal, an ex-doper, a politically savvy Kazhakistani. I still like him for his attacking style. I still remember him shooting out of the peloton on the Champs Elysée, and surprising everyone to win the stage. Normally only sprinters win that stage. (start about 11 minutes in if you are in a hurry). So Vino and Voigt finished fourth and sixth, 3 and 4 minutes back. But it was glorious to see them giving it a go.

Off to bed. Fortunately, I can begin to watch a bit later tomorrow. It was nearly five hours today!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Le Pont

Stage 15

The French have various strange holiday practices. For one thing, nearly all the holidays are religiously based, Catholic in fact. Secondly, they are going to add a Jewish and Moslen holiday or two. But most importantly, they have “le pont”. This means the bridge. Suppose a holiday is on a Friday or Monday. They have a three day weekend, as one would expect. Suppose its on a Thursday or Tuesday. They then effect le pont. This means that everyone who can do it, depending on job and so forth, takes the day off in between the actual holiday and the weekend, which for some people is a weekly break. Four day weekends are therefore quite normal, maybe four five times a year. Since tomorrow is a Tour holiday, a rest day, and nothing will be written by me, I decided to take a “pont” and not write much today. I would NEVER do this if it was a significant stage, if there was much of a story to tell, if something had changed. But the truth is that this was a more or less uneventful stage. True, it was not easy, it was hot (but not THAT hot), the road went up and down a fair bit, everyone was tired, but overall, nothing much happened.

By the way, partly because of his long l'Equipe interview where he showed how cool he was, and partly on account of being a gentleman yesterday, Bradley now seems to have gained some points with the French announcers. They have ceased to see him as a machine, trained to the millimetre, with no personality. Quite interesting to see that change. However, Virenque has carried on with his whining, annoyed that he was used as an example of cheating and lying. French people don't mention it much any more. Virenque told Bradley, in an interview, he should speak more French. Totally out of it that guy. Bradley can even make dry jokes in French. Virenque was always embarrassing when he opened his mouth. He didn't realise that he was not being personally criticised exactly. Wiggins was just using him as an example of a cheater and liar who was loved by the French people. And saying that he (Wiggins) was from another culture, where Virenque would not have been accepted back, not morally forgiven, since he never really said he was sorry and never really took an anti-doping position.

The break got away after about 90 minutes of struggle (which I did not see on telly). The leaders of the peloton have to wait until the “right riders” are in the break. A “wrong rider” is one who is behind by ten minutes or less in the GC, therefore threatens all the GC riders position. He could be the second person in the Green jersey competition. Someone whose time gain or points gain, if the break gets to the end, will upset and annoy some team or some rider on some team. Apparently the speed for the first 90 minutes, while breaks formed and were taken back, again and again, was really fast. Finally, after all this time of constant battles, the “right break” went away. It had enough French riders in it, and none of the riders were a threat to anyone or anything. One could see the Sky team actually making physical motions, calm down, slow down. I saw EBH doing it once, for example. The idea was that everyone was to take it easy today, let the break stay away, and have a two day rest. Tomorrow is a rest day. In fact, the peloton decided to take a “pont” as well.

The six riders went to the end on their own, unthreatened. Toward the end, the ones who knew they would not win a sprint tried to get away. Those who might win a sprint tried to catch them. Samuel Dumoulin, usually distinguished by being the shortest guy in the race, but also a second rank sprinter, was the fastest guy there. But Voeckler was there, Sorenson, Vandevelde and Pierrick Fedrigo. All of them are quite clever and experienced riders. Various riders made some moves. All were brought back. And then, at a rather perfectly chosen moment, when one break had been brought back, and the riders were on the left, right and centre of the road, kind of relaxed, watching each other, Fedrigo made his move. He is good, he has won other races like this. He often wins, or almost wins, from a small group. And sure enough, he picked the right moment. Christian Vandevelde went after him, the only one who did. The rest “looked at each other”. Soon the two of them had a 30 seconds lead. Kind of exciting in a low key way. But with those two riders, unless Fedrigo was really tired, there was no doubt who would win. So Pierrick took it. France 4-UK 4. Francais des Jeux 2-Europcar 2.

