Thursday, 18 July 2013

The French Take a Stage at last

18 July 2013

I am utterly delighted that both someone from the break won the stage, AND that he was French. As it happens it was Christophe Riblon, but whoever, the French finally got their win. For me, it just ain’t right if the French put on a great show for the world, and never get to do a little “cocorico”. The TV commentators went on about the win at such great length that you would almost forget there is a race going on, in which no French rider has anything whatever to say. Still, I am glad he won. Did all the right things at the right time. Admittedly, I was slightly disappointed that Tejay didn't win, but he will have many more chances, he is young, and still learning how to win in the big time. At least he knows he was a player in the escape and was out front for a very respectable period. If he had only won the stage it might have saved the Tour for BMC, who have, overall, been a huge disappointment, especially given their budget. Money can't buy everything.

Huge numbers of people, huge. Lots of Norwegian flags, not many American ones, I noticed. I want to note that in spite of my own fears, the crowd did not create any bad incidents. If there were a million people on the hill (not counting dogs), and the riders went past twice, that is two million chances for someone to do something stupid and impede someone. Never happened. Close, but never happened. I should not forget that two million people can behave not so badly (except those silly clothes worn exclusively to get on TV), even if they have been drinking all day. Gives one a perspective on “masses of people” and “people as individuals”.

It was odd seeing them cruise up the Alpe the first time. I think there are club cyclists who can ride that fast up it. Just setting the scene. I viewed today on a giant home movie screen. Quite an experience, even if the picture was not as sharp as my home TV. The Col de Sarenne reminded me of the Pyrenees, not so built up as most of the Alps I usually see. Hardly anyone was watching there, so I guess the wishes of the ecologists were listened to by the organisers. They simply kept the people out. And the descent was not too bad either. Contador tried a seemingly pointless attack on the descent, but it came to nothing on the flat bit following. Overall, there was much fuss about nothing. I think the blog I cited yesterday just about got it right. No one much was taking risks on that descent.

As far as I can see, all the teams and all the big players were quite happy to let the escape go, and quite happy to let the winner be someone with no relation to the GC race. Then they could take it a bit easier up the climb, knowing that none of them was going to win.

Thierry Adams let loose with one of his spontaneous, unexamined commentaries again, but this time I wrote it down. Apparently Nibali is the best descender in the peloton (might be true, but there are plenty of other good ones), partly because he is Italian, and all Italians are great descenders.

So that left us with the race to the top. That consisted of the break, and the rest. Today we got a really clear view again of perhaps my favourite event, the dropping of riders on a climb. There are thirty or forty in the first few k of any “last climb”, and ten drop off slowly. Then a steep part comes or some rider accelerates, and another ten drop off. So at some distance up the climb, there is “the power group” (minus the former members of the top ten who have got dropped), amongst whom the biggest rewards are divided. Gradually one or two riders who were dropped earlier get back on, but a few more drift off the pace. Then there are just six or seven, and the serious stuff starts. I do love that sequence, which happens if there is a break up the road or not. Today the break started the final climb with enough of a gap so that three of them took the podium. Moreno Moser part of the family of Francesco Moser, cousins or something, plus Riblon and Tejay. Hurrah the escape.

As soon as Froome signalled a problem, that he need some quick sugar (although he also had no water bottle), Quintana and Rodriguez took advantage and grabbed a minute off Froome. Given that they are both over five minutes behind Froome, they will have to do better than that over the next three days. This was the first time that Froome showed a weakness himself. Good thing Contador was also having a bad day. Quintana moved up two places to third and J-Rod one place to fifth. Ten Dam and Mollema are beginning to fade a bit, losing two and three places respectively. Valverde will definitely pass Ten Dam in the next two days and push him out of the top ten. But Fuglsang seems quite stubborn. He seemed to get dropped, but then came back and moved up one place. Maybe I was wrong about him, or rather, I am almost certainly wrong about him but don't want to support him in any way. Other riders to note are Daniel Moreno and Romain Bardet who each moved up three places, but unless something untoward happens, neither will make it to the top ten. After a hopeful and brave attack, Schleck dropped two more places, almost out of the top twenty. The other massive loser today was Dan Martin. I was quite surprised not to see him most of the day and realised that he rode a terrible race, dropping nine places, almost out of the top twenty. No idea what happened.

So the top five are fighting for the podium (Contador, Quintana, Kreuziger and Rodriguez). Those are the only riders Froome has got to watch closely. If some other rider gets away, from another team, those four should mobilise to save their places, and not necessarily leave it solely to Sky. So in some ways, the next two days might be easier for Sky than one thinks. It all depends on whether anyone takes risks and attacks.

Quintana might well win both the KOM jersey and the best young rider jersey. It will be hard for anyone to take them away from him, assuming that Froome does not want to win the jersey and therefore does not try to win too many points on transitional mountaintops, ones that are not the last one on Saturday. I suppose another long attack from Talansky might do it, but who would allow that? And Froome might never let him win a stage, but that would not be gracious. If Quintana beats Froome on the final stage in the mountains, and also picks up a few points here and there he can take the KOM jersey. Will Froome allow this? I hope he has a strategy for that.

A word on Richie Porte. Brilliant. Should get a rise for sure, although how Sky will keep him for very long is not clear at all. Maybe with money. That one bad day surely did cost him dearly, although he is back in the top twenty for his trouble.

A note, total speculation. I told my wife that Froome should never ride up the second Alpe alone, nor should he try to win the stage. Under no circumstances. It would have been too risky, and also too greedy. He did exactly that, rode up in a group, until he went hypo, and then it seemed he was beaten, so he was protected from bad behaviour. There are way too many boos emanating from the crowd. They just lack manners and drink too much, and usually have no idea what is happening. Froome appearing to be normal, running out of sugar, losing time to Quintana and Kreuziger is very good for his security and for the mood of the race.

The debates are still going on about doping. Sky has offered some data to Frederic Grappe, a well known French sports scientists and trainer for FDJ. Of course this will not convince anyone, as they will say the data is not the real data, or will find some interpretation which means Froome is doping. Some even said they want data from before Froome worked for Sky, so comparisons can be made. Basically, Froome has the misfortune of being Anglo Saxon, looks funny riding his bike, does not have a long European history of winning, and is whupping everyone. And his team is rich. No way he will ever get out form under the shadow, although forgetting to eat enough might help him be seen as human and his team as capable of mistakes.

I am very much looking forward to the next two days. They start TV tomorrow at 11h00.

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