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2014 Tour de France – Stage 1

6 Jul

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Would you believe me if I told you there wasn’t a single crash on the opening stage? Didn’t think so. Of course there were crashes!

Just ask sprinter and Brit, Mark Cavendish.

The script was written: Begin the Tour de France in England, have possibly the largest crowds ever watching and cheering it all, make the finish in Cavendish’s Mum’s hometown and have Cavendish win and take the yellow jersey, his first ever. The royals were there, his family and fellow countrymen all there to witness Cavendish’s dream come true.

What transpired was Cavendish’s worst nightmare. Not initially though. His team had provided him with the perfect lead out, delivering him near the finish, near the front.

All sprints are hotly contested with riders jockeying for position, but especially sprints in opening stages when a win results in the yellow jersey. Cavendish was to the outside of nemesis Marcel Kittel and to the inside of Simon Gerrans when Cavendish tried to headbutt Gerrans out of his way. They both ended up going down, clearly Cavendish’s fault and Kittel and Peter Sagan raced for the win. Kittel won, taking the yellow  jersey, which most had expected Cavendish to take, just like last year.

Unlike last year, this one was Cavendish’s own doing.

 

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2013 Tour de France Recap

22 Jul

The 100th Tour de France is in the books with Chris Froome (Sky) the winner.

The Tour route this year was well conceived. Starting on the island of Corsica led to an exciting and unpredictable first week. Besides spectacular scenery we had tougher stages than are typical in the first week. One thing we’re used to seeing in the first week was true this Tour too – chaos and crashes.

Chaos and crashes resulting from a first for the Tour, a team bus (Orica-GreenEdge) stuck at the finish line under the finishing gantry. Confusion ensued, as did a major pile-up just kilometers from the finish. Newest sprinting sensation, Marcel Kittel took his first Tour win in Stage 1.

Stage 2 was won by a newcomer to the Tour, Radio Shack’s Jan Bakelants; getting his first pro win and the yellow jersey when he finished just seconds ahead of the chasing peloton. One of the few times a rider in the break actually wins the stage.

Simon Gerrans got his first, and Orica-GreenEdge’s first, ever Tour win in Stage 3 and the yellow jersey when he managed to pip the sprinting green giant, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) at the finish. This was just the second Tour appearance for OGE. OGE continued to impress when they won Stage 4, the team time-trial, keeping the yellow jersey for a second day.

Stage 5 brought something we’ve seen 23 times before in the Tour de France – a Mark Cavendish win. Last year Cavendish had to share team Sky with the yellow jersey winner, this year he had a team of his own, Omega-Pharma QuickStep. A team dedicated to giving him a perfect leadout so he could deliver stage wins. Although OPQS was built around him, he managed to get only two Tour wins – his fewest wins in a Tour – Kittel was the main reason why. It’s nice to have other sprinters who can compete with Cav. Another of those sprinters, is the gorilla, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) who managed to beat Cavendish and Sagan to take the win in Stage 6.

Although Stage 7 ended as expected in a bunch sprint, it was anything but predictable. It was the highlight of the first week of the 100th Tour for me.  Sagan, Cannondale’s sprinter had yet to get a win. In any given Tour, this one included, stages sprinters have a chance to win are relatively few. Cannondale’s plan for Stage 7 was obvious from the start: get Sagan the win. They executed their plan to perfection. They stayed at the front of the peloton dictating a high pace over what was a lumpy stage. Most sprinters can’t handle even mild climbs, but Sagan can. When Sagan sprinted for the finish, Greipel, Cavendish and Kittel were no longer in the main group – all had been dropped by the blistering pace set by Cannondale. Sagan in effect got a 190 kilometer leadout by his team, and delivered the win.

Stage 8 delivered the expected and feared: a win by Froome and most likely an insurmountable lead. That’s what I said in my post on Stage 8 and indeed it was. He never relinquished the yellow jersey, he simply padded his lead in the kind of dominating fashion we haven’t seen since Lance Armstrong. Truly, déjà vu.

Stage 9 was an opportunity lost for the other GC hopefuls. However, in the end it probably made no difference in the final outcome. It did give fans hope and exciting racing in what was a stage dominated by attacks. Garmin-Sharp came out with both barrels blazing. Movistar and Saxo-Tinkoff blasted away too, until Froome and his yellow jersey were all alone, without another Sky rider in sight. We got to see what a climbing phenomenon Movistar’s Nairo Quintana was. We also saw Garmin-Sharp’s well executed plan of attack pay off with a stage win by Dan Martin.

