Thursday, 21 July 2011

Schleck, A. makes his move

Stage 18
21 July 2011

Well then, what did you think of that one? I fail to see a missing facet in that little jewel. Not one. I should think that this stage will go down in the history of the Tour as one of the very best. The highest (elevation) finish ever in the Tour, and they raced all day really, in bits and pieces, here and there. Supposed to be 3 degrees and windy at the top of Galibier. My goodness, what a great stage. Exactly what the Tour organisers and corse designers had hoped. They must be glowing. AND we have two more days of suspense ahead of us.

I must write this quickly, as I had NO NAP today. I just could not figure out what to miss, and so I was there all afternoon. Glad I stayed. I have to say I find the Alps a little bit inhuman, too pointy and rocky. But awesome on the big HD screen, from a distance. I suspect tomorrow might be like that, nothing to miss. So I need to get this done fast and get to bed early. I should be ready for another day without a nap. The stage is so short there should be action all day, with a repeat climb of Galibier, by another road. My cold is almost gone, by the way.

One thing I noticed when I tuned in was that it took a moment (without using computer displays), to figure out who was where. It was a lovely, confusing and uncertain stage they gave us. Even the gruppetto, the slower guys, made the commissars break the rules, or bend them anyway. Over half the riders were outside the official and objective time limit for the stage. They should have been eliminated. But they weren't and they knew it. What stupid rule applier would eliminate half the field. No way. Some other rule or exception will be cited, like the wind or whatever, and they will all be back racing tomorrow. Or rather struggling with another very hard stage and its even more severe time limit. I would attempt to explain the time limit, but it consists of a predetermined calculation, based on the time of the winner. On hard stages they give the riders more of a break. But there is a precise limit, known when the stage winner crosses the line. (Article 22) Sad bit is that Cav, while staying in the race, loses points on the green jersey for being so slow. Rojas, no dummy and a bit of climber, was in the previous group who made it within the limit, so he gets closer to Cav. Suits me really, if Cav wins on the Champs, he wins. Fair enough.

Its was great fun to ask ourselves for a long time, did Andy do this 60k lone ride for himself, for the yellow jersey, for a stage, for Frank, or was it a big mistake. Views varied. He had gained two minutes after the climb where he rode away from everyone, not one rider followed, except for Rolland, who realised he should stay with Voeckler. Nearly everyone thought he would lose the lead on the descent or in the valley against the headwind. The yellow jersey peloton was full of guys who had a reason to ride hard and cut the gap. Maybe seven or eight. But sadly, they could not come to any agreement, and never made a serious chase. Here we found our second hero of the day. Cadel Evans, who clearly wants to win the Tour, had to work for many kilometres, up a bloody great hill, nearly always in front. In fact he took two minutes out of Andy on the last climb. His team mates were out of it, seemed like no one could or would help him, and he managed to save Voeckler's jersey and his own chances. Mostly by himself. I sure hope Thomas thanks him a bit. Another other hero who emerged was Voeckler, although he has been an unexpected bonus for the Tour for several days now. The wilder French think he might still win.

But the total hero was Andy Schleck. Many people wondered if either of the brothers would ever attack. I reckon they had this plan long in advance. Andy just went away from the entire group on the second last climb, 60k or so from the end. No one does that these days. Usually they wait until the last few ks of the last hill and then someone attacks. As it turned out, Schleck gained time on the first climb, on the valley (huge effort by Monfort) and then finished it off on the last climb. A legendary escape without a shadow of a doubt. Totally worthy of a winner of the Tour. Although it is not over yet. The thing I liked about Andy's attack was that we could sit and discuss why he was doing it? We now know it was obvious, take minutes out of everyone, win the stage and win the yellow jersey, plus the Tour. In one glorious day. The first race he has won since the last Tour. What a brilliant way to do it.

Those are my guys for the day, Cadel, Thomas, Andy. But also Pierre Rolland, who has climbed alongside his leader throughout the Tour, helping, just being there. This guy has now emerged from being a new French hopeful to being a strong candidate for “revelation of the Tour”. Maybe EBH, but he already is an established rider. I noticed that Tom Danielson (older, but riding his first Tour) and his assistant Christian Vande Velde managed to stay with the group, crossing the line sooner than Contador or Sanchez. That Danielson is steady. They all just seemed to have ridden out of their socks. Great racing.

