Le Tour so far
Today will see the start of stage 3 of the 2012 Tour de France and the first time the riders will have hit French soil in the race. This years edition of the race was always going to have a different feel to it due to high-profile riders missing out on the race and the forthcoming Olympics playing on some of the riders minds, dictating their training more than the Tour, something that very rarely happens. Just a few days in to what is a race of epic length and proportions have we learnt anything we didn’t already know when back in Liège?
The prologue through Liège was a mere 6.4km and I’m sure some of you commute to your place of work or walk to the local shops that are further away than that but it takes a special kind of rider to excel at these sorts of distances. For professional bike riders who are used to being on their bikes for between 4 and 8 hours, a 7-8 minute blast through the streets is something akin to Haile Gebrselassie taking on the 100m sprint at the Olympics. Cadel Evans was reported to have been warming up on his TT bike for around 2hrs prior to rolling down the start ramp and if you saw the amount of sweat dripping off him moments before climbing off his warm up bike you would not dispute that.
Cancellara, Wiggins, Boassen Hagen were all names that were mentioned as hot picks for the prologue win and along with Tejay Van Garderen and a surprising Sylvain Chavanel they made up the top 5. Tony Martin took a new wheel after a puncture which instantly pushed him down the leader board. On a longer TT course he is the type of rider who has the talent and power to claw that time back, but not on a course which took them just over 7 minutes to complete. Cadel Evans also ‘struggled’ with the distance and although only losing 17 seconds to Fabian Cancellara who will not be competing for the GC in Paris, he is already 10 seconds off the pace of Bradley Wiggins. For a race with so much TT’ing and the big mountains in the distance, 10 seconds can make all the difference. The biggest surprise of the day was Philippe Gilbert coming in just 13 seconds down. Not a recognised TT specialist, his super cool TT helmet and the Belgian crowds spurred him to a great ride which I’m sure he hoped to better the following day as the race stayed in Belgium.
With a lot more time trialling to come Tony Martin will have a chance to show the rest who is boss and the longer distances will suit more of the riders overall. The total length of time trialling in this years Tour has been a topic for discussion running up to the event and it is likely it will be one of the biggest factors that determines the winner.
Simply speaking… we still know that Super Sagan and The Manx Missile are fast to a redonkulous level. Sagan showed he’s not just about fast-twitch muscles and realised Fab was the wheel to take as the race ran into Seraing. Due to not being the younger man he once was, Cancellara is unable to merely ride away from the rest as he has done so many times before and although Sagan apologised after the race for refusing to take his turn on the run in and give Cancellara the better position, that’s racing and Cancellara shouldn’t have put himself in that position. Boassen Hagen put in a huge effort to bridge the gap and I’m sure he wont be backward about coming forward in situations like that as Cavendish won’t be around long and he needs to make sure he has good legs to take the stage wins he deserves. Realistically the steep ramp up to the finish was always going to be too much for the out-and-out sprinters and other than the aforementioned Sagan and Eddy-B, the rest of the top 12 places were taken up by what would be considered Puncheurs.
The profile and run in of Stage 2 was more of a stereotypical sprint stage and defined what is brilliant about Mark Cavendish. He doesn’t have the sprint train he might like there due to a split in team support for Bradley Wiggins but he won’t let that hold him back. He has always been a sprinter happy to be 15-20 riders back into the last bend. Watch the way he moves in any sprint. He jumps from wheel to wheel, constantly accessing who will give him the best tow further along before ditching them for the next one. It takes immense skill and vision to ride like that. It’s similar to how Robbie McEwen plied his trade but I can’t think of anyone else who rides like that in the current Pro peloton. The tactics Mark uses mean you can never count him out and just because you don’t see him at the front of the race, doesn’t mean he wont beat you to the line. The drag race between him and Greipel was a beautiful thing to watch and had me screaming at the TV.
Although he takes immense pride in wearing the World Champion’s jersey, I can’t see Cavendish wanting to go all the way to Paris; the London 2012 Olympics are just too important. It should open up the Points competition (as long as Sagan lets the others get a look in) and we should see him fast exciting sprinting… let’s just get the nervous first few days out-of-the-way first and keep everyone upright!
Oh… and please somebody tell Sagan how to celebrate a win properly rather than looking like he is throwing some drunken shapes at 3.30am in a bar!
It’s still very early to be sticking your neck out about the GC as there is still so much that could happen. None of the favourites have done anything stupidly silly yet to harm their chances but I’m sure Evans will be disappointed with the loss of 10 seconds on the opening day. He knows better than anyone that can make the difference. For Wiggins, coming second and NOT wearing the Yellow leaders jersey for the first few days is a good thing and knowing how calculated Team Sky can be, I wouldn’t be surprised if they planned that. The Yellow jersey comes with its own pressures and realistically, as long as you can keep tabs on your rivals, there is no need for you to be wearing it now if you want to wear it in Paris. With so much TTing to come it’s going to be difficult for someone other than Wiggins or Evans to win this race in my opinion, but who knows!? It’s a long way to Paris.
Since Liège we have all learned that Team Sky look freakin’ awful in yellow helmets. What is not yet known is just how stupid others will look. Sadly I doubt Euskatel-Euskadi will ever reach the dizzy heights of the leading team to see just how horrible a yellow skid lid looks with an orange and green kit but I think we can all imagine! I’ve no idea why the teams decided to agree to this. It’s not necessary to know where every member of the team leading the teams classification is at every moment of the race, and if it was… that’s what they are wearing team kit for… to make them recognisable. I suspect it has something to do with ASO trying to raise the profile of the team classification as it is generally seen as the lowest classification (if you don’t include the Lantern Rouge!) in terms of importance, behind the Younger Rider competition.
Still on the subject of helmets… WTF is going on with the Giro Air Attack! Granted the other teams have some ugly looking versions of their helmets with the aero inserts but this is just plain ridiculous… no… it’s redonkulous again! Here’s Bram Tankink who’s had all the great work of having a cool name undone by wearing this Giro monstrosity! He looks like Bart Simpson! It has had such an effect on his Euro-coolness that he has committed a cardinal sin of wearing the arms of his glasses on the inside of the straps!?! What is Giro up to!
We also know, for the nth year running that Phil and Paul are utter morons. Don’t disagree with me just because you are American and have grown up on them spouting nonsensical drivel about Mr Armstrong for years. Two men who should know more about cycling and the Tour than any others consistently make huge factual errors and commentating clangers the size of an artistic tractor in a field made out of giant matchboxes (*nudge* “Paul, I think they are hay bales…”). They make me mad enough not to watch sometimes so if you want to defend them you best come ready with a damn good argument because I will be documenting their shenanigans this month and it wont be pretty! If you want proper English language commentary, find a feed for Eurosport and listen to David Harman and Carlton Kirby.
Finally, spare a thought for Didi the Devil who is not at this years Tour de France but will be watching from a hospital bed. No he’s not having his ankle springs re-coiled, it’s actually some nasty sounding brain surgery… So get better soon Didi… the slopes of the Alps won’t be the same without you!