Rest Day Recap.

The Tour de France’s second rest day is an occasion for the top contenders to try and regain some energy before their final assault of the race. This year they face three tough mountain stages as well as a difficult Alpine time trial before the final day procession in Paris so the interlude will be well received but for those watching the race will also be looking forward to recharge their batteries.

Grand Tour fatigue is something that many cycling fans suffer from. It takes a lot of time and energy to follow three week races and sometimes your interest in them can start to wane. I believe the Vuelta is affected by this fatigue as some can’t handle experiencing three Grand Tours in a season but this year I started getting symptoms of the malaise early. I am lucky enough to watch all of the stages live but with not much happening during the flat stages and little GC action in the mountains my interest has been slowly (very slowly) worn down. At times I was even happy to see a Voekler face to break the boredom. There have been many great stories in the race but overall it has been a disappointment so far.

Many people point their hands at Team Sky for the making the race dull by controlling things in a robotic manner. But what are they meant to do? They picked a strong team to support Chris Froome in his Tour challenge and they’re succeeding in a disciplined manner. In fact Froome has been one of the more colourful protagonists of the race in the way he’s looked for opportunities to gain time when his rivals aren’t expecting him to and of course there were the bizzare images of him running up Mont Ventoux. So because of Froomes antics he has the yellow jersey and Sky have to defend it. I wonder if the same people who criticise the team for being dull would also call them out for disrespecting the yellow jersey had they not been defending it. It is other teams who should be blamed for the state of the race.

Cofidis. It wasn’t till stage 12 when Daniel Navarro finished 3rd on Mont Ventoux that they did anything. Ok, they were missing their top rider Bouhanni but they needed to do more to justify the privilege of a wild card. They needed to get in more breaks at the start of the race. Many of the breaks in the first week were pitiful with only a couple of riders in them. They were always doomed to failure. Most breaks are but the more riders in them the better the chance of succeeding and attacks within the break are something which can animate things but there was none of these things to make the race interesting. Instead all that was on offer for the fans was hours of nothing and no prospect of anything till the end of stage sprint.

Movistar and Astana haven’t been much help either. Trying to challenge Sky for the race win they have used some bizzare tactics. First of all their team selection. They haven’t had anyone in the Luke Rowe or Geraint Thomas mold to power their leaders back to Chris Froome when he has forced a gap between them. In the mountains they keep on sending a couple of men up in the break, presumably for Aru and Quintana to bridge up to but in the mountains the breaks have been given so much time that these satellite riders are nearly finishing the stage as Aru and Quintana are only starting the final climb. The riders in the break could drop back but it seems that Movistar and Astana’s GC men have never intended on bridging up to them anyway. All the ‘tactic’ has resulted in is Aru and Quintana being a little isolated on the final climbs while Froome still has four or five men with him. Vincenzo Nibali hasn’t been much help for Aru either. Supposedly a Super Domestique he has clearly just riden for himself in the search of a stage win. When mentioning Nibali I have to consider Valverde too though he has been the polar opposite. The Spaniard has been a great team player for Quintana even though, judging by Nairo’s form, he might be the better rider.

