Sunday, 14 July 2013

Froome Wins on Ventoux

14 July 2013

Quite a day. Quite a hill. Quite a rider (or two). Although many have said (and will continue to say), including Greg Lemond, that the Tour is over (they mean the yellow jersey is own by Froome), I still have hopes. Pure stubbornness is all that gives me hope as Chris Froome had a splendid day, beat everyone on Ventoux, and is over four minutes ahead of everyone in the race. His team performed pretty well, two of the riders left for the hard part of the climb. And when they disappeared, there were only two riders left with Froome anyway, including Contador. Froome then made an acceleration that seemed to blow the mind of every person who saw it. Although Contador kept up with him for fifty metres or so, after that it was all over. Did he go too early? Nope. Could he beat Quintana? Yes. Did he make an effort to give Quintana the stage? Nope. Although I am not going to mention this but once, the forums and no doubt many spectators are talking about doping again. Test 'em, bust 'em. No idea why no one is suspicious of Quintana who has been without competition for two months while he “trained alone at home”. I won't yet waste my precious words with my own commentaries about doping.

Froome now has the KOM spotted jersey as well. I think I suggested that since there is no one who is really interested in the jersey, that it would be won, maybe, for once, by the actual best climber. Perhaps some other rider will nip off on one of the last two mountain stages and get enough points to beat Froome, but I doubt it. He is the best climber, for sure. But he will wear the yellow jersey tomorrow. My guess is that Quintana will wear the “best young rider” white jersey, and Mikel Nieve (who is not young) will wear the spotted jersey, hopefully without the shorts, although the red spots will clash with his orange shorts. But I am slightly uncertain about that, since Quintana is also second in the KOM competition and first in the young rider. Don't know for sure how that works.

Richie Porte seems to be back in good shape. His accelerations in front of Froome dropped a number of good riders, until he himself got wasted and pulled over. I think Froome only needs him and maybe two others to survive until Paris, given the terrain. Today however, the entire team was up front until the lower slopes of the Ventoux, when he had to make do with only three helpers. On the other hand, once you are on a big climb, you can either keep up or not. Froome's decision not to go after Quintana, when Nairo first dropped everyone with a steady acceleration, was clearly a wise one.

Is it possible to be the best climber and nearly the best ITT rider at the same time?

Valverde and his team made a splendid effort today, but sadly it looks like Valverde is not really up to that much these days. My prediction is that he and his team will continue to attack. Valverde has nothing to lose, he is so far behind, the only thing that will save his Tour is a stage win. Let's hope he gives it a go.

Rolland fell apart on the climb, he just is not as good as the best. Evans is pretty much finished for GC, but he did claim he will be looking for something to mark his Tour in the next few days. Contador got dropped, although he was the last guy left standing after Porte finished his work. Alberto and all the others have one semi-mountain stage, two finishes at altitude and a mountainous time trial before they have to throw in the towel. I truly hope that the rest of the pack will not be riding for a podium place, and will try to beat Sky and Froome. If they do we are in for some great racing. If not, then we still have some outstanding scenery upon which we can feast our eyes. There are two long descents at the end of hard stages as well. One can attack anywhere, going up or going down or on the flat.

One rider whom I don't really know well, but who is young and still in second place is Bauke Mollema. I am happy for the Dutch, who are apparently going bananas. They have not had a serious GC challenger for decades, it seems. Four minutes is a lot to make up, but nevertheless, second is almost first. And the guy is still young, not obviously at his prime. He was interviewed and said he thought Froome had won, that Froome is the best. If I were his team manager, given that they already have a new sponsor and that they are getting loads of publicity for their brand, I would persuade Mollema and ten Dam to attack. If they can, of course. The glory that might befall them would be immense. This stage was not so good for attacks from afar, since there was only one hill and it was at the end. But the next few stages are a bit more open, and my hope is that the strategy of repeated attacks, starting early on, will be tried by several teams.

I hope you caught the one armed wheelie by Sagan, when he got caught by the peloton. He leaves nothing to chance our oddball Peter. He got in the break solely to grab the 20 points for the intermediate sprint. He was successful. As long as he finishes the race, it is now not logically possible for anyone to beat him Unless they pick up all the intermediate sprint points and win on the Champs. There is no sprinter who can possibly do that. Not without Sagan being right on their tail.

Question I asked myself. Why was Europcar pulling so hard for so long? They have nothing to win with that move. I suppose they might have been pissed off that the break did not slow down enough for Rolland to latch on and get a head start on Ventoux. But that is such trivial vindictive behaviour, I don't believe it could be that. I will listen over the next day to find out. I ended up turning the TV off too early to watch the special feature, where the French TV is following Europcar every day, quite intimately. Rolland ended up in 34th place today, 34 minutes behind the winner.

Did you see that Romain Bardet finished one second behind Kwiatowski today, in the young rider category? Not bad for the Polish rider, as Bardet is “a climber” and Kwiatowski is not meant to be one. Kwiatowski is without doubt a huge revelation of the Tour, as are, of course, Quintana and Bardet.

Vincent Barteau and Greg Lemond were on the TV today. Once teammates, they were, according to Vincent in a long interview yesterday, pretty good pals. But they had not seen each other for years. And they acted like that when they were on, arms around shoulders, chatting. Good to see that. Although Vincent has not kept in good shape and Greg has.

