Saturday, 12 July 2008

The Sprint in Toulouse

First thing. Beltran used epo. Some other rider might be using drugs.

The rest of the news. Everyone predicted a sprint in Toulouse, everyone. And they were totally correct. There was the usual escape containing three French guys and the young Basque rider Amets Txurruka. Last year he got the overall “most combative rider” award and also was in a break when the Tour passed through my town. You apparently pronounce the name something like TSOOROOKA. In any case, they got caught. They were also interviewed, the three French ones, for many minutes. They all agreed it was a hard day, the weather was really horrible (raining a lot and cold), and that getting caught was just what happens most of the time. “C’est le tour” was repeated independently at least four times. However, as the employees pointed out, we have seen lots of the Bouygues Telecom jersey and that means advertising time that the sponsors are paying for. So all is well. They are my service provider for my mobile phone and are owned by a very rich guy who is a bit pal of Sarkozy’s.

The second massive print of the Tour brought the same victor, Mark Cavendish. Although you would think that the English would be happy to see a winner at last, they moa about his personality on the Bike forums. Check it out here. There are now few that can argue that he is not the fastest in the world. When you come to the Tour and beat everyone at the Tour, then you are the fastest, even if you don’t win every time for the rest of your life. In any case he seems to win only when the finish is flat. In addition he has one of the finest lead-out teams you could imagine, from five kilometres out. It is true that Cippolini had a great lead-out team (the Red Train), but all they could do was lead him out. None of them could ever wear the yellow jersey, win stages, the green jersey or the best young rider jersey. This Columbia team is spectacular in all areas, except (maybe) the high mountains. I think in two days we will see some other team show their strength there. I expect Caisse will emerge as the best team in that arena, but it’s all to play for. Anyway, I reviewed the final kilometres, and the Columbia team simply made no mistakes at all. The rather second place finish of the final lead-out man for Cavendish, Gerald Ciolek was the icing on the cake. Prediction that those two will not stay on the same team forever, as Ciolek is only 22 and who wants to lead out a 23 year old for your entire career. I heard a rumour about Milram for Ciolek. Mind you, the lead-out man for Hushovd finished 12th, but that is not second. Not all of you know that Columbia, but for various accidents of history involving mapmakers, might have been the word used instead of USA. Look here. But a superb team and wonderful new sprinter. One thing I like is that he has invented, not by accident I am sure, a newish, ever so slightly different way to do the victory salute. Like Cippolini’s massively huge wide arm spread, looks like we will see more of that slightly encircled, index finger outstretched salute in years to come. I would like to know how that evolved, everyone wants to have a “look”, especially sprinters who are nearly all vain and egotistical, and just a touch crazy.

I thought about doing a little story on whether CSC acted badly when they sent all their men to the front and pulled hard, just after the wind changed and when they knew Cunego was trapped behind. Some think it was tasteless and others think it was good tactics. No doubt some bitterness will remain for a bit. But in the end they all got back together. And in the end, I really don’t want to talk about it. I want to make is short tonight.

Down here in the South of France we would never go out when it rains. Watching today, I remembered why. It really is dangerous, white lines are slippery, roundabouts are terrible, and tension mounts. However, they get paid to ride in the rain and cold and heat. It really is a drag. I remember going to the meeting point of our club, one Sunday morning a few years ago, at the appointed hour. It had been lightly misting. No one turned up. Why ride in the rain when if you wait a few hours, or one day, it most likely will stop? I saw the dirty backs of the shorts where the spray goes up and could almost feel that wet, cold feeling under your bum, and thought “I am glad not to do that”. Some rider(s) will get a cold in two days on account of all that. Especially when they do descents from high, colder mountains in the next two days.

Looking at the stage for tomorrow it is not really all that bad, even if it is a “mountain stage”. It is mostly flat until the Peyresourde and Aspin passes, and it does not finish at altitude. I have climbed both of those cols and they are not THAT hard. Even the Tour rates them at “first category” as opposed to Monday’s “hors categorie” (beyond categories). On the other hand, the speed will be high, some climbers will want to go for the jersey, someone will want to win the stage and no one will want to lose time on the GC. So it will be fast, and as a result, rather hard. The next day, France’s national holiday, will be very hard indeed. The Tourmalet is very hard, and riding up Hautacam at the end is very very hard. If it is hot or cold or rainy that will add ot the problems. Tuesday we will all deserve a rest day. I have a dentist appointment on Tuesday.