In another stage for the sprinters, Stage 10 showed us just how frustrated Cavendish was and how strong Kittel is. Cavendish’s leadout by OPQS simply wasn’t as good as either Kittel’s Argos-Shimano or Sagan’s Cannondale teams. Cav’s frustration was taken out on Kittel’s teammate and leadout, Tom Veelers. Despite the knockdown by Cavendish of Veelers, Kittel still managed to win.

Stage 11 was the first of two individual time-trial’s in the 2013 Tour de France. If you weren’t sure before, you were afterwards of just how strong Froome was. As I said in the post for Stage 11 , “the fat lady in France, the one dressed in yellow, she’s singing”. World champion time-trialest Tony Martin (OPQS), despite the horrendous road rash he got in the late crash in Stage 1, beat Froome to win the ITT.

We all wondered how the sprint would go in Stage 12 after the takedown by Cavendish of Veelers. How it went was nothing short of incredible. Cavendish was in front and most of us thought he had the win. As Phil Liggett said, no one can come from behind Cavendish and beat him. Someone forgot to tell Kittel. He used Cavendish perfectly to get the win, sitting on his wheel until just the right moment and beating him by half a wheel. I couldn’t believe it – Liggett couldn’t believe it – Cavendish couldn’t believe it! What a sprint, what a win! Justice.

Stage 13 was the best stage of racing in this Tour. All thanks go to the crosswinds and heads up racing by a few teams. The route was flat and thus expected to end in a bunch sprint. Consequently the sprinters teams Lotto-Belisol, OPQS and Argos-Shimano shared the work at the front. When the crosswind occurred OPQS formed an echelon and upped the pace. Those that were paying attention got on, those that didn’t or weren’t positioned closely enough to the front got dropped and quickly gapped. All the contenders for GC made the cut, but Valverde had a mechanical and soon was dropped. All of his teammates except Quintana dropped back to help. Smart move by Movistar director that had a huge impact on their success in the Tour – as did Valverde’s mechanical, most likely. In another shrewd move Alberto Contador marshaled his guys to the front to put the hammer down, quickly dropping Froome. A select few made the cut, as Saxo-Tinkoff rode as hard as they could to get as much time as possible on Froome. Great tactical racing by Contador, as he called that play on the road. They managed to get 1:09 on Froome, but it wasn’t enough. Still, it was brilliant and exciting racing.

Stage 14 was a transition stage, the type of stage where someone in the break would likely win. BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen got in the break, I hoped he might be able to salvage his Tour with a stage win. Coming into the Tour he had GC aspirations, not for a podium position but for a high placement. He won the Tour of California this year. Unfortunately he had a very disappointing Tour, although from my perspective at least I consider him somewhat of a hero. He raced aggressively, getting in breaks when he could, and came very close to winning the Stage on Alp d’Huez. Van Garderen is one of the young racers who wants to do things the right way, or that’s how it seems to me. I have a lot of respect for him and the way he races. Stage 14 was won by someone in the break, Matteo Trentin of OPQS.

Stage 15 – Mont Ventoux. Froome did an unbelievable ride up Mont Ventoux, literally, unbelievable. While seated he spun away from Contador, making Contador look like he was standing still as Froome zoomed past. This “not normal” ascent of Ventoux was the 2nd best time ever – in the history of the Tour. The only person with a better time was Lance Armstrong who was three seconds faster.  Froome’s time beat the time of many riders known to have doped in the past. Froome annihilated everyone on the climb, and consequently the race  for yellow. After Stage 15 Froome had over a four minute lead over his closest competitor. The only race left was for the podium and top 10 in GC.

The favorites continued to attack Froome and Sky in Stage 16. They also attacked each other too since only seconds separated the top five places. Contador attacked Froome repeatedly, all to no avail in terms of effecting his lead. He did irritate Froome when he overshot a corner causing Froome to nearly crash. Froome complained to Contador via Twitter about his aggressive racing. Personally I wondered why Froome was chasing him so aggressively with such a large lead. There was some shuffling in the top 10 spots in GC, with more to come.

Stage 17 was an individual time-trial over a hilly and technical course. Van Garderen rode a very good TT, holding the lead for awhile. Contador laid it all on the line, probably seeing it as his best chance for a stage victory. It almost was, but Froome narrowly beat him by 9 seconds. Froome captured his 4th stage win and extended his lead by 20 seconds. Contador’s effort moved him to 2nd overall.

