Friday, 3 July 2009


The Tour starts tomorrow. Or the race does. The Tour began some months ago, being current sports or entertainment news, at the very least, since Armstrong announced his return. All Tour news in at least three countries I know about, is dominated by publicity for the Lance, his team, his rivalry (or not) with Contador, sponsorship issues, Vinokourov, doping and so forth. Way imbalanced according to me, but the frequently the world seems way out of balance. Lance and his coverage symbolises that for me.

If someone sent this to you, for reasons of personal habit and challenge, I have written about the Tour nearly every day during the Tour, for a long time. I take the rest days too. And by the middle of the third week I get a little bored, and the coverage tales off. NOT this year. They climb Mt Ventoux the last racing day. Anything can happen.

This year I intend to NOT write on some days, if it seems appropriate. For example, the day of the team time trial in Montpellier, I doubt I will write much, even though my whole day will be soaked in the Tour, from morning until night. Another example is that it seems more and more certain that Naurika and I might end up leaving the house for several days to visit a pal who lives below le Ventoux, on route de Ventoux. Maybe I will just hang out, ride the bike and enjoy the pool and the people while I am there. On the other hand I might climb up the hill and watch the lads suffer. I certainly will watch every stage on the TV, but I might not write about it. In any case I might not write every day.

The point of this first note is to get something on the blog site, and send this off to both people who used to read my Tour stuff in years past. Or people I know who I think MIGHT want to read what I blog. The idea is that you have to go to the blog to read it, the mass email system is dead. For those who have never read this blog, I have a tendency to write in a kind of down home informal style, infused by a huge passion for and a moderate knowledge of the bike and the Race, suffused by reading l'Equipe every day, deepened my TV watching (Fignon and Jalabert) , informed by the forums I am on and whatever else I can pick up. I often quote Naurika actually. We are watching the box and she says, “you can quote me on that”. I also sometimes tell about my day if I have been cycling. Today, for example I rode on the actual route of the Team Time Trial which will be on Tuesday next, with a guy I had never met before, but had shared a forum with for some time. He was great, the day was great and I am knackered. That is the kind of thing you might get from me, in addition to the Tour coverage itself. I once thought it was a cross between Prairie Home Companion and Alistair Cook's Letter from America, with a bit of Jazz Crusaders thrown in. I admit I have hardly listened to the first two, so I might be wrong.

So what are the big issues this year?

It is a very good year for lots of stories that don't involve the actual stage by stage racing, strictly speaking. I love that stuff. Maybe you would call it Tour Gossip. Who is the real leader of Astana? How do the conflicts work out in practice in the Race? Who is going to be caught doping and why? I will attempt to tell you lots of that, most of which I pick up on my bike forums, full of people who know more than me and watch in many languages and read many sites and papers. They also ride bikes.

There are also tons of racing questions. Can Cavendish win more than four stages? Is Contador that much better than anyone else? How have Sastre and Menchov come through after the Giro? Hard to do the Giro-Tour double these days. Will Lance finish in the Top Ten, or the Top Twenty? The Top Ten is predicted by nearly everyone, many betting on him to win the whole shebang. The Top Twenty is an absolute guarantee, judging from the Giro. If he finishes 21st and does nothing of interest, it will be a total disaster for him. Could he win? Nearly anyone who knows cycling well says he cannot win, but millions of others think he can. Should be fun to find out. Will anyone care about the mountain jersey? Will there actually be a contest for it? Will Cavendish make it to the end of the Tour and might he have a strong chance for the green jersey? Will Andy Schleck come into his own, do some fabulous climbing and shake things up? For that matter will Andy even be the best young rider? What will Lance, Leipheimer and Contador (and Klöden) actually do during each serious stage? Will Kreuziger, the young Italian some of you have never heard of take on the big established stars and show them something? And then what about poor Cadel Evans? One of the most consistent and strong cyclists in the entire peloton, but not much of a winner really. What will his role be? And is Boonen back, can he take on the kid and win, or have the last few months been a bit much? Or even the race for green, Freire is the wise old fast dude.

There are loads of young riders, or riders many of you will never have heard of. It is almost a certainty that during the next few weeks you will hear of all of them.

A few names. Heinrich Haussler, young German/Australian who has been winning races all year long. No one yet knows if he is a climber, a sprinter, a time trialist, a rouleur or what. He doesn't know yet since he can do all those things well. Then there is the Liquigas trio of Pellizotti, Kreuziger and Nibali. According to most views all three could finish in the top ten, although probably they all won't. Which ones? The two young ones or Pellizotti, who is a super climber and a wonderful rider. David Moncoutié, who finally discovered interval training, and has been feeling frisky and says he might try to win the mountains jersey. That would be great fun, especially for the French, more so all of us if someone competed for it as well. My eternal pick, Fabian Wegman, the German climber, might finally do something. Of course there is the very young Robert Gesink, the Dutch climber that people are tonally impressed with. Lean lanky guy, who is capable of great things, but we don't know if he is old enough or good enough. Most of those young guys are 22-24. The future is bright. Then there is Mark Cavendish, not yet 24. He is clearly the fastest cyclist sprinter on earth, with the best lead-out team in the race. He should win nearly every sprint, but he won't. So the question is which ones will he win, and how will others beat him? Some of you might not know this year's Paris Nice winner, LL Sanchez. He is “the replacement” for Valverde on the Caisse d'Epargne team. Valverde, number one actual rider in the UCI rankings, is not riding the Tour for a reason that is controversial and a bit stupid, and I don't want to talk about right now (doping related, but not exactly). In addition there is Tyler Farrar, a young American sprinter who will be trying like crazy to win a stage. And last, for those old folks, Nicolas Roche, son of Steven will be riding. He is, as they say, good in his own right.

Some people complain that there are only three actual mountaintop finishes, and therefore the Tour is easy. I disagree. Everyone in the Tour wants to win a stage or has to help others to win stages, jerseys or overall standing. There is no dead wood. It will be a hard race, things will change, there will be uncertainty and surprise. If not, it will be boring, and the critics of the actual race route will be right. We shall see.

So I say that the top ten will be Contador (who will win), Menchov, Sastre, Evans, Kreuziger, Gesink, Andy Schleck, Pellizotti, LL Sanchez and Armstrong (all in no particular order)

Green jersey, Freire or Cavendish.

White jersey, Andy Schleck

Mountains jersey, David Moncoutié

I really have no more time today. Its been a fine day, but I have a couple more things to do before I hit the hay. Tomorrow morning there is more wood to shift to storage for winter, a coffee with Martin, supposedly seeing Christophe's new bit of land, reading the paper, checking the forums, and then at 1500 or so starting the “Tour TV ritual”. And then the writing. Good thing I am retired.

So if you want to check out the blog, go to Bookmark it for three weeks. Nothing happens on the blog after the Tour is over.

Vive le vélo.

Great headline in the special section of L'Equipe today, “ à la Vie, à l'Amour”. Apparently “come what may” is the translation of “à la vie à la mort”, a common expression. This variant reminds us of that, apparently, and means “To Life, To Love”. I gotta translate some of the French sports writers for you. Incredible.