QuickStep’s Tony Martin breathes a huge sigh of relief and allows himself a smile; he’s been sitting on the bed of nails which is the stage leader’s ‘hot seat’ all afternoon – almost five hours. The German World Time Trial Champion saw rider after rider fall short of his stunning 54.271 kph ride for the 33 kilometres of 58 x 11 induced pain but then had to endure maillot jaune, Chris Froome (Sky & GB) being ahead at both of the intermediate time checks.
But Froome had gone out like a bat out of Hell and there was nothing left in the tank for the windblown finale along the coast and out to the fairy tale setting that is the Mont-Saint-Michel – at the line Martin had 12 seconds in hand on the stick-thin man in yellow. Martin is famous for his attention to detail and had been over the whole course in the morning, before the race, saying after he’d been declared winner;
‘The recon this morning was very useful and I went very fast for the entire course. I knew that the final kilometres were really windy so I saved some energy for those. I made the right choice considering how the race went. My times stayed the best all the way until Froome in yellow as the last rider on course. It was super disappointing when I saw his intermediates — the first one I was a second behind and the second, two seconds behind. I thought, “man, if I get beat now by one or two seconds, just put the bike away and go home!” But, he lost some seconds in the final.’
Froome was a winner too, putting a minimum of two minutes into all of his GC challengers; and now they know he can put at least the same amount of time into them in next week’s hilly chrono – and he leaves today 3:25 ahead of second placed on GC, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain.) And please don’t think we plucked all of this off the internet – we were right there.
Well, almost, the Bar Balkanic in Tours was our race headquarters for the day – the LG big screen was cool and so was the pilsner. Our flight schedule didn’t allow us up to see the chrono but we thought you might like a wee look at Tours before le Tour roars in tomorrow afternoon – and our thoughts on the chrono, of course.
Tours has a similar nickname to another famous city where a Classic finishes; if Sanremo is the ‘City of Flowers,’ Tours is ‘The Garden of France.’ There’s been a settlement here beside the River Loire for 2,000 years and the magnificent cathedral has stood for some 500 years.
But before you set out on a walk around Vieux Tours you need fortification; a kir is always a good start – a measure of crème de cassis liqueur topped up with white wine.
And of course, a drink isn’t a drink in France unless you have L’Equipe to hand.‘Cavendish Accused’ says the headline of yesterdays finale, but then adds; ‘but it’s not that simple.’ We think it is; he thought Veelers was going to come out on him so he shouldered the Dutchman – of course the Argos man was spent and going backwards but Cav didn’t realise that – but the judges took Cav’s side and we’re back in our box.
L’Equipe had Tony Martin as hot favourite to win today – he’s won 29 chronos since 2008. And they also did an interesting analysis chart of Alberto Contador’s palmares against the watch, pre and post suspension. ‘Contador uninspired’ says the heading and a string of 2009/10/11 first second and third places is replaced by sixth and seventh spots over the last two seasons.
Meanwhile Cadel is complaining that there are too many fans out, so it’s hard to get a quiet spot for a pee – L’Equipe gives the Breton Public a tongue in cheek 0/10 for that one. Kir quaffed, L’Equipe scanned and it’s time to wander.
The cathedral isn’t what you would call under stated, teams of masons carved that stone for years – it certainly looks spectacular in the July sunshine.
The heart of the old town is the Place Plumereau with squint old half timbered houses, pavement cafes, bars and street sculpture.
It was once a slum but has been refurbished and is now the social hub of the city with tourists, students and business men all enjoying the July sun and good vibe.
We just had to track down the Wednesday flower market and weren’t disappointed, Boulevard Beranger was a riot of colour and we both agreed that a wee flower stall would be a nice way to make a living.
Apart from the old town it’s a City which has civic pride; fountains spray cool mist into the warm air and tricolours wave in the breeze. Amongst all of that we spotted the beasts which have disrupted the Paris-Tours Classic these last few years – the new trams. Paris-Tours finished for years on the Avenue de Grammont – but work to lay the tram tracks meant that the finish had to be moved.
Tomorrow’s 218 kilometres stage from Fougeres to Tours is being billed as a ‘mini Paris-Tours’ – Cav will be desperate to make amends for yesterday and there’ll be no problems with team morale after Tony’s demolition job, this afternoon.
The trams are space age beasts gliding quietly through the city centre but are armed with old school ‘clangy’ bells.
On our travels we passed the City’s old and new theatres – it’s proud of the past but very modern in outlook.
And on the way down to Bar Balkanic we passed what may be Tony Martin’s new time trial bike? The bar was the perfect spot to watch King of the Mountains jersey wearer Pierre Rolland (Europcar & France) try to explain why he was six kilometres per hour slower than Tony Martin; ‘it wasn’t a course for climbers’ – evidently, Pierre.
It was a bad day too for another climber, Movistar’s aggressive Colombian mountain man Nairo Quintana who lost the white jersey of best young rider to QuickStep’s Polish road champion, Michal Kwiatkowski. It was great day for Tony Martin and Chris Froome – my tip to win this race but another disastrous day for my tip for the third spot on the podium; Tejay van Garderen, 49th@ 3:19. And what about my tip for second – Sr. Contador? He was 15th@ 2:15 – like L’Equipe said, ‘uninspired.’
Tomorrow we’ll be on the actual finish line – we hope you’ll be able join us here in lovely Tours. A demain.
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