Sunday, 30 June 2013

Jan Bakelants (who?) Takes the Stage

30 June 2013

Although we are still not much closer to seeing the Tour unfold, we did have several incidents today with plenty of “Tour” flavour, even if we know virtually nothing about the nature of the main competitions. After all, it is simply not normal for 93 riders to be within one second of the leader after two stages. I am beginning to think this Corsica lark is a kind of prologue to the Tour, not the Tour itself. Team Time Trials (first stage after Corsica) are never really the Tour itself either, so we are going to have to wait for the Pyrenees, as usual, to see what is really going on. The stage tomorrow might not even be a proper sprint, and the TTT will have nothing to do with the green jersey. We might even have to wait until Montpellier to see a proper bunch sprint, although I suppose that Marseille could give us one too. Who is doing well in the green jersey competition ... who knows? In any case, while the Tour is the Tour, even if it is starting a bit oddly. Don't you just love unexpected events?

What can I say about today? Countryside lovely. Rolland not too bright really. FDJ has a strange strategy deficit, but then Madiot is the boss. French commentators have an anti-Sky bias, but then nearly everyone except Brits shares that bias. Nice wee hill to throw in at the end. Chavanel had his birthday today and did try hard. People who let dogs loose, by not having them on a lead, should be kneecapped. It was hot. A bold “nobody well-known”, in a last minute break, just held off the peloton (yippee). That's about it really.

The big question today was whether the Category 2 hill would get rid of the ALL the pure sprinters, or whether they would get back on the descent. Answer, it got rid of ALL the pure sprinters. All that were left as “obvious” winners were “puncheurs” like EBH, Sagan and Gilbert, although that Daveed Millar seems to be popping up all over the place at the end of stages. Proper Sprinters, like Cavendish, Kittel, Greipel, Bouhanni, Degenkolb and others seem to have a category three limit on hills. Anything tougher and they get dropped. Fair enough, they have the wrong kind of muscles, that is why they are sprinters. Guys like EBH, Gilbert, Kwiatkowski and Sagan and more all terrain fastmen. But it was a fairly interesting slow process watching them drop off on the biggest climb. A sort of prefiguration of what happens on mountaintop finishes with climbers, slowly they drop off.

Every now and again, I observe a piece of quite conscious strategy that I don't really get, nor does my man Cedric Vasseur on TV. Climbing the last big hill, while some of the FDJ team were trying to keep Nacer Bouhanni in touch with the lead group (he got dropped), the other bit of the team was riding seriously fast in front, for kilometres, and was “responsible” for dropping all the pure sprinters. For the benefit of which other FDJ rider? No idea. On TV, the DS for FDJ said it was to “protect Pinot”, their single GC hope, from any dangers. But seriously, why does he need such protection when he can keep up with anyone on a climb like that. Very bizarre, and I will pass on explanations I read. I should also add that the attack of Pierre Roland, which would have used up a lot of energy, was almost certainly a failure from the beginning. I have no idea why he did it. He is learning way too much from Voeckler. Every time I hear Rolland being interviewed, I realise he is just not that bright, not a man with a strategic brain, even if he is a very good climber.

By the way, Tony Martin did ride today and he did NOT have a broken collarbone, just lots of bruises in all sorts of places. If he finishes the Tour it will be a miracle of recuperation and suffering.

Nice choice of a steep little hill at the end. Put the cat amongst the pigeons as all the riders had to figure out what to do, attack, follow the attack, wait for someone else to pull it back, and all the indecisions and uncertainty leant a rather exciting air to the last fifteen k or so. At the very least, we should always have the last bit of a stage that is full of racing, and we got it today It would have been nice to have Chavanel winning on his birthday. Had I known I would have picked him. But I picked Sagan, so am relatively happy.

Incidents with loose dogs, whose keepers should be severely fined (thousands of pounds), are part of the Tour. Every year. Without fail. Maybe this loose dog will be the only one. That little white dog escaped being run over by a fraction of a second. His keeper was nearly wiped out by the peloton too. And if a rider had hit the keeper or the dog, I cannot imagine what might have happened to the riders. I think at the very least, the keepers should be busted and fined bigtime for causing danger to others by negligence. Must be a crime like that.

It was hot. Finally. But hard on the riders. I am beginning to get reports that the ride to Montpellier and past our house will also be hot. Still, it is nearly July and it is about time it was hot. Did I ever mention what a complete dud of a summer it has been so far, not to mention the spring that never came, except a bit late and very stealthily? We are still eating cherries and they should have been over weeks ago.

Overall, I guess the best thing about this stage was that the ending, the winner, was completely unpredictable. No one could possibly have guessed that either the little last minute break would win, or that Jan Bakelants would be the only guy left at the end. He has not won a race as a pro, and nothing since 2008 Tour de l'Avenir. Although it does not have the glamour of the normal, big name winners, and not the sense that the stage has told us something about the eventual nature of the Tour, it had that “goodness gracious how did that happen” feel. Jan himself was just smiling and happy. I do like that. For several stages. But not for all of them.

Short note. Why has Froome acquired a penchant for useless attacks? Shouldn't he wait a bit? Is no one in charge of that guy?

In terms of jerseys, we already have two yellow jersey wearers. Bound to be a different one tomorrow, and also a new one after the TTT. The one who wins the jersey in Nice in the Stage Four TTT, will certainly not the be the eventual winner, so we will have a fifth wearer shortly, before we get to the Pyrenees. And after the first stage of the Pyrenees, we will have another winner. That makes six. The record is eight. Hmmm. You heard it here first. New Tour record for number of riders winning the yellow jersey.

Looks like my frequently picked sprinters, Cav and Bouhanni are having a rather poor Tour this far, worse than one might have imagined. I hope they pick themselves up a bit and score me some points.