Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Stage 16
21 July 2009

Since very little changed on this stage I guess one might expect I thought there was no racing or that it was uninteresting. Far from it, for me. I even almost missed my nap, but managed to squeeze it in between the bottom of the descent of the first hill and the last 12k up the second hill. Not a long nap, I admit. I had no notion whatsoever what would happen, but plenty did happen. Among other things, since the descents were half the stage distance almost, we got lots and lots of shots of descents. I could watch the lines they took and when they peddled. I told my wife that if I had a descent like they have down the first hill, I would never pedal, and even the second descent I would try not to pedal. These guys are nutters. I feel quite strongly that descents were invented so you could see the countryside before you, and recover and take it easy from the ascents, which are always always difficult. But they pedal and take chances to gain time. Professionals.

High moments of the stage for me were the scenery, Lance, Igor, Franco, Amael Moinard, Tony Martin, Marc Madiot, Wiggins, Le Mevel, Voigt and did I mention it, the Mer de Glace (glacier) and the absolutely excellent shots of the mountains and valleys. My wife and I agreed that the Alps were much to pointy. We prefer rounded off mountains more, ravines and such, canyons, cliffs, but basically more rounded. But from a helicopter on the telly, just about right, I can handle that. Not often I ever go on a glacier, so at least I can remember what they look like. And that weather station or whatever on the top of Aiguille du Midi. http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aiguille_du_Midi

It really is quite a piece of architecture and building work. The Alps were awesome actually. I know there are higher mountains, but they don't have bike races through them every year. France is really such an exceptional little piece of geography, very nicely placed.

Two not so good memories of the day, were the crash of Jens Voigt and the failure of Tony Martin. The latter was expected by many, who knew he was not really meant to be a great climber, even if he deceptively won the Tour of Switzerland mountains jersey. But Cancellara won the overall, so there was something funny about that race. Anyway, now Columbia has only one thing to do in the rest of the race. Although I am sure they will be happy to be in the escape tomorrow. Their only job is to win with Cav on the Champs Elysées. The Voigt crash was way unexpected, and really quite unlucky. Looks like his tyre lost traction when he stood up on his pedals in an unstable way, just fractions of a second after his bike jiggled from uneven paving. Totally perfect timing for a disaster, fraction before or after, no crash. He happens to be one of the riders I most like, not only for his riding which is impeccable, but for his big mouth as a “cyclist” looking after cyclists. I hope nothing serious happens, but at that speed, downhill, whew. He has the best equipment on earth and is a highly skilled bike rider. But those kinds of accidents just happen at the wrong time in the wrong space. Take a close look and you can see his rear wheel bump a little and then his front wheel fold. You can see him standing up too. I think that when you stand up, the bike moves in an uneven way for just a second. Bump plus uneven road, crash. I have not mentioned Cadel Evans, but his result today was just poor. In addition, if you search long enough you can find Menchov, the winner of the Giro 2009. I cannot explain why he is doing so poorly, so utterly awful. Both Menchov and Evans seem to have given up.

Wiggins seems to be able to keep up. Two hard stages to go, so we shall see. The French commentators have no idea where to put him. My critical cycling forum, of course, thinks he is on drugs or could be. They minutely criticise that he could lose the seven kilos, supervised, over many months, and not lose power. He claims he lost the weight as fat, not as muscle, they measured it. And that he never lost power, they measured it. So he knew he could climb. We all know he can time trial on the road. He has not fallen badly. He has a team to help him out actually, not a bad one. So each day he stays in third, they all wonder who and why and how. The Schlecks must be thinking that they didn't plan on him being there.

Then there is Klöden, does anyone have him figured out? But we did lose Nocentini and Martin from the top ten. We gained Sastre and Van de Velde. So the top ten is looking pretty full of serious guys now. That is, if you assume that Armstrong would have done so well and that Wiggins would be in third and Le Mevel in seventh. We all assumed this of course.

