Friday, July 23, 2010

Stage 15: Andy's Chain

Andy in front...burning through his teammates and leaving himself alone. (He has no one to change bikes with.)

Andy's chain...jumping out at the worst possible moment. I've never seen this happen in a professional bike race.

I disagree...even the commentators are divided. And they're both professional riders. I'm a little conflicted myself.

little tommy...driving like a madman in order to win the stage.

Pamiers-->Bagneres-de-Luchon, 187.5km

Kudos for Thomas Voeckler (FRA, BBOX Bouygues Telecom) for winning this stage. In addition to wringing himself out getting over the Port de Bales first (it's an HC climb, meaning it's beyond categorization) he took serious risks on the descent. I'm always amazed at what guys like him will do just to win a stage. Being over an hour behind Contador, he has no chance of winning the overall. Still, he races like a man possessed. It makes the TdF worth watching.

Keep in mind that it was on this stage in 1995 when a teammate of Lance Armstrong's, Fabio Casartelli, suffered fatal injuries in a crash. It happens. And as there is a monument on the route to Fabio, I'm sure it was in Thomas Voeckler's mind as he raced down the mountain.

As for the debate over Andy's chain, it continues still. Alberto got some boos on the podium after this, but I'm on Alberto's side. No one stopped the race when
Sylvain Chavenal(FRA, Quick-Step), got three flats on the cobblestones in stage three. And like Andy today, he was wearing the yellow jersey. Alberto himself had to finish that stage with a flat tire and a broken spoke, and no one (including Andy) waited. And on stage 8, when Lance Armstrong crashed twice, nobody, including Andy, stopped. (And though Armstrong is getting old, remember that he was on the podium with Andy and Alberto just last year.)

I think Carlos Sastre (ESP, Cervelo TestTeam), overall winner of the TdF in 2008, said it best: "They don't stop in Formula One. They don't stop in [motorcycle racing]. They don't stop in running. Why should we stop in bicycling?"

When Sylvain Chavenal lost his yellow to three flats, he didn't complain. Instead, he went and got it again on stage seven. And when he put it on again he kissed it, as he undoutedly realized how hard it is to get--and how easy it is to lose.

It's something Andy finally learned on this day.

Stage 14: Track Stand

Andy and Alberto's track-stand. Notice how they just about stop for few moments.

Revel-->Ax-3 Domaines, 184.5km/115 miles

Although it was nice that France got another stage win with Christophe Riblon (FRA, AG2R La Mondiale) coming in first after a brutal HC and Cat 1 climb, it's the story behind Andy and Alberto that is getting interesting. Neither can apparently outclimb the other. Today, Alberto attacked and attacked and attacked again, but Andy just kept catching up. Last year, Alberto would have left him in the dust.

However, as Andy is 31 seconds ahead of Alberto in the overall race, he here is refusing to take the lead, even allowing Samuel Sanchez, (ESP, Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Denis Menchov (RUS, Rabobank) to gain ground on them. Sure, both Andy and Alberto are nearly two minutes ahead of those two in the overall race, but two minutes isn't much...

...and Andy Schleck's 31-second advantage over Contador is even less. And, as we'll see in the next stage, sitting behind Contador and being contented will cost Andy, big-time. (Yeah, I'm writing this all well after the fact. I'm so behind in my posting!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stage 13: A.V. in Red

Alexander Vinokourov, in red.

Rodez-->Revel, 196k/122 miles, same distace as San Jose to Modesto

A.V. is wearing red numbers, as he was given the nod for most-agressive rider in stage 12. In this stage he earned them again, winning the stage. He's had a pretty good couple of days, especially as he recently just got out of suspension for being accused of "blood doping". (That's where you swap your blood out in order to boost the platelet count.) It was never proven that he did anything, but he was suspended for a time anyway.

The terrain was mostly flat, and the riders rode through farmland. I'm still wondering why they grow so many sunflowers over there; I don't even know what one can use them for other than chewing their seeds as a snack.

