29 July 2014
The first Corsican stage was one I missed almost entirely. Had a date for a biggish fete with potluck and classical live music at a pal's house. I did manage to get home for the last 18k, which apparently is where all the serious sporting and administrative action took place. I admit I would have liked to see a bit of the Corsican seacoast, which apparently was on display all day. Tomorrow I am going to take in as much as I can of the Island of Beauty. Here in France we get the entirety of each Corsican stage in full HD, and it would be nice to enjoy it.
Today we got a kind of “false result”, with crashes and misinformation, plus a wayward bus causing a result that was not a gross surprise, but not the final sprint we expected. Suddenly we had a shot of the Orica Green Edge bus, stopped exactly on the finish line, with only 12k left to ride. Apparently, the bus driver should have stopped in front of the finish line, asked the people there to raise the finish line assemblage so he could fit under the top bit that stretches across the road. Instead (who knows who writes the detailed instructions and who reads them), the bus touched the top of the assemblage and the photo finish devices fell off, and they didn't know what to do. The bus appeared to be stuck right there. Finally they deflated the tyres a bit and reversed the bus. No idea why a bus should ever be messing about at the finish line so late, but still.
Meanwhile, while the bus was stuck, race radio had informed “everyone” that the finish line would be 3k from the actual finish, where there are cameras as well. The details of exactly who sent out the message and who received it will no doubt be scrutinised. But between that decision and before the arrival at 3k, the bus got moved and the teams were told that the finish would be as previewed, at the normal spot, now cleared of a bus. So with all that modern communication and radios and earbuds and all, that should have been clear. Nope. Kittel, for example, the 25 year old German sprinter who won the stage, said afterwards he didn't know about either the “3k from the end” plan, nor the revised finish at the usual place plan. Earbuds off? Team didn't mention it? Radio malfunction? No idea how many other riders had no idea what was happening, but must have been a few. Kittel WAS one of the possible sprinters who might upset the Sagan/Cavendish/Greipel “certainty”.
In addition, about the time that the radios would have informed some riders the finish was in the predicted place, there was a crash. Soon we will know who “caused it”, but that is actually not too important. Crashes like that happen in the first week, every year. Tense riders, many within reach of the jerseys, teams protecting their GC contenders, and the odd narrow spot in the route. In any case, it looks like a member of Cavendish's team, Omega Pharma Quickstep, was the first to tumble (probably Tony Martin). He might have been touched by Kwiatowski, who was moving up. I am sure we will know tomorrow. Among others, Cav, Greipel and Sagan either crashed, were slowed down, or their equipment damaged by the crash. Nothing is certain, but they could have been the podium for the first stage. Sagan had some damage to his jersey, therefore to his body, but maybe not serious. Contador had body damage, but probably not serious. Tony Martin, the German time trial ace, on Omega team, broke his collarbone maybe, and probably is out. I rather liked him, and he was certainly important to Cavendish. He is the guy who kept Omega in front of the pack for the last ten k or so. First week misery. And probably not the end of it. Although neither of the next two stages is a certainty for a mass sprint, it is possible there will be more crashes.
So the story of the bus dominates the day, and of course, the crash. No doubt one or two others will be affected by the crash, but we won't know until tomorrow.
This year, rather exceptionally, the course did not have a prologue, instead it had road stage likely to end in a sprint. In the recent past, Tour routes began with a prologue, but there were time bonuses awarded for the usual flat stage finishes at the beginning of a Tour. The time bonuses meant that a sprinter could win the yellow jersey, even if they lost several seconds on the short, fast prologues. This year there is no prologue so the sprinter winner of the road stage gets the yellow jersey. In fact, Kittel gets the green jersey (best finisher in each stage, one stage, he won), yong jersey (he is 25), and the yellow jersey. The lad is very happy, and is a very good sprinter, it is not an accident. Those green and white jerseys will be worn by others tomorrow, as the yellow takes precedent over the others. So the yellow dreams of Cav and Sagan and Andre Greipel, much less Nacer Bouhanni, will be postponed to another year, when there is no prologue, just a proper stage. Oh! That will be next year in Yorkshire, where Cav will have another chance to ride in yellow in his own country. Even better.
That's it really, the mountains jersey is worn by some sprinter from Euskatel, the Basque team, who won the sprint to the top of a non-hill from a break of four. None of these jerseys are going to mean much until a few days pass. In fact, while the green jersey competition is a real one, until they get to the Pyrenees none of the others will mean much. Still, they mean something to the family, friends and club/tam members of the guy who wears it, even if in slightly odd circumstances.
Marc Madiot contributed his usual rant on the after race show. He seemed to think that while changing the start to 3k from the finish was a good decision, the decision to change it back to the predicted place was a bad decision. He was furious, utterly wild eyed. In fact, he even referred to the Spanishness of the chair of the race commissioners, whom he did not know. As he turned and left the interview he suggested that this Spanish judge should go back where he came from. He is gonna get in trouble for that remark. Never liked Madiot, ever.
Slow start to the racing, but tomorrow should have a proper break and someone will be keen to stop the sprinters from keeping the yellow jersey. We just don't now who.