Thursday, 14 July 2011

First Mountain Stage, Sanchez attacks

Stage 12
14 July 2011

We know a bit more about the Tour now. We also are beginning to accumulate a few heroic stories, more bad luck, more emerging stars, and gradually getting an idea about the yellow jersey. The Tour has definitely reached a serious stage. Tomorrow, I doubt if the stage will be won by a star. After the only climb of the day, a very hard one, the Aubisque, there are forty k downhill mostly, to the finish. This usually means that many of the GC guys will ride up the hill together, no one will attack, since they would be caught on the descent or the flat bit near the end. However, if a a couple of non-threatening riders from one of the GC teams are in the break, and they get to the top with a small time gap, their star could attack at the top of the climb, and catch up with his mates on the descent, then time trial to the finish. It has happened. Mostly likely there will be a break, maybe with a few guys who are close to the spotted jersey, or who want to win it.

I would have liked it better if Geraint Thomas, becoming one of my favourites, had won the Goddet Prize for getting over the Tourmalet first. But he was second. Nevertheless, a very good showing for the lad. It must be added, also for his companion, Jeremy Roy. They still use newspapers sometimes for descending, too keep the wind from penetrating the jersey when it is all sweaty. Others like Thomas V., have a specially made cycling gilet. In his case, yellow. I do love watching descents, probably because they are a bit exciting and dangerous, and also because I cannot descend fast, too scared, too cautious, not a good enough bike handler. So I can only watch the guys who can and enjoy it.

As expected by some, the GC guys just climbed the Tourmalet together and nothing much happened until the last climb. And then, GC-wise, only the last few kilometres. Views from the helicopter were missing. Fog. Nevertheless, we know more.

Chavanel tried for glory on the 14th, but he is not in good shape. Geraint and Jeremy Roy did a fine breakaway display. Pierre Rolland did a spectacular job for Voeckler, crossing the line in plenty of time to save the yellow jersey. Next to Thomas and Roy, he impressed me most today. A young French hope, only 24 and capable of climbing with the very best in the Tour. Voeckler was pretty superb as well.

Of the Top Ten, several had bad days, or are not going to figure in the GC this year. Tony Martin and Peter Velits dropped out of the top ten. So did Philippe Gilbert, Klöden, LL Sanchez and Jacob Fuglsang. They didn't totally disappear, some of them will be back. Maybe. Tony Martin is not a great climber, but has also been busting a gut for Cav. I expect he might hang loose until the ITT at the end of the Tour, and forget going up mountains fast. I can't explain Peter Velits just yet, he might come back. Gilbert has discovered that he can't really climb in the high mountains, but he certainly kept up until the very end, so maybe he will find a new identity in this Tour. Fuglsang is a bit of a surprise, let's hope it is a temporary setback. He is one of the last guys that is meant to be with the Schlecks. He wasn't. LL Sanchez has yet to really succeed in the high mountains.

To fill those empty spaces there are some overall contenders for the GC drifting up. Ivan Basso rode without a mistake, and is in fifth. Cunego also followed the wheels, but was unable to do anything except finish very respectably, now in sixth. Contador moved up to seventh, and has to figure out if he can do better and whether he can attack. He still is two minutes behind Frank, and while he is obviously physically troubled, maybe even mentally, he needs to find a space to attack. Maybe the Alps. The Schlecks found him out today, one attack, another attack, and when he didn't follow, it was Frank who took off. Mind you, no one else responded either. Maybe they were all not very worried about Frank getting a few more seconds. Samuel Sanchez moved up to eighth with his fine ride today. No reason to suppose he won't stay there, he seems in excellent shape. Tom Danielson, the 33 year old American who has promised much, but never ridden the Tour before, enters the top ten. Filling it out we have Nicolas Roche, who has been lying low for days. When the road went up, he was ready. The top ten now looks very much like it could be at the end of the Tour. Not sure who might crash it, until I look …... Yes, still room for plenty of new faces in the top ten, notwithstanding events. Maybe the way Voeckler has ridden, he will keep the jersey for two more days, but eventually he will make way for another rider. Ten guys have to gain five minutes on him in the next few days, and then he is out. Maybe he will cling on and finish “Top French Guy”, that would be cool. Mind you he can't time trial to save his life, so probably he will drift down slowly and disappear just before the Champs.

The guys who might move into the top ten include Velits, Tarramae, Leipheimer, Uran. Of course, for the sake of courtesy there should be a couple of French guys, maybe Rolland or Coppel. Sometimes the top French guy is only 25th. I hope there will be surprises in the top ten. Certainly quite a few good riders, who might have just had a bad day, will be making breaks in the next week or so. These are the good riders, who have lost 10 minutes or more already. Take a look at the list, there are plenty of them.