In the end Greipel beat Sagan and Farrar for the bunch sprint. We note that Cav didn't really try at all, he tends to like to win or else lay back. For Cav it is first or whatever. We also note that Farrar has been poorly this Tour, not really making much effort or getting beat. Maybe he is back to some kind of full strength, but in any case he beat Sagan. Nearly everyone else in the race finished in about the same time, in the same big group. A few riders lost some time, but of no consequence to them. However, we are now down to 156 riders, the lowest number for some time. Six riders, Jerome, Chavanel, Lancaster, Bernadeau, Hutarovich and Van Hummel dropped out today. More will drop out after or during the serous mountain stages on Wednesday and Thursday. Saturday is the time trial and on Sunday Cav wins on the Champs Elysée. The Tour is nearly over, but there are still three serious stages to come. The climbers have two last chances to gain time before the Time Trial, where guys like Pinot, VDB, Zubeldia, Schleck, Roche, Rolland usually will lose time). They might attack a bit to keep their places in the top ten, to move up a few places or to defeat the Sky team and win. We shall see. Anyway three more big stages. Oh yes, and the slightly bumpy one on Friday. A break will go away and someone will win, but no one knows who. Last chance for the riders to make an impression.

So that's about it. No jersey changed, nobody gained any significant points or time, and everyone is happy to have a rest day. Me too. I have to do some food shopping, maybe a bit of gardening, other shopping and maybe a ride. Might even go to the pool if it is hot. Can't wait to go swim a bit when the Tour is over.

If you can watch live any day, then pick Wednesday and Thursday. Just to tempt you, the stage on Wednesday, which climbs four classic climbs, including the Tourmalet and the Aspin, has been called the Circle of Death, and is part of the Tour legend. It really is hard. Although it is only the Thursday stage which finishes at altitude. I predict that on Wednesday, three riders will drop out of the top ten. It really is a quite dramatic stage for racing and for scenery. I love this stage, since I have actually ridden three of the climbs. Except I stayed overnight and did the Tourmalet in the morning. I did have baggage.

Enough for tonight.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Sanchez, Sagan and Sabotage

Stage 14

The best part of today's stage was the countryside, and watching Sagan eating on the left side of the road while LLS attacked on the right to win the stage. The rest of the news is pretty much “incident and gossip”, as not a lot changed. No GC changes, no mountain changes, no green changes (Sagan got a few more points), no young rider changes. Although one might note there are four non-sprinters in the green jersey competition top ten. But Sagan has a lead of one hundred points on the second man, so unless he gets no points at all the rest of the Tour and Greipel wins three stages, Sagan has the jersey locked up. But we knew that a week ago.

There were events though. Once again, Sagan is demonstrating that he is the most startlingly dominant young rider we have seen in ages. In fact, if Wiggo and Sky were not dominating the GC, then this Slovak would be the talk of the Tour. Actually he is the Talk of the Tour. First he got into the break of the day. The break made it to the end, although there were only five at the end instead of a dozen or so. Sagan managed to ride up the two first category climbs nearly as fast as anyone in the break. I thought he was doing it to help Nibali, who would make a big move, and then carry on with Sagan. But apparently Sagan was “just” trying to win the stage, after winning the Intermediate Sprint. He nearly did win the stage. He is young. Just as he was munching a bar, wrestling with opening it and eating on the right side of the road, Luis Leon Sanchez took off. He can ride pretty fast on his own, a time trial champ for years in Spain. By the time Sagan finished chewing, given the total non-reaction of his other three companions, Luis was gone. Sagan finished second of course, and reaped the points. What amazed me was watching him haul his pretty hefty body up both hills without that much trouble. First category hills. Maybe he still can't do long long hills that are high high. That's about it. He can do everything else. Stunning. When he is interviewed, he seems to be able to sound intelligent and straightforward, without making any foolish statements.

