Friday, 5 July 2013

Cannondale Show the Way

5 July 2013

I missed yesterday, so I attach some photos to make up for it. Usually the blog is not THAT long, I think I overdid it today. Sorry. Won't happen again.

Four different yellow jersey wearers so far. A new one tomorrow, unless Impy can climb better than anyone thinks. First African in yellow. And although “French”, first “Maghrebin” in spots. You just can't stop globalisation, and it is not entirely a bad thing. I have to admit the key pleasure of today was seeing, from a helicopter (although I hear they have a drone too) the roads and hills I love. Although the landscape was here long before I was, I feel some sort of pride that I ended up living in such a spectacularly wonderful geography. I remember going over the Col Pailheres a couple of weeks ago, and tomorrow I can see that again. It is more grandiose of course, and the climb is harder. But you really can't beat where we live. To see it from a new (helicopter) angle is particularly exceptional. I planned to ride up Treize Vents, the first climb, but a flare-up of a back problem happened at just the wrong time. Still, I got to see it on TV, where one does see it better. I just missed the live experience. Although yesterday in Montpellier was quite good too. July 4th/Tour live rolled into one long heavy day.

Without going into detail, one thing I enjoy about the Tour is the creative, artistic and often quite elaborate displays various rural folk put on for the helicopters to transmit to us. Round hay bales in vast arrays, people dressed in yellow, dancing about, the Agriculteurs du Tarn showing care and attention to detail, and it will go on throughout the Tour. Frankly I love it. And without the helicopter, we would never see it. Mind you, without the helicopters, they would never make their “community art”.

I was quite pleased to notice that the riders went up the Col de Treize Vents and Croix de Mounis in the small ring. That is, they had to work hard. Those I saw closely enough had their second smallest gear going, although I admit they tended to just sit down and go up about three times faster than I can. I also noticed that the Croix de Mounis was hard enough that Cannondale split the peloton by riding hard, thereby insuring, or trying to insure, victory for Peter Sagan. Not only was this impressive riding in team trial mode, all eight riders in line, but by denying points for the big rivals for the Green Jersey (dropped like stones), the Cannondale team and Sagan have pretty much sewed up the competition for “best sprinter” or most consistent finisher by the end of the first week. A bit boring for the rest of us, but nevertheless quite impressive. Since I picked him to win that competition in a fantasy league (a no brainer really) I am extra happy. I think that this stage gave a certain level of class to the Cannondale Team, which had not yet demonstrated its best capabilities to a global TV audience. People thought they were crap. They are not. At all. It was hot and hilly and they rode in front most of the day, apparently 121 k. Very impressive, and never to be forgotten by anyone who saw it.

Once the teams of Greipel and Kittel (and a bit Omega) gave up trying to bridge the gap caused by Cannondale, it was a small pleasure seeing the big time sprinter Greipel bringing up bidons for his team. Usually the workers do it for him. Those sprinter teams and the sprinters can relax now for three days. They simply have to go fast enough to avoid being eliminated. Elimination is calculated by a complex formula which can be looked up. Basically it prevents riders from just slacking, if it is hot or big mountains or whatever. If it is a fast, flat stage (easy), or a long mountainous stage (hard), a differing percentage of the time of the winner is given as the slowest time before a rider is automatically eliminated. Riders get more time to complete a mountainous long stage, than a flat shorter stage. So they have to work hard every day, even if they are not going to win the stage, and are just trying to survive. They have to “survive” at a pretty fast pace.

