The countdown doth begin. T-254 days until the Grand Départ on 5th July 2014, which this year will be in the English countryside: Yorkshire. This has been known for a while, but what we found out today was the route for the remainder of the race, including the number of summit finishes and the all important time trials. The organisers, to their credit, always try and shake things up each year, and this time around has been no different, with a couple of notables in next year’s route.
Firstly, it’s hard not to notice the lack of time-trialling kilometres – just 54 in total, which is a very small total, the smallest for a number of years I should hazard to guess. Now, I think the organisers and planners of the 101st Tour have been reading this blog. Towards the end of this year’s race, I came over all weak at the knees when the three men occupying the podium in Paris rode away on the last climb of the race. To me, the race should be decided in the mountains. That’s not to say time-trialling isn’t an art, the opposite of that is true, but pure time-triallists, like sprinters, should not be in the hunt in GC if they can’t ride uphill in my opinion. Brad Wiggins could compete in the hills and to be fair to him was just as strong as his main rivals in that repsect, but used the time trials to assert his dominance. Fine. But I digress. The ‘organisers’ as they are collectively known, a name which has Mafia-like undertones, have done a good job a mon avis. Not much time trials = good. It also makes the decision for Mr. Brailsford slightly easier, as Froome looks set to hold the ‘leader’ role, while Wiggins will be, well who cares, Froome is getting all our attention now.
The other thing which caught my attention is the fact that, on the 100th anniversary of the First World War, the peloton will be riding from Ypres in Belgium through some of the Western Front on Stage 5. A nice touch I thought. Froomey’s been moaning about the cobbles, citing 2009 when there were a few crashes, but Paris Roubaix seems to cope every year, so why should anything be different for the Tour? Just get on with it.
As has been mentioned repeatedly, Yorkshire will welcome us, guiding us through York, Sheffield, Ilkley, Harrogate and then handing over the rains to Cambridgeshire and London to send the riders off on their merry way onto continental Europe. Bookies are already taking bets on how many stage Cav will win on British soil – it looks like he’ll have three attempts, but I think the domestic media are just resorting to habit and hyping up the home grown (ish) star, only to watch them fail spectacularly. Not saying I want that to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Right, that’s it. I’m out. Until July…
Alliteration. That is all.
Here’s an interesting fact for you: if Tony Martin had competed on his own in the World Team Time Trial Championships, he would have finished sixth. Sixth! One man on his own would have been faster than most of the six man teams competing in the competition. Just to outline how incredible this guy is if you can’t already see it, he would have finished 10 minutes ahead of the last placed team Velo Club Sovac. 10 minutes. 600 seconds. So here’s a list of things you could do in the time after Tony Martin has finished, and whilst waiting for Velo Club Sovac: Do a Sudoku; listen to just under half of ‘Echoes’ by Pink Floyd; clean your teeth 5 times; run about 2 miles; or just sit, watch, and laugh as one lone German manages to absolutely destroy some of the best teams in cycling. Wow.
As you can probably tell, the winner of this year’s individual time trial was Bradely Wigg- what? You mean all the hype and expectation placed on a British athlete by the British media for once didn’t result in British success? That almost never happens, particularly when it comes to football, I don’t know what to say really…
So the winner was of course Mr Tony Martin who, just for a change, pulls on the rainbow Time Trial jersey for the third year in succession. Now, normally I would insist that this is becoming boring and predictable, and petition for him to be taken out of the sport for being too dominant or something stupid like that, but I like Tony. There are a couple of reasons for this: firstly, it’s hard not to be amazed by the utter stupidity of what this guy can do. Bradley Wiggins is a world class time-trialist, winning gold in London and standing head and shoulders above most of the rest of the field (perhaps exclude Fabian Cancellara), but Herr Martin beat him by 46 seconds. Here’s a list of wh- no, that wasn’t clever in the first place. But you get my point, he’s an absolute machine.
The second reason I find myself not despising him for being too good is that most of the time he’s riding with an injury or some flesh wound that would stop us mere mortals from competing. For example, he crashed quite badly early on in this year’s TdF, but still managed to finish, with the added of bonus of, erm, winning the first individual time trial. He also seems to be very unlucky in the grand tours (if you exclude the stage wins), getting mechanical faults at horrendously bad times, and crashing more often than Pastor Maldonado… It’s difficult not to be happy at this guy’s success, but we don’t want you winning four years in a row now do we? Take one for the team and fall off next year please.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be for Brad, who, to be fair to him, recognised that he was just beaten by the better man. Nobody in the world could have come close to that time, and you just have to take your hat off to the German in this instance. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer country.
