Thursday, 23 July 2009

Stage 18
23 July 2009

Too tired, too ill for a blog tonight. Anyway, all you can really do with a time trial is add up the figures. Wiggins was looking really good and still did well even if he lost time on the downhill second part of the course. Armstrong did well enough. Moreau seems to have found some legs this last week. Frank did as badly as one thought and Andy did much better. Looks like Andy has nailed down the second spot, which pleases me a good deal. The overall outcome is that Nibali is now out of the picture for the podium and Armstrong, F Schleck, Klöden and Wiggins are going to have to duke it out on Ventoux for the third spot. Unless something strange happens tomorrow.

Of course the most amazing performance came from Contador, beating even Cancellara. He appears to be the fastest in a TT and the fastest up a mountain. He appears to be the best stage racer on earth. Bravo. Especially the way he has been treated in the Astana team.

So we still have one big stage left. I talked to a pal who is on the Ventoux now. He says there is practically no room for cars or vans at all in the last 6k after Chalet Reynard. Says it is a big picnic festival, with cyclists streaming by all the time. More tomorrow of course. Sad to have missed it.

Going to bed early. Good night.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Stage 17
22 July 2009

Lots of racing today. Changes in the GC, which will change tomorrow after the ITT and will change again after the Ventoux on Saturday. Lots of little tragedies and joys as well. Happy bunny, me. The thing that surprised me most was Thor Hushovd doing his climbing attack, out in front of the entire peloton and the escape as well to get his points for the green jersey. I am sure he knows that, barring some accident of blunder, Cavendish will win on the Champs. Probably Thor will finish behind him or certainly within shouting distance. So it IS all locked up for Thor, even without this rather dramatic demo. In some way, I think he felt strong, needed no team support to do what he did, and felt he had to make something clear to Cavendish and all of us (“you are young and fast, but I am older, wiser, more experienced and can do many things you can never do”). He really is an excellent and complete rider. I am totally glad he has the green jersey, even if I picked Cav in the forum pool.

The Schlecks announced they wanted to mark the Tour's history today. They said they were going to attack. And they did. But exactly where everyone thought they would in exactly the way everyone thought they would. My wife claims they are boring and Germanic. I see what she means, but they nevertheless did well. No one will forget how they rode off into the mountains, and left behind everyone but Contador. It appears that no one can leave him behind. Contador gave them the stage, and between them they decided to let Frank win, the older brother. The two Laurents thought it should be Andy, Thierry Adam (the space filler) thought it would be Frank. I wanted Andy because I picked him in the forum pool, but I lost. In any case, for the next 24 hours anyway, the Schlecks look like they have succeeded. Sadly I fear that after the time trial, they will be like Nocentini in the yellow jersey. It is just a matter of time before they tumble down. Then they will have only one chance to get on the podium, Ventoux. That last hour on Ventoux should be very interesting indeed. I think we are guaranteed some racing that day. However, the Schlecks did what they said, when they said and you gotta respect them for that.

In case any of you wonder how my teams are doing in the two competitions, I would say average, or maybe slightly more than average, but not much. I made a couple of bad choices in each team and am paying for it. I will learn. Maybe.

That Astana team is pretty much dominating the whole race. Jalabert says smothering. It does not look like it now, but after the time trial it will be obvious. They seem to be able to control the race each day for long enough to let their excellent GC riders take it from there. Jalabert made a face when Holz asked him to comment on the excellent racing. While Laurent is usually pretty positive, he knows very well what has happened to this year's race. Astana is too good. On the other hand, they have the best rider on earth, Contador, ready to attack, hang in, whatever is need to win. They also have the German shadow who does nothing except be a good team mate and still manages to beat nearly everyone else. And then they have Lance. He was supposed to fail in the mountains, too old, not in good shape. Well, most teams would be utterly delighted to have their leader fail like he has. There are two guys from the same team who are temporarily ahead of him. No one except Contador can beat him. Although many hope someone will beat him. So far, they just can't do it. Holy mackerel, the guy is excellent, and old and very much NOT out of shape. Whatever happens in the Tour he can be absolutely happy and so can all his fans. He really has done well, and with only one more mountain stage to come, even if he fails badly, and there is no evidence he will, he will have made a huge success, for an old guy. I mean, all you want from a mountain guy is that he can attack and keep up. He has done both. I figure he will beat everyone but three guys in the ITT.

Sastre gave it a try today, but has not got it. Kreuziger was up there and then drifted back. Evans has never been in the picture. Menchov fell off twice and is an embarrassment. Egoi Martinez never really took on his job to win the jersey. LL Sanchez and Kim Kirchen were outsiders, and neither of them is even remotely close to the top ten. Tony Martin had a bit of glory and then fell far. Moncoutié never woke up. The Tour is full of disappointment. One minor disappointment is that the lanterne rouge, Kenny van Hummel, “one of the worst climbers in Tour history”, fell on a descent and left the race. He was supposed to be a great descender, but probably desperate to catch up after his awful climbing today. He gets dropped first of all riders, a bit like me actually. Except I can't sprint either. Too bad, apparently he was becoming a hero in Holland.

Pellizotti has done well, as has Hushovd. But neither of them was a secret. The biggest surprise continues to be Vee-geens, the Brit. Commentators are now beginning to think he might actually make the podium, a first for a British rider. Robert Millar was fourth once. I must look up some interview with Veegeens to get an impression. The only interview I saw, very short, was after the Verbier stage. He was surly and stupid sounding, but then again he had just climbed at the limit of his possibility and someone pointed a mic at him while he was sitting on the ground. I hope he sounds better later. Nibali and Vande Velde lived up to their promise even if they have not set any stages on fire, they have done really well. Goodness, there is still a Frenchman in the top ten, so we gotta say Le Mevel is a French hero.

Must get to bed, sorry for not having time for more. I am actually a bit depressed about not going to Ventoux on account of the colitis flare-up. My wife is not happy either. Total drag.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Stage 16
21 July 2009

Since very little changed on this stage I guess one might expect I thought there was no racing or that it was uninteresting. Far from it, for me. I even almost missed my nap, but managed to squeeze it in between the bottom of the descent of the first hill and the last 12k up the second hill. Not a long nap, I admit. I had no notion whatsoever what would happen, but plenty did happen. Among other things, since the descents were half the stage distance almost, we got lots and lots of shots of descents. I could watch the lines they took and when they peddled. I told my wife that if I had a descent like they have down the first hill, I would never pedal, and even the second descent I would try not to pedal. These guys are nutters. I feel quite strongly that descents were invented so you could see the countryside before you, and recover and take it easy from the ascents, which are always always difficult. But they pedal and take chances to gain time. Professionals.

High moments of the stage for me were the scenery, Lance, Igor, Franco, Amael Moinard, Tony Martin, Marc Madiot, Wiggins, Le Mevel, Voigt and did I mention it, the Mer de Glace (glacier) and the absolutely excellent shots of the mountains and valleys. My wife and I agreed that the Alps were much to pointy. We prefer rounded off mountains more, ravines and such, canyons, cliffs, but basically more rounded. But from a helicopter on the telly, just about right, I can handle that. Not often I ever go on a glacier, so at least I can remember what they look like. And that weather station or whatever on the top of Aiguille du Midi.

It really is quite a piece of architecture and building work. The Alps were awesome actually. I know there are higher mountains, but they don't have bike races through them every year. France is really such an exceptional little piece of geography, very nicely placed.

Two not so good memories of the day, were the crash of Jens Voigt and the failure of Tony Martin. The latter was expected by many, who knew he was not really meant to be a great climber, even if he deceptively won the Tour of Switzerland mountains jersey. But Cancellara won the overall, so there was something funny about that race. Anyway, now Columbia has only one thing to do in the rest of the race. Although I am sure they will be happy to be in the escape tomorrow. Their only job is to win with Cav on the Champs Elysées. The Voigt crash was way unexpected, and really quite unlucky. Looks like his tyre lost traction when he stood up on his pedals in an unstable way, just fractions of a second after his bike jiggled from uneven paving. Totally perfect timing for a disaster, fraction before or after, no crash. He happens to be one of the riders I most like, not only for his riding which is impeccable, but for his big mouth as a “cyclist” looking after cyclists. I hope nothing serious happens, but at that speed, downhill, whew. He has the best equipment on earth and is a highly skilled bike rider. But those kinds of accidents just happen at the wrong time in the wrong space. Take a close look and you can see his rear wheel bump a little and then his front wheel fold. You can see him standing up too. I think that when you stand up, the bike moves in an uneven way for just a second. Bump plus uneven road, crash. I have not mentioned Cadel Evans, but his result today was just poor. In addition, if you search long enough you can find Menchov, the winner of the Giro 2009. I cannot explain why he is doing so poorly, so utterly awful. Both Menchov and Evans seem to have given up.

Wiggins seems to be able to keep up. Two hard stages to go, so we shall see. The French commentators have no idea where to put him. My critical cycling forum, of course, thinks he is on drugs or could be. They minutely criticise that he could lose the seven kilos, supervised, over many months, and not lose power. He claims he lost the weight as fat, not as muscle, they measured it. And that he never lost power, they measured it. So he knew he could climb. We all know he can time trial on the road. He has not fallen badly. He has a team to help him out actually, not a bad one. So each day he stays in third, they all wonder who and why and how. The Schlecks must be thinking that they didn't plan on him being there.