The challenge against Froome by the top riders has also been disappointing. Quintana doesn’t seem to have much in the mountains, Contador crashed out early, Aru is missing something and it’s a surprise he hasn’t lost more than 5 odd minutes to the leader. Thibault Pinot has been the most disappointing rider. The Tour needs a credible French hope as the excitement that generates on the roadside can work its way onto the TV but within a few days it was obvious that Pinot had something wrong with him. Out of GC contention early on he seemed to be interested in the mountains jersey before dropping out of the race all together. Bardet has flattered to deceive, Tejay Van Garderen has been invisible and it is his team mate Richie Porte who out of the pre race favourites has been the closest challenger to Froome. He lost around 2 minutes on stage 2 due to a puncture but still seemed in the race after matching Froome in the mountains before, inevitably, losing another 2 in the Time Trial.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom though. In the GC race Bauke Mollema and Adam Yates have shown good promise. Yates has done incredibly and even if he slips down the standings in the last week he is due much praise. Mollema has always promised a good Grand Tour and I’m hoping he maintans his form to put up a good fight with Froome in the Alps. Of the four mountain stages so far, three have been won from breakaways. I see this as slightly disappointing because it suggests a weak GC competition. The breaks were all also afforded buckets of time so there wasn’t even the excitement of “will they or won’t they succeed”. But I have to admit my feelings are biased due to my fantasy team which is loaded with overall riders rather than polkadot specialists. In fact the wins by De Gendt, Dumoulin and Pantano have made me smile. They were highly deserved by the three riders made popular not just by their panache but by their overall pleasant character.

Another popular winner has been Mark Cavendish. Written off for a while he is now the top sprinter at the Tour and as Kittel and Greipel are there too he could be considered the best sprinter in the world again. Four stage wins so far is an incredible achievement and the fact he is always quick to mention the charity Qhubeka and all the good work they do during his winners interviews makes the Cavendish story a good one.

Three other riders have also brought some joy to the race. Peter Sagan who could brighten up any race, apart from perhaps the Tour of Qatar, has been magnificent, at one point owning the Rainbow, Green and Yellow jerseys and Greg Van Avermaet put up a great performance in the leaders jersey especially on stage 7 when during a medium mountain stage he actually put time on his rivals. Steve Cummings again proved his worth with a great victory in that same stage 7 and made a mockery if Pete Kennaugh’s Olympic selection.

So today I rest up and enjoy life before plunging into the final week of the Tour de France not wanting to expect too much in case I get let down but at the same time knowing I’ll watch it all no matter how terrible it is as there’s always the chance you’ll see something quite special.

Tour de Past, Stage 10. 1995, Pantani’s first stage win, Alpe D’Huez. 

I became a fan of professional cycling in the early 90’s and being from Britain this meant watching Tour de France highlights on Channel 4 at home or occasionally Eurosport if I was at a sports club. The Tour was the gateway drug and it was only later that I hit the harder stuff like the Giro or the classics. So watching cycling in this restricted manner at that particular time meant witnessing Miguel Indurain’s dominance. It was very impressive and as I enjoyed a Time Trial I didn’t find the era as boring as others. There were also more flamboyant riders such as Claudio Chiappucci to add some colour to the race but when his team mate Marco Pantani came on the scene my enjoyment of the sport reached a new level. He was different from everyone else, everything about him was striking from his looks to his climbing style, out of his saddle but still in the drops. He quickly became my favourite rider. I was so fond of him I even liked his Carrera Jeans kit with the denim cycling shorts.

He turned pro in 1992 and completed his first Grand Tours in 19994, he was 2nd at the Giro and finished 3rd and won the White Jersy in his Tour debut. During that Tour he had beat the record for the ascent of Alpe d’Huez but missed out on the stage victory as Roberto Conti had triumphed from a break. The climb was to be used again in 1995 and he wasn’t going to let the opportunity of a stage win slip him by again.

Approaching the mountain there was a break just like the previous year but Miguel Indurain’s Banesto team were racing well and keeping those ahead at a manageable gap. The riders in the break were of a good caliber (Richard Virenque and Ivan Gotti among others) but it looked like they would be caught. On the lower slopes of the Alpe Banesto start riding hard but Gerard Rue tells them to slow down, has he concerns about the form of his leader Indurain? Pantani decides to find out and flies off. He passes by members of the break one by one and after passing Gotti he has the lead. After that his victory is never in doubt and the top riders of a generation such as Indurain, Riis and Zuelle are left fighting for second.

Tour de Past, Stage 9. 2003, Lance does some cyclocross.