Stage 12: Minus 10

JR and AC, with AV (or his legs, anyway) following at plus four.

Bourg-de-Peage-->Mende, 210.5k/131 miles, same distance as Des Moines to Cedar Rapids

This stage was important to the overall leader competition, because Alberto Contador finished strong, gaining a full ten seconds on first-place Andy Schleck (LUX, Saxo Bank). And in the end, I saw something interesting about the finish: Contador working with Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP, Team Katusha). Alberto and Joaquim each took turns breaking the wind, with Alberto giving Joaquim the stage win in return for his efforts.

By overlapping wheels at the end, Alberto and Joaquim got the same time, a full ten seconds before Andy could get there. It's not often you see people from different teams working together, at least near the end of a stage. This was a good example.

Alexander Vinokourov (KAZ, Astana) wasn't too happy at coming in at plus four seconds. He had wanted the stage win for himself; however he also knew that his teammate Alberto needed time over Andy, so I don't think he was too pissed about being passed.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Stage 11: Argy-Bargy

Sisteron-->Bourg-Les-Valence, 184.5km/115 miles

Though Mark Cavendish won this stage, he lost his prized lead-out man, Mark Renshaw (AUS). There was some debate over whether kicking him out was justified. Though the head-butting was actually within the rules, it was the moving over on Tyler Farrar that was not. (These guys were going something like 40 miles per hour. Going into the barriers could get someone seriously injured.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Stage 10: Good Brakes Make For Good Neighbors

Hold onto your butts...

Chambery-->Gap, 179k/111 miles, same distance as Eugene to Portland, Oregon.

This was something of a high-planes adventure. Though the route is officially out of the alps, there was a startling difference between the lowest and highest elevations, ranging up to 2,000 feet at times. I shot the above video of the lead riders as they descended the Col du Noyer. When the numerous riders of the peloton followed, you could hear their brakes being applied from quite far away.

The winner of the stage was Sergio Paulinho (POR, Radio Shack). After all those miles, and all those thousands of feet in elevation, his win was a matter of inches.

Sergio, beating out Vasil Kiryienka (Belarus, Caisse D'Epargne) by such a small amount my tv had trouble freeze-framing it. This was Radio Shack's first win of the tour. With this being Lance's last year, I'm wondering what will happen to the team.

There are no substitutions allowed in the race. If you can't keep going, you're out. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine) here got injured at one point, and the race doctor simply dressed his wound as he rode along. They do this sort of thing all the time.

Seems an odd place for windmills. I guess it works though.

The smallness of humanity...

Anyway, it was another hot day on the tour. And interestingly enough, they were following the same path Napoleon took when he returned from exile on Elba and retook the crown.

100 Days

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stage 9: It's All About the HC

Alberto and Andy, topping Col de la Madeleine

Morzine-Avorias-->Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, 204.5k/126.8 miles, same distance as Reno, NV-->Sacramento, CA

There were a number of category 1 and category 2 climbs today, which softened up the riders for the Col de la Madeleine, an "HC", or "above category" climb. This stage really split up the riders, creating at one point maybe five or six groups.

Neither Alberto or Andy won the stage; that was won by Sandy Casar (FRA, Francais des Jeux), who seemed to know best his way around the last few turns before the finish. However, it was Andy Schleck, (LUX, Saxo Bank) who now has the overall-leader yellow jersey, with Roberto Contador (ESP, Astana) just 41 seconds behind. As Contador was first last year, and Andy was third, it's pretty much a given those two will be first and second this year. But look how wiped out Andy is after this stage. I wonder if it will affect him tomorrow, or if Alberto is similarly wiped.

Andy, completely wasted after stage.

Look how dirty Levi Leipheimer's face is. He didn't crash, but this seems to be typical of how the riders look after a long stage.

