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.


1 comment:

Jim said...

I am so sorry to say this but I'm bored. Corporate tactics are killing this tour. It's all understandable from the pov of tactics, strength, money and control but I couldn't even be bothered to watch it through today. Really bad route planning and I can't help deeply disliking the strong-arm approach.

Please, someone, get together and blow the complacency apart. I fear everyone is in thrall and they have mostly lost the will to fight. How can they keep riding?