Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Stage 11
15 July 2009

I meant to see more than an hour of the race today, after I woke up from my nap. In fact, I dropped off again, and only saw about 45 minutes. The idea was clear though. There was an escape, but it looked like they were doomed. There are only two more obvious sprint stages and everyone wanted to beat Cavendish. In fact, I figured that since it was slightly uphill, Cav would get beaten by Freire or Hushovd. I picked Hushovd (motivation). But it turned out that Tyler Farrar, the USA sprinter for Garmin, fished second to Cav. Then the sprinter for FDJ, Hutarovich. Then the two I thought might beat Cav. The countryside was kind of sparsely populated, but the little crowds in the villages were very enthusiastic. Probably came from miles around. One day I would like to live (for a couple of months only) in a village in the area covered by the last two and next stage. Get a feel for what happens or does not there. Some of the villages did not have cafés though, not the ones for me.

So the rumours and stories are starting to surface about Cavendish. Two mainly. The first is that when he was in the grupetto (the non-climbers group in the mountains) a few days ago, Boonen took his turn at the front, but Cav did not. So Cav is a prima dona, not being “equal” like the others. I have no idea what actually happened. Cav misunderstood the question when it was asked at the end of the stage and answered another one. He had no translating earpiece at that time. He apparently understands simple French. Surprised me. He did understand all the easy questions. I expect he had a team mate or two with him who took pulls, but he didn't say. Don't know what is technically correct and sportsmanlike for the best sprinter to do when he is in the grupetto. Is he supposed to pretend he is like some medium sprinter or heavy legged guy from an average French team? Does he get a little bit of time off if he has team-mates that pull? Or is he menat to be just another guy in the grupetto?

Anyway the other thing he apparently said, and is published in l'Equipe is “Fucking Frenchies! (Putain de Français). This was in the context of waiting for the plane at Tarbes, apparently not exactly on schedule. “Un putain de Pays! Toujours la merde!” (this was not translated in the article, but I figure it means “Fucking country. Always shit.” Apparently the anonymous witnesses said, “Cavendish is racist, he is anti-French ...he ought to watch out what he says. One is not going to let this go forever.” This subject interests me, as I have myself, many times, said exactly what he said. Yet I don't think I am a racist, I just am not totally fond of all the French people that surround me. In fact, particular ones are annoying often. I also have said the same about the English/British immigrants in other contexts, although not about any other group. Am I a racist? I don't even know if he said what this person said he said, but I can easily imagine he and thousands of others did. Like Michael Phelps being in a party where some jerk with a camera got of shot of Phelps taking a toke. Cav might have just made a dumb move. I am keen to see how my forums discuss this, as it was the big story on the after Tour show. Cav did not respond directly to all this, but he did respond. He said he never said it, that he loves France and the Tour, and is learning French, and generally is happy to race here. I thought this was an honest answer, but was struck again by what appears to be a lack of high quality media coaching for Mark (by his team or by British Cycling). I am often struck that he comes across as a not very bright guy. I mean the guy is going to do TDF and other interviews forty times a year, he should be coached. Suppose you asked Cav is he was the fastest in the peloton. He would say “I am really happy about the victory. It was team effort, they just deliver me to 200 metres from the line and I finish it off. I have to finish it off, for my team, that is what I am paid for. I have the finest lead-out team in the world. No one can touch them, and they just take me to the end. I want to win as many stages as I can. I try win any stage that is possible. I don't care about the green jersey I just want to win stages and if the jersey comes, so be it.” Maybe later I will make an alternative answer.

“Well I was fortunate today to be delivered right to the line by my excellent team. We have been lucky this year. As for being the fastest, Pettachi beat me in the Giro, McEwen is not here. Benatti is not in good form. Tyler Farrar is ready to take advantage of any mistake and Freire is always ready to beat me. Boonen has a pretty hard time at present. Hushovd might even take the green jersey in Paris. And when they are not there, there are other sprinters including some good French ones, Mondory for example. Or guys like Hutarovich, on a French team. I have also seen up and coming riders like Haddou. There is always a lot of competition from good sprinters. But I think if I don't make a mistake, and my team does not make a mistake, I always have a chance to do well, but not always to win. This year I am doing well, and I am happy. I love the Tour de France and want to come back every year, until I am too old to sprint. While other victories are important, like Milan San Remo, the Tour de France would be the highlight of any year I ride.” That is my version, which he could also say.

I always forget that Cadel Evans is a big Tibet supporter. See this article for some very personalised bikes, including his, in the Tibetan colours, even though his team has another livery altogether. In the old days everyone on the team had the same bike colours. No exceptions. Even if they had a distinctive jersey. In recent years, it slowly has changed so that any big hitter can have a bike any colour they want. Yellow jersey guys get special bikes made, in yellow. Obviously the world champion can use the rainbow and not the others, but look at these bikes.
I won't duplicate the commentary. Changes!