Overall, Levi had a good ride today, and may place well at the end in Paris. And I agreed with him, as he said here, that the fast pace of the leaders completely split up the riders. I actually had a tough time following everything today because of it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Stage 8: Armstrong's End

Armstrong's End

Station des Rousses-->Morzine-Avoriaz, 189k/117 miles, the length of Long Island

Not to get too dramatic about it, but this was a bit tough to watch. Still, as the old go out, the young come in. It was nice to see Andy Schleck win the stage.

We're in the alps now, the high stuff. It would be a good time to start watching, if you're not already. The scenery alone is worth it. I got vertigo watching parts of this.

Stage 7: It's Pronounced "sil-vahn"

Sylvain Chavenal

Tournus-->Station des Rousses, 165.5k/103 miles, about the distance from Cincinnati to Columbus

Quite incredibly, in the last forty minutes or so in this stage, Sylvain Chavanel (FRA, Quick Step) made an appearance. He pushed on, and on, and on, passing everyone...and just kept going. Not only did he win the stage, but he re-won the yellow jersey for overall leader. It's pretty rare for anyone except a sprinter to win more than one stage in a single TdF. And to get the yellow again, well, it pretty much confirms that his stage 2 win wasn't a fluke.

Sylvain Chavenal

A truly exciting stage, made more so by Rafael Valls (ESP, Footon-Servetto), in his first TdF, making a good try to catch Sylvain in the last few km's. Rafael ended up coming in second, with Juan Manuel Garate (ESP, Rabobank) coming in third. (He won last year's very-exciting Mont Ventoux stage.)


And it was a very good day for Quick-Step, as their rider Jerome Pineau kept his polka-dot "King of the Mountains" jersey.

You have to be French to get away with wearing dresses like these.

Stage 6: Garmin's to Lose

Garmin Transitions coming into Gueugnon

Matargis-->Gueugnon, 227.5km/141 miles, same distance as Philadelphia to Washington D.C.

This was another long, flat stage, with just some rolling hills to differentiate it from stage 5's Kansas-type flatness. So, even though it was hot, it was another day for the sprinters.

In the last few km's, Garmin was seemingly the only complete team at the front, meaning they had everyone available to propel their sprinter Tyler Farrar into his first TdF stage victory. But in a case of deja vu, Mark Cavendish was simply too fast for either Tyler or anyone on Garmin.

No one could even stay in Mark's slipstream. I don't mean to fault either Tyler or Garmin too much, as Mark beat everyone. However, they keep interviewing Tyler every single day; I have no idea why.

Mark Cavendish, again, for 11th stage win in the TdF.

Most over-interviewed rider in the TdF. I'm waiting for him to tell Versus to quit bugging him.

The good life.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Stage 5: Cavendish Redeemed

Manx Missile

Epernay--> Montargis, 185km/114 miles

This was a day for the sprinters, and Mark Cavendish was back in form today. He was actually in tears on the podium. I guess it's been an emotional year for him, as he's had some ups and downs over the past year. Also, the more stage victories he has, the more are expected from him. This was his eleventh stage win over three TdF's. That's a phenomenal number.

Anway, "Manx" refers to his homeland, the Isle of Man. They have a world-famous motorcycle race there, which is coming up on its 104th year. With the Isle of Man being so small, I imagine Mark has met at least a few of the riders in that. I have to wonder if any of them have ever said, "Why don't you ride a real bike?"

Nah, probably not. Still though, it's surprising that someone from a small isle celebrated for motorcycle racing would go into bicycle racing instead. It's like someone from Hawaii getting into hockey.

Stage 4: Cambrai to Reims

Bombs to windmills...

Cambrai-->Reims, 153.5k/95.2 miles, same distance as NYC to Philadelphia

Though the commentators mentioned that Cambrai was the coronation site of French kings for centuries, the name is associated for me with with a battlefield of the Great War. They're still digging up stuff.


Anyway, this being a flat stage with a flat finish at the end, it was a day for the sprinters. (I imagine it was also a day to recover from the cobblestones of yesterday.)

