Sunday, 24 July 2011

Evans does the job, Schlecks flop

Stage 20
23 July 2011

Even the day before the end, we still could have one change, presuming nothing bad happens. We can watch the parade into Paris with a bit of attention to the intermediate sprint and the ride around the Champs with the hope that no one falls off. If it all goes as expected the final jersey, the green one, will be settled. It would be a huge surprise if it were not Cav who wins it.

The holder of the white jersey preserved it with a fine time trial. Andy Schleck, the holder of the yellow jersey did a pretty bad TT, and Evans did a brilliant one. So he wins the Tour. I am pleased. Don't quite know why I went off both Schlecks, but I certainly have. They seem like very talented, extremely fit, slightly flawed, child-like, strategically rigid, whining rich kids. In spite of his not conventionally lovely looks, squeaky voice, and terrible French, I like him. Especially the “him” that has begun to appear over the last two years. He has a bit of depth, the Schlecks seem shallow.

Lets look at the TT. A few less obvious things. Pierre Rolland should have been beaten by Rein Taaramae, who should now have the white jersey. And Pierre WAS beaten. But only by 47 seconds, and Rein failed to win the jersey. So Pierre, after his win yesterday on the Alpe, has kept the white jersey. A minor triumph for a very good time trial under pressure. And a nice little cherry on the cake of the French Continental (second division) team Europcar. There is no doubt that Rolland is going to become another young chou-chou of the French. But it also looks like he might be able to take a step up from being one of the “new hopes”, and become a new “core rider” for the French. He did very well, as he is not a rouleur, not a specialist in the TT.

For me the biggest surprise of all is the fourth place of Thomas De Gendt, from the second division Vacansoleil team. I had no idea whatever that he could time trial (not that I know anywhere near everything, although I did know he likes long escapes), much less beat everyone in the peloton except Martin, Evans and Contador. He beat Porte (another youngish guy who is known as a good TTer), Peraud (former French TT champion), Sanchez, Cancellara, Danielson, EBH, Millar and so forth. I will look for an explanation. The poor showing of Cancellara shows he is unwell or knackered. I wonder when was the last time trial, in any race, where he was beaten by seven guys. Millar, normally an excellent TT rider, finished nearly four minutes behind. Beaten by Cunego! I have to remember that for many of these guys there is no obvious point in trying hard when they nothing to gain. But the case of Millar also requires explanation, as he usually is in the top ranks. You'd think he would ride well just for pride. Or to help his team win the team competition. When is the last time Millar finished 32nd, nearly four minutes off the pace.

Tony Martin is one of the best in the world right now, and he showed it. Contador is also a superb TT rider, and tried his best to overtake Voeckler for fourth, just out of pride I suppose. He finished third on the day. Even Thomas Voeckler tried hard at the end, finishing a respectable fourteenth, 2 minutes behind Martin.

The guys who lost most were the Schlecks. They simply rode badly, pulling nothing out of the bag. Andy, after boldly asserting he would win the Tour yesterday, finished 2 and half minutes behind Evans, and lost the Tour. No doubt he also lost the Tour because their plan, rigidly adhered to, was to NOT attack in the Pyrenees. They lost it there too, but they didn’t even come close in the TT. In fact, almost as if they were riding together, looking for the other brother constantly, they finished only three seconds apart. Andy particularly should have done way better than Frank. Quite a bad performance. Many of you have not heard of Richie Porte, but he was expected in the top ten and did well out of pride, as he was way down the GC. J-C Peraud, who was riding his first Tour at the age of 34, used to be a mountain bike. He managed to prevent Pierre Rolland from finishing in the top ten by riding a good TT. Put another way, he was the second best Frenchman and finished in the top ten on his first go. Four French in the top 14. Twenty percent of the top twenty were young riders.

The guy who rode the most important and meaningful TT is Cadel Evens. He throughly beat both Schlecks and rose to the top of the tree. The gap he created was way wider than anyone thought. Unless something happens, he rode himself in to the yellow jersey for good. In fact, had he ridden a little bit faster, 8 seconds over 42.5 k, he would have WON the entire time trial, and beaten every single rider. This would be incredible, given the work he did on his own, in the mountains. So it was an awesome ride on his part, and added to his earlier stage victory, and his towing the entire GC peloton up many mountains, makes him a totally deserving victor. No need to say “but” in any way. Bravo to Cadel.

Just to keep things in perspective. The slowest rider, the cyclist who just rode fairly comfortably to the end, only took 11 minutes more than the winner. In other words they are all riding very fast, but a few faster than the others. Nobody is loafing, pretending to be a cycle tourist.

As a quick summary of how uncertain and unpredictable this Tour has been, we can go back and review the predictions of the experts in the editorial team of Velo magazine. This is the classiest mag in France. Most of them make their living in the cycling culture, learning about and writing about cycling throughout the world, but certainly during the Tour. NONE of nine predicted Evans would win. NONE of them predicted that Sanchez would win the mountains jersey. ONE of them guessed Cavendish would get the green jersey, and even if Rojas should win, none of them picked him. And lastly NONE of them picked Rolland to win the young jersey (even though he is French), or Taaramae if he should somehow win. So out of the 36 possible correct picks for all the jerseys, they got one correct. This is a percentage of 3% correct, rounded UP.

So much more could be said, but a time trial sometimes leaves one a bit bereft of words. After all, although it is the race of truth, it does JUST consist of one rider riding on his own for a fixed distance. At the end there is a fixed time. The times are rank ordered. No battles, nobody being dropped on a climb, no crashes, no real action of a collective sort. The best way to watch a TT is with a few friends, near a curve, a slight uphill or a downhill. One after the other, same spot. Sounds boring, but it is not.

Cav and HTC should win tomorrow, but I picked Rojas to get more points. One last word about my fantasy teams. I think that without a shadow of a doubt, unless I get some heavy bonuses at the end, this is the worst I have done in years, probably the worst I have ever done. I was a bit hasty and casual with my picks, and really should take it more seriously or just stop. It is not much fun when you do so badly. Its like being in a race and getting dropped early on.

Last blog tomorrow, unless I feel inspired to do a wrap up reflection. I always think I should, but in fact, I am usually glad it is over, and normal life can begin again. Maybe two or three days after the Tour is over, check the blog, see if I have actually done a reflective piece. My cold is almost gone as well.

Do watch the parade to Paris, the first sight of the Eiffel Tower, and the last sprint. There is something really exciting and aesthetically fascinating as they ride across the Place de la Concorde for the last time. Presumably with HTC, probably Renshaw the last guy, after Goss drops them on the Place, towing Cav to the line.

Until tomorrow.

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