Like some people I’ve never been a Lance Armstrong fan. But unlike the majority of Lance haters I’m old school, not one of these post-oprah ex-dope-denier types. I didn’t like him as a person and while I couldn’t deny he was a great bike rider, he was certainly bad-ass,  I didn’t enjoy watching him race. He was too mechanical, I thought he lacked panache. On the big issue that surrounded him, I thought accusations made against him made sense of a lot of things but I would never believe them 100% until there was a positive test (though I was always happy to mention the Swiss cortisone thing to Armstrong fans) and I would never in the world believed there would be a confession. Furthermore I was a huge Pantani fan and deplored the way he acted in the 2000 Tour after the stage to Mont Ventoux. After Armstrong let Pantani win the stage Pantani said in an interview that Armstrong was being a little disrespectful in doing so. Lance being Lance then resorted to his role of schoolyard bully during a press conference calling Marco ‘Elefantino’, a reference to his big ears and a nickname which the psychologically fragile Italian had hated for years. That stage win on Mont Ventoux happened to be Pantanis final victory and as his life headed towards a tragic end Armstrong was becoming the dominant force in cycling. I was hopeful someone would be able to challenge him. Ullrich looked very promising finishind 2nd behind Lance in 2000 and 2001 but I was holding out hope for an ever improving Joseba Beloki.

The Basque rider had turned professional in 1998 aged 24 and rode for Euskatel-Euskadi for two years. During this time he placed well in some mountainous stages of the Dauphine and Tour of Catalunya. He also had the reputation of a decent time trialist, he was perfect GC material. He joined *cough* Festina in 2000, finished 2nd in the Tour de Romandie and in July started his first Tour de France. Without really doing much he finished a solid 3rd behind Armstrong and Ullrich. 2001 saw the exact same podium but Beloki was starting to look much more dangerous by finishing 3rd on the stages to Alpe D’Huez, Pla d’Adet and the Time Trial to Chamrousse. Ullrich was missing from the 2002 Tour. He hadn’t raced since January due to a knee injury and had just been handed a six month suspension for testing positive for amphetamines. (The ban wasn’t for longer as the German Cycling Federation believed his explanation that they were taken recreationaly along with ecstasy thus not performance enhancing). With the German missing Beloki duly finished 2nd. In the Texans first three Tours de France nobody had finished within 6 minutes of him but Beloki was getting closer to him. He was now next to him on the podium and the time differences between the two at the end of each race were shrinking too. I was sure that in 2003 the Basque rider was in with a great chance of winning.

After the first week of the race which was designed heavily for the sprinters the riders were faced with three days in the Alps. Beloki was matching Armstrong all the way during the first two of those stages finishing alongside him in Morzine and Alpe D’Huez. The two were together again on the decent of the Cote de La Rochette which was the final climb of the first block of mountains. Things were looking good. There were only 4 km left till the finish in Gap and Beloki was only 40 seconds behind Armstrong in the overall (30 of those were ceded in the Team Time Trial) and 1 minute 30 ahead of Ullrich who had returned after his year out. Beloki could maybe start thinking about what he could do in the Pyrenees. It wasn’t to be.

Cycling is a sport were you hang from success by a thread. If the thread snaps you can only watch it disappear as you eventually crash down to earth. Coming down a straight towards a sharp turn Beloki lost control of his bike. Skidding one way then the other it looked as though both his wheels had locked. He was fighting to regain control but just could’t and ended up crashing heavily onto his hip and sliding down the road. Armstrong just behind him reacted quickly to avoid the stricken Basque but the only place he could go was off road as his momentum took him into a field. He guided his bike downhill over the coarse ground and back towards the road which wasn’t too far due to the twisting nature of the course. There’s a ditch now between him and the road but Lance quickly hops off his bike, jumps over the ditch with it and rejoins the race as the group he was just with goes past. The calm way he instinctively delt with the situation was incredible and contrasted brilliantly with the sight of the wee fan at the roadside running about like a headless chicken not sure whether to help then just standing and clapping. Armstrong didn’t have the riding flair of some of the greats but he certainly provided a bit of Hollywood from time to time.

