Wednesday, 16 July 2008

On to Foix – 16 July

So looking at the GC, it seems to me that we can look forward to a bit of attacking in the next few days. At least I hope so. Not really from the top few GC guys, but from those who have now lost realistic chances for the yellow jersey. Especially in the mountains to come, the three big stages, two finishing at altitude. It is clear enough that only Saunier Duval and CSC have teams strong enough to control anything in the mountains and only CSC on the flat. Although Columbia might try a move or two on the rolling stages between now and next Sunday. It is pretty clear that some very talented riders are now out of it for the yellow jersey. Although some of them might get excited about finishing eighth, most would rather take a stage win. So guys like Cunego, Valverde, Ricco, Valjevec, Pereiro, Kreuziger, Monfort, Schleck and others further down could easily try something. They can be pretty sure that CSC or Saunier Duval or Columbia will let them go eventually. I thnk there will be some changes in the top ten for sure. In fact, I would take a bet that of the ten guys in the top ten, four will not be there in Paris. Even tomorrow there could be attacks as there are several hills, including a new for the Tour, Col de Crouzette/Portel. This one is supposedly first category, therefore equal to Peyresourde or Aspin in some way. Watch for a break forming on this hill. And then the pursuit, if it contains important riders. Could be fun.

Quote from a reader “In my family (my grandfather was from Peel), we made a definite distinction between Manx and English. So I think it is safer to stick with the Manx being British, but not English. Interesting to listen to Cavendish's Manx accent. You can hear a combination of Liverpool and Northern Irish tones in his voice, but with a difference that makes it distinctive. Quite subtle, I think, in that if you know the Manx accent you can hear it, but if you don't you aren't left wondering where the speaker comes from.” So Cavendish is British. Right.

So the results. Actually, absolutely nothing at all changed. Except that Botcharov and Moinard and maybe a few other guys rose slightly in the standings. And I do like that Arvesen won the stage, as he is hard working, from Norway and a very good rider. The countryside was gorgeous. I live only an hour or two from that area and hardly ever go there. One day I will look back and regret that. That little road they took over the Col de Portel was an utter delight. I would never want to live in such a desolate area, having to drive or ride many minutes to get a paper or have a coffee in the café, but for a break, a holiday or just some peace and quiet, it was excellent. My wife said there were loads of sudden thunderstorms too. Oh well.

But really, essentially, the stage was boring. A long escape was successful because it contained nobody who was within twenty minutes of the yellow jersey. One French guy tried to escape from the escape for the victory, but the break caught him near the end, and there was a three man sprint. The peloton contained anyone who was anyone, although Pereiro tried to escape, hoping someone would help him out and he could gain a few minutes. But no one came to join him, so he was caught and Hushovd won the bunch sprint for thirteenth place ahead of Zabel, Kirchen, Duque and Freire. We can see that the points jersey is still an object of concern to at least three guys. Allez Eric!

That’s it really, but that little road and the pass no one knew (as a Tour route) was really an unexpected treat.

Another Spaniard got caught for using epo. Actually those guys are so stupid I am almost in favour of banning them for life. After all this time, all this messing about, knowing there are reliable tests for epo, they still do it. They are just embarrassing. It’s not so much they cheat, just that they are embarrassing. Very similar to people who drink and drive actually. They should all be banned from driving for life too. Whew! That was strong!

A bit of action “off the ball” deserves comment. I think. It looks like the UCI, which is the governing body for cycling throughout the world has just got dealt a serious blow by the businessmen. The UCI is equivalent of the UN, but has a bit more enforcement power. Or had. Not meant to be a business as such. Anyway looks like the businessmen who are the owners of the races and the teams, have given the UCI a death blow. It seems that all the teams are going to withdraw from the scheme that was invented by the UCI, the Pro Tour. Now it is up to the teams and the businessmen to organise a calendar that suits them all and a way of governing it. Its such a long story that I don’t know if I should go into it, but the guys that won this little struggle are NOT the good guys. There may not be any good guys in the whole story, but the ASO, and the other owners of the Grand Tours are NOT the good guys. Maybe I will write a longer analytical piece later and post it on the blog.

For my Dad, who reads this blog. The pre tour show was located in a small village which was having an old car show, or gathering. You would have loved it. The presenter of the show rode around in a 1934 Chevrolet convertible. Cool cars. In those days of course, you could fix them yourself, not like now.

There will be a new team in cycling next year. They have already hired Gert Steegmans as a sprinter, and intend to sweep up many other stars; maybe even Cadel or Pozzato. Huge budget. Russian gas and oil money (ring any Astana bells?). The team, apparently, was suggested by Vladimir Poutine (as they spell it here). He also, apparently, suggested the new name, Katyusha. Those of you who are military nuts or weapons freaks will immediately recognise this as the name for a kind of cross between a Russian artillery shell and a missile that dates back to WWII. Kind of like naming a team Kalashnikov or M1 Abrams. They don’t say what the jersey will look like, but I think it might be blood red, and have pictures of dead people on it. What else can you do with a missile but kill people? I find this … hard to find the word really, tasteless. In fact I find it disgusting. The very idea that this will be allowed, or even suggested, is sick. Saunier Duval is branch of the Vaillant heating empire. Credit Agricole is my bank. My phone deal is with Bouygues. I might end up taking Silence to stop my snoring. I guess that is all OK, it is just advertising a simple product for sale. And the Tour is about advertising. But naming a team, for no good reason, after a missile! They could have called it Gazprom/Itera (both produce gas) and no one would have minded. Really sad. That is what might happen when rich tasteless people like the nouveau Russians or Poutine get into cycling. Maybe it won’t happen.

I read in the paper that Ricco doe not like his nickname the Cobra. The French media love it. I shall research this. I thought he made it up and it caught on.

Note that CSC was riding in front much of the day. According to the interview with Voigt they just thought the Silence team were not being very serious and wanted to up the speed, so they had to do it themselves. Evans on the other hand said he was delighted with his team and they led the peloton as they should have to keep the escape to a reasonable time. My view is like Voigt. I think the Silence team is really poor, and this will cost Evans sometime before Paris. Evans himself was literally on Frank Schleck’s wheel every time I saw him today. Right on his wheel.

Andy and the paper both agree that what happened to him on the Hautacam is that he had no more water and no more food. He forgot to eat and drink and keep himself supplied. He said it was the mistake of a young guy, but even older ones make that mistake. In any case it made his life simpler. He no longer ahs to worry about anything but helping Sastre and Frank. He will come back next year with a bit of experience, and a good chance of winning I am sure. Or the year after that. A very nice young man.

Hushovd got back five points on Freire, in the intermediate sprints and in the final sprint at the end. Both of these guys are still serious. The intriguing thing is hat Kirchen also won four points at the end, finishing just behind Freire. So whatever else, he is still trying to pick up a few points. While Zabel did not contest the intermediate sprints or at least did not take any points, he got seven points at the end, which is as many as Freire got all day and only five less than Hushovd. I think they are all still in it seriously.

In no other jersey competition did anything happen of any interest to anyone.

That is it for tonight. Must start to figure out where to watch the Tour day after tomorrow. At the feeding in a town, in a small village or in full countryside in the middle of nowhere? And then to figure out how to get there by car given the road closures.

Vive the cycling businesses!