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2013 TDF Stage 16

16 Jul


Every stage is competitive in this year’s Tour. Not for the yellow jersey, but for all the other places in the top 10. Lucky for us, those spots are tight. Only seconds separate the 2nd – 5th placed riders and each one is looking to make up time or keep time.

Today’s stage had the expected large break get away and stay away. It took a while for a break to form, but once there were no riders that could threaten the top 10 the group was allowed to go. There were 26 riders in the break including several Frenchmen hoping to pick up France’s first stage win in the 100th Tour de France. It is their event after all, but alas, “pas aujourd’hui, désolé”. Oui.

The animators for Stage 16 were all expected to come from the break. Tomorrow’s stage is a hilly individual time-trial so it appeared the favorites/hopefuls would take it easy. Non.

Sky certainly had no desire to bring the break back or do anything other than stay at the front and protect their stronghold on the yellow jersey. And that’s pretty much the way things went until the last climb, the Category 2 Col de Manse. The riders in the break started attacking each other. First a couple of the French riders attacked and got away, Kadri (Ag2r) and Marino (Sojasun). Hansen (Lotto), Navarro (Cofidis) Costa (Movistar) and Roche (Saxo) quickly joined them, while others gave chase. Costa managed to get away, riding alone to the summit of Manse and then descending into Gap to take the stage win. The chase group finished :42 behind him.

Costa had been in 9th place in the GC prior to Stage 13 (crosswinds), but had to drop back from the main group to help Movistar team leader Valverde causing him to slip to 18th. Valverde fell from 2nd to 16th, only teammate Quintana has maintained his high spot overall. Point being that Movistar really wanted and needed this win and that was evident when Costa crossed the finish line. (photo from

Meanwhile back in the favorites group, Katusha attacked, upping the pace resulting in a split in the group; obviously for the benefit of their leader, Rodriguez. The move caused several favorites to drop off, including 5th placed Ten Dam (Belkin) and 7th placed Fuglsang (Astana).

Now the yellow jersey group was down to 8: Froome and Porte (Sky), Contador and Kreuziger (Saxo),  Valverde and Quintana (Movistar), Mollema (Belkin) and Rodriguez.

Contador launched 3 attacks on the ascent, momentarily dropping Porte, but Porte was able to get back. Contador attacked on the descent, once resulting in him overshooting a corner and going down, and Froome having to unclip along the road’s edge to avoid him. Both were able to remount and ride on, although Froome looked a bit peeved. I’m sure Contador couldn’t have cared less. The rest of us, at least those non-Brit fans, were happy to see Contador ride aggressively and Froome bothered.

There were changes in the GC top 10 after Stage 16: Quintana and Ten Dam swapped places – 5th and 6th respectively, as did Rodrigues and Fuglsang – 7th and 8th, and Daniel Martin moved up one spot to 10th. No changes in the top 4 spots or time gaps.

Not a bad day on the road.

Stage 17:

Stage profile


Could this time-trial shakeup the top of the GC? Possibly. Unlike the first individual time-trial this one is hilly, with technical descents and rain predicted. Time-trials are boring, but this one… maybe not.

2013 TDF Stage 14-Break

13 Jul

trentin-wins-660x440Don’t know about you, but I was okay with a normal day in the Tour. Yesterday’s blog post was lengthy and took more time to write than I wanted to do today. While the Tour was running live, we were recording and out riding.

Rain is predicted here for the next few days so we wanted to get a ride in while we can. Two things we never get in July are rain and mild temperatures. If by some off chance the weather-tellers are right, we’ll have both for a few days. Nice.

Stage 14 was lumpy, with several Category 4 climbs. A break of 4 riders got away early and then a group of 14 broke from the peloton to join them. Several notables were in the break; Van Garderen, Voigt, Bakelants, Talansky, Millar, Rojas – a break of 18 riders. The highest placed rider in the break was Talansky who was 13+ minutes down from the yellow jersey.

Initially, the teams that didn’t get a guy in the break – Euskaltel and Lampre – went to the front and chased. Eventually they gave up and Sky had to go to the front. Sky wasn’t interested in catching the break, and sent that message to the rest of the peloton by spreading across the road to slow the pace. Most of the other teams had riders in the break and weren’t interested in chasing either. Two more riders went off the front, Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) and Cunego (Lampre), but they were never able to catch the break.

Tour leader Chris Froome looked a little tired or tense or maybe tense and tired. After yesterday you can’t blame him. Froome had his team around him doing the work in a relatively easy pace conserving energy for the showdown on Ventoux tomorrow. No doubt Contador and team were doing the same as were the Belkin boys.

