Monday, 2 July 2012

Cav wins his 21st

Stage 2 Quite good today. No Euro Final. Attac meeting must have been cancelled (must read all the emails). More time to write. Less hurried. Sadly there is not much to be revealed. I can't tell you about the wealth stored in the magnificent aristocrat and church buildings. Really you gotta watch. Loads of people by the side of the road, Belgians and others really love to watch the Tour go by. I know EXACTLY what “they” might mean, since I am one of them. Racingwise, it was great for me. Cav and Andre Greipel are the only two sprinters on my major Tour fantasy team. I think I even got double points for Greipel today. Some things were revealed. Cav does not need a lead out team to win a stage. He is flexible. He said he sent away EBH and Bernie Eisel five k form the end, and just did for himself. This new Cav could be a Potential Classics Winner. Anyway rather than ride behind Eisel until the last K and then ride behind EBH, without watching the replay, it looks like he just wandered around until he got on the right wheel, then another right wheel (a Greenedge leadout rider), then the last right wheel, Greipel's, popping out just in time to nip poor Andre at the post. These two were on the same team, they know each other well. I lost control of the TV for the afterchat, but I heard that Cav was dead happy to win his 21st sprint in the Tour. One more and he is joint third with Andre Darrigade and Lance Armstrong. At 26. That leaves Hinault and Merckx ahead of him. Whoever else might be good in this Tour, you gotta give it to this guy. He really is the fastest guy in the world. My British patriot bit is really happy, at last. But the rest of me just loves to see him pop up and blow by. I hope he wins another couple. Greipel, however, will beat him. Kittel, the other young German sprinter, was a bit ill today and could not take part in the sprint. I hope Matt Goss, the third place guy (winner of Milan-San Remo this year) will eventually win a stage. In fact, during the sprint, when I looked at it, he used Cav's wheel until the end, elbowing Sagan off (fluidly) near the end. But of course Cav borrowed Goss' leadout man, whereupon Goss borrowed Cav. It really is quite a dance. Sure would be nice to know what the green jersey competition will look like in a week. Tomorrow is one of those flat stages with a bit of kick. Hello Sagan and EBH, maybe even Fabian. Love that act. Unless Gilbert joins in, which would be even better. Who knows who might pop into the picture those last few K tomorrow? Goss? Nice thing about these flat stages, if you have something else to do, you can mess about a little, until the last 30k when it begins to warm up. If you do that messing about though, you would miss the tidbits of gossip, the cut and thrust of the two lads on TV (not as good as Laurent Fignon was, I say), the countryside with its built component. From a helicopter. On mountain days I simply do not do chores. Or write emails. Or surf. Today I noticed that Sagan did not win. He had a sprinter teammate for leadout, but he still didn't win. So his current weaknesses are flat sprint stages when every other good sprinter is present and flat prologue time trials with not many hills or curves. And, supposedly, high mountains. He doesn't LOOK like he can climb, does he? The run up to the sprint was a bit different. For one thing, the Sky Train is gone. The idea this year is for Sky to get Wiggo within three k on the flat stages and then relax. If there is a crash inside 3k, you get the time of the group you were in. Wiggo was at the front. So was Evans. Cadel had only one guy with him during the last five k, George Hincapie. It was up to George to keep him safe. I suppose if you took a poll of the entire peloton, and asked them what wheel to follow through the last 15 k, I reckon Big George might come up. Maybe Jens Voigt. You could trust your Tour to those guys. And people do. There was a four man group leading out Greipel. And some Greenedge guys leading out Goss. But overall, when you see the aerial shots, you don't see many longish trains in the last five k like we used to. In fact this lack of teams organising large numbers of cyclists to help their sprinters means the peloton looks a bit “disorganised”. Now or later I have to say something useful and creative about the “organisation” of the peloton. It looked a bit messy today, and yet pretty much the same guys were at the front, on the podium. If ten days ago, someone were to ask who might be on the podium today, I am willing to bet that these three would have been a consensus guess, although maybe not in the exact order they finished. Must watch the replays later. There is one which shows the last 1.4k, its the best, Basque language. This stage seems to me a perfect stage to study a genius sprinter in action. Find the Basque replay that shows the race for the last 1400 metres. Find the two yellow-hatted Sky guys, Eisel (usual Sky black jersey) and EBH (white jersey of Norwegian champ). They are vaguely seeing if they can help Cav, who is working on his own, further back in the pack on the other side. He is a bit hidden often, but has a yellow hat and rainbow stripes around the white jersey. Maybe this is kind of strange, but replay the video, watch ONLY one of the yellow helmeted Sky guys. See what they do, how they move around and move up. As far as I can see Cav could not possibly have ridden better. He was like one of those surfers with a huge wave, or a fish in water. Drifting with intent, from one rider to another, finally winning. Maybe I am odd guy, but I found it beautiful, the epitome of lone sprinting. They are all there, the sprinters. Never heard of Veelers before, the guy who finished fourth. Argos Shimano, a minor team, invited because of the French connection, although they are not French, but Dutch. Hmm, must do some research. They have a young fellow called Marcel Kittel who has already won loads of races, and is riding his first Tour. Apparently he had a bad tunny, and the team sent out another guy, maybe Kittel's leadout man. And this guy beat everyone but the podium. Worthy of attention. A very nice Danish rider called Michael Morkov is king of the mountains. He rides for Saxo/Tinkoff Bank, and they won't win much. So good for him. He was very happy. The top two on the green jersey are Sagan and Cav. With all the others nipping at their heels. Should be good. Nothing much changes in terms of jerseys or GC or whatever happens on flat early stages. Those kinds of stages are for the countryside and the last 20k or so. The young rider competition is waiting for the mountains and the first time trial. Until then, it is pretty much a list of young riders. Mind you, the best of them are already near the top, even though “nothing has happened”. But there is nothing to report. Goodness, unless I can think of something that's it for tonight. No bike ride to tell you about, it was market day today. I always go in for a couple of hours, after I go to the physio. We did have a minor household health scare, but its all right now. One day, I am going to find a way to just do the Tour, so that I am not at home, with all the regular activities of real life, AND a serious Tour obsession. Yeah, right. I am picking EBH for tomorrow, although I don't see how he can beat Sagan Cancellara, Gilbert, Valverde (he IS there), Goss and whoever else wants to join the party. Cav? You don't need a train to win this year.

Cancellara Attacks in Yellow

I am going to be a bit pressed tonight, as I would like to watch most of the Final of Euro 2012, even though I think it is more important for world history for me to write rather than watch. Still, we live with our contradictions and tensions. Most of the race, as a race, was boring. Not much happened. So even though I only watched from 75k remaining, I still managed a couple of emails some tidying up on the computer, while watching the TV. That's what I do, watch the French commentators, Thierry Adam and Laurent Jalabert, on the big screen downstairs with the laptop on my lap. Laptop to chat to my “pals” on the cycling forums, “with” whom I watch the Tour. HD makes the passing countryside look better. You could easily see how rich Belgium once was by the architecture. Lovely chateaux everywhere, or at least in the area. One spectacularly pretty village attracted my attention. It is, apparently, a “city”, by some medieval power politics move. I do know that when Jean-Paul Olivier's distinct voice comes on, I can just listen and watch a helicopter circle over some incredible geography, built or “natural”. Sometimes the camera on the motorcycle turned the camera on the watchers. Some of the spectators were dressed to get on TV. Some dressed that way long before TV. Anyway I like the outrageous, the families, the picnics, the clubs standing on farm machinery. There are quite incredible people on the road, wherever the Tour goes. Why not. It is free. It costs absolutely nothing to see the Tour live, on the day. I forget if they say eleven or fifteen million people see it live every year. That's fifteen million possible nitwits standing in the road with the video or camera in the road, beyond the barriers to get a badly shot unfocussed bunch of bike riders. Why not knock them over and keep filming? Guys like the one who caused a crash today, trying to record the greatest video on earth for his family or Facebook page, should be … badly done by. I love watching the peloton, stop, turn, go fast, dow up, go down. “Decide”. I shall comment a bit later on how the peloton “behaves”. The end result of the long stage was that they nearly all got to the last hill, pretty much at the same time. Two and half, fairly steep kilometres. Nothing happened until the last 1500 metres. Chavanel tried a wee attack, got brought back. Then Fabian Cancellara attacked. Just rode away up a steep hill like he has done