Though the terrain was flat, this was still a fun race to watch. Something that made it more interesting, was that of all the roads available in the flat areas of France, the TdF seems to take mostly backroads. This is something that isn't possible in the alpine stages, as many of the roads they take there are bigger, being the only road to get somewhere. Stages like this make me wonder just how many people live in the area, versus how many people travelled long distances to watch the race, like the ones in the photo below.


These few buildings pretty make up the entire town.

Mark Cavendish (GBR, HTC-Columbia) has won something like ten sprint-type finishes over the previous two TdF's. So, everyone expected him to win this one. Quite shockingly, Alessandro Pettachi (ITA, Lampre-Farnese) got the jump on Mark and pulled the victory out from under the younger guy. According to the commentators, Alessandro,(aka, "Ali Jet"), hasn't hasn't displayed this form or power in over five years. Evidently, the guy is back, as this was his second stage win.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Stage 3: The Cobblestones Taketh...

Sylvain Chavanel loses the yellow jersey.

Stage 3: Wanze, Belgium --> Arenburg Port Du Hainaut, France, 213k/132 miles, the same distance as Los Angeles to San Diego

This was the first time cobblestones had been added to the TdF. A lot of riders didn't like them, and I can see why: they introduce an element of luck that many would have rather not had to deal with. Sylvain Chavanel (FRA, Quick-Step) had three flats on these. Although many riders had one, I don't know of any who had three--except for him. He ended up losing the three minutes he'd gained on Fabian Cancellera (SUI, Saxo Bank), who ended up reclaiming the yellow "overall leader" jersey. (Though to be fair to Fabian, he won the 2010 Paris-Roubaix race, which is all about cobblestones. So maybe he would have won it back regardless.)

Looking at the cobblestone roads, I was surprised at how out-of-the way they appeared to be. These were main roads to nowhere. I'm guessing they hadn't seen this much excitement since the days of Napoleon.

I'm so lonely...


On a more serious note, Frank Schleck (LUX, Saxo Bank) fell and broke his collarbone. So, he won't be able to support his brother Andy, who came in third overall last year.

Thor Hushovd (NOR, Cervelo TestTeam) ended up winning the stage, though Ryder Hesjedal (CAN, Garmin Transistions) rode well enough that the commentators mentioned it. I guess it's been awhile since a Canadian has ridden this well.

Yep, there are riders in all that. Yet another reason to be in front.

Lance Armstrong, dusty.

Thor Hushovd, winning stage. He's wearing the flag of Norway, as he's their national champion. You'll see the champs of other countries wearing theirs, too. The world champ, unbelievably, wears a rainbow. I'm not sure if I'd want that.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Stage 2: Sylvain Chavanel's Big Day

Sylvain Chavanel

This guy was in an early breakaway. That's when a half-dozen or so guys jump out from the peloton early, forming their own little group, hoping to stay ahead so they can win the stage. Most of the time these breakaways get caught, as it's impossible for a small group to break the wind as easily as a larger one. (Each rider has to take a turn up front. The more riders, the fewer turns up front for each.)

Anyway, on the rain-slicked roads of the Ardennes, this guy eventually left the rest of his breakaway in the dust, flying ahead on his own to win the stage. What amazes me, is that it was just back in April when he crashed so badly he fractured his skull. Doctors even had to put him in an induced coma for awhile to reduce brains swelling.

Yet here, just three months later, he absolutely flew across the short steep hills of the Ardennes forest. And not being particularly fast at descents, he had to make up for it in the flats and uphills.

It's the riders like these, who surprisingly, even inexplicably, win when no one thought they would, that makes this sport worth watching. Not only that, but because of the number of crashes in this stage the rest of the riders protested the conditions, riding en mass to the finish rather than sprinting at the end.

Hey, if the conditions were adequate for a guy with a recently-fractured skull, they were good enough for you. Quit being pansies.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

TdF: Stage one: Rotterdam to Brussels

The dog was fine. Several riders crashed. Keep your dog on a leash, dumbass.