Then there is Klöden, does anyone have him figured out? But we did lose Nocentini and Martin from the top ten. We gained Sastre and Van de Velde. So the top ten is looking pretty full of serious guys now. That is, if you assume that Armstrong would have done so well and that Wiggins would be in third and Le Mevel in seventh. We all assumed this of course.

Lance made one of the anthology moves of the Tour, so far. Really memorable. He seemingly got dropped by Schleck's attack, as did everyone in the race but four other guys. But a little bit later he made a ferocious attack, just blazing by a totally surprised Frank Schleck. The relative speed of the two was remarkable. Frank managed to tag on and get back to the yellow jersey group. And eventually several other riders tagged on too. But I doubt if any of them were as dramatic as Lance's bridging of the gap. They all came later when the Schlecks got demoralised or whatever and slowed down. They probably got depressed they could not even drop the old geezer, Lance. My wife says it was worth watching the Tour for that moment. I rather liked it too as I am impressed with how Lance has ridden this race. He is definitely doing better than I thought he would. I figured that he would get dropped in the mountains, which he has been. But in fact, only twice and not by much. If you do subtractions and addition and take out the influence of his lucky tagging onto the Columbia lot at Grand Motte, and the team time trial, he is about eighth. But you can't do that really, and he is second. Andy Schleck has only got two more stages to make a difference to get to second place, because he can never take time out of Lance, Contador, Wiggins or Klöden in the ITT. He either has to attack tomorrow and on Ventoux or give up. But once he attacked he slowed down and let Voigt take up the pace. No more Voigt for the next time. Only the two Sorensens and his brother. That really is not enough to beat Astana. He has to do something very special. I think that was a shock to Andy that Lance could get back on. It certainly was a shock to me.

Marc Madiot was featured on TV, giving an old-fashioned, brow-beating, shouting “pep talk” to his troops. I find him appalling. It is not like Francaises des Jeux has been one of the top teams, even though the sponsorship was solid for many years. It really is a middle level or poor team pro team. That kind of macho, browbeating, motivational speech by the boss is so old, it just does not work. At the very least we can say other styles work too. You look at the riders in the bus and you see that NONE of them are looking at him or at each other. They are all looking down browbeaten by this opinionated loudmouth. Never liked the guy, but it was an intimate little shot for the TV coverage.

Igor Anton got his attack in just at the exact, right, cosmic moment. Or so it looks in the replay. It was classic. Just at the end, since you can't sprint, but can ride hard, make the move. Hard, from behind. Don't look back for a couple of hundred metres at least, just dig. Sometimes it works and then the recording can be used as an example of a classic way win the stage. You have to have the legs of course. Along with that video one would show one where the rest of the escape reels him in at about 300 metres. Or that they all get swallowed up by the pack (no danger in this case). Lovely win for a very good rider and team which I have always liked, even thought they disappoint nearly every year. This year, a stage, and Amets Txurruka being quite active too. Thought Martinez might even be going for spotted jersey seriously, but he seems to out of sorts or to have given up.

Hey, “the Frenchman” is still in the top ten. They love him. Probably be very easy for him to get a contract in the next few years with a French team. Good for him. He must actually be at least pretty good. You can't stay with the best unless you can pedal up hills fast. He must be good. I have actually heard of him before, as one of the French guys who really must come good one day. Most of them don't come good or THAT good. His day has come. Christophe le Mevel is a name.

So the jerseys didn't change much. And I don't expect they will. The mountains jersey might hold some interest, but after tomorrow that should be settled. I only say that in case something happens, but Pellizotti should not let escape his grasp. I should think he will make sure he is in the break for the first few climbs and then sit back a bit and watch the fireworks when the break out on the col de Romme. Not sit back, but just go along with the warriors as far as he can. Green is sorted. White is Andy. Now we just sit back and wait for the unexpected.

L'Equipe had an article today on descenders. They asked all the DSs they could find who were the three best and three worst descenders currently active, even if not riding the Tour. Each of the twenty could select three, but not in any particular order. If anyone wants to know exactly what the choices of Gallopin or Holm or Van Poppel were they have to either find a copy of the paper or write me note. The results:

Best descenders
Hushovd 10
Cancellara and S Sanchez 6
LL Sanchez and Haussler 4
Chavanel, di Luca and Popo 3
Garzelli, Nibali, Dumoulin, LeQuatre, van Hummel, Bertolini, Eisel 2

Worst Descenders
Moncoutié 12
F. Schleck 7
Soler 6
Anton 4
Basso and Moinard 3
Di Gregorio, Kern, Smyzd 2

One last piece of info before I try to take an early night to look after myself. I will almost certainly NOT be going to Ventoux. Very upsetting, but my colitis has come back strong in the last few days and I really don't think it is wise.

And tomorrow is what everyone is calling the Queen Stage. Should be good starting with the Col Romme for sure!

Monday, 20 July 2009

Rest Day Two
20 July 2009

My heart and soul are not longer in this blog, although of course I will follow the race. I have to stop anyway when we leave for the Ventoux stage on Thursday. So I won't say anything about the time trial,the next stage and Ventoux. Maybe a little reflection when I get back. I never did buy that laptop that would allow me to work when I travel. Probably a good thing. There are going to be billions on Ventoux. I know three people personally and three more from my bike forums that are going. I am definitely going to record it and watch when I manage to get back to where I am staying.

So many things seem settled. But there is a very hard week ahead, and even without something bad happening to someone(s), there is a fair bit of racing ahead. So I am looking forward to the last week, especially the scenery. Some dramatic mountains, a nice ride through the Ardeche which should knock your socks off if you don't know it, and of course the climb to Mt Ventoux. I am still quite curious about a number of things.

Can Armstrong stay in the top ten? Will he actually help Alberto at some point?
Can Schleck escape, on stage 17 for example?
Will Wiggins keep up his special and unexpected performance?
What, in the end, will Klöden do?
How will the results of the ITT affect what happens on Ventoux?
Will Cav win on the champs?
Whatever is going to happen on Stage 16, which consists of two big hills, nothing else, and a longish downhill finish?
Will Moncoutié wakeup?
Who will win the mountains jersey?
Will there be the most people in history on Ventoux?
Will someone in the millions yet to see the tour do something really stupid? The death of the woman spectator was a reminder, if the gunshots at Freire and Dean were not enough.

What has more or less been settled is:
Contador should win.
Hushovd should win the green jersey.
Schleck should win the white jersey.
Astana is the strongest team in the race by far, even if they don't win the team prize.
Contador and Armstrong will not be on the same team next year.
There are a number of fine young riders ready to make Tour history.

Lightning, have to disconnect. Another blog cut short.

Two big hills tomorrow.

Carlos Sastre from the site. “Furthermore, while he said he's content with how he's ridden so far – he's currently 11th on the overall classification, 3:52 behind Contador – and happy with his team, the 2009 Tour de France has been lacklustre and uninspiring for him. So much so, that as he grows older, Sastre says he continues to understand less about racing today than before.
"The race has been like it is since the beginning. It still is the same fight – the rest of the riders are out [of contention to win]. It's a boring race, from outside and inside," he said.
Prodded what he means by "boring", Sastre replied: "What is boring? There's no attacks, no tactics, nothing… Just a strong team, one rider – one of the best in the world – will win the race, that's all.
"When you see the tactics on television, I don't know if you like that. Yesterday [Stage 15], it was one rider [Contador] in front, two teammates pulling behind [Klöden and Armstrong]; another rider from another team attacking [Andy Schleck], the other rider of the same team [Fränk Schleck] attacking behind him. I don't understand anything about cycling. This is my twenty-first Grand Tour, but every year I understand less about cycling.
"Maybe this is the Tour de France they [the organisers] want, and this is what you have now."”

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Stage 15
19 July 2009

So the racing action that we have been waiting for actually happened today. Most of the stage was a break which had some very interesting riders in it, but was caught at the end. A lot of other people wanted the stage win. And various teams, including Saxo and Astana turned on the speed in the first few k of the climb. It did look like a moderate climb, that is, no really steep bits, but at that speed it must have been hellish. Anyway the crucial thing is the attack of Contador, the slightly late and not terribly successful attempt of A Schleck to follow (resulting in second place) and a couple of other attacks. For example, Wiggins attacked and did good job of it. One never knows, but the French commentators are gobsmacked by Wiggins. They just have no idea how he can do the climbs and are puzzled as to what he is doing in third place.

So the racing was good, some surprises n the GC, as well as confirmation of what most already thought or knew. It is clear now that unless something very odd happens, and it does happen in the Tour, Contador will win. There might even be three Astana in the top ten or perhaps if the attackers don't get it together, in the top five. This is a superb result for that team. Although maybe people tend to play down Lance's performance, I think he is doing rather well. If he does continue to lose time on the other players, then he could drop like a stone. I am still convinced he will finish in the top ten and maybe the top five. For an old guy coming out of retirement he has done very well. I even think in interviews today he seemed to understand the word humble and admitting when you are not the best. But you can never believe him, so we wait to see. Maybe he will win everyone's heart by being a super domestique for Alberto. All this is subject to the next week's action, but it looks like the yellow jersey is taken care of.

