Tuesday, 8 July 2008

July 8, post time trial

Post time trial – 8 July

Today I will start with results and comments, as I seem to have been treating the results a bit casually for the past few days. This 30k individual time trial, often called the race of truth, is the first “big rendezvous” of the Tour. This is the first time that the vague shape of the final hierarchy is beginning to emerge. Of course there are also some surprises, people who are not where they “should” be. So it is a good time to begin to be serious. Although I must quickly comment on what huge crowds there were today. If anyone thinks all the drug stuff has kept the punters away, I think they are just plain wrong.

Two passing observations. Valverde was wearing a yellow band on his wrist. That used to be a Livestrong Foundation (as in Lance Armstrong) bracelet, although since then nearly anyone can buy one for nearly anything. I thought that was interesting. And if you want to see a picture of Millar’s very cool bike and a few other little design tricks riders pull off to display their individuality, go to the cyclingnews.com site (link on blog) and look for “Tour Race Tech: Personalisation at the Tour” on the upper left or click on http://www.cyclingnews.com/road/2008/tour08/tech/index.php?id=/tech/2008/features/tour_personalisation_tdf08

So the big surprise, predicted by absolutely no one whatever, is that Stefan Schumacher, the German rider for the Gerolsteiner team, won the time trial. He is the rider who was caught with amphetamines in his blood after a car accident last December. He still was allowed to ride the Tour. Boonen was not. This inconsistency will be a minor embarrassment for the businessmen running the Tour. But a totally excellent thing for Stefan. His team is also losing their sponsor next year, so good for them too. A minor comment … this makes three guys wearing the yellow this year. The record is eight. It is doubtful that Schumacher will keep the jersey longer than the finish at Super Besse, but good for him. To beat Cancellara and Millar and Evans and the rest is a feat that no one could have predicted, although he is recognised as a serious “puncheur” type rider. We do like surprises. Kim Kirchen was also a bit better than many thought, although he has also been tipped as an outsider for the yellow jersey. We shall see how he does in the mountains. But both of them must be taken seriously for a bit longer.

I have to be really happy that Hincapie, Millar and Voigt did so well, as they have been some of my favourite riders for years. And they are still up there. Respect. Speaking of respect, I notice that Mauricio Soler, last year’s mountain king, the guy who had the bad crash, is STILL THERE. Riding through pain I imagine, but still there. I am delighted. So many little minor joys in the Tour.

Among the losers, the guys who really could have done a bit better, we find Valverde. Although he is not a time trial guy, he seems to have lost a few too many seconds on all his serious adversaries for yellow. This is not a good ride for his morale, and it will be very interesting to see if he tries to attack in the next four or five days to get back some time. Although Sastre, A. Schleck and Cunego lost time, they did not lose all that much. You could say they lost too much, but we await the mountains, as all of them can climb very well indeed. In some ways I don’t think anyone lost that much time, even Valverde. A possible exception might be Ricco, who had a terrible time trial and is already nearly four minutes down. He cannot possibly win the Tour now, but he sometimes claims he was not trying to anyway. He is an attacking climber, so no big deal. He has mentioned that the stage to Super Besse appeals to him, as well as Alpe d’Huez. If he is way down the GC, they might let him go. He is not stupid. The Tour is long, anything can happen.

For the sake of completeness, we should also notice that the four escapees from yesterday have disappeared completely. They had their moment of glory, got totally whacked, and none of them are that high calibre. But Romain Feillu will always know he wore the jersey, something that Raymond Poulidor never did, even though he was a truly great rider. I am sure we will hear from Romain again, although perhaps as a sprinter more than a Tour winner. And “little” Samuel Dumoulin will never be just “little” again. He will be a “stage winner on the Tour de France”. Happy memories to them both.

I have been forgetting to mention Thomas Lovkvist and Vincent Nibali, two young riders who have often been talked about as future big names. Their tenth and eleventh place in the TT, and their high placing in the young jersey competition makes it certain that I should now mention them. Who knows how they will do, but they can time trial and also climb. Will my dream come true and see several young riders high in the standings in a few days? Nibali had a long feature article in the French Velo mag recently. He does seem really good. Lovkvist is a proven winner already. They can both climb and time trial. We WILL hear of them again.

The two top teams so far, Team Columbia and Garmin-Chipotle are both the “clean teams”. Could there be a change in the air?

Speaking of changes, there is no way that someone like Kim Kirchen should be at the top of the Green jersey standings after four stages. Maybe the GC, where he is second, but even that is odd. By now the first six guys in the green jersey standings should be sprinters, but that isn’t the case at all. This is not the “usual Tour”. Kirchen might even be thinking that, in view of the next few stages, then the mountains, where he is not that bad, he might break the hold of the sprinters on the green jersey; Worth watching as a competition, I hope.

When all is said and done, the only guy who was a possible contender for the Tour who has lost enough time to write him off is Ricardo Ricco and he might not really have had those ambitions. So we can be sure that a guy like him, highly talented with a huge ego and mouth, will try to make a big move that will be remembered. All the rest have lost only two minutes or so and the Tour has many stages to go.

I should remind you that this year I really have not had time to consult any other sites at all, so if you have comments, or suggestions for good sites to visit or good stories, please add them in the comments after each entry. For me, if for no one else. Thanks.

In fact, tonight I went to the reunion de quartier where the mayor gives a free meal and drink to everyone, and where there is music. Two person group that did a combo of Edith Piaf songs and rock and roll rhythm and blues. It is nearly midnight now, and I have to get to bed so I can get up early tomorrow and go for a ride with some old geezers in the club. So that’s all for tonight.

