Sunday, Stage 15 and VeloVeritas’s last shift on Tour - so we headed for the biggest hill we could find to remind ourselves how special and beautiful France and this race really are. Today we’re in the heartland, perhaps not deepest agricultural ‘France Profonde;’ the rural, simple, beautiful heart of the nation, not with the gorges and cols - but it’s quiet, lovely and some of the simple, striking images surprise as you drive the parcours.
Yes, there are days when we’ve criticised the racing – those endless ‘sprinter stages’ where only the last five minutes saves the day. But we were puzzled by the comments we saw about yesterday’s stage to Rodez on social media; the "Bore de France" and the break "allowed for purely commercial reasons"?
VeloVeritas soothsayer, Viktor and I have long been critics of Warren Barguil (Sunweb & France) as a ‘one hit wonder,’ with his two stage wins in the Vuelta in 2013 then very little else; but in this Tour he’s certainly been reborn. He was so close to Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale & Colombia) last Sunday after being the hero of the day and today, on Bastille Day he scored the biggest and most beautiful win of his career with a historic stage victory.
It wasn’t until inside the last kilometre at Peyragudes that the drama really unfolded; Bardet confirms, as does Aru, Froome cracks a little, Quintana cracks A LOT and much as it pains me; ‘one season too many, Bert!’ And Bennett and Martin impress, especially the latter who’s carrying injuries from that horrible crash with Porte on Sunday.
‘Sprinter stages,’ why are they so dull? Albeit ‘Bison’ Bodnar (Bora hansgrohe & Poland) did a job of enlivening the last wee bittie of yesterday’s procession. Maciej Bodnar ended the day on top. Firstly, the GC teams won’t go in the break, they’re there to look after their team leader; mountain stages are different where they’ll put men up the road so as the team leader can bridge up to them.
VeloVeritas’ first Tour stage start of the year; Stage 10, Périgueux to Bergerac through the lovely Dordogne Valley countryside. But not before all them words were written and pictures edited, placed and posted from the VeloVeritas bedoffice. Périgueux wasn’t the busiest stage start we’ve ever witnessed but we’re not complaining; we were in among the buses and riders in jig time...
The deal is that they have four static bikes on rollers hooked up to a magnetic ‘cycle track’ – Scalextrix style - with little ‘Lego figures’ on tiny bikes on the track. The harder you pedal, the faster your little figure goes. Scottish honour was upheld by VeloVeritas with Martin posting fastest heat against Berteld Van de Velde, "the Moules Guy" at time of leaving...
Many are the times that VeloVeritas answer to Nostradamus, the Legend that is Viktor, has discussed Warren Barguil with me; two beautiful stage wins in the Vuelta in 2013 – and since then? Two wins, one a criterium – Vik’s making assessment that; ‘he’s milking it’ hard to argue with. Forgive us, Warren – today makes up for those fallow years.
It’s not often you see Direct Energie’s main man, Jean-René Bernaudeau in tears – unless someone spills something nasty on those John Wayne cowboy boots he always wears. But there were red, puffy and wet eyes for him yesterday as he hugged his big boy Lilian Calmejane at the Station Des Rousses high in the Jura mountains.
Six millimetres; that’s less than quarter of an inch – the difference between reading headlines ‘Eddy avenges Cav’ rather than ‘Kittel takes his third’... But it’s been Kittel’s week; and when a sprinter’s head is right – as Kittel’s obviously is – even Lady Luck is carried along with them. The big German has more than justified whatever Patrick Lefevre is paying him at QuickStep; three stage wins in the Tour is something most sponsors would give their eye teeth for.
It looked like a straight Arnaud Demare (FDJ & France) v. Andre Greipel (Lotto & Germany) shoot out in Troyes but Marcel Kittel (QuickStep & Germany), over on the bright side of the road, was way too quick for them both; Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data & Norway) hit out long and produced a good performance given he was stranded at the front so early, only being swamped late as Demare slid like an eel between the Norwegian and the barriers.
It may seem like scant evidence to base a major assertion upon but from what happened in the Stage One time trial – and yesterday’s first significant ascent of the race, La Planche des Belle Filles, Chris Froome (Sky & GB) has the 2017 Tour de France won barring disasters or acts of God.
Utter madness! That’s all you can say about the finale, with no team really able to control it, the finish straight was a scene of complete chaos. Kittel and QuickStep blew it and were nowhere - it looked like just perhaps Cav was going to be the man as he let a gap open on his lead out men then jumped Demare’s wheel as the French champion roared by him.
Peter Sagan’s quote of the day? “What is pressure?” As team mate Marcus Burghardt said; “he was such power in his head and that’s what makes the difference.” Despite pulling his foot in the sprint at the top of that nasty finish climb he was just too quick for everyone...
From Düsseldorf Big Marcel – not forgetting his Barnet – was the ‘schnelest.’ Not that hard to predict; it’s Belgium so it must be QuickStep - it would have been better if it was Flanders and not Wallonia but I’m being churlish. Patrick Lefevre struggling to find a sponsor? Unlikely when his boys ride like this – who wouldn’t want to be associated with this squad?
Due to the fact that I read about/talk about/write about bike racing every day I have a monstrous ego regarding le velo and hate to get anything on the subject wrong. However, I would be delighted if the following statement proves to be erroneous; ‘Christopher Froome of Team Sky has won the Tour de France already.’
My amigo, Dave Henderson rang me soon after Martin and I got home from the Scottish ‘25’ Championship at Forfar; “how did the race go?” he asked me. ‘John Archibald, Pro Vision Scotland won with a Scottish record 47:57; Jon Entwistle, GTR with 49:27 was second and David Griffiths, Pro Vision Scotland was third with 50:12.’ I replied. There was silence then a low whistle down the line. If, like Dave and I you grew up in an era where Glen Road Club’s Big Drew Brunton would win the ‘25’ Champs with a ‘58’ I could well understand his reaction - these times seem other-worldly, astonishing.
On a morning which delivered everything from flat calm with balmy sunshine – complete with midges – to a stiff breeze with stinging rain it was Pro Vision Cycle Clothing’s John Archibald once again delivering the result over 17.8 ‘sporting’ miles around lovely Loch Leven in the Jason Macintyre Memorial Time Trial which was also round four of the CTC ‘Knights Composites Classic TT Series.’ Billed as the ‘Tour of Glencoe’ that was a slight misnomer albeit the race did skirt Glencoe village and pass through Invercoe it was more of a ‘Loch Leven Loop’ but whatever the name the backdrop was stunning – Scotland at it’s best.
On as benign a morning as one can expect in Fife in early May, Pro Vision's John Archibald delivered another stunning ride to win the Scottish 10 Mile Time Trial Championship in 19:29, just five seconds off his personal best. Archibald put 43 seconds into Jon Entwistle (GTR) and 55 seconds into Steven Lawley (Metaltek Kuota RT). Lawley had been dead level with defending champion, Chris Smart (GTR) with less than two miles to ride but ex-hill climb champion Lawley had the stronger finish. GB track rider, Neah Evans (Storey Racing) won the Ladies' Championship from Cat McGillivray (RT 23) in with Lynsey Curran (Dooleys) third.
The worst thing about going to the Tour? Coming back. ‘Cold turkey’ is tough – Dave and I used to go to a kermis on the Monday after the Tour finished to ease our ‘crash.’ And last year Callum and I went to the post Tour crit in Aalst. Not this year however because we flew home from Geneva. But our man Callum found another solution; he got himself down to the ‘Ride London’ race; whilst we had to watch it on TV – with no coverage of the crucial last few K. But Callum let us have some pictures - we hope you like them.
I know, I said I’d penned my last Tour piece for the year but I was in the area, there was a parking space and I thought; ‘I’ll have a quick look’ – and to my joy there it was, Monday’s L’Équipe in pride of place outside the International Newsagents. A sad 40 minutes in the City Cafe ensued as I distilled les chiffres (that’s numbers) you need to make you the font of all knowledge on the club run.
I braved the tourists and human statues up on Edinburgh’s High Street to see if I could get Monday’s L’Equipe in the International Newsagents – it’s the one for all the good Tour stats. But alas, no dice – I had to settle for Sunday’s Observer and Monday’s Guardian where it’s wall to wall Christopher and Sky.
We'd hoped for a big GC dog fight on the Joux Plane but what we got was a dour struggle to the line whilst those crazy baroudeurs battled for the stage win. It was a nice morning to start with but as we parked up on the Joux Plane the clouds scudded in, thunder roared down the valley and the lightning flashed brighter than a million photog's flash guns.
We chose the wrong mountain - but little did we know there'd be a big rain storm on the last climb to give the race the jolt it's been requiring for three weeks. A great day for Bardet and AG2R. A good day for Quintana, Mentjies and Martin. A bad day for Mollema, Yates, Dumoulin, Rolland and Navarro - the latter three all crash victims. And Froome and Porte have had better days. . .
If anyone harboured any doubts about the fact that Froome was going to win this Tour it took him just 30 minutes to straighten things out. He destroyed everyone in including the man who's probably the world's number one 'chronoman' - Tom Dumoulin. Whilst the mountains may be beautiful, a time trial up one is a daunting prospect.
How are the mighty fallen? We had to double check the number – but ‘yes’ it was Tejay, way off the back and just ‘riding in’ on the Col de la Forclaz – well, we got that one right, we said he do nothing in this race. But we did also say that Nairo Quintana would win it – but that was more out of hope than anything else but it would be tall, skinny Russian Ilnur Zakarin who would take the day, eventually.
'Rest day' - it's a misnomer if you're a fanatic; but you could do one interview then hang out, I guess? But if you're like us, confirmed saddos, then it's a great opportunity to get a lot of talking and snapping done. Albeit on rest days you can linger a bit longer over breakfast - which is nice in a week of always having to be somewhere/do something right now or in five minutes. We asked our Trek contact if we could get an interview with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne winner, Jasper Stuyven.
Peter Sagan, again! There’s little left to say about the man but as soon as we walked the last couple of kilometres we knew it was one for him – a sharp cobbled climb up from the river, across a cobbled bridge, past the bear pit then another nippy climb before the 1,000 metre, straight as a dye, pan flat finish straight.
While Jarlinson Pantana was winning the stage today for IAM Cycling and Columbia (that's his contract sorted for 2017 - IAM folds at the end of the season) Ed and Callum were race-bound, flying in to Geneva to get the car and get organised with race accreditation.
Another criminally boring stage saved by a beautiful finale with Cav making it 30 stage wins – there are few superlatives left for the Manxman. Good to see Kristoff in second spot; the remarkable Sagan was right there in third spot and very nice to see John Degenkolb up there in fourth spot. Kittel got it wrong today and Greipel was again off the pace. And, erm that’s about it...
The new crowned King of the Chrono is Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Giant). He put a minute into maillot jaune Froome in today’s technical and tough time test and set himself as the number one favourite for the Rio Olympic Time Trial. And that’s after a brilliant mountain stage win last weekend in Andorra.
First of all, a fantastic win by Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), let’s say that first and foremost. The Belgian was away all day then won the sprint from another two survivors of the big break of the day. As a bonus, he takes the polka dot jersey, too. De Gendt He's tamed the Stelvio and (most of) the Ventoux - he just needs to win on the Angleru now...
From Carcassonne it COULD have been a ‘snooze-fest.’ It SHOULD have been a sprinters stage. Enter, stage left one superb Slovakian in green, Mr. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). He attacks from the front in the cross winds inside 12 K to go with Polish TT champ team mate Bodnar aka ‘The Bison’ and spreads pure panic among the world’s best riders – but that skinny Sky man Froome is sharp again, as is team mate Thomas.
The sprinters are denied - but it's a sprinter who wins. It was big smiled Aussie, Michael Matthews (Orica) kicking to glory from Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) with Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) in third spot – a podium of real quality from the big day-long breakaway. And whilst Sagan may not have taken the stage bouquet he took the stage by the scruff of the neck and thrust himself back into green – possible all the way to Paris, now.
Tom Dumoulin tests to solo glory in Andorra; Pinot goes poids; Froome consolidates jaune; Porte confuses; Martin rises to another level; Yates confirms; Aru and Tejay slide whilst Quintana waits – but it’s over for Alberto. But all that said - no real changes from yesterday and the Bigs only race the last few kilometres...
As with last year when he was jousting with the pave specialists in the first week, Chris Froome again confounded his critics, descending like a man possessed, leaving the demon descenders glued to the macadam, taking all the risks - but more importantly taking the stage and maillot jaune. A terrific ride, no question, no caveats. But the dreams end for GVA, Bert and Pinot; no jaune for Yates but he consolidates blanc - whilst our friend Michael Mørkøv climbs into the team car.
That man Steve Cummings (Dimension Data & GB); as with his team mate Mark Cavendish, we’re running out of superlatives – the rider from the Wirral followed his usual formula; infiltrate the break of the day on a tough day, attack them hard and solo to victory. Simples... Against the finest riders on the planet.
Mark Cavendish? There’s little left to say about the man, his third win of the 2016 Tour de France and his 29th career stage win to take him one ahead of Bernard Hinault in the record books with just the legend that is Eddy Merckx ahead of him on 34 stage wins. Dimension Data and Deloitte will be ecstatic. Cav beat Etixx Stage Four winner, Marcel Kittel into second place – the downhill charge should have suited the German - and in third spot a terrific result for Fortuneo’s Dan McLay not so far away from ‘The Missile.’ Kristoff, Coquard, Theuns, Sagan, Groenewegen all behind the Englishman – a real quality effort.
Man of the Flatlands, the multi talented Greg Van Avermaet (BMC & Belgium) pulls off a splendid ‘double’ on the first day of climbing; solo in the grand manner he wins the stage and takes the yellow jersey – and by the considerable margin of 05:11 on Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx & France) who remains second and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain) who’s in third spot.
"Ja!" Screams Marcel Kittel (Etixx) as he leaps back to his feet and cuddles his soigneur after sitting on the tarmac with his head buried in his elbows to await the verdict from the photo finish technicians - he has every right to be chuffed, he’s just won Stage Four of the 2016 Tour de France. In theory it should have been one for the smaller sprinters - 600 metres @ 4% to the finish line - not a beast like Kittel but he was the man producing most watts.
After a gruesomely boring stage where one man – albeit latterly assisted by Tommy V – held off the pack for 200 K it was another day of joy for Dimension Data’s Mark Cavendish; just too quick for Greipel, Coquard and Sagan on a slightly uphill finish into Angers. Kittel looked to be well placed at the red kite but got it wrong on the final right hander to finish well out of it. Greipel reckoned maybe he was one cog too high in the finish on 54 x 11 – Cav’s choice of gear was just fine though.
Peter Sagan is a breath of fresh air, the accent, the sense of humour, the hair, the bike handling, the speed, the versatility – third behind Cav and Kittel then beating Alaphilippe and Valverde. There’s no one more deserving of the maillot jaune – with all mention of the ‘curse of the rainbow jersey’ forgotten.
The Friday evening prior to the Grand Depart at Mont-Saint-Michel, we're in the Amritsar Indian restaurant in Kirkcaldy – Callum, Dave and I agree that Cav has won his last Tour de France stage, Kittel and Greipel will be the men, and that the 32 stage wins record of Merckx is safe – as is Hinault’s second spot on 28 stage wins. Mark will have to be happy with his 26 bouquets. Not for the first or last time, the little chap from the middle of the Irish Sea made us eat our words; "Cav can never win Milan-Sanremo..."
Adam Blythe produced the big result and relegating Mark Cavendish to second step of the podium for the second year in succession. With the Tinkoff team folding at the end of the year this result will make his chances of a quality contract for 2017 all the more likely.
Kruijswijk's crash, would you have waited? Wee Esteban says: "I’m very sorry for the crash of Steven (Kruijswijk), unfortunately it’s a part of bike racing and he was unlucky today." Either way, it was a horrible crash - the Dutchman seemed paralysed with fear, it didn't look like he even tried to steer round that bend. Ed rounds up the last three stages roadside.
It looked like Pippo was going to send Italia into raptures on Wednesday's Stage 17 - but big, bad Six Day man and omnium specialist, Roger Kluge (IAM & Germany) spoiled the dream, jumping early from an uncontrolled peloton to take a beautiful stage win. IAM are folding at the end of this year but Rodge will have no bother finding a contract. With so many of the big sprinters gone - Kittel, Greipel, Demare, Ewan, Mezgec and Viviani - there was no one capable or willing to control the last kilometre except Lampre for Modolo and/or Trek for Nizzolo.
It wasn't a good day for Chaves on Tuesday's Stage 16, he lost time to Kruijswijk and Valverde. With three minutes in hand over the Colombian, the Dutchman is going to take a bit of shifting; and there's a danger that Valverde might leapfrog Chaves, too - he's now just 23 seconds in arrears. Nibali lost time, too.
A clean sprint and Evan Oliphant bags win number seven in the Scottish Road Race Championship. I suspect it wasn’t coincidence that he was assigned number 7 as his race number today, a nice touch. The result had a familiar ring to it though, if you were to look at the past ten years of championship results. Don't however, be deceived into thinking this was anything other than a very well organised race on a very demanding circuit and what was lacking in glamour was more than made up for in grit shown by the riders on a day of mixed weather on bleak moorland roads.
The thing with riders like JLT Condor's Graham Briggs is that they are very good at what they do, training specifically for these one hour efforts and riding bikes adapted to crit racing with high brackets – it’s hard for English road pros to beat them never mind Scottish riders used to slogging across the moors in wind and rain. But for a crit to be spectacular it needs to be gutter to gutter, handlebar to handlebar – the circuit used for this year's Edinburgh Tour Series event does not produce that kind of race. And like Willard says to the GI in the movie ‘Apocalypse Now !’ – ‘do you know who’s in charge here, soldier?’
Chris Smart (GTR) put on another exemplary performance in the Tour of the Meldons hilly time trial in the Scottish Borders to retain his national title for the 'Olympic Time Trial' for the third time in a row, his 56:08 being 75 seconds faster than his time for the same course last year and 67 seconds faster than silver medallist Kyle Gordon (Sandy Wallace Cycles). Third was Jon Entwistle (Team JMC) a further 10 seconds back.
Patti Smith is telling me at pain threshold levels; ‘because the night belongs to lovers.’ No girl! It belongs to that bed in the camper van which I’m using my last dregs of energy to reach. The racing may be over for the night at the Bremen Six Day 2020 but the party is 100% ON, Bremen isn’t called the ‘Party Six’ for nothing.
Our old friend and former Six Day man, ‘Brit,’ Norman Hill suggested to us that we should ‘have a word’ with the man who was his Six Day ‘runner’ on the winter boards circuit back when there were up to 17 Six Day races every winter, Marvin Smart, who was also an innovator in the field of advertising on the actual track surface – such an important factor in a Six Day organiser’s budget plans.
The new Bahrain McLaren team colour scheme for the team’s jerseys and bikes is hard to miss; but it was the little ‘le col’ logo that interested us. ‘Le Col’ is the clothing company founded and run by British ex-pro, Yanto Barker. We found out more about outfitting a World Tour team and the man behind the brand.
If you check the palmares websites, Neah Evans' name first pops up in 2015 – just four years later and she’s performing at world level in ladies track cycling as part of the GB ladies team pursuit squad; with her most recent successes coming in the European Team Pursuit Championships and Glasgow World Cup where her squad took gold on both occasions.
Adding his name to the u23 Gent Six Day roll of honour is Scotland’s Alfie George; the young Scot ran out winner just a few weeks after his fine seventh place in the Junior Worlds Road race in Harrogate and a season which saw him fifth in the junior Paris-Roubaix.
Englishman Dan Bigham is the man behind the highly successful HUUB-Wattbike track team; HUUB manufacture specialist clothing for cycling and triathlons whilst Wattbike manufacture ‘smart’ bikes and indoor trainers. We caught up with Dan just after the HUUB team’s 2020 season launch.