Monday, 6 July 2009

Stage Three 6 July

Stage 3
6 July 2009

You gotta laugh. “Nothing will happen in today's stage”. “Cavendish will win the sprint”. Second bit correct, first bit, WRONG. Or at least we can say that nothing all that much happened, but the last thirty k were pretty interesting. Maybe in a few days we will realise whether “something happened” or not. It is refreshing to know that I won't the be the only one surprised by the echelons or “bordures” that happened when the peloton turned right. Everyone knew about the wind, everyone had a map and could tell which way it was blowing (always think of Dylan). All had radio contact. Careful analysis of the turn (although I have not done it yet) will show that one rider, maybe two, lost the wheel of the one in front, and there was a little gap. I heard that it was actually Contador who lost contact. That gap got a bit bigger, as they do, and suddenly there were two gaps. Columbia was up front, preparing to swallow up the break on the way to winning the sprint for Cavendish. They saw the two little gaps, and put their heads down, you could see it happening. Apparently they did it partly to punish the other teams who refused to help bring back the break, exception for Saxo. Eventually the rest of the “dropped” peloton reunited and began to think of what to do. It took them a little while to figure it out, who would ride in front, how many from this team or that, let's see who is here and who is not, and the gap got bigger. They finally got themselves organised and the gap started to come down. It was at this point that Lance Armstrong (or Bruyneel), who was “lucky enough” to be in the break, told his two Astana lads to ride with Columbia. A couple of other teams also helped a bit and the gap stabilised, and even grew a bit. By the end, there was really only Hushovd to contest the sprint and he tried to get past Cav, but could not. Cav has won 15 of the 18 sprints he has contested. That is the bare bones, but is there anything else to say? Other than Armstrong being in third place now, just a few seconds ahead of Contador.

Lance was right about Contador, “could use more experience”. Contador was not in the right place, even though he knew about the wind. He has something to learn. Can Bruyneel communicate only with Lance, and not with Contador? Did he not remind Contador and the whole team? Where was Gregory Rast? What happened to the great strategic brains of Bjarne Riis, whose team was left behind? Cancellara was lucky, or smart enough, to not get dropped. Andy Schleck lost a few seconds for not being attentive or being warned. What about Cervelo and Sastre? Menchov and Rabo? They all know about riding in the wind, as we know from previous races. Nobody really “got it” at all, except maybe Skil Shimano, who had five guys in the first group. Were they just lucky? This group was called “the Armstrong group” on French TV, not “the Columbia group”, which was a bit more obvious. And now Lance is in third. He made it clear in the interview after that he never thought there was only one leader in the team, and that he has every hope to win the Tour. Poor Alberto, he is going to have to whup Lance's ass at Arcalis or … or what? Jalabert figures Astana for the time trial. He reckons that Columbia has used up too much energy winning two stages, and will be a bit tired out for the TTT, which is hard. Columbia were riding at 65kph in that break! He thinks that because Astana had four guys in the top ten, this shows they are good. So he figures Lance in yellow tomorrow night. I am sticking with Columbia. Too early for them to be that tired, and they would rather have Tony Martin in yellow.

Things have got so bad in capitalism that riders will do anything their sponsors say, and think there is nothing wrong with that. So Cav did his little gesture with the phone, knowing everyone would ask what it was about. Turns out they have a new sponsor, HTC, and Cav had promised the bosses he would do them a little commercial gesture if he won. Winners used to remember dead brothers, deceased riders, parents or new babies. Now it is to emphasize the commodities they are selling. I know that Cav is “just” a bike rider, but it gets a bit much sometimes. Chalkbot, now this. Do we really need to be constantly reminded the Tour is a commodified spectacle? Have they no taste?

We missed Fignon today,he was in the clinic getting chemo. So very modern we are, the commentator missing a day at the micro, so he can get his cancer looked after. And everyone knows all about it. I don't really want to think about it, as I like him commentating and do not want to have him die. Jalabert got off the motorcycle and did the job though. What an excellent pair they are.

Further on the matter of kisses with the podium girls. I noticed the yellow jersey girls gave two, the green and stage winner got three. Should be three in La Grande Motte.

As a passing comment, I was very impressed with a short interview given by Bob Stapleton, the boss of Columbia. He seemed sensible, honest, feet on the ground and very very proud of the lads on his team. He seemed like a guy who had made the right choices, the right budget calculations with sponsors and who has probably the best stage winning team on earth.

I got up a bit late from the nap today, trying to store up some sleep for a hard day in Montpellier tomorrow. Just in time to see Arles from the air, plus the rest of the Camargue. Lovely town Arles, and it is no wonder a huge percentage of TV viewers in France watch primarily because of the countryside. I will look up the figures, but huge. It really is a wonderful geography those French have occupied, and it is such a lovely “gift” to see it from the air. They showed some of the Camargue bulls of course, and the white horse “cowboys” that herd them. Apparently the cowboys are NOT a “tradition” of long duration, but were invented in the late nineteenth century, copying the American cowboys. I like the idea of the Camargue bull fights. The bull does not get murdered. There are young fast athletes in white clothes who race around the arena, trying to grab little baubles off the bull's horns. The bull sees them and chases them, to gore and trample them. However the young lads usually make it to the protection of the wooden walls around the arena. Kind of a “fair” fight, with no bulls dying and not that many “raseteurs” being injured.

Small cheer to Samuel Dumoulin, the shortest guy in the race probably (1.59m and 57kg), but a known baroudeur. Not only did he work in the break for 160k or whatever, he had enough energy to finish third, just behind Thor and Cav. Usually when the break is caught, the guys are so exhausted they get shot out the back and lose five minutes.

So what might happen tomorrow? I figure no team whatsoever will finish with nine guys. Usually there are several. I think that there is a hill just before Murviel which will cause several riders to be dropped. I rode up it. I was dropped. I needed the small ring. It is steeper than you think. I also think there will be a crash, the road is very twisty and up and down. I think that someone will go down on the tight, surprising corner just after the motorway crossing. I also think the gaps will be over a minute, even though the TT is short. That is, some GC guy will lose a minute on Astana because his team rode badly. Or Columbia, whoever wins. Garmin maybe. So I hope Tony Martin is in yellow, but I am happy to see Lance or Fabian too. I would like the jersey to change though, as fast as possible, and as often as possible. I want to be watching a Tour where we break the record of eight different maillots jaunes. Almost did it last year and the year before.

So what else? Not much really. Oh yes, the “other” Japanese guy Beppu Fumiyuki, who used to ride for Discovery, finished in the top ten. Lance moved up to third, everything else stayed the same. Not much time lost by anyone, although the guys like Schleck, Sastre, Menchov, Evans who lost time on Stage One, have now lost more. Those same riders, or others, might lose another thirty seconds in the TTT. So that means they will be a fair bit behind when the Arcalis climb happens. So maybe they will attack to get back the time! Yessss.

The Tour gets seriously serious tomorrow.