Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Contador returns to action, Thor does it again

Stage 16
19 July 2011

Feeling good enough to write a short report today. In general, I want to observe that whatever else I might be saying about this or that, I have been entertained, at least at the end of each stage, throughout the Tour. They have managed to construct a route that has made the event pretty interesting, and we think the best is yet to come in terms of big drama in big country. I wonder what would have happened if an entire team (Radio Shack) had not been decimated and the leaders of other teams crashed out. Would have been even better. Nothing is perfect. This does seem to be the year when more important riders crashed than is usual.

Let's look at the jerseys. The mountains jersey is pretty much without serious rider interest. The two leaders are simply those who did well on two mountain stages. As a result of doing well, they got points. There is no one who has yet shown the least interest in actually winning it by positive attacking in the high country. Last year's winner (Charteau) has slipped back into obscurity, although one might claim he is helping Voeckler. Although he is not the last one there for him, Rolland is. So it will probably be won by whoever does well at the finish of each of the next three stages. But only because they want to win the Tour. The polka dot jersey itself is of no interest. In my view they should just get rid of it.

The green jersey, barring something happening, is now in Cav's hands, he has to make a big blunder to lose it. It has a been a pretty good contest. I have not added up the sprint points yet to be won, but in an interview, Cav seemed to think he had won. My guess is that if Rojas or Gilbert looks like they are interested, for example by going in a break to sweep up the few points left, then some HTC action will unfold. But likely they know the results too. Should be fun to see if Cav can take the jersey to victory on the Champs. I imagine the team will be incredibly motivated to do just that. Good photo too. HTC will be pleased to win it, as they set out to do just that. Cav will have to wait until next year to overtake Armstrong and Darrigade for number of stage victories. If he keeps up his current rate, he will have only Hinault and Merckx to beat by August 2012. The guy is good. No idea what might happen if he goes to Sky. Will they treat him as well?

The young (white) jersey, contrary to what I expected, is still very much up for grabs. Given that there are three hard mountain stages and a time trial, during which any rider can lose minutes, the fact that there are SIX young lads within five minutes is incredible. There are six young riders who are currently in the top 20. This is NOT usual. To have six young guys, so far, in the top twenty means that there is a new generation of stars on the way. In fact, since nearly any rider would consider a top twenty very respectable, these guys are already low level stars. This is a good sign. Furthermore, although it might be for bad reasons (crash), the guy whom everyone whatsoever picked to win the white jersey, Gesink, has not even managed to be within shooting distance. He is 32 minutes behind. I never wish ill to any rider, but I do like uncertainty and surprises. This jersey is still up for grabs. While I am slightly disappointed that EBH and Geraint are not high in the standings, I am delighted that Uran is leading. Not that I predicted this, but I knew about him at least. Mind you, I knew about all the young guys except Ruijgh, whom I had never heard of.

To the Big One. Who will wear yellow at the end? I cannot say I think that Voeckler will. Today was a good example. When it went up a bit (second category is not a big deal) and there were serious attacks, he got dropped. It was only a little hill, with a descent that allowed some time to be regained, but he lost 20 seconds to Contador, Sanchez and Evans. He finished quite respectably with Rojas (yes, the sprinter), Gilbert, Taaramae, Velits, F. Schleck, Cunego, a quite respectable crowd really. But not the finish of a winner of the Tour. Most people agree that Evans is now in the best position. If he can follow Contador, or only lose minute on a stage, then he has the Tour in the bag, unless something happens. However we don't know about that, and won't for some days. Don't you love uncertainty? A. Schleck seemed to show nothing much today, he lost more than a minute on Evans and Contador. He couldn't keep up with over twenty guys, including Rojas. So he has to attack. Contador needs to pick up some time before the ITT, so he has to attack. Although he odes a fairly good TT himself and might be able to beat Evans. The Schlecks have to attack. Others might get the idea too.

The stage was really good. At least after I woke up from my nap at about 1530, I was entertained for the rest of the day. I gather the first hour or two was not that great, just fast riding in a bunch and breaks that never lasted. The countryside was pretty good, I was told. I was actually hoping that EBH could beat Thor in the sprint, but frankly, with a leadout man as well, Thor showed who is the experienced wily guy with big legs. EBH has now has a first and a second, so he is doing quite well for a young lad. No doubt he is a star in the making, as everyone thought. He made his move at the right time, after getting in the right break. Thor has had a magnificent Tour. By the way, did you know you say his name exactly like Tour. I noticed he didn't even bother sprinting for the intermediate sprint, which he would have won. I guess has done his sums and knows he is out of it. Looking at the standings of the stage, I am struck by how badly Andy did. He just cannot descend. Basso dropped two places to make room for Sanchez and Contador, losing 30 seconds. He is still not out of it. Cunego and Danielson stayed pretty much the same. Uran moved into the top ten. We are starting to get to the stages where big drops and changes in the GC will occur. So I am going to have to print them out and compare. My impression is that by this stage, there are usually bigger gaps in the GC.

Put succinctly, assuming that Voeckler does not last until Paris, we have seven guys within two minutes of each other, with Voeckler nearly two minutes ahead of them all. All to play for. The only one of them who does not have to attack is Evans. The rest must attack to win.

When we think about “the best team” in the race, it is a bit difficult to figure out who that might be. The computational system the Tour uses is to add up the best three times, the three best riders, for each day's stage for each team. The team with the least time on a stage for their three best riders, is the stage “winner”. So today that was Garmin Cervelo, because they had first and third and 28th, making a total of 10h 39' 58" to ride the stage in total for their three best riders. Each day one adds the day's total to the ongoing total for that team and rank them. Currently Garmin is seven and eight minutes ahead of Leopard and Europcar. But in many people's mind the best team might be HTC. They have the most victories, they are the best organised for the sprint, they ride in front all day sometimes. But when you look at the GC (not the same as the”team calculation”) their top guy is 15th 10 minutes back, 32nd 24 minutes back and 70th 1 hour 15minutes back. All the rest are 124th or worse. In other worlds they specialise and do not give a fig for the GC or the “team prize”, only for stage wins and the green jersey. And in that respect, they are the best. In the tour team competition they rank thirteenth, fifty-one minutes behind Leopard. That is because they only finsh up front during mass sprint stages, which means that other riders are often given the same time as HTC sprinters.

I should also mention one other thing. Although the two expert mags that predicted the winner of the green jersey all thought Cav was worthy of a picture and mention, NEITHER of them mention or have a picture of Rojas or Gilbert, who are second and third. Experts? A Tour of surprises actually. Maybe they got the winner right, if so it will be Contador or A. Schleck.

There are still eight teams who have not lost a single rider.