Friday, 11 July 2008

Super Besse – 10 July

You have to take some of my comments with a pinch of salt. I am always looking for some interest, excitement and events that matter. They make the Tour something I can enthusiastically follow. In my opinion there are always such events, every day. I also read L’Equipe every day, which is owned by the people who own the Tour. So they are unlikely to say that the Tour is boring or that nothing much has happened. The paper certainly goes wild if some French rider does something, anything. What I am trying to say is that there is very little we know about the Tour so far, before Super Besse. Although I could be wrong, we will not know all that much more after today’s stage. In fact, if I were to be perfectly honest, and brutally clear, there is little we will know until the last week of the Tour. The GC will NOT be sorted until then. The green jersey is a bit confusing now, and the next few days will not sort it. The young rider is related to GC and is totally unclear. The polka dot jersey, well, the mountains have not yet begun. Super Besse is not exactly the “big mountains”. Just a reminder to take my enthusiasm with a grain of salt.

However, we seem to know that Ricco is not going for the yellow jersey, but for spectacular mountain work. We seem to know that there are some young guys who might well do something in all the categories. We are watching some newish, “clean” teams heading the team competition, which one day I must describe and explain. We seem to know that Cadel Evans is in good shape and has not put a foot wrong, even if he has done nothing of interest. We do not know who his leading challengers will be; for sure. We know that we know nothing at all about the climbers’ jersey as the last winner has quit the Tour. Given his crash and earlier his poor TT performance, we suspect my man Alex will not be as strong as we thought. We have seen the official birth of a new British hero, Mark Cavendish, but he won eleven times last year, so this is not a big surprise, just a consecration. So the Tour is very young and we really don’t know much. There have been very few injuries and not many abandons yet, so we don’t know how that will affect matters. And yet, and yet, I seem to think something has happened. And, by gum, it has.

Should you wish to read comments from guys who think that both Millar and Cavendish are NOT fine people, look here I am not sure why they are so anti-Cavendish. I drew my own conclusions from approximately two minutes on French TV. So what do I know? I have always liked Millar and his interviews, which I have only heard in his very good French, while these guys don’t like either of them.

Late afternoon. The results are in and we have begun to get a hint about what the Tour might become. It looks like a great Tour to me. The yellow jersey changed bodies. There was a moderately interesting finish where the young loudmouth Ricco did just what he said he would. Some of the contenders lost a bit more time. Cadel Evans followed Valverde right up to the finish and lost no time. Valverde seemed to put to rest possible side effects of his crash, although maybe he would have won if he had not had the crash. Valverde’s team rode as if he already had the jersey, which might turn out to be a mistake as they must be getting a bit used up. Oscar Pereiro is ensconced in the top ten although he has not really “done anything”. I am just waiting for Haimar Zubeldia to “do nothing” and end up sixth in the Tour. The countryside was gorgeous, woods and hills and lakes. We even had some intriguing art, both folk and professional, along the route. We even had some slightly worrying crashes, the yellow jersey and my favourite old geezer, Eric Zabel. Did you notice how quickly Eric came back to the peloton, even though they were going up hill? He really is a rider to remember, and I do hope he wins a stage.

Sylvain Chavanel snatched the polka dot jersey from the shoulders of Voeckler by making a break that no one cared about, and scaling the first second category climb before the peloton caught him. He finished nearly five minutes back, as if the effort to ride up a second category hill was all he could manage in a day. I have moaned about the polka dot jersey being of no real value, mentioned how obvious non-climbers can win it with a careful plan, how there has not been a genuine battle for it for a decade (I think Virenque had maybe one time when he had a competitor), and how it generally is a drag to watch who wins the jersey. I hope this year is different and that Chavanel, NOT a climber, loses it soon to a real climber. Bit harsh that!

The yellow jersey; on the other hand drifted onto the shoulders of Kim Kirchen. He also managed to take the green jersey away from Hushovd. Tomorrow the green will be worn by Hushovd, as no one can wear two jerseys at the same time. Kirchen is beginning to look like he might give a bit of trouble to someone hoping to take either of these jerseys. Most people agree he should die a bit in the high mountains, but in the medium ones, he seems a superb rider. Four of the top eleven riders in the green jersey competition are already NON sprinters. And soon we shall be in the mountains; where sprinters gain ZERO points. This competition might be interesting in more ways than one. Although you have to remember my idealistic desire to see uncertainty in all categories. As for the overall look of the GC, it is now is clearly something like it will be in the end. Some really superb climbers might work their way into the top ten, but we seem to have most of the GC riders already present in the top ten. There are a few in the top twenty who should vanish in a few days, like Van de Velde, Millar, Knees, Hincapie. Although writing those names I am not so sure. Certainly I think that in the next twenty there will be considerable progress made by Kreuziger, Nibali, Zubeldia, Ricco and Cobo Acebo. I rather like looking at the top twenty, even though we all know that after the Pyrenees there will most likely be about five or six guys with a good chance. Could this year be different?

Cadel is up there still. Doing nothing you can ever see, but never letting people get very far from his front wheel. He is doing exactly what they say, “being regular”. It would be nice if he shows himself sometime during the Tour, makes a move, strips off his button down shirt and lets us see a bit of panache. Still, you get paid to win the Tour, not to show panache. On the other hand, he does not actually win many races, that is, finish first across the line on a stage. We cycling fans like that once in a while. He has never won a stage in the Tour. So until he does, I am not supporting him.

The young rider competition is shaping up nicely. I am surprised to see Maxime Monfort still there in the top four, but then again I don’t know a lot about him. It still looks like Schleck, Lovkvist, Kreuziger and Nibali will fight it out, maybe even for the top ten. Ricco? Nah.

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