Saturday, 7 July 2012

Sagan Makes It Three, Big Crashes

Stage 6 So it was a long flat stage, nothing should have happened, and at the end we could see if Cav could beat Sagan and Greipel on a flat finish. Wrong again. As they say with stages like this, a rider cannot win the Tour, but they can certainly lose it. And that was the case. Two huge crashes. Riders coming in with tattered jerseys, minutes late. Sprinters missing from the sprint. Riders leaving the Tour on account of injuries. Loads of events. In the end, a sad, rather unsatisfactory result. The kind of stage you wish would not have happened. I will go over the various losers, but first the winner. Prior to this stage, we might have thought that a flat stage, one with no uphill finish, might have been the weak spot for Sagan. Clearly, with his huge body he is unlikely to be able to climb well, the high mountains anyway. But it certainly looks like he can ride fast in any sprint finish. He tucked himself behind Greipel and just went around him. Greipel gave up in the last few metres, recognising he was beaten. He also had a slight problem of an injured wrist and a dislocated shoulder that “popped back in” after the crash. Goss was beaten too, in spite of the fact that he had a train (like Greipel) at his service. Sagan had no train, he just followed the wheels and won. The guy is astounding. Three wins in his first Tour. Admittedly it would have been better to have Kittel (quit the tour) and Cav (caught in the crash with EBH) and Greipel uninjured, to make the victory a decisive and meaningful one. But no taking it away, the guy is the best sprinter to enter the Tour since, well, Cav. Apparently Sagan wants to win not only the green jersey, but the Olympic Gold as well. Not obvious at this point that Cav would beat him in a sprint. Although Cav might just want the gold more than the Slovakian lad. Cav certainly has a stronger team. What caused the crash? Same thing as usual in the Tour. Nervous riders, teams trying to all ride at the front to avoid crashes. Roads six metres wide. Directors telling the riders the road is narrow, get to the front, the end is in sight (24k for the last crash). No doubt a closeup video will show exactly which rider did what, but really, crashes are part of the sport. Apparently, Vigano was putting Pettachi's shoe covers in his pocket, had one hand on the bars only, could not brake properly when riders slowed in front. That is one story anyway. Freire won't start, maybe Txurruka too. There are many people who think that after such a massive crash, the Australian team, Green Edge should not have been riding like crazy, but maybe slowing things up a just a bit to allow some of the riders to get back on. The ones who were just held up by the crash, as opposed to injured in the crash,might have been able to catch up. Others claim that the Australians rode to make sure Goss was in a good position to win the sprint. The break was only 45 seconds ahead at that point, with 25 k to go, so there really was no hurry. I suppose the debate will go on about the ethics of not waiting a bit for the rest of the crash victims. Fabian was silent this year, when a couple of years ago he successfully slowed down the peloton when there was a huge crash. Schleck was also in that crash, but got saved by Fabian's action. My view is that the Greenedge team and those who rode hell for leather were just over the line of acceptable behaviour. They could have slowed a little. Who gained and who lost? Wiggo and Evans managed to avoid all trouble. They are the two big favourites. Losing one of them would have been a bit disappointing, in terms of the race for yellow. Four riders, including Danielson of Garmin and Wout Poels, both of whom could have influenced matters are now out of the race. I expect a few more might not start. I suppose that Garmin was the biggest loser. Martin, Vande Velde had already lost minutes. But today those two and Ryder Hesjedal, the recent winner of the Giro and their main GC hope lost 13 minutes. Danielson is already out. There is no possibility on earth that Hesjedal can take back 13 minutes, so I guess we will see some attacks by one or two Garmin riders in the mountains. Any of them could still take the climbers' jersey, with a huge attack, which would upset none of the GC teams. But they are going to have to rethink everything. Losing a couple of minutes is bad, but not a disaster. One good stage in the hills can get back that time. The following riders, all of whom were among the contenders, if outsiders, lost over 2 minutes. Scarponi, Brajkovic, Schleck, Rolland, Mollema, Pernaud, Valverde. Gesink lost three minutes. In my mind, although I find it a minor sadness they lost time by crashing rather than being beaten fairly and squarely, the time loss might mean they have a bit of freedom to do something bold and decisive, trying to win a stage, trying to win back the two minutes, whatever. Surprise is the potential bonus of all this. Tomorrow is the first big mountains stage and the first long time trial follows, so it is still all to play for. I am not going to go into a big analysis of the GC today, as after the stage tomorrow, it will change drastically and begin to look like the real one. Among other things, Fabian will lose the jersey and someone else will have it, although I have no idea who. Sagan will drop out of the top ten for sure. The white jersey still on Tejay's back, and he can climb, but if another young guy attacks, like Rein Taaramae or Thibaut Pinot, he might lose it. Sagan even further ahead in Green, but looking at the gaps, Goss is still stubbornly hanging on, and Greipel is within striking distance. Cav, as mentioned earlier has lost it, especially after two stages with complete blanks. Nothing will change much for the Green Jersey in the near future, although Goss and Greipel could try to eat away at the margin in the intermediate sprints. There are one or two stages that might end in a sprint. The one I will be watching on the 14 July could end in a sprint, except there is a wee steep hill before the run-in to the finish. Sagan can climb that hill easily enough, as can Goss. But there is not too much left for the sprinters in this Tour. I expect Cav will want to win on the Champs Elysée, and there are usually no crashes on the last stage. So tomorrow they have a climb at the end of the stage. It is one of the two or three times that a stage ends with a mountaintop finish. Not a classic one, not a high one, a never before visited climb. Mind you, every team in the race has sent their riders up this hill, as it is rather crucial. The kind of thing you get from Twitter. Mark Cavendish ‏‪@MarkCavendish For the record, today I wasn't caught up by the crash, I made it through & rode 3km with a puncture just off the back of the group. David Millar ‏‪@millarmind As a matter of fact @Chris_Boardman fankle is a perfectly good Scottish word: So there! Chris Boardman ‏‪@Chris_Boardman @millarmind invented a new word today, frankled. Context: To be fankled in a crash. I think it should henceforth be adopted as std English David Millar ‏‪@millarmind Somebody partaking in the Tour de France knows they caused that crash. Whoever you are: THAT WAS NOT COOL. Mark Cavendish ‏‪@MarkCavendish Lucky to just miss 2 flying bikes in todays massive crash, but punctured just to be part of the chaos. @richie_porte came down but he's ok. David Millar ‏‪@millarmind Knee caps smashed, chainring in chest, thigh + ankle bruised. Didn't even notice this scratch... David Millar ‏‪@millarmind Oh sweet jesus that was scary. Approx 70km/h pile up, like a tidal wave of debris smashing towards us, could do nothing but brake and pray.

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