Stage 14 18-7-10
First the good things. There were some mysterious goings on with the two top men on the last climb. I still don't get them fully, and I love uncertainty. A relatively obscure but competent French rider won the stage, Christophe Riblon, whom I never thought I would 'add to my dictionary' for spelling correction. He won by simply carrying on and carrying on. So four stages now for the French, not quite up to their very best, but a Tour which they can all be proud of. Especially the cheerleader on France 2, Thierry Adam. The scenery was all right, not the awesome valleys we will see shortly, but the kind of countryside you remember, and want to go back to on holiday. It really is a wonderful chain of mountains, with something for everyone. Armstrong lost even more time today and is not even trying. Although I am not sure that is a good thing, maybe he will treat us to a huge effort one of these days. He also was very well behaved and very mellow during the interview on France 2. Until Landis and LeMond got mentioned, but even then he just paraded his line and then they changed the question. There was a bit of a battle for third place, with Sanchez and Menchov shadowing each other and even making the odd attack. Look for Sanchez to gain some time on the descent tomorrow, and to do a better ITT later. But the race is not over yet, there are plenty of guys within a couple of minutes. We saw a fine display of Astana strength today, especially Vino, who did all he could, in spite of his exertions. There seemed to be fewer jerks with stupid costumes or fat bellies running alongside the riders. Maybe they are all hiding on the Tourmalet. Fignon, usually pretty hard to fool, said he had thought of all the scenarios he could for this stage, but failed to think of the one that happened. I think he thought there would be a bit more action. Maybe a minor battle between the two big guns. In any case, a stage which is a surprise for him must have some good sides. We continue to like the uncertainty that makes this a pretty good Tour. A BIG surprise would make a great one. And lest's not forget … the escape won! Always a little cause for celebration.
As for the bad things, well not much happened. The break got away and by the end of the stage there was one guy left, and he won. But in the end he won because the leaders messed about and just did not try very hard on the last climb. They were slightly scattered at the very end, but even so, they did not really try to catch Riblon or they would have. Another stage gifted to a French breakaway by a peloton not really on full gas. Good to see Sanchez and Menchov racing for third, but what about the others? Maybe it was a hard stage and they were all tired, even though they have been resting for two days at least. I don't really think that the two leaders of the GC should be slowing down so much on the last climb. It feels slightly disgraceful, a bit disrespectful and as if they don't know what to do next. On the other hand, by now Schleck seems to be rather confused. He still might win because he can climb better, but we have not seen this yet.
The jerseys stayed the same. The GC stayed the same. Wiggins lost time. Lance lost more and is not really making much of an effort. Hope they each do something to keep the Tour from being a total flop for themselves. Especially Wiggins. It would be nice to see him up there one day with the leaders, or failing that, a victory in the ITT would be good for morale. In any case, Wiggo is NOT the British guy who will win the Tour for the Sky team, that is clear. With Thomas showing that, at present, he cannot climb well, it is not crystal clear who that rider might be. Still, Sky have four years and about 60 million euros to spend on the quest. See below for the full story on who lost what.
Just a quick quote from another blog, in reference to what I said the other day about the team classification and the 'correct' composition of a break before it is permitted to leave by al lthe big teams. 'A break of 12 riders escaped early on in the stage, but its composition didn’t suit the RadioShack team and it was brought back. Five of its original members managed to reassert themselves though and escaped once more, with the RadioShack team on the front of the bunch. They were: Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions), Amaël Moinard (Cofidis), Pavel Brutt (Katusha) and Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d’Epargne).
The RadioShack team was still unwilling to let Gutierrez go clear, as he threatened the American team’s lead in the team classification. The red and grey team kept the peloton no more than 20 seconds behind the group for some time so the Spaniard decided to drop back, leaving just the four riders ahead. A counterattack of five riders bridged across soon afterwards, made up of Benoît Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux), Stephane Augé (Cofidis), Christophe Riblon (AG2R-La Mondiale), Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouyges Telecom) and Jurgen Van de Walle (Quick Step); there were now nine up front.'
A quick analysis of the top twenty shows some changes, but not too significant. But it does show that a day makes a difference. Today, not THAT much difference, as there was not so much hard racing, but there will be BIG differences in days to come. In the actual top ten, hardly anyone changed. Levi went down one position and Gesink took his place in sixth. Kreuziger dropped to twelfth and Basso moved up one place to enter the top ten. Other than that, everything was exactly the same as yesterday. Some time changes, but nothing to spend time looking for. As for as the second ten, Rogers was the big loser, out of the top twenty totally, dropping nine places to 26th. Lovkvist, the Sky rider, moved up three places, as the 'big winner' of the day. And Wiggo dropping 2 places, Kloden dropping three and Evans dropping one place were the other losers of the day. When you think this was meant to be a hard stage, we can see that the shape of the top twenty remains pretty well formed by now. Although we can always hope there will be a big change and some totally unexpected racing in the near future. You might ask if I can explain all those changes, but even if I could, I would not. But at least you can see that not too much change goes on on the average stage.
That descent tomorrow should be very good indeed. No doubt Samu Sanchez will show us how it is done. Although I might go for Rodriguez. I doubt if either of the top guys will take a chance on any kind of seriously fast descent. At least we will get an idea who can descend fast and in a proper way.
Do take a look tomorrow. I got in touch with an old pal today, who just bought a barn north of St. Girons. The Tour goes right past the road to their hamlet tomorrow.