Monday, 16 July 2012

Le Pont

Stage 15

The French have various strange holiday practices. For one thing, nearly all the holidays are religiously based, Catholic in fact. Secondly, they are going to add a Jewish and Moslen holiday or two. But most importantly, they have “le pont”. This means the bridge. Suppose a holiday is on a Friday or Monday. They have a three day weekend, as one would expect. Suppose its on a Thursday or Tuesday. They then effect le pont. This means that everyone who can do it, depending on job and so forth, takes the day off in between the actual holiday and the weekend, which for some people is a weekly break. Four day weekends are therefore quite normal, maybe four five times a year. Since tomorrow is a Tour holiday, a rest day, and nothing will be written by me, I decided to take a “pont” and not write much today. I would NEVER do this if it was a significant stage, if there was much of a story to tell, if something had changed. But the truth is that this was a more or less uneventful stage. True, it was not easy, it was hot (but not THAT hot), the road went up and down a fair bit, everyone was tired, but overall, nothing much happened.

By the way, partly because of his long l'Equipe interview where he showed how cool he was, and partly on account of being a gentleman yesterday, Bradley now seems to have gained some points with the French announcers. They have ceased to see him as a machine, trained to the millimetre, with no personality. Quite interesting to see that change. However, Virenque has carried on with his whining, annoyed that he was used as an example of cheating and lying. French people don't mention it much any more. Virenque told Bradley, in an interview, he should speak more French. Totally out of it that guy. Bradley can even make dry jokes in French. Virenque was always embarrassing when he opened his mouth. He didn't realise that he was not being personally criticised exactly. Wiggins was just using him as an example of a cheater and liar who was loved by the French people. And saying that he (Wiggins) was from another culture, where Virenque would not have been accepted back, not morally forgiven, since he never really said he was sorry and never really took an anti-doping position.

The break got away after about 90 minutes of struggle (which I did not see on telly). The leaders of the peloton have to wait until the “right riders” are in the break. A “wrong rider” is one who is behind by ten minutes or less in the GC, therefore threatens all the GC riders position. He could be the second person in the Green jersey competition. Someone whose time gain or points gain, if the break gets to the end, will upset and annoy some team or some rider on some team. Apparently the speed for the first 90 minutes, while breaks formed and were taken back, again and again, was really fast. Finally, after all this time of constant battles, the “right break” went away. It had enough French riders in it, and none of the riders were a threat to anyone or anything. One could see the Sky team actually making physical motions, calm down, slow down. I saw EBH doing it once, for example. The idea was that everyone was to take it easy today, let the break stay away, and have a two day rest. Tomorrow is a rest day. In fact, the peloton decided to take a “pont” as well.

The six riders went to the end on their own, unthreatened. Toward the end, the ones who knew they would not win a sprint tried to get away. Those who might win a sprint tried to catch them. Samuel Dumoulin, usually distinguished by being the shortest guy in the race, but also a second rank sprinter, was the fastest guy there. But Voeckler was there, Sorenson, Vandevelde and Pierrick Fedrigo. All of them are quite clever and experienced riders. Various riders made some moves. All were brought back. And then, at a rather perfectly chosen moment, when one break had been brought back, and the riders were on the left, right and centre of the road, kind of relaxed, watching each other, Fedrigo made his move. He is good, he has won other races like this. He often wins, or almost wins, from a small group. And sure enough, he picked the right moment. Christian Vandevelde went after him, the only one who did. The rest “looked at each other”. Soon the two of them had a 30 seconds lead. Kind of exciting in a low key way. But with those two riders, unless Fedrigo was really tired, there was no doubt who would win. So Pierrick took it. France 4-UK 4. Francais des Jeux 2-Europcar 2.

In the end Greipel beat Sagan and Farrar for the bunch sprint. We note that Cav didn't really try at all, he tends to like to win or else lay back. For Cav it is first or whatever. We also note that Farrar has been poorly this Tour, not really making much effort or getting beat. Maybe he is back to some kind of full strength, but in any case he beat Sagan. Nearly everyone else in the race finished in about the same time, in the same big group. A few riders lost some time, but of no consequence to them. However, we are now down to 156 riders, the lowest number for some time. Six riders, Jerome, Chavanel, Lancaster, Bernadeau, Hutarovich and Van Hummel dropped out today. More will drop out after or during the serous mountain stages on Wednesday and Thursday. Saturday is the time trial and on Sunday Cav wins on the Champs Elysée. The Tour is nearly over, but there are still three serious stages to come. The climbers have two last chances to gain time before the Time Trial, where guys like Pinot, VDB, Zubeldia, Schleck, Roche, Rolland usually will lose time). They might attack a bit to keep their places in the top ten, to move up a few places or to defeat the Sky team and win. We shall see. Anyway three more big stages. Oh yes, and the slightly bumpy one on Friday. A break will go away and someone will win, but no one knows who. Last chance for the riders to make an impression.

So that's about it. No jersey changed, nobody gained any significant points or time, and everyone is happy to have a rest day. Me too. I have to do some food shopping, maybe a bit of gardening, other shopping and maybe a ride. Might even go to the pool if it is hot. Can't wait to go swim a bit when the Tour is over.

If you can watch live any day, then pick Wednesday and Thursday. Just to tempt you, the stage on Wednesday, which climbs four classic climbs, including the Tourmalet and the Aspin, has been called the Circle of Death, and is part of the Tour legend. It really is hard. Although it is only the Thursday stage which finishes at altitude. I predict that on Wednesday, three riders will drop out of the top ten. It really is a quite dramatic stage for racing and for scenery. I love this stage, since I have actually ridden three of the climbs. Except I stayed overnight and did the Tourmalet in the morning. I did have baggage.

Enough for tonight.