Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Tour Wraps Up

The last weekend of the Tour might have sounded dull as with two sprints and a time trial no one was going to close the seven minute advantage that Nibali was holding. However there was still a whole lot going on. First there was a righting of the disappointment that Garmin Sharp had felt when Jack Bauer was caught on the line in an earlier stage. In torrential rain Garmin went in a break and then manufactured a late attack by Navardauskas who held on for the win, helped in no small way by a crash in the last three kilometres that looked to be caused by Sagan and took away what was almost certainly his last real chance to win a stage this year. Still Sagan takes home the green jersey but no wins, and Garmin got to make a chancer win against the sprinters.

Rolling out of Bergerac again on Saturday the individual time trial would sort out the minor podium places as Pinot, Peraud, and Bardet looked to ensure the French were there, and Valverde and Van Garderen tried to gain time back to prevent that dream. Tony Martin went out early and surprised literally no one by putting in a ride worthy of his world champion’s stripes and leading the stage. There wouldn’t be another rider all day who would touch him and so he set the time for the GC contenders to measure themselves against.

Valverde looked to be losing time to Van Garderen, but still retained his buffer even with the American’s 6th place finish on the stage. The race seemed to be between the French pair of Pinot and Peraud, with Peraud’s luck looking to not hold as he had to change bikes due to a puncture, as did the other AG2R rider, Bardet.

That problem dropped Bardet to 6th place overall behind Van Garderen, and, with seconds between them on the road the French duo of Pinot and Peraud pushed on, while Valverde dropped out of contention, with tired legs pushing him back to 4th overall. Peraud powered home and sat to wait the three minutes for Pinot to come home, and when he did he had lost the few seconds he needed and finished as the 3rd placed overall rider, giving Peraud the second place he was hoping for, and France two men to stand on the podium for the first time in 17 years in Paris.

Behind them Nibali underlined his dominance by finishing fourth on the stage, therefore extending his lead in a race that he has bossed. So the podium places were sorted and all that remained was the sprint on the Champs Elysees to provide a finale for the race. From a British point of view it has been the least successful Tour in recent time, with no wins for Sky and only one finisher in the shape of Geraint Thomas who rolled in 22nd, actually a place ahead of his de facto team leader, around a minute ahead of Porte.

The most famous road in France is the domain of the real sprinters, so that meant the likes of Kristoff, Greipel, Renshaw, possibly Sagan and most likely KIttel to win a consecutive year’s race after he beat Cavendish in 2013. Kittel was off the back of the pack early on and so it might have built into a bit of an upset. There would be attacks, just because there have to be, and the first was from Chavanel, to make it an even more French race. The next attack was Jens Voigt, who rides his last Tour this year, and he was chased by Horner and Thomas for a second. A crash took out most of the AG2R team, including Peraud, who had to then get back on terms for his podium place. He was helped by work at the front by Nibali and Chavanel to slow the pace and save an embarrassment.

Next up was Richie Porte to have a dig and remind people that he was there while Tony Martin had to change a bike and chase back to the pack. Porte gained about 12 seconds but was pulled back hard for the traditional bunch sprint. The only person who didn’t think this was Simon Clarke who went on a bit of an attack on the last lap, but Lotto Belisol were driving the peloton back helped by Giant Shimano who struggled to keep control at 1km to go. Kristoff opened the sprint but was overhauled by Kittel on the line to give the German the win ahead of Kristoff and Greipel. Weirdly Eisel was also in the mix, but it went as the script suggested.

So another Tour wrapped up with French riders on the podium in the form of a rider towards the end of his career in second, and a definite name for the future in the shape of Thibault Pinot. It was a very interesting race, enlivened by the battle for the podium behind a dominant Nibali. Bring on the Vuelta where many of the favourites who crashed out of this race should return.


Friday, 25 July 2014

Second Place Battle

Yesterday saw the last major mountain day in the Tour and it was a biggie. The Toumalet featured heavily, followed by Hautacam.

There was a solid break from Sky rider Nieve who hung on hard to get the combative rider prize, chased down by the yellow jersey group. Horner attacked and was marked hard by Nibali, who continued to dominate the race, and then hammered him with an acceleration.

Nibali caught Nieve and left him behind in a manner that showed that the Italian really has this Tour wrapped up, as he imperiously headed to the top of the climb. He was chased down by Majka who wanted the mountains jersey wrapped up, overtaking Nieve to try and cement his position. The other big names chased hard, but were nowhere on the road, trying to gain time before the time trial from each other more than anything.

Pinot and Peraud attacked Valverde in a move that would put them both ahead of the Spaniard at the end of the day. Valverde is a strong time triallist and may make the time back as he finished 15 seconds away from second place, but Nibali has all but sewn up the race now, barring tragedy on the road.

The race this year has shown exactly why there are so many competitions at once as riders fight for the different jerseys behind the leader. Majka fought up the road for the polka-dot jersey in amongst the GC contenders. Nibali won his fourth stage with Majka sprinting for home behind him but beaten to second on the stage by Pinot.

Amazingly there’s a lot to play for in the last days. However I’m off to get some summer riding in so we’ll all catch up here, same time, on Monday when I imagine you’ll know the results.


Thursday, 24 July 2014

Flipping Heck

A short sharp stage was the meat in the Pyrenean sandwich for this week and it saw some serious attacking. Bardet went out looking to retake his podium spot and the white jersey, while Van Garderen hung in on a better day. The last climb would sort it all out and Bardet was brought back by a group including the very attentive Nibali. Valverde was dropped by the move and the French looked to get even more success.

Rafal Mijka burst up the road and Pinot eases Bardet back into his place in a race that had more facets than the first week would have suggested. At the same time Rodriguez faded and with that his chance in the polka-dot jersey competition looked less sure.

Again Nibali’s accelerations on the hill were dominating as he looked to close the gap on the lead rider, while behind him Valverde scrabbled back on terms and then extended his lead in the last kilometre over the French contingent. Up front Majka held on impressively to take the stage, a second for a Polish rider in the race and a second consecutive win for Tinkoff Saxo Bank. NIbali put more time into the GC but it all stayed as it was for now.

While the road pros found it out on a hillside this video teaser hit the internet. It looks incredible.


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

French Pyrenees

Hitting the Pyrenees led to a bit of a shake-up on the top of the table in the Tour. No sooner had I decided that for me the podium would be Nibali, Valverde and Van Garderen than a climb changed a lot of that. Obviously the lead is pretty locked in but The American BMC rider faded on the big last climb and was distanced by the French contingent.

It was a rare day where a breakaway stuck up front, a decent size one but with Voekler and Michael Rogers as the main interest. They fought it out, with some visible disagreement as the French rider hung back to wait for his team mate, Gaultier, to help his chance. Voekler was aiming for a hat-trick of wins into Bagneres dr Luchon, but was denied by an attack by Mick Rogers to stick him his first Tour stage win in 10 years of trying.

Behind this the GC battle put Valverde briefly off the pace as Nibali sat and followed the moves. Van Garderen was the big loser as he dropped off the elite group, and this gave Thibault Pinot the encouragement he needed to attack. Whether the huge descent to the finish was playing on his mind, as arguably the least strong downhiller in the peloton, he overcame this fear and came down fast with the top guys holing the gap and moving himself up to third overall with Valverde getting back on terms. He now takes the white jersey and sits ahead of his compatriots, Peraud and Bardet as well as Van Garderen.

There are some big mountains to come and Pinot will need to put some time into his rivals to hold them off in the stage 20 time trial, but it’s looking more and more likely that there might be a French rider on the podium in Paris for the first time in 17 years.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Resting and Riding

The biggest bike race in the world had a rest day yesterday in the medieval town of Carcassonne, where short rides were had and press conferences were had. It’s an interesting time as really everyone is talking about who might finish second and third (or even just third) and who might win the young riders’ jersey as it looks a lot like the yellow and green jerseys are wrapped with Nibali and Sagan having to dramatically fail to lose them from here.

With a day off there were other promotion opportunities like Jaguar providing an F-Type for the time trial on stage 20 for Sky. I have to admit that it looks pretty ace, even if it is a cynical marketing move!

Less corporate is this film, despite a load of production work behind it, showcasing a young trials rider who has the sort of moves that make you feel like you will never be that great a rider.

The weekend also gave me the chance to roll out my less impressive skills and squeeze in a hot and sweaty ride just between a hangover and more drinking. I fancied some open skies with the heavy but sunny weather and so header out above Ware over the fields. It felt like a hardtail day and so I grabbed the old mountain bike and gave it a trip out. I wanted to also check that the new bike was a good call, not make the hardtail feel left out, and make sure I wasn’t getting lazy with so much suspension. The bike felt like an old friend, light and firm, with the forks feeling super stiff compared to the plusher ones I’ve been riding. It was much harsher, but reminded me of the way to ride the ground on an almost rigid machine. Great fun, but making me appreciate the new bike all the more, while not forgetting the fun of a hardtail on smoother trails. Unfortunately not all the trails were smooth as horse-ridden bridleways baked hard are a clattering effort.

I love open space riding in the sweaty dusty sunshine and this had all of that, one of those days where the tyres come home cleaner than they went out and the air conditioning full on in the car to try to cool down afterwards.