on a cobbled flat roads, or once, I remember, on a flat road. That's what he did today. Immediately, only Sagan, the young wonderboy, latched onto his wheel. IN fact Sagan never left that wheel until he came around Fabian at the end, and won the stage. His first stage win on the Tour. Probably not the last. EBH tried to catch those two, reacting a second or two late. After a hard effort, he finally did. EBH was the only other rider who could follow immediately. But EBH is not as good as Sagan or Cancellara. Normally, he will not beat either of them on that finish, much less both of them. I guess we will have a rematch on stage three. The next stage is flat and we will see the flat fast guys out in force. Which will also include Sagan and Fabian (who wants to keep the jersey). EBH will also be there, leading out the slimmed down Cavendish and his opponents. That should be a very good sprint finish. I realised today that the Tour sprint finish is pretty much like the 100 metre sprint in athletics. Sort of. As with the Olympics, everyone who can possibly get an invite will come. If you can, you ride. But the final sprints, the ones that can make the career of a rider, happen maybe eight or nine times during three weeks I heard the French commentators say that Bernard Eisel, Cav's roomate, the long distance pilot for Cav and best team buddy, was NOT on the first draft of the Tour Team. I can't even believe that is possible. Anyway the story says Cav made a fuss and Bernie was back. No idea where the commentators got the story. Probably part of the “destabilise Sky” prejudice that is starting to bother me. More on that later. Still, Sky brags a bit, so people want them to put up or shut up. If Wiggins does not win the Tour, the Sky bubble will deflate. The old cycling hands will rub their hands with glee. The “newest methods”, measurements, data, detailed plans, strict diet, bike design, etc were always suspected by the old guard. Wiggins is the “new guard”. For example, Wiggo is trained by a guy from a swimming background. And he has a rather dry sense of humour. They are just a bit too extreme and anglo-Saxon at Sky. I notice that Mollema and Gesink, the two youngish Dutch riders that are meant to upset things and do really well, finished in the top ten today. I think they must be feeling their oats. There were no time bonuses, so the guys who wanted to win, just wanted to win, no yellow jersey comes with. In my view, it is very cool when the yellow jersey attacks the peloton. That particular kind of attack has photo op and historical meaning. It means that not only does the rider have the yellow jersey, but rather than play safe, they are going to attack to save it. Not just hang on to save it. Panache or what? Even if Sagan, who didn't help out at all, gets the stage. I watched, near the end, as Hincapie skilfully and powerfully overtook half to peloton with Evans in tow. Evans could then finish it off as best he could, which was pretty good. Evans is ready. But what I liked is seeing the 39 year old Hincapie, riding his last Tour, just sweeping past other riders, riding faster, towing his boss up to the best spot. Nice craftsmanship. I would love a video clip of “Hincapie bringing up Evans” on this stage. It would be really pretty to watch. Certainly the few seconds I saw on the box were fantastic. My wife finds the Tour a bit samish at present. I am lucky that she is a bit of semi-serious fan. Until we are further along, going through countryside she likes, she might give it a lesser quality of attention. I think hundreds of thousands of French people must be doing that. Maybe millions, when you think of all the screens. Even I sometimes drift for a bit. It is, after all, in the end, a bunch of guys riding bikes through really nice countryside. We await the feats. Today the lads gave us a few minutes of good racing. I am happy. Looking at the GC after this first stage, other than Cancellara, who will not be in the top ten, nearly all those names could be in the top ten. What I mean is that unless there is some strange break, like Voeckler last year, the GC is already quite respectable. Nearly everyone in the top ten is a possible GC contender. This does not usually happen until after the first mountain stage. However I have no idea what this means, just that is is unusual. End result of the stage? Nothing much changed in the GC, except the exit of a coupleof riders who eventually would have left the top ten any, as it was entirely based on a 6k ride on a flat road in a time trial. We can certainly look forward to the next three stages which should be fascinating, even if nothing really crucial for the GC will happen until the mountains. Although the story of how Fabian kept or didn't keep his yellow jersey should be interesting in itself. Should be a good week actually. Chavanel said Menchov for yellow, and Merckx said Nibali, in an interview on Stade 2, the French Sunday sports show. Until tomorrow.