As a result of the disqualification of Cavendish, it looks like the green jersey is over too. I have reviewed the film of the last minute, on You Tube, and I think he cut off Thor. He didn't need to, he could have just won, but he cut him off. It means that Cav won't have to do anything whatever for the next few days, no intermediate sprints, no nothing. Just wait, stay cool, take it easy up the climbs and win on the Champs. Maybe he might try something on one stage, there is a flattish one into the Ardeche on Friday. Bad day really for the Columbia guys and their strategist. No doubt their work in the last kilometres was enough to take the six seconds from Hincapie that he needed to be in yellow. The worst thing is that they totally missed the sprint points too. A bad day.

[Frankly, my heart really is not in this blog today. I am sure I will have plenty of time during the rest day to catch up. Real life is just intruding way too much]

There were others who are gave us slight surprises. Bradley Wiggins is surprising everyone. I should say something other than the British guy in me, and the surprise guy in me are both delighted. Wiggins is different than Le Mevel who also finds himself in the top ten. Le Mevel will almost certainly drift out. Wiggins might not.

I really am going to go to bed early. I will catch up tomorrow.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Stage 14
18 July 2009

So Cav is meant to win. Everyone for the GC to keep their powder dry. The route is near where my wife used to live. So she will be there all day. Will the break succeed? Off to my nap.

Le Tour de France des paradis fiscaux fait étape en Suisse

Après Monaco et Andorre, le Tour de France fera étape en Suisse dimanche 18 juillet. Attac et les associations de la Plate Forme Paradis fiscaux et judiciaires s’associent à leurs homologues suisses (Attac Suisse, Action de Carême, Action place financière suisse, Déclaration de Berne, Pain pour le prochain.) et continuent leur parcours d’information et d’action contre les Paradis fiscaux.
Attac et ses partenaires prévoient des initiatives les samedi 17 et dimanche 18 Juillet à Pontarlier, ville départ de l’étape qui amènera les coureurs à Verbier en Suisse.
Attac France,
Montreuil, le 18 juillet 2009
Pour en savoir plus :
- Les communiqués français et suisse diffusés à cette occasion :
- La rubrique dédiée à ces actions :

So Cavendish did not win. Not only did he not win, but it appears that he was relegated fro cutting off Thor Hushovd during the bunch sprint. Although it is not over until it is over, if the appeal is not upheld, that means the green jersey belongs to Hushovd. Cavendish is unlikely to pick up many points in the intermediate sprints they scatter throughout the mountain stages, although Hushovd might. And there is only one pore sprinters stage. While Cav ill probably win that one, I doubt that Hushovd will finish in tenth or whatever it would take for him to lose so many points on Cavendish. So barring the unexpected, Hushovd has won green.

Another minor bad break for someone whom I like, George Hincapie. Five seconds, just five seconds from the second day in yellow in his long career. He tried to keep everyone in the escape interested for along time. But when Ivanov made his attack, some of them gave up. So he finished as best he could, and sat by the TV waiting to see how many minutes it would take the peloton to cross the line. Toward the end, his own team rode a little bit quickly to try to ensure that Cavendish, also on his team, would get extra points from Hushovd in the sprint. Sadly, that probably took away the final five seconds. For along time Astana rode behind the break. Some say they rode slowly so the break would stay away. George being an old member of Lance's team and a good buddy. Some say if Astana had NOT ridden the peloton would have been even further behind as the only team who might have ridden hard was the team defending the yellow jersey for Nocentini, AG2R. No one will ever know. But George sure did seem at least a little bit upset when he realised he had lost it for five seconds.

A very close male friend just died. At least I just heard about it. Al. I think I might just stop the blog for tonight.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Stage 13
17 July 2009

Totally rotten weather. The giants of the road have to ride through most kinds of weather. The absolute extremes, like say hail and rain on the top of big climb, might cause a change. But generally if the temperature has plunged 10 or 15 degrees, and it is pelting down, you just request whatever garments you use in the wet, and keep riding. It seemed really cold. No one in their right mind, except dedicated fanatics of various forms of cycling, would ever want to ride in the driving rain. Those of us too poor, or with eyes too odd to get contacts, have the problem of glasses as well. It becomes a little bit like seeing through the lens of the TV camera. The droplets on your glasses exaggerate and obscure. Anyway more power to all of them, even if they get paid for it. I have got spoiled down here. If there is any rain at all, even a strong mist, no one turns up for the Sunday morning ride. If it looks like it will almost certainly rain, no one turns up. My wife says the word for wuss, weakling or wimp, in French, is “mauviette”. I turned up one Sunday when it was just a kind of wind-blown mist. No one there.

Good stage today, a bit of racing. My “nearly certain prediction” that some GC guys would do something, and as a result Nocentini would lose his jersey, was WRONG. I really liked hearing from his wife, what is she called, the first two days, but now it is tedious. I want some bleeding giant, not a “regular cyclist”. But even though absolutely nothing whatever happened in the GC, the stage was still worth a look. The slightly tragic decay of Sylvain Chavanel was a little heart tugging. He is French, but he is a very good rider. Maybe the French have got their quota for this Tour (Moncoutié, that's right, David, is he in the hotel?). Last year I could not possibly have told you a word about Heinrich Haussler. This year, he suddenly burst into my picture like powerful blue fireworks display. Two totally impressive seconds in Flanders and Milan San Remo. He was having a terrific season, and then vanished to reappear in this stage. No doubt he has been helping out Thor with the sprints, but we don't see him much on camera. His crying on the bike and off as he won is something a bit new in cycling I think. I would love to talk to some avid watcher of finishes who could say. I don't think stage winners used to cry at all. But what do I know?

Speaking of Thor he was very good today. He kept up with the very first peloton, the one with the giants in it. And at the end, he nipped out to take points for sixth, after all four escapees had been over. Cavendish made it over with the third peloton or so and got no points. Hard to beat that tactic. Finish on Cav's wheel and get points in between. As Thor went over, beaten for one point by Velits of Milram, he had a word with Velits. Velits “could have been” protecting Ciolek, his sprinter, but that is so silly as Ciolek is over a hundred points behind Cav and Thor and there are only two stages left. They guy should learn some manners and respect. Not a difficult stage tomorrow, so maybe the two lads (plus others?) will duke it out for the intermediate sprints as well as the expected mass finish. Or even the battle for fourth or third behind an escape.

The mountains guys will be fighting over two small hills. Today it became ever more clear who wants the jersey. Basically the three guys already mentioned. Martinez, Pellizotti and Feillu. Looks like Brice's brother leaving the Tour gave him more energy to battle, rather than less. Great for us. We see a little bit of animation in the stage, even if there really is none. It is also possible that someone like sleepy David Moncoutié could make a big break and collect big points, but not all of the three willlet him go and I don't think he is that much better than at least Franco and Egoi. Moncoutié can keep sleepoing and maybe hope for a stage win, although who knows where.

I cannot believe that Nocentini can still have the jersey. In my heart. In my mind, it makes sense. I see why Astana does not want the jersey. I see why no other rider wants to risk an attack, if they can make one. Right now Astana have the jersey, with one guy or the other. Everyone else has to do the work, Astana just ride along until the time trial, and then ride like fury up the hill. Whoever gets there first gets the jersey.. Even if Nocentini has the jersey in the last kilometre of Ventoux, surely Lance and Alberto could take 9 seconds out of Nocentini. So it is up to everyone else to attack. Like today. Although you could say the weather was pretty awful. And road made attacks dangerous. True. But these non-attacker “other guys”, given the parcours, they have to attack soon. So I try to keep being patient and talk of the stage on Sunday. That IS where Lance said his second Tour would start. I reckon he is pretty chuffed about the first bit of the Tour. Amazing really.

Shame about Levi. Never my favourite rider, but I really do not ever want anyone to go out because of a crash. If they get tired, have a recurrent injury, back or tendon say, then it does not seem either a bad or good thing. The Tour does that, picks up weaknesses. But a crash is usually out of one's control. Or a mistake. Or someone else's mistake you get caught in. It usually is not your fault and yet your Tour is over. But of course that is part of any Tour too, luck. The loss of one of the two super domestics for Astana can't help but be a blow. I don't know when, but we will see. Maybe it will just be only first, second, third or first second and fourth. Anyway, he has not put a foot wrong lately except for his careless or unlucky crash that did in his scaphoid. I think that might be the one bone that all cyclists know the name and location of.

So the stage had an impressive winner, two semi-young, semi-known guys making serious attacks, although I was never sure what for exactly after a bit. We had the tragic loser of the day. The stuff around the climbers' jersey seems quite entertaining. Not really epic in any way, but entertaining. I want Pellizotti to get it, as he is a real proper climber. But then Tzurruka was in a break two years ago when they came through Bédarieux. And Brice, of the name I dislike, is the young kid making his mark. This jersey could be high drama.

Bradley Wiggins' joke about Cav. Cav is not at all racist, he just doesn't like the French. I would love to have a discussion with four of my best buddies on that question. Not only a 'cyclist's analysis” but a real serious look at why a “self reflective” person can or cannot feel happy about that statement.

Holz found out that Nocentini had no idea how much money he won for being in yellow every day. He seemed sort of slightly taken aback, as if he thought he should really know. Holz then revealed that it was 300 euros. The wife and Rinaldo both chuckled. I mean there are some bits of the Tour that are so out of it, so out-dated. Can you imagine that it is worth so little? Anyway he recovered and said that money was for the team anyway, and he just didn't have anything to do with it. What chicken feed they pay for the race!

