Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Cavendish Bags His First Stage

3 July 2013

Quite a long stage today, but in the end totally predictable. At least I thought so. I figured there would be an escape with a few French guys in it. Ironically there were two guys from a French team, Europcar, but they were not white French guys. Europcar, for reasons I don't know, seems to have more non-vanilla riders than any other team. The black guy, Kevin Reza, was from Guadalupe and brought up in the outskirts of Paris. So he was French, but black (not many black riders). The other teammate was the Japanese sprinter from Japan who has ridden for various teams over the years. But as predicted, the break was brought back within 10k of the finish by the combined forces of the yellow jersey team, Orica, and the teams of two of the best sprinters, Omega (Cav) and Lotto (Greipel). In the end, I was happy because although one or two of the sprinters were missing, it was finally a mass sprint, and finally some of my sprinters scored a few points.

Part of the “show” of the Tour was Andre Darrigade, a French sprinter from 1951 to 1966. He also won the World Championship. He and Cav met last night for along conversation, and also on the after Tour show for a moment, as Cav has now won 24 stages of the Tour and Darrigade won 22. So the very pleasant old fellow was the last guy Cav passed in his quest to win more stages than any other rider in human history. I am looking forward to the interview as both of the riders seem to have plenty of respect for each other. Unlike some riders (like Sagan), Cav has extensive knowledge and awareness of cycling history and his place in it. By the way, the next guy he has to pass is Andre LeDuq, another French rider who won 25. That should happen this year. Next year, of all goes well, he should pass Hinault, who was won 28 stages. Whether he lasts long enough at the top to beat Eddie Merckx’s record of 34 is still a big question. There are plenty of young sprinters coming up.

Cav's win was very well put together, and not at all close. Geert Steegmans is his last leadout man, the guy who keeps Cav out of the wind and guides through the masses of riders from one k to go until about 300 metres. Today he did it perfectly, as did the previous leadout team members. Geert left him to launch himself and no one could catch him. The guy who finished second was Edvald Boasson Hagen (EBH) the fast man and “puncheur” of the Sky team. He really does not have a leadout team, as the goal for Sky is winning the GC, not winning the sprints. A bit ironic as Cav left Sky because he had little support in the Tour. EBH just got on Cav's wheel and followed him all the way, except he could not get past him. But EBH also beat Sagan and Greipel which is not usual and has to be considered a bit of surprise. The third and fourth place of the other two is not a surprise at all. I do love a good sprint and the replays afterwards. Even if this usually means the stage is a bit without strategic interest. I would like another sprint tomorrow when I see it in Montpellier, but after that I will promise to revert to my favouritism for the escape.

Oh yes, throughout the last phases of the sprint there was an Euskatel rider wandering about at high speed. This is unusual, as the Euskatel team seldom have a serious sprinter, and the idea of an Euskatel leadout train is simply not on. But in the end (a bit like EBH), he found a wheel here and another there, and in the end finished seventh. Really quite surprising. I hope I remember his name, JJ Lobato. I noticed the Sojasun team trying to keep a train together, apparently for Cyril Lemoine, a sprinter I don't know. I have heard of both Roberto Ferrari and Alexander Kristoff, both of them not quite top level sprinters, who also finished in the top ten. Having said that, I doubt they will become invisible, and both are capable of finishing in the top five in any sprint. Although Danny van Poppel was only fourteenth, he seems capable of mixing things up a bit. At nineteen, he must be on the Tour to learn. And be noticed. Neither Kittel nor Degenkolb,nor Bouhanni, to name a few, were present at the front.

Parenthetically, I should also get a few points for my fantasy team, previously mired at the bottom of our little league.

In spite of being mostly flat, and made for a sprinter, the stage was very pretty. I suppose it gets a tad boring as I repeat this, but France is one of the finest countries on earth for sheer density of cool scenery and fascinating little villages. Admittedly not the whole country, but much of it. Today it was our pleasure to have a helicopter look at the “calanques” of Marseille. Calanque means inlet, they are tiny little beaches with cliffs around them, a whole series of them. In olden times, they were some kind of ancient fishing hamlet, but now are places for people to go on little breaks, although some houses are inhabited all year.. Not mass holiday jobs, more like families who have owned the small cabins on the beach for generations. Outstanding. And of course the second city in France is always good to see, although I would never want to live there. This year it is one of the European Cultural Capitals, so there are a few more projects to see. But the calanques are the feature I most like. Not at all like the flat sandy beaches around us that stretch from the Rhone to Spain.

Rather liked Chavanel on the last descent. He was meant to be helping the peloton catch up to the escape, riding for Cav's team, Omega. But he is such a good descender, he kept dropping the peloton, without really trying. One of the best descenders in the peloton. My wife gets scared on such descents and I can see why.

Small feature in the Apres Tour about the increasing number of people, way more than previously, dressing up in some kind of costume or in the case of many lads, taking off nearly all, or all their clothes, so the TV cameras will have a picture of them. Then they can show the video to their mates who will have a good laugh at “a bit of fun”. I find it mildly disturbing and not that funny. Except if the costume is a really good one. Naked lads are not very interesting to me. Oddly (not really), it is mostly males who feel the need to display. I am still waiting, and it is very fascinating that it has not happened more, for the first one of these lads to disturb a rider and deprive them of a good finish. It will happen. I hope the rider sues the jerk who does it.

My young French sprinter, Nacer Bouhanni, has been unwell for days, but seems to be recovering. Maybe towards the end of the race he will show himself. First sunstroke in Corsica and then some gastro problems. His first Tour and he has not been looking after himself quite well enough. One always takes a chance with young riders, they usually have lots to learn. In fact, someone suggested, must take a closer look, that Nacer “caused” the crash at the end. I hope not. Another analysis says that Matteo Trentin, second last leadout man for Cav was drifting back through the peloton when Bouhanni caught his back wheel. But I wonder what Bouhanni was doing, probably swinging to one side or another searching for a good wheel to follow. He managed to finish four minutes down on everyone else. Perhaps he got hurt, as he was certainly the first guy down, and his bike skidded across the road, causing another crash.

No guarantee of a report tomorrow, although I intend to take my camera into Montpellier. Should be a very fraught and tiring 24 hours, but I hope I can do it. I might skip one of the three stages of My Tour Experience. Maybe I won't get up the hill near my home on Friday before the gendarmes close it off. Maybe I might spend very little time in the morning in Montpellier and just come home, make lunch and ride up the hill in plenty of time. We shall see. No point in getting ill or over-tired.

Oh yes, as we expected nothing much changed in the various jersey competitions. Nothing to report yet.