Friday, 19 July 2013

Rui Costa again, No Real Attacks

19 July 2013

Not much challenge to Froome today, the attacks did not happen, the Maillot Jaune is decided. Barring exceptional events, that race is over. Sky took it easy today, cruised up the first two fairly tough climbs at a speed which tried to keep the whole team together for at least the flat bit after the two climbs. Although a huge escape was created, and the stage winner came from the escape (Yesss!), there was not much else that happened in relation to the yellow jersey. Movistar sent two riders up the road to get ready for an attack from either Quintana or Valverde which never happened. Contador and Saxo rode at the front, and although you could almost see Contador wanting to make a move, nothing much happened. There were many efforts to get riders from all the other teams into the escape as there was a peloton-wide inspiration from yesterday that the escape would make it. I should mention that Rui Costa won his second stage, much the way he won the first. He was in the break, and attacked on the last climb. Being a superb rider, he simply went up faster than anyone else, and won. Bravo Mr. Costa. If only Valverde had not punctured on that one day, at that one time, Movistar would have three riders in the top ten. Excellent riders too, Valverde, Quintana and Rui Costa. That could have changed things. No one likes punctures, especially at the wrong moment.

A little bit surprisingly, four riders made serious efforts to move up into striking position for the spotted KOM jersey, Hesjedal, Nieve, Riblon and most seriously Pierre Rolland. Pierre was the tragic French miss of the day. In fact he earned a rather big handful of points today, and was only one point from being the legitimate holder of the jersey. He will wear the spots tomorrow, and no doubt will make some effort on the first climbs to earn enough points to win the jersey. I assume he will have no chance of winning the last climb, which is worth fifty points. Too many in the top five trying to win a place on the podium by going up that last hill very fast indeed. In addition, any of Nieve, Riblon and Quintana all have a chance to beat him for KOM, either on purpose or intentionally. All are within a handful of points. Then there is Froome, the actual current KO, who might win it as a secondary effect of winning the stage while defending his jersey. But he won't, too greedy. If there is intelligence in Sky, he should ride just behind the guy who wins the stage. Quintana too will be quite happy to keep the white jersey, so if either of them win the spotted jersey it will only be as a side effect of actually being the best climber or trying to win the stage. However, there will be some kind of battle between the other four potential KOMs. None of them is even close to being the best climber. The best climber has to be Quintana or Froome, probably Froome. Should be one of the most interesting aspects of tomorrow.

The GC still can change, and did change today to some extent. But the top seven riders remained exactly the same, so it would be better to say it “evolved a bit” rather than claiming some kind of big change. I think the same will go for tomorrow. Daniel Navarro was one of the big winners today. As a consequence of the break he moved up five places to eighth. As a consequence of supporting Contador and finishing exhausted, Michael Rogers dropped six place to fourteenth. Valverde moved into the top ten, which is where he should be. Mikel Nieve moved up two places, but all the rest were more or less the same. There are now 47 seconds covering the second through fifth place, so somehow, somewhere, there should be some sort of battle for the podium. I doubt Kreuziger will attack Contador, but Rodriguez is almost certain to make a move on the last climb if they are all together. Good racing. That last climb, with the KOM jersey and the podium at stake could be loads of fun for us sitting at home.

Took a break in the middle of the stage to go swimming and took my nap, so I missed some of the action. Not a lot though. Mainly I missed the landscape. Choices.

The brand new surface of much of the Col de Glandon was only one example of how the state supports the Tour de France. The Tour does not pay a penny for that road work. We the taxpayers pay for it. But since the roads in France are, overall, superb, I am not complaining. I do love descending on a piece of brand new asphalt. Unlike the UK, where I hear the road surfaces are awful, we are really lucky in France. Admittedly I might rather have the millions spent of roads, spent on something else, but … And cars … more bikes.

Watching the English coverage, Chris Boardman was asked exactly how the categories were assigned for the various climbs. Although he said it was quite complex, he basically said he didn't know. No one really knows. Depends on the gradient. Depends on the length. Depends on where it falls in the route of the day. I have a rough idea how it happens, but it always seemed a little bit mysterious to me. I was delighted to know that it was a bit mysterious to Boardman. Some of the classic climbs are always HC. But others have more than one route, which can be different levels of difficulty. Apparently they also change category from year to year. Boardman claimed that the descent into Gap changes category from fourth to first. I would love to be in on the discussion of what category they are one day, just to listen. For that matter, eavesdropping on the route discussion would be a real treat. I do know they got the ones near us right. Fourth category are hills I could always easily climb, if way more slowly than the giants. Third category I have to be a little bit fit to climb, again slowly. Second category ones are a challenge, but I could do it, maybe resting once. First category and HC are climbs I would never even attempt (unless I stopped a few times) without being what I call “fit”, for me, a 68 year old. On some HC or even first, I might have to get off and walk on the steepest parts.

My wife and I have had fun playing a “flag game” on some of the climbs, especially if no one is attacking. So many flags, and so many we didn't know.

All the bikes weighed the other day were “legal”, each one at the 6.8k level, the lowest legal weight for UCI races. You might like to know that bikes are built these days which weigh well under six kilos. You can buy it, you can ride it, but you can't race it.

I should mention the heavy sudden rain or hailstorm that hit the race in the last few k. It might explain the lack of attacks during that period. I was sure I saw hailstones on the road. Heck of a downpour, reminds me of storms around here.

Beginning to get that feeling, the end of the Tour is nigh. I will have to deal with after Tour emptiness. I have two friends to see, a little trip planned, but still, it will be hard. I do love the Tour. In two weeks, it will be gone, life will be normal again. All that will be left is to read a few other reports and summaries of what happened. And a lot more time to swim, go to summer tourist events, see friends and ride my bike. I am pretty sure we will think it was a good Tour. Not great, but with several excellent days of racing. A Tour where one team and one rider dominate is never THAT good. One guy dominated the Green Jersey too. My fantasy teams sometimes did well enough. In one case, I might even win a kind of trivial prize, worth no money, just pride. Apparently the TV audience was immense. A good Tour. And we still have, after the hardest stage today, a stage which could see some serious changes. We need to pay tribute to the new young riders who were “revelations”, and we await to have them confirmed. The tragedies and missed chances. Plus the final under-the-lights sprint on the Champs Elysée, which always has a heavy sense of event to it. Starting at the Palace of Versailles too. Plus all the evaluations and doping controversies. A good Tour. Maybe very good indeed.

Good night.