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.