Thursday, 12 July 2012

What? Another French guy?

Stage 11

Quite a good story about riding maybe the hardest cyclo sportif in France.

A very well written, thoughtful story about a nine day “serious” cycling trip in France. The Ardechoise, a bit of riding in the Vercors, and doing the route of the Marmotte, but not on Marmotte Day with several thousand riders. Bot stories talk of the exact same Alps route.

To my mind, this is the highest level of real cycling. The pros are great, but people riding like the two articles above are way more important in creating and maintaining cycling. Money, adverts, drugs, competition, killing yourself for glory, all way too much in some ways. The cycling in these short stories is serious, correct gear, training, heroic feats, but at a level that is vaguely all right, human you might say. The Tour is like The Financial Services Industry. Too much.

Hard to write about the stage today. It was so jam packed with movement and unpredicted success and failure that I just can't say it all in the a reasonably short blog. Which does not mean I won't give it a go. You can be sure I will miss something too. I watched the stage all the way through, all afternoon after I had my lunch. Skipped the nap. I had the 15 year old kid over too. He pays as much attention to the race as I do. However he is not encumbered with correspondence in the two forums I write in, during and outside races, so he sees thing I don't. I have been watching loads of cycling over the years “with” some of these forum guys. I only know one or two in each forum. I might never meet the others. But we get on the machine, in front of the tele or computer, and share our reflections. Quite fun actually. I seldom have any kind of serious, sustained interaction, in English, about cycling, the Tour and other races. I don't know anyone around here who really cares that much, AND speaks English. I do the best I can with a few French pals. Not the same. I watch only the French coverage. Anyway, I have even persuaded my wife not to panic when I sit in front of the TV, with a laptop. She now thinks it is quite normal, as a “chat” with my unknown cycling buddies.

Semi-unsung heroes of the day were Christopher Kern, who worked really hard to put Pierre Rolland into a good position in the middle period of his stage victory. Also Tejay, who could have gone much better today, but rather stuck with his older leader for many kilometres. Tejay can climb and TT, each as fast as the best. It is not his first Tour, one actual reader told me. She's right. Second Tour. It strikes me that it is quite obvious that he will be “a potential Tour winner” for ten more years.

Quick summary. The yellow jersey remains Wiggo's, although a very slight weakness was revealed at the end of the stage, when Froome just took off, and Wiggo could not follow. Froome got orders in the earphones and slowed down. I reckon he might be able to attack Wiggo on the cols, but he won't. Evans and Nibali tried some attacking, but basically failed. Evans even got dropped. Essentially lost the Tour. Not so good. But not the end of the Tour.

Another Europcar victory for the entire French people, Pierre Roland has done the deed two years in a row. Maybe he will be doing more. He did start out with 27 riders in the break, many of whom wanted to win the stage, several of them with better odds than Pierre. He can't time trial though. And only one more uphill finish. Still, the attack, the escape, moved him into the top ten. But two in a row for Europcar, and for France. And the second victory for the young French guys. Voeckler is an old hand, probably the best of the older French cycling. These young fellows are meant, as is every generation of French riders, to win the Tour “at last”. Its embarrassing. So we French are all happy because we can believe the new generation is coming to rescue us. And Thibaut managed to stay in the yellow jersey group all the way up the last hill (after they caught him as he faded from the escape), as well as out-sprinting Froome for second place. Second or third does not really matter in some ways. This youngest guy in the peloton was somehow riding well enough and was fit enough to out-sprint “the Brit with the kick”. He is doing well, our Thibaut, and our Pierre and our Thomas. It is quite stunning when you think about it. One stage win in the Tour can make a career. Two makes you a national hero in France, or anywhere really.

There is so little interest in the spotted jersey that the guy who gave it up a few days ago, has got it back. People are racing hard, but not giving a fig, for the most part, about the mountains jersey. As a result, there are a lot of people who might win it. Anyone who can climb a couple of hills,any hills, faster than anyone else on a given say, has a chance to win it. It is stunning how little interest there is. But now riders are thinking abut it a bit. I hope someone tries to be serious about it.

Not like the green jersey where only two guys can win it, and the odds are with Sagan. Goss is continuing to try hard to catch Sagan. Goss won an intermediate sprint point or two today.

Young rider contender Rein Taaramae lost a huge chunk of time today. I never thought that would happen. Unless Tejay has a really bad day, he wins. He can time trial at the highest level, taking minutes out of Thibaut. In fact four minutes on the last time trial. No way Thibaut can take four minutes out of him in the mountains. Race over. Unless something happens. I just can't see way to see any other victor. I picked Rein, so I am sad about whatever happened to him today. But Tejay IS actually the best young GC rider. Sagan might be more impressive, but maybe not.

The Shack still have a cluster of riders in the top twenty. I think they should take it on and actually do something. Anything really. A stage, I guess. They should figure out which is their best guy and ride him up to the top of a hill. I think they really have to make some move for the sake of pride. Load of good riders, “the best team”, and they really don't add much to the spectacle.