Did you see the stork's nest? Unless you watch nature programmes you don't see them often. Unless you live in the northeast. A bit German up there. Funny accents sometimes.

So a very nice stage. Action, doubt. Another worthy winner with a worthy feat in horrible weather. Good scenery. The part that always is a bit annoying is that it seems like the GC guys should be doing a little bit more than riding around in a pack. Up hills and on the flat, they just ride along in a bunch. Much as I love cycling, one of the bits I like least is a bunch of men riding around in lycra. Very slow form of spectacle. Without attacks and escapes cycle racing is nothing. But I had a decent nap. On the other hand, I still devoted myself to the Tour today, and I could have gone into a potluck in Montpellier. I was not that keen anyway and the weather was bad. I could have gone to an organ concert for free, but I would have to miss the finish. I really don't have time to do other stuff and watch the rerun. And I could be still going to a free rock concert in town if I stop writing, proofread later, and never look at my forums. If there is any stage that deserves that, certain this one might. I guess I am not really able to devote myself “solely” to the Tour any more. Maybe I never have.

I am a guy who can enjoy and appreciate from afar, but knows very well that only a three week immersion will bring “true knowledge”. Nearly everyone says this. That “being on the Tour” itself is a wonderful experience, and nothing you can ever imagine. The experience rises way above “the race”. I think until maybe fifteen years ago, and not really until a few years ago, you could not watch the full Euro coverage anywhere on earth. Now you can, with choice of language, for free on your computer. Obsession should be more possible, not less. Read the papers every day on the web. Although I noticed that the electronic version of l'Equipe does not have very long stories, and certainly not any of the little stories or columns that I love to read and have failed to pass on systematically to you all. I think until recently you really had to come to France to “get” the Tour. I think you still do, although you don't quite have to live in France all the time. You can come every few years.

I predict nothing about tomorrow, other than Cavendish will win the sprint. Although I bet he is very tired, as are his lead-out guys. He just has to win this one sprint and then ride within the limits until Paris. I also note that Brice has made it into the top twenty. Might not be impressive for some, but with a few serious climbs to come, he can't but move up a bit. I reckon fishing in the top twenty and winning a stage would be a good deal higher than he will have been dreaming about. Nice young man too, perhaps. Seems clean. Be nice if he is the real thing. The French are really hurting a bit for the real thing.

Must get to bed. My English cycling pal, who is leaving for three months, chose a ride up a steep hill and I am a bit tired tonight.

Vive le vélo.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Stage 12
16 July 2009

The commentators said the racing begins tomorrow. Lance said the second part of the Tour begins tomorrow and for sure on Sunday. I am hoping the racing will begin tomorrow, I think everyone is agreed. Meanwhile, we had a stage that unrolled much as nearly everyone thought it would. There was “the successful escape”, and it ended up having two of the mountains jersey chasers. So they gobbled up the various points along the way, and maybe, I am only suggesting, wasted themselves a little bit in terms of the stage tomorrow. In any case neither Pellizotti or Martinez won the stage. I guess most stage winners are welcomed by all, unless they wheelsucked or did some awfully bad mannered thing. In this case, the winner was a pretty decent “movie” choice for the winner. Nikki Sorensen, in his seventh Tour, attacked once to get rid of everyone but Calzati, the French Agritubel rider. Sorensen went from 20k out or something, and then with a few k left, he got rid of Calzati with another strong attack. Bingo, gone.

I must say that if I were to pick a small moment of the “Tour Spectacle” to put in a short edited selection, I would definitely include the moment when Sorensen attacked from behind Calzati. Calzati stood up to respond, took the first two pedal strokes and sat down. Even on TV, he was looking slightly weaker, no doubt it was even more obvious to Sorensen. Legs just not there. I have never been a boy racer as such, but I know well what it is like to look for “a little bit extra” and find you forgot to put it on the list, and “you have no extra” in the cupboard at that moment. Must be awful for a professional really, just that moment, until you accept it, that there is “no stage win in the Tour for me” today. Even if you had doubts anyway. Fortunately, Calzati already won one, years ago. And for the loyal, strong, reliable, 34 year old Dane, it was a just reward for the high class skilled worker. Bravo. Of course we have to say that by all criteria one could invent, he was the right guy for today. Unless you are French, then of course Calzati was the obvious choice.

While the guys up front were providing us with moderately exciting, certainly “interesting” racing, the higher paid guys in the back “kept their powder dry”. I guess everyone knew they would, so that is the end of that story.

There was also a kind of truncated, abridged bunch sprint today. Actually it was not really “a sprint”, take a look at the top ten on the stage. More like Cav trying to make sure Thor does not get points on him. The team's (and Cav's) plan for the Tour has officially changed, he said that today on the box. He is still trying “to win every stage he can”, which is two more, including the Champs. He has mentioned winning of the champs a few times, I think he has the taste in his mouth. But NOW, as things turned out, he is also trying to win the Green Jersey. This is the new “out front goal”, even if it was always a strong possibility. So there could be several days in the near future where we MIGHT see whether wily old Thor, who can climb a bit when pressed, will manage to be second to Cav in both sprinter stages, meanwhile picking up some points during the mountain stages at the intermediate sprints. So what will Cav and his team-mates do? Maybe in some mountain stage they will all time trial up the first hill, the whole team together, and then lead out Cav for the intermediate sprints. That would be gross, maybe just one or two in the lead-out. That would be good. Anyway that is a small storyline in the mountains, whereas the feuilleton of the climbers' jersey will begin tomorrow in earnest. No more trailers.

I would like the climbers' jersey competition to burst into life. It would appear that until someone like Moncoutié (Hey, Dave, wake up, smell the Tour de France) makes a big Virenque/Jalabert style long range dramatic attack (chevauchée), there are currently three contenders. Egoi and Franco were in the break. It was clear that although Egoi has the jersey, Franco wants it. Lurking in the background is the young Feillu. I figure that his brother dropping out will have a big effect. It will either help him try harder “for his brother”. Or maybe he might be missing him so much and feeling so bad for him, that he just does not have the morale to take on the two or three other guys every day. Hard to tell with young Brice, no one really knows what he can do. Allez David!

One thing we can say, with certainty, is that if there is going to be any interesting activity in the mountains it will be this last week. That could be precisely how the ASO guys planned it. One big climax racing-wise and the rest of the time we enjoy “The Tour de France Show”. As a show, it has been pretty good. Even as a race it has not been THAT bad as a whole. The stages, treated as a one day races, have been OK. All the jerseys are uncertain, even if most see Contador as the winner. We still have the “Cav hates the French” gossip to see out. “Will Astana implode?” is a long running story. Who will be riding with whom next year is a question that often is discussed at the Tour. People make deals there. So my wife said that Lance talked to Cancellara a long time today, while I was napping. And Hincapie. And Brice Feillu (no idea what language though). What was he chatting about? Anyway no doubt there could be much speculation about the exact composition of various old and new teams in 2010. Don't forget the Vino/Astana story which will pop up just near the end of the Tour. Remember that Cav and Hincapie were both on Lance's video the other day.

Oh, quelle surprise, I have mentioned Lance again. Now , more than during the last four days, he becomes the big focus again. Absolutely astounding, his comeback, no matter what the result. For my taste, if he wins, it would be way too tacky, too plastic and awful. Although it might go down in one swallow in the USA. That is where his life is. They don't mind stuff that is soooo “Hollywood”. They invented Hollywood. I think a better ending would be for Lance to exhaust himself “in the service of Contador”, so much so that he cannot beat him up Ventoux. He would then be a both heroic and tragic figure. So third, behind Contador and someone else, maybe Schleck or Sastre or Wiggins. Yeah, Wiggins would be good, an even better story, although mostly “cycling”, not “Hollywood”. I shall speculate more on the perfect ending for “my Tour”. So far, Contador first, Schleck second and Armstrong third or maybe fourth would be perfect. Yes, fourth. Just off the podium, but entirely respectable for a comeback, especially if he helps his leader. Sadly I have no idea who is going to beat him and where, except Contador.

Its like a moving little village, the Tour. So many stories. One reason I would like to be “an accredited press person” on it is to find out what is going on in the lives of the publicity caravan people, where they stay, who gets off with whom, what they do the rest of the year, why they do the Tour?

I was a bit upset today. For many years, I have thought that the many inventive, folksy, agricultural displays constructed throughout the Tour route were spontaneous outbursts of rural pride, done to get somewhere that is nowhere on the box for a moment. Like the lingering heli shot showing us a huge bike, made out of traffic cones, one of today's examples. They really are rather cool actually, in a rural sort of way. It turns out that the biggest farmers' union (yes, the French have them), has a contest. Some kind of prize for the best display. This are the farmers' union for “the big farmers”, about 75% of the farming business are members. So it has been bureaucratised and organised. Still. The other Farmers union, the Confederation Paysanne, for the small farmer, has only grown up in the last two decades. It does more “direct action”. I like them best. I suspect they could and would construct something designed to attract a few minutes of TV coverage. Have not seen it yet this year. In any case there IS plenty of folk art that appears, and I love it. Not deep love, but entertainment love.

