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2014 Tour de France – Stage 1

6 Jul


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.


Tour Time

5 Jul

The 2014 Tour de France has arrived welcoming in the month of July like it has for over 100 years.

For me personally, I’ve only been following the Tour since the likes of Greg Lemond and Lance Armstrong raced it. Back then it wasn’t easy to follow the Tour even though Americans were competing and winning.

Now it is incredibly easy to watch the Tour. There are hours and hours of live televised coverage available and even more written coverage, commentary and analysis of each day’s stage plus all the inherent behind-the-scenes talk and speculation about the riders and the race.

High drama.

For the last 4 years I’ve written my own daily analysis of the Tour: the 2010 comeback Tour for Armstrong, the incredibly exciting 2011 Tour, the incredibly dull 2012 Tour and the disappointing but less dull 2013 Tour.

Although I hadn’t planned to blog on the 2014 Tour de France, here I am.

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

2013 TDF–Froome Wins (for now)

22 Jul

I’m in the process of writing a Tour wrap-up, but until then here are my thoughts about Chris Froome, Team Sky and their so-called marginal gains.


C. R. A. P.

Can’t. Really. Accept. Premise.

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