Thursday, 8 July 2010

Stage 5 8-7-10

While the cycling and the route today were not too intense for 99% of the day, we certainly got a big dose of emotion and action at the end. Not much to say about the racing until the end. It was mostly flat, lots of sunflowers, wheat, maize, cathedrals and big houses. They really are richer up there around Paris, and have been for many centuries. We just don't have such big buildings around here in such profusion. The green French countryside just simmered in what all the riders said was a serious heat, over 35 degrees much of the stage.

Surprise! There was an escape. Three guys never had much of a lead, but they rolled on for hours. Got caught about five k from the end, by a combination of HTC (way over half the work), Lampre and Cervelo. Those teams were riding for Cavendish, Pettachi and Hushovd. Now and again we saw a Garmin rider or other teams during the day, and the Garmin guys were certainly very active in the last few kilometres. By 'riding for', I mean the teams wanted to make absolutely certain that the escapees were caught, otherwise their sprinter could not win the stage. If the peloton catches the escapees too far from the end, then other escape artists are encouraged. So the ideal is to catch them about five k from the finish. Like today. Let's take the ending first, HTC Columbia, in the end, delivered the first Tour victory to Cav. You might even say that Mark Renshaw was the crucial figure in the end. One day some other team is going to make him an offer, and if Renshaw wants to be a star, then he might just drift off. I doubt it though, as HTC sees how crucial the lead out team is, and how difficult it would be to replace Renshaw. Renshaw, in turn, might be quite happy with his job, get paid a shedload of money, and might stay. Anyone in the know realises he is very very good, even if he does win lots of races.

As far as I can tell, without reading through the entire story of the day, nothing much happened. But if I find anything, I shall tell you. May as well keep things short. By the way, should you wish to review the end of each stage, as well as other semi-interesting videos, you should check out or even just go direct to YouTube.

By giving you that link I should save you a lot of my words, but …. the HTC train works very well, but other teams have figured out how to stop it, temporarily disable it or some of the riders in it. There are various moves to use, and Lampre has certainly worked out some good ones. The main tactic is to disrupt the line of HTC riders, trick them into getting separated, enter the train itself by a bit of shoving and pushing, and then without all the riders in a row, the train does not work quite as well. For example, the team and riders cannot regulate their movement, speed and changing of places so carefully and consciously. Today for example, the Garmin riders, three or four of them, ended up riding in front at the rather crucial moment before and after the last curve, the last curve before the final straight. Sprinters like Hushovd, McEwan, Freire and Sebastian Turgot (sixth, two days in a row, yes I know you have never heard of him, Bbox, neither had I) are trying to find 'the wheel' to follow. If they find the right wheel, follow it, then at just the right moment, maybe a hundred meters from the line, they can, if strong enough, come out from the protection of the other rider and blast past for the victory. The moment to blast past, as well as exactly which wheel to follow, is the essence of a master sprinter's skill and savoir faire.

In any case, Renshaw and Cav got to the end in pretty good shape, in the front, not much to deal with ahead, an empty road. Cav moved out and past Renshaw with no trouble. Although Eddie and Thor and Pettachi and the rest did their very best, this time they could not get past Mark. The truth is that while Cav is a complex fellow, or 'a kid' if you like, he needs to be delivered to the 200 metre mark with no one in front. Then he wins. If anything disrupts this, then we don't quite know what he can do. I suspect if necessary he can wing it, but we won't know for some time as Renshaw is a highly skilled sprinter himself, almost taking a stage when Cav was a bit poorly recently.

In the interview afterwards,with the French TV, as well as on the podium, he was in tears, all the time, not just a wee moment. He was crying. In fact, during the interview, he had his face buried in his hands, while the camera focussed full on him, and Gerard Holz just stood there with the mic, mumbling. I think they think they might have captured 'a huge TV moment', and maybe they are right. I thought it was a bit tasteless, and they could have switched to something else, or just to Holz mumbling, without showing Cav in such a serious state of upset. Cav made various explanations and thanked various people, I was not listening too closely. I was just watching this arrogant kid, who is unable to really understand what he says and its impact, who really needs to do some growing up, just break down. And then come out of it too. We will hear about this for some time. I hope someone does a transcript of the what he said because I 'heard' none of it. The pressure he must have been under or put himself under over the past few weeks, as well as the past few days must have been immense. He is only a kid, 23 is not 'grown up' in our day and age. He gives good hugs too, after he wins, to all his teammates. Not just perfunctory embraces of the 'I am a man and I don't hug' variety, but actual proper hugs. That, in my simple book, is a good sign of character.

So I could not be happier that he has won, not least because I picked him for today and should get a few points. After yesterday, many of my forum colleagues abandoned Cav, for seemingly good reasons. The truth of the matter is that we need characters in cycling to make it interesting for the spectators. It is not just a sports event (although NO big time sports event is 'just' a sports event), it is a show. And Cav makes good TV. I do wish he would learn to see himself more clearly, reflect a bit.

So looking at the green jersey, Thor did well today, beating his nearest competitor. But he did not beat Eddie (EBH), who finished third. Thor thinks Pettachi is his biggest rival, but EBH seems to be trying to win sprints too. Might I also mention that Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil, the Spanish sprinter, is doing way better than most Spanish sprinters have done in the Tour, or anywhere else. I remember asking a pal who lives in Spain if here was a really good Spanish sprinter, for my Vuelta team. She said not really. This guy looks good though, at least the best of the rest good. I mention again Sebastian Turgot, but frankly, I have little to say. You don't finish sixth in a big Tour sprint two days in a row by accident. But who is he anyway? Looks like Tyler Farrar is a bit better. While not on top form he is riding well enough that his whole team a very effective lead out group, rides for him. Tenth is not great, but could be in with a shout in the next couple of days before we hit the mountains and the sprinters have to suffer in the back group.

No GC guys lost any time today, no one left the race during the race, same mountains jersey, same young rider jersey, same yellow jersey. Just the drama of the sprint to keep us going. Incidentally, if some of you have never actually watched a clip of the sprint, with the possibility of stopping and starting it so see exactly what happens in the last two k, then take a look. It is very interesting and very complex and happens in the wink of an eye. If you ever get a chance to witness a massive sprint finish, do so at least once. They go so fast and move so quickly, you just have no idea if all you see is TV. I remember looking down a long classic sprint finish in Tours, wide and straight. I looked at them far away, put the camera to my eye, and they were on me. The sound is actually awesome. I learned that I should never take photos of the peloton passing, just watch with all the senses open. Took me years to actually do it like that. Sprints like today make me drool a bit about the ones at the end, in Bordeaux and Paris, both totally classic.

That's it for tonight folks.