The third stage win from Vincenzo Nibali today – but first; I have a friend in Dallas, Texas – no, not him! – who regularly exchanges views with me on cycling, what else?
He sent an email to me last night after the Tour’s first day in the Alps;
‘Nibali? An old Baseball manager was famous for quotes like; “when you come to a fork in the road take it,” and the most famous one; “it’s déjà vu all over again!”
‘That’s what I’m wondering when I see Vincenzo ride everybody into the ground. Are we going to have a déjà vu eventually? Does Kazakhstan have some secret, rejuvenating and power giving water wells? A decade or so ago, I’ve would not have given this topic a second thought.’
It’s like my amigo says, 10 years ago we’d have been knocked out by Nibali’s riding – now we question.
It’s not a case of cynicism or love of the ‘D-word’ gossip, it’s just that we were fooled for so long and so comprehensively that if a rider is dominating in the fashion of ‘The Shark’ then one does wonder – it’s impossible not to.
That said there’s another parallel track in my brain which runs along the lines of the fact that the man has slowly been coming to the boil for a dozen years, since the days of his win in the Italian Junior Road race Championships in 2002.
His progression has been steady and very solid; Grand Tour top 20’s then a podium in the Giro, a win in the Vuelta, a win in the Giro and now le Tour seems his to lose.
But that said, you always have to remember what I said in a preview I did for this 2014 Tour de France;
“And one slightly scary stat is that in the years I’ve followed cycling, eight riders have exited the race whilst wearing yellow – for one reason or another – Luis Ocana, Michel Pollentier, Bernard Hinault, Pascal Simon, Rolf Sorensen, Stephane Heulot, Chris Boardman and Michael Rasmussen. Like the song says; ‘it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
The other factors which come in to play when observing Nibali’s dominance are that his two main challengers, Froome and Contador are languishing at home with broken bones – and the fact that with a 54 kilometre time trial to come he needs time in the bank.
Those 54 K through the Dordogne could be his ‘jour sans’ and he needs a buffer – cast your mind back to Riis’s Tour ‘win’ in 1996 and remember the seemingly invulnerable Dane gasping, rocking and rolling his way through the final test as young team Jan Ulrich carved chunks of time out of him?
And it’s not as if the Sicilian is on ‘another planet’ his gains are well thought out and surgical in their precision.
In addition, his team are definitely not ‘clockwork soldiers’ – when they’re done, they’re done, with Westra ‘parking up’ at the foot of yesterdays final climb and Kangert similarly engaging reverse gear when his job was done on the climb.
Ok, enough already about Vincenzo!
Alejandro Valverde is a pro I admire; he’s an attacking rider, a presence all year and races hard – usually…
But not yesterday, his wheel hanging, stop/start riding when riding with the young Frenchman Pinot was selfish at worst, bizarre at best.
Carlton wittered and made his usual inane jokey comments about Valverde’s antics but Sean stated bluntly and with annoyance in his voice; ‘this is not the way to ride!’
Damn right, Sean.
Valverde’s Movistar wing man, cyclocrosser turned mountain elf John Gadret was hugely impressive in his tempo riding on the climb and did much of the damage to the lead group.
However, as I looked at the swaying jewellery around Gadret and Valverde’s necks I was reminded of what legendary Spanish – but now disgraced – team manager Manolo Saiz told Johan Bruyneel back in the days the now demonized Belgian rode for Saiz’s Once team.
It was coming round to the start of a mountain time trial and Bruyneel was wearing a selection of gold around his neck which would have been a credit to any Detroit rapper; Saiz took one look at it and told Bruyneel; ‘do you think I spend fortunes getting us the lightest bikes in the peloton so you can put all that scrap metal around your neck – get that off!’
The French: Gallopin may have gone but Bardet, Pinot and Peraud are all there in third, fourth and sixth spot, respectively.
It was great to see Pinot’s F des J boys riding tempo into the climb with real purpose and to see their leader demonstrate that their efforts weren’t just for show.
It’s too much too early to label Bardet and Pinot potential Tour winners, but both qualify as ‘young riders’ and have five or six more Tours before they reach their very best – fast cars, night clubs, leggy models and the French Media willing, that is.
Ah yes, the Media – Richie Porte went in to the first Alpine Stage; ‘with a very real opportunity to consolidate his second place overall – and to perhaps even challenge Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali for the Tour title,’ according to Cyclingnews.
‘Really?’ I thought to myself.
My take was that if Porte could limit his losses in the mountains then there was an opportunity for him in the final time test to challenge for the podium.
But within hours the Tasmanian went from ‘challenger’ to footnote @ 8:48 – that’s Show Biz!
It’s been ‘one of those races’ for Sky – as surely as the stars have aligned for Nibali the Heavens have not been kind to the men in black and blue.
But Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte are talented riders – perhaps it’s good that Porte’s overall chances have gone and now they can have realistic stage win ambitions rather than all of that ‘tactical GC stuff?’
Talansky may have gone but Van Garderen looks to be coming nicely to form for the USA after his early encounters with the macadam.
However, Jurgen Van Den Broeck is going to have his work cut out to make the podium with Tejay and the young Frenchmen riding as they are.
Whichever way you look at it though, another great day of racing – Vive le Tour!