Armstrong finished the stage and was still in the lead of the race. It was however a disaster for Beloki. A teammate had stopped to see how he was but it was over for him. The crash was horrific. He had hit a piece of tarmac which had melted in the intense heat of the day. His injuries included fractures on his right thigh, elbow and hip and would effect him for years to come. He was never the same rider after this stage, the crash had ended his career as a world class GC rider. Beloki retired in 2006 and has since worked as a commentator for Basque radio and various magazines and was also a training consultant for the Cafes BasqueBasque team.

Tour de Past, Stage 8. 2012, Marc Madiot Losses It.

One of the best things about watching the Tour is witnessing the pleasure it gives to everyone involved in the race. Whether it’s the excitement of the massive crowds on mountain stages, the joyous celebrations of a rider winning a stage or comfort that @nyvelocity gets from the Tour de France inspired tractor art by French farmers. The role the Director Sportifs who manage the riders have can be a stressful one so it isn’t surprising that they can lose control of their emotions from time to time too.

Marc Madiot the ex-cyclist and twice Paris-Roubaix winner had been manager of La Française des Jeux since its inception in 1997. The Tour de France would always be their main focal point of the year but going into 2012 they had only 7 stage wins in 15 editions. Stage wins would be all they could hope for too. An overall win was never possible if you considered the strength of their riders and they had to watch from the sidelines as the other French teams won the King of The Mountains jersey at various times over the years.They were very much the ‘petit poisson’, but Madiot knew things were about to change.

French cycling in general had been in the doldrums for years but things were starting to look up as many exciting young riders with genuine talent were beginning to emerge. FDJ had one of those talents and his name was Thibault Pinot. Only 22 years of age and although he still had much to learn he had already shown he had exeptional climbing ability by wining the climbers jersey at the 2010 Tour de Romandie. It was only a matter of time before he showed his worth on the biggest stage.

The moment he chose was a medium mountain stage ending in Porrentruy, Switzerland. With 6 categorised climbs already completed he had been part of a large breakaway chasing down two lone leaders. Nearing the top of the final climb of the day, the category 1 Col de la Croix he had escaped from the break and caught the final man up the road Freddie Kessiakoff. Aftet steaming past him and peaking the climb he only had 17km of descent then flat road between him and the finish. On the descent the liked of Froome, Wiggins, Evans and Nibali got their act together and briefly looked like they’d catch up with Pinot but the closer the finishing line was to him the more likely that he would complete a famous victory. Marc Madiot wasn’t taking any chances though. In the team car behind his rider he started shouting encouragement to the young climber through the radio. The shouting soon became screaming then screeching and before long he was shrieking out the window, banging on the car door as with 1km to go the victory was certain.

It was a great moment and brought a smile to everyones mouths. It showed exactly what the race means to people. Perhaps the only person who didn’t appreciate the rabid and deafening nature of Madiots way of dealing with staff morale and probably learned to turn off his team radio before trying moves like that in the future.

 

 

Tour de Past, Stage 7. 2011, Britain Not Ready For A Tour Win Yet. 

 

Team Sky came into the 2011 Tour with a lot of hope and expectation. A difficult race the previous year, where their top GC rider Bradley Wiggins only finished 24th, was put down, in part, to the fact that it was the teams debut year and mistakes were bound to be made. Now though they thought they were ready to mount a serious challenge at the Tour de France. Bradley Wiggins had been going well so far in the season and won in the recent Criterium du Dauphine, beating rival Cadel Evans, and followed that up with a win in the National Championships. Sky fanboys all over the UK were being driven into a state of frenzy. They knew when the team launched they stated that their main aim was to “create the first British winner of the Tour de France within 5 years” but they could achieve it in 2!