So attention now switches to Sunday’s road race, where the Kenyan-born Brit carries the weight of expectation on those ever so skinny shoulders. Spoiler alert: he won’t win. There isn’t enough up and down stuff, and the British team will be competing against pretty much the rest of the peloton, who all seem to want to deny a British victory. That said, I look forward to be proven wrong.
Just a quick note: I managed to get to the end of that without using the words doping or erythropoietin. It’s not difficult. Just trust that some people are better than others, and that they don’t rely on drugs to ensure success. That’s so 1990s…
Tag, you’re it. Or at least that’s how Vincenzo Nibali must be feeling after today’s stage, where he once again finds himself wearing red and clambering onto the podium. He can say whatever he likes, we all know he’s been trying to avoid the jersey like the plague (bubonic), and so he must be guttappointed (gutted+disappointed) that he has failed to evade the clutches of the leader’s “fleece” once more. Most men in the peloton would do anything to get their hands on the jersey, but no, Vinny likes to be different. That’s the true mark of a champion: being unable to lose. Physically unable.
But his usurpation of Horner’s lead didn’t come without controversy. Yesterday, the commissars ruled that the supposed time gap between two groups on the road was not sizeable enough to constitute a difference in the given times for the day. Faced with a very similar situation today, this time they said the gap was big enough, and so Horner lost time, depriving him of the chance to continue in ‘rojo’. All we want is consistency ref! Hopefully it will all be forgotten soon enough, but for the moment at least, it’s quite amusing that Vinny N can’t even lose. I’m better than the Giro champion in that respect then, at least. Here’s a tip for the race leader, from someone who truly knows what it takes to defy expectations and fail spectacularly. If he wants to make sure someone else is winning, then he should have done something extreme, like just walked the last 500m or something. Or maybe he should change his diet, and go for highly fatty foods. Seems to work for me…
In other news: Phil Liggett has returned! That news in itself has made my day, and it was great to hear his dulcet tones once again fill my living room after a tough day. He also contrasts nicely with Graham Jones, and whilst the two of them don’t have as much “banter” as can be expected with Paul Sherwen, they compliment one another well, and I’m looking forward to the relationship blossoming over the coming weeks. Alright, I’ll shut up now.
In other other news: hahahahaha. Sorry, but there is little more satisfying that watching some members of cycling’s elite peloton have to get off and essentially walk part of the way up a 3rd category climb. Ok, it’s not often you get 3rd categories with 28% gradients in them, but this is the Vuelta let’s not forget. Harsh to laugh I know, but it certainly was not a sight I’ll forget too cheaply.
So the winner of the day was definitely the viewer, as we got to witness the guys almost go backwards, in some cases, as they tackled the little uphill stretch about 30 km from the finish. Oh yeah, and Daniel Moreno did quite well today as well. The loser, other than Vinny N or old-man Chris, to me was Cameron Meyer bless him. Unbeknownst to him when he was dragging the bunch along not far from the finish, he was being called Christian Meyer by our quasi-papal friend Phil Liggett. Or maybe Phil knows something we don’t: the Aussie has an identical twin brother who also races for Orica. Christian Meyer is best friends with Francesco Cancellara and Jason Rodriguez maybe?
I would also like to point out that the world has not ended as predicted by the organisers, and that we all breathe to watch another stage. (Breathe to live another day?) The next one in the long list may be the first time we get to see the fast men in action, and a chance for teams like Argos-Shimano to prove just why it is they’ve come here. The two 3rd categories shouldn’t pose too much of a problem (although we’ve heard that before), and I anticipate everybody being together for the final dash. Someone like Edvald Boasson Hagen might have a good shout at victory, or maybe one of the Argos boys. I’ll see you there.
