Thursday, 16 July 2009

Stage 12
16 July 2009

The commentators said the racing begins tomorrow. Lance said the second part of the Tour begins tomorrow and for sure on Sunday. I am hoping the racing will begin tomorrow, I think everyone is agreed. Meanwhile, we had a stage that unrolled much as nearly everyone thought it would. There was “the successful escape”, and it ended up having two of the mountains jersey chasers. So they gobbled up the various points along the way, and maybe, I am only suggesting, wasted themselves a little bit in terms of the stage tomorrow. In any case neither Pellizotti or Martinez won the stage. I guess most stage winners are welcomed by all, unless they wheelsucked or did some awfully bad mannered thing. In this case, the winner was a pretty decent “movie” choice for the winner. Nikki Sorensen, in his seventh Tour, attacked once to get rid of everyone but Calzati, the French Agritubel rider. Sorensen went from 20k out or something, and then with a few k left, he got rid of Calzati with another strong attack. Bingo, gone.

I must say that if I were to pick a small moment of the “Tour Spectacle” to put in a short edited selection, I would definitely include the moment when Sorensen attacked from behind Calzati. Calzati stood up to respond, took the first two pedal strokes and sat down. Even on TV, he was looking slightly weaker, no doubt it was even more obvious to Sorensen. Legs just not there. I have never been a boy racer as such, but I know well what it is like to look for “a little bit extra” and find you forgot to put it on the list, and “you have no extra” in the cupboard at that moment. Must be awful for a professional really, just that moment, until you accept it, that there is “no stage win in the Tour for me” today. Even if you had doubts anyway. Fortunately, Calzati already won one, years ago. And for the loyal, strong, reliable, 34 year old Dane, it was a just reward for the high class skilled worker. Bravo. Of course we have to say that by all criteria one could invent, he was the right guy for today. Unless you are French, then of course Calzati was the obvious choice.

While the guys up front were providing us with moderately exciting, certainly “interesting” racing, the higher paid guys in the back “kept their powder dry”. I guess everyone knew they would, so that is the end of that story.

There was also a kind of truncated, abridged bunch sprint today. Actually it was not really “a sprint”, take a look at the top ten on the stage. More like Cav trying to make sure Thor does not get points on him. The team's (and Cav's) plan for the Tour has officially changed, he said that today on the box. He is still trying “to win every stage he can”, which is two more, including the Champs. He has mentioned winning of the champs a few times, I think he has the taste in his mouth. But NOW, as things turned out, he is also trying to win the Green Jersey. This is the new “out front goal”, even if it was always a strong possibility. So there could be several days in the near future where we MIGHT see whether wily old Thor, who can climb a bit when pressed, will manage to be second to Cav in both sprinter stages, meanwhile picking up some points during the mountain stages at the intermediate sprints. So what will Cav and his team-mates do? Maybe in some mountain stage they will all time trial up the first hill, the whole team together, and then lead out Cav for the intermediate sprints. That would be gross, maybe just one or two in the lead-out. That would be good. Anyway that is a small storyline in the mountains, whereas the feuilleton of the climbers' jersey will begin tomorrow in earnest. No more trailers.

I would like the climbers' jersey competition to burst into life. It would appear that until someone like Moncouti√© (Hey, Dave, wake up, smell the Tour de France) makes a big Virenque/Jalabert style long range dramatic attack (chevauch√©e), there are currently three contenders. Egoi and Franco were in the break. It was clear that although Egoi has the jersey, Franco wants it. Lurking in the background is the young Feillu. I figure that his brother dropping out will have a big effect. It will either help him try harder “for his brother”. Or maybe he might be missing him so much and feeling so bad for him, that he just does not have the morale to take on the two or three other guys every day. Hard to tell with young Brice, no one really knows what he can do. Allez David!

One thing we can say, with certainty, is that if there is going to be any interesting activity in the mountains it will be this last week. That could be precisely how the ASO guys planned it. One big climax racing-wise and the rest of the time we enjoy “The Tour de France Show”. As a show, it has been pretty good. Even as a race it has not been THAT bad as a whole. The stages, treated as a one day races, have been OK. All the jerseys are uncertain, even if most see Contador as the winner. We still have the “Cav hates the French” gossip to see out. “Will Astana implode?” is a long running story. Who will be riding with whom next year is a question that often is discussed at the Tour. People make deals there. So my wife said that Lance talked to Cancellara a long time today, while I was napping. And Hincapie. And Brice Feillu (no idea what language though). What was he chatting about? Anyway no doubt there could be much speculation about the exact composition of various old and new teams in 2010. Don't forget the Vino/Astana story which will pop up just near the end of the Tour. Remember that Cav and Hincapie were both on Lance's video the other day.

