July 12, 2010 11 Comments
It may be the first rest day at the Tour de France, but as the saying goes there is no rest for the
wicked blogger. After all, if the riders’ idea of a ‘rest’ day is to only go out for a two or three-hour ride, who am I to ease off? So, here are my (mostly serious) thoughts looking back on an eventful opening week of the 2010 Tour, and a couple of quick predictions for the coming days. Let me know if you agree or disagree!
Biggest winner: Cadel Evans. Despite his BMC team apparently suffering from a distinct fear of heights every time the road starts pointing skywards, Evans finds himself in the yellow jersey after yesterday’s thrilling stage to Morzine-Avoriaz. He will struggle not to lose time on the big summit finishes in the Pyrenees but will fancy his chances if he is still within touching distance of the race lead going into stage 19′s individual time trial. His immediate challenge is to find a way to give up the yellow jersey to a minor name without conceding chunks of time to his biggest rivals, but he is looking a strong bet to make the Paris podium. The question is: which step?
Biggest loser: Lance Armstrong. Now over 13 minutes down on the race lead, Armstrong’s challenge died yesterday after he was caught up in three separate accidents – a decade’s worth of bad luck all in one day. What he does next will be one of the most interesting sub-plots of the next two weeks. Will he support friend and RadioShack teammate Levi Leipheimer in the Pyrenees to make a challenge for the yellow jersey? Or will he seek one final, glorious stage win for himself? Whatever happens, don’t expect him to just soft-pedal in the anonymity of the peloton: this is Lance Armstrong we’re talking about here, and Lance does not do anonymous.
Walked under a ladder while walking on the cracks in the pavements, breaking a mirror and other bad stuff: Christian Vande Velde of Garmin-Transitions. Stage two: crashed, fractured two ribs. May 2010: crashed and broke his clavicle at the Giro d’Italia. May 2009: crashed and fractured two ribs at the Giro. Need I say more? If there’s an accident, odds are Vande Velde is not too far away. He is surely the unluckiest man in the peloton.
Runner-up: Lance Armstrong. I wonder if Vande Velde somehow transferred his bad karma to Lance – who has said some less than complimentary things about him in the past – before departing the Tour? I’m just saying.
Biggest surprise: Jurgen van den Broeck. Fourth overall (1:03 down on Evans), the Omega Pharma-Lotto team leader has flown in under many people’s radar (mine included) to establish himself as a genuine contender. Yesterday, he finished comfortably in the Contador/Evans/Leipheimer group. A dark horse, albeit one who may not stay the distance.
Garmin-Transitions’ Ryder Hesjedal (6th, 1:11 down on Evans) has also done brilliantly, stepping into the team leader’s role vacated by the injured Vande Velde.
Making quiet progress: Denis Menchov (5th), Roman Kreuziger (7th), Levi Leipheimer (8th). Almost invisibly, these three extremely capable riders are right on the coat-tails of the leaders. Leipheimer is now RadioShack’s de facto number one after Armstrong’s bad day. Kreuziger may soon take precedence over Ivan Basso in Liquigas‘s priorities. And Menchov has already crashed 916 fewer times than he had at the same point in last year’s Tour. (Okay, I’m exaggerating: it’s actually 816 fewer.) Menchov and Leipheimer may be difficult to spot as they ride in the wheels of others; you can’t miss Kreuziger because of Liquigas’s bright green kit.
Stuck in the shadows: Robert Gesink and Roman Kreuziger. Gesink is 11th, 1:27 behind Rabobank teammate Menchov and 2:37 behind Evans, and is likely to remain stuck in the shadows unless Menchov blows up. Kreuizger is just 56 seconds ahead of Giro winner Ivan Basso, and it is hard to see Liquigas throwing their lot behind him unless Basso drops off the pace, by which time Kreuziger’s chances of a podium finish may be terminally compromised. Decisions, decisions.
Handbags at dawn: After the concluding sprint on stage six, Quick Step‘s Carlos Barredo and Caisse d’Epargne‘s Rui Costa had an, er, difference of opinion when the latter caused a touch of handlebars on the final run-in. After crossing the finishing line, Barredo attempted to club him with his own front wheel, initiating something that vaguely represented a fist-fight. Neither is likely to be called upon to fight in Vegas for the delectation of a pay-per-view audience any time soon.
Heart-warming story: Sylvain Chavanel. In April, he fractured his skull when he ran into the back of a team car during Liège-Bastogne-Liège. On stage two into Spa, on a course which covered some of the same roads used in that race, Chavanel claimed a solo breakaway win and the yellow jersey, aided in no small part by the peloton staging a go-slow protest after several crashes. He then lost the lead in heart-breaking fashion the following day after a series of mechanical problems on cobbled roads. But, in true Hollywood style, he then reclaimed the yellow jersey with a gutsy solo ride to Station des Rousses on stage seven, a win which required no external assistance.
