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.