Sunday, 24 July 2011

Cav takes five.

Stage 21
24 July

I watched most of the stage, then the show after, then I got a whole lot of phone calls of a semi-important nature, and it is already 2100, and I have two hours. Not a great day today for disciplined, well edited work. Maybe, just maybe, I will beg your indulgence about my superficiality tonight, and try to reflect and write a bit during the next week. Usually I am so involved in the Tour that if I don't get out of the “Tour zone”, and begin to do more other things, like stacking the four cubic metres of wood that are coming tomorrow, I get depressed when the Tour zone is no longer. The end of the Tour brings a lot of emotions, none of them deep deep, but still pretty real. Over the years I have learned a few tricks, and usually can avoid the post-Tour void, without too much problem. And this year I got ill in the middle and also had heavy family events. I probably held my life a bit together with the Tour blog. Anyway, I always write it for myself anyway, but I like to share as well. One pal offered to fix me up with some kind of tool which will tell me how people got to the blog, how long they stayed, where they live and so forth. I thought about it, and ralised that I would not learn much that I need to know from such a device. I won't get that puffed up if someone likes it, as some people have liked it for years. I had a very good certified judge of writing who says I can write well, in a certain way. Its not a bad blog. And if it turns out that almost no one reads this, then that really doesn't matter either. I know a few friends read it, maybe as much to find out how I am, as to read a flawlessly written and very knowledgable blog about the Tour.

So it's over. We know almost all there is to know. Slowly over the next few days and weeks, we will find out much more. Details from behind the scenes, how things happened backstage that we never knew. Endless (for those who know where to find them) analysis and lists of best moments, biggest disappointment, best team-mate, revelations of the Tour, etc.

For me it was an excellent Tour. There was uncertainty about all the jerseys almost to the very end. Tour 2011 had magnificent feats. I would say that at least once each and sometimes more than onc from Voeckler, Schleck, Evans, Contador, EBH, Hushovd. Rolland, Sanchez, loads of riders did magnificent feats. There were worse than usual bad bits, the crashes of many riders including a huge proportion of the contenders, those who realistically aspired to top ten. It is best when nearly all the riders are in good shape, uninjured and finish the Tour. Even though crashes and injuries are obviously a part of racing. The most obvious example is Contador. One day we might know what his physical problem was. I am sure that he had mental problems, a lot on his mind. Every jersey was won by someone who worked for it and is deserving for outside the Tour sporting reasons as well as fitting into the Tour rules for jersey winners.

Who better than Evans, for all around performance, and some feats of daring and risk?

Cav, well, there are people who don't like him. I once really liked him, then started to dislike him, and now like him again. If he were my neighbour I might not be best friends or anything, but he would make a good neighbour, within limits. And the incidental thing is that he is the fastest sprinter on earth, with the best leadout train on earth, so he won sprints and the green jersey. Every Tour some teams thinks HTC have a weakness, and that they can exploit the strategy that will destabilise Cav and his train. Turns out they can for a stage or two, Cav does not win every single stage. Knowing that Cav can be beten doesnot mean the opposition can actulaly do it much. Its not like the strategy is new, it been going for four years. They can't beat him, alhtough no one can win every race, even if they are the best. He has already won more stages of the Tour, faster, than anyone in human history. Unless something happens, there is no really good reason to doubt he will surpass Armstrong and Darrigade, which means two more victories. Then in a matter of a couple of years, Hinault will be caught, and eventually assuming things move along OK, he might surpass Merckx in Tour victories. That is 34. The guy is the best, and its good for him to win green once in his career. Now he can leave it for others, unless he gets a taste of it and just win more stages. But as in life, so in the Tour. He may never keep going long enough, fast enough to equal Hinault or Merckx, we just don't know..

Who better than Samuel Sanchez as climber of the Tour? He nearly won two mountain stages, and definitely won one? Almost always there with the best. He never tried to win the jersey, just to win the Tour in the mountains. In my view the most appropriate winner this year. It may be true that all things said, he could be the best climber in more than one GT. He can descend as well. Second place, went to Schleck, who is really not very good at descending. You can't be a good climber if you can descend. In my view. Sanchez can do both and did both during the Tour.

As for the white jersey, I think Pierre is great for it. No one picked him at all, it is humbling and fun to have surprises. On the other hand is well known enough in his own country, has won a few races, and no one is deeply surprised. This Tour could well be the turning point of his career. The question is whether he will be at the level of Chavanel, Gadret, di Gregario, Casar or Voeckler or will be he the level of top ten globally. No one knows yet. He is a very quiet, nicely behaved lad right now.