E-che-lons! E-che-lons! Like the long lost cousin, they have once again returned to Grand Tour racing, and to devastate the peloton a la the Tour, where Valverde was caught and lost a whole bunch of time. Or at least that’s what I expected/hoped. But no, suddenly we turned back into the mainland, where there is no wind it appears, and the peloton manages to regroup and ride the remainder of the race together. Boring. It would have been much better to see a relatively big name lose a bit of time just to add to the excitement, but you can’t win ‘em all as they say. Still, a bit of wind is better than no wind, as they don’t often say…
So to the finish, where today history was made. Christopher Horner of the United States of America today became the oldest person ever to win a stage of a Grand Tour. Ever. Nobody older than his glorious 41 years, 307 days has won before, and it was great to see him live the dream and wear the red jersey. He said he wanted to do it yesterday, but a certain Irishman turned Frenchman stood in his way. Ivan Santoromita tried today, but was no match for the LeopardRadio TrekShack representing yank, who claimed the 10 second time bonus and now leads Nibali by 6″. That’s pretty much a perfect result for the Astana rider, as he stays well in the lead of the major favourites, but without the gargantuan task of having to carry the jersey all the way to Madrid. Now it appears the Italian kind of let Horner win today, and so I would say it was an example of matesmanship, but they’re on different teams. How about mutualinterestsmanship? No? Tough crowd.
So the winner today then looks to be Nibali, who relinquishes the “burden” of the red jersey, but hangs on to the virtual race lead, and looks in a great position to pounce when we head for the slightly bigger hills towards the end of the race. As for a loser of the day, I think it was the guy who thought it was a good idea to put bollards down the middle of the causeway which took the riders out to the Illa de Arousa. He caused a bit of havoc, culminating in the lead group agreeing to slow down so they weren’t separated, and will most likely lose his job. Poor guy. I would also like to bemoan the fact that, as we were heading into the business end of the race, the Spanish TV director decided to focus his attention onto the languishing David Arroyo, who had been hanging off the back of the group and was trying to get on. Great to see, thanks for the update, but I think most people would rather see the attacks developing off the front, not a Spaniard who was, well, doing very little.
Tomorrow looks a similar day to today, but with the 3rd category bump coming a bit further out from the finish this time. There’s also a little hillock right on the finish line, so that may be a springboard for an attack, but I think the favourites will again contest the finish, or at least the minor placings. Not much of any significance to the overall standings though. The stage is also titled “The stage at the end of the World”. Ominous, and perhaps the organisers know something about the Gregorian calendar that we don’t. But if we do make it through the night, then I look forward to the 4th stage of the 2013 Vuelta.
We’ve only just finished the second stage of this year’s Vuelta, and already the surprises abound. Firstly, Nicolas Roche won. That’s a shock in itself, as he’s gone two years without tasting victory, and then we have the fact that a number of “pre-race favourites” couldn’t handle the pressure on the slopes of the fantastically named Alto Do Monte Da Groba. If you were in any doubt as to which country we were racing in before the final 11km, then seeing signs for that hill would certainly remove any doubt. The men in question were Sky leader (in name only) Sergio Henao and the near-geriatric Samuel Sanchez – both of whom couldn’t keep pace with the tempo set by Movistar at the front of the peloton. By essentially ruling themselves out of the running early on, it does leave the door open for men like Rigoberto Uran to assume de facto leadership of Team Sky, and for the likes of Carlos Betancur to make some inroads. Oh, hang on, Betancur is over 11’30″ of the pace. This prediction lark ain’t easy…
I mentioned that Roche Jnr hadn’t won a stage in a while, and it was obvious he was more relieved than anything in his post match debrief. Entertainment was provided though, by attempting to decipher his accent; it was a synthesis of a Dublin lilt and southern French twang, which I guess is a result of his Irish heritage versus the amount of time he’s spent racing in France. Either way, it meant I was focusing more on the accent and less on the content of the interview, but I could take a good guess as to what he was saying: “Yeah, it was nice to get a win which settles a few nerves, but I’m trying to take it one stage at a time, and not get too far ahead of myself. Blah blah cliché blah.”
Talking of slight oddities in the race, you can’t help but question the race tactics of Movistar who, to use a cliché frequented by cycling commentators, ‘buried themselves’ at the front for most of the climb, only to let the equally stunningly named Leopold Konig ride away and drag Pozzovivo, Moreno and of course Roche with him. I doubt any of the escapees will be challenging by the 11th summit finish, but the Spanish team had done a lot of work up until then, it surely would have made sense to try and keep everyone together. Oh to be a Directeur Sportif… I’m sure their reasons will become clear over the course of the race though.
The following bears no relevance or meaning to anything, but I would like to see Amets Txurruka of Caja Rural do well this Vuelta. This is for no other reason than the fact that his name is both fun to say, and fun to hear other people say. Maybe he can pull a one-two with Benat Inxausti on the next stage. If all goes tits up I’m moving to the Basque country where the ‘x’s thrive.
Right, tomorrow is another slopey finish, although without the 10% gradients which we had today. It has all the hallmarks of a ‘puncheur’ stage, and everybody is looking in the direction of Philippe Gilbert, who is yet to record a win as World Champion. Who knows, maybe tomorrow will be his day? I doubt that major changes will be seen on the GC table, but I reckon something relatively major will happen to someone relatively important. It’s just have a hunch. You don’t get that sort of cutting analysis everywhere do you… See you on Stage 3 peeps.
The 2013 Vuelta is a go. And unwilling to disappoint as ever, this year’s race began on water. Yep, like the race started off the coast of Spain. The teams started on a glass pontoon and then hit the mainland after about 25m – doesn’t sound like much, but the gimmick was one of the better ones I’ve seen on a Grand Tour. That, and the fact that the teams got the boat to the start line, which may seem like a good idea; but unless they were arriving from Mexico, then they would have got a boat out into the bay, simply to just turn round and come back again. Was it really worth it? Unfortunately not, I’m loathed to say. But seeing as the racing began in the sea, I would like to propose a re-naming of the race, to the Vuelta a Espana y North Atlantic ocean. Rolls off the tongue quite nicely if I say so myself…
The first team off were NetApp Endura who are competing in their first Grand Tour, and did a remarkable job finishing seventh on the stage. Not many people would have expected that, and they even beat some big names like BMC and Orica GreenEDGE – not bad for their first go. I doubt they’ll do owt in the race proper, but if one or two of them can get in the mix on a couple of stages, then they truly will deserve their place in the tour.
The second team off were- Nah I’m just messing…
So I think each day I’ll also do a “biggest winner and loser” of the day… It may be a little clichéd but you know what, I don’t care. I can’t promise any meaningful insight though. The winner of the day then to me is clearly Vincenzo Nibali, who gets the dual benefit of taking a lot of time out of his major rivals, whilst not actually holding the red jersey. That honour is bestowed on team-mate Janez Brajkovic, who has had a pretty terrible year all things considered. He broke his collarbone and abandoned Le Tour at a fairly early stage, so it was a true show of matesmanship from the Italian to allow Janez to take the red jersey, if only for one day…. (This word will catch on, if it’s the last thing I do). That’s one back for Slovenia, who have been losing out in the battle with their eastern European rivals Slovakia when it comes to sporting prowess. All they need now is Robert Koren and the Tigers from Hull to win the English Premier League, and it’ll be a great contest.
The loser of the TTT today was Purito Rodriguez, who lost 59 seconds to his main rival Nibali. His Katusha squad had a bit of a nightmare on the road, and it cost the Spaniard, who now has an awful lot of work to do to make up some of that time. It bodes well for the race neutral, as it means he will have to go on the attack, possibly as early as tomorrow, but it’ll take a lot out of Joaquin just getting on level terms with Nibali, let alone going past him. Having said that, I would not be at all suprised if Astana held the red jersey all tour, via Brajkovic, Nibali or whoever else. It’s time for Movistar and Katusha to step up.
The Spanish organisers obviously weren’t fans of small talk, as no sooner has the Vuelta a Espana y North Atlantic ocean begun, than we have our first summit top finish. It’s a first category, so should provide a few fireworks, and it’s the first time we’ll get to see all the big names in action and get an idea of who’s on form and who’s not. I doubt a break will be allowed to stay clear this early on, but as we’ve seen, this year’s cycling has been nothing if not unpredictable. I think a pre-race favourite may take the stage, but don’t ask me which one… I look forward to it immensely.