Vive le vélo, slow or fast.

Third Day - Cocorico

Third Stage – 7 July

I saved a bit of time today and probably will do for the next few days. I am not going to be able to watch all of the “after Tour” show, because Naurika wants to watch one of her favourite show, “Un diner presque parfait”, a nearly perfect dinner. They have the same show in the USA and the UK I think, with five strangers cooking dinner for each other and getting marked on the result. It clashes with the Tour wrap up and interviews, and our TV system cannot video one show and watch another at the same time. Failure of technology. Still, gives me a bit more time to write and read.

Today I caught a bit of the pre-Tour show and loved it. There was a short feature on the typical family and friends’ picnic at the side of the road. Some people think that it is really not worth “watching the Tour” on account of the exceedingly fleeting glance you get at a huge pack of cyclists going by at an astounding speed. You “can’t see anything”, they say. True! But they miss the entire point of watching the Tour. It is like people who think that you go to a café and buy a coffee and drink it, then leave. Watching the Tour live consists of getting there two or three hours before it passes. This is easy enough as it does not start, normally, until lunch time. That means that you normally have enough time to eat and drink before the caravan passes. The passing of the caravan can occupy an hour or so, while you try to grab cheap souvenirs before the other people near you try to grab their cheap souvenirs. For this caravan watching/grabbing it is best to be in a town. But if you are in the country, you set up the picnic, tables, chairs, perhaps a shelter, and of course food and drink. You hang out and do that, just in time for the Tour to pass. You might even catch the arrival on TV or radio. This is the entire experience, even though in terms of watching the riders, unless you are at a mountain stage or a time trial, it IS just a blur of colour and that bizarre sound of 180 chains going around and 360 tyres touching the road. Plus the cars, and motorcycles. That moment when they pass is quite special too, but you have to be attentive to catch it. Anyway the interview with the group of picnickers was excellent. I doubt there is any other event of world class where you can picnic for free within one meter of the sportsmen.

The show and the paper also went into the question of why “a French team”, Française des Jeux, rode hard at the front of the race to bring back the escape which consisted of four French riders from other teams (yesterday). It was explained to these ignorant punters/picknickers overcome with national pride, that the interests of each team have absolutely nothing to do with what country they are registered in or what nationality their riders are. It is the team that matters and FDJ had a rider, Philippe Gilbert in the green jersey and wanted him to be in at the finish to defend his jersey. In the end, he failed to do that anyway, but the strategy was valid.

Also caught a slightly edited reply of the joint finish of Lemond and Hinault on Alpe d’Huez, was it 1989. Pleasure to watch,; although for Lemond it was a tense nightmare race, with Hinault riding “against” him even though they were on the same team and Hinault had promised to help Lemond win. I would do this every day if I were a bit more idle.

So a “cocorico” day for the French. A French rooster (the national animal symbol) does not say cock-doodle-doo (as in English). nor does it say kikeriki, as in German. Nor does it say in Egyptian Arabic dialect: كوكوكوكو kukukuuku. I won’t go on. So today, with a French stage winner and a French rider taking the yellow jersey, it was a time for the French to feel a little bit “cocorico”. And the TV guys took this to an extreme. Larry Fignon is not quite so excessive as the other guy, who is meant to be an everyday sports guy, instead of a calm analytic guy. He was a bit unbearable, but what the heck. I am delighted for Samuel Dumoulin who is usually the smallest guy in the peloton, and for the young sprinter Romain Feillu. Although this will mean absolutely nothing for the overall standings within a day or two, and has nothing at all to do with the end of the race, it is still momentous. There are 180 or more riders in the Tour. Less than eight (that is the record) will wear the yellow jersey during the Tour. And maybe 15 will win a stage in any one year. Some riders who are pretty good, never win a stage during their entire career. You can dine out for the rest of your life as a “former stage winner” or “former yellow jersey winner”. You can also sign good contracts for several years, based on this victory. It is really a BIG DEAL. So I am glad someone not so famous won.

Furthermore, we were treated to a slightly unusual finish. The usual escape was allowed to get free. For nearly the entire stage. All French guys from three teams. And, due to the complexities of alliance formation and careless calculations of “the peloton” and wind directions and so forth, THEY MADE IT. I like that. I love it. The escape, one of the best moves in cycling, without which it truly would be ONLY a mob of multicoloured blokes riding around France in a clump. The success of this escape will mean that there will be many more who try during this Tour. But then they always try.

In terms of the race itself, very little is clear, other than the unlucky injury of Soler, the Colombian former best climber.

I just got q long phone call and it is very late again. I am not taking this seriously. In any case, nothing is yet clear. A certain hierarchy will begin to emerge after the time trial tomorrow and certainly after the finish at Super Besse on Thursday. We just have to be patient. Then come the Pyrenees where all pretenders for various titles must show up or give up. Until then the race is not begun. Although I do detect the possible emerging confusion in the race for the climbers’ jersey, as well as the sprinter’s jersey, as well as the young rider’s jersey. Big mistake for Ricco to lose time today. But then; every year, I hope for interesting races in all categories. I really am an optimist against all evidence. I am just getting used to the Tour. I have not looked at a single other website yet to get commentary. But I am getting warmed up.

The Tour long, anything can happen.

Sorry, but I really have to go to bed. Good night.