Sometime after the the escape passed, before the peloton arrived, someone distributed a bunch of carpet tacks over some part of the road, near the top of the last climb. If I caught the guy, I would first make him sit down hard on a chair several times with carpet tacks spread on it. Then I would make him drive his car or bike over carpet tacks. Then I would bust him for endangering life and limb. Most likely Kiserlovski's Tour-ending crash was related to the tacks on the road. Anyway, I heard from the bosses of the Tour that there were thirty punctures. I mostly saw Cadel Evans on TV. Not always a lucky guy. Actually he had three punctures. I saw him change his bike twice, missed the last one. With the road being narrow, his car being way behind, and whatever, he lost maybe two minutes before he finally had a bike to ride. Really a shame. In the front of the peloton, fairly quickly, the Sky team and Bradley slowed everything down so that eventually with the help of his entire team, Cadel came back and lost no time. Bradley will be remembered as a “gentleman” forever. The French don't really have a word for gentleman, they use the English. The French commentators are going to have a tough time being down on him now. First they know he is “cool”. Secondly they know he is a gentleman. Maybe eventually they will think he is clean. He is clean, right?

Radio Shack still has four riders in the top fifteen. Haimar Zubeldia is their best guy. Why don't they DO something?

Today's fly in the ointment (other than the carpet tack guy) is Europcar and Rolland. Rolland attacked, when everyone else was slowing down and talking about it. Guess he was just centred on himself, not watching and listening. He made his move and just kept going. We almost saw Bradley go after him, but he didn’t. Rolland's story is that he didn't hear anything from his team. He didn't claim his earpiece was not working, just that he got no messages. In the apres-Tour show, Voeckler volunteered that sometimes earpieces don't work. Everyone else's did. Cyril Gautier (Europcar team mate), finishing behind the escape cause his chain came off, said he had heard that Pierre had escaped, over his earpiece, and was slowing down to wait and help. Rolland pretended he was just not informed (maybe), but was unconvincing. I don't think he is very bright or quick, however well he rides a bike. Will tell you more when I hear it. But it worked out in the end. I am no longer even close to being a fan of Rolland, although I wish him luck. I did notice that during the entire incident, the French commentators did not say anything bad about him, didn't even wonder why he attacked when Evans was in trouble when everyone else was slowing down. After it all worked out, they dismissed any problem as a media problem, not a problem of a self centred young, slightly arrogant, excellent climber with a management who have trouble communicating with their riders, who in the case of Rolland, do not notice much. I expect Rolland will attack in the mountain stages to try to gain enough points on Kessiakoff to win the jersey. He only has to do a bit of work, as he is way better than Kessiakoff.

By the end of the stage, the yellow jersey, main peloton had 56 riders in it, many riders had caught up, since the group was going slowly anyway. There was no reason to go fast, the stage was over. If anyone had darted out to grab a few seconds, they would have been caught by Bradley or Froome and given some earsful.

I am a bit stuck now. The descents were fairly interesting, but no one was really racing that hard, for some prize other than the stage win. We were reminded that Sagan can descend as fast as anyone else. The climbs were not all that difficult, except the end of the last one. But no one was attacking very hard, so all that happened was loads of riders got dropped, and then rode back on when the peloton slowed. Nobody in the top twenty or so got dropped, but it was hard. Cav led the peloton up the first climb, so we can either think that he is now getting some legs for climbs or that no one was going very fast.

One day I shall go over the controversy that is brewing about Froome and Sky. At present I think it is nothing whatever, but we shall see. The question is whether the is happy to do his job being second to Bradley, even though he looks a bit stronger on the hills. And a bit weaker in the TT. He has a contract, he has a job, but sometimes he might think he could do better elsewhere. He is 27. Can he wait until Bradley is too old, or will he move to another team. This seems to be the problem. More later.

See what I mean, mostly this and that, tittle tattle. Incidents. Tomorrow is a flat stage for the sprinters. Then comes a rest day. Then two stages with mountains, big mountains. Only one of them has an altitude finish, the other descends for forty k or so to the finish. Then a bumpy stage. Still, after that, there will only be the long time trial and the parade into Paris. There is time for Froome to ruin his cycling career, time for Nibali to try some move, but I don't know what, time for Evans to try something, but I don't know what, time for thibaut or Rolland to attack and win. But basically, unless something very odd happens, Wiggo has got it. The team is the best, he is the best (except maybe Froome).

