Saturday, 7 July 2012

First Hill, Sky Wins

Stage 7 I have admit, quite happily, that a bit of racing went on today, at least in the last fifteen k, and we now know a few things. Or at least we can speculate a bit with some data from one fairly steep and short climb. Oh yes, Sagan lost many minutes. He can't climb (yesss!!!), but as he rode across the line at the end, he did a wheelie on his bike. Last guy to do that was McEwan, a controversial character. I am worried that the antics of the playful 22 year old might soon become a bit bothersome to a few more traditional people. I mean, if he hadn't won three stages and ridden the whole peloton off his wheel, people might not take it so well. So playful or arrogant or un-professional or showboating …. your votes will be counted. He went up the hill slowly and was feeling frisky. His job ends after ten minutes of climbing, I am sure. Although I noticed there was another Liquigas guy with him. Must be his sidekick and body guard, Daniel Oss. Good to see guys riding with injuries (like LL Sanchez), and sad to take account of all those who are not on the race, or even staying in hospitals. The effects of punctured lung and broken ribs always seems hard to imagine. How can they finish a stage with those injuries? One thing that you would gather from reading some of the apocalyptic posts on forums and news reports, is that the Tour is over. The only thing open for debate is who might join Evans and Wiggo on the podium. The candidates seem to be all the guys who finished just behind them, including Froome. I think this is short-sighted. That was my reaction at first, four Sky guys in the top 14, beating everyone but Evans on a climb, a team that rode like they were on something (but we know they are not), according to a plan that worked. So overall, Sky simply rode up the hill faster than anyone except a few others, including Evans. But I don't think the Tour is over. Nodding to the green jersey, it stayed with Sagan. No more points were awarded to any rider already in the top ten for green. But Cadel in thirteenth, Wiggins in 18th and Froome in 20th will begin to score a few points each mountain stage, and gradually one or more of them will enter the top ten. However, a sprinter will still win the jersey, mostly likely Sagan. This is when the finishing points in the mountains start counting, and the best of the climbers begin to approach the lesser sprinters. Spotted jersey goes to a real climber, the guy who got to the top of the steepest hill fastest. Froome will not be able to defend that jersey. He will have to stay with Wiggo. It is unlikely that on all the other climbs of the Tour, those three will finish together. There has to be some real climber that can try to escape, maybe on a descent, with another rider or two. Maybe they can outride the Sky team, but who would bet on it. The way Sky rides, it is hard to see a weakness. But the main point is that Tour is long, many things can happen. The stage today is not a stage of many climbs, like tomorrow. It had one climb. Wiggo is not known to really be fond of many climbs in one day. He likes just one at the end. But then again, they said he could not climb well where the gradient is as varied as the Planches des Belles Filles. I think his supposed limit of 10% is no longer a limit. It is important to remember that the Sky team demanded no work from anyone else. Every other rider in the peloton could have tried to keep up by simply sitting on their wheels, or the wheel of the guy sitting on their wheels. But the Sky riders simply rode off everyone, except Evans, Nibali, Taaramae, Rolland, Schleck, Menchov and others, who are really not that far behind at all. Considering there are only two more uphill finishes the gaps were not that great. Riders have off days, make a big mistake, crash, forget to eat, whatever. I think there is a lot to come. Pretty much anyone can figure out that in a mountain race, Sky might be able to ride as fast as anyone, so the only way to beat them is attack, attack and finally attack. That might not even work. On the positive side, it is clear that Nibali is in good shape. And that Taaramae might well have a little tussle with Tejay for the white jersey. In fact, if any of the guys ahead of him falter, Rein from Estonia might make the jump to the podium, at least on current evidence. I do not doubt for a moment that he is a very good rider (he was my pick for best young rider). We shall see if he steps up and stays in the top five. There are still other riders who might ride better, who might have had bad breaks today. Menchov is always a mystery, but he has won three Grand Tours, is not that old, and is still lurking about with intent. Valverde had a mechanical at the bottom