Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Stage 3 6-7-10 (and a bit about Stage 2)

I was not very happy about stage 2. I felt like we got a bit robbed as spectators, and I am not even sure why, or rather not sure the reasons really hold up. Essentially, for the crucial stage of the race, the last hilly bits where some riders could have made a difference by attacking, there was no race. The only guy racing was Chavanel, and so he won. The crowing of the French media about his magnificent victory and heroic ride was really a bit naff. He got given the stage by the peloton, that is all there is to it. He had less than a minute lead when the rain stopped and would have almost certainly been caught. Cancellara seems to be painted as the just and fair leader of the race, but you COULD say that all he did was somehow persuade the peloton to stop racing and wait for his two team-mates to catch up. You could also say he had the interests of the entire Tour at heart and found it hard to let numerous contenders be practically eliminated from the race by a crash. Doesn't really work for me. If the last two big shots to join were NOT on his team, then maybe, just maybe … Not like one of the Schlecks was in yellow. In the recent Giro, Basso and Nibali crashed and lost three minutes on the peloton. No one stopped. They just had to make a good race and catch up during the stages that followed. In my view they should have kept racing. Certainly they could have raced the last few kilometres. We have now had two days when the riders more or less were on strike, let's hope that does not happen today. Although I admire Riis' strategic mind, even if I don't like the guy much.

So forgetting stage 2, as one should, how about stage 3? I have never been present at a more exciting flat stage that I can remember. I was glued to the box for the last forty k. I hardly had time to think or contribute to my forums where my virtual pals were also watching. After two dull days, this was a total revelation, and just what I love in the Tour. Bloody brilliant. Anyone who missed any of it missed a great sporting event. I am sorry for those who crashed and got punctures. I regret that Frank is out, not least because he was on my team and now I doubt I shall win the league. But those are the breaks of cycling and racing. It appears it was entirely his fault, but in any case, I guess he was the big name who 'lost the Tour on the cobbles'. We all knew there would most likely be someone, he was it. But still, no one likes riders to lose a big race by 'accident'. To me, although there was much discussion before and after the stage, there is no doubt that a few k of cobbles is a great spectacle for us lot at home. Absolutely excellent.

But what happened? One item stands out. Cavendish, unless something nigh onto miraculous happens, has utterly no chance to win the green jersey. Thor Hushovd has 63 points and Cav has 1. That is correct. Cav has completely blown all his chances by the end of stage 3. The wily master is not only leading, but leading by quite a bit. Geraint Thomas, who is young and inexperienced and has a team totally dedicated to Bradley Wiggins, might do well, but he is unlikely to beat Thor. With a lead like that, third place is well behind. The only chance that Thor might not win is that one of the climbers might just accumulate enough points to beat him, almost without trying. Although the green jersey is usually won by a sprinter, this is not logically necessary. There are simply not enough flat stages in this race for Thor to be certain he can beat a climber. So I guess there might be a contest, but not from any other sprinter. He could make mistakes of course, but usually he does not. So maybe the green jersey contest is over. In any case, I have always liked Thor. He is blunt, knows his cycling, but is more or less civilised with it. Cav should learn a little from him, and not merely about winning the jersey, stages or sprints.

Although it is not for the best reasons, we will now see what Andy Schleck is made of. I was getting really bored with his 'where is my brother' stuff all the time. That attitude ruined the Ventoux stage last year. If he has a bit of character, maybe he will attack and do really well, even if it is only to 'win it for my brother'. If he has no character, then he will wilt, and finish somewhere in the top ten and not enliven our enjoyment. I have no idea which, but it is a story that will run.

In the battle between the Yank and the Spaniard, looks like Alberto got the first blood. The five seconds in the prologue means nothing. But Alberto was supposed to blow it on the cobbles. He was supposed to have no team. Lance was supposed to be good on the cobbles, and have a powerful team. In the end, Lance punctured, but he might still not have kept up, and they both ended up with one team-mate at the end. Turns out that Alberto's guy, Vino, was better. Vino lasted until the very end, and Lance was on his own for several kilometres. Turns out that Alberto had no problems with the cobbles. Alberto 1 Lance 0. We await more instalments of this saga. I should add that I think Alberto had a puncture at the very end, which is why he lost some seconds. He was, however, a hero, revealing new sides of his extraordinary talent.

We also learned not to buy whatever brand of tyres Quick Step use. A shame for Sylvain to get two punctures and a crash, but he had his taste of glory, and has never been more than a very good cyclist. A pity nonetheless, although I have never really liked him much anyway.

One reason I like the stage so very very much, at least the last bit, was the total confusion. The uncertainty as to what might happen, as to who might win, as to who was injured or who crashed, as to who was in what group and how far behind they were. It was absolutely impossible to follow by any means, TV, web or guesswork. For me, uncertainty is the key to good racing. Not total uncertainty, as about six or seven people on my forum, including me, picked Hushovd to win the stage. But that edge of seat intense wondering what might happen next. If we had that on all the stages, even at the end, I would look forward to a rest day myself.