It pleases me that Nocentini will not have the yellow jersey tomorrow night. His team is not THAT interesting (although Fignon likes the jerseys), his interview behaviour is really quite slow and not very bright or creative or interesting. Working in France for two years, his French could be better. He also is not even as bright as Cavendish, although I don't hold that against either of them, they are cyclists, not orators or scholars. I just want someone else to have the jersey. It's gone on long enough.

It will almost absolutely certainly without doubt be on someone else's shoulders tomorrow. Presumably Contador, but maybe not. Would Lance attack him just to get the jersey? You bet he would. “Just protecting it for the team until the top of Ventoux”, he might say. No one really wants it yet, they just want it at the top of Ventoux after the time trial. Unlike the racing, in the upcoming time trial you really can't mess about. They just add one time to another, and the yellow jersey comes out. But in a road race, it is more how you ride the race against the other guys, although time matters too. A huge long attack all day that gains twenty seconds is heroic, but not effective.

There are some climbs tomorrow that they are really hyping on the box. I notice there are two first category and a second. Pretty good for this Tour so far, but not really what you would call “real mountains”. Downhill finish too. But maybe enough to make something happen. For example, we have the “notorious and under-rated” Col de Platzerwasel, maybe to be remembered in future as where something happened in 2009. On the other hand, it might turnout to be a fairly hard col that the Astana or or Saxo team(s) march everyone up and down. The nice thing is that even if we suspect that long march might happen, we live in hope, and the hills ARE there. Allez Andy! Allez David! Allez Cadel! Allez bloody Menchov! Actually if Denis has any kind of form at all, and he has been keeping up lately, then he could make a move. Why not, he has nothing to lose and in one big attack he could get into the top ten, easily. Would Astana chase? Allez anyone.

Good night.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Stage 11
15 July 2009

I meant to see more than an hour of the race today, after I woke up from my nap. In fact, I dropped off again, and only saw about 45 minutes. The idea was clear though. There was an escape, but it looked like they were doomed. There are only two more obvious sprint stages and everyone wanted to beat Cavendish. In fact, I figured that since it was slightly uphill, Cav would get beaten by Freire or Hushovd. I picked Hushovd (motivation). But it turned out that Tyler Farrar, the USA sprinter for Garmin, fished second to Cav. Then the sprinter for FDJ, Hutarovich. Then the two I thought might beat Cav. The countryside was kind of sparsely populated, but the little crowds in the villages were very enthusiastic. Probably came from miles around. One day I would like to live (for a couple of months only) in a village in the area covered by the last two and next stage. Get a feel for what happens or does not there. Some of the villages did not have cafés though, not the ones for me.

So the rumours and stories are starting to surface about Cavendish. Two mainly. The first is that when he was in the grupetto (the non-climbers group in the mountains) a few days ago, Boonen took his turn at the front, but Cav did not. So Cav is a prima dona, not being “equal” like the others. I have no idea what actually happened. Cav misunderstood the question when it was asked at the end of the stage and answered another one. He had no translating earpiece at that time. He apparently understands simple French. Surprised me. He did understand all the easy questions. I expect he had a team mate or two with him who took pulls, but he didn't say. Don't know what is technically correct and sportsmanlike for the best sprinter to do when he is in the grupetto. Is he supposed to pretend he is like some medium sprinter or heavy legged guy from an average French team? Does he get a little bit of time off if he has team-mates that pull? Or is he menat to be just another guy in the grupetto?

Anyway the other thing he apparently said, and is published in l'Equipe is “Fucking Frenchies! (Putain de Français). This was in the context of waiting for the plane at Tarbes, apparently not exactly on schedule. “Un putain de Pays! Toujours la merde!” (this was not translated in the article, but I figure it means “Fucking country. Always shit.” Apparently the anonymous witnesses said, “Cavendish is racist, he is anti-French ...he ought to watch out what he says. One is not going to let this go forever.” This subject interests me, as I have myself, many times, said exactly what he said. Yet I don't think I am a racist, I just am not totally fond of all the French people that surround me. In fact, particular ones are annoying often. I also have said the same about the English/British immigrants in other contexts, although not about any other group. Am I a racist? I don't even know if he said what this person said he said, but I can easily imagine he and thousands of others did. Like Michael Phelps being in a party where some jerk with a camera got of shot of Phelps taking a toke. Cav might have just made a dumb move. I am keen to see how my forums discuss this, as it was the big story on the after Tour show. Cav did not respond directly to all this, but he did respond. He said he never said it, that he loves France and the Tour, and is learning French, and generally is happy to race here. I thought this was an honest answer, but was struck again by what appears to be a lack of high quality media coaching for Mark (by his team or by British Cycling). I am often struck that he comes across as a not very bright guy. I mean the guy is going to do TDF and other interviews forty times a year, he should be coached. Suppose you asked Cav is he was the fastest in the peloton. He would say “I am really happy about the victory. It was team effort, they just deliver me to 200 metres from the line and I finish it off. I have to finish it off, for my team, that is what I am paid for. I have the finest lead-out team in the world. No one can touch them, and they just take me to the end. I want to win as many stages as I can. I try win any stage that is possible. I don't care about the green jersey I just want to win stages and if the jersey comes, so be it.” Maybe later I will make an alternative answer.

“Well I was fortunate today to be delivered right to the line by my excellent team. We have been lucky this year. As for being the fastest, Pettachi beat me in the Giro, McEwen is not here. Benatti is not in good form. Tyler Farrar is ready to take advantage of any mistake and Freire is always ready to beat me. Boonen has a pretty hard time at present. Hushovd might even take the green jersey in Paris. And when they are not there, there are other sprinters including some good French ones, Mondory for example. Or guys like Hutarovich, on a French team. I have also seen up and coming riders like Haddou. There is always a lot of competition from good sprinters. But I think if I don't make a mistake, and my team does not make a mistake, I always have a chance to do well, but not always to win. This year I am doing well, and I am happy. I love the Tour de France and want to come back every year, until I am too old to sprint. While other victories are important, like Milan San Remo, the Tour de France would be the highlight of any year I ride.” That is my version, which he could also say.

I always forget that Cadel Evans is a big Tibet supporter. See this article for some very personalised bikes, including his, in the Tibetan colours, even though his team has another livery altogether. In the old days everyone on the team had the same bike colours. No exceptions. Even if they had a distinctive jersey. In recent years, it slowly has changed so that any big hitter can have a bike any colour they want. Yellow jersey guys get special bikes made, in yellow. Obviously the world champion can use the rainbow and not the others, but look at these bikes.
I won't duplicate the commentary. Changes!

Big blow for Saxo to lose Arvesen. He is a powerhouse on the flat and up most of any mountain. He is very important to the chances of success for Andy Schleck. I felt bad, not merely because Schleck is on my teams and I want to him to DO something, but also because it slightly reduced the strategic options for Riis and the Saxo lads. They were one of my big hopes to actually attack somewhere, sometime. Before Ventoux. Sorry to see him go.

I found these little towns where the Tour started and ended kind of intriguing. I really would love to know why exactly they applied to the Tour. I saw that the mayor of one of them is the President of the French Association of Mayors. So although both towns had 2,000 or so people in them, this mayor clearly is an ambitious person. They did get a fair bit of publicity, nice château in the finish town, St Fargeau. I would love to know about that whole decision process in detail. There must be several committee meetings where the general outline and philosophy of the Tour 2010, for example, is established. Already there are constraints and contracts signed for Paris, and for the start town. How many attend the meetings? Who? Then they get out the bag full of requests from towns all over France, hundreds of them apparently. They throw out (with a polite letter) all the ones in the North and Brittany, this year anyway. The question was how do they “cover” France when they start in Monaco. Always tough. Starting in that part of the far bottom right of France, poses problems unless you send them up the Alps in the first few days. Monaco will have paid a huge amount of money, not the standard fee. Gradually the route emerges. At some point, someone thought, hey, how about Ventoux for the day before the end? Makes it big suspense for three weeks. Not too hard racing for two weeks, and then whack em with a week they will never forget! We haven't had a TTT for years, let's put one in. Then the speculation, wouldn't it be good if they left the Pyrenées without huge gaps. And so on. Sorting through the towns, until probably it looked like it was between St Fargeau and some other little place no one has heard of, to end the stage headed for the Vosges and Alps. Lobby, connections, phone calls, and we have the route for today. I really would love to be in on the discussions. Do they all have laptops? Do they use the same map of France, and stand around tracing patterns? And the talk must be worth a book. I would be the one to write it.

I noticed that Pellizotti is interested in the mountains jersey. So he either has to make a big, one day attack across lots of hills, or else make sure he is in every mountain break. We might see a bit of him in the next few days. I like him, so I am glad. In fact, we might see a lot of the Martinez, Feillu, Pellizotti trio all of whom are interesting riders and appear to want to win the jersey. Maybe. On the other hand, none of them have many points, and if Moncoutié woke up and realised he was in the Tour, maybe he would to the deed and leap over “the many hills” to win the points and the jersey. The other day, his manager said on TV that he was a hard guy to get going. Great when he did, but most of the time he has not been that visible in “the mountains” this year. Could be the fault of the route though.

Just small word on the rally spectacular chateaux we keep seeing. I really love that bit of the Tour. I myself am a bit like Fignon, who started teasing Jean-Paul Olivier today, like they do. “Yes, another chateau. Once you have seen one chateau …” I tend to agree, but they ARE spectacular and I wish I had the urge to see and go through them all. For me, once a year from the helicopter is exactly the dose I need. But it IS a great thing, as I would never just watch a show on TV about chateaux. So as a titbit during the Tour, it is great. And J-P Olivier reads from his press book what they are, and adds a few bits of his own. Fignon kids him, asks him a question, and they carry on with the show.

That is about it for today. We still don't know who will be serious about the mountains jersey in the next few days. The yellow is in paralysis, therefore the white. Cav took back the green jersey because Thor only finished fifth today. What is notable is that at this point, and no doubt continuing tomorrow, the points jersey top ten looks exactly like the sprinters have been winning in the Tour. Which they have. My vague hope is that as the Tour goes into the last week, a few climbers will infiltrate the top ten in the points jersey. Maybe three, then things will be “correct”. Tomorrow should be much the same. Or not. And then there is a stage on Friday which the commentators have been talking up because it has some hills. Including the notorious Col de Platzerwasel. I hope one or two of them test the Astana lads. Although maybe not successfully. I hope someone does something on Friday in terms of racing. But with the “Astana team dramas”, the “Cav is a racist” dramas, it is clear that no matter what, the spectacle will find its stories.

Oh yes, I wrote my bit about the peloton looking rather odd, “disorganised”, not clear what was happening, when I first woke up from my nap yesterday. I realised later that I had just missed the news that this was their idea of a protest. Ride slowly to no apparent purpose, along with the escape, make an implicit deal so no one would ride that fast, wait to the end, do everything right for the last 20k. That's what I saw, a “go-slow protest” about the earpieces. I am against earpieces. Probably. Maybe one wireless one they can pass around the team. I am for anything that increases uncertainty, as escape getting away and costly mistakes that upset the standings.

Good night.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Stage 10
14 July 2005

A Frenchman should win today if the world were right. But I am hoping Cavendish will win. An escape or a sprint, that is the only question today, as well as what IS this countryside like. Who lives there. Is it pretty?

It is now 10 hours later, and after a long lunch outside with the cycling club members and spouses, a very nice couscous in fact, we got back to watch a bit of the stage. We missed what looked like the interesting countryside around Limoges, so we only got that last, rather boring bit of flat before the finish. No temptation to visit or live there at all. It was a good social event, typical 14th July kind of thing. There were even some people other than Camille and my wife and I who spoke English, so a bit of linguistic variety set in. We really missed the bit of countryside that we wanted to see. The racing was exceedingly predictable, in fact, I even predicted the winner. As did most of “critical cycling forum”. To pick Cavendish in a sprint finish this year is a no-brainer. No one could have predicted the exact members of the escape, although everyone knew there would be one. As is appropriate for the day, there were three Frenchman in it and the “lazy Russian”. Apparently, according to all the French commentators, he did not do enough work. Until the end where he pitched in. Imagine what they would have said if it had a been a lone Frenchman against three Italians. They would have said, of course the French guy did no work, the Italians would just gang up on him at the finish so he should save himself to fight their unfair tactics. Anyway, they got caught, nearly all commentators thinking the escape would fail. And in the sprint the Columbia guys controlled it all and Cavendish beat them all. Prediction. Thor will win the stage tomorrow.

I should say that I didn't notice any difference without the earpieces, and Prudhomme was interviewed after. He simply said this was not a test, there was no test, nothing happened, there was no test. I agree with him. No conclusions can be drawn at all.

The chase was rather odd during the time I was watching. For many kilometres it was such a mix of team I had no idea what was going on. Sorry I didn't watch earlier to see what led to all that. There must have been six different teams (except Astana) riding when I was watching. One or two from each team. Sometimes it appeared almost random. I noticed a few Quick Step lads riding and thought maybe Boonen was back in form, feeling better about himself and his life. But when the crunch came he was not even present, in fact fished with the careless group that lost 15 seconds. Very sad that. I had my usual sympathy for the escapees though, and had the idea that since the peloton was “disorganised”, the escape would stay away. Then they got organised and bingo, just a couple of k from the end, they got eaten up.

I noticed in the paper that during the press conference given by Contador, with fourteen mikes in front of him that I could count, he was wearing a usual baseball cap. NOT an Astana one. Unless I can find a picture, it can only be described as a white hat with, on the front where the logo is, a hand making the smoking-gun movement, a bit his trademark. In other words, he was not wearing, like every other rider on earth, the hat of the team/sponsor, but his own. He is famous for making this gesture. I don't really know what to make of it, but it ain't good for extinguishing strong rumours about tensions or conflicts within the team. Maybe it might important.

I also noticed for the first time that not only has the “six-pack style” of graphic on the Columbia jersey disappeared and been replace by the new sponsor, HTC, but they have also added little bits of green on the jersey. Cavendish better come through.

The only other thing of interest I noted was that Benoit Vaugrenard, the FDJ rider who was in the break today, a very good rider, gave back the wrappers for his power bars and such to the driver of the FDJ car when he came to discuss matters. I have heard of several other riders who are trying to stop littering the coutnryside with their wrappings, a drop in the ocean, but a good drop nevertheless. I never think that throwing the water bottles is a big deal, since only those thrown in the most isolated areas will not get harvested by eager fans picking up souvenirs.

I am desperately searching for a few more things to say. Astana has a deep quarrel and conflict. The gaps between the contending, top riders are really small, and everything is yet to play for. Astana has an incredibly strong team, I wonder if anyone has ever had four riders as good as theirs in the same year. The next two stages should be won by a sprinter although maybe a break will stay away. The action starts a bit later, maybe Friday and certainly toward the end on Sunday. Lance is having a VERY good Tour so far, but there has not been much racing,so we still don't know. Plenty of riders have been criticize of the race, which leaves no where for climbers to attack and give immense weight to strong teams who can time trial. Until then the Tour should be peaceful and restful, and maybe another French guy might get away. I hope all the riders get across this bit of France safely. The racing should begin in earnest soon.

I have mostly overcome my disappointment that they have saved everything for the last few days. Although I wish they had not done that with the Pyrenées. I really think it was a shameful waste of mountains. I think the top ten has still not changed for four days, but I have not looked. I heard that Wiggins got caught in a break in the finishing peloton and this has cost him a few seconds, but otherwise, nothing much to report. Actually to be complete, other guys who lost the fifteen seconds were Leipheimer, Karpets, Boonen, Efemkin and Menchov. What the heck happened to Menchov? I suspect that Hushovd will nip out and take some sprint points during the stage. Cavendish claims not to be interested. We shall see. The stage, although essentially not mountainous, is actually very lumpy. Those kinds of parcours are very tiring, and perhaps someone important might be dropped at the end, depending on the weather. In Vittel itself, the weather should be fine, but they do travel a fair distance.

See you tomorrow.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Rest Day One
13 July 2009

I have decided, during the rest day, to try to re-frame the Tour this year, so I can enjoy it more. I now see that the gaps between riders are minuscule compared to other years. This means that if any of them manages to get an attack together, and there is not an Astana in sight, then they can take back substantial time. Did I say “without an Astana in sight?” I also see that they have designed it (maybe, I am re-framing) so it is a big bang type of race. That is, instead of having a bit of racing on say ten days of the twenty, where the GC riders and their teams are engaged in some kind of battle, they have chosen the parcours to make sure the race is decided at the end, the very end. So it will all explode in two days, the ITT and Ventoux. Kind of like a male orgasm. A huge climax, preceded by a fair bit of semi-interesting fumbling about. There IS light day between the ITT and Ventoux. So I have to pay more attention to the smaller events and less attention to the yellow jersey or the top ten. Although of course the young rider jersey remains as un-interesting as the yellow one. For a few days anyway, it is the stage winners and the sprinters jersey that need attention. So forget the GC, forget the young riders, forget the mountains jersey all week. Just stage winners and points jersey make any difference. There, that feels better already.

Now that I have re-framed the tour and am enjoying it immensely, I see it is a rest day. So what to write. Gossip I missed telling you during the mast few days. Circled items in l'Equipe I should be passing on. Inside news (I have none). Stories about press conferences (not til tomorrow). Summary of the race (you surely know what happened). What is coming in the near future (some flattish stages across a relatively rural bit of France, followed by “the Alps” (some unimpressed with the climbs and course in the Alps), an ITT and then Ventoux). We have some lunch guests today and before that I will spend a couple of hours in the market hanging about, so maybe I will think of something by this afternoon, unless I go to visit a friend in the borrowed car we have to replace the one that is being re-painted. I am sure I will think of something. If not, then I will have a rest day too.

An interesting article to read on the rest day. Quite perceptive for an American writer. A good example of quality sports writing.

Seems the combination of my drive to see a friend, a fellow Tour fanatic, and the fireworks tonight, the night before the Fourteenth of July, mean that I really am not going to have time to write more. I guess I will take the rest day after all.

From the national news and an interview with Contador today, I gather there either is or is not tension in the Astana camp. Since I don't believe what any of them say, I guess I think that there is. And that it will be an addition to the spectacle and the racing no matter how that plays out. I thought up, with my pal, some more scenarios that mean the Tour could be really good, in the end. That and my annual re-framing process means that I am indeed looking forward afresh to the Tour, even if we have been a bit short of GC contenders racing each other this year, except from a distance. I am sure they will decide, one two of them anyway, to take on the Astana machine and see if it cracks. In any case, I still say Contador, I just want someone to make it onto the podium besides Astana guys. Simple needs. Next few days are meant to be for either sprinters or escapees, so anything else will be a surprise. I like surprises.

I read the towns the stage passes through in the next three days. With three or four obvious exceptions, it seems it goes through the sticks. So my geographic interests are ready to come out as I just watch the countryside roll by in a part of France I don't really know. Hardly any towns I have ever heard of. Should be good and relaxing. Should be short blogs too.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Stage 9
12 July 2009

Those French rider and teams are really doing well. In recent years they haven't usually won more than three, I am sure. So if they manage another couple more of them, it should be ecstasy everywhere. B Box on the other hand, has won twice as many stage this year than in their entire history. They already have had a Good Tour. Near the end of the stage, when I could forget my annoyance and disappointment about the last three stages, the total waste of the Pyrenées in racing terms, I was really glad the escape stayed away. I always am. Didn't really care who won, although I had a thought for Pellizotti, having seen he lost fourteen minutes yesterday. He says he has started his “second Tour”. Yesterday he just felt awful, so just backed off and took it “easy”. Good to see Federigo win, although I have never had any clear idea of who he is and what he is like, in spite of the fact that I have known about him for years. He gets coverage in the paper, in the mags, and I still have no clear image of him. I think he is another “better than average French rider”, nothing more. But the two of them and the peloton gave us the double race that I enjoy so much. The race for the stage and the race for whatever is left. In this case, some points for the green jersey were up for grabs. Freire simply won, never was any doubt really. I do like it when there are two races in one. The suspense of whether the escape would stay away is always there, lingering, and so is the sequence of opinions of the commentators as they say yes, no, yes, no, depending on how fast the peloton “decides” to go and how motivated the escapees are. The other notable thing about the finish was whether A. Schleck's puncture about five k from the end, would mean he could not get back into the peloton, and therefore would lose a few more seconds when the peloton crossed the line. He had a team-mate to pace him back and made it with a minute or two to spare. Thank goodness, speaking in terms of future competition. If he lost another forty seconds, then things would look even more dismal for racing in the Alps. Anyone seen Sastre lately?

My wife's mother has stopped watching the Tour. She used to be a regular watcher, mostly for the scenery and reminders of places she has lived or visited. But she is disturbed and fed up with the aggressive male spectators, with their costumes, flags and efforts to “get on TV. Some of them have actually trained themselves not to look at the riders and cheer for them, but to look in the camera on the motorcycle and “get on TV”. Watch for it. They are NOT looking at the riders. As I get older, I think I am finding the well oiled behaviour of “young men in groups” not just bad, as I did before, but verging on the dangerous, which I always knew it was. At the Tour or anywhere. There were loads of them (and other people) at La Mongie and throughout the route actually. The Tour seems as popular as ever. The Spanish were terribly keen.

The commentators began looking forward to the stage to Colmar, where they speculate something might happen. What they mean, I think, is that the top ten has not changed one bit after “three days in the Pyrenées”. This is simply not “normal” in the French sense. It is neither something that happens regularly, nor should it happen ever. I agree. First of all Nocentini having the jersey is OK, but for how many days now. A week? Why don't real contenders have it? Bunch of chicken shits, working their cautious strategies. Not putting on any kind of show really. You think I am exaggerating, well to save you two clicks:

1 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 25:44:32   2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:00:06   3 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:00:08   4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 0:00:39   5 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:00:46   6 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:00:54   7 Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC 0:01:00   8 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Slipstream 0:01:24   9 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:49   10 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 0:01:54  

1 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 34:24:21   2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:00:06   3 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:00:08   4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 0:00:39   5 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:00:46   6 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:00:54   7 Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC 0:01:00   8 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Slipstream 0:01:24   9 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:49   10 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 0:01:54  

Actually I was a bit shocked myself, as I thought there would be a visible difference and I could do a “spot the difference” contest. But there is absolutely nothing whatsoever that changed in three days of racing, IN THE PYRENEES. Lance was a little surprised, in his TV interview. All the commentators were a little disappointed and surprised, even the rah rah positive ones. I mean, nothing changed. Nothing at all! Many people spotted this possibility before the race, and claimed the three stages would be a huge damp squib (for racing). They were, plain and simply, unbelievably, right. I still can't believe it. The blame lies with the organisers, not with Astana who simply made their plan, executed it and still are executing it. It is an effective plan, but a bit boring for spectators.

OK, some things did change. We had no idea at all who would win any stage. There could be no one on earth who could have predicted all three winners. That is a level of uncertainty that is hard to beat, and I claim that uncertainty is the essence of a good tour. But it is getting ridiculous. Someone of some reknown really should win one non-sprinting stage or another. Speaking of which, it looks like the sprinters will have a little bit of a battle, so I am pleased about that. It does appear to be a field of sprinters a little less rich and varied than it might be. I thought they would all be there, except Pettachi. Bennati? McEwen out. Maybe Boonen will come back a bit. In the giro, only TWO of the top ten in the points classification were sprinters. Interesting, eh? Freire certainly made an effort today to take advantage of the absence of Hushovd and Cavendish, due to mountain aversion. And the Caisse lads tried fairly hard to get their sprinter Rojas into a good position. But like the rest of the peloton, they just gave up. The peloton should ALWAYS catch the breakaway, it requires an explanation if they don't. Today, there were hardly any teams really interested in the break. Astana didn't really care. Columbia was visible, but seemed to not care. Caisse tried but failed. Quick Step showed no interest at all. Rabo managed to find two or three riders to make and effort to help out. But “the peloton” just didn't really care. If you look through the names of the top fifteen finishers, it is only if you know Rojas is a sprinter, and if you see Freire's name in third, that you might guess that this was a flat stage. But it was a mountain stage. Which turned into a flat stage. But in which many sprinters were not present. Bad idea altogether, what a waste of the Tourmalet.

The top ten in the points jersey should have lots more sprinters in it. Strange. And if the lesser sprinters don't score some points soon, they are not going to make the top ten. They will be pushed out by the mountain winners. Right now the green jersey looks a walk for either Cavendish or Hushovd, but many things can happen in a Tour.

As for the spotted jersey, it is pretty clear that no one is making it their principal goal yet. So the competition is so open that many riders (and their DSs) suddenly realise that with a bit of effort they might grab the jersey. I think it has changed more than any jersey, they just keep passing it on. I think Pellizotti has now got it in his mind that he could do it. Since he is totally out of the GC, he can easily get it by pacing his two Liquigas GC guys, and nipping out to score a few points at the top. The only rider that might beat him, as Pellizotti is a real climber, is one that makes a huge long break over the hills, in the Alps, without any other mountain contender hanging on. Until that guy rides, it looks like it is between Feillu, who tried a little bit today, Pellizotti and Martinez, all good climbers. I thought Moncoutié would have a go, but I guess have to wait and see.

Young rider jersey, we still know nothing much. GC changes not one iota, the young rider's jersey changes in the same way. So nothing to report, except that nothing is happening.

The commentators seem to have invented a word today, escamontagne. The word escamoter, in French means to conjure away, to skip, to evade. The guys on France TV all seem to think that the mountains, the bleeding Pyrenées, have just been made to vanish. I know that things have changed, and that the riders had to ride through the mountains at a speed none of us could match. The poor sprinters and lesser riders! Their bodies are getting more tired, and that some of them crashed. It is complete nonsense, or at least unpardonably simplified, to say “nothing happened” for three days. But they did it, they rode through the high mountains and made them “disappear”, without affecting anything clearly visible. I don't like that in any way, except as something exceedingly surprising. Responsibility for this has to go with the organisers, they constructed a boring route for racing in the Pyrenées. On the other hand, being an eternal optimist I am going to try and be patient. Sometimes strange things happen in “transition stages”, and we still have the Alps, the ITT and the Ventoux. I certainly hope that the mobile phones of the Garmin, Cervelo, Saxo and Liquigas team directors are going to be busy. Make some alliances! Do some deals! Meet in an obscure bar or perhaps in hotel rooms. Find a way to crack the Astana stranglehold.

The descent from the Col de Tourmalet was pretty to watch. Not all that difficult it would appear, led by Lance, who went slowly and cautiously, say the commentators. I was a bit worried when Federigo could not get his jersey zipped up. That is the difference between a cheap jersey and a good one, one difference anyway. The quality of the zipper and how easy it is to zip up and zip down. Cheap zips are little and don't catch easily. Expensive ones are bigger and smoother in action. Bbox might have cheap ones, but you would not think so would you. Nalini, meant to be good.

I stayed in front of the box from the beginning today. Since I have actually ridden the two cols I wanted to see them again. There is a hotel I try to spot and never do, at St. Marie, where I met a good friend. So I watched, and after it became clear that nothing was going to happen, I took a nap after the descent from Tourmalet. When I woke up, the Caisse team were riding like fury in the front. No sign of anyone else doing much. Maybe one or two Rabos, but I realised they were riding for Freire. What were the Caisse doing? I like puzzles like that in a stage race. Sat trying to think about it for at least several minutes. I just really didn't know anything much about “the sprinter” of Caisse, Rojas. Even looking him up didn't help. He has won one race in the last two years, and that was against not a single sprinter I have heard of. Loads of placings, loads. So realised that Caisse thought with most of the sprinters gone, they could do it. The fact is that no one much helped them and they got tired. More power to Perrick and Franco, they were as strong as an entire team. Glad I took my nap, my wife says I missed nothing except a sign saying “Lance, yes you can”. There was also a chat about Anne-Marie Chausson, the BMX champion, who is a doctor and watches the Tour on a corner of her screen between patients. By the way, both the two escapees and the peloton were riding at 60kph during the last fifteen k or so. I have never ridden at more than 50kph on the flat. I get too scared in a group. Probably can't even do it on my own, except with a strong tailwind. I won't tell you the story of NOT riding at over fifty with a tailwind of 140kph on the Larzac Plateau. Except that I was totally sacred.