Hola! I’m back. Or as they say in Spai- sorry, no, ‘hola’ is as far as the Spanish goes, so those reading this for insightful linguistic commentary, please leave now. Actually, my Spanish can be stretched a little further – I know a little bit, but it can’t compete with my near fluency in French… “Como esta? Si, la gente esta muy loca.” That’s a reference for all the younger readers, but truly is the limit of my Spanish ability. *Warning: Satire alert* I’ve been taking lessons from Alberto Contador, so I also know how to say “I did not purposefully take clenbuterol, my meat was contaminated.” I’m here for 21 stages guys…
Anyway, I’m already being sidetracked (this bodes well for the Vuelta), and so before I get onto the topic of ICBMs or bovine TB, or some other minor irrelevance, let’s move onto the main topic of this little race preview which is, you guessed it, to, erm, preview the race. The main theme this year is mountains, as there will be 11 summit finishes, which makes the contest look absolutely mouth watering. And with only one individual time trial, it has all the makings of a classic race, which will be decided in the hills. Anybody who read my penultimate TdF piece, will know that I got slightly emotional about the fact that that race too was won in the mountains, and so I am eagerly anticipating a bit of good ol’ bike racing at altitude. Oh, you’ve not read it? You should, it’s very, let’s say, unique: http://csquared95.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/tdf-blog-stage-20-and-the-winner-is/ I know what you’re thinking though, and I will attempt to exclude all emotion for the rest of the race; why get sentimental when you can be cold-hearted. That’s my motto anyway.
Most of the big names are here to contest the leader’s jersey (whatever colour it is this year), and there doesn’t seem to be a stand out favourite as far as I’m concerned. Now I’ve said that, Nibali will probably win by 15 minutes, but when you have Valverde, Rodriguez, Martin and Henao to compete with him, it suddenly looks like a great race. I don’t care what anyone says, Froome was always going to be in yellow in Paris, providing he didn’t a) dope b) end up in a ditch courtesy of a stage 3 crash, or c) forget the maillot jaune to focus on the more important and nobler win in the team competition. That’s not the case here though, and Nibali is probably favourite, but I can see either him, Rodriguez or Valverde on the top step in Madrid. Vincenzo may be fresher having skipped the Tour, but Valverde didn’t race as hard as he could have thanks to the whole cross wind debacle. Equally, ‘Purito’ looked devastating on his day in the Alps, and both he and Valverde have home advantage. As for a winner, I am going to tentatively defy the bookies and go for Valverde, but as I said, I can feasibly see all three of them winning it. Anybody outside of that little group would be a surprise though.
This year, the time bonuses doth return, and so we have 10, 6 and 4 seconds being awarded to the first three across the line respectively. That makes the summit finishes even more enticing a prospect, but being the purist I am, I’m not their biggest fan – I think it’s unfair to penalise a rider by 4 seconds for finishing half a wheel behind the winner. But hey, that’s just my opinion, and hopefully we’ll see the riders, to use a woefully woeful cliché, leave everything on the road.
We’ve also got the team time trial, which is my absolute favourite discipline. As long as not too much damage is done, it will be a great way to start the race, and makes every rider fight for his place in the competition from day one. Right, I am going to attempt to predict winners, but with my luck, I will be wrong more often than not. So tomorrow will be won by, erm, Team Sky. Just as long as the Orica boys don’t chime in with an upset again.
And because this is the first post of the tour, I’ve also got to make my predictions for race winners, which will most likely bear absolutely no resemblance to the final outcome. But here goes: Red jersey: Alejandro Valverde. Green jersey: Carlos Betancur. Polka-dot jersey: Samuel Sanchez. White jersey: J.Rod. Let’s be honest though, it’s all guesswork. Until stage 1 fellow Vueltarists…
The words ‘London’, ‘Surrey’, and ‘Classic’ don’t usually find themselves in the same sentence. There’s a reason for that… But today was in fact the inaugural London-Surrey Classic, and whilst it’s not challenging the likes of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege as a focal point of the cycling calendar, the day turned out to be a huge success on all accounts. Like, there were people watching, which for Britain is not always a given, and nobody broke their collarbone after falling in a pot-hole etc… This is most definitely a step in the right direction and bodes well for the Tour in 2014. We were even graced by the presence of some big names, like Tour De France Green Jersey Winner Peter Sagan, Milan-San Remo champion Gerald Ciolek, and Brit David Millar. Not bad for a first attempt, eh?
And to the race itself, many expected it to end as a bunch sprint, and that it did even despite the best efforts of Millar and many others along the way. Unfortunately for Mark Cavendish, this particular group finish along the Mall came 362 days too late, but us fans aren’t complaining. It gave a chance for the sprinters to have a crack, and this time it was the Frenchman Arnaud Demare who took the spoils, beating Sacha Modolo and Yannick Martinez into second and third respectively. As Simon Brotherton so eloquently put it, that’s the French getting one back for all the British success on their soil just a couple of weeks ago. Still think we’re winning though Monsieur Hollande.
Talking of Match of the Day commentator Brotherton, I was incredibly impressed by his commentating today, not least because he was able to call the winner of the race on the line. This is something that Mssrs Liggett and Sherwen were not always able to do… Of course the young upstart still has a long way to go before he reaches the standard of Liggett, being able to wheel out phrases like “dancing on the pedals”, and “the elastic has broken!”, but I am hopeful to say the least. I shall never watch his commentaries of Aston Villa vs Norwich in the same light ever again…
Danny Van Poppel was here today as well, adding the perfect icing to the impeccably shaped cake. 5th place was all he could manage, and this is perhaps a little concerning considering he was beaten by four men who, with the greatest of respect, are not up with the likes of those against whom Danny was competing at the Tour. Never mind though, just focus on the next race. This inaugural victory is coming, I can feel it.
All in, the day was an unmitigated success. England was very well behaved and put on a lovely show for the rest of the world, and we passed through a true subsection of Britain, going through not just Chelsea, but also Fulham and Putney. It was nice to see a different winner than what may have been expected (cough Sagan cough), and I am actively looking forward to next year’s race, assuming it doesn’t get culled in favour of a flower show or something (you laugh now…). But just a quick note to Brailsford: it was really good to see Ben Swift there, but the race would have been an even bigger success if the team of six had been made up of Stannard, Thomas, Kennaugh, Swift, Wiggins and Froome. Probably impractical, but if this whole affair is about raising the profile of British cycling, that’s how you’re going to get the best results. Not that I’ve got anything against Christian Knees that is…
C’est fini. That’s the extent of my French knowledge, but it outlines the point very well, that the 100th edition of the Tour is now terminé. No more glorious Thursdays spent inside watching the peloton ascend the Pyrenéen mountains whilst you should be doing other stuff, which probably involves going outdoors every now and then… No more shouting at the TV when your favoured cyclist cracks at the bottom of a second category climb, or when a selected German sprinter is consistently better than a selected sprinter from the Isle of Man. It shall be missed tremendously, but what an edition of the Tour it’s been. We’ve had everything from crashes to crosswinds, attacks to abandonments and best of all, a very worthy winner in Chris Froome. He’s been remarkably consistent, and with the help of Captain Richie Porte of the 1st Tasmanian Regiment (you’ll have noticed I promoted him from First Lieutenant for his work in the last couple of days), has not really looked like being troubled all too much. We’ve also uncovered the twin talents of Marcel Kittel and Nairo Quintana, who have both performed admirably, upsetting some big names and look set to bask in the Parisian sunlight (or twilight) at some point in the not too distant future.
I know the atmosphere is supposed to be all splendid and peachy now the race is over, but I would just like to have a short moan if that’s ok. Twilight. I get the idea, that it’s supposed to be magical and ethereal and to add a certain je ne sais quoi to the last stage, but it was just dark. Like, I’m not being funny but it just looked like the riders had arrived late. Maybe the weather wasn’t right, or something like that but it just didn’t work for me. Anyway, negativity over.
The stage itself was quintessentially Parisian, with the small break and the sprinters teams and the bell and the great views of the Arc de Triomphe/Place de la Concorde etc… A sprint finish as was expected, (no Alexander Vinokourov this year!) and for the first time in the history of the Tour, Mark Cavendish was beaten on the Champs Elysées. My overriding memory of the Tour will always be that shot of Cav as he flew past Thor Hushovd and Alessandro Petacchi at about double speed to take the stage in 2010, so it’s a little sad, to see him beaten by Marcel Kittel on what has become his stomping ground. Take nothing away from Kittel though, who makes it 4 wins this time around (who would have expected that 3 weeks ago) and looks set to go to great things. He won even without Tom Veelers his lead out man, so fair play to him.
Tom Veelers withdrew a few days ago, but you have to feel sorry for Lieuwe Westra, who abandoned with 30km to go. That’s a kick in the teeth if ever there was one, and it took the total finishers down to 169. That is a huge number, and it’s good to see so many have managed to endure the three hard weeks of racing. Shout out to Svein Tuft who came 169th. Represent.