Tomorrow, the green jersey intermediate sprint is JUST before the Aubisque. It is a bit lumpy before that, so I think Gilbert might take the points, after the escape mops up the big ones. Gilbert is 26 points behind, and there are 20 on offer, even if there is no escape. None of the three big contenders will make it over the Aubisque and contest the final. Although I suppose Gilbert might … Of course we might also watch Evans in the next few days, he should get a few points, more or less for finishing with the leaders in the mountains, maybe even nicking a stage. For example today he picked up 11 at the finish. And then there is Rojas.

As for the mountains jersey, Samuel Sanchez earned it today by finishing first on this stage. It is not obvious he will go for it, we shall have to wait for two days to know his intentions. No way he is going to be allowed in a big break anymore, he is way too dangerous on GC. So I doubt he will be wearing it in Paris. Who then? I have no idea yet. Too many mountains to come, and everyone who scored mountain points today earned them, but almost by accident, by winning a stage or by being in a break. No one was really trying to be the mountain king. Do glance at the standings, they will tell you nothing. Where is Anthony Charteau? Does anyone care?

Gesink was a big loser today. He seems poorly. The young jersey is up for grabs. Contrary to my expectations and predictions, there is NOT a huge gap and the best young rider contest is very close indeed. Given that one can easily lose five minutes on any climb, the fact that the top ten young riders are within 8 minutes of each other, means this race, which will be one of attrition, is still going. That's great, and a bit of a surprise. Nearly everyone said it would be Gesink in a walk. Nearly everyone. And yet, people you may never have heard of are in the top ten. Nice extra event to observe. Speaking of young riders, Kreuziger can descend very well, and yet he did not catch Geraint and Roy coming off the Tourmalet. Something is wrong with him, especially since he is young rider and should not be so far down. He is the leader of Astana for goodness sakes.

Cool watching the peloton with all favourites on the last climb. Looking. Wondering. Deciding. Doing ... what? Mostly waiting, conservative so far, no big attacks. The Schlecks did well, but could have done better. Evans just hung on. Maybe they will try harder tomorrow. I love to watch the reduced group of climbers while they wonder what to do and when.

Big losers. Gesink, Kloden.
Little losers, Contador, Gilbert, Velits, Fuglsang.
Big winners, Voeckler (had a special gilet yellow), Sanchez (two prizes, stage and jersey).
Little winners, Schlecks (especially Frank), Cunego, Basso, Jeannson (didn't even know he could climb), Cadel, Levi, Vanendert (How many of you have ever heard of him before?), Cavendish, Tom Danielson, Rolland.

They ride at 35kph average for this stage, up three climbs I could not do in a day. I can ride that fast on the flat, for one k or so. Respect. Mind you, they are all young, and that's all they do. Still.

I won't have to learn to spell young Galimzyanov's name this year, he did not finish. That is, he finished, but somehow got dropped by the big peloton of slow guys, and finished outside the limit for the day. Each day, riders have to finish within a certain percentage of the winner's time, based on how hard the stage is. So if you loaf along taking it wasy in themountains or are injured, and finish way behind, you are out. Although they make exceptions sometimes for heroic finishes. Galimzyanov is Russian, so no exception. Feillu did not start, tendonitis he said. Two sprinters have had enough. I reckon we will see the young Russian back in years to come.

The historical story of the day on TV, with movies and stills, was about Eugene Christophe, interviewed by Robic or Bobet, great heroes of France. He was the first guy to wear yellow, in 1919. There was no jersey before that. In fact, you might not know that the green jersey only appeared in 1953, the mountains jersey in 1933 and the white jersey in 1975. I rode with Christophe toe clips for years.

Lourdes, stage finish tomorrow, has the second most hotels in France behind Paris, 200 or something. 11,000 buses a year. Who might win? Well, I guess Gilbert might take the points at the intermediate sprint, or I suppose Rojas or Cav could, it depends a little bit on the break and a little bit on how lumpy the route really is in reality. Lumpy, Gilbert. Not so lumpy, Cav. Unless, HTC want someone to try for the stage. Since they really don't have anyone very close on the GC, maybe they will just do Cav for the day.

It feels good for them to be in the mountains. Things happen more, riders move up and down, weaknesses and strengths appear. The stage unfolds more slowly, better drama. Scenery is superb, especially if the helicopter works. In a couple days I shall, if nothing happens, be watching in Montpellier. Doubt if you will see me on TV, there are sooo many people at the finish. I will try to get a few pics, as I won't be able to write much, with the travel and so forth. Still, Cavendish will win.

By for now.

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