I really don't want to get into the Astana conflicts here. But that conflict might turn out to be the most interesting story of the Tour. Not the actual racing, but whether the Astana team will work well or not. It is crystal clear that Lance and Alberto will not be on the same team next year. Lance indicated on TV today that he would probably be back for another Tour. Not that I believe anything he says will happen, as he says it will. I am not saying he lies, just that he says many things that don't happen. On the other hand, he has had a totally excellent Tour, certainly because his team is good, but nevertheless. Sure, all the focus on Lance is getting up my nose. But he speaks with his legs and he is in third place after the Pyrenées. Actually, as they say, in second place by two seconds. Not bad. In fact, totally brilliant. My prediction that he would end up in the top ten maybe, and possibly the top five or podium looks safe. He came across really well on the TV interview by Gerard Holz and Laurent Fignon. No one mentioned drugs much, except that Lance got a chance to say he had been controlled 41 times since he announced his return. He keeps saying this stuff and no one believes him. He was going to post the results, but never did post them all.

I think that will do for today. I know that I have not given you much gossip from the papers and such, the little titbits I like so much. I just don't have the discipline, or the time. Maybe during the rest day, I will just fill the blog with photos and titbits.

One thing that is positive, and is very rare in the Tour. We have done the first week, the first mountains and the two time trials; and the difference between first and sixteenth is less than three minutes. That is not all THAT much, and without knowing about the Astana Four, that would normally mean that many riders are in with a chance. I sometimes forget that.

Do look at this blog, I like it.


Saturday, 11 July 2009

Stage 8
11 July 2009

I had to do some errands after the race ended, I have something to do tonight (optional) … it is now two hours after I wrote that, remembered what it was I was meant to attend, darted out to my meeting (late), then made a quick supper and sat down to write. It is clear that to really take this seriously, I would have to leave home with a laptop. There is always someone to see and something to do when you stay at home. Combined with my lack of discipline, of course.

The meeting I can hardly tell you about, although it was rich in anecdotes. It was a kind of emergency, but not binding, meeting of the cyclo club given that the president has resigned. One guy wants to bring the club in to the 21st century, and the others are quite happy that it rests in the 20th. Some want to do loads of things, and others are really quite happy with “The Sunday Ride”, plus one or two events. The discussion was fascinating, but way too complex to report on here. But it is cycling at the grass roots. You don't get more grass roots than our club.

Not a whole lot happened today in terms of racing. There was a break, it stayed away and Luis Leon Sanchez, (NOT the current Olympic champion, Samuel Sanchez, who is not riding the Tour) took the stage win. He is a youngish guy, but unlike some of the other “young guys” he has won quite a few races, including the last Paris-Nice. Maybe he is leader of Caisse, replacing Valverde. He was having a mediocre Tour. He was no doubt the “right one” to win the stage, although at the end, with four guys, you can't tell. Sandy Casar got his fifth second place in the Tour. The French commentators think that is a shame and very sad and unjust. But the truth is that he is the kind of guy who will (nearly) always have someone in the break stronger than he is. He is about where he should be. High level, but not the best. LL is on “my team”, so I am happy.

Speaking of my teams, they are doing average or a bit worse at the moment. I am getting beaten by a lot of people who had Cancellara on their teams. And who picked some other riders better too. I am 13 out of 21 on our “cycle forum sub league”, and 629 out of 1015 in the entire game. Mediocre. I have hopes that I might do better, but some of my picks are not doing me much good so far. Schleck, Kreuziger, Haussler, Vande Velde and Tony Martin have not been scoring me many points. If they don't have a better Tour soon, I am in trouble. My other team is in a badly run game, where, for example, they failed to score the Giro, for which I had built a totally focussed team. No idea how well I might have done. Not so many people in this one, but a few from the forum. I am in the top ten but there are not more than fifty people playing. Enough of that. If you are curious who I picked, then write me, I won't mention it too much.

The Polka Dot jersey changed backs today. It is now on the back of a French climber called Christophe Kern. He is 28, not at all young, and should be in his prime. In fact, I have never heard of him, which means that he probably does not win anything but small French races. Actually I just looked him up and he has won several time trials, so I am not sure how he is a “climber”. He just picked up enough points to make himself the “best climber”. So far, no one has used the “cross many peaks in a day” strategy, except by accident. Unless of course Casar was trying this today, and failed. More visibility for non- GC cyclists. I hope this does not go on forever, or I am going to find it annoying that the “better known ones” don't win stages or jerseys, only the lesser known ones and the sprinters. The lesser known ones are the ones doing the racing. By the way, I have found no clues whatever as to who has a real and persistent desire to take this jersey into Paris. Maybe no one does. Two stages in the mountains and we still have no idea.

Thor Hushovd made a good move, nipped ahead, since he can climb a bit, and snatched the extra points for the green jersey. These intermediate sprints are how you normally win the jersey in a close race. Cavendish is trying the more direct method which is to win every “sprinter's stage”. They do say the boy is tired. Maybe there will be more than a cakewalk for this jersey.

The white jersey usually ends up being one guy way ahead. Maybe this year it will be different, but we just have to wait since several rider have good chances. I picked Schleck in case you wondered.

The yellow jersey stayed the same, mostly because Astana did not want it yet, and they didn't really want any strong team to have it. The breaks by Evans and by Schleck were shut down eventually. I find it simply un-interesting when the Dictator's Team (Bruyneel, Lance, who runs the place anyway?) just rides across the landscape trailing the race behind them. It's not their fault, they have a winning strategy and simply apply it. Unless they implode or some rider figures out how to crack them, they win. But it would be too embarrassing to the rest to have a Astana 1-2-3, so I am sure someone will attack and crack them. I hope I don't have to wait until 23 July to find out who else has a chance to win it on Ventoux. I think I might. Astana, one of the A4, will follow any attack. They ride as if they have yellow already, although they are perfectly happy to have any other team ride, for any other reason, as long as they are serious and not just messing about. If not Astana will take over the “break limiting”. Powerful demonstration of an essentially boring strategy to win the race. Hope someone attacks successfully, I don't care who.

It was a funny day at first, a little bit chaotic and hard to control. Looked like it might be interesting. Then I took my nap, woke up, and suddenly it was not all that interesting. “Will the break stay away” “will anyone attack” is fun for an hour or so, but it wears thin.

There was a great argument between Fignon, Jean-Paul Olivier (the older, nice guy who does buildings and monuments) and Thierry Adam (the guy who fills in the empty space for hours a day). Fignon was being his usual critical, observant, straight talking self. He was talking about the racing, and was a bit fed up, both with “the French” and with “everyone but Astana” for not making the race more fascinating and complicated and surprising. The others were talking about how wonderful the spectacle was, Casar leading at that time, a French lad in spots, a French team in yellow, hey, life looks good. The people on the road, the guy riding in the car giving inside coverage, the lovely scenery. They liked the spectacle, the Tour as spectacle. Absolutely fascinating discussion went on for fifteen minutes or so. I am luckier than them, I can get into both. The “crying brother on the podium”, “the young lad who wins for the first time” AND the actual racing, even if the racing is a bit boring for “the mountains”. The Tour is a spectacle, and those who see it ONLY as a competitive race, are often very disappointed, since the spectacle part sometimes overwhelms the racing. Not like at some point in the past before commodification and global penetration of the racing business. When men were men and so forth. Bartali, Anquetil, Bobet, Coppi ...

They went 110 kph on that descent. Imagine that. I have never gone faster than 67 and that is on a good road, no traffic, no wind and downhill. I cannot even imagine going 110 on a bike. That's what Jalabert said, descending from the second last climb, I think it was.

The race itself was so boring that the the TV guys discussed whether you pronounce Col de Agnes like ahn-yeh, or ahn-yes. Jean-Paul Olivier claimed local knowledge and said “without the s”. Others used the s. In any case, however you pronounce it, nothing much happened.

Bit sad about Casar though. Instead of realising he made an obvious mistake in the sprint or that he was the second best rider, he made excuses, blamed everyone else, and really seemed very French. They tend to do that the French, they never think they are the problem.

That's it for tonight. So much more to say, so much more I read and saw. But I get up early tomorrow to see how long I can keep up with the club. I put a new wheel on today and never even got a chance to test it. Front wheel though, so it should work fine. Noticed the rim was a bit wider, even though I don't seem to have to adjust the brakes. An old Mavic A40, with these strong tandem hubs I bought many years ago. They say the real wheels I should get are a pair of lightly used Campagnolo Neutrons. One guy in the club knows someone with a pair for sale. Same guy might lend me a freewheel too. He has moved to ten cogs and I use nine. Mine is the old type of freewheel not the “new” (last twenty years) type.

Anyway, good night.