Friday, 23 July 2010

Stage 18 23-7-10

Today the Tour finished in Bordeaux, city with a very rich heritage in architecture, stemming from very rich people making loads of money from wine for hundreds of years. Apparently gorgeous and I intend to check it out in a week or so. In addition it is the second most prestigious sprinters' stage, after Paris of course. Although there was a break of four, there were too few riders for it to succeed under the onslaught of the sprinters' teams, riding for nearly the last victory. The result was predictable, the break were swallowed up and the sprinting trains were put in place. The man of the day was Mark Cavendish, to no great surprise. Julian Dean, the guy who bundled Renshaw out of the Tour, was second, and Pettachi third. Thor Hushovd finished in fourteenth place, and admitted in an interview that his Tour was over, there was no chance he would win the green jersey. He said what everyone knew already, that he was just not up to much in the sprints themselves. So whatever other points he got were just not enough. In fact, today was a good example. All the sprinters were ahead of Thor and the guys immediately behind were not sprinters. He was the last sprinter. Unless something awful happens, Allessandro Pettachi should win the green jersey in Paris. End of suspense. I think even if Cav wins, Pettachi has to finish worse than seventh. Not much chance of that. Unless something happens.

Perhaps I have been a bit hard on Anthony Charteau these last days. There are other ways to look at his totally unforeseen victory in the competition for 'the best climber'. First, it was unpredictable. I often go on about uncertainty being the key to a good race, and yet when something totally improbable happens, I don't get excited. In fact, I don't even like it much, it disturbs me. This is not consistent (although consistency is not a value that is supreme, in my view). Maybe I should be happier. Furthermore he is almost certainly not a doper. When you look at recent winners, Rasmussen, Pellizotti, Virenque, Jalabert, Kohl, all of them are either convicted dopers or almost certainly dopers who were not caught. So we got a clean one this time. Furthermore, unlike the case of those guys, this is the biggest event that has ever happened in Charteau's life. He is a little guy, a loyal team mate, and worker. Obviously he has a bit of will power and focus. He has nothing about him that is fancy, more a modest local personality. I should be a little bit happier that there is still room for a guy like him in a media circus event of global proportions. Maybe it will restart his career, even at his advanced age. That would be nice. On the other hand, I can't help but wish for a Tour where there is a serious competition between two excellent climbers, who race each other to the tops of hills and mountains. Like the green jersey competition.

Today it was Cameron Diaz (who I have never liked much) and Tom Cruise who were in town waffling on about the Tour and posing with Contador and Schleck.

For those of you who might think I ignore the team classification, here it is. Radio Shack have it in the bag.

1 Team Radioshack 264:36:07  
2 Caisse d'Epargne 0:08:30  
3 Rabobank 0:33:39  

Nothing changed on the GC. It seldom does on a sprint stage.

I am rather glad that Cav won without his usual leadout train. It may well be that disrupting the HTC train is one way to stop Cav from winning, but in fact he now appears to be able to win without the last leadout man. If you watch the video you see him searching for the right wheel to follow, eventually settling on Pettachi. Once he was on the wheel, he just picked a moment and left the others behind. Simple really. But it is slightly harder without a leadout man, and requires a reading of the race, good quick decisions, and a bit of luck. I think there is little doubt that if he tries to keep his personal life a little bit orderly, then there is no reason he won't be setting records for years to come. Keep in mind that if he keeps this up for ten years, he still won't be as old as Pettachi. Which reminds me to tip a chapeau to Alessandro, he has done really well this Tour and would clearly deserve the green jersey.

So all we have left is the time trial. Most observers are convinced there is no chance that Contador can blow the time trial and lose to Schleck. The only question is whether Schleck will lose 30 seconds or two minutes. I think happy endings and tidiness will be best served if Contador takes at least a minute out of Schleck. Anything less will not be impressive. Already Contador has not won a single stage, which is not utterly unknown, but a bit rare. Usually if this happens, there is talk of winning 'without panache'. Panache is crucial to French people. What they call panache does not always seem to be that, but who knows. There is some chance, but a very slim one that Alberto will win the time trial. But with guys like Cancellara, Martin, Wiggo, Kloden, Armstrong (?), Evans, Zabriskie and others, it is unlikely that Contador will win the stage. The weather promises to be cool and partly cloudy or a bit sunny. Perfect, no rain, no heat, nothing to trouble anyone.

There was a moment during the Tour commentary when Jalabert and Fignon were both asked to evaluate the Tour. Fignon was most critical, saying Schleck had a poor team, never really tried anything much except that last day, made no real improvisations, and that the Tour was a series of occasions lost. We never really saw a battle, and there were not very many examples of tactics. Basically Andy has to train a bit more, and get better at time trials, as well as learn a bit more about tactics and surprise. Fignon also said a good word for the French riders who won stages, and a bit for Charteau, but without much conviction. Jalabert was not so brutal, but did agree that there were many fewer attacks than there could have been. He also contended that the two should have sprinted for the end of the stage instead of it being a Contador gift. The two Laurents had always been clear that Alberto did nothing wrong and has nothing to be sorry for and no reason to give gifts.

In case you wondered, when cruising comfortably along on the flat, the peloton does about 60kph and when getting set up for the sprint they do 70kph on the flat. This is of course with most of the riders hiding in the wind shadow of the peloton and others rotating in front. No one can ride for many kilometres at that speed on their own. Further important information, in the last 25 k or more, the HTC team rode in front for 52 percent of the time, Lampre (Pettachi) for 40% and the rest was Milram. The first two got their rewards, but Ciolek has been a big disappointment in this Tour. He left Cav's team to be a star, but turned out not to be. I wonder if this will happen to Greipel.

The French word for riding like the wind is 'fulgurant', like lightning.

People say this has been a hard Tour, lots of heat, accidents everywhere, loads of climbing and so forth. But in fact, there have never been so many riders finishing the Tour as this year. More than any other year, by far. I say this shows that although the weather was hot, and there were climbs, there was not so much hard racing as usual.

Quotes from Cavendish. "I wasn’t sure if I was going to even start the stage. I’ve been sick the last four days with bronchitis – actually, there are a hell of a lot of guys in the peloton with the same thing so I’m not only one [ed note Pettachi too has bronchitis]. But I finally had the fever yesterday and I was dead last night and never thought I could start today. We decided, ‘Oh, okay I’ll go. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t…’ Even during the stage, I was speaking with Brad [Wiggins] and he said, ‘Are you sprinting today?’ And I told him, ‘Yeah.’"
"He then told me that I’m not normally as talkative as I was when I’m up for a sprint. But I told him that we didn’t really have the pressure on and if I don’t win, we know the reason… but it was so nice to see the guys working so incredibly hard. I was sitting in 10th wheel and the guys were pulling and pulling and pulling. The guys in the escape were strong and also very clever and, as we saw in the end, it was hard to bring back [Daniel] Oss – he did a brilliant ride at the finish – and we had to use Michael [Rogers] and Tony [Martin] to pull him back."

Must get to bed. I am sorry the Tour is nearly over. Although I do like to watch them do the Champs Elysées One day, live.