Friday, 15 July 2011

Hushovd? You are kidding.

Stage 13
15 July 2011

Note: Feeling a bit poorly today, so probably won't write much. Hope this cold does not get worse.

A stage where not much was expected by most commentators, and if one considers the GC, not much happened. All the leaders rode up the hill and down pretty much together. There was some suspense and there was an interesting break. In fact, we have another example of the break winning in the end. We also have an example of when the peloton showed almost no interest whatever in bringing the break back. None of the escapees threatened any jersey anyone cared about. None of them were in the top twenty.

As usual with the Tour, there was a bit of sadness and a bit of glory even in an uneventful stage. Jeremy Roy, a seemingly average rider, has suddenly become the escape artist of the Tour. He rode off with the break for the fifth time, and this time it looked like he might possibly win his stage. He attacked, he got free on the Aubisque and then tried to ride the descent and the flat bit to Lourdes. Oddly, given his reputation as a sprinter and his bulk (even if he has lost weight to climb better), it was Thor Hushovd, also in the break, who rode up the Aubisque and more importantly down the descent to catch Roy and beat him. It may well be that Thor's descent might be one of the high points of the Tour. Very sad for Poor Jeremy and well-deserved and well-ridden for Thor. Normally we don't see a bulky sprinter riding up a huge climb faster than most riders and then getting the victory. There was also Moncoutié involved, but he was not really up to the task, even though we have to give him credit for trying to win the stage.

Roy got the spotted jersey for his efforts, but he really was on the verge of tears because he didn’t win the stage. We have to remember that winning a stage of the Tour can make a rider's entire career. Roy just was not as strong as the former yellow jersey and current world champion. Roy, even though he lost, makes the other guys look like lazy buggers who are not in shape, not ready to race. No, I still have no idea whatsoever who might actually be trying to win the spotted jersey. So far there is not one rider who indicates by his actions that he want to wear it into Paris. Not one.

Green is still a race between three riders. Cav lost a crucial point or two at the intermediate sprint. He was cruising on automatic behind his leadout guys, waiting to win the stage, when suddenly, as if Cav had not seen him or even been looking, Rojas sped past and took the sprint. Quite careless really. In fact, when he didn't win, Cav got a bit annoyed and pretended that someone else had done something wrong, but he was just being petulant. No irregularities took place. Gilbert raced ahead of the peloton at the end when he realised he could pick up a few points and move into the top ten. He is still serious. All three of them are, separated by only a few points. Hushovd moved back into an outsider position by winning the stage, which was NOT a sprinter's stage at all.

The young riders' jersey is still up for grabs. Differing from the usual scenario, there are only five minutes between the first six riders, none of whom is an obvious victor. But I have to admit that most of the big name young guys have dropped well back. The sixth place guy is someone I have never ever heard of, and have no idea how to pronounce his name, Rob Ruijgh. I am waiting for the young Colombian, Uran, to make his move.

Great shots of the vulture sanctuary. The helicopter shots around the Pic de Midi Ossagau were excellent. It is the first time the Tour has been near this awesome peak. Great in HD.

Jalabert predicted no one much will attack today. He was right. Many had the same thought. I am finding Laurent way too nationalistic for the “reflective commentator”. I am used to it from Thierry Adam (the guy who fills up the space), it is almost “normal” that he be like that, as the Americans and the Brits and the Aussies are. Probably the Italians and the Spanish. But the reflective guy, the expert, is not meant to be quite so against Anglos, Cav, Thor and others. He also has never liked Moncouti√© and shows it. Further, Jalabert gave no real credit to Thor, who had a fantastic and surprising stage. Gerard Holz was happy for Thor and says he has panache, which he does. Holz finds it easy to be enthusiastic. Jalabert has a harder time.

Apparently Lourdes is the third most visited Catholic site on earth, after the Vatican and Guadalupe in Mexico.

Yellow jersey, top ten, Gilbert moved up a couple of places with his attack near the end, but otherwise nothing changed at all. It is the general consensus that tomorrow there will be changes, and gaps, and that we will have some serious racing. I await enthusiastically.

Had a nice chat with my neighbours about the Tour. I was walking home and I heard the word Contador as I passed, so I drifted over and chatted. You can do that easily during the Tour. Many people, especially but not exclusively men, have notions to share. Me too.

This was a typical transition stage. A “transition stage” is a stage which is between the stages where real racing between the GC contenders happens, and it is also NOT a “sprinters' stage”. The transition stage is where someone totally unpredictable wins, mainly because no one else really cares that much. The GC guys are resting, getting ready for the “real stage” which will shortly happening in the big mountains. A transition stage is often needed just to cover the distance between the important stages, without train or plane transfers which riders do not like. But it is strange to have a “transition stage” with the mighty Col d'Aubisque in the middle. Still, there is some “racing” in the transition stage, and often a very good story about the escape that usually wins. We had that today for sure. Even after all these years, it is still strange to see an entire peloton of fifty or more riders just cruising up a mythic hill. Although their idea of cruising is faster than anything any of my pals or I could even dream of doing.

Andreas Kloden has stopped riding. Too much back pain from a crash. Levi Leipheimer is the only one of four 'leaders' still left for Radio Shack. Bad luck. Chickens coming home to roost maybe. Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) was a non starter, while Vladimir Isaichev (Katusha) and Lars Boom (Rabobank) dropped out during the stage.

Tomorrow is a very hard stage. I would be shocked if there are not battles, tragedies, changes in the top ten. Well, not shocked, but seriously disappointed in the riders. This is where they can attack and make a difference. There are two second category climbs, two first category and a “beyond category” climb at the end. Oh, a third category as well. The Col D'Agnes, about sixty K from the end, is meant to be rather hard, and might be where serious attacks 9from afar) could happen, assuming all the big guns do not wait until the last climb to do their stuff. Most likely the GC guys will just ride together until the end, then try to gain a few seconds, although I dearly and desperately hope I am wrong. Maybe a few of the climbers who have lost huge amounts of time might go for a break. If there is anyone at all who cares about the mountain jersey, they really have to make themselves visible in this stage. They should be in a break after the sprint, which is only 36 k into the stage, after a second cat climb. If some climber in the break succeeds in getting a substantial lead, then they will have the spotted jersey and might well try to defend it in the Alps. I would say Roy might try, but surely he cannot attack like that three stages in a row, in the mountains. Evans should pick up a few points, but he must be too far behind to ever catch all three sprinters in the green jersey competition.

Winner … I said Tom Danielson on my forum, just because the real favourites were taken. I figure it will be one of those who think they can win the Tour, but I really don't know which one. Basso, Alberto, Schlecks, hard to pick really.

Should be a good stage, from 1400 CET on, with the real action starting around 1500.

Can't wait.