Sky has four of the top eight in the points competition. That is stunning.

Oh yes, Virenque is annoyed with Wiggo. Wiggo mentioned that in England doping is just not approved of, not part of the culture, morally wrong. And said he didn’t understand why a guy like Virenque (used him as an example), who cheated systematically and then lied about it for two years when all his teammates confessed, and generally behaves like a self centred jerk, is revered in France. Virenque was offended. I read this article and found it a joke, but you might like to take a look. I too, for years, have wondered why such an arrogant rider, who won the mountains jersey because no one else competed for it, who cheated and lied, and who praised himself endlessly for having great panache, great will to win, managed to keep any job in cycling. I guess I am too British. Check out the article.

Voila. That is it for tonight. I won't watch most of the stage, just the end. I would rather like Cav to win one more, but it will almost certainly happen on the Champs, four in a row. For that stage, he will definitely have a train. The whole team, including Bradley, will lead him out.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Greipel beats Sagan

Stage 13

Plan A, B and C all fell apart. I ended up deciding that seeing the Tour live with some pals was really what I like doing.  My remaining choice was to get in my car, drive an hour to a casually chosen spot, and watch the spectacle pass, on my own. So I stayed home. So there are no photos. I did watch with my wife and the kid from up the road. Since I have seen the Tour many times, it was not a huge blow, but a minor disappointment I will forget about tomorrow. Must plan better next year, find someone who is committed. Serious. Next year will be easy however, as Montpellier is stage town, there will be plenty of action. Easy to do Montpellier.

All over France there are people who watch the Tour very intensely as it passes this or that specific area. This stage was the one that passed in my region. My pal from near Montpellier rides his bike over many of the roads they used today. So he was watching them ride on “his” roads. Adds a dimension to the viewing experience. Same thing when they passed through my area. Our really good roads and interesting climbs are probably not suitable for the Tour. But they could make a semi-mountainous stage around here very easily. Maybe there is not enough car-parking space for a finish on the top of the climbs. TV trucks and all those stands for special people. Anyway, for those of you who do not know an area of France well, you won't know what I mean. But it does attract many people to the large TV audience. If you do, its obvious. Oh look, that's where we spent our holidays for five years. Oh look, cousin Claudette lives just down that road. Oh look, I remember climbing that col when I was young. And so forth. I know about this tendency for intense watching when you know an area for one reason or another. But rediscovering it is always a treat, especially from the helicopter. Maybe the TV has advantages.

Essentially it was a simple stage. Break gets away, Near the end they are caught. Another couple of shorter escapes, they are caught near the end. The sprint is between any riders who managed to get over Mont St. Claire in good shape. The surprise of the day for me is that Andre Greipel was able to get over that last hill and win 20 odd k later. Mont St. Claire is a very short, but very steep hill in Sete. Sete is the biggest French fishing port on the Med. Pretty serious town. Famous French Poet George Brassens and not so famous poet Paul Valery are from there. Anyway the hill is enough to get rid of a sprinter or anyone who does not want to work very hard. I am not sure if I would be able to pedal all the way up without stopping, even in my lowest gear. Maybe. Even Laurent Jalabert was saying that people would underestimate it. He won the Midi Libre race up Mont St Claire more than once. I knew Sagan would make it up the hill and contest the sprint. I was hoping Cav would try to get up the hill fast, but he really seems to be saving himself for the Champs Elysée where he thinks the others will be a bit more tired than he is. Cav's constant companion, Bernie Eisel got dropped worse than Cav. I would bet on Cav for the Champs. However, today Greipel held off Sagan to win his third stage. Greipel beat Sagan by “throwing his bike” at the line at exactly the right time. Sagan threw his bike just AFTER he crossed the line, when a good sprinter does it just before.

Sagan and Greipel have each won three stages, four Brits have one each, that's ten. And the French have three. Young riders also have quite a few wins. That means the goodies have not been spread about much. No other country can have had a victor. Not many teams either. I think it is time to spread out the goodies. I do agree that when a young, Slovakian from an Italian team wins, which characteristic gets the credit. However he speaks Italian in the interviews, so maybe he is a young Italian. What I am getting at is when LL Sanchez got annoyed it could have been about all stages being won by a few people and few nationalities.