In the most mountainous Tour in its 100 year history, Stage 18 had another first. Two ascents of Alp d’Huez on the same day. France was still looking for their first stage win of their Tour, Van Garderen and others were looking to redeem their Tour with a win on the infamous Alp. Van Garderen likely would have got the win if his bike hadn’t failed him, causing him to use precious resources catching back up to the small break. He ran out of gas near the finish and Christophe Riblon overtook him to get France their first stage win. Froome also ran out of gas near the end but decided to break the rules and get gel – his 2nd time to break the “food” rule in the Tour. His penalty for doing so this stage was a joke – 20 seconds for him and Porte. We’ll never know what might have happened if he had followed the rules, and bonked.

Stage 19, another tough day in the Alps, had a lot of racing action that ended in a stalemate. A large break got away and the tactically-wise, Rui Costa of Movistar used the break to get his 2nd stage win this Tour. There were no changes in the top positions of the GC. Riders were focused on maintaining their positions in the overall or moving up. Also focused no doubt, on the last day in the Alps, Stage 20 and its summit finish on the HC Annecy-Semnoz. This last week in the Tour was brutal; difficult for past Tour winners and contenders alike – except the ultra-dominant Froome. Earlier in the Tour people were somewhat reluctant to voice their suspicions of Froome. By now nearly everyone, but the true believers were. Coming off the Armstrong doping debacle, fans are understandably suspicious of performances that are too good to be true. Froome’s certainly fits that criteria, especially when you look at him prior to 2011.

Stage 20 was do or die day for those hoping to get a stage win, move up in the overall or maintain a GC or podium spot. There was still the polka dot jersey up for grabs too. The last day before the processional into Paris was the day to go for it all – if you had the legs to do so. Not many did by the time they got to the 6th climb of the day – the Annecy-Semnoz. When it was all said and done, only Quintana, Froome and Katusha’s Rodriguez had the legs. Quintana won the stage, jumping from the 3rd spot on the podium to 2nd, Rodriguez took over the 3rd spot. Contador fell to 4th and off the podium. Quintana also secured the polka-dot jersey as well as the white jersey for best young rider. Quintana will be a force to contend with in any of the grand tours he races. I read that Contador was competing about 20% below what he had in previous Tours (including when he tested positive for doping and forfeited his title). It is often reported that doping improves a rider’s performance by 20%, so maybe what we were seeing was a clean Contador.

Stage 21 was the usual processional into Paris, culminating in a no-holds barred sprint. Typically a stage won by Cavendish, as he had on the previous four rides onto the Champs Elyse. Not this year. Kittel took the win, his 4th of this Tour. Kittel got a great jump on Cavendish and Greipel, but Cavendish battled his way back making the finish closer than it appeared it would be. Close but no cigar for Cavendish.


The 100th Tour de France is in the record books with Chris Froome as its winner.

With everything fans of professional cycling have had to contend with regarding the rampant doping in the sport and the spoken desire to clean it up, we deserved more than we got in this year’s Tour in my opinion. I did not expect to see another individual and team, Froome and Sky, dominate in the same fashion as Armstrong and Postal/Discovery did for 7 years. Nor for the other riders, teams, commentators and journalists to have the same “there’s nothing to see here” code of denial and silence that we’ve been fed year after year, win after win. Enough.

More positives from the 1998 Tour will be announced this week, with more excuses and more apologies to come. And no doubt, more of the “that’s in the past” and “we’re clean now” mantra we hear after every time a period of rampant doping is discovered (read: made public). How many times do we have to (re)learn that the culture of doping continues despite the fact that we were assured it has stopped. None for me. What are your feelings?



Thanks to all who followed my posts on the Tour, and although you wouldn’t know it by looking at the (lack of) comments, many do according to the data. It’s rewarding to know hundreds visited and that I wasn’t just talking to myself. :)  ~Susan

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Last Week of 2013 Tour de France

13 Jul

The last week in the Tour looks exciting. Although Froome is most likely strong, his team has been weakened. It’s hard to know if they’ve been sitting back and plan to attack tomorrow on Mont Ventoux like they did on Stage 8 or if they’ll ride more defensively and try to preserve their grip on yellow – my hunch is they will do the latter.

Froome still has a strong grip on the yellow jersey; 2:28 to Belkin’s Mollema, and just 2:45 to the cunning Contador. However, given the apparent vulnerability of Sky it is a lead that seems at least penetrable.