They start 'em young around those parts...

This stage started at the Erasmus Bridge, named after, I'm guessing This guy.

This stage was flat, which means it was set up mainly so the "sprinters" on each team could race for the stage win. The weather was sunny and calm, supposedly rare for this locale at this time of year. (According to the announcers, the wind howls usually off the North Sea, gusting at something like 40 knots.) This made it even more tempting for the sprinters, as the wind allowed the teams to stay together.

Anyway, it seemed to be too tempting: with two major crashes in the last kilometer, both Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar were knocked down. Some guy whose name I can't remember pulled down the stage win. IIRC, he's a 36 year old who was just in the right time in the right place. (I'd look him up, but it's three in the morning, and I accidentally deleted the last 30 minutes of this stage from my DVR.)

As for Tyler Farrar, I wish they'd stop interviewing him so much. He hasn't come close to beating Cavendish, and I doubt he ever will. So please, stop trying to set him up as some sort of Cavendish-slayer.

As for sprinters in general...meh. Considering the TdF is a three-week race, I'm not sure why I should care about a guy who can sprint really fast for about one kilometer.

I'm pretty sure this is Jens Voight. He crashed so badly in last year's TdF he was actually knocked unconscious.

Erasmus Bridge, Rotterdam. Out of a population of 600k, approximately 500k showed up to watch the prologue time trials

One of the commentators speculated that this was a hindu temple under construction. Odd thing to see around the Netherlands/Belgium border

Addendum: The guy who won this stage is Alessandro Petacchi, ITA, Lampra-Farnese. And I shouldn't have been so flippant about his win in this stage, as I just watched him win stage four: this 36 year-old guy somehow blew away Mark Cavendish.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tour de France 2010: Prologue

Fabian Cancellera's "13"

I wasn't sure whether I'd blog about the Tour de France this year. After all, I think last year I received one comment after writing something like seven or eight posts regarding the subject. So, this tells me that there isn't much traffic here that's interested in the TdF. (Actually, I probably receive little traffic at all. I'd be upset but...meh.)

However--and this is a big however--I find that when I rewatch a stage and write about it, I remember it better. I even remember parts of last year's race, simply because I wrote about them. (Heinrich Haussler sailing down a mountain riding his top tube comes to mind.) If I hadn't done that, many of those details would have faded from memory rather quickly.

Take Cancellera's upside-down 13. Flipping it supposedly fixes its bad-luck element. That's good to remember. And of course he did finish first in the Prologue time trial, beating out Tony Martin by around ten seconds, so there might be something to it!

Fabian Cancellera

I hadn't really thought much about this guy one way or another until I watched him win the Paris-Roubaix race a few months ago. Racing over BIG cobblestones laid by Napoleon, Fabian blew away everyone to such an extent that some nutjob accused him of having an electric motor secreted in the hub of his bike. Though it turns out there is such a product, I believe Fabian was right when he said the accusation was "idiotic."

Anyway, even though they're scanning all bikes now, no one takes the accusation seriously, and Fabian seems to have taken the accusation as a compliment.

Tony Martin

This guy had the best time for most of the day. In the end, Fabian beat him out by only ten seconds or something. All in all, the times at the end of the prologue were so close together as to be inconsequential (iirc, the race will last something like 60 hours). Even the slowest riders lost something like only a minute over the lead. However, time trials seem to be a good way of looking at each rider individually, without their being helped by teammates. (Astonishingly, Andy Schleck, who came in third overall last year, lost over a minute to the lead. I guess he just had a bad day.)

Last year, Tony came in second in the infamous Mont Ventoux stage. Though I remember it, I'm glad I blogged about it. Amazing, that he and Manuel Garate, neither which had a hope in winning the overall race, combatted just for that stage win.

2009 TdF Mont Ventoux post

Anyway, they're starting stage three tomorrow morning, which means I'm way behind on posting. I'm going to have to keep my next posts short to catch up.