Saturday, 19 July 2008

The Day before the Alps

The Day before the Alps – 19 July

For those of you who miss that overall atmosphere of the “day out”, here is an excellent amateur video, edited, of the high moments of the Passage of the whole shebang. This is the Tour in Villeneuve les Corbières. It is actually quite good. This part of the tour never makes it onto TV, so you should really click to see it.

Now what I am I going to write about today? Not a lot. No cars burned like yesterday. I forgot to mention that. The same pretty interesting countryside. I watched carefully, as I have heard much of Forcalquiers, a town where loads of “alternative” or marginal types moved years ago. Now quite a fancy place. I had a glimpse of once thinking about that place to live in, but it was just a glimpse. No doubt the people are different, but our countryside around here is better looking, that’s for sure. No real attacks to speak of today. It all came together on the last little fourth cat. One item of note is that the frequent attacks on that hill got rid of Cavendish. Today the other sprinters, who are better at climbing hills, finally had a chance to sprint without him. Good thing too. Results later. Or you can look them up. Everyone resting as best they could before the Alps tomorrow. Suddenly Monday is a rest day, and then on Wednesday, after two rather significant stages of climbing, there is the road to Alpe d’Huez. Over some really big hills first. There is not doubt that is the Queen stage of the Tour. Until that stage is over, we won’t know who is going to win any of the jerseys. Good that the suspense is staying with us. No jersey is safe, nothing is decided. Although I admit that Freire is looking pretty good in green.

But I will think of something to write about. Just for now, however, I am going to a free choral concert in the town for an hour or so. Back later.

Sometimes when I leave the house and pop into town, I get ideas about writing. But frankly, the stage today was SOOO transitional, I just had no real thoughts. I might go back over the past couple of days in the paper to see if there are tidbits. Or maybe go on the cycling forums to see what they are concerned about. (I did go on the cycling forums and got so involved I don’t have time to do any more tonight). Made several contributions. But first.

It was a jolly little concert. Down an alley in back of the church (there are two churches and a “Protestant temple”), suddenly there is this little square. Recently tarmacked, it obviously used to be something else. A few climbing plants and some small palms in boxes to stop people parking. In six years living in this town I have never been up that alley. So the singers, eleven of them; dressed in black and white, were facing the opening to the alley, their backs to the rear of the church. Two walls of housing on either side of them. The light was halfway up the church wall, but the rest in shade. It gets hot down here, so that welcome. The church is built of those light yellow blocks of stone that are all over the South. Different colours, sizes and varieties of shades of course. You could tell by the various beam holes and other structural irregularities in the church wall, that things had changed over the years. I looked up at the transparent blue sky, totally free of anything, but blue nevertheless. I thought that I would be lucky to live in a spot like this. And I do. Well done me! The music was pretty good. They sang a variety of songs from all over the place and all epochs. Bu they played with harmony and rhythm more than the average choir. I think they can all sing pretty well. And have a couple of leaders who probably keep things together. Really nice break.

But frankly I really had no more thoughts about the Tour stage. Nothing much on the doping front. Piepoli is sacked. So is Ricco. Team sponsor claims he is pulling out in a week. As Fignon said, it must be a very interesting contract if he can do that. Ricco has been to his hearing, stayed overnight in jail. Apparently he has never taken any epo in his life and has no idea how the sample could have showed traces of this in his blood or urine or hair or general comportment. Too bad, I liked the way he rode. No one is taking his side. Everyone is pissed off at him and his buddies, whoever they are. I am sorry he won’t be around to dynamite things. Let’s wait and see if the clean guys can do something as fascinating.

So tomorrow there is a lot of climbing, but mainly up two hills they have never used in the Tour. Brand new. The first one looks like a huge long climb up and a huge long descent down. Just a triangle in the profile of the course. They have an unrolling Google type map of the stage on the box, and it looks just like a big old hill. Summit is at 58k and they start climbing about 15k into the stage. So it’s up a mountain (16k ay 4%) as soon as they start, then down a long descent, in fact what looks like an extremely long descent, longer than the climb. I have no real idea how technical or well paved this descent is. Things could happen there. Then there is a fairly level 50k or so. Then the last climb is up the Prato Nervosa, which is new (11k at 7.1%). That is not easy at all. So for want of something more to write, I shall make a bold detailed prediction of the events tomorrow.

Anyone who is into the mountains jersey will have to try and get a few points at the top of this hill. The GC guys can let no one get more than a minute ahead, if they are within five minutes of the yellow jersey. So precisely how Bernard Kohl or L Sanchez or whoever else wants the jersey will get their points, I can’t say. Maybe a wee sortie from the medium sized peloton who will go up as slowly as they can get away with, given the condition so the course. The usual “medium” riders are going to be too tired to try much in the way of escapes. Anyway, you have to be able to climb, it is big hill. The French will hope that Monfort or Chavanel or someone French will make a break. On the last climb, someone(s) who is serious about taking the jersey from Cadel will attack. I am presuming the top fifteen on the GC will arrive together at the foot of the last climb. Anyone who is not there will lose all hope of the yellow jersey. Sooo… I am a bit embarrassed, since I really don’t know what will happen and to continue to write this is a bit silly. I don’t know the composition of the small group that will try to get over the first climb ahead. Nearly all the GC guys will go over together. There will be at least fifty or sixty riders dropped on the slopes of the first climb. Maybe more. Then we have to see if there is some strategic move made between the top of the climb and the bottom of the last climb. CSC making a big time trial move would be an example. That ride by Cancellara and Voigt was a pretty exciting move the other day. Not likely to be any wind effect apparently. The winner of the stage will be either one of the GC guys slightly ahead of the rest, or some excellent climber who attacks near the bottom of the climb and no one follows because he is way down on the GC. I reckon it will be one of the top ten who wins. Another scenario is that there are repeated attacks at the bottom by guys like A Schleck, Cunego, Di Gregorio, Monfort, Pereiro, Kreuziger or others. Most of them can be let go. After all, Evans cannot control every attack. It will be up to others to do so.

This is the time in the tour when there is no point in saving teammates. So all the members of Silence, CSC, Columbia, Rabobank, Garmin, Liquigas, AG2R and Euskatel will be at the disposal of the strategists to do whatever they think up as a strategy. At least the members who can make it up the big hill within a minute or two of the leaders. No saving them for the next day. The Tour could be lost today and Tuesday, and for sure on Wednesday. Look very carefully as to who is leading the pack up the hill, and reflect carefully on why they are there. Then see if anything happens in the valley. The most boring strategy will be for everyone to stick together forever, until the last hill. I look for something else to make this a good stage. So I see the last climb as a series of attacks, rather than a gradual attrition and a sprint at the end. I have no idea who will break the elastic, but I reckon in the last 2k there will be only three guys who might win the stage. Then they will duke it out. Winner, Nibali, one of the Schlecks or Pereiro. Can you tell I have no idea?

Hmm, what else? Nothing. There are limits.