Oh, quelle surprise, I have mentioned Lance again. Now , more than during the last four days, he becomes the big focus again. Absolutely astounding, his comeback, no matter what the result. For my taste, if he wins, it would be way too tacky, too plastic and awful. Although it might go down in one swallow in the USA. That is where his life is. They don't mind stuff that is soooo “Hollywood”. They invented Hollywood. I think a better ending would be for Lance to exhaust himself “in the service of Contador”, so much so that he cannot beat him up Ventoux. He would then be a both heroic and tragic figure. So third, behind Contador and someone else, maybe Schleck or Sastre or Wiggins. Yeah, Wiggins would be good, an even better story, although mostly “cycling”, not “Hollywood”. I shall speculate more on the perfect ending for “my Tour”. So far, Contador first, Schleck second and Armstrong third or maybe fourth would be perfect. Yes, fourth. Just off the podium, but entirely respectable for a comeback, especially if he helps his leader. Sadly I have no idea who is going to beat him and where, except Contador.

Its like a moving little village, the Tour. So many stories. One reason I would like to be “an accredited press person” on it is to find out what is going on in the lives of the publicity caravan people, where they stay, who gets off with whom, what they do the rest of the year, why they do the Tour?

I was a bit upset today. For many years, I have thought that the many inventive, folksy, agricultural displays constructed throughout the Tour route were spontaneous outbursts of rural pride, done to get somewhere that is nowhere on the box for a moment. Like the lingering heli shot showing us a huge bike, made out of traffic cones, one of today's examples. They really are rather cool actually, in a rural sort of way. It turns out that the biggest farmers' union (yes, the French have them), has a contest. Some kind of prize for the best display. This are the farmers' union for “the big farmers”, about 75% of the farming business are members. So it has been bureaucratised and organised. Still. The other Farmers union, the Confederation Paysanne, for the small farmer, has only grown up in the last two decades. It does more “direct action”. I like them best. I suspect they could and would construct something designed to attract a few minutes of TV coverage. Have not seen it yet this year. In any case there IS plenty of folk art that appears, and I love it. Not deep love, but entertainment love.

It pleases me that Nocentini will not have the yellow jersey tomorrow night. His team is not THAT interesting (although Fignon likes the jerseys), his interview behaviour is really quite slow and not very bright or creative or interesting. Working in France for two years, his French could be better. He also is not even as bright as Cavendish, although I don't hold that against either of them, they are cyclists, not orators or scholars. I just want someone else to have the jersey. It's gone on long enough.

It will almost absolutely certainly without doubt be on someone else's shoulders tomorrow. Presumably Contador, but maybe not. Would Lance attack him just to get the jersey? You bet he would. “Just protecting it for the team until the top of Ventoux”, he might say. No one really wants it yet, they just want it at the top of Ventoux after the time trial. Unlike the racing, in the upcoming time trial you really can't mess about. They just add one time to another, and the yellow jersey comes out. But in a road race, it is more how you ride the race against the other guys, although time matters too. A huge long attack all day that gains twenty seconds is heroic, but not effective.

There are some climbs tomorrow that they are really hyping on the box. I notice there are two first category and a second. Pretty good for this Tour so far, but not really what you would call “real mountains”. Downhill finish too. But maybe enough to make something happen. For example, we have the “notorious and under-rated” Col de Platzerwasel, maybe to be remembered in future as where something happened in 2009. On the other hand, it might turnout to be a fairly hard col that the Astana or or Saxo team(s) march everyone up and down. The nice thing is that even if we suspect that long march might happen, we live in hope, and the hills ARE there. Allez Andy! Allez David! Allez Cadel! Allez bloody Menchov! Actually if Denis has any kind of form at all, and he has been keeping up lately, then he could make a move. Why not, he has nothing to lose and in one big attack he could get into the top ten, easily. Would Astana chase? Allez anyone.

Good night.