Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Prologue

Prologue Preface. Throughout this blog I assume you can take a look at the results on your own or print them or have them on another window. I have sources listed on the blog. At last. It begins. So what is there to be learned from a prologue, other than the rankings and times of the riders. First of all, for nearly every rider in the peloton the Prologue means virtually nothing. Those who have no chance to win, just ride around fast, faster than anyone you know, faster than you could dream of, even with huge training. But slow, relative to the time triallists and those who are trying to finish in the top ten or twenty. However, overall, the result usually means little. So the rest of this piece will be what we can gather (speculate about) from a short and relatively unimportant time trial. Several riders showed us something pretty positive. Obviously Fabian Cancellara showed us he is back, after heavy injury in April. I think he almost always wins prologues in the Tour. (Look up?) A clear victory by seven seconds over every other rider in the race. You should look at the ranking, the GC. That is a huge margin in a short race where clusters of riders are separated by one second. Sadly, Tony Martin had some kind of technical problems, a puncture, a bike change that gave him a “bad” bike, I don't now yet. The consensus will probably be that with the time loss, Martin would have beaten Bradley Wiggins into third, but not Cancellara. We will never know. Wiggo did well, he managed to gain some seconds on all of his serious opponents for the GC. Without making much deep effort. In addition, Team Sky do not have to ride defending the yellow jersey, they can relax. Cynics say Wiggo would not even have been trying to win, just beat everyone except the winner. Two of the top five are Sky riders. EBH, four seconds slower than Wiggo, leads out Cav. Serious riders on Sky. Chavanel surprised nearly everyone. He is the French time trial champ, but not that many have huge respect for that. Third is brilliant for him. In fact, a great surprise I should think, to nearly everyone. I thought it might be nice for him to wear the yellow jersey. Don't think he has done that before. Looking it up, Isee he had it for two days in 2010, so that's all right then. The young and very much rising American star, Tejay Van Garderen did a terrific ride, but not a surprising one. There are plenty of people who think he might well win the white jersey for the entire Tour, not just today. He can climb. I am a fan of Edvald Boasson Hagen (EBH), so am pleased to see he has arrived in great shape. He will be either “the Sky rider allowed to win a stage with a bit of a hill at the end”, as well as the last guy to lead out Mark Cavendish, who will be trying to win two or three stages in this Tour. We can tell that Philip Gilbert was focussed and would like to win one of the next few stages by enough to take the jersey from Fabian. “All” Gilbert has to do is to try to finish 14 seconds in front of Fabian, and the jersey is his. Assuming nothing else happens and assuming Gilbert can ride up a wee hill at the end of stage one or three, 14 seconds faster than Cancellara. Anyway, something to watch in stage 1 and 3, will Fabian get dropped by Gilbert, or EBH for that matter. Ebh can certainly go up those tiny hills at the end faster than Fabian, so could be interesting.. Then there is Menchov, Denis, the aging Russian, who although good at time trialling never should be finishing ahead of Cadel Evans and many of the 190 others he beat. We can guess that he might be serious about doing well, and in pretty good shape. He is a bit of surprise entry into the top ten. He should be really pleased. We will wait until the third week to know. Cadel Evans, Ryder Hesjedal and Vicenzo Nibali all are grouped not all that far behind Wiggins. They all lost ten seconds, but also gave some notice they are fit and ready for serious action. You could say that it might be a slight morale blow to get beaten by Bradley, but I doubt it. They would all use every excuse to say the differences is not great (it isn't) and the third week is where it matters (they are right). So they won't be bothered. I noticed that in 18th,19th and 21st place were Jens Voigt, Andreas Kloden and George Hincapie, separated by nothing. George is about to retire, having ridden more Tours de France than any human being in history. Seventeen. Voigt has “only” ridden fifteen. Kloden, with only ten Tours seems a young fellow. They are actually 40, 39 and 35. They have no reason to try really hard in a prologue. All of them have other interests and work to do much later. Jens and George have utterly no chance to get any glory or special jerseys. But they actually must have tried really hard and trained really well and be very good, because they beat nearly everyone in the entire peloton. Bravo. I have liked the style and behaviour (mostly) of all of them for years. Not Kloden so much. Various outside contenders, Bauke Mollema, Christian Van de Velde, Jerome Coppel, Robert Gesink did well enough. Ten seconds faster and they would be really happy. In any case, only Coppel need be disturbed at all, as he purports to be a good man for the ITT. The results from here on in are usually irrelevant to final events, where minutes instead of seven seconds will separate riders. Since you might follow this story for three weeks, I pretend you will, you should get used to the sound of the names. My wife can learn the names, but it does take repetition. Any of these four could be in the top ten. Only Gesink should be upset if he finishes outside the top ten, but the others would be quite delighted. None of them will win, although maybe they might go for the mountains prize. At 41st and 43rd we have, ironically, Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel. These guys are two of the top five sprinters on earth. They should not really be that good at time trials. They are not THAT good, but better than more than 79 % of the peloton. It happens often enough that riders like Thor Hushovd, a powerful sprinter, can do well in short prologues. Nevertheless it is noteworthy that both those guys, who probably will be in the top five in every sprint stage (ish) are dong a decent TT. Can't wait for the flat stages. The funny thing is that the guy who separates the two sprinters is Jean Christophe Peraud. A former time trial champion, and another outsider for GC glory. Go figure. Tony Martin (current world Time Trial Champion) finished two seconds in front of Peter Sagan, even though Martin had to change his bike twice. This means that Sagan is either not very ready, or that somehow among all the things he can do, he really can't do short flat time trials. Since most people think he is going to win many stages of the Tour, it is nice to know he has a weakness. The Slovak who rides for the Italian Liquigas team, is 22. Probably the most obvious wunderkind of the last decade. He will enter our chronicle many times. Further down the list, 19 seconds behind Wiggo and 26 behind Fabian, lies David Zabriskie, in his Captain America Champion time trial outfit, being beaten by sprinters. I say nothing about it, I just noticed. Was he trying? Did he slip on a corner? No idea. But time trial champions do not usually finish behind sprinters. Jurgen Van Den Broek and Levi Leipheimer each lost 21 seconds on Wiggo. No big deal, but not a great idea so early on. Each of those riders is meant to make it to the Top Ten, Levi happy if he does, and Jurgen VDB more or less expected to. Mind you, Frank Schleck is 31 seconds behind Wiggo already. However, to be honest, I have no idea what these results might mean. Other than Frank can't time trial, which we already knew. These guys are not going to show a thing until the road goes up. What does the prologue mean for this? Who knows? The truth of the matter is the one slightly off day in the mountains will erase any gaps anyway. In addition, I could have wondered why Samuel Sanchez, a potential podium finisher, NOT known for doing a horrible time trial, did such a horrible time trial, 40 seconds down on Fabian. I guess he is going for the mountains jersey instead of GC. On the other hand he is only 23 seconds behind Evans, so big deal. There are riders I have not mentioned, Valverde, Kruijswijk, Danielson, Scarponi. Now I have. On to the real racing. I should be able to write less once something happens. The prologue is simply that.