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.

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