Incidentally, 7,500 amateur riders rode the stage to Hautacam on 6 July. It was the route of the annual “Etape du Tour”. The roads were closed just like in the real Tour and everyone had a go. It really is a cyclosportif’s dream. You can check out the details and compare the times of the amateurs with the pros here.

Not all that much to say on the jerseys. None of them changed hands, except the green one. Oscar Freire was wearing it today even though Kirchen had more points. However Kirchen could not wear yellow and green at the same time. Today Freire earned enough points (fourth place, 24 points) to draw exactly even with Kirchen. In that case, the jersey goes to the guy who has finished ahead in the intermediate sprints. Freire takes that contest, and therefore is entitled to the jersey in his own right. The green jersey will go back to Kirchen in the next two days if he just finishes in the top 20 once or twice. Freire will never earn a point in the mountains. I think Kirchen will almost certainly earn points at the finish. It looks to me like McEwen is no longer in the green jersey competition. Too many good sprinters are too far ahead of him. If Hunter, Freire, Hushovd, Cavendish and Zabel all fall apart or abandon, McEwen might have a chance. I think the old generation of sprinters has to give way to the new. Slowly. Maybe not this year. Allez Eric!

I predict, fearlessly, that the yellow jersey will change tomorrow, that will make five different guys. We approach the record, as Evans has not yet worn it yet. I think that Evans might pick it up a bit earlier than he would like. He is only six seconds from Kirchen, and seems likely to gain that much on the Columbia rider. He really does not want to lose enough time on any other challenger to allow them to get the jersey before him. But it is always possible that one of the challengers might take a minute out of Evans. For example, if Pereiro took a flyer, would Evans chase him down or let him go? Pereiro is still there! Anyway it is most likely that Evans will be in yellow, but I really hope we have a big surprise, and some other rider takes the yellow before Evans does. That will mean six riders, closer to the record. Evans has a style that means he does not really want to take the jersey until after the time trial, then he does not have to attack, ever. No need to take a chance. And since he is so good at following wheels and so good at time trials, it is a smart plan. For Evans, it only counts in Paris, he does not go for high drama and big wins. At least not so far. Maybe he too will become a little unpredictable.

The white jersey should change as Lovkvist is not that far ahead. Tomorrow or Monday. But the nice thing is that I have no idea which young rider might try to gain time in the mountains on the first mountain stage, and therefore take the jersey. Also, to be frank, I am not sure how good Lovkvist is in the high mountains. I know he is not bad, but is he better than all the others? Of course, I predict that Schleck will stay with the leaders for sure and gain some time. But I also know that Kreuziger, Nibali and Ricco can climb. I have to learn about Sanchez (who is way behind and has to help Valverde), Monfort and Trofimov, none of whom I know well. I hear that Trent Lowe is good, but he will never win the jersey, way too far behind.

Although I am not THAT good at predicting? I can predict that Remy di Gregorio and Cyril Dessel will make a move on Monday. And for tomorrow, let’s see. OK, Egoi Martinez or some other Basque, Wegman, Trent Lowe and Johan Tschopp. On this first stage in the mountains, no one within three minutes will be allowed to escape, although some may try. I think the big guns and their teams will neutralise each other. However on the climb to Hautacam, teams don’t work, at the end everyone is all alone. There, during the last, very hard, fourteen kilometres, there is no place to hide. There, the big guns will attack and teams will not be able to counter the moves, only individuals. At least at the end, the last six or seven k. So tomorrow, I predict victory by someone who is a good climber, but who is not threat at all to the yellow jersey. On Monday I predict a victory by someone who might win the yellow jersey.

The polka dot jersey might start to become interesting. Anyone who is a real climber and who tries to get over the Peyresourde first will be interested in the jersey. But it won’t become clear until the Alps. I am still hoping for a contest, a nail-biter, but it has not been a contest for more than a decade, just a parade.

Wish I could say “Vive Luxembourg”, as it is such a tiny place and has several superb riders. But it is just a place full of rich people, with a huge average income, a tax haven for crooks and corporations alike and generally has nothing to say for itself. I still pick Andy Schleck as my young hope. Its not his fault he was born there.

Good night.

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