TDF Stage 7/Stage 8 Preview

11 Jul

 

Stage 7 had plenty of fireworks.  The focus was on what the GC favorites would do, but what made this stage of the Tour de France so exciting were the efforts of the riders that aren’t picked to win or finish high. Those riders know that to get any glory from the Tour they have to get a stage win.

As usual, a breakaway took off at about 2km. The breakaway of 5 riders, included Jerome Pineau who was on the hunt for points in the mountain jersey (polka dot) competition. Pineau even went so far as to announce last night exactly what his plan was. The other 4 riders in the breakaway also were not GC contenders, so they were allowed to go.

Team Bbox planned to get one of their favorites, Tommy Voeckler, into the breakaway – but they failed. The breakaway had about an 8-minute gap when Bbox started seriously chasing.

Going to the front of the peloton was an unusual move for Bbox as they don’t normally attack.  Reportedly, the Directeur Sportief (the coach/general manager) of Bbox was less than happy that they missed the breakaway and ordered them to chase the break down so they could attempt to send two of their riders into another breakaway. To accomplish this they had to set a brutal tempo (pace) that along with the heat ultimately fractured the peloton.

Although none of the GC favorites were dropped, the yellow jersey (Fabian Cancellara) was dropped along with 2nd placed Geraint Thomas. Although the most difficult climb was a category 2, there were 3 of them in a row and that proved to be harder than expected. Much of the reason was the high tempo set by Bbox and the high temperatures.

A chase group went off the peloton at the 4th climb, the Col de Serra. In that group were Bbox captain Tommy Voeckler, Matt Loyd and Sylvan Chavanel. Again, no serious threat to the overall GC – so off they went. Several kilometers down the road Chavanel took off from the 2nd breakaway and joined teammate Pineau. Chavanel knew Cancellara was off the back (the DS would have told him via radio) so he also knew the yellow jersey was up for grabs. Pineau exhausted by this point from being in the break and doing much of the pace making, couldn’t follow. By now, he had collected the maximum of points for all climbs except the last. Not a problem – the polka dot jersey was securely in his possession.

Meanwhile back in the peloton, a group of only about 40 riders – the GC favorites – Armstrong, Evans, Contador, Schleck, teammates, plus a few others – continued to ride hard. All 3 teams, Radio Shack, Astana and Saxo Bank shared in the pacemaking. The remainder of the original peloton was off the back of this group – anywhere from a few minutes to more than 10 minutes.

Chavanel ended up winning the stage and taking back the yellow jersey. The consensus was that Cancellara might lose the yellow jersey today – if not today, for sure tomorrow. What was not expected was that Chavanel who had previously won Stage 2 and the yellow jersey, (but gave up the yellow to Cancellara in Stage 3) would reclaim it. Revenge was sweet I’m sure.

One rider, a teammate of Robbie McEwen, was eliminated today after he finished outside the time limit – 25 minutes behind the stage winner. Elimination time is calculated for each mountain stage. The time limit is based on the category of climb(s) and average speed of the stage. Riders must finish within a certain percentage of time from the stage winner to stay in the race. Sprinters estimate what time they will need to finish by and ride just fast enough to make it in within that time.

Today was a very tough stage for the riders. Compared to the Alps and the Pyrenees, which are still to come, it was a relatively simple mountain stage. Not exactly easy, but not the type of stage you would expect to splinter the peloton. What did it wasn’t the difficulty of the mountains, but rather the grueling pace that Bbox set – and the heat. There are a lot of tired legs tonight and the only thing they can look forward to are the Alps tomorrow.

Stage 8
Stage 8 has five categorized climbs; the most difficult – 2 category 1 climbs – are in the final 55km. Don’t expect anything to be settled among Contador, Armstrong, Evans, Wiggins, Schleck and other top 10 GC riders. Although the climbs aren’t easy it is unlikely any of the favorites will attack. The favorites will only attack if they think they can gain time on the other GC contenders. If one of them attacks, the others will be on them like glue.

That could change if on the climbs one or more of the elite appear to be in trouble. Otherwise, I would expect they would finish as a group with no change in the time that separates them in the GC. If any one of them falters the others will attack – but otherwise no reason to do it. If you attack and gain nothing you have wasted precious energy that will be needed later on in the Tour.

Unless one of the top contenders sees an opening, a solid climber who is not one of the favorites for the overall- but high enough in the GC to try to gain time on favorites – will most likely win tomorrow. One possibility is Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), currently holding 7th place in the GC and only 2 seconds behind Contador. There are any number of riders that could try for the win tomorrow.

It’s safe to say there will be a breakaway or two, a chase, and a small main group. The main group will be made up of the favorites, 1 or 2 teammates each (hopefully for them), plus a few other riders who are able to keep the pace. The remainder of the peloton will be scattered along the climbs, some struggling to finish within the required time to avoid elimination.

The mountain stages are where the Tour de France is fought and won. In these battles over the next couple of weeks only a few select warriors will still be standing to fight on for the ultimate prize – a Tour de France victory. We haven’t seen anything yet – the big fireworks are ahead!

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