Not only was it a pretty good scenery-day, it was pretty good racing. I rather like the kind of race situation where you don't quite know where everyone is. In spite of GPS and chips and motos and helicopters, my commentators often just don't know. So we don't know. Riders strewn across the landscape, struggling either go fast or medium, but never doddling. They start just about when it is really hot, and then ride through when it is the hottest. At least down here. I felt inclined to look up the fastest cyclosportif rider that did the “Etape du Tour,” a duplicate of the stage today? They do two stages every year. They make loads of tourist money from keen, fit, cyclosportf cyclists from all over. They “ride The Tour”. With closed roads. They win, for example, “gold standard- over 40 years of age” certificates. They have a whale of a time. Slowest Tour rider five hours and twenty minutes. Only nine Etape Riders did the route in less than six hours, the fastest was five hours and 37 minutes. But believe me, doing it fast is just totally impossible for a guy like me. Finishing it would be a realistic goal for which I would have to train for many months, if I were lucky.

In any case there were loads of attacks and a huge escape. Cadel tried once, Nibali tried more than once, VDB tried and sort of succeeded, they all had a go. But the most worrying (for Sky and all of Britain) was the attack that Froome made at the end. Wiggo couldn’t follow. Shouts in the earphone. Froome slows and rides another few hundred metres with Bradley before at the very end, trying to win second place. Pinot out sprinted him. Fraid so. Pinot is good. In the end none of the attacks worked and other than Rolland, the Sky led final half dozen or so riders overtook everyone else by the end. That final group picked up Thibaut from the escape and he just rode with them all the rest of the way. It was not caught.

All that forced me to pay more attention than usual. If there is one small escape, and the rest of the peloton stays calm and together, all you need to do is glance at the time gap and the form of the peloton to know if something was happening. This stage, the first proper high mountain stage, was ready for the actors to fill in the details. And the riders did just that. Neither the kid nor I sometimes knew who was where exactly. The fragmentation up the last climb was quite brutal. For quite a while in the last stages of the climb, “the groupe maillot jaune” was five riders. Everyone else was dropped. Especially the last climb needed very careful attention to know what was going on. Good viewing for sure.

Nibali has said Wiggo doesn't scare him and besides he has really bad manners. I read about it in l'Equipe and elsewhere. Vicenzo does not like Bradley. Today as they rode across the line, Bradley initiated a good buddy, all is forgiven arm-holding posture. No idea what that means, but it is one of the great sub stories that thicken the Tour de France, and make it way more than a bike race.

Pettachi is out. Crashed.

Tomorrow, the stage has two first category climbs, hard but not incredible, at the very beginning. Then not much happens, flat, until a wee bump at the end. This stage is made for another escape to make it to the end. I haven no idea who will be in it. So no idea who will win. I picked Christopher Horner because Someone in Radio Shack should do something, and Chris is pissed off that he was not originally picked for the team, wants to show them. Not a great reason. I do hope he is at least in the escape.

Voeckler Again

Stage 10

I admit it straight away. In spite of some quite interesting racing today, (although not terribly decisive), this will be a short blog. (after) It turned out to be long but not terribly analytical) I stacked some wood after I watched the Tour and then off to a party. The party was not big enough to leave early. Sorry for the hasty blog.

Since not a lot changed, I can just mention some “heros of the day”. First, Thomas Voeckler. Some people call him Tommy, but that's not right. In any case Thomas won the stage. He also took hold of the mountains jersey. I don't think anyone picked him for that. The guy has a bad knee, he almost didn't start the Tour. I didn't even check the odds. It is clear there is still room for surprise in the Tour. On any day. He got in the break of 20 odd riders, and he was in the group of four (then five, but Voigt comes later) that was left at the end of the stage. In the end he beat the other four, and they kept away from the peloton. I am quite sure many would have picked LL Sanchez to win in the sprint from that group. However, as they always say, you can't tell who is tired at the end of a longish mountainous stage. Turns out the guy who wanted the victory most, and who was the strongest, was Voeckler. I just can't figure that guy out. He was limping on the stage, maybe from a brace/icepack of some kind on his knee. Maybe he just can't walk right, even though he can cycle pretty darn well. How does he do that? The fact of the matter is he is the most interesting of all the not quite good enough French riders, and has been for some time.

But the fifth guy in the final five we missed entirely on TV, until suddenly he was there. For some reason I can't figure out, Jens Voigt, the oldest rider in the race, on his last of his fifteen Tours, had escaped the leftovers of the escape, and bridged the gap to the four leaders of the stage long escape. All by himself, he rode many k to catch up with four riders who were all seriously trying to stay away and win the stage. Think about it, all by himself he rode faster than four riders where were taking turns and drafting behind the others for three fourths of the time. Jens Voigt is my hero, although I do disagree with him often on cycling politics.

So once again, the escape won the stage!

Two minor heros of the day are Tejay and Thibaut. Thibaut seems to still have some energy left after yesterday. If he keeps this up we won't be the youngest, most inexperienced, “promising” French rider. He will be a “revelation of the Tour”. He will already be a serious contender in more than one kind of race. He is not that bad at riding on his own, nor in climbing, nor in keeping out of trouble in the first week.

