Friday, 28 June 2013


27 July 2013

This year I have a strong feeling that I am not so likely to be writing so much or so often. Too many small activities are intruding that seem to be more important than The Tour on a given day. I know, for example, that I might not see much of the very first stage. And already short trips to see old pals, at particular times, might mean I don't even see it on TV on a given day. If plans happen, I will see the Tour live, at a Montpellier sprint finish, hang out a bit before the start of the next stage, then race home and change into my cycling gear to ride up the hill near me to see them pass. All this in 24 hours. Heavy duty experience for an old geezer. So for the three of you who are reading this, be patient, I might skip a few days as a writer.

Otherwise everything is normal. I have entered my teams in three Fantasy Leagues, and am getting ready to do a daily stage winner prediction on one of my forums. Worldwide, there are maybe 16-20 of us on that forum, We make predictions for all the important races, throughout the year. Over the year, my predictions are very average. Sadly, I am uncomfortable with the betting system we use (although there are also others who guess more skilfully). There are three women on the forum. One of the women is another guy's partner. Or maybe the guy is writing as “his wife”. She does not guess, he does. Anyway, I really should write a blog on Fantasy Cycling Leagues. I must spend, throughout the year, an average of three hours a week (maybe more), reading, researching, choosing teams, looking at results … as one does when geeky about something. I do a little bit better on other leagues. There is one game where only six people are members. Quite exciting at this moment as I am, before the Tour, “almost” even with this eccentric guy from Newcastle who “always” wins in our little group contest. Let's leave it that I have spent the equivalent of a normal working week (or more), choosing and messing about with my teams during the year. Never do I come close to winning much. I might be, for example, third best in the Tour of California. Or even be the best of a small group on the Giro. Truth is, although it is pretty much “a waste of time” in some people's view (like mine), it is very absorbing. By the way there are no prizes and only about 30-40 people on earth will know the results. There are of course hundreds of other cycling mad individuals playing alongside the few from our forum. If you get it right, it is not an accident, respect for calling the right shots. You get the idea. One can really spend time one this project. Doing it for every Grand Tour, and all other big races. All year long.

In reality this year, the story is both that the Tour is quite open, and that on the other hand there are a few, agreed upon common assumptions about who will do well. If anyone other than Contador or Froome wins the Yellow Jersey, then nearly everyone will be wrong. However, there are a few who suggest that quite a number of others might win overall, and certainly should be part of the expected top ten. Names like Evans (is he too old, even if he did really well in the Giro?), Rodriguez (hard to imagine him being in the second ten), Tejay van Garderen (working for Cadel, but then maybe Cadel falters), Richie Porte (team-mate of Froome, who is meant to be second, as was Froome last year), the prodigious but uncertain Andy Schleck (is he fit or not?), and of course the French dream of young Thibaut Pinot doing better than last year. There are certainly others like Alejandro Valverde or his teammate, the young Colombian Nairo Quintana who might do well. So in the yellow jersey contest, two huge favourites, with Froome the heaviest favourite. And many others who are nearly as fast up a hill and on a time trial. Ready to pounce if someone makes a mistake. Or older guys who are out to make one last splash. Could be a cool Tour.

My summary of the situation for yellow is NOT two guys and the rest with scraps. I think it is two guys, with any one of eight or nine riders who should keep up with the the big two until some crucial moment(s). Then the get dropped or they drop one of the big two. In both cases, there is another support guy on each team, who would most likely be a single leader on most teams. Porte and Quintana are examples. Some people even say it is Team Sky vs the entire peloton for the final victory and there could be a lot of truth in that. I think there is going to to be at least one or two moments of “strategic choice”, and the bad choice will lose the Tour. Froome is on every single Fantasy team I have. If he makes a mess of it, I am not going to do very well. Although I have other riders as well. Like Cav or Sagan, but I NEVER have Contador. If he wins, I will not do badly overall, but I won't do well either. Oddly I think I would be quite happy if he wins, so I don't need to have him on my team. In fact, I really don't care who wins as long as there is a bit of racing. The race organiser claims the course is set up so there are many opportunities for attacking, so we wait to see if anyone does.