Evans seems to be very tired, or not quite strong enough or something. He made another seemingly badly timed and futile attack. Vino made the same kind of unsuccessful attack, but it made more sense. Evans is in trouble. I am sad about that. He's like a champion who should have quit after the last event. He should begin to reframe his career. Not sure into what, maybe just stop. He's old enough, he has enough money, he has a family he is keen on, no doubt a nice house or two. He could stop and see what he really wants to do. However, it might be added that he can still ride a GC better than any Australian, and all but three guys on earth. Maybe he should go over to Greenedge and be an elder statesman rider for a couple of years. Hmmmm. Anyway, he does not appear to be the guy to beat Wiggo. Or Froome. Or Nibali.

The green jersey is even more safely in the arms of Peter Sagan. We still have no idea who wants the mountain jersey. I guess Kessiakoff does, but no real climbers. Thibaut is still the only rider between Tejay winning the “best young rider” jersey. Whoever wins the competition, they (along with Tony Gallopin who left today on account of gastro) are “the young riders of the Tour” this year. Sorry, even if he finished in tenth place, Peter Sagan has to be the most spectacular young rider. So four of them, separated by a scoring system. They all seem to be great cyclists, with history already, well mannered, respectful, sometimes playful, of varying intelligence and interview attractiveness. Their presence will enliven the sport.

Bradley still has yellow. I was actually quite surprised that Bradley rode the entire Mont St Clair without ever getting off his saddle, as far as I saw. Just cruised up it, unworried. Hope he has good luck and rides well. I like the idea of a British rider winning the Tour. The French and the entire cycling community will have to think a bit differently. And if Cav takes the Olympics … but this is getting ahead. I bet Bradley had fun leading out EBH for the sprint. Must be a bit like a regular guy (Bradley says he is one) having a very fast car, which can never be allowed to go really fast. Leading out EBH was a chance for him to floor it, hoping to help EBH win. But he's not every good at it really, left EBH way too far out. It was VERY dramatic to see the yellow jersey in front of the peloton, racing full out.

In an as yet unexplained gesture, Luis Leon Sanchez shook a finger or a fist at Bradley as he roared around a corner and caught the last two attackers. Sanchez and Sprick. Usually when you are caught you move over and let the faster guys in the charging peloton go past. You don't make gestures at the guy in front at the moment they overtake. Of course the yellow jersey is easily seen. Maybe LLS is pissed off at that Anglo rider whose team is winning too much, dominating too much, not leaving crumbs to guys like him. Should the yellow jersey keep trying so hard, leading out his sprinter. Mind you he didn't know about EBH behind, maybe he thought Wiggo was trying to win the stage. I will keep you apprised about the analysis of the gesture. EBH was third, very respectable. About what he deserves. Mind you I don't see either of the other guys, Sagan or Greipel riding huge distances in front of their leader, 56k on the stage to Toussuire. Nice to have a guy like EBH on your team though. Sky is one excellent team.

So how are my Fantasy Teams doing? I do the newest league with an ex who is keen on cycling. She picked it. You choose a team, and at any stage, you can add riders, and delete riders. I don't find that very good, you have to think DURING the Tour instead of before it. Too much work. The informal internal competition one of my forums has is a bit like that, but with no team, only choices for each stage, and the jerseys for each major Tour. You choose for each stage up until the stage starts. That one goes all year long, is is quite time consuming. On that one, our internal forum one, I am usually halfway. Mid table. The first year I spent a lot of time on it and was third. I think maybe there are six or seven guys who can pick better than me for sure. But who has the time? From this same forum I was drawn to another fantasy league. I choose a new team every so often, monthly, for a series of races. You have to pick from a list which groups riders into ten groups. The groupings are based vaguely on the points they earn in the official points league for the International Ruling Body. So if you pick one rider in the top group, you can't have any other rider in that tranche. One picks all year around in that league. My rightful place is second or third out of …. five. There is one guy from Newcastle area who always beats me. And another guy who beats me too, or not, depending. I think I will drop that one, not enough players, too much management.