The commentators were funny (sad funny) when Alberto and Samuel Sanchez were chatting at the back of the peloton, trying to figure out what they could do about this move of Andy's. Turns out that whatever they wanted to do they couldn't, both of them lost time, too much time. But the commentators said “They are talking in Spanish”, like they should be talking in French or something! Those commentator guys betray themselves after hours in front of the microphone.

One question that needs a bit of answering, and I might not have time tonight to speculate. Why is it that nearly all the time the group of GC riders was chasing, did almost no one whatever help out Cadel. Sure, they had a few riders help for a bit, but basically for the last 45 minutes, I saw Cadel riding on his own. Were they all whacked? All? Did they not care about preserving time and their jerseys? Could they not speak to each other and make deals? How could a peloton of leaders of the Tour not manage to bring back a smaller and smaller group in front of them? Cadel was a hero, but the rest were something or other. Lazy, shiftless, calculating riders.

Prudhomme had a stern word to say about the boys/men who run alongside the riders, many with their TV time costumes. Prudhomme was well pissed off. My wife says they should have tasers for those guys. I say their falling bodies might cause damage to a cyclist. They just scare me. In fact, because there is so little damage, contact, injury in spite of these stupid lads, this shows me that the Tour is privileged and special event. That all of French history and world justice watches over it. Otherwise there would be injured people spread throughout the route. That behaviour alone is a severe, but incomplete, critique of modern society. Individualism run rampant. Still, “boys will be boys”.

So the jerseys. Vanendert is still wearing the mountains jersey, but new competition has arisen, almost by accident. He will keep it if he wins the stage tomorrow, beating both Schlecks, Evans and Sanchez. I fear he has no real chance, unless he is first over Galibier in a break tomorrow. The other guys just win points for the jersey because they climb faster up the last hill than anyone else. And they will win points tomorrow too. The GC guys all care about the yellow jersey, and the spotted one comes along as a side effect. I am talking about Evans, Sanchez, and both Schlecks who could wear the spotted jersey tomorrow and keep it to Paris.

Voeckler saved his yellow jersey by 15 seconds, thereby becoming an French icon forever. I bet at the end of the year he will beat Yannick Noah and Zinedine Zidane as the most beloved French sports figure. No doubt he will lose it tomorrow, but then we have said that before. Hard to figure Andy can't climb the Alpe fifteen seconds faster than Thomas. Or have we said that before.

The best young rider is no longer Rigoberto Uran, who got dropped big time, but a young French rider replaced him. OK, an Estonian rider on a French team, Rein Taaramae. Uran lost only three minutes on his competitors, but lost the jersey as the race was so close. He maybe able to recover the time. He can still climb, and also TT very well. This is the first time I can remember when the white jersey as been up for grabs for so long. This is a good race in many respects. Three of the top five young riders are French, and four of the top five ride for French teams. Excellent for the French. Not one stage win, but some hope. And then there is Thomas.

The top ten is much the same, even though there was exciting action all day. In that respect it is a bit like a brilliant 0-0 draw in football. Uran dropped out and was replaced by J-C Peraud. Realistically speaking there are only four guys left with a chance for yellow in Paris, the two Schlecks, Evans and Voeckler. However, if another attack of anthology happens tomorrow or someone rides the TT of their lives, we could have a fifth who just creeps in. Viva the unexpected. Green jersey is much the same, but Cav loses 20 points on account of being outside the time limit. So he has to win on the Champs. But he still leads Rojas by 15 points. He really does have to win in the Champs and maybe pick up some points on the intermediate sprint on Sunday.

If there is anyone who shows up as the worst person to interview, saying nothing and barely saying anything either, it has to be Bjorn Riis. Doesn't matter his rider had a bad day, he is always like that. Says nothing, acts like it is a big favour to allow himself to grace a mike for us fans. Someone should talk to the guy.

For tomorrow I have invented a Schleck scenario. They both go up the Alpe fastest, Andy leads Frank much of the time. Then Frank moves out from behind Andy and wins the stage, gaining 40 points, giving him 96. Cadel has been following them and gets 32 for second and totals 82, andy gets third, giving him 94, which is two points less than Frank, who endosses yellow. Nothing else happens on the ITT or the last flat stage and Frank wears spots and Andy wears yellow in Paris. On the podium. Could happen. But first, they have to do well against Evans in the ITT, which will be nearly impossible, so Evans could win. I would not even try to predict the winner tomorrow, no idea at all. Although I will reveal I picked Coppel for today. You can see he did pretty well, but no win.

That is enough for today. There was plenty to write about, a wonderful stage. Must get to bed early.

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