Just noticed you could get a bet on Bauke Mollema for 400-1 for the yellow jersey. I would be each way on him for 20 quid if I had anyone else to discuss it with. Let's see how he does. It is sometimes fun to look at odds. as well as for all the other jerseys.

The mountains contest, which is a rather rule bound designation of “the best climber”. They use a formula which means that one really long attack, on a day when there are lots of mountains, can win you the jersey. The rest of the time the KOM (King of the Mountains) will usually get beaten on the last hill of the day, when the truly best climbers go for the big win. Still. Last year Thomas Voeckler won it. One huge attack. And, one should admit, a moderately good climbing ability. No one knows who will go for this polka dot jersey, it being much less competitive or prestigious than the overall standing, the GC (General Classification). Usually the guys who wear the jersey in the first week are just in it for a bit of publicity. Only after the Pyrenees are finished will we know who is a serious competitor. Any of the GC (Yellow Jersey) riders could win the mountains jersey simply because they are better climbers, almost by accident. Nairo Quintana, maybe the best climber of the new wave of Colombians, is, on his day, able to outclimb the lot of them. He has not raced for a couple of months, so no one knows how fit he is. However, he has to look after Alejandro Valverde, a strong contender for the yellow jersey. If Valverde falters, then Quintana will be cut loose to gain minutes on everyone. The young Frenchman Thibaut Pinot might realise he cannot make the top ten on GC, so might try for the mountains jersey. Daniel Martin of Ireland, in his best years now, is a guy who can climb for spots or who can go for GC. We just don't know. Usually we suspect some Euskatel rider could go for it, like Sanchez did a couple years ago. Maybe Mikel Nieve, maybe someone else. My outside favourite for KOM is Kessiakoff, second last year. This yeur, without a clear leader on the Astana team, he might be let loose to try for the spotted jersey. Of course, the one rider mentioned by everyone is Thomas Voeckler, the French hero. He won last year and there is no reason for him to give up this year, without a fight. Yet another French rider will have to choose, according to the breaks of the Tour, whether to go for a stage win only, the GC or the spotted jersey, Pierre Rolland. He has won a big stage and done well in the GC for the last two years and might not care about the KOM. The main thing is that this contest is usually over fairly soon, so my main hope is that in addition to the GC competition in the last week, there will be more than one rider trying to win the jersey. In recent years, the competition for this jersey has been pretty uneventful. No one really cares.

The sprinters competition (green jersey), on the other hand, is not so fluffy and uncertain as KOM. If the green jersey is not won by Peter Sagan (23) or Mark Cavendish (28), then some people, including me, will be slightly embarrassed. Or both of them will have had very bad luck. They are the two favourites, by far. Each has a team entirely built around protecting their sprinter and leading him out for the win. Cav, for example, by winning three stages, would become third in the “Tour stage wins” category (behind Merckx and Hinault). However, there are a few very good younger sprinters. Cav is almost one of the “older guys” now. Other “older” guys are Goss (Australlian, 26) and Andre Greipel (30), especially the massive German rider. Not only is Sagan only 23, but Nacer Bouhanni is 22, John Degenkolb (25), Marcel Kittel 25), Alexander Kristoff (25), John Degenkolb (24). Plus some sprinters who are good up wee hills at the end, like Philippe Gilbert and EBH (Edvald Boasson Hagen). EBH is one of my favourite nearly men. He has a very respectable palmares, and is known to be very fast, and also able to handle mountains.

The White Jersey is given to the best rider on GC who is less than 25 years old, therefore “young”. Best young guy could be Thibaut Pinot, could be Quintana, could be Tejay (as it was last year), could be Rolland, could be Andrew Talansky, the American climber. This is not a terribly interesting “competition” since anyone who wins it is really going for GC, that is top ten. As a by product that rider wins the white jersey.

