Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Heartbreak, #Hashtags, and an Eliminated Hero - Tour de France Stage 5

Heartbreak and Hastags
The Tour can break your heart and destroy a rider's dreams. Ted King (Cannondale) said that he woke up several times last night, just hoping that his elimination from the Tour was just a bad dream. It wasn't. The American crashed heavily in the Stage 1 chaos, largely caused by Tour Organizers changing communications during the last frenetic kilometers as a result of Orica-Greenedge's bus becoming stuck under the finish line scaffolding. King finished the stage, but suffered tremendous pain the next couple of stages, due to the separated shoulder he received in that crash. Doing his best to deal with the pain, he finished stage 2 and 3 and tehn prepared for crucial Stage 4 Team Time Trial. His time trial bike, specially designed for these tests, proved to be too uncomfortable, so he modified his road bike for the stage. King felt that he could at least help his teammates battle for the stage.

Almost immediately, he was dropped and watched his team leave him behind. He fought hard until the end, and later saying he was proud of his effort, finished just out side of the elimination time set for the stage. In order to stay in the race, each stage has a cut-off time, usually an established percent within the finishers time. The problem for King was that the winning time (Orica-Greenedge) was the fastest in Tour history, 57.8kph. To further complicate King's problem was that the timing chip initially placed on his time trial bike did not get moved to the road bike used to ride, what turned out to be an individual race. This oversight or last minute decision caused kings ride to be recorded by hand and not by compter. The hand timing indicated that he missed the cut by seven seconds. Seven. His on bike data showed that he was just 1 second off. One.

The commissares took a hard line and exact interpretation of the rules and eliminated the 30 year old from New Hampshire from  his first Tour de France. To make matters worse, his parents were flying in the next day to watch him race into Marseille.

Professional riders, friends and competitors alike, took to the internet to voice their support and campaign for empathy from Tour Organizers. Twitter hashtags such as #LetTedRide #TedWatch and #7Seconds among others pleaded to get King back into the race. The decision was not reversed and King had to travel to Marseille in the team bus. He handled himself with class, but could not hide his disappointment...or tears in interviews this morning. Chapeau.
Cav win Stage 5
Stage 5 Recap
The peloton is tired. Crashes and the nerves of the first week take a toll. So when a few guys want to take off and bang their head against the wall for a while, in what is usually a vain attempt at a stage win, let 'em.  Tour of Flanders winner, French National Champion, and multiple stage winner Jacky Durand (now retired) known for his long seemingly suicidal breakaways that usually didn't succeed, was asked why he attempted to win by breaking away so frequently? He replied, somebody has to win. Sometimes the race misjudges the quality of the riders in the break and give them a little too big of a time gap. That's the dream and for a while today it looked like this might be one of those days. Six riders gained an almost 13 minute advantage at one point. Of the six, Belgian De Gent (Vascansoleil-DCM) looked the strongest, as he covered multiple breaks by the other three riders, including Japanese National Champion Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar).

The Peloton was still 1:34 behind with a little over 16km to go, when a crash in the front end of the peloton took down a dozen or so riders, including American Christian Vande Velde. That disruption did not distract merciless peloton, who has a knack for reeling back breakaways without regard for their quest for individual glory. When the sprinters team smell the finish line, they swallow those that spend the whole of the day riding with unfamiliar companions all seeking the same glory. The last of today's glory seekers were dispatched with just 4km to go.

At that point several teams tried to establish their presence at the front in their efforts to control the race and be in the best position to deliver their sprinting specialist to the line first. Lotto-Belisol (for Greipel), Omega Pharma-QuickStep (for Cavendish), and Cannondale (for Sagan) were all going full-on gas to get to the front. Argos-Shimano was out of the mix as the earlier crash had taken out their man Kittel. Sagan's team's effort fell apart and he decided his best move was to follow Greipel's wheel. There were two distinct lines of leadout with about 200 meters to go and when Cavendish's main man Steegmans pulled off, it was all but over. Cavendish, low and body seemingly calm, despite the effort of pedaling at 70km+/hr simply pulled away from Sagan and Greipel for his first win of this year's Tour.