Team Sky and their fans confidence had taken a further boost the previous day after Edvald Boasson Hagen had won their first ever Tour de France stage. Geraint Thomas was in the white jersey as best young rider and they occupied 6th, 7th and 8th in the overall. However all these positive points weren’t hiding a couple of truths. Out on the road the Sky riders still had a lot to learn about riding as a team and the tactics given to them by the DS’s were very limited.

In the nervous first week of Grand Tours there are plenty of sudden crashes in the peloton. The top riders will therefore stay at the front of the pack as this reduces the chance of being involved in a situation, there won’t be a mass of riders suddenly falling down infront of you at high speed. To further help them stay out of trouble he’ll have a couple of riders around him for protection. However during the first week you would often see Sky’s GC man Bradley Wiggins, easy to spot in his British Champions jersey, in the middle of the bunch with no teammates around him. The more this happened the more Sky were tempting fate.

With 40km of the stage from Le Mans to Chateauroux left it happened. There was a smaller crash almost 10km before as a warning but this one was massive. Dozens of riders were involved. Amazingly after most of the riders had untangled their bikes and started riding again there were only three left seriously injured. Remi Pauriol was sitting down cradling his arm, Chris Horner was in a ditch somewhere and Bradley Wiggins was wondering around in a daze. The doctor arrived fairly quickly though it was clear what was the problem as Wiggins like Pauriol was now holding his arm in the classic “I’ve broken my collarbone” fashion. The dream was over for Wiggins. He had paid the price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time but what was most disappointing was that he should have been in the wrong place.

Not being able to keep their main rider out of trouble wasn’t thethe end of Sky’s tactical woes though. As Wiggins was being assessed by the doctor three of his team mates (Edvald Boasson Hagen, Xavier Zandio and Juan Antonio Flecha) were waiting for him. Fine, this is standard practice. If Wiggins was good to continue they could try and pace him back up to the peloton, though the longer they waited the harder it would be, and it wouldn’t matter if they lost time as they weren’t GC riders. At least the white jersey leader Thomas whos time was precious wasn’t one of them? Well no but he was waiting further up the road along with Rigoberto Uran the exciting young Columbian. Why had Sky sacrificed their whole team to protect Wiggins now it was too late. Was it necessary? All of the eight remaining Sky riders rolled in 3 minutes 6 seconds behind the leaders. Their leader had crashed out and due to some strange tactics Uran’s GC and young riders chances were over along with Thomas’ in the young rider competition. At the start of the day they had three riders in the top 10 and now their best placed man was 38th. Sky didn’t just put all their  eggs in one basket they dropped the basket too.

Tour de Past, Stage 6. 2009, David Millars Redemption?

All sports have hero’s and villains. Their presence adds to the spectacle of what you’re watching and changes it into theatre. Unfortunately in cycling many of the heros are actually villains and when you find out you realise that you’ve been watching a tragedy.

David Millar was one such hero of mine. Being Scottish I had always been a fan of his namesake Robert but never really had a chance to watch him race. I nearly saw him race. I remember the sense of anticipation before the 1995 Tour after hearing he would be making a return with his new Le Groupememt team, then the disappointment after they folded days before the start. So when David Millar came on the scene at the start of the 2000’s I was loving being able to watch someone from my own country race in the Tour de France. (Many have questioned his Scottishness but Millar had a similar life to me. I was brought up abroad, I considered another country home for years and I didn’t sound particularly like ‘a jock’ but I feel Scottish. I am Scottish). When he started winning stages and wearing the yellow jersey I was delighted. So when he was popped in 2004 I couldn’t believe it. I felt cheated. All his success which I had celebrated was actually worthless, it was a lie. He wasn’t my hero anymore, he was an embarrassment.

Roll forward to the 2009 Tour and the stage finish in Barcelona. I’d been to Barcelona before and it’s always enjoyable watching a race and seeing the peloton go through areas you recognise but there was added interest that day. David Millar had attacked from the days breakaway with about 30 km to go and had been holding a steady lead over the pack. But with about 5 km to go he arrived at Montjuic with its steep slopes and his advantage was starting to look shaky. I had a dilemma at this point where his fate was unknown. Should I be wanting him to win or fail? I still felt a little betrayed by him but it was 5 years since he was caught cheating and this was already his third Tour since coming back from suspension. Had he done his time for the crime? I decided to just try and enjoy the moment and see it as a brave attack from a cyclist in the Tour de France. It’s the way I often need to watch cycling these days. Enjoy the moment rather than let an individuals doping past spoil things.

In the end Millar was caught with only 1 km to go. While I didn’t celebrate I thought it was a fair outcome. For me, Millar still hadn’t suffered enough to earn forgiveness and glory, but now with this agonising defeat could his redemption could perhaps be complete?

Tour de Past, Stage 5. 2014, The Cobbled Stage.

 

This was one of the most action packed stages of the Tour de France in my memory. Pre-race it was described as a mini Paris-Roubaix and had been talked about as the old “Stage where the Tour won’t be won but could be lost”.

It is remembered for the contrasting fortunes of the ‘Big Three’. Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Froome were considered to be the top GC riders of a generation but this would be the first time that they would be racing against each other in a Grand Tour. Their battles down in the mountains were being eagerly anticipated but it was the flat roads of Northern France which would be decisive.

Froome had come into the race with mixed form, he won the Tour de Romandie but had suffered from illness and injury at various parts of the season. After a great 2013 he was looking vulnerable and it seemed he was not as strong mentally as well as physically. So much had been made in the media about this cobbled stage and Froome’s ability or inability to tackle it. He was constantly asked about it and seemed increasingly nervous in his answers as the day drew closer. His mental state can’t have been helped much when on the previous days stage he had a crash, damaging his hand and ending the day with the left side of his jersey and shorts in tatters. Then, on the morning of the stage, a downpour. It was the last thing Froome would have wanted. It was possible he was past his nervousness and had now accepted the fact that something bad was going to happen. It took only 35km for Froome to go down, but this was only his first crash as he managed to gingerly get back on his bike. After another 45km he was down again. Looking at his face you knew what was coming and although he tried to remount his bike then had a quick discussion with his team doctor and DS it was clear that his Tour was over. It later emerged that he had injured his hand the previous day and crashing on it twice meant he was going to find it nearly impossible to control his bike. The ironic thing of it all was he hadn’t even reached the feared cobbles of the stages as his team car’s door was getting slammed in his face the days breakaway riders had only just reached the first sector of pave, Carrefour de l’Arbre.

Meanwhile Contador and Nibali had so far stayed out of trouble but as the peloton crossed the second section of cobbles Sep Vanmarck, trying to force the selection, turned on the gas. Contador got detached from the front group but Nibali was able to hold on. From then on Contador was left trying to limit his losses as Astana pulled off a performance worthy of winning Paris-Roubaix itself. Jacob Fuglsang started driving things along  for Nibali and he was soon joined by teammate Lieuwe Westra who was in the days break. Incredibly the trio plus Belkin rider Lars Boom managed to create a gap between them and the rest. They had managed to outfox the likes of Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan who were the experts on the days terrain. At the end after Lieuwe Westra dropped back having done a mountain of work Boom pulled off an attack which won him the stage. Fuglsang and Nibali were 2nd and 3rd almost a minute ahead of Cancellara and Sagan but more importantly 2 minutes 45 seconds ahead of Contador. Few stages have ever made so much damage to the GC.

It is always sad when a rider crashes out of a race but when it’s a contender getting into the team car you can get a feeling that the race is being spoiled, that it won’t mean as much, that what could have been an epic race is now going to be a second rate show. I would have been more disappointed at Froome abandoning the race had I not thought something was going to happen to him anyway, I must have subconsciously prepared myself for the outcome. But still, the fact that I wouldn’t see the “Big 3” fight it out in the mountains was depressing. However, I knew that the manner of Nibali’s ride would mean Froomes exit would not diminish the importance of of his potential Tour win and the prestige of the race overall.