France has a new hero which, in the absence of a genuine yellow jersey contender, means that no one is going to steal Chavanel’s thunder, and he will be able to dine out on his 2010 Tour experiences for years to come. Good on him.
Best new team: Footon-Servetto. I was going to say Sky in my partisan British way, who for much of the first week had their own fairy-tale story in Geraint Thomas, second overall at one stage was second overall and in the white jersey as best young rider. But the fledgling Footon-Servetto team, comprising nine Tour first-timers and sponsored by the unlikely combination of a US bike manufacturer and an Italian wardrobe company, have won me over. Rafael Valls Ferri has given the sponsors valuable camera time on the climbing stages so far, and their funky gold-with-black-footprint racing kit adds an eye-catching splash of colour to a peloton which could hardly be called monochrome already.
Going up?: Mark Cavendish. 65 points behind a rampant Thor Hushovd in the points competition and in helmet-throwing mood after a crushing defeat by Alessandro Petacchi on stage four, he had closed the gap to 33 within 48 hours after two dominant wins. It’s still a big deficit to make up given the limited number of remaining sprints, but Cavendish has momentum now – and there is no one in the peloton better at using momentum than the Manx Missile.
Going down?: Thor Hushovd. He appeared to be turning the green jersey contest into a one-bike race at one point, but two subdued finishes on stages five (fifth place) and six (tenth) have left me wondering if the collarbone injury he sustained in May is starting to hinder him. If so, it is only going to get worse over the course of a three-week race, which will leave him vulnerable to the now fully-recovered Cavendish and the rapidly-recovering Tyler Farrar.
The old man’s award: Jens Voigt. I could easily have given this either of two veteran sprinters, Petacchi and Robbie McEwen, who are (surprisingly) featuring very strongly in the points competition, but I have to go with my sentimental favourite. The German veteran (he turns 39 in two months’ time) with the massive engine (the legal, two-legged variety, not the illegal, motorised one) can often be found setting a furious tempo on the front of the pack, driving himself into the ground for Andy Schleck – and then he comes back for punishment more the next day. He is a joy to watch and an example to younger riders.
Excessive caution award: Fabian Cancellara, who used his position as the yellow jersey to organise a go-slow, neutralising the dangerous final descent on stage two – and, entirely coincidentally, of course, allowing his teammates Andy and Frank Schleck to catch up with the peloton after an earlier crash. I can live with that decision. But why did he then have to neutralise the sprint finish as well, much to the chagrin of Thor Hushovd, most of the sprinters and the thousands gathered at the finish in Spa? While safety concerns are to be generally applauded, this is still a bike race. On this occasion Cancellara didn’t live up to his nickname: less Spartacus, more Toys R Us.
Bravery award: Tour organisers ASO for producing a varied and challenging first week itinerary which has given us the (sadly unfulfilled) potential for disruptive crosswinds (stage one), the tricky hills of the Ardennes classics (stage two) and the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix (stage three), as well as the usual bunch sprints. You have to wonder how much the difficulty of the opening days contributed to the way the peloton shattered so easily on the last two mountain stages. Certainly it didn’t hurt. The riders complained about the various dangers and challenges and disruption to the smooth natural order of things, so ASO must have been doing something right.
Best stage: Stage three, taking in 13.2 km of the cobbled roads used in the Paris-Roubaix classic. ‘Hell of the North’, indeed. It made for compelling viewing, with something dramatic constantly happening somewhere on the course in the final hour or so. It was the finest flat stage I have ever seen, and one of the best ever, period. More, please!
Two to watch out for in the mountains: 45 minutes down on the leaders, Damiano Cunego should now have carte blanche to slip away in any break he chooses. As a former winner of the Giro, he knows his way up a mountain. Coming down on the longest, fastest descents, look for Linus Gerdemann and his distinctive descending position, sitting down and forward over the frame of his bike to create a profile which is as aerodynamic as it is uncomfortable.
Who’s going to win?: Despite his little wobble yesterday, it’s still Alberto Contador for me, with Andy Schleck second and Cadel Evans third.
Who’s going to disappoint?: Bradley Wiggins, who looked alarmingly short of legs yesterday, and still has to face more tough climbs in the Pyrenees than he did in finishing fourth last year. Top ten, at best.
Menchov will probably fall off his bike on a descent somewhere. Van den Broeck will be blown out of the back of the elite group in the Pyrenees (but he won’t be alone in that). And Leipheimer will be good, but not quite good enough, which seems to be the story of his career (four top-five finishes in Grand Tours, but no wins).
Those are my guesses, anyway. If you want accurate prognostications, go consult Paul the Octopus.
Back to the racing tomorrow and the Col de la Madeleine. I’m smiling at the prospect already …