Stage 6 Preview
The only 'bump' on today's route is 100km from the finish. Bunch sprint for sure.
Expect the peloton to welcome the shorter (by about 50km) stage after a long day in the saddle today. The sprinters will be asking their teams to line them up better than they have been. A tall order to be sure, but expect a bunch finish with Greipel finally ending his frustration, if his leadout men can get out in front of Cavendish. I think Sagan's frustration will continue as his team can't seem to match Omega and Lotto.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Passion, Persistence, & Profanity Tour de France Stage 8

Marc Madiot cheering from the FDJ Team car.
For all the negative press cycling seems to get when the Tour de France rolls around, a lot of us were reminded why we love this sport during Stage 8 today. It's sometimes cruel, breathtaking, and inspiring all at the same time. Even with all the ugliness and deceit, we can't look away. The images of Marc Madiot, the FDJ Director Sportif and two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix, screaming out the team car window at his 22 year-old rider Thibault Pinot as he tried mightily through the last 10 km to stay away from an elite group of chasers that included Wiggins, Evans, Menchov and Nibali, was passion defined.

Pinot, a Frenchman on a French team, had tried to win yesterday's Stage 7, knew today was possible when he saw the course revealed in October, but couldn't make it happen. Today was not as close to his home, but he won nonetheless. He remarked that he could not have done it without the French crowd's roars of encouragement and teammate Jeremy Roy's tremendous efforts in the early breakaway of the day. Pinot, the youngest rider in the race, actually had to persuade his team to let him participate in this year's Tour. That effort proved to be convincing, but no more convincing than his first Tour win. Persistence pays off.

In the last couple of days we've learned a lot about Bradely Wiggins and his first choice of choice words. It's not a nice one. Yesterday, using the third letter of the alphabet to begin the word to express his characterization of the inadvertent camera man following Sagan, then today when asked about PEDs in the Twittersphere. Make sure, if you get a chance Bradley, to not kiss the trophy with that mouth.

Tomorrow, should whittle down the podium contenders to 4 or 5. The list got a little shorter today with the abandon of Olympic Champion and GC contende, Samuel Sanchez, due to a crash mid stage that broke his collarbone and separated his shoulder. My money is on Evans.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Bells, Baseball Fights, & Body Paint - Tour de France Stage 6

At the end of Stage 5, after being involved in yet another crash, instead of heading of to a corner and practicing his bike handling skills, Tyler Farrar decided to storm the Lotto bus. In the classic 6th grade playground move of "somebody better hold me back" pose that a non-fighter takes in an effort to save face, Tyler found that he couldn't even bust down the curtain on the Lotto bus' entrance. Just like a baseball fight, no one got hurt. If you want to fight, use implements, like Carlos Barredo in the 2010 tour. A wheel is good for more than holding up a bike.

For today's Stage 6, Peter Sagan, who no one in their right mind would question his bike handling skills (YouTube-Peter Sagan), put a bell on his bike to help announce his presence in the bunch. A smart move on his the Green Jersey holder, but everyone already knows who the man from Slovakia is at this point in the race. They probably just need to stay out his way, so they don't get run over. You wouldn't like him when he's angry
The freddish equipment is a humorous response the the real "freds" in this year's peloton, who think just because they want "that" spot, that it should be theirs and all they have to do is force their way in. Michael Barry was commenting that the respect factor seems to be waning more and more lately. Maybe because this year's Tour has no obvious Patron.

In another controversial move the ASO has decided to consider scrapping the traditional podium girls and go with girls in bikinis and body paint. They tested out the concept during today's stage, but will certainly be scrapped as the girls were said to have caused a big pile up with about 25 km to go.