Much was said before and after the stage about the suitability of having a cobbled stage in the Tour de France. Some said it could reduce the GC fight to a lottery while other had concerns over rider safety. To address the first concern, Nibali benefited over his rivals due to good preparation and a strong team performance not luck. Time was gained in the same way as it is in the mountains. Considering safety, while Froome’s crash and one which took out Valverde and Van Garderen may have been caused by the race for position on the first sector, in the end more riders crashed off the pave than on it. The organisers took out two sections of cobbles in the morning before the stage when they saw how heavy the rain was but they were obviously happy with the way things turned out as they included a cobbled stage in the very next edition of the Tour de France.

Tour de Past, Stage 4. 2011, Cadel Lays Down His Marker.

Looking over the editions of the Tour de France which I have followed has shown me that stage 4 is the most dull stage of each Tour, though yesterday was very much the exception to the rule. Hardly anything has happened on a stage 4, which have either been flat sprinters stages or some form of time trial. No significant crashes or abandons, no drugs violations, they are the type of snooze fests which leave you having to listen to Carlton Kirby witter on about different types of sheet metal for hours.

2011’s stage from Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne was thankfully slightly different though as it was in one of the editions in which the organisers tried to spice things up in the first week. Stage 1 had already seen an exciting hilly finish won by Philippe Gilbert and he was hoping to be in contention on a similar end climb up ‘The Wall of Brittany’.

He would though be up against a strong GC field trying to steal time over their rivals. Contador, Evans, the Schlecks, Wiggins and Jurgen Van Den Broeck were  all at the race and all in with a shout of winning.

The day played out in much the same way as a sprint stage would only the dash was up a hill. Contador and Evans were the two fasted at the finale. The Spaniard thought he had it and performed a semi celebration but the photo finish showed that ‘cuddles’ had won.

Just a routine stage, only 8 seconds separated the top 40 riders in the end but the significant thing was it showed that Evans was ready to win the Tour. He had two 2nd place finishes in 2007 and 2008 where he gained a reputation as a bit of a wheel sucker. After then he started riding  more aggressively, trying to animate the race rather than follow others, and became more in control of his own destiny. He won the World Championships in 2009 and whilst in the rainbow jersey added La Fleche Wallonne to his palmares then won the epic ‘White Road’ stage at the Giro. This stage, his first road stage at the Tour, was the final piece of the jigsaw which revealed him to be someone ready to win the Tour de France.

 

 

 

Tour de Past, Stage 3. 2009, Contador gets double crossed in the cross winds.

Lance Armstrong’s return to cycling in 2009 seemed very strange at the time. Sure, he probably couldn’t stay away from the sport and a few other clichés but at 37 he surely couldn’t achieve what he had in the past. Was he going to be happy playing a support role for Alberto Contador in their Astana team?

After enjoying taking part in the Tour Down Under and the Giro d’Italia, getting massive appearance fees along the way, the question of whether Armstrong was a team player or not would be answered within days of Astana’s main objective of the year starting.

With only 32km of the stage to La Grande-Motte left the peloton encountered some unexpected crosswinds. HTC-Columbia with 8 riders at the front immediately realised what the scenario meant and started drilling it in order to distance Mark Cavendish from his sprint rivals. There was quickly a split in the pack with only 28 men in the first group. As well as the 8 HTC riders Lance Armstrong was there along with 2 of his Astana team mates. Alberto Contador wasn’t in that number. While everyone was expecting the Astana men to allow themselves to get pulled along and hope that Contador’s group would catch up with 20km to go Armstrong ordered Yaroslav Popovych and Haimar Zubeldia to the front. This was a direct challenge to Contador at best but it could also be called a mutiny. The one thing you can say in the Texans defence was that there were no GC men in the front group so he wasn’t aiding any other dangermen. But this is typical Lance, he does everything for himself. He was also needlessly burning out two Astana riders with a Team Time Trial coming up the next day and introduced an atmosphere of mistrust to the team.