Big blow for Saxo to lose Arvesen. He is a powerhouse on the flat and up most of any mountain. He is very important to the chances of success for Andy Schleck. I felt bad, not merely because Schleck is on my teams and I want to him to DO something, but also because it slightly reduced the strategic options for Riis and the Saxo lads. They were one of my big hopes to actually attack somewhere, sometime. Before Ventoux. Sorry to see him go.

I found these little towns where the Tour started and ended kind of intriguing. I really would love to know why exactly they applied to the Tour. I saw that the mayor of one of them is the President of the French Association of Mayors. So although both towns had 2,000 or so people in them, this mayor clearly is an ambitious person. They did get a fair bit of publicity, nice château in the finish town, St Fargeau. I would love to know about that whole decision process in detail. There must be several committee meetings where the general outline and philosophy of the Tour 2010, for example, is established. Already there are constraints and contracts signed for Paris, and for the start town. How many attend the meetings? Who? Then they get out the bag full of requests from towns all over France, hundreds of them apparently. They throw out (with a polite letter) all the ones in the North and Brittany, this year anyway. The question was how do they “cover” France when they start in Monaco. Always tough. Starting in that part of the far bottom right of France, poses problems unless you send them up the Alps in the first few days. Monaco will have paid a huge amount of money, not the standard fee. Gradually the route emerges. At some point, someone thought, hey, how about Ventoux for the day before the end? Makes it big suspense for three weeks. Not too hard racing for two weeks, and then whack em with a week they will never forget! We haven't had a TTT for years, let's put one in. Then the speculation, wouldn't it be good if they left the Pyrenées without huge gaps. And so on. Sorting through the towns, until probably it looked like it was between St Fargeau and some other little place no one has heard of, to end the stage headed for the Vosges and Alps. Lobby, connections, phone calls, and we have the route for today. I really would love to be in on the discussions. Do they all have laptops? Do they use the same map of France, and stand around tracing patterns? And the talk must be worth a book. I would be the one to write it.

I noticed that Pellizotti is interested in the mountains jersey. So he either has to make a big, one day attack across lots of hills, or else make sure he is in every mountain break. We might see a bit of him in the next few days. I like him, so I am glad. In fact, we might see a lot of the Martinez, Feillu, Pellizotti trio all of whom are interesting riders and appear to want to win the jersey. Maybe. On the other hand, none of them have many points, and if Moncoutié woke up and realised he was in the Tour, maybe he would to the deed and leap over “the many hills” to win the points and the jersey. The other day, his manager said on TV that he was a hard guy to get going. Great when he did, but most of the time he has not been that visible in “the mountains” this year. Could be the fault of the route though.

Just small word on the rally spectacular chateaux we keep seeing. I really love that bit of the Tour. I myself am a bit like Fignon, who started teasing Jean-Paul Olivier today, like they do. “Yes, another chateau. Once you have seen one chateau …” I tend to agree, but they ARE spectacular and I wish I had the urge to see and go through them all. For me, once a year from the helicopter is exactly the dose I need. But it IS a great thing, as I would never just watch a show on TV about chateaux. So as a titbit during the Tour, it is great. And J-P Olivier reads from his press book what they are, and adds a few bits of his own. Fignon kids him, asks him a question, and they carry on with the show.

That is about it for today. We still don't know who will be serious about the mountains jersey in the next few days. The yellow is in paralysis, therefore the white. Cav took back the green jersey because Thor only finished fifth today. What is notable is that at this point, and no doubt continuing tomorrow, the points jersey top ten looks exactly like the sprinters have been winning in the Tour. Which they have. My vague hope is that as the Tour goes into the last week, a few climbers will infiltrate the top ten in the points jersey. Maybe three, then things will be “correct”. Tomorrow should be much the same. Or not. And then there is a stage on Friday which the commentators have been talking up because it has some hills. Including the notorious Col de Platzerwasel. I hope one or two of them test the Astana lads. Although maybe not successfully. I hope someone does something on Friday in terms of racing. But with the “Astana team dramas”, the “Cav is a racist” dramas, it is clear that no matter what, the spectacle will find its stories.

Oh yes, I wrote my bit about the peloton looking rather odd, “disorganised”, not clear what was happening, when I first woke up from my nap yesterday. I realised later that I had just missed the news that this was their idea of a protest. Ride slowly to no apparent purpose, along with the escape, make an implicit deal so no one would ride that fast, wait to the end, do everything right for the last 20k. That's what I saw, a “go-slow protest” about the earpieces. I am against earpieces. Probably. Maybe one wireless one they can pass around the team. I am for anything that increases uncertainty, as escape getting away and costly mistakes that upset the standings.

Good night.