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.