I should mention our inside the forum game too. We pick on stage winner and get points depending on how many others picked him. I am about mid table on that, and will always be, unless I concentrate, study a bit harder maybe, and enter all the races. I get sloppy sometimes and don't even pick a rider. The game with my ex where you change teams DURING race, I am 696th out of at least 1100, maybe more. In the league where there are only four of us, I am currently first. The only real competition in this league is the guy from Newcastle. I never can beat him. He is the one just behind me in the game I just talked about. So doing well in that league.

Several of us in one forum join this outside League and have a sub-league between ourselves. You pick a team and just let it score points or lose riders or whatever. I am fifth now. I am very few points from second, and only one point from sixth. A small group of four is well behind our top guy. He is sixth overall, out of a thousand, well ahead of us. I am 223rd. This is the team I might talk about most, the others are bit silly. This League only works for the three Grand Tours. Each rider is assigned a point value based on some rough criteria, maybe the same as the Ruling League Table. So you can spend 50 points. That is the one I take most seriously. I doubt there are more than 15 of us with teams. Everyone has one “real team”, the one we anguish over longest. How many sprinters of the nine riders we pick, three, four, two? Who to put as the GC riders? Should three, four or five of them should be GC? Should I drop some points on Cancellara, even if wins no sprints and no climbs. But he could win the first prologue and wear yellow for a few days. You get league points for having a rider in yellow, for each day. That is the choice I made. Good choice. At the end you get points for GC, Mountains, Points, Young. Then you see how you did. On average, I am about the sixth or seventh. Many people beat me. This year, I started well, due to Cancellara, and then have been drifting South.

Now you know something about my Fantasy Cycling League habits. There as many fantasy leagues as you could wish. Some have thousands playing. I mostly do ones that have fewer participants than the thousand or more leagues. I am always learning about myself and others with these leagues. Most of my life has never involved any leagues and competition. In fact, I am rather more for co-operation than competition. That's what I am mostly trying to do. But of course, being a lad, and liking sports, I do have some tendencies. I think these Fantasy Leagues fulfil certain needs that are unfilled in normal life. But sometimes when I think of all the time I have spent typing on forums or entering leagues, or even writing blogs, I get a little bit conflicted. I am quite sure that I am a very typical Fantasy internet person.

One thing I am noticing is that nearly everyone now tends to warm down after the stage. No one used to do that. Never saw it before I saw Bradley doing it this spring. Sure enough, they interviewed him in the Spring about his strange habit, one of the new things the arrogant uppity Sky guys think is a way to win races and train. Now the camera wanders around the team buses and there are often riders warming down. Already. I have no idea how many riders do it, but clearly it is spreading. I noticed that it SEEMS like it is the younger riders on the other teams that are doing it. Not the more experienced ones. Maybe some of the trainers of other teams are saying, “I told you guys to do this ages ago, its obvious”, or pretending they did. Merci, Sky. This innovation, if it stays for long, with always be Wiggo's legacy, no matter if he wins or loses.

Time to call it quits. Tomorrow there are a couple of mountain climbs in the Pyrenees. But the race finishes downhill quite some time after the last climb.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Millar Wins a Stage

Stage 12

This should be a short and relatively easy report to write. The stage really could be missed and no one much would care, except of course David Millar, who won it, and the hundreds of thousands on the roadside. Transition stages are often like this, especially when they put the two climbs at the beginning of the stage, and leave not much of interest for racing for the rest of the day. The peloton took a rest, as they say. Still, maybe most riders like riding some flat bits from the Alps to the Pyrenées, rather than having mountains all the time. I happened to be watching when they switched to “riding along” mode, from “control the breakaway” mode. Suddenly the shape of the group changed, Sky just stopped leading everyone and motioned to other teams at the front that they could take over. None of them did. So the racing just stopped. The escapees also slowed down a bit since they knew that they had been allowed to sort out the stage themselves.