Tejay is not giving up on the white jersey either. Although we have to admit that Rein Taaramae, henceforth Rein, the Estonian from Cofidis, has got the jersey back, by staying with the rest of the big hitters.

The big hitters, the guys we hoped would attack made some efforts. Not Evans maybe, he seemed a bit passive today. But Jurgen Van Den Broucke, hereafter JVDB, and Nibali did make a move. Nibali attacked with Sagan on the longest downhill. Sagan is a bit of descender himself. They got a minute I think, maybe 45 seconds when they got to the flat. Nice to watch those two descending. The two of them rode pretty fast until the last Cat 3 hill. Nibali had to go on, Sagan got dropped. Soon enough after, Nibali was caught by the Sky led dregs of the peloton. I guess Nibali needs a longer downhill closer to the end. And maybe a little more help. Still they tried. JVDB tried a little bit half-heartedly, but got closed down by the Sky Boys.

The Sky boys are still dominating this Tour. Although Rogers was not very present today, apparently not so well. None of the Sky team seemed wasted. They pulled back everything that was thrown at them today. Maybe tomorrow it will work. As Hinault would say, Attack Attack.

Poor Tony Gallopin. I knew he would drop lower in the GC (and therefore the young rider competition) when the climbs got tough, but I was ready to be surprised if he could keep up on big climbs, as well as short hills and sprints. We will never know, because it is Survival in the Tour we are talking about for Tony. Today it was Cancellara who helped Tony. Some kind of serious digestive problem. Quite common on the Tour always and ever, with cold water dropping by the litre into the hot stomach and other organs. Cools down the core body temperature, but is very upsetting. Eating gels all day. Not sleeping at night. Anyway, he barely made it in today. He rode with the 'bus”, the “laughing group”, most of the sprinters. Recently he has been in the yellow jersey group. I hope he survives, as I am quite curious what he can do.

The leading lurkers are the Radio Shack Team. While they seem to have no one as a leader, they have five guys who are just lurking in the top 22, four in the top 16, ready to make some kind of move. They are in fact, the “best team”, although they refuse to wear the yellow helmets. No idea why they won't. Probably some kind of contractual arrangement. I am pretty sure they will cause some trouble one of these days. No idea what kind.

Oh yes, I watched the Tour today with one of the young lads who helped me with the wood after. He got interested in the Tour last year, big time, every day in front of the TV, all afternoon, apparently. He is a fanatic BMX, cross, downhill rider. Just getting interested in road bikes. He does not have one yet. Wants to climb the Tourmalet in August. My wife is gone to visit family, so it was just him and me. A different style of watching, me with my mags, and sheets, and laptop, and maps, him watching and commenting and questioning, as well as borrowing one of my mags. He might come over tomorrow too, but no wood and no party, so I should be able to write a decent blog.

One thing I remembered about the TV show, another example of Jalabertism, was an interview with David Millar. David said that yes, if Bradley needed some help in some way, to get him out of a jam, then David thought he would help him. Jalabert pretended that somehow this was odd, that Italians or Spaniards or Frenchmen have never ganged up along national lines. Or that since David was Garmin and Bradley was Sky, that somehow it was inexplicable, or odd, or maybe even “bad”, that a rider from one commercial team would ride for the benefit of a rider from another commercial team. A week after the Tour, Millar is going to be, because Cav wanted him to be, on the Olympic Team, trying to win, along with Bradley, a gold medal for Cav. Jalabert sometimes acts like a provincial Southern Frenchman. Fignon never did that. Ever.

I thought Scarponi would be more impressive today. He was in the final four, but I thought he would get away sooner. I guess he needs a longer hill, nearer to the end. We shall see what he does tomorrow. Maybe he is one of “those Italians who never do that well in the Tour”. Nibali seems to be going very well. He claims Basso is ready to give his all for Nibali's podium or victory. We shall see. I am betting in Sylvester Szmyd to help Nibali out-climb Sky. If that can be done.

A bit without reference to any actual standings, although I will check them out a bit to see if I got something really wrong, that is it for tonight. Tomorrow should be more normal, as I should be able to start writing just after the “apres-Tour” show. Today I even missed some of that to stack wood. Tomorrow I will show a photo of the stacked wood, but is dark out tonight and my flash is not htat powerful. Feels good to have this load of wood in.

Oh yes, I forgot about Pierre Rolland. He did really well again today. Not for a winner, but for a young hopeful, a future French contender. He is such a grumpy lad though. He did well, Thomas won the stage, the guy should be dizzy with joy. Not our Pierre. He probably hurts a lot when he rides, from his big crash. So fair enough. I do hope he heals up and makes some move. And smiles a bit. Its a show, Pierre, play your part.

Tomorrow I will sum up the jerseys again. Only three in the hunt for young rider now. Still no idea who really wants the mountains jersey in Paris. Goss still makes it obvious he wants the green jersey from Sagan, picked away at the gap today.