Stage 6 9-3-10
The longest stage of the Tour. Did I say it was very long? It was very long. The countryside was some of that rolling hills, small villages, white cows in the fields stuff that I love. The TGV to Paris goes through that kind of area, not far from where the Tour actually was. I missed a bit of it as my nap was quite long today. Mind you it was a long nap because I was tired, as I got up early today. But I also knew that nothing much was likely to happen today. Did I mention that nothing much happened today? It was excruciatingly hot, the riders have to climb mountains for the next two days, and no one was gong to put themselves out. Toward the end, in fact, from about fifty k out, the sprinters' teams slowly shut down the escape. Besides the Spanish champion there was also a French guy called Julian El Fares, who can climb as well, in the break. El Fares is one of the four or so riders who have Maghrebin (Tunisia, Algeria or Morocco) genes, although they are born in France. Blel Khadri and the Haddou brothers are the others who managed this move. For most part, as most of you know, cycling is pretty white in Europe. On the other hand, they are all 'French', according the the French, so there is nothing to report here.
The sprint was almost a copy of yesterday, in the sense that the HTC train worked well during most of the race, then it worked especially well during the last few kilometres. Just at the every end, it got disrupted by both Garmin and Lampre, even messed around a bit by Sky. This seems to be the normal tactic now, but it did not work yesterday or today. The ultimate pair is Renshaw and Cavendish, and they stayed together throughout, until the last two hundred metres or so when Cavendish demonstrated that yesterdays' win was not a fluke. Of course Pettachi got a bit boxed in by Farrar and Thor Hushovd did particularly badly today, finishing way behind his rivals in tenth place losing valuable points on them all. The HTC guys seem to have found the solution to the new challenge posed by the systematic disruption of their train by other teams. None of the other riders have more than one 'pilot fish' with them at the end, so HTC has done the same. Renshaw just happens to be very good at his job. That same formerly obscure French rider, Sebastian Turgot got sixth place AGAIN.
The race for the green jersey seems to be hotting up a bit. I might have been wrong about Hushovd locking it up, but he has been performing rather badly over the last two days, losing many points that he has not lost in previous years. In any case, whatever anyone says, none of the real sprinters are going to take many points between now and Bordeaux, the second last day of the race. Only one more stage that could be a sprint finish and I doubt it will be. Anyway, if it is close race, coming down to the Champs on the last day, so much the better. But I still don't think Pettachi will last through the mountains. And with both Cavendish and Farrar scoring points, I doubt that McEwen is going to be a threat in the end. I still hope Eddie BH manages to do something though. Maybe he CAN climb after all.
Truth be told, nothing changed, not much happened. In stage racing, they call this a 'transition stage'. All the GC guys try to rest, take it easy and have no problems. Which is what they did. The Sprinters' teams have to decide if they will chase down the breaks, which they did. Voila.
Tomorrow, we hit the mountains. The word is that Saturday is not really a mountaintop finish as there are three k at the end that are flat. So maybe not such big time differences. I am sure there will be some, and if riders do not adapt to the climbing, then perhaps one or two of the ten or more GC contenders will lose time. I am predicting a bit of a race. Sunday there is no doubt that the stage is hard, that there will be racing, and if you are near a TV do take a look. There will be some big splits.
On the other hand, tomorrow I am going to a pal's seventieth birthday party in the evening, so I won't have but a few minutes to react after the stage. So don't expect a long analysis. That is a bit of a pity, because there will something to say and I might not have time to say it.
Do tune in if it is at all possible. While it is agreed that the overall race will be decided the last week in the Pyrenees, there are enough riders with a bit of time gap who might want to get something back. There could be a bit of attacking, at least on the last climb. We might also see a few riders showing an interest in the mountains jersey,which so far has been a contest waiting for a starter's gun.