That's about it really. I expect if the lads want to race, then we will have a good Tour, at the sporting level. In any case, there will be something interesting happening, maybe during the last week, which is very difficult and full of mountains and a time trial. It is fairly certain that the race will NOT be decided until the last few days. It would be kind of interesting if NONE of the jerseys were really decided when they get to the double climb of Alpe d'Huez. The last time trial will have happened. The climbers then have three stages of mountains, two with mountain top finishes, before they scoot off to Paris for the final show stage. The climbers have to attack to win. The points jersey could still be close, Cav and Sagan almost neck and neck. That green jersey contest will in abeyance until the Champs Elysée, which would be cool. Duel on the Champs. KOM cannot be fully decided, there are thee days of massive points. So KOM riders have to make moves, which might look a little like a yellow jersey move, which makes it interesting. In some ways, the climber who is worst off on GC when they climb Alpe d'Huez, has the best chance to be left alone to attack to win the KOM. It could be a really well designed Tour. If the riders do some moves, instead of playing for the money. As always.

Whatever the case, they have also designed it to be especially showy about the great heritage sites of France. And the Mythic Cols. The “Promoting Tourism” angle of the Tour, on global HD-TV, is going to be especially strong this year. Beginning with Corsica, a hotbed of nastiness for the French State, also known by everyone as the Ile de Beauté. You get Mont St Michel for a time trial, shots of it ALL DAY. Plus The Chateaux. Plus Mt. Ventoux on the longest stage. The final day on the Champs is going to end under lights for the first time. It should be utterly wonderful for anyone who loves “seeing France”. Tt really is the prettiest place to have a cycling race on earth, in my view. With the possible exception of Italy. Let's say it is a five set win for France. I think Italians think Italy is better as a place to race, but globally speaking more people put their money down and spend it on a holiday in France than in Italy. Although China is supposed to pass France any year now, France is still the number one uncontested holiday destination country on earth. I vote for France. I agree it is not as good as riding, walking or even driving through that countryside, but it still is a minor pleasure in HD, biggish screen. I should say, they have made a special effort because this is the 100th Tour de France.

Where will I myself see the Tour this year? Who knows, I make plans and sometimes they don't happen. But I should go into Montpellier on the afternoon of the Fourth of July to meet some pals. We should walk about fifteen minutes to the actual finish. Wander around a bit, find a big screen and a view of the the last hundred or so metres. Better yet, maybe the second hundred metres after the finish. You see riders still and immobile. Plus lots of bustling about. You can watch re-runs of the finish. Just after the finish might be good. Then a quick meal, then off for an early bedtime, after writing a bit and checking out my photos. My hostess is actually having friends over for dinner, but said I could crash. Then in the morning, I (and she might too) drift about 12 minutes walk to the place where the peloton will start from. A rather splendid central square called the Comedie . The riders really won't be there, as they will most likely be eating breakfast, as the stage does not start until noon and they need to eat three hours before. I have to leave by 10h30 at the latest. It will take maybe 65 minutes, if I am lucky, to get home. I change into my cycling gear, grab a sandwich, and ride up the Col de Treize Vents. This is a 6.5k at 5.6%, category three climb (not too hard). They later go up a category two I know well, but neither of these climbs is Cat 1 or “Beyond Category (Hors Catégorie)”. I have been rather weak many times in the last five years or so. But if I can fearlessly enjoy climbing 13 Winds, then I feel fairly good. The last six or seven hundred metres are supposed to be 10%. I am curious if these guys go up the whole thing on the big ring, for example. Also I expect that if someone wants to make an escape, they could do it on this climb. There is a descent, about five k along the valley and then the second category climb (almost “hard”). After that it is flattish or downhill for the rest of the stage, so a break could get away. It could unfold before my eyes. I know that I can reach the top of the climb where I would like to be, it takes me an hour or so form my house. With all the others walking or riding up to the top, it might take longer. The fastest speed predicted has the lads on the top at 14h11. I imagine that during last half hour climbers are not that welcome. So I have to be out the door by 12h00, on my bike. I decided not to take a banner or flag or whatever. Although I was tempted. Just haul my ass up that hill and wait for an hour or so. When they go past, all the cars and so forth, just ride down that hill, with a few dozen others, and watch the finish on the box, after a nap. The road will still be closed for at least half an hour or 45 minutes after the last vehicle passes, so the entire descent should be a pleasure, no traffic.

Must get this posted. I am excited.