As the break got near the finishing city of Lyon, the cat and mouse games began. A flurry of attacks came by Burghardt, Van Garderen, Bakelants, Frenchmen Simon (who looked like he just might hang on for the win, he soloed out in front for several k) and Kadri, Albasini and Bak. Everyone but Millar and Voigt gave it a go, and they would have too but they were dropped when the attacks started.

It looked like the French would get their first win of the 100th Tour de France on the eve of Bastille Day, but they fell short. Even worse for the French, an Italian won – Omega QuickStep’s Matteo Trentin. Trentin came from nowhere going full gas and pipped Albasini, Talansky and Rojas at the line to narrowly take the win.

The last week in the Tour looks exciting. Although Froome is most likely strong, his team has been weakened. It’s hard to know if they’ve been sitting back and plan to attack tomorrow on Mont Ventoux like they did on Stage 8 or if they’ll ride more defensively and try to preserve their grip on yellow – my hunch is they will do the latter.

Froome still has a strong grip on the yellow jersey; 2:28 to Belkin’s Mollema, and just 2:45 to the cunning Contador. However, given the apparent vulnerability of Sky it is a lead that seems at least penetrable.

One thing that has been a surprise to me at least is the vulnerability of the team charged with protecting the yellow jersey. Froome doesn’t have near the team that Bradley Wiggins had last year when he wore yellow. Wiggins isn’t here to help Froome either, neither are strongmen Rigoberto Uran or  Sergio Henao who were both left off the Tour squad after competing in the Giro. Two of the riders expected to support Froome in the Alps were Edvald Boasson Hagen and  Vasil Kiryienka, both of whom are out of the Tour. There’s no doubt Froome is more exposed to attacks with the loss of those two; particularly by Saxo-Tinkoff and Contador.

If I were Froome and Sky I’d be more worried about Contador and his teammate Kreuziger then the Belkin duo.

Froome is solid physically, I don’t doubt that, but his team is not. I also get the sense Froome is worried and not nearly as confident as he was when he strutted up the final climb of Stage 8 to take the win.

The first sentence in my Understanding the Tour de France Guide is:  “Remember this simple fact – bike racing is a TEAM sport – not an individual sport”. We may all get another lesson in the importance of a strong team as we head to the Alps.

Stage 15:


Tomorrow’s stage on Mont Ventoux, a long stage at 242 kilometers – the longest of this year’s Tour, should give us a glimpse of any weakness in Sky’s armor or that of any of the other GC contenders. 

Or, it may not be that subtle. We could see the race blow apart like we did yesterday.

We should be so lucky!


2013 TDF Stage 13-Crosswind

12 Jul

stage 13 g watson

Today was to be another typical flat stage: a break, a catch, a bunch sprint finish. It was anything but. For my money, it was the best stage of racing thus far in the 100th Tour.

Something besides mountains and crashes can wreak havoc on a peloton and GC hopefuls. Crosswinds.

Crosswinds – the riders hate them, fans love them. Today’ stage 13 was a perfect example of how crosswinds can shake up the overall classification. Some guys gained time and moved up, some riders lost time and slipped down the GC.

Stage 13 started out predictably enough – the break du jour had about a 3.5 minute lead. The peloton, driven primarily at the front by the Lotto-Belisol, Omega-QuickStep and Argos-Shimano teams. The only difference between today and yesterday at this point was they weren’t allowing the break to get as far ahead.

With about 110k to go, all hell broke loose. Seriously, the race blew apart.

With Omega-QuickStep at the front, you could instantly see the wind change. OQS fell into an echelon formation and started really pushing the pace. Others didn’t react and were caught unaware and then caught out.

Alejandro Valverde had the misfortune to have a flat in no-mans land. His team car couldn’t get to him, instead Valverde and teammates changed the wheel using a tire from one of the service vehicles. Valverde had 4 teammates helping him, going full gas they only got within 12 seconds of the main group – then boom – they fell so far back they chose to sit up and wait for the 2nd group containing Marcel Kittel and a lot of BMC riders and others, it was a large group.

Kittel had several Argo-Shimano teammates and they worked with Valverde’s Movistar team to try and bridge the gap to the front group containing the yellow jersey and the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th  placed riders in the GC. They didn’t gain any time because once the Belkin guys in the front group got word of the 2nd placed Valverde being dropped they, along with OQS, drove the pace, widening the gap further.

If you’ve watched the Tour very long you’re probably aware there is a code of conduct among riders that says basically, you don’t take advantage of a rider when they’ve had a mechanical or crashed. This rule generally pertains to the higher placed GC guys, maybe the top 5 or the top 3. Valverde, as I mentioned, held 2nd place. Belkin went to the front for one reason, to move their 3rd and 6th placed guys up. Both were in the front group.

