TDF Stage 11 Recap/Stage 12 Preview

16 Jul

Did you know professional bike racing can be a contact sport?  If you watched today’s stage, you do.

At the end of Stage 11, approximately 400m from the finish Mark Renshaw, HTC-Columbia, got into position to lead out his sprinter, Mark Cavendish. Julian Dean, Garmin-Transitions, was also vying for real estate to get his man, sprinter Tyler Farrar, into position for the sprint finish.

Renshaw leaned into Dean and head-butted him three times in an attempt to move Dean off – giving Cavendish ample room and holding Dean and Farrar off.  Dean withstood the interference and led out Farrar, then he peeled off and Farrar made his move. Renshaw looking over his shoulder saw Farrar starting to sprint out.  At this point Renshaw moved to squeeze Farrar into the barriers, greatly impeding Farrar’s ability to sprint. Cavendish ultimately took the win, his 3rd Tour win this year and 13th in 3 years, Alessandro Petacchi came in 2nd and Farrar 3rd.

After reviewing the sprint, race officials made the decision to disqualify Renshaw and eject him from the Tour. In my opinion, they made this decision because of a few possible reasons.  One, although sprinters do resort at times to pushing with their heads or arms/shoulders to back another rider off, I’ve never seen a rider head-butt repeatedly like Renshaw did. Two, the deliberate move to push Farrar toward the barrier was a blatant attempt to impede his ability to sprint. Three, the aggressive riding by Renshaw not only put Farrar and Dean at risk, but also put others in peloton at risk of crashing. Either one of the moves (head-butts or blocking Farrar into the barrier) would have likely resulted in Renshaw being relegated to last place, but the two aggressive acts together were more than race officials could accept.

I tend to agree with them; if Renshaw was only relegated to last place, it really would not serve as much of a punishment or more importantly, deterrant from future reckless acts. To take the victory away from Cavendish would not be fair to him. By removing Renshaw from the Tour, officials have sent a clear and strong message to sprinters and their teams – this behavior will not be tolerated. In the end, the decision of the Tour officials keeps the riders safer and makes for a better Tour.

Other than the excitement at the finish, it was a fairly easy day for the peloton and favorites. There was the requisite breakaway, as well as the routine catch – due to the fast tempo set by the sprinters teams in pursuit of a bunch sprint.

The day was so mellow for the peloton many riders were seen chatting with riders of other teams, including rivals Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador.

There was no change in the GC for the main rivals, the Green jersey exchanged hands in what is a tight competition. Petacchi edged out Thor Hushovd to take the jersey.

Stage 12
Tomorrow’s stage will be interesting. Although there are no category 1 or HC climbs, there are 5 mid-range climbs.  Additionally, it is a long day – 210km – in what will be very hot temperatures. The finish could provide us with a lot of excitement – it’s short but steep (10% gradient). After a long, hot day in the saddle, I expect the last climb to split the field up further. There will no doubt be breakaways.

This is a stage, depending on how he is feeling, that Cadel Evans could redeem his Tour – if he could manage to pull out a win or a top finish, which would cut his time in the GC. Team Radio Shack could go for another stage win sending perhaps Chris Horner in the breakaway.

Stage 12, although not one of the most difficult, could present problems for some resulting in a splintering of the peloton and a selection on the very last climb. Look for Contador and Schleck be in the very front, this stage will not catch them off guard.  A team that has struggled thus far in the Tour could look to this stage for glory – perhaps Garmin-Transitions or Team Radio Shack or BMC.

One thing is certain, Stage 12 will not be the easy day in the saddle that Stage 11 was.

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