One thing that has been a surprise to me at least is the vulnerability of the team charged with protecting the yellow jersey. Froome doesn’t have near the team that Bradley Wiggins had last year when he wore yellow. Wiggins isn’t here to help Froome either, neither are strongmen Rigoberto Uran or  Sergio Henao who were both left off the Tour squad after competing in the Giro. Two of the riders expected to support Froome in the Alps were Edvald Boasson Hagen and  Vasil Kiryienka, both of whom are out of the Tour. There’s no doubt Froome is more exposed to attacks with the loss of those two; particularly by Saxo-Tinkoff and Contador.

If I were Froome and Sky I’d be more worried about Contador and his teammate Kreuziger then the Belkin duo.

Froome is solid physically, I don’t doubt that, but his team is not. I’m not so sure Froome is solid mentally. He can’t be as confident as he was when he strutted up the final climb of Stage 8 to take the win. Since losing his 2 teammates, being isolated in Stage 9 and losing 1:09 to his GC rivals in Stage 13, he certainly has to doubt the strength of his team.

The first sentence in my Understanding the Tour de France Guide is:  “Remember this simple fact – bike racing is a TEAM sport – not an individual sport”. We may all get another lesson in the importance of a strong team as we head to the Alps.



Stage 15:

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Tomorrow’s stage on Mont Ventoux, a long stage at 242 kilometers – the longest of this year’s Tour, should give us a glimpse of any weakness in Sky’s armor or that of any of the other GC contenders. 

Or, it may not be that subtle. We could see the race blow apart like we did yesterday.

We should be so lucky!

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2013 Tour de France–Stage 6

4 Jul

2013 4I’ve grown tired of the first week of the Tour. For me the first week of the Tour is often something to get through so we can get to the good part:  enduring the sprint stages to get to the stages of the Pyrenees and Alps, where the Tour will be won – or lost.

Sort of like getting through a dinner of meatloaf when all you really want is to get to the dessert of chocolate cake.

Initially I’m just happy for the Tour to begin so those first few sprint stages are exciting, but after a while (stage 6) they become boring. As horrible as it sounds (is), sometimes the only thing that livens up the stages of the first week are the crashes. Otherwise you watch a few hours of tempo riding for the last few seconds of excitement.

Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen don’t help. I’ve heard every liggettism and sherwenism there is and most if not all of their anecdotes. I find them boring or irritating most of the time. I watched Stage 1 online with Eurosport and enjoyed their coverage and commentating, but Steephill.tv cut many of their feeds afterwards. I just checked again and see they have added more, so I’ll give them a try tomorrow for Stage 7.

There was something newsworthy about Stage 6 – no breakaway. One rider jumped away at the start, but with no help the peloton easily brought him back to the fold.

Besides crashes there’s one other thing that can liven up a flat stage: crosswinds. Stage 6 had them, but the peloton was so tightly packed the crosswinds had no impact. The peloton were also motoring at a high rate of speed. Orica-GreenEdge did the majority of the work at the front, while the favorites fought to stay in front because of potential splits from crosswinds and/or crashes.

The stage did come down to a sprint among the strongest sprinters. Andre Greipel (Lotto) got the best leadout and consequently took the win finishing ahead of Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who is still winless, and yesterday’s winner Mark Cavendish. Cavendish crashes going around a roundabout about 30k from the finish and didn’t have enough punch left to beat Greipel. When that became evident, in typical Cavendish fashion, he sat up finishing 4th behind Sagan and Marcel Kittel.

Geipel’s win was especially sweet for his team as they lost their GC contender Jurgen van den Broeck due to injuries sustained in a crash yesterday. In other good news, the first yellow jersey ever for a South African rider was captured by Orica’s Daryl Impey. Nice OricaGreenEdge was able to share the yellow jersey among teammates.

Maxine Bouet, also abandoned the Tour today due to injuries suffered yesterday. Bouet was on my Fantasy Cycling Challenge team so that leaves me with one less rider. Hopefully my team will not be decimated by injuries like it was last year. Serious business this fantasy team stuff.

Stage 7 is another lumpy stage with a fairly big lump, a category 2 climb as well as a couple of category 3s and a category 4. It still looks like a stage that will end in a bunch sprint since the last 12k are downhill to the finish. Sagan has to be eyeing this stage for his first stage win of this Tour. This time last year he had already won 3.

Stage 7 Profile:

Stage profile

The real fun begins Saturday when the Tour goes into the Pyrenees with an HC category and a category 1 summit finish:

Stage 8 Profile:

Stage profile

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For the Love of Bikes Blog by Susan Lash (2009 - 2014) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.loveofbikes.com.