The Green jersey was secured about 15 days ago by Peter Sagan, but today it was official, and he even dyed his beard specially for the occasion. Wheelie or no wheelie he’s deserved the jersey again this year, but it has shown it’s not necessarily for the best sprinter – on that basis Kittel should have won it. Respect to Sagan, though, who’s the best thing to come out of Slovakia since 6’9” NHL star, defenseman Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins. Ok, we’ll call that one a draw.
I appreciate this is getting long, but bare with just for a little bit. I also want to berate Phil Liggett. Blasphemy I know, but he actually got the rules of cycling wrong. Now that’s pretty inexcusable, even for someone should have been beatified by now. Quick memo Phil, if a rider crashes inside 3km, he still has to finish the stage and cannot, as you so eloquently put it, simply just walk off and meet them at the next stage. Imagine if that were the case and when you get to 3km everyone just stopped and got in the team bus… It wasn’t all bad though, as he did successfully mock the bell-ringer. Never fails to disappoint.
Right then, looks like that’s it, and a certain song from the Sound of Music seems strangely appropriate… No more TDF for another year, when glorious Great Britain and glorious Sheffield will be welcoming you with open arms. Don’t get your hopes up. As for sunnier climates, the Vuelta begins on the 24th August, so I’ll see you all there. It’s been an absolute pleasure, and I very much hope you’ve enjoyed the tour as much as I have. Peace out.
At last, he’s done it! What, you thought I was talking about Chris Froome? No, I meant Alexis Vuillermoz once again getting into the breakaway, just so we could hear Liggett and Sherwen attempt to pronounce his name once more. That was the real highlight of the day, none of this race winner lark…
Oh yeah, almost forgot, today was when Chris Froome sewed up yellow, and excuse me whilst I get all emotional for a moment, but it was nice to see for the first time in a long time, that the highest three finishers were also the best three climbers and rode away together on the final climb. It was poetic wasn’t it? Forget the time trials, the race has always been and should continue to be decided in the hills, and this year it was. One to the Tour organisers there.
Nairo Quintana. Winner of Stage 20 of the Tour de France. Winner of the White Jersey of the Tour de France. Winner of the Polka-dot Jersey of the Tour de France. Not a bad debut then. He will win it one day. Fact. He only needs to improve his time-trialling slightly and he should be unbeatable: his climbing is outstanding. Had it not been for his mistake in the first day in the Pyrenees, attacking way too early, the gap between him and Froomey may have been reduced, and so we start to get a true indication of where he is; the gap is also made up largely of deficit picked up in the time-trials. He was helped by arguably the best team in the race (sorry Sky), and had the added bonus of Alejandro Valverde as a super-domestique. Things were definitely in his favour, and if he returns with a similar team next year, I can see him doing even more damage.
A huge shout out also to Jens Voigt, who “went out with a bang” today, potentially finishing he Tour career in style – staying away from the charging peloton when his fellow escapees were being picked up all around him. I must confess I am a huge fan of the German, partly because of the heroic quality he displayed today, but also because of the amount of work he does for LeapordShack RadioTreck, or whichever team he’s on. I sincerely hope he does find it in himself to come back next year, but if not, he deserves some sort of medal or something. A true legend of the Tour.
The other competition which had final closure was the team competition, where Saxo-Tinkoff managed to hold off the challenge of RadioLeopard TreckShack to hold on victory. Ok, Alberto Contador lost his podium finish today, but at least he can pleased with victory in the team competition. Oh, hang on, no, actually it means absolutely nothing… I know the Green jersey was decided today (a competition filled with suspense if ever there was one), but I’m going to leave that until tomorrow, following the Camps Elysées finish.
That finish will be extremely exciting. You have four guys all going for the win, and whilst Kittel is probably the favourite, my money is still on Cav. He is undefeated on the Place de la Concorde, and despite the fact he’s not been at his best thus far, I reckon he’ll be able to conjure something special for the final, twilight finish. Cycling, it appears, is “doing a Formula 1″ and having an evening race, and only time will tell how successful it will be. I’m optimistic though. There will be air of mourning following the 21st and final stage, and this race has been absolutely brilliant. I hope nothing spoils it in Paris, and for the Brits to pick up their 5th stage win of the race.