Reminds me of a story I heard today. A friend or mine and I were having a coffee in the cafe. I like doing that. He said his kid (14), who is a dirt bike fanatic, was glued to the Tour for the first time. Normally he says what kids often say about road bikes. He thinks Voeckler is great. He thinks Rolland is amazing. Alpe de bloody Huez! He wants his dad to buy him some kind of road bike before the school starts up. The impact of the Tour. I tried to fully get into how excited and inspired this kid (who I know) could be, assuming it is not a passing fancy, which I don't think it is. Loads of riders were into many things in their childhood, and it is not until they get older that they get into road racing. Usually as a result of the Tour de France. Sadly this kid may never play out his enthusiasm as my local club does absolutely nothing to encourage or teach or help young people get into cyclo-tourism or cyclo-sportives. Maybe the support is hidden, and I will have to look for it. Anyway, if you can, imagine begin 14, French, into cycling of some sort and being hit between the eyes by the Tour for the first time. The lad knew about it of course, but I mean hit by it between the eyes. So that is my favourite Tour story, except it must have happened many thousands of times in France alone. In fact, a 50 year old friend of mine saw the Tour come by one day years ago, and he became a genuine Tour nutter. The drugs seem to have put him off lately. The Tour bug will bite big with this Tour.

The stage was pretty good too. A quite short little promenade into one of the best known cities on earth. View of many tourist attractions, helicopter shots of everything, then the parade around the downtown area. Same parcours for years. The bit I love best is along the Rue de Rivoli to the end, where it takes the zig left and the zig right in the Place de la Concorde to get into the last few hundred metres of the sprint. I really do like that bit.

Rojas seemed to have more or less given up after the intermediate sprint. Naturally I had picked him to get me a few points, but he didn't mange the top ten. Don't know why, but if he didn't try,he is a bit of a wuss for me. Admittedly it was pretty hopeless after the intermediate sprint which he contested. But hey, it was the Champs Elysée for goodness sake. I think he still could have (logically)won by winning the stage and Cav out of the first fifteen. Who knows, maybe he just decided that Cav was the best this year and he was second best. For me Rojas was one of the revelations of the Tour. He has to be in the list of the “current best sprinters in the world”. What I did like about the stage is EBH trying to beat Cav. I mean EBH has had a great Tour, could not be better. If he snuck past Cav, he would be noticed by all, big time. As far as I can see, the only reason EBH is not fully recognised as a very high class rider is that he has had injury problems for two years. For example, I really would like to see Sagan and EBH go head to head on some of the uphill sprints in races over the next ten years. Unless EBH can learn to climb high hills. Then … Having two young talents like Peter Sagan (too young for the Tour) and EBH, not to mention all the others (Geraint Thomas), bodes well for pro cycling.

By all the others, I mean the five young riders in the top fifteen. This is unheard of. Lose a few of the big leaders, and some excellent young riders step up. I guess, although I have talked about it before, the success of the young riders, French and other, has been one thing that has marked this Tour for me. Often, the older guys were a bit disappointing, but the younger ones played way above what we used to think was their weight. We await future results to know if this younger generation is going to provide us with better sports entertainment. Always a good idea to read over the list of the best young riders at the end of the Tour. Try to remember what they did, what they look like. You will see them again.

In a funny way, although this Tour got rid of way too many very good riders via crashes, it also confirmed some of the more experienced riders. Evans for the best example. He rode an excellent Tour. Did nothing as amazing and historic as Schleck's ride up Galibier, 60k of solo riding in the highest mountains. That is the stuff of legends. That ride will live forever. Mind you some of Evan's towing along a group of others for tens of kilometres, his wee victory early on, his totally massive time trial after three weeks of racing, all that was excellent. Totally deserved victory. Some day I would like to understand the strange deep dislike of Evans in certain circles. He is not pretty, true. He grimaces a lot, looks like life itself is a constant pain, smiles when he cries, cries when he smiles (in public), has a squeaky voice, has self doubts and reveals them, involves himself in deviant causes (Aboriginals and Tibetans), has a complex wife and relationship (unlike some wives and relationships, to my mind), he is just too weird. Sadly for such people he wins races, and sometimes by feats of daring attack or massive solo effort. He seems a more than vaguely interesting cyclist. Probably, almost certainly, rides without doping.

Anyway, I am going on. No need really, the Tour is over. It was a good Tour, the results are known, more little mysteries will be revealed, deals between riders and new teams will begin to leak out in a few days. We will see what lives on from this Tour, what dominates the analyses that should come out in the next month. Should be fun. I do think we had a vintage Tour.

Oh yes, a small fact I learned that I never knew before today. Might be common knowledge. The financing of the Leopard Trek team, essentially the Schlecks, has always been slightly mysterious. Big money comes from this real estate magnate who suddenly decided to put big money into a procycling team. Bazzi, or whatever he is called. I wondered idly now and again why he did it. He clearly is not advertising a product, Leopard is not a product. The other sponsors, like Trek bikes, cars, clothing and tyres and so forth are paying normal advertising rates. They have products to sell. It turns out that Johnny Schleck, the ex-pro father, has been a hunting buddy of this rich Luxembourgeois for 25 years. That's how the team got financed. I never knew about the hunting connection until yesterday.

One last thought. In the unlikely case that I either write or collect “Tour assessments”, I will put them on the site within a month, maybe even a week. So pop back once or twice in the next month, in case I do it. I shall do this next year, unless something happens. Same address, I hope. I wrote 22 blog entries over three and half weeks. They were all somewhere between 2,000 and 1500 words. Not that well edited sometimes, if I were tired or undisciplined. That could be well over 40,000 words in three and a bit weeks. I guess that is how people write books, but at a less frantic pace and stretched out a bit. I am impressed. Too bad I lack discipline and focus. It is fun to do though.


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