of the climb and Jurgen Van den Broeck also had to chase back. Either of them could have a bit of fun on a long climb, if they don't start off with a big disadvantage. They both seem fit and well. Just a bad break today. The oddity that struck me most was to see Tony Gallopin helping Fabian up most of the climb and in fact finishing better than Fabian. Gallopin is meant to be a young sprinter being trained up by Fabian to be a champion of one day races. Nineteenth on a climb, for a sprinter??? Gallopin might yet be a big somebody one day very soon. Thibaut Pinot and Dan Martin, two first timers, also finished well. I suspect one of them might try something aggressive in the following days. What have they got to lose? Mountain jersey is on the right guy, Froome, and its future is uncertain. I like this. No doubt Froome could do a good job of keeping it all the way to Paris. Instead of riding for Wiggo, he would just ride up the last hill fastest. He can time trial too. But when there is a conflict of strategy between helping a guy with the mountain jersey or helping a guy with the yellow jersey, we know the answer. Sky have to let the mountains jersey go. If Sky kept the mountain jersey and the yellow jersey, as well as finishing one two, and winning stages, this would not be nice for other teams. Especially if Cav wins another stage or two. It would be stupid in fact. So I am glad he has the spots for a day or more. Could be fun if Froome rebels a bit against the strategy later in the Tour, when he realises he might be able to win the jersey or the Tour. Looking at the results, although the stage seemed very dramatic at first glance, and also as it unfolded, the time differences were not that significant, in the end. If there were three more mountaintop finishes, then nothing would have been sorted really. Seven other riders were within a minute, and at least as many within two. Some of them will not be that far behind on other climbs. On a stage with several big climbs, a team like Sky will find it hard, but not impossible, to control the entire stage. So early and serious attacks might get away. I still think someone like Thibaut Pinot might try something to mark his debut in the Tour. Or someone else, Scarponi, or someone who can descend well. So, given the few times left for a rider to make a difference in the climbs, we MUST have action on every stage even with medium mountains. Menchov is waiting. Nibali is utterly certain to attack at some point on a long climb. Rolland did really well today given his injuries. He might try something too. Plus guys like Johnny Hoogerland who seem to be going for spots, which we will find out by tomorrow night. The truth is that I only saw twenty minutes before my nap, and woke up just before the climb with the same six or seven guys in the escape. I missed the countryside, but not the action. The finish was terrific drama. Say, the last five k, as the Sky pace began to shed guys out the back. The tragedy and triumph of the Tour. Those Sky guys just rode fast all the way, and there were only four or five left at the end, two of them Sky. Watching guys get dropped is one of the great virtues of motorcycle cameras. The essence of mountain stages, on the box or live, is the shelling out the back. If nobody gets dropped, they all ride up together, then it is not much fun to watch. We shall see if they let an escape get away tomorrow. Tomorrow's stage has loads of minor climbs, and just before the finish, a first category climb. Then there is a 14k descent to the finish. No idea what kind of descent, but this stage is made for a guy like Nibali, Sanchez or Evans who are very good descenders, if they can get a few seconds at the top. So anyone who wants glory tomorrow has to attack very early, take loads of points and win the mountain jersey, or attack near the end, AND get lucky, to win the stage and take a few seconds on the Sky guys. My point is that there is a long way to go, many things can happen. I certainly hope the rest of the Tour is not boring. A little bit of surprise and uncertainty would be good. Fantasy League. I will get back to that on some stage when nothing happens. This stage, everything changed, except Sagan's green jersey. I currently have chosen two teams who are just accumulating points by themselves as the results come. I am doing pretty well with both. And I also have a team I am managing, that allows you to change the team in mid race. I don't like that game much. Since when can you change a team in mid race? It is a fantasy, but an unrealistic one. Then I choose riders to win place or show on each stage. Onward to tomorrow and then a time trial. After that we get a rest day. I can do whatever I want then, no need to write.

No comments: