Saturday, 24 July 2010

Stage 19 24-7-10

Whew, that was a nice little twist at the end. They got me with that one. Suddenly Schleck might NOT lose the time trial. I kept waiting for him to fade and for Contador to win. It did happen, but it took long enough. Wondering wondering. There were some fine moments in the Tour and those waiting minutes were some of them. It was good to see that next year, no one will be able to say that The two 'heroes' are evenly matched in the mountains, but not in the TT. It looks to be a fine five or six years MORE with these two battling it out. Although Contador does say he had more than one bad day this year. Of course, there will be additional factors or riders in the race that we don't know about and some we do. I mean Menchov was not that far behind. And there is a generation of younger guys that still have plenty of room for improvement. Looking good. Maybe there will be more 'one person dominance', a la Lance and Miguel, but maybe not. That gives us enough uncertainty to keep us going for a few more years.

So Contador won yellow, unless something happens. Pettachi wins green, unless he finishes seventh in the sprint and Cav wins. Even here we still have some suspense, although of the long shot variety. I think Vino still might pull off a 2005 finish, just to say goodbye to active cycling. Otherwise he might have to ride all next year too.

It should be said that some rides today had more meaning that others. For example, Wiggins is one of the few 'later riders' who managed to crack the top ten. I am almost sure that when I woke up from my nap, near to 1530 or 1545, the top ten looked pretty much like it looked earlier when I took the nap. And it stayed the same, more or less, until the end. Menchov also did very well, very well indeed, given that no one with the wind against them did as well as usual. Menchov did better than Vino and Contador by close to two minutes. Put another way, Menchov beat Contador and Schleck by nearly two minutes, even thought they were riding at the same time. The wind made a huge difference. However, I would highlight of course Cancellara and Martin, who most likely would have won anyway. But guys like Menchov, Wiggins, Vino and Contador, not to mention Schleck should have been way higher and faster than the earlier starters, IF everything were equal. Any one of them could WIN a time trial, not finish, 9, 11, 33, 35, 40, 41 and 48. Just not right. But it does put Menchov and Wiggins in perspective. They did well in spite of the wind. NO idea what this will mean during the long time trial in next year's Tour.

Cancellara and Martin have now proven that on any given day, in any given time trial, they are likely to be head and shoulders above the rest, maybe. They did a terrific ride, both of them. And I like Fabian a lot as personality. He speaks five or so languages. He can make wee jokes in French and English at least. He never seems that perturbed. He is friendly and likes his teammates and other cyclists. Although few riders could have calmed the peloton at Spa, he could. He is the guy (under the orders of Riis) who won the Tour for Andy. He has a way of also not talking nonsense, or if he does, he laughs at himself. He seems honest. I would be so upset about professional cycling if he ever turns out to be a doper. I am delighted he won that stage. I just kick myself for not having him on the fantasy team instead of, for example, Frank Schleck. I might have won something. Bravo my hero Fabian. To the extent that I have heroes of course.

Are there any real puzzles in the stage results? Other than noting that those who rode later had a big three quarter headwind, and those earlier did not, not much. So the times that are disappointing are not THAT disappointing. So Fabian is no surprise, Martin either. I think two thirds of my cycling forum picked one or the other to win. A few picked Contador. The funny thing is that in our daily contest, all the players but one changed from Cancellara, because our betting system rewards those who are NOT the eighth to pick Cancellara, but the one person that picked Grabsch, which no one did.

Third through sixth places on the stage are not a surprise at all. Any of them could win a lesser time trail and are well known to be fast. Kiriyenka is not a big puzzle, as I suspect that we will see him often in the top ten in the next years. But we have not seen him a lot before, so hello Vasil! I guess I should know something more about Morenhout or Tjallingij as TTers, but I don't. I can't yet spell their names with looking. Must see if they have done well before, but I just don't know anything about them. Actually Morenhout is 36 and wins a race now and again, even the national road race championship ofHolland. Never have seen him this high in theTour. Tjallingij is 32 and has won a fe races, but nothing for three years. He is a vegetarian. Wiggins and Menchov for me are the best of the rest, they were late starters. I was most impressed. Geraint Thomas, 'the young Welshman on his first Tour' was riding well. Good for him. We now know he can do a good TT at the highest level and also sprint. What he can't do is climb in the high mountains. Yet. Could he be the British guy who wins the Tour? Jeremy Roy being the top French rider should be a little bit disquieting for some of the other French riders, who really should have done better than him. Still 12th is quite good for Roy, chapeau. Although Maxime Monfort is one of my favourite Belgians actually, but seeing Stuart O Grady, at his age, doing so well makes me feel warm all over. Other notes are that Muryev being the top placed Shack rider might annoy some people and even embarrass some. Shack did bugger all this TT, they just didn't care, the lot of them. I guess they had the team award in the bag. The last word is for our David (Millar). I hope he keeps riding, but this Tour he did not have a lot of good fortune. Still he was there, and even in the last TT, he managed a respectable 17th, although a guy like him should be in the top ten in every time trial. Such class. So good looking on the bike. They talk of Schleck's height being some kind of problem with him getting into a decent TT position. It certainly is true his position just catches the wind, it is terrible. But Millar is 4 cms taller and ten kilos heaver and he has a position to dream about. They both have to follow the same rules about the dimensions of the bike. Maybe Schleck has a hugely long chest, and short legs, but it does not look like that on the bike. He has long legs. Anyway, who knows why a second place guy in the Tour can't find a good position on the bike. He might have won if he had not lost over a minute on the prologue and TT. Anyway, it was a moderately interesting time trial.