The crash ultimately took recent Giro d'Italia Champion Ryder Hesjedal out of contention as he lost more than 13 minutes on the day. Velonews characterized the day as the "Metz Massacre" as the GC hopes of Valverde, Frank "I told you I wasn't a leader" Schleck, Robobank's Gesink, Scarponi (my dark horse favorite), and Brajkovic (Astana) all took huge hits to their respective campaigns. Valverde was heard screaming that someone doesn't know how to ride a bike! Indeed. (yes, Farrar was involved in the crash)
Waut Poels on his way to hospital (photo: AFP)

Sagan's bell must have worked as he won handily enough to try out his 'Hulk" imitation as he crossed the line. Probably the only Tour Stage winner with a bell on his handlebars, no? Biceps almost as big as Boonen's.
photo: Bettini

Tomorrow's Stage 7 travels to a steep finish at La Planche des Belles Fillies, with sections of 13% grades. We should see who's ready to battle for the yellow as Cancellara will probably have to give up his Yellow Jersey that he's held since the beginning. Look for a dark horse to make their presence known, maybe Scarponi or Mechov will show themselves in addition to those contenders at the top of everybody's list, like Wiggins and Evans. Also, Cannondale's Nibali, as he stayed out of trouble and has his Lieutenant Ivan Basso in good form and ready to storm up the finale.
Graphic: cyclingnews

There will be some jersey changes tomorrow. The yellow will end up on someone else's back, as well as the Polka Dot, and possibly the White jersey for the best young rider if American Teejay van Garderen gives Evans too much on the finish. Who knows who will be wearing the bikinis.


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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Roger Clemens, Voldemort, & Punctuation - Stage 5 Tour de France

Clearly Jonathan Vaughters watched Roger Clemens testify to congress during their investigation of the use of performance enhancing drugs (PED). Vaughters swift statement in response to the 'leaked' names of the riders that have allegedly testified in the USADA investigation of Lance Armstrong, sounded a lot like Clemens' "I'm not here to talk about the past." The Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that several of Armstrong's former teammates have received a 'minor' suspension of 6 months in exchange for their confession for using PED and testimony to the USADA in their hunt for Armstrong. Vaughters said that at "this moment" his team and organization was focused on winning the Tour. Adding that the reports, that extremely light 6 month suspensions had been given to current Garmin riders, including Christian Vandevelde, David Zabriske, and himself, were false.

In a case of are you lying now, or were you lying then? USA cycling   recently announced that the same riders named in the Dutch story would not be participating in the London games in a few weeks. That announcement seemed curious then, but now fits in well with the timeline given in the story. In exchange for their admission and testimony, the riders would be allowed to continue to compete in the Tour and the big races in the spring and would serve the inconsequential suspensions, in what is essentially the off-season. Something's not right and it's not just the bows in the Carrefour podium girls hair. Those aren't right either. Atroce'.

Armstrong, who of course is not wasting anymore time defending himself, spent the entire day tweeting and defending himself both through Twitter and the punctuation of his substantial legal team. The Washington Post published the 18 page Armstrong camp's response to the USADA. The letter was not only astounding in its demands to drop the case, but its significant use of the semi-colon. These guys know how to construct a sentence. Not to be outdone by the experts, Lance (or Voldemort as he is often referred to online in effforts to avoid the threat of legal action) ruled that the USADA's actions were #unconstitutional. Prompting Romney to add that it was a penalty not a tax. And that this whole thing is Obama's fault

Oh yeah there was a race today. Andre Greipel won the bunch sprint in what he characterized as the hardest sprint he'd ever done to win his second of this year's Tour. We'll see if he can go for three tomorrow as the sprinters last big chance for glory before the battle for GC starts the following day. The gallop into Vosges will certainly be a sprint finish. Maybe Cav will heal enough by then to give it a go and maybe American Tyler Farrar can manage to stay upright for one day in a row.


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