I've been visiting this merchant-marine site for a few years now. I figure'd I'd post the link. Make sure to check out his videos: my favorites are the weather-related ones (some of which may make you rethink ever taking a cruise), and the engine-room ones, which have a certain esoteric beauty in them.
Well, I finally got around to re-watching this stage. It was interesting, in that the first part, in which the riders rode to the outskirts of Paris, was not really a bike race at all. It was more or less a time of easy-riding camaraderie amongst all the participants, with the riders just going along at a pace that was comfortable for them. (Not that many of us could have kept up with them even at that speed.)
Interesting, how many American flags I saw. Though the Return of Lance increased this year's t.v. ratings by fifty to sixty percent, there are other well-known American riders, such as George Hincapie (HTC-Columbia) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream). One can only wonder who the riders in the jeep were showing their support for. Perhaps they just like America in general?
Though Japanese riders have participated in previous Tour de France's, none have ever managed to finish. Here, Yukiya Arashiro (Bouygues Telecom) and Fumiyuki Beppu (Skil-Shimano) have a quick discussion. Though many riders are multi-lingual, I'm betting they're the only two to know Japanese!
Some teams even drank a little champagne while riding. They didn't have much though, as the competition would really start upon entering the outskirts of Paris.
Team Astana, having a toast.
One human touch to this stage's filming: the camera crews filmed each other waving back and forth. This is the first time I've ever seen them doing this. I'm guessing that like the riders they've all been "in the saddle" for the past three weeks.
However, the character of the race would change upon entering Paris. With only eight laps around the Champs-Elysees standing between the riders and the end of this 2,100 mile race, a small group decided to get the jump on everyone.
One member of the group was Beppu, one of the two Japanese dudes!
Fumiyuki Beppu(!) Go Beppu! Go!!!
Interesting note: as with many stages, those attempting to win it have no possibility of winning the tour itself. Like Beppu (who was at +2:54:54) the other riders in the leading pack were all hours behind Alberto Contador. You really have to admire someone going all-out just to win a stage.
Hours behind..., but in the lead.
For nearly eight entire laps around the Champs-Elysees, this group was in the lead. At one point they were ahead by thirty-seven seconds, a gap that made the announcers question whether the favorites (HTC-Columbia) would be able to catch up.
Here, it's tough for me to explain all the scenery they raced around, as I don't understand the importance of all the landmarks of Paris. I will say that placing a camera next to the obelisk of Luxor, and another behind Joan de Arc, was an inspired bit of sportscasting cinematography.
Joan de Arc
Obelisk of Luxor. (A guillotine used to stand here.)
Of course, some shots just lend themselves to grandiosity...
Grande Palais (in background,with glass roof.)
Arc de Triomphe.
As much as I was rooting for that ragtag group of leaders, HTC-Columbia just kept hammering away at their lead. It's important to remember that with all the riders going roughly 30 m.p.h., being the out-front rider for any longer than ten or fifteen seconds would really wear one out. That's why being a well-drilled team, like HTC-Columbia, was so important.
Just a half-lap from the end, those obscure leaders would get caught and swallowed-up by the rest of the riders. And HTC-Columbia would propel Mark Cavendish to his sixth stage win this tour, which is pretty much a record for the British.
HTC's lead-out man Mark Renshaw (AUS) pacing and drafting for Cavendish, just a few hundred feet from the finish.
The stage was a pretty good example of how important teamwork and strategy are to winning a bike race. The group that lead early wasn't an entire team, so they weren't used to working together. As a result, they couldn't draft properly, or maintain a pace that was fast enough to keep them in the lead. However, HTC-Columbia knew exactly what they were doing, partly due to George Hincapie's experience. (This was his 14th Tour de France.) They even knew exactly what kind of pace to maintain to pass those leaders at the last moment. (If they had passed them too early, it would have just inspired a new group of leaders to break away, and HTC-Columbia would have had to then chase them down.)
The fact that teams are so important in this sport makes the adoration of the few (Lance, Contador, etc.) seem like the province of the ill-informed. Nobody can win even a stage without help, let alone a tour.
Anyway, Lance will be riding in the Tour de Ireland, which will be on the Versus network August 21-23. And next year, Lance will be riding on the newly-formed Radio Shack team.