Meanwhile the front group quickly reeled in the break. The polka-dot jersey, Pierre Rolland also had a flat and even though he was back on the bike fairly quickly he never made contact with the main group again. Like Movistar, Rolland and teammates ended up in the 2nd group and working with Movistar to try and cut the gap – with absolutely no luck.

About 30k from the finish we had big fireworks in the main group. Alberto Contador and his 4 Saxo-Tinkoff teammates attacked the yellow jersey! They caught Froome completely off-guard, quickly opening up a 10 second gap. Froome tried to follow initially, then looked behind, saw no one else was going to chase and sat up. He didn’t even try to catch on to the 14 rider group, tactically he should have. He may not have been successful, but he looked vulnerable when he didn’t even attempt to go.

Froome is vulnerable now because his team is vulnerable – down to 7 riders. They showed they were vulnerable in Stage 8 and they certainly were today. Teams will attack them even more in the Alps. 😀

Besides Contador and his merry men in the lead group, there were Belkin’s 3rd and 6th placed riders, Cavendish and 2 teammates and Sagan plus a teammate. The grouped worked together very well and managed to grow their gap to just over 1 minute. Behind them in the yellow jersey group, Sky did have a couple of guys go to the front to drive, but to no avail. Oddly, Froome was near the back of this group. You would think after getting attacked and dropped by Contador he would have tried to stay near the front. Maybe he couldn’t – if true, that shows he’s vulnerable too. 😀

The race did end in a bunch sprint – a small bunch – Cavendish had a good jump on Sagan, easily taking the win.

The big news of the day? Contador, Mollema, Kreuziger, Ten Dam all gained 1:09 on Froome. Valverde and Costa lost 9:54 slipping from 2nd and 9th to 16th and 18th respectively.  The only good news for Movistar was Quintana held on to 8th place. Those were the big shakeups in the GC, but many gained or lost places in the overall classification.

What an extraordinary day of racing! With the GC contenders smelling blood with Froome and the Sky team, the final week starting Sunday on Mont Ventoux should be fun.

Stage 14: Look for the break to win tomorrow (but who knows), maybe Thomas Voeckler.

Stage profile

TDF Stage 8–Déjà Vu

6 Jul

Well my fellow Tour fans, we have another Tour outcome decided on the first day of real racing among the GC. Makes me long for another sprint stage.

The first of 3 weeks of the 100th Tour de France is behind us and the race for yellow is effectively over. I closed my post yesterday with the desperate plea, “please don’t let Sky get yellow”. So much for that hope.

People way smarter than me, through calculations, formulas – math and science – are highly suspicious of what Froome, and Sky in general did today, with some indicating they don’t think Froome/Sky did it clean.

Neither do I. If you feel differently more power to your ability to suspend logic.

I’ve never been able to be one of those people. You know how I figured out there was no Santa? When I was 6 I came to the conclusion it wasn’t possible so I quit believing and then later my older brother confirmed it.

My belief in Lance Armstrong went much the same way. Initially I was a believer than I came to the conclusion that with all the evidence it simply wasn’t possible he did what he did without doping. Confirmation didn’t come until much later.

Believers (myself included) explained Postal/Armstrong’s dominance away, much like Sky and Froome believers have done today.

We wanted to believe so we did. We thought it was unfair to accuse them without proof. Unfortunately the science of testing (and more importantly, the lack of true desire by the powers that could clean up cycling to do so) lags and therefore the proof isn’t available until well after the races are won, the money made and the records put into the record books.

Many still want to believe so they do, despite the déjà vu of it all.

The real question is how many times does the sport have to go through this before sincere and serious efforts are made to clean it up? Apparently, still more.

Personally, I believe Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome use(d) performance enhancing drugs and at some time in the future we will get confirmation. Too little too late.

Why is it that the sport of cycling, specifically the teams, owners, riders, cycling organizations, watchdogs, journalists, etc. don’t make serious efforts to cleanup the sport. That’s a rhetorical question for it always comes down to money.

Many in my Twitter feed questioned and made light of the struggles of TeJay van Garderen today. In my mind, the sport would be better served by talking about Froome’s and his team’s too good to be true performances.

Until/unless that discussion gets loud and occurs among journalists, not only fans, where the forces of the sport can no longer ignore it – and we refuse to accept “not normal” performances as normal – we’ll get more of the same.

Stage 9:

2013 tour9

As silly as it may sound, I expect Sky to turn it down a notch. They’re hearing all the chatter too and will want to minimize suspicion. Good luck with that.

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