Small incident but typical of what happens around “the Tour as a spectacle”. The French TV has been following Eric Fottorino (former editor of Le Monde and prolific writer about cycling and other stuff) who teamed up with many people including David Moncouti√© (the road captain) to ride with 24 young people, the route of the Tour, the day before the Tour. Fottorino is quite a keen cyclist and is 53.√Čric_Fottorino The youth are from all walks of life, various colours, and at least four women. They mostly ride at the same speed, together. I can't find an article in English, but if you read French, google “Tour de Fete Fottorino” you will find all you need. It is not to sponsor anything, just a dream Fottorino had. When people organise stuff like that, it brings tears to my eyes. Seeing the kids do well and do something so awesome makes my heart sing. One of many reasons why you can weep when you ride, or watch people ride Ventoux. It is like that.

Jerseys? Quintana took over the white jersey, and it seems unlikely that he will lose it. Although we might still have a bit of a fight with Talansky or Kwiatowski. Green=Sagan. Nice wheelie. Yellow, we don't know for sure, but could be sewed up. Mountain jersey, also might be dominated by Froome, unless someone tries hard to make a distant attack. Unlikely. But there is still much fun to come.

The internet forums really are going bananas about Froome being a doper.
Good night.

The Break Stays Away, Finally

13 July 2013

Very impressed with the size of the crowds around Lyon today, and even in the towns and villages on the route. Nothing seems to affect the number of people that turn out for the spectacle, even if most of them have little interest in the Tour, as far as racing goes. The stage, for once, did not give us any surprises. I am happy about that, as more than two days of tension and surprises and I start to unravel a bit. No idea how I am going to handle the next few days. Certainly Ventoux always springs a surprise or two. One of my fantasy teams, in a strange French fervour has Thibaut, Peraud and Rolland. I hope one of them makes a huge move and wins the stage, although somehow I doubt it. Even though it is 14th July. Still, maybe Romain Bardet will attack from afar.

For once this stage went according to some kind of normal plan. Escape early on. 18 guys in it. Big teams happy with the composition of it. Nobody dangerous, so the big cheeses took the day off. Mind you, taking the day off means they ride the course only 7 minutes slower than the escape, but still. Happy Days for someone like me, I love a successful escape, although there was not much last minute tension related to whether they would be caught or not. So the escape was permitted to win, the peloton rolled along at a decent clip, with the big fellows resting a bit for tomorrow. Mont Ventoux is the longest stage in the Tour and at the end, they climb the big hill, a climb which many people say is the toughest they know. Not everyone, but many.

The battle for the stage within the escape was pretty good for the last few k. I really enjoyed it. Many attacks, some looking good, but only the very last one succeeding. I thought for sure Simon or Rojas would win, as they are both sprinters. I also figured that Albasini might take it as he has tendencies to win from a small break. I was keen that Simon had made a successful attack, as the French have STILL not won a stage (admittedly nor have the Spanish or Dutch). But alas, it was another member of Omega, one of the best financed teams on the Tour, who won again. A young lad, Matteo Trentin, so I was happy. I like young guys to win a stage, and then keep track of whether that helps their career take off or whether today was the high point for Matteo Trentin. Trentin said he always had a turn of speed, and had learned a lot about sprinting working for Cav. Mainly “Wait!”. So I was overall happy with the result and the unfolding of the result.

There was some effect on the GC. But not on any of the jerseys, which remain on the same backs. I might not be able to say that about either the young riders' jersey or the KOM spotted one after tomorrow. With forty point at stake on the top of Mt. Ventoux, several riders, assuming that Rolland will be beaten by several, could put the jersey on. But the main effect was the rise of Tejay van Garderen and Andrew Talansky. Each of them behaved a bit like young riders without much experience and made a complete mess of the first few stages. Tejay especially shocked many people. Talansky moved from 17th at 13 minutes to 12th place at 5.54. Tejay was not even in the top thirty, and now is STILL not in the top thirty. His Tour is a total disaster, except he is still in it and might be of some help to Cadel if he makes a move.

I note that there are only 3.28 between the second place and twelfth place. That is what I would call a very close race, so far. Admittedly Froome has his cushion, but a big attack or a couple small attacks and nearly anyone in the top twelve could be on the podium, and no one on the podium now can afford to make a mistake. Given that nothing is very secure, I am hoping for some wild efforts in the next few days. Froome might climb Ventoux 3-4 minutes more slowly than someone in the top ten. Maybe, but not likely. I have no idea if he will blow away all of them in the hilly ITT on Tuesday. If he beats them all on Ventoux and in the ITT, then one can still have hope for a surprise, but maybe it will be his race to lose, even after the ITT and Ventoux. AND he would still have two more very hard stages to lose time. He appears to be extremely strong, but this Tour seems a little bit more uncertain or surprising than most.

Bring on the big stuff. Blog a bit shorter tonight as as soon as the Tour was over, I went to a concert, a group called the Imani Winds. Then I drafted this, and grabbed a quick bite. Now, I am going to watch the fireworks. Probably too tired to do much after that except proofread for blatant errors. The fireworks were great, as usual. Not much blue, but this is a small town. The most popular entertainment of the year. Must have been two or three thousand people out along the river in the dark. I even stayed for the dance and the band. Fifteen piece group, five women dancers, two of whom sang. Two men singers. Two trumpets, Trombone, Tenor sax, guitar, bass, drum, keyboards. Good lights. Huge truck.

We know how to live. But I came back a bit early to post this off and get to bed at a decent hour.

Good night.