Looking at the General Classification, what changed? Well actually, not much at all. I already mentioned Menchov beating Sanchez. Hesjedal went up one place, so did Lovkvist and DeWeert. Gadret went down to make room for them, and Sastre moved into the top twenty, while Moreno drifted out. So the time trial really didn't do much to the overall GC placings, with the exception of the move by Menchov onto the podium. It also means that Gadret will not be the first Frenchman. Nicolas Roche will be that, even though Gadret did not lend him his bike when Roche needed it in the mountains. Roche still wouldn't have made it into the top ten, but still, he did well. Roche has been tipped by many French people as being the best of the current young crop. He is 25 years old, the same as Schleck. No doubt if he continues to mature he might someday be in the top ten, but it seems hard to imagine him winning the Tour. That takes care of the top twenty.

So who is Kevin de Weert? He is 28, never ridden the Tour before, rides for Quick Step, 1.82 m and 70kg. He has essentially done not much, under 17 TT champ and under 19 TT champ in Belgium, in 2000, he won the Giro de Tuscany, and was fourth in the Etoile de Besseges in 2007. Otherwise, zip. Now the question arises, how did a guy like him beat (he finished 18th) Sastre, Armstrong, Wiggins, Casar, Evans, Cunego, Basso, Rogers … I know, he had no team responsibilities and blah blah. But that tiny story is what makes theTour interesting to me. I will never know the answer because I have no interest in a Belgian rider called de Weert. Maybe I should? But in fact, in the Tour 2010, he beat all those guys who one would suppose are in another league to him for any cycling historian.

Overall, I was rather pleased with this Tour. I think it is one of the good ones. I do remember 1989 and 2003 still quite fondly. This year there were several bizarre and controversial events. Disqualifications, chains slipping, falls here and there, peloton waiting for two guys who were not even in yellow or high on the GC, lack of attacking, unbelievable French wins (three in a row in the mountains), battles that never really happened as such, cobbles (which was a great day of racing spectacle), the clarity with which we now KNOW that we have five or six years of watching Schleck and Contador trying to beat each other and whoever comes up in the next bunch. I say Romain Sicard and Fabian Taillefer. Remember that last name and that you heard me mention it first, although I did mention it last year too. Although we still don't know for sure about EBH, who I guess can't do big mountains. Or Peter Sagan, who has possibilities. Much less the 'almost men' like Lovkvist who might someday mature, maybe. Or what EBH might do if he does not have such a horrible year, although maybe he too won't be able to do high mountains. Most days there was something to keep us going, although without going into details, there were also a few too many days when nothing much happened. That is, if it were a one day race, we would have not thought much of it. But you can't have a one day classic every day for three weeks. They do have to rest a bit. I understand that, but as a spectator, I often get impatient. The Giro is better that way, in terms of cycling entertainment. But the Tour is the Tour and this was a good one. Or pretty good anyway. I do think what happened in the Pyrenees, for whatever reason and with whatever excuse, was a huge waste of good mountains. I mean, after about five kilometres of watching the two lads ride up the Tourmalet, most of us really wanted one or the other of them to attack and get rid of the other one, even if the other one came back and counter-attacked. 'Together' is a touch less exciting really. And when will we next finish on the Tourmalet? We deserved more. Mind you, the weather was a bit much too. They should have had better weather on the Tourmalet. The image of two guys riding side by side or yellow behind white, in the fog, is dramatic for the first five k, then it gets old. Imagine it, Schleck attacks, drops the yellow guy. Moments later, out of the fog, comes the yellow guy. Good, right? And again once or twice before one of them actually WON. They should have sprinted desperately, both of them. But one was giving a gift to the other, to repay for a dubious slight given the day before. I mean. Its a bloody race!

I am sorry Frank Schleck crashed out. But overall, more riders finished this Tour than any other in living memory, in fact, more riders finished this Tour than any other, full stop. I will not do percentage calculations for each year, but not many quit, were seriously injured, got wasted, disqualified or whatever. NOT ONE sprinter at the top of the table quit voluntarily, they all rode over the mountains. I shall look into this in slightly greater details maybe tomorrow. Lots of guys riding on antibiotics with bronchitis, but that is quite normal.

Some teams must have been a bit disappointed. I can't imagine how Sky or Milram, or Cofidis or Liquigas or Footon can say they had a good Tour. And frankly, Rabobank, even if they have a podium place and another top ten, really did not 'animate the race'. I mean it is nice to quietly win a podium place, but no one will remember where Menchov lost the time, where he gained the time. He just kept on keeping on. And rode a brilliant TT. But even Rabobank might be a little less than happy. From my point of view anyway, not from theirs.

Funny thing is that people have such disagreements on the Tour, in the sense of was it a vintage Tour or just average or even below average. Some do think it was below average, even boring. Not me. I figure it was above average, but not vintage.

Don't forget I mentioned Hesjedal in my preview. He did well. Very well. But he is not young.

And last but not least, Radio Shack is the 'best team' in the Tour. Lance will be proud.

Voila. Another day, and we shall know the final jersey, the green one, but it should be clear already. I do not wish Pettachi the bad luck to finish ninth, not at all. And I hope Cav wins, unless it is Vino trying to do 2005 again.

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