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? Le Tour de France 2012 - Second Rest Day.
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. Samatan.
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 Kišerlovski 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.
Ugly Fan Rant. 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?
Le Cap d’Agde and 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.'
Dave Millar takes a superb stage; 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.
We thought it would good to talk with the previous ‘Woman of the Hour,’ Ms. Bussi about her record of 48.007 kilometres set on September 13th 2018 at high altitude on the boards of the Aguascalientes velodrome in Mexico.
On a day when we watched hard men like Gran Piemonte winner, Matt Walls and Tro Bro victor, Connor Swift crack before our very eyes it was reigning champion, Ben Swift who extended his tenure in that lovely jersey from 2019 through 2020 and 2021 into at least June 2022.
Ribble Weldtite track and chrono man, multiple British Champion and aero guru, Dan Bigham [Ribble Weldtite] produced a stunning 54.723 kilometre ride on the boards of Switzerland’s Grenchen Velodrome on October 1st, breaking the British Hour Record and recording the fourth fastest World Hour ride.
We missed you last year Tour de Trossachs, so let’s begin with a large ‘thank you’ to Jason Roberts and his team for reviving this great race and organising it so well. Men of the day: Messrs. Friel, Maclean and Creber; Woman of the day: Lynsey Curran.
It’s a while since we had a rant so we discuss Patrick Lefevere's recent comments, what exactly is 'Project GO'?, the UCI getting it's claws on gravel biking, and John Purser fondly remembers Norman Hill.
In recent weeks we’ve lost three important figures within our King of Sports; Norman Hill, a man who did it all, road, the Belgian Kermis scene, Six Days, big motors, even cyclo-cross, Bernard Tapie, the man responsible for riders beginning to get paid what they were worth, and track coach Heiko Salzwedel.
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