Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Alpe d'Huez

Alpe d’Huez – 23 July

We know more now, but oddly enough, the Tour is still not over. We don’t know the yellow jersey winner, although all the smart money seems to be on Evans. We don’t know if Kreuziger will beat Andy Schleck in the time trial, by more than two minutes to take the white jersey, although it is highly unlikely. But the green jersey and the spotted jersey are fully sorted. Congratulations to Freire and Kohl, for doing just what needed doing to win the competitions. Kohl certainly looked like he gave it all he could today. I think he knew that there are hardly any climbs left and went for it.

Without wishing to appear ungrateful for the excellent spectacle on the last climb, and without wishing to be critical of the greatest sporting event on earth, it was just a tad boring today, for nearly the entire stage. Perfectly explicable, very rational, hard to really criticise; but nevertheless a tad boring. One can watch the strongest team in the race riding tempo for only so long without wishing something would happen. Even if the work they do is phenomenal, and even if my admiration for Cancellara and all the CSC guys is immense, even if the strategy of Riis might just turn out to be the good one, I was a bit hungry for more action. Loads of spectators. The scenery was spectacular. I have no desire whatever to go into the high Alps on my bike. Way to full of arid barren landscapes and pointy hills for me. But good on TV.

Andy Schleck has now convinced me he is the best, the strongest rider in the peloton. Laurent Jalabert agrees. I really am sorry he forgot to eat and drink and had his “fringale” on the climb to Hautacam. Today he was working like three mountain domestiques. In fact he was so full of himself on the climb to Alpe, that he really didn’t know what to do. He kept riding up and down the peloton looking at people, and then going back to the front. As if his earpiece did not work and nobody was telling him anything. He could not attack Sastre really, he might bring someone up to him. He could not leave his brother really, they are buddies. So half the time he made the pace for Evans, both Schlecks did. I never could figure that out. Once Sastre was gone they should have been invisible, except for four or five lightning attacks that would ruffle Evans. Andy is young. He seemed to be able to launch attacks at will, but never quite sure what to do next. He was like an untrained puppy. He was so far behind that if he attacked, it would never have been clear that Evans or anyone would have followed him. We shall see how he can time trial to preserve his jersey. If he does a good one, then precisely where is he weak? Anyway, I look forward to him being back next year and in the years to come. I wonder if he can beat Contador, which, to anticipate, should be the major question next year.

After Carlos Sastre’s predicted (by some) ride into both yellow and the stage today, the congratulations for Riis and the CSC team are flowing from everywhere. Carlos has a good reputation and has won at the Tour before. Remember the stage winner who took out his baby’s dummy which he had been carrying around in his pocket for days? He then stuck it in his mouth as he crossed the line. That was a younger Sastre. There are little complaints about the CSC strategy, such as the one I just made, but they did the right thing. Frank is probably a bit sad, but I bet he knows he is not a Tour de France winner. Deep inside. The question that everyone is asking is will a minute and half on Evans be enough for Sastre. It is pretty clear that 2,39 is enough on Menchov. No one else could possibly gain enough time on Sastre to take the jersey. This all assumes that both Evans and Sastre get to Saturday in a healthy state. I might not have time tonight, but one day I will do an analysis based on comparative time trial results. People, even on French TV, have done this already, and the verdict seems mixed. No one knows what the effect of having the yellow jersey will have on Sastre. No on knows what the possibility of winning it will have on Evans. I expect both will ride a cracker of a TT.

One thing. In my usual optimistic way, I kept thinking that something might happen in the next two days. I looked at the race profile for each stage and tried to invent a strategy. I tried to figure out how many seconds could be won and lost. I more or less failed. I cannot see how CSC, combined with Gerolsteiner, combined with Silence, will not control anything dangerous to the top three for two slightly hilly days There are some hills, but not very big ones, nothing to break things up. But I still say it, “something could happen in the next two days”. But more likely it is simply whether Evans can beat Sastre by more than one minute and thirty four seconds. No one knows and the uncertainty of this Tour 2008 continues.

There are 300 cyclists a day who climb the Alpe, and there are seven big dustbins along the route.

I was struck that there were so many attacks, after the initial one of Sastre and before the final one of Sanchez. They were very short, none sustained, often for no apparent reason. It just seemed like everyone but CSC had no strategy at all. Even their strategy made no good use of Andy, he just kept riding up and down round about, looking for something decisive to do with all his extra energy. Shame really. Mind you, Evans had a good strategy. Slightly boring I will admit. Not a plan to endear him to many sports fans, except those who like strategy. He just stayed with Schleck, and stayed with Menchov, and waited for the end of the stage. He is a gutsy guy, obviously suffering a fair bit on that stage, everybody more or less against him. No teammates again. He really should go to a team who promises him loads of money to buy quality climbers to stick with him and two guys for the flat bits. Sounds like the missile team from Russia. Still the attacks were good TV entertainment.

I tried my best to ignore “the lads” on Alpe, the ones who have been drinking all day and want to get on TV. The ones who run alongside their alleged heroes, scaring the shit out of me and maybe them. I did a pretty good job of ignoring them. Except they are everywhere. Enough said.

The real nature of the Tour was revealed today. For some reason that must have to do with money, instead of the usual lasses on the podium, somehow Michael Douglas and the owner of the LA Lakers basketball team got on the podium and gave the flowers and so forth to the riders. I was disgusted. How can they do that? I don’t care if they love the vélo. I love the vélo, and I even ride it. They are just rich pricks. They were not even in the line of local hacks that get to shake hands; they were actually on the podium. Because they are rich!

You can see why AG2R are the second team. They are the only other team than CSC who have two guys in the top ten, and on the last climb had three of their rider left, like CSC. The team prize is still up for grabs, although it looks like CSC has really done enough to win it. Oddly, since CSC has so many riders in the top ten and needs their own people to protect the riders, they won’t have such freedom as the AG2R riders might. So who knows how this one will go.

As for the white jersey, I have never, ever seen such a tight race. Until Monfort and Nibali got dropped today by the CSC train, there were four guys in with a chance. Even now, Kreuziger is a much better time trialist than Schleck and might just peg back the gap. I just have no way to compare them. Actually Andy turns out to be better than I thought. Last time trial of the Giro 2007 he came sixth just 50 seconds behind Zabriskie and 12 behind Bruseghin. He can motor as well.

Kim Kirchen lost lots of time today, but I think he will ride himself into the top ten in the time trial. He has had a very good Tour really, and it should be fun to see him back next year, but this time with the certain knowledge he can make the to ten.

As for Valverde, he lost 5.24 on Schleck during the Hautacam stage. He is now 5.35 behind Sastre. This means nothing much as if he had been a contender and had not lost the time, others might have ridden differently as he might have done. But it gives the idea that if he can avoid a bad day, he is clearly a contender.

Have you noticed that there are STILL four riders within a minute and half after all the tough stages are done. And the fourth place won IS likely to win. All in all I prefer this kind of race to a race with a “patron” or a team that is too dominant. Although CSC is very good, very good indeed.

I am sure there are things that I should have commented on. But I rode this morning with the club and am a bit tired frankly. I am off to bed.

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