Lance made one of the anthology moves of the Tour, so far. Really memorable. He seemingly got dropped by Schleck's attack, as did everyone in the race but four other guys. But a little bit later he made a ferocious attack, just blazing by a totally surprised Frank Schleck. The relative speed of the two was remarkable. Frank managed to tag on and get back to the yellow jersey group. And eventually several other riders tagged on too. But I doubt if any of them were as dramatic as Lance's bridging of the gap. They all came later when the Schlecks got demoralised or whatever and slowed down. They probably got depressed they could not even drop the old geezer, Lance. My wife says it was worth watching the Tour for that moment. I rather liked it too as I am impressed with how Lance has ridden this race. He is definitely doing better than I thought he would. I figured that he would get dropped in the mountains, which he has been. But in fact, only twice and not by much. If you do subtractions and addition and take out the influence of his lucky tagging onto the Columbia lot at Grand Motte, and the team time trial, he is about eighth. But you can't do that really, and he is second. Andy Schleck has only got two more stages to make a difference to get to second place, because he can never take time out of Lance, Contador, Wiggins or Klöden in the ITT. He either has to attack tomorrow and on Ventoux or give up. But once he attacked he slowed down and let Voigt take up the pace. No more Voigt for the next time. Only the two Sorensens and his brother. That really is not enough to beat Astana. He has to do something very special. I think that was a shock to Andy that Lance could get back on. It certainly was a shock to me.

Marc Madiot was featured on TV, giving an old-fashioned, brow-beating, shouting “pep talk” to his troops. I find him appalling. It is not like Francaises des Jeux has been one of the top teams, even though the sponsorship was solid for many years. It really is a middle level or poor team pro team. That kind of macho, browbeating, motivational speech by the boss is so old, it just does not work. At the very least we can say other styles work too. You look at the riders in the bus and you see that NONE of them are looking at him or at each other. They are all looking down browbeaten by this opinionated loudmouth. Never liked the guy, but it was an intimate little shot for the TV coverage.

Igor Anton got his attack in just at the exact, right, cosmic moment. Or so it looks in the replay. It was classic. Just at the end, since you can't sprint, but can ride hard, make the move. Hard, from behind. Don't look back for a couple of hundred metres at least, just dig. Sometimes it works and then the recording can be used as an example of a classic way win the stage. You have to have the legs of course. Along with that video one would show one where the rest of the escape reels him in at about 300 metres. Or that they all get swallowed up by the pack (no danger in this case). Lovely win for a very good rider and team which I have always liked, even thought they disappoint nearly every year. This year, a stage, and Amets Txurruka being quite active too. Thought Martinez might even be going for spotted jersey seriously, but he seems to out of sorts or to have given up.

Hey, “the Frenchman” is still in the top ten. They love him. Probably be very easy for him to get a contract in the next few years with a French team. Good for him. He must actually be at least pretty good. You can't stay with the best unless you can pedal up hills fast. He must be good. I have actually heard of him before, as one of the French guys who really must come good one day. Most of them don't come good or THAT good. His day has come. Christophe le Mevel is a name.

So the jerseys didn't change much. And I don't expect they will. The mountains jersey might hold some interest, but after tomorrow that should be settled. I only say that in case something happens, but Pellizotti should not let escape his grasp. I should think he will make sure he is in the break for the first few climbs and then sit back a bit and watch the fireworks when the break out on the col de Romme. Not sit back, but just go along with the warriors as far as he can. Green is sorted. White is Andy. Now we just sit back and wait for the unexpected.

L'Equipe had an article today on descenders. They asked all the DSs they could find who were the three best and three worst descenders currently active, even if not riding the Tour. Each of the twenty could select three, but not in any particular order. If anyone wants to know exactly what the choices of Gallopin or Holm or Van Poppel were they have to either find a copy of the paper or write me note. The results:

Best descenders
Hushovd 10
Cancellara and S Sanchez 6
LL Sanchez and Haussler 4
Chavanel, di Luca and Popo 3
Garzelli, Nibali, Dumoulin, LeQuatre, van Hummel, Bertolini, Eisel 2

Worst Descenders
Moncoutié 12
F. Schleck 7
Soler 6
Anton 4
Basso and Moinard 3
Di Gregorio, Kern, Smyzd 2

One last piece of info before I try to take an early night to look after myself. I will almost certainly NOT be going to Ventoux. Very upsetting, but my colitis has come back strong in the last few days and I really don't think it is wise.

And tomorrow is what everyone is calling the Queen Stage. Should be good starting with the Col Romme for sure!