In the end HTC-Columbia got their reward for their superb team play as Mark Cavendish won the stage with his famous mobile phone celebration.

Tour de Past, Stage 2. 2010, Cancellara the patron.

First published 3rd July 2016.

 

This year is Fabian Cancellaras last as a pro rider meaning that the position of Patron of the peloton will become available. It is difficult to see who will take over. Chris Froome is too nicey nicey, Quintana comes across as too quiet and none of the riders seem to like Vincenzo Nibali. Maybe there is no need for a Patron anymore. A collective approach may work better these days when trying to address the problems which the riders face. A handful of riders have already shown they’re prepared to speak out on the issues such as rider safety, and have done so very eloquently. Perhaps when Bernard Hinault ended his podium stage act the need for a Patron disappeared with Monsieur Patron himself.

Fabian Cancellara has won 7 stages at the Tour de France but I remember him most for two things. The amazing amount of work he did when driving the peloton along the lower slopes of mountains in service of his CSC team and his antics as Patron during stage 2 for the 2010 tour.

That day the Tour was still to actually reach France as the stage was to finish in Spa, Belgium. With most of the stage gone the breakaway was beginning to fragment leaving Sylvain Chavanel in the lead. At the same time the chasing peloton were descending the Stockeu, 35km to go, in wet and slippery conditions. Suddenly there were a series of crashes. Most of the top riders were involved. The Green Jersey Pettachi, Wiggins, Evans, Contador, Armstrong . Cancellara avoided all the trouble and was still chasing the break at the head of the peloton when he suddenly sat up, hearing on his radio that the Schleck brothers had been involved as well as the other big names. Next, in a brief summary of the rest of the stage, he seemed to command the whole of the peloton to slow down and after discussions with the race director the stage was effectively neutralised and the bunch rolled home with no more action.

I remember being livid at the time. The stage profile had promised some exciting racing but I got a procession. It seemed obvious to me that Cancellara was just using his muscle to allow his team mate Andy Schleck, who was one of the worst effected by the crash, gain enough time to recover and catch up with his rivals. And as a few riders such as Thor Hushovd seemed keen to carry on racing I was annoyed that the rest allowed Spartacus to get away with the slowing down of proceedings.

I was caught up in the moment though. On reflection it was a terrible crash and there was another descent to come off the final climb of the day, the Col du Rosier. Rider safety has to be paramount. Also the slowing down didn’t just benefit Andy Schleck. Bradley Wiggins, one of Schlecks perceived rivals, also would have lost time. But most of all Cancellara actually lost his yellow jersey as Sylvain Chavanel, the sole remnant of the days breakaway, was allowed to continue on and gained enough time to take the overall lead.

In some kind of weird irony, during the next stage as Cancellara turned up the pace at the head of the peloton another crash happened and his team co-leader Frank Schleck went down, breaking his collar bone. The stage which featured cobbled sections had Cancellara finish 6th and he regained the yellow jersey.

July 2017 edit

The lack of a patron and what that means was evident in this years Giro d’Italia. After a crash in the first week which took out a few GC contenders those unaffected by the incident carried on regardless. I thought that was fair enough but what would have happened if Cancellara was there and his teammate went down?

Later on in the race when Tom Dumolin had his ‘situation’ his rivals seemed unsure of what to do. They soft pedalled for a while before resuming their pace and then later started racing. If one of them was ‘patron enough’ to stop the group I believe Dumolin’s situation would have been dire. He was badly exposed (in terms of teammate present) at the bottom of the climb but as it was his rivals wasted precious attacking kilometers trying to decide what to do.