Friday, 11 July 2008

Aurillac - 11 July

Aurillac – 11 July

A couple of slightly different morning reflections on yesterday. I am a bit less tired and also have read the paper so I know what the controversies are. The crash of Schumacher, which almost certainly cost him the yellow jersey, is much discussed. I also cost Andy Schleck nearly forty seconds as his chain came off when he was impeded by the crash. Two other riders were also affected, Sanchez and Devolder, who also lost handfuls of seconds, caught behind Schumacher’s carelessness or bad luck. All of them were annoyed. But Schumacher was complaining the most, even though his front wheel was the one in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is no doubt what happened. Kirchen had just stood up on his pedals (“mettre en danceuse”), as had Schumacher. The action at the end of the stage was about to begin, and they were all ready, watching, waiting. When you stand up, at least in my experience, the bike tends to move from side to side a lot more than when you are just sitting down. I follow lots of wheels and I know that. Everyone knows that. If you are following someone closely, as Schumacher was, then you have to take that into account. You do that either intuitively, based on all your experience or calculating, using all your experience. Schumacher tried to avoid the movement of the Kirchen bike, but he was too close to Kirchen’s rear wheel. The rest of the reduced “strongman” bunch were quite close to each other (hence four riders being affected). When you touch the rear wheel of the rider in front with your front wheel, you almost always fall. Why? Because the back wheel is fixed, it does not move easily. It cannot wobble, so it does not move. The front wheel can move, it is meant to move, and so it does move. Check out your bike. If the front wheel moves too far too fast, you fall. The guy in front is (almost) NEVER to blame, although obviously he feels a bit badly about “causing” a fall. The guy in front cannot, simply cannot, look behind all the time to see where other riders are. Although if the leading rider is going to move sideways intentionally or spit to the side or throw away his water bottle, then they do look. It is the responsibility of the rider in back to be careful, because he is looking forward all the time anyway. So Schumacher complaining is way out of line as far as I am concerned. It’s his fault. It is a shame, but he should have been more careful, or maybe just a bit luckier. You win or lose Tours on luck like that. Certainly a jersey on a given day can be lost and was. In my view the guys that should be complaining more are the ones behind Schumacher who, on account of his bad luck or bad riding, were impeded. You can see an opposite and in my view wrong, interpretation of this event here. I have never been a fan of Fotheringham. Although it was good to learn that Ricco has been tested four times in five days as part of the “targeted testing policy” of the ASO. Amazing how detailed and geeky I can become!

The results. Although I am tempted to make my usual observations like what are the squares of yellow, perhaps fabric that I saw along the route, on the ground at the side of the road during the last part of the stage? Art? Or perhaps I could have noted the astounding amount of totally new road surface for the Tour. You can tell by the fact that there are not even any markings on the road yet. Or the fact that Aurillac was the host for the 13,000 strong, week long summer meeting/ride of the French Cyclotourist Federation two or so years ago. Or that it is often the coldest spot on the national weather report. Or how scary the sliding back wheel of de La Fuente was on that descent. Happened to me a few times in the distant past when I was younger and bolder. But I will go straight to results as I am pressed for time again today. I need to ring some people, who I can only ring at night.

It was, by all reports, a rather hard stage today. But I knew that the run-up to the Pyrenees would be hard, and that there would be some very tired bunnies by now. Up and down all day. Very fast pace from the word go. Even though the climbs themselves were not especially hard or decisive. Everyone agreed that it was a very hard day.

Sadness for the various riders that dropped out for various reasons today. The crash of Gadret looked particularly horrible. I will be curious what my least favourite rider, Christophe Moreau says about why he just stopped riding. Bad back apparently, never mentioned in previous long tedious interviews. Backstedt finshed, but outside the time limit (Hors Delai). We shall hear more of this HD later.

HD Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30          32.25
DNF Lilian Jégou (Fra) Française des Jeux                                  
DNF Mauro Facci (Ita) Quick Step                                           
DNF Christophe Moreau (Fra) Agritubel                                      
DNF John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  

Young rider. Schleck picked up over forty seconds on Lovkvist today, and is breathing down his neck. Poor Thomas did a huge amount of work for Kim Kirchen and as a result dropped back into the second group, who all finished 33 seconds behind the winner. Kreuziger also finished in the first group and gained time, as did Nibali, who tried a big move today, but failed. There are still six guys within two and half minutes, but the Pyrenees will show which young guy is the best this year. The young guys are better than usual. The jersey stays with Lovkvist.

Green jersey. Stays with Kirchen, and with his fourth place finish on the stage, he increased the gap on his competitors. Oscar Freire managed to just slip ahead of Hushovd today. He picked up four more points in the intermediate sprints than Hushovd. Those points could make a difference in Paris. The big news is that Kirchen might well stay in the competition for the jersey until Paris. It is entirely possible he will pick up points in the mountains, whereas Freire and Hushovd never will. I should add that Valverde is just a few points behind the two sprinters, and Cadel and Ricco round out the top eight. I still think there could be a non-sprinter in Green, for the first time in how many years? Since Hinault?

Mountain jersey. Nothing of interest happened, Chavanel lost it. But then he was going to anyway. The Spanish rider, good in the medium mountains, de la Fuente from the Saunier Duval team, made an effort to win it. He did. He won’t keep it once we get to the Pyrenees.

Yellow is on the same body. Kirchen looks more and more comfortable in this race, even though it is hard to figure he will win the Tour. His team looks wonderful, although perhaps a touch light in the high mountains. Certainly for sprints and medium mountains they are totally adequate, in fact maybe the best. In any case, the exact same ten guys are in the top ten today as yesterday. Some lost a few seconds and others gained a few, but really nothing much changed. Noting the changes would take a long time, and only involve a few seconds each way. Evans looks strong, and still seems boring. But strong, smart and acting like a winner. In fact none of the top tem looked to be weakening and none made any mistakes. There really is not much more to say until Sunday, when we see who can “really” climb and who might drift out of the top ten. Millar tried to seize the jersey again, but this break got caught. I like the look of the guys lurking in the second ten, eleven through 20 in the standings. They are just waiting to make their move. I am getting twitchy to see who has the legs. You can see all the details here

It’s a bit late and I would like to stop. Flat stage tomorrow that should end in a bunch sprint in Toulouse. My guys, for purely sentimental reasons are first, Eric, second Mark. Otherwise I just hope there are no crashes, no one abandons, and everyone has an easy day before they hit the Pyrenees.

Good night and bonne route.

No comments: