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Tag: Le Tour de France 2012
Monday July 23rd, 21.55 in a Ryanair Boeing, somewhere over Northern England. They sell papers on the plane, these days - at inflated prices of course. The whole outside 'wrap' of The Times is a Bradley Wiggins picture, yellow clad and taking the turn at the top of the Champs Elysees, l'Arc de Triomphe providing the background. And the 'The Thunderer' isn't too proud to pinch L'Équipe's headline from two days ago; 'Promenade des Anglais.'
It’s Sunday morning and I’ve just about come out of the mild shock I was suffering from last evening, after watching Bradley Wiggins’ stunning time trial into Chartres. When he crossed the line, it finally sank in that an English rider was going to win le Tour. Up until that moment, it had all seemed like a dream, but as Bradley punched the air, I looked around the wee bar we were in and realised; ‘he’s done it, he’s actually done it!’
It’s a new hotel chain today, Premiere Classe – we had a bit of a battle to get in. To keep the costs down, they only man these places in the morning and early evening – during the day you have to punch codes in to gain access. We started with credit card information, then the reservation number – no dice. Eventually we stuck Martin’s name in – et voila!
TDF 2012; The overall top three for the Tour is virtually locked in after the Pyrenees, with the likely result of the final time trial being to simply confirm the dominance of the two Sky boys, and shuffle a few of the lower places. Prior to that, we have a 221km stage that nominally should be a sprint stage, but likely sprint teams will need to be motivated to control things as it is a very tough day in the saddle. Exhaustion for those who are already exhausted.
I wasn't sure about the 'blip' at La Toussuire when Froome distanced Wiggins in the finale - I thought it was 'mountain out of molehill' stuff. Although we did hear that Wiggins was 'raging', that night in his room. But today, there seemed little doubt that a message was being sent; 'I can drop you any time I want.' The body language and facial expressions around the team aren't relaxed, happy or positive. But there's little doubt now that Brad will win - barring Acts of God.
Brad Wiggins and Chris Froome have shown that they are by far the best two riders in the Tour de France, being untouchable on both the mountains as well as on the time trials. Liquigas and Vincenzo Nibali set the race up, giving it everything they could to make the race tough in the hope that the Sky boys would crack, but in the end, that just meant they had less work to do and could do more damage in the finale.
Today is the stage that I have been looking forward to the most since I had a proper look at the various stage profiles back in early June. It is a genuine belter! The back end of the race includes an Hors Categorie climb immediately followed by a First Categorie climb.
As a colleague from another life used to say; ‘you should never drink on an empty head.’ A sentiment I can endorse as we sit in our hotel in Vielha, Spain. Having left Pau, there were no digs to be had in France near the stage finish – the Tour is a black hole which sucks up every hotel room within an hour’s drive and we had to cross the border after the finish at Bagnères-de-Luchon to get to our digs. QuickStep, Saxo, Movistar and Euskaltel all did the same thing and are here in Vielha, too.
Ok. We’ve had our rest day, complete with (seemingly) obligatory drug bust, and we’re ready to dive into the final, defining week. More on Frank’s positive later. Now we see if the hard racing that has been inflicted upon the peloton has had any effect on Team Sky. It certainly showed with the break staying away and Fedrigo winning the stage over Christian “VDV” Vandevelde (DAMN I wanted to see him win one!) before the rest.
I hate to start with our Formule 1, again - but to emphasis the true glamour of being on le Tour, we're sharing lodgings with the race's cherry picker truck. I had to get up early to do a phone interview with Cameron Wurf, this morning. He's from Tassie; like the Sulzbergers and Richie Porte - did I ever tell you I had a Tasmanian Devil for a fiancée? No, some other time, then?
There’s a touch of the Twilight Zone to Formule 1 hotels – you check out of one, drive for hours, check into the next one and the room is identical – to the last detail. Scary! We’ve taken to putting a pencil mark under the one plastic stacking chair in the room and checking to make sure it’s not there when we get to the next town.
I was speaking to Vik, the other day. I shan’t use the word which he did to describe Brad’s opponents, but it wasn’t complimentary. Limoux - After yesterday’s display, it’s hard to disagree; whilst there was drama at the end with Brajkovic’s crash – more of which later – when we drove the course it seemed to us a perfect opportunity for Nibali and his descending skills.
Cadel Evans’ aggressive riding late in Stage 13, and the subsequent carnage and one day style “balls to the wall” racing has assured us of one thing this Tour: we don’t know what’s next! Today is a day with two large climbs a long way out from the finish, the second including ramps up to 18%, and peaking some 40km from the finish. The descent ends about 20km from the line, and the whole stage is right by the southern coastline again, bringing wind into the equation.
So if you looked at the result of last night and saw Greipel from Sagan from Boassen Hagen, you’d likely think “Aaah just another bunchie” – it was certainly the finale that I was expecting! And was far from the finale that actually happened. BMC took advantage of the stiff crosswinds and tough little wall 25km from the finish to send Cadel shooting off the front of the bunch.
I was reading the GreenEdge site this morning and saw that Whitey made mention of Australian fans abusing Richie Porte & Mick Rogers for the “sin” of riding “against” Cadel. These people are idiots. If Australian football was ever blessed with two players who were talented enough to be starters for Chelsea and Manchester United, would one be considered un-Australian (whatever that means) because he was playing against the other?
We're puzzled. We've steadfastly avoided getting involved in speculation over the ‘d-word’ – if you regard yourself as a serious journo, you have to be able to distinguish between factual information from a good source and wild speculation on twitter from individuals who may well have never seen the race, let alone spoken to anyone on it. Maybe it's because we've been on le Tour during the Ulrich, Basso, Mancebo, Bottero, Landis, Morreni, Rasmussen, Contador - and if we forgotten any, sorry - 'affairs.'
Stage 12 was as close to a guaranteed breakaway stage as there is with it’s steeply lumpy early: flat late profile. The sprinters lose too much time to be able to catch up and contest a bunch finish, but it is far too flat to result in any time gaps between the big hitters.
What a day; when we heard Millar was in the break, we knew he was definitely capable of beating three of his companions - Gautier was the only one we didn't know about. But when we saw him, we knew he'd win - it was there in his eyes, if you knew what you were looking at.
After the savagery of yesterday’s stage, today is very likely to be a neutral stage from the GC boys’ point of view. There are big hills in it, but they are very early in the stage. Hence those who played big roles late in the climb yesterday will likely be riding small, tucked into the bunch conserving energy.
The first big mountain stage of the Tour has exposed the form of the riders who have intentions of finishing on the podium in the race. The best five in the race to date have been Wiggins, Evans, Nibali, Froome and Van Den Broeck (VDB). Bizarrely, Chris Froome is probably the best in the race right now: he completely cracked Cadel Evans AND (briefly) dropped his own team leader.
Today is the first “High” mountaintop finish. Stage 7 was considered “Medium”, and looking at the pictures of the stage today, one can see why! This is a short, mountainous stage that may well see fireworks from the big hitters. When considering the terrain, there isn’t really any respite throughout the stage, and it is a virtual guarantee that Vincenzo Nibali, Jurgen van den Broeck and Cadel Evans will equally attempting to make things difficult for the SKY super team.
We're late! Despite us writing our schedule out for the morning, we're heading to the Albertville depart later than we should. I just smile when people tell me about the high old time we'll have in France. By the time we get from the parcours to the hotel, edit the pictures, insert picture holders in the text and get all that sent off, it's well after 9:00 pm when we grab a pizza and one beer.
The stage today would have been earmarked as one for the break, and this it has turned out to be. Two of the popular heroes of the Tour battled it out for the stage win: Thomas Voeckler and Jens Voigt took each other, and three other escapees on, with Voeckler using his cunning and power to take the stage in a very funny looking slow motion sprint.
Bonjour! Today was our first outing on the Tour parcours, in the mountains it’s sometimes difficult to get on to race route, because just as in the Highlands of Scotland, there aren’t that many roads. We set the satnav for Ambronay, which was 73 kilometres into the stage but within easy reach of the autoroute and guided by Brian Blessed’s foghorn voice slipped along a network of tiny roads into the village, after we’d paid our last toll charge.
Stage 10 has the classic look of a day when they break will get away and stay away all through to the finish. It is 194km long through high mountains, but the final 43km of the stage has 33km of descending in it. This is the sort of stage that Thor Hushovd won on last year, and will see the usual breakaway specialists licking their lips at the prospect of a shot at a stage win.
Men of the Tour, thus far ? Wiggins, definitely; Sagan, for sure; Greipel, yes - and, Michael Mørkøv. The Danish ex-World Madison Champion and six day star's stage one breakaway to grab the polka dot jersey and his defence of it for the first week was one of the talking points of the race. Not content with taking all the available points on stage one, he joined the break on stages two and three to make the jersey his own until the stage to La Planche des Belles Filles where the 'bigs' decided to fight it out. We caught up with him on the rest day at the team hotel in Mâcon.
Bonjour! VeloVeritas joins le Tour. The hotel is the Formule 1, Viry, with a wonderful view of a pile of tyres – it’s a glamorous life. But we’re not complaining. Easyjet, Edinburgh to Geneva wasn’t too bad, finding the car hire was a bit of a magical mystery tour but we were soon headed for Mâcon, our credentials and the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank hotel.
We’re at the first rest day already! And it feels like the race is well on it’s way to being decided. Each day I’ve spoken about what has specifically happened in the race, and my perspective on that. We shall see where things head hence in the next fortnight, but firstly, let’s look at some of my favourite bits thus far, including Tyler Farrar.
Holy crap. Brad Wiggins has just shredded the Tour to pieces. In the first time trial of the race he has put himself close to two minutes in front of his nearest rival, Cadel Evans. After that is his own lieutenant, Chris Froome, then Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali.
After the first rest day, this is a good time to look at where the race may go in the coming week. Cadel and Nibali need to find two minutes on Wiggo just to catch up, and they are staring at another, longer time trial later in the race, so effectively need at least three. Both Cadel and Nibali have Grand Tour wins to their name, so know they can still perform late in the race.
I guess I have to face up to it: it’s a black and blue – and yellow, world. I best get the hand of this ‘box ticking’ thing, then.
The first (of two) Individual Time Trials in the race, the riders are looking at 41km on a relatively hilly parcours where the stronger time triallists in the field will attempt to put some more space between themselves and their “mountain goat” rivals.
Call me a sentimental old fool, but Thibaut Pinot’s win in stage 8 was what the Tour is all about – the youngest man in the race gallantly holding off the rampaging favourites; Marc Madiot in the FDJ team car overcome with emotion; team mates barging in on the TV interview to hug and kiss Pinot, some in tears.
The Mountains have been entered and the big show has begun in earnest! Looking at this stage, one would predict it to be a day pencilled in by breakaway specialists such as Simon Gerrans, Thomas Voeckler or Thor Hushovd (had he have been racing) who have already let a good whack of time go from the race leader. In this way they’re non-threatening when they do get in a break and thus aren’t chased down.
Team Sky just knocked 99% of their rivals out of the Tour de France today. With shades of US Postal in the era of Lance Armstrong’s total dominance, Bradley Wiggins’ Team Sky threw their boys on the front of the peloton, and said boys then rode a savage tempo, breaking all but two of the major contenders off the back of the bunch.
What a stage! But who’s the man of the day? Froome? Wiggins? Both produced performances that had me pinching myself to see if I was dreaming; but no, the man of the day wasn't part of that infernal train making light of 20% grades.
Stage 7 finally sees the race leave the flatlands, and the big dogs can come out to play. The race enters the Jura mountains on the German/Swiss border with France. The sprinters and those who are dealing with injuries from falls in the first week will ride small, attempting to save some energy in the hope that they can come good later in the race, while those with hopes of GC places will be planning how they will maximise advantages, or minimise losses.
Peter Sagan has now won three stages of the Tour this year: two uphill sprints, and a straight-up bunch kick. I’ve already mentioned it, but he’s still got more than ten Tours de France in his future (all things being well). How good is this kid going to be?
Martin, the Editor, and I had a meeting last night and agreed there’d be no over-use of superlatives or schoolgirl punctuation on our site. But what can you say about Sagan? - other than he was super, super awesome!!! [Ed!!! What did we totally, like, agree or something??? Editor.] Seriously, what a ride, we can say that Cav wasn’t there and that Greipel was in bits; but Goss was there and so was his train - no matter to Sagan.
Today we see the closing stage of the opening flurry of salvos fired in the battle for the Green Jersey. This will be another bunch kick stage that covers 210km, and brings the race in range of the mountains and hills that will play a role in deciding the final order of the overall contenders.
The “Guaranteed” Bunchie that I mentioned yesterday did indeed eventuate on stage 5 today, but it was looking touch-and-go as to whether they’d be sprinting for the win, or lower placings! People always ask why teams get into a break if they know they’re only going to be caught in the lead-up to the bunch sprint, and today’s stage was a great example of the answer: you never know.
Greipel again – as we said yesterday, sprinting is as much a mental game as it is physical one. Greipel and his team had good morale and they exploited it – and of course they had that bit of luck which comes when all the stars align, staying clear of the crash which saw poor Tyler Farrar losing even more skin. And too much can’t be read into Cav’s defeat, he hit the deck at 60 kph the day before and whilst he has grinta aplenty, the human body knows when it’s time not too goo too deep – yesterday was one of those times where’s Cav’s engine management system took precedence over the driver’s wishes.
Stage 5 is a guaranteed bunch kick. It is in the mold of the traditional early week flat stages of the Tour from years gone by. It is a 197km shot across the northeast of France, coincidentally passing very close to where the Australian WW1 cemetery at Villers-Brettoneux is located. A very moving place.
Maybe it’s our fault? Yesterday we said that ‘barring Acts of God,’ Cav would win. We got it half right; there was an almighty ‘Act of God’ with South African champion Robbie Hunter bouncing around the road like a rubber doll and a whole clutch of riders biting the dust. As the director cut to close up and what was happening at the crash site, there was Cav sitting on the tar, stunned. He’s a tough wee soul – ''stoic is the word, I think.
Andre Greipel, the big man with enough horsepower to be a chance at beating Cav in a straight sprint took the stage win today. We, the fans unfortunately didn’t have tthe chance to see the two great men going head to head as they did on Stage 2 (one of the best sprints I’ve ever seen) as Cav was caught in a crash and hit the road a couple of km from the finish.
Stage 3 was a tough “mini Spring Classic” style of a day which was remarkably hectic in the final 40km, and which saw Peter Sagan give his older, better-credentialed rivals an absolute bath. He was the hot favourite for the stage, and with a cool head controlled his team, and the stage completely.
ASO's copy writer put it this way; 'THE SUPER SAGAN SHOW CONTINUES.' There's not much else to say, save he made the world's best riders look ordinary, again. As Dan Fleeman said: 'Quality rider; not so sure on the funky chicken or running man celebrations!' But we can forgive him that, as Petacchi said of Cav, last year when Supermanx was gubbing about The Jet coming of his line in a sprint; 'he's young.'
Stage 3 sees 197km that begins like a classic “first week sprinters’ stage” of Tours gone by, and finishes like a One Day Classic, with five categorised climbs in the final 33km. It is still not going to be difficult enough to separate the big hitters by anything more than a second or two, but it will be too hard for pure sprinters to be a chance of figuring in the finale.
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