I have to say one of the finest performances was not only Fabian, who won the jersey back AND helped his team-mate, but Vino who almost won the stage and also helped his team-mate. Vino was strong all day. In fact, although I didn't keep track, its seemed like he was in front for many minutes during the last bit of the race, trying to keep all the other contenders at bay, taking minutes out of some. I hope he keeps on like that and even wins a stage for his work.

I would be amiss not to mention young Geraint Thomas. He is not a total surprise, but I think if he keeps this up he might end up being 'the revelation of the Tour'. He is already being talked up by the French commentators (Jalabert). He is hard, he can sprint, and he is good in the medium mountains. Lovely young Welsh guy. Sadly he might end up being used up by helping Wiggins, but that is life and he is young. In any case, Wiggo did well today. He rode the cobbles like an experienced hard man, and looking at the standings he is a fine position to enter the mountains in a few days. And we should mention David Millar, who also did well today.

Another happy aspect to the day was the return of Laurent Fignon to the French commentary. Not that the other Laurent is not good, but both is better. Fignon's voice is awful, and his wit is not as quick. All due to his cancer and the side effects of the treatment. I hope we are not seeing him for the last time. He has so much to say and sees so much more than I do. I am lucky not to have my vision restricted by the acts on Eurosport (Harmon) or on the American commentary (Phil and Paul). It is nice to have a commentator who knows more and sees more than you do.

Perhaps a mention of Ryder Hesjedal, since I so sagely tipped him for something or other in my intro. He really is someone to watch. Not only did he escape and keep going, but he attached himself to the first break when it went past, when most breakaways end up just getting dropped badly. Not only that, but at the end he actually attempted a sprint to win, but sadly he looked like a slow motion replay, and was easily beaten by the others. He was a tired bunny.

The big losers today. Frank Schleck of course. But other than him, there were none really. OK, there were guys like Lance and Ivan Basso, Robert Gesink and Carlos Sastre who lost a minute or so on Contador. Every minute counts, every second counts, but that is not really a disaster for any of them, especially since all of those four contenders actually were in the more or less the same group. When you actually looks at the standings, and eliminate those who can't climb, things look pretty much as they should. But what a stage! By the way, when I say no one lost really big, it is rather unusual for many of the big names to be two or more minutes behind the favourite at this point. It should be much closer, especially since one stage was a total bust. This could be a very interesting Tour as teams and riders attack to get back time in the mountains.

The biggest winner today had to be Andy Schleck, no one thought he would do this well on the cobbles, no one. Second salute to Fabian as he has to be a true man of the North, time triallist extraordinary, and one guy I did NOT pick for my team. BIG mistake. And of course Contador, another guy who was meant to be a loser on the cobbles and turned out to be tough as nails. Two others that might be missed are Cadel Evans, who was superb today and maybe he is ready for the Tour and not wasted by the Giro. I am glad about him doing such a good ride. Not only that, but he is a minute ahead of Contador, which is not bad really. And last, but not least, we must notice, hidden away a bit, Jurgen Van den Broeck, whose name I must find a way to abbreviate. Maybe Jerry. He is an excellent climber and maybe his time as come. Top ten anyway.

That is all for tonight, I gotta watch the footie. Such a terrific stage. I shall go and look on my negative forum later and see if anyone found something complain about. I will tell you later. Actually nearly all of them thought it was brilliant. And it was. Well, not all. One of the guys I like best and respect most said 'Another bad stage IMO. I hate to see GTs decided on crashes. F. Shleck out. Basso and Kreuziger lose time due to the crash .... pile of crap really'. He has a point. I don't like crashes either.

Hey, we could have a Tour here! That stage will last me through two boring flat ones easily.

Thanks to a guy on one of my forums, here are the contenders for the top ten after this stage. Less that three minutes separate them all, BUT we have not even hit the mountains. And it is ONLY stage three. Gesink Basso and Sastre are going to have to make some moves though, which can't be bad for us spectators. Note the already low positions of the Radio Shack guys who normally would expect to be in the top fifteen, all of them. Yet now, none of them. They are going to have to attack too.

3. EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 39"
6. SCHLECK Andy SAXO BANK + 01' 09"
8. VINOKOUROV Alexandre ASTANA + 01' 31"
9. CONTADOR Alberto ASTANA + 01' 40"
13. MENCHOV Denis RABOBANK + 01' 49"
14. WIGGINS Bradley SKY PRO CYCLING + 01' 49"
17. SANCHEZ Luis-Leon CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 02' 25"
19. LÖVKVIST Thomas SKY PRO CYCLING + 02' 34"
21. MARTIN Tony TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA + 02' 35"
28. ROGERS Michael TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA + 03' 00"
29. KLÖDEN Andréas TEAM RADIOSHACK + 03' 01"
32. SANCHEZ Samuel - EUSKATEL - EUSKADI + 03' 04"
34. KARPETS Vladimir KATUSHA TEAM + 03' 05"
38. LE MEVEL Christophe 61 FDJ + 03' 12"
43. GESINK Robert 195 RABOBANK + 03' 16"
48. SASTRE Carlos 91 CERVELO TEST TEAM + 03' 19"
49. BASSO Ivan 41 LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 03' 20"

Good night.