And so they did. Five of them rode to the finish. There was one Frenchman, a very young climber from Europcar, Cyril Gautier. He is mentioned sometimes as a future great, but has not really showed it yet. Not like Thibaut. The French commentators went on and on about how if he won it would be three French stages in a row, three won by different guys on the same team and so forth. All true enough. But they really could have refocussed and said that if David Millar won, there would be four different stages won by four different British riders AND that those four British riders were all on the British Olympic team. The fifth member of that GB team is not riding the Tour, but rides for Sky. However, being French they went on, needlessly, since Gautier lost, about the French possibilities. I do understand, but it still disturbs me a bit. I wonder if they even realise how “racist” they are, how blatantly patriotic. Maybe they think that they are broadcasting to French people, who all find this attractive and perfectly OK. Maybe it is OK to nearly everyone. And I am an outsider yet again.

So Moncoutié had a crash and retired from his last Tour. Gesink left having not made a mark on the Tour, even though he was supposed to be in the top ten. And Veelers, who did well in a couple of sprints, because the team's real sprinter whom he was meant to lead out (Kittel) also left the Tour. At this point, stage 12, there are 164 riders left in the Tour. At the END of 2010 there were 170 left and the end of 2011 there were 167 left. And we have not got to the Pyrenees yet. I reckon we could say it has been a difficult Tour.

No change to the GC, that's why Sky let the break go, even though there were loads of riders in it. There was no one whatsoever to threaten anything whatsoever. Sagan snatched the points that were left, so he remains the Green Man in all respects. Although Rein tried to get in the break to gain many minutes in the young rider competition, in the end he failed. And Tejay keeps it (looking over his shoulder at Thibaut, the only guy who can realistically beat him. Kessiakoff managed to keep the mountains jersey too. If he actually wins it, we are back to the usual scenario, where no one who is a real best climber cares, so somebody, anybody, wins it. Like Anthony Charteau. They should just ban the competition since it never is one. Seldom does the best climber win, although last year Samuel Sanchez was very worthy. In the last 20 years, the “good climber” who tries to win the prize can win it, he is seldom in recent years, anything remotely like the best climber. Example, Jalabert won twice, and he simply is not a climber, much less the best.

Actually, although I will keep writing, the stage was on the boring side. Although The Escape Won.

Very glad Millar won. He is one of my favourites n the whole peloton. His book was good and I almost think he wrote it himself, although he probably didn’t.

When he peloton turned up, after Millar won the sprint from the breakaway, everyone just cruised in, except two who cared. Sagan and Goss are still fighting for the green jersey. I will be very surprised if Goss wins, but he is still trying. Full marks for him. He was leading out Sagan,who had found his wheel and followed him out of the peloton. Sagan started to come around him and maybe pass him or maybe not. But just at that moment Goss moved sideways (called switching), forcing Sagan to stop pedalling and make an incredibly skilful avoidance move. Watch the video. Really skilful. This last minute cutting off a rider in a sprint is totally illegal. And dangerous. It is even worse in a large group, but there were only two of them. It was totally obvious. The penalty is relegation to the back of the group, which would have meant Goss lost points at all, and virtually guaranteed Sagan the jersey. The judges, the commissars, looked at the evidence and relegated Goss to the back of the group. BUT they defined the group as being just the two of them. Then they docked him 30 points, which is quite strange. They should have just made him give up the points he lost by making such a bad movement. 30 points down does kill his chances for Green. I will have to read the details in the paper tomorrow, too tired tonight.

I went to he fireworks in town. Its the 14th of July, but they have them here on the 13th. I suppose every town cannot have good fireworks, if all the fireworks guys work only the one big day. Very good, but a bit overpowering. I am tired, wife returning, bike ride, its been a busy day. I think I will stop without outlining the new controversy about what the wives and girlfriends (The Brits call them WAGS) are Tweeting. Honest. Wiggo, Cav, Froome WAGS are involved. I am NOT joking.

Nor will I have time to describe the countryside, nor to outline my growing dislike for Pierre Rolland. They have this feature every day on the French TV, where a cameraman goes behind the scenes at Europcar. I think it might be “too much information”. I don't want to know how these guys kid around and make fun of things.

Tonight my major problem is that my plan for seeing the Tour was scuppered. I have to do some fast adapting and I don't know if I can do it. Might just watch it on TV. Or I might get lucky. We shall see tomorrow morning. But I am very upset.