I can tell the Tour is getting serious when I start printing out the GC, and the one from the previous day, before I write my blog. It means that something important is brewing, that there might be something more subtle than I notice immediately, that there are changes in the top ten. I want to try and spot something that I would not see, if I depending on my memory for the top twenty from yesterday and today, taking account of the results of the ITT. This is the time. This stage set the scene, although it would be more accurate to say the whole rest of the Tour set the scene. We have three rather difficult and hard stages to come. Think understatement. Two of them end at altitude, and one has loads of climbs but ends downhill. I have a bias toward uphill finishes, but I have learned over the last few years that downhill finishes can be quite dramatic to. Main thing is lots of big mountains! Coming up, sir, next three days.
Today was another stage win for Froome. And a bit of shuffling behind, revealing that Contador, Rodriguez, Valverde, Quintana and Kreuziger (at least) are ready to cause trouble. They are fit, but do they have a plan and the will? I even think Andy Schleck might try something. Or any one of number of riders. Those who are are well outside the top ten have absolutely nothing to lose. 16th or 27th, not a whole lot of difference, even for contract negotiations. A mighty feat, even if it fails, or a sparkling attack will be remembered. Froome showed us that he is consistent, ready to ride, willing to take small risks, and that his team will ride hard. I know the team are as ready as they can be, because no one on Sky rode hard today at all. They just rested up, ready for the skirmishes ahead. But even if Froome won, the gaps were not that great.
In fact, if you count going up or down by one place as being “not that important”, not that much happened to most top ten riders. Admittedly the difference between 10th and 11th or fourth and third is more important than MERELY one place. The time gaps are actually more interesting than the places, but require more detailed analysis and some numbers. Froome has 4 and half minutes on everyone overall. It is getting nearly impossible to see how and where any one rider is going to take that much time out of Froome. But if they did, it would be one of the most exciting Tours in history. It still might be, even if Froome wins. Bauke Mollema went down two places, slipping off the podium. Valverde rose up three places with his excellent time trial, really quite good. When Va;verde saw Froome he gave him what appeared to be a genuine handshake with a smile. Don Alejandro and Kreuziger should be reprimanded if they don't try something wild. Like winning the Tour. They can let Quintana just keep up and maybe get on the podium at the end of the three days. Michal Kwiatowski, the revelation, the Polish young rider, went up two places. This guy can do everything, except maybe beat Sagan in the sprints. And he can time trial and climb much better. Andy Schleck! He still can't descend very fast, but he seems to be back in the game. He rose three places with his 15th place ride, 2.27 behind Froome. It was a throughly decent ride, and I think that if there is no descent at the end of the stage, he may be fine. Oh, there is a stage like that tomorrow! And on Saturday. Nearly everyone wants to win on the Alpe. Gonna be good.
Overall in the time trial, there were not always great time differences, which does bode well for the next three days. Thirty seconds between Froome and fifth (Valverde), and the top ten all within two minutes. Usually the differences are greater on a hilly and very difficult ITT like this one. Some of these lads are ready! I was surprised to see Kwiatowski do so well. Even Valverde was better than I thought (damn that puncture). I now have to take Fuglsang seriously, but I don't want to. He is good, but he rides for Astana about whom I have “a thing”. I still would like him to fail drastically, and make space for Valverde or Talansky or even Schleck in the top ten. Ten Dam could go too. If Kwiatowski does not lose big time to the known climbers, like Talansky or Valverde, then we will know we have a total star being born.
One of the most remarkable efforts was that of Cadel Evans, a very good time triallist, on the flat or in the mountains. He finished eight minutes behind Froome, 167th, slower than nearly everyone in the peloton. His Tour has been awful. Maybe he is saving himself for one big effort. Maybe not.
Two slightly less important results. Andrew Talansky and Tejay van Garderen have had bad Tours. Talansky was supposed to be in the top ten, contesting mountain finishes, although he is 13th today. Tejay was meant to be in the top ten, learning about how to win the Tour. He is in fiftieth place, one hour and ten minutes behind. Two young Americans, trying to take up the torch for the Yanks. I won't even review whether they just could not ride fast enough, or were victims of crashes or inattention. They just didn't ride well. But in the time trial it seems like they are getting back to what they can do. Tejay was the leader for awhile until the big fellows, the serious contenders, started coming through. He still finished tenth and Talansky ninth. They might well be actors of some importance in the next days, either as participants in an escape or as one of the last ten left on a climb. Tejay has no one to ride with, but Talansky could scheme a bit with Dan Martin (tenth).
The Tour is made up of little stories. The biggest little story of today was the crash of Jean-Christophe Peraud, the best placed Frenchman. He came down during a practice run, and decided that he would carry on, even though he probably has a fractured collar bone. Then during the race, while doing quite well indeed, riding fast and seriously, he crashed on the same shoulder. Tour over. But he will become a French folk hero, in a small way. Carrying on while injured is a great Tour story. But carrying on, and then crashing again, and leaving the Tour, that has an element of tragedy (or perhaps carelessness) that will make him more remembered more than if he had finished tenth or eleventh. I have already seen that crash five or six times and I close my eyes sometimes. Tragic hero of the day, hands down.
Short note to let you know that Thierry Adam, however difficult his job, is still more than annoying me with his small mistakes, cocorico attitude, harsh shrill tone full of false enthusiasm, and his poor reading of the race. They should sack him and try someone else. And yes, I do change channels, but he is the worst. Rather like Cedric's first year as the “expert” though.
If I had the time, and had the urge, I would keep track of exactly were all the riders did or did not change their bikes, and what kind of bike they rode before and after. I am not sure I have seen quite so many different choices and different places to change bikes in any ITT I have watched. I think Sky had the fastest change, although Movistar had also practiced the moves. Most of the teams seemed to just wing it. And I don't even know who rode what bikes for the riders who departed earlier, maybe they didn't have two bikes. Must have been a mechanics' nightmare yesterday evening and this morning.
Don't much like the way the French commentators are clinging to the “Kenyan blanc” label. They are desperately searching for some nickname and I know that one has been used. I think Chris does not like it much. It feels really tasteless and wrong when I hear the French use it. Don't really know why, but it grates. Even if he was born in Kenya and is white. He actually is dual passport, so they should say so. Those French have trouble with recognising someone as British if they are not born there. The French have trouble with “the meaning of having another passport”. Most countries don't. I don't think I hear Phil and Paul use that nickname. Its like when the English say Tommy Voeckler, when Tommy simply is not a name in France. Cedric was also heard saying Froome looks very good on a time trial bike. They still think he is ugly on the road bike. But then so is Voeckler and they don't go one about it.
Today was the day for the experienced riders to show themselves. Third week of the Tour, and the older guys are showing up for the fight. But what I like about the results of the stage is that both the young and older did so well. Same goes for the top ten. A rather nice mix of guys over 30, guys in the late twenties, and young riders, some in theTour for the first time. I would not have it any other way. I also like that there are two riders from more than one team in the top ten, and sometimes other teammates lurking just off the pace, but in good shape (like Valverde and Rui Costa, with Quintana). So, for example with Saxo, Contador and Kreuziger have Rogers lurking and quite fit. The strategic possibilities and sacrifices are endless. Garmin has Dan Martin in the top ten, but Talansky riding into form and willing to do some “wild work”. They have at least two terrific domestics in Navardauskas, and maybe even in Hesjedal, who I hope will do something or other in this Tour. He is on one of my fantasy teams. The material is there for a really excellent three days. The question is whether the desire to beat Froome strong, or will someone be happy with fourth, without attacking. The entire Sky team was resting today, ready for action.
I saw Quintana smile on the podium today. I think he is getting into the Tour very nicely, feeling a little more part of the scene.
Nice church in the middle of that lake. I wonder who thought that up.
So that's it, I am already very excited about the Alpe, as are apparently 700,000 to a million people who will be on that climb. TWO goes at l'Alpe in one day. How the riders get through that mass of spectators is always a miracle. If I were Froome, given the attitudes many people have toward him and Sky, and given that by the second time around the lads will be seriously drunk, I would be scared, or at least cautious. I would have a plan that I ride up most of the way in a small group, do not attack, or just follow an attack. I would never in a million years attack the second time up on my own. Fuelled by alcohol, the lads can do anything. I mean violence, in case you wonder. The Alpe is NOT my favourite kind of stage, watching the leaders climb, with hundreds of thousands of drunken lads on the sides of the road, or in the middle of the road trying to get on TV. Not to mention loose dogs, amateur photographers and kids. The descent from the Col de Sarenne seems to be for those who want a scary, veiled violence, risk your life kind of stage, this is the one. For amore reasoned analysis of this descent see http://inrng.com/2013/07/col-de-sarenne-rider-danger/#more-16191
Until tomorrow. Should be brilliant.