This stage was one where, although it was not the only or most obvious strategy, the Cannondale team planned and executed the move. It worked. Perfectly. Although there are many surprises in the Tour, and no doubt some to come, this team, and Sagan have already pretty much wrapped up the Green Jersey competition. Sagan finally won a stage, but he has also finished well superbly, in nearly every stage in which he has competed. Stunning, but still not surprising. One advantage Cannondale have is that they have only one goal. No KOM. No potential GC winner. No “best young” candidate. Their total strategy is to get Sagan near the finish of any stage in the race and see what he can do against the others. Maybe someone else on the team might get in a break or win a stage, but basically the team is guys who ride for Sagan. Cannondale out rode two or three of the top teams in the world today. They finished 13th in th eTTT the other day. Thre htree teams trying to cach them were 2nd, 5th and 22nd. Sagan gives his team credit, as much as an arrogant, superbly gifted, exceedingly young Slovak can do. Sprinters are often full of personality. Sagan has plenty of personality. He could become an interesting champion when he stops pretending he knows nothing about cycling history, he just “rides to win”. The guy is a marvel. A few years ago I would have believed immediately that as well as being a strong young bike rider, he was a doper. I am not so sure now. He could be clean and if he is, he will be one of the greatest champions of cycling, ever. There is even some subtle politicking, the media included, around suggestions he really should lose four or five kilos and win the Tour a few times. Hinault was the last to say this. Probably he will try that after he wins a few classics.

I do like little incidents in the Tour that reflect the goodness in human society, the happy ending stories. So after getting loads of big help from a rider to win a stage, Simon Gerrans and his team managed to engineer (with a bit of luck), the transfer of the yellow jersey, a practical luminous experience for a cyclist, to the teammate. Illustrates many things, but one is that sharing makes everyone feel good. These guys like Gerrans and Impy, they might have ridden for many years with a fine career, but neither has ever wore the yellow jersey. It is a life transforming moment to be yellow jersey. They all say so. So to transmit this experience to someone when as an individual you don't have to give up, give a genuine gift, even if it has lots free publicity attached (“first African yellow jerey/gift of team), it is mostly a good thing. If Simon Gerrans had simply stayed in yellow for two more days, no one would have said why don't you let the other guy wear it, no one would have said anything. They did something people will talk about, not just normal behaviour and choices. A Simon Gerrans did admit all this in an interview. I am not sure whether it is easy to express how important the gift is. Simon knew it would transform Impy's life. No more than eight people have ever worn the jersey in a year. Over 200 start the race each year. Usually two or three wear it. Lots more wind stages. Plenty of work for Gerrans, who speaks good French, and Impy in the next few years. Career guranteed.

I am curious whether, my Tour history in detail is very poor, there has previously been a French rider of Maghrebin origin (“from the diversity” as some say in French), who has won a jersey. I mean Blel Kadri. He is French, of course, but sometimes French press try really hard to ignore colour of skin since obviously in a Republic all people are treated equally. Obviously. But there might not have been a non-”vanilla French” rider in a distinctive jersey. Maybe. Like I said my history is a bit casual.

Whatever I might say later or earlier, I am beginning to like what I call the Sagan understated smile. Almost a smile of irony on podiums or in interviews.

Chavanel's radio didn't work today. Again. Seems like whatever is going on, some riders can't hear or talk on their radios, maybe they even unplug them, the components are faulty, whatever, it seems really poor piece of technology, at least in terms of user acceptance. If some riders don't even hear or listen, its a bad product.

I will watch the British TV Tour show tonight to see how Froome sounds in English. His French is not that bad actually. But is he really as boring as EBH in English? I thought only Edvald was boring on the Sky Team. They just string together “cycling commentary phrases” that everyone knows. They don't SAY anything. Geraint Thomas sometimes seems to say something, and Wiggo certainly did. The Sky team is a bit like that. Trained. Another observation, they have a logo on the bus and the gear, “Twenty First Century Fox”. Startled me a little bit. I do interest myself in the corporate side of things, the good value advertising. Whatever 21st Century Fox are, owned by whomever, they are part of the Sky Team now. Must research that one day. I just never noticed until yesterday.

Lovely safe finish for a sprint in Albi. They should use it again.

Tomorrow, when they climb Pailheres, I hope they show shots of the lively little mountain meadow with a good meander in it. Classic. Check photos below.

I watched the entire ITV4 evening summary coverage today. Usually there is a conflict with the evening news, but tonight I saw it all. Observations. Advertising hits you right between the eyes. Men stuff, stuff that costs money, electronic gadgets you can use as a family, cars like Mercedes, deodorants, a growing market for bike stuff. There was a feature in the programme which was essentially Boardman telling people they should really by all the kit if they wanted to go 14% faster. Basically a fifteen minute accurate advert to buy more stuff. I noticed the commentators say “First South African” and the French say “First African”. Does it make a difference? Excellent feature on O Grady, who deserves any features we can get. He seems a man at ease with himself, happy in his work. One of the finest not quite top level sprinter or GC guy or ITT guy. But a guy who works and is experienced. The commentary of Sherwen and Liggett is a little less annoying than the French commentary mainly the overenthusiastic Thierry Adam) and we do learn a fair bit from their work. I have no idea if they over dub the commentary after the race, or it is just edited from the normal commentary. They do seem rather calm, maybe too unexcited and rather intelligent. The show interviews riders in English. Usually I hear Sagan speaking Italian, translated simultaneously into French. I think he must understand French. His English is endearing, displaying a slightly ironic dry sense of humour, or the Slovakian/Italian equivalent. Given he rides in Italy, pretty good English. His directness is revealing. He admitted that other than “unluck” they might have the jersey locked up. The French show is more “mass entertainment”. Some really seriously silly French entertainment bits that I don't like. The UK show was direct,no really silly bits, serious coverage for I wonder how many people. Fortunately the target audience includes me. U better than French for cycling enthusiasts. Do they comment on an edited film, or is this the live commentary edited?

I did like Cav trying to speak French, which apparently he is learning from Chavanel and Pineau. It was incredibly good for someone who does not speak French. He already speaks Italian. I guess he has figured that if he is going to be a cycling legend with personality he should be able to express it as much as possible, in as many languages as he can learn. He will become a legend, even if he can get dropped on the Col de Mounis. He will either be a legend because he breaks all the records, or because for some tragic reason he does not. Maybe he won't beat Merckx. He needs a team solely dedicated to him, like Cannonade. Vandenbroek being out means he almost has that.

As I learned in Montpellier, nearly all of the riders now “warm down”. I only saw four team busses and closely observed two. The poor guys. Froome, Porte, the lot have to ride their home trainer outside the bus, warming down, with jostling fans less than two metres away. I thought that would be the case, and it is. Anyone can watch. Take photos, ask for autographs, since they can warm down briefly with no hands on the bars. The Tour is cool that way. More or less trusts everyone who comes to see it, not do something stupid. Nearly all the time, they don't do anything stupid. But Wiggo really got that warming down going, I think. He warmed down, he won the Tour, so now at least all the young ones warm down. NO ONE warmed down before. NO ONE.

What can we expect tomorrow? The least interesting expectation would be that there is a break, they get caught partway up the last climb, there is a leading group of ten until 3k (plus or minus 2k) before the summit, when someone attacks, and then we see some racing. Or someone might attack on the descent or climb of Pailheres. A very serious climb. See if they can get away. Or all the contenders will be together until the last few k, when someone will attack. Oh, I already said that one. Froome said, with a deadpan face, that he and Richie will probably “stretch their legs” the first day. In fact, at some level, since the last five days of the Tour are unrelenting horror, most GC contenders will wait until then, and see if they can do anything. I hope we get a surprise. Maybe an attack from Schleck. Someone serious should really attack from far out to make some excitement. Unlikely.

Jerseys. Green gone to Sagan.
KOM. No idea whatsoever, that race has yet to begin.
Yellow jersey. Already four riders have had it. There will be five at the minimum. No idea when and who yet. Contador or Froome, same as before.
Young. No idea at all yet. Whoever finishes highest, it won't be the present, quite gifted, Polish rider, Kwiatowski.

We might have some idea at the end of the Sunday stage about the KOM, as there are lots of points to be taken by a KOM style break. Tomorrow is not so propitious. The GC teams cannot afford to let any GC pretender get away easily. If, for example, Froome attacked, no one could follow and he got two minutes, the Tour could be over. IF no one could follow. I hope I am wrong, but everyone serious would probably want to keep everything calm in the Pyrenees before they go wild in the Alps/ITT/Ventoux. I hope.

Mountain Meadow on Port de Pailheres

Same mountain meadow. I stopped in this magic place for some time.

A month ago on Port de Pailheres

Joaquim Rodriguez, already with a Spanish microphone in his face 150 metres after the finish.

Michael Rogers (Saxo) and Tejay Van Garderen (BMC)

Chris Froome