Saturday, 26 July 2008

After the ITT

A rack of the Velib bikes in Paris

Riding the Velib bikes on the Place de la Concorde

After the ITT – 26 July

So it is Sastre. Good for him. He did the job today exactly when he had to. Cadel did not. Brilliant team, they protected him well during the entire Tour. Then he took off on the Alpe, again protected by Frank and Andy in the rear. Excellent strategy in the end, it worked perfectly. Seems a nice fellow. Honourable record, now a Tour winner. Shame about Cadel, but he just blew it. Probably, almost certainly worn out by the constant harassment of CSC, and his own lack of any team support to speak of. Noticed he was slightly impolite and referred to his obvious lack of support immediately after the stage. Can’t imagine he will stay with Silence, unless they hire several more decent riders at great cost. Popovych was a total dead loss. Sastre made no mistakes, made one decisive attack at just the right time, and had a great team, by far the best team in the race. They won the Team competition by miles over everyone. Sastre also was the fittest at the end of the race, partly due to his excellent team, who kept him sheltered except when he needed to do the business on his own. A totally worthy victor. Although he could have a little bit more personality.

As for the time trial itself, there were some surprises, for me anyway. And some final revelations from riders who had good Tours. Not meaning to harp on it, but Cadel did badly. He was expected by about 85% or all commentators on forums and on TV and in the papers, to take the time on Sastre. He failed. Race of truth. Everyone will now suspect Schumacher uses drugs. I don’t know, but he is now number one. He actually had a very good Tour in terms of victories, yellow jersey, and visibility in attacks, in every way. Not a climber though, so suffered overall. 37 minutes back, between Sylvester Szmyd and Yaroslav Popovych, is not really all that good for a team leader.

Cancellara did his usual brilliant job to finish second. I suspect he was a bit tired from all his support work, although he also finished fifth in the first time trial. Kirchen showed he is a superb TT man and a rouleur of great quality. I was impressed with him throughout the Tour, even if he is not that great in the high mountains. I am sure he is at the peak of his powers and will win a few more races in the next few years.

I didn’t realise Vande Velde would be so good overall. He began well, continued to do well and never did anything badly the whole Tour. He rather stayed in the top five and I kept wondering when he would drop out of the top ten. Totally consistent in every stage, in every way, except the stage in the Alps when he crashed and had a bit of trouble. The three minutes he lost on that stage explains precisely why he is not on the podium. The USA people were probably going wild over his chances. Good to see a loyal and competent teammate move up a level. Fifth in the Tour is fantastic. Along with Kohl, I guess he is the most surprising in this Tour. That is, the ones who finished a good deal higher than anyone wouljd have guessed prior to the Tour. Kohl finshed the TT less than a minute behind Millar, a specialist, 16 seconds behind Cadel, a known TT expert and just two seconds behind his teammate Lang who is also a specialist. He rode faster than several known TT aces, but then he had the podium to ride for. I do not think I read or saw a single prediction that he would be on the podium. It was nearly unanimous that Menchov would take his place. He ended up only 15 seconds behind Evans. The guy had a brilliant Tour. Not to even mention that he snuck away with the spotted jersey. It is seldom that a guy in the spotted jersey does so well in the TT. This guy could win the Tour. He is only 26. In any case he should do well for years to come.

Menchov seems to lack a little something, a little here, a little there. A few seconds, some little mistakes that cost him about the amount of time he lost during the Tour on Sastre. He just didn’t have it. He can do everything, he just made a few mistakes and frankly, he didn’t have much of a team either. He always seemed to be alone, like Cadel. Millar is still good, at nearly the highest level in the TT, but not really the champion we all hoped he would be. He does look prettier than anyone on the TT bike though.

Andy Schleck needs to learn how to do a TT before he can win the Tour; both his performances were not winning ones. To finish four minutes back of the leader in the last TT when you are trying to fight off a known competent TT rider, Kreuziger, is not good enough. He also lost a minute and half in the first one. So that is over five minutes he lost in the TTs plus eight minutes when he forgot to eat. He is young, but he really should be better. I thought he was by far the strongest in the mountains, but that is not enough. He has to beat Contador (not to mention the other young guys) over the next few years. No way would Contador lose five minutes on anyone, in the mountains or in a time trial. I was wrong that he and Kreuziger would make it into the top ten. I still think he will win the Tour. And he seems a nice lad, good in English and French, plus he talks some kind of patois with his brother. They demonstrated it on TV.

“On all levels of society, only one language is used in oral communication: "Lëtzebuergesch". This is the everyday spoken language of the people, and the symbol of the Luxembourgers national identity. Although of Germanic origin (around the 4th Century), 'Lëtzebuergesch' has sufficiently differentiated itself from its parent language, so as no longer to be readily understood by many a German. German native speakers might well recognise this or that word or construction used in Lëtzebuergesch -in the same way that a German from one region can 'understand' a dialect from another German region- but are often caught out by 'non-Germanic' words or turns of phrase.

'Lëtzebuergesch' is taught in schools and in
language courses mostly addressed to the resident foreigners. Whilst it is an extremely practical and useful means of everyday conversation, it is a poor culture-bearer. As soon as a conversation reaches out into the higher levels of abstraction or refined sentiment, the limits of the vocabulary and grammatical constructions available are all too apparent and it becomes necessary to borrow from other languages.”

Valverde was a serious disappointment. He still can’t time trial, even if there was not a lot to ride for. He was supposed to have improved and did well in some other time trials. Finishing outside the top 30 is pretty pathetic, even Andy was 30th (36th, 4.25 back, just behind Stuart O’Grady and ahead of Christophe Riblon). Not a champion. In addition, he is not reliable in the high mountains. I think he is doomed to be a stage winner and top ten finisher until the end of his career, especially with the guys who are doing better than him at the same age and the younger ones coming up.

A quick mention for Sandy Casar and Sylvain Chavanel. They are not that great, but they are finally doing respectable jobs, which does make the French happy. Unless you live in France you can’t realise how much weight was on their shoulders even though they are just better than average riders.

The points jersey is seven sprinters and three non-sprinters now. I was wrong that it might have more non-sprinters than normal. It is about average, I would guess.

The team that did very well on the TT was Gerolsteiner. Not only did Schumacher win again; but Kohl and Lang (who finished 19th and worse in the first TT) finished 9th and 10th. How could they do so well at the end of the Tour? Anyway they took the team prize for the day. Just ahead of Garmin Chipotle and Team Columbia.

Looking forward to the sprint on the Champs. And to the slight quivers that go up and down my spine when they hit the Place de la Concorde. Photo below, showing a couple of the new bikes in the highly successful bike rental scheme in Paris. Riding on the Place de la Concorde. Really a very successful scheme.

Vive le vélo.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Re Cadel: On US tv, after the ITT, Paul Sherwin said Evans never looked comfortable on the bike and with the gears and was seriously "over-geared." What does that mean and why would that be? Made it sound like he was riding that bike for the first time.