Sunday, 8 July 2012

Pinot Wins, For Madiot and France

Stage 8 Now this stage I liked. Plenty of racing, pretty nice scenery, a semi-unpredictable winner, the escape worked (the winner was in it), some riders doing feats of courage and quite surprising fitness. Although in the end, same Yellow, same Green, same White, only the spotted jersey changed, which we knew it would. Above all, the escape WON. They didn’t catch all of them. A word about how sad and annoyed I am for Samuel Sanchez to be injured and have to leave the race. Apparently some Twinkie was sitting in the road with his chair and Samuel ran into him. Yes, apparently IN the road. I will tell you of his fate, but spectators like that do not pull much sympathy from me. Sanchez has an injured hand and might have to miss the Olympics. But Thibaut Pinot! Just a kid! The youngest guy in the peloton, 22. I was just starting my PhD work at his age. Today was his Saint's Day. St. Thibaut. Started his pro career with FDJ and Marc Madiot, first race in Australia two years ago. Best French rider in that first race. Noticed by many, even Wiggo remembered noticing him (Thibaut was impressed with that). He is a guy I have been picking for mountains stages on several occasions (didn't pick him today). Many have already recognised him as one of the brightest of the emerging generation of early twenties French riders, sprinters, rouleurs, climbers. Anyway Thibaut was in the escape on purpose. He wanted to win the stage. This area is his home. He dropped everyone else in the escape over the last couple of climbs, and then caught Kessiakoff, the last remaining escapee. The thing that most amazed me is that behind him, seemingly racing hard and sharing the work, he had some of the finest time trial riders in the peloton. They seemed to be trying to catch him. There was a headwind, we are told. And yet, in several kilometres of flat, they were never able to get back 45 seconds or so. Cadel Evens and Froome, Wiggo, four Radio Shacks and VDB. And yet they never caught him, never even looked like it. How did Thibaut do that at the end of the stage? He said he had shivers down his back, from the crowd, and no feelings in his legs. “No chain”? I am amazed and delighted for the lad, and also a bit for “French pro cycling”. They are coming up with more exciting riders than the generation of Chavanel, Pineau, Fedrigo, Gadret, Feillu etc. Shame I have such an intense dislike for Marc Madiot, or I could be happy for him. It looked like Madiot was on drugs, leaning out of the car and screaming at the poor young fellow. Still, he was the boss and Thibaut is doing well. Oh yes, it seems like the demon descenders Nibali and Evans could not drop the others, nor could they gain much on Thibaut. On the other hand, it seemed the descent was quickly over, and there was loads of flat. I was expecting more descent. Lest I get overcome with the mere racing, the hills were wonderful. A bit like around here. Worth the watch. Did you notice that Sagan was still with the leaders before the second last hill? Which reminds me that there were LOADS of spectators on the climbs today. Really packed out. The Tour really is a spectacle that attracts the punters. It is “free” at the point of consumption. For me Thibaut is the story of the day. But other things happened. The Swedish (honest) Astana rider Fredrik Kessiakoff started out with the intention of nicking the mountains jersey. He tried to ride first over all the hills, gathering enough points to win the jersey. There have not been many real hills yet, mountains, so on this one stage you could just grab the points. He managed to accumulate one point more than Froome got for winning the stage yesterday. I did predict that Sky would not defend that jersey. Kessiakoff speaks excellent English, German and Italian, plus Swedish of course. Very much a modern professional cyclist, if not terribly well known. Won the Tour of Austria last year. First Tour, wins the jersey. Nice one Fred. Finishing third today, was another member of the escape, Tony Gallopin, the young Sprinter/Rouleur from Radio Shack. What was the young French rider doing there? He managed to hang on with the best climbers in the peloton, admittedly with a head start in the break. I was seriously impressed. It looks like Gallopin might well be a bit of a winner, seems to be able to climb medium mountains and sprint. Trained up by Fabian, he will make a very fine Classics rider … immediately. The “young rider” classification merits a mention. Rein Taaramae got dropped, to my surprise since I know he can climb. In the end, he lost 2.21 on the winner, and more importantly just over a minute on Tejay Van Garderen, who seems to be his main serious competition at the moment. Guys like Sagan and Gallopin are still high in the young rider classification. This is unusual, certainly very soon they will drop out, replaced by good climbers. Looking at the standings at the moment, there are obviously four guys who are still in with a shout. Although Izaguirre could do something. Pinot, Tejay or Rein Taaramae will win it. The young rider jersey is always like this. Suddenly the mountains come and the field is reduced to two or three. I suppose Tony Gallopin could stay in the top five, but I just can't believe he can really climb, although he is doing it. The points classification did not change, but I notice Evans has entered the top ten. A sprinter will win, Sagan probably, but the climbers are beginning to creep into the top ten. Just a little thing to watch. Happens every years. In the Giro two years ago, there were so many mountains that the points jersey got won by a climber. As for the mountains jersey, we still have no idea who is really going for it. Kessiakoff was going for it today, and got it. But I am not sure he wants to defend it, to keep it, all the way to Paris. I also can't help but think that he really is not good enough. So which top GC guy will win it accidentally, by finishing high on every mountain finish, or which good climber will make an effort to win points and keep it to Paris. We won't have any clues at all until Thursday afternoon. It is still a total mystery. I noticed, although I didn't see, that Hoogerland was in the escape, my choice for mountains jersey. Guess he got dropped. Also noticed that Blel Kadri a semi-climber of the new generation of French guys, and also one of the increasing number of Maghrebin origin French riders (North African), won the points for the third mountain, ahead of Moncouti√©. Passing of the generations. I guess they both got dropped. EBH now twenty minutes back, so I reckon he has his sights on a stage win. Until then he will just ride for Bradley on the flat bits or early on in a climb. I guess he has abandoned Cav for a few stsges, only Eisel was with him today. Whew. A pretty good stage, at least the last couple of climbs, only one of which was first category. Tomorrow they will all have to do the time trial before they rest for a day. I don't usually have too much to say about a time trial, its in the time, in the figures. And I don't write on rest days. The next stage, on Wednesday, goes up Col de Grand Colombier, a big deal, but only 1500 metres high. On Thursday they go bananas and finish at altitude, on a day of huge mountains. That should truly reveal, after the Individual Time Trial and that Thursday stage, we should know something more. The Tour is hotting up.

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