9 July 2009
I feel a bit rushed today, a bit like I don't have time to do this blog. On the other hand I don't want to start missing days, as it would be easy to give up and do other things for two to four hours a day. That is how long it takes me, which includes proofreading and looking into my two forums to see what I missed and report views to you. Although my wife seems to catch errors in my proof reading every time. Sorry. So I will give a very brutal direct impression (in my own indirect waffly way) and then if I have time, carry on for a bit. I did put on a new wheel today, and took a short ride. As well as talked to guy who promised the plane trees would no longer stop me from getting cycling programmes and would no longer stop the sun from getting into our garden. Apparently they are taking out all four of the trees, and “replanting”. A bit drastic, but I won't miss them much. A bit admittedly.
There was a break. The last guy in the break to get caught, my man David Millar, had a good day out front. He has already made his mark on the Tour, as well as being a good team guy. If he does anything more impressive, I would have to say he is having a “good Tour”. In any case, things conspired so the inevitable happened (Allez Thomas), and he was swallowed up about a kilometre or more from the line. I fell a bit robbed by this stage, because I am utterly certain that the climb is longer and harder than on this stage. I have only taken a bus up once. But a pal on a forum has walked up it and says it was a shortened version, which is what I thought afterwards. A short email from anyone who knows the Montjuich climb would be great. I am sure it is longer and harder,a nd am annoyed they didn't go all the way up. I expected a good three or four minutes of high drama and it was more or less an uphill sprint. No doubt the riders and DSs knew this, but I didn't. Good to see that the green jersey fight (now in a resting state until stage ten) happening. More competitors would be good. Maybe Freire will get back into the battle and Ciolek and Farrer will go for it. Still looking for guys to beat Cavendish in a regular sprint.
Speaking of which, Boonen is surely having the worst Tour he has ever had. All that hassle with his coke habit and drinking. Not to mention the actual physical effect on him. Then the illness, some kind of stomach thing involving diarrhoea, to start off the Tour. Now today his dramatic fall, which can't but leave traces. I mean the guy is one of the best sprinters on earth. He is wearing his country's national champion's jersey. He is sole leader of his team and the only one with a good chance to win a stage. Although Devolder and Chavanel might do something, or one of the lesser Quick Step riders getting lucky. But every team hopes that, getting a lucky break. The pressure on him must be immense. Plus the omerta filled cycling world giving him support to beat the evil authorities, maybe. It would be a sign of “true champion” and good Tour Story, if he guts it out over the mountains, and then manages to win a stage in the champion's jersey. Former green jersey having an ambition like that, it must awful. Maybe he will quit, for medical reasons or whatever.
So it was raining as well, at least near Barcelona. I saw the telly pics at one point and it was totally bucketing it down. But the roads were still slippery and dangerous when they arrived. I don't know how many crashes, but more than usual. We will see the damage in the next day or two. For example, I was incredibly disappointed to see Gesink leave. I really wanted to know how good he is. He has obvious possibilities, everyone agrees. But the funny thing about the Tour is that in terms of “global recognition”, you have to make it at the Tour. Until you do, you are just a “promising rider”. So we have to wait until next year.
Nothing happened with Cancellara and Armstrong. The climb at the end was just not contested by everyone. Lance did not attack to try to get the jersey. But then the hill was so easy that it was really a mass sprint. Even Cavendish, who does not do well on this kind of seriously uphill sprint, scored enough points to keep his green jersey. The first two finishers, Freire and Hushovd were two picked by nearly everyone to be strong contenders. I picked Freire today, never even thought of Hushovd. Pozzato and Kirchen were also mentioned as big favourites, along with many others. In the end, it really was a fine win for Thor, but not all that interesting as a sprint finish. I am sure there is a surprise in the first ten, but when I look at the results I might find out. I am just trying to get this done now.
Tomorrow is going to be good no matter what happens (not a bold prediction). Anyone who has lost time and can attack in the mountains MUST have a go tomorrow. The attacking climbers need to make themselves known and try to gain time on the Astana Four. We need to see some gaps come down, so that the first ten are covered by three minutes or less. Then they can all think they have a chance. The idea of one team having four of the top five riders has to be burst asunder, it is just silly, no fun for anyone, except for Astana worshippers. Although it is kind of interesting for those who are neutral on Astana. On the other hand, if anyone loses big time, like more than two minutes, they are dead for the yellow jersey. Sastre, for example, seems obligated to attack. If he loses any more time, forget it. He only has two more mountaintop finishes. Andy Schleck seems obligated to attack as well. He and or his brother cannot wait until the time trial to make up time, since they can't time trial. If Kirchen does not show himself then we can write him off as a serious contender. If Menchov just tags along then he is to be written off as well. I am curious what LL Sanchez is going to do, but I don't have high hopes. One other thing I want to watch in the next days is who are the best descenders. This might be important in the Alps where there are also stages with descents at the end. Unlike many people I don't thin the down hill finishes in the mountains will be uninteresting for the GC. I could be wrong.
I won't bore you with the wonderfully rich possibilities tomorrow, but here is one of the many I have invented in the last few days. The Astana train starts moving up the climb. It doesn't really matter if there is a break and someone else wins, as long as they are not a contender (which is another story). Moncoutié would do as a breakaway stage winner. I read recently that he had, for FIRST time in his professional life, discovered and liked interval training. Can you imagine what that says about French cycling? The finest climber in the country has only just discovered interval training! So gradually riders get dropped. I love this part of the mountain top finishes. It is so tragic and powerful. “Armstrong laché.” “Menchov laché”. The last Astana riders are, of course, Lance and Albert. There are still a few k to go. They turn around to see who is there, and right behind them is Fabian Cancellara, followed by A Schleck, Menchov, Evans, Sastre, Pellizotti, Nibali, Kreuziger, LL Sanchez and some other guys. Maybe fifteen in all. The pace slows, and everyone looks at everyone. Then an attack …. Just an example. Another fantasy had the Saxo team in the place of Astana. Who will attack? Who will counter? And so forth until we get the various time gaps at the finish. It could be a really good last four or five K.
So that's it. I might do more, but that is a short spontaneous one, without looking at any results in detail or any of my forums. Maybe more later, maybe not.
Some things I noticed today on TV. Millar wears black socks like Lance. Is there more to it than that? Why DOES he wear them? There were huge crowds in Spain. They went for the Tour big-time. Jean-Paul Olivier is a national treasure (as is Daniel Mangeas), and does fine editing of old time footage. One day I must find a benefactor, and get a copy of all the old time programmes he has done, the historical research. Today was a recent interview and footage with Bahamontes, which Bahamontes watched live on TV. He is 81. From the look on his face, he had not seen it before. Tour Spectacle Moment. Bahamontes says he got to his first tour without a suitcase or money, just himself and his bike stuff. I expect it is true. I have no idea what he is like, but I warmed to him immediately. The Tour is marvellous.