Analysis Pre-Pyrenees: As the peloton rests today in the foothills of the Pyrenees, the Tour de France is getting set for Act 3. We saw the chaotic flat stages and decisive time trial from Act 1 in the first week. A series of medium mountain stages and two big days in the Alps punctuated Act 2, and now the final act looms ahead. The third week of the Tour de France can be full of surprises, especially when it’s set up like it is this year.
Analysis: For some riders, the first week or so of the Tour de France probably seemed like an eternity. No matter how well prepared you are for the Tour de France, the intensity of the event – on and off the bike – comes as a shock to the system. The first rest day often serves as critical milestone, one that helps the peloton find the rhythm that will help it run more smoothly for the next two weeks.
Roadside St.19 The French radio car tries to muscle Dave off the wheel, but Dave’s ridden too many road races to let that happen and we tuck back in alongside the Sky team car. Stage 19, Tour de France 2010, a 52 kilometre time trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac and PEZ is on the wheel of one of the fastest men in the world – Sky’s British elite road race champion, Geraint Thomas.
Analysis St. 18: After 19 days of racing Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador are separated by just 8 seconds. These two have not been any more than 42 seconds apart in the overall standings since the prologue. So if they’re so even in terms of strength, how is that we’re so quick to give Alberto Contador a huge advantage in tomorrow’s 52-kilometer TT? If they’re inseparable in the mountains, why would we expect to see a big difference between their performances in the time trial?
Roadside St.17 One hundred years - that's how long ago it is since Octave Lapize first conquered Le Tourmalet on 15 kilograms of steel bike in the 1910 Tour de France. Today, PEZ goes roadside for the Tour's final mountain showdown.
Analysis St. 17: The top of the Col du Tourmalet stands at 6939 feet above sea level and the start of the climb sits at 2329 feet, meaning today’s final ascent gained 4610 vertical feet in 11.5 miles. If you count the climb from the town of Adast (which sits at 1542 feet) to the official start of the climb, the riders climbed more than a vertical mile (5397 feet) in the final 20 miles of Stage 17. Guess what - it can be hard to breathe up there.
Analysis St.15: I’m really struggling today. The biggest story of Stage 15 was the mechanical problem that Andy Schleck suffered on the upper slopes of the Port de Bales, and the subsequent response from Alberto Contador. The question is whether Contador should have waited for Schleck, or whether he was right to continue racing? I’m struggling because I think you can point to examples and valid justifications for both sides of the argument.
Analysis St. 12: The Tour de France is a long, long race and some tactics require a lot of patience. Over and over again, Team Saxo Bank have shown how strong and deep their team is, and it’s in the best interest of Team Astana to wear down Saxo Bank riders before the race reaches the big mountain stages in the Pyrenees. Putting Alexander Vinokourov into today’s 18-man breakaway was a great way of executing on that strategy because it forced Saxo Bank to chase the breakaway for much of the day.
Analysis St. 11: Mark Cavendish won his third stage of this year’s Tour de France, and the 13th Tour stage win of his career, but his victory is overshadowed by the race officials’ decision to disqualify Team HTC-Columbia leadout man Mark Renshaw from the race entirely. I agree that Renshaw’s actions during the sprint were wrong, but I think the officials over-reacted by kicking him out of the race.
Analysis St. 10 The life of a domestique is not very glamorous. You’re rarely in a position to win bike races, you almost never get to stand on a stage with podium girls, and you spend most of your days fetching water bottles from the team car and killing yourself for your team leader. But every once in a while, an opportunity pops up and you get the freedom – or sometimes the order – to go for the win.
Analysis St. 9 Cadel Evans is a quiet rider. There’s nothing very flashy about the way he rides, but his consistency and ability to be in the right place at the right time has brought him tremendous success as a cyclist. So it was a definite surprise to see him dropped near the bottom of the Col de Madeleine today in Stage 9. Reports from after the stage confirm that there was something significantly wrong with the world champion and yellow jersey leader of the Tour: he was racing with a fractured elbow.
Analysis St. 8 For those of us who have watched the Tour de France for a long time, there are moments from each year that stick in our minds. Some are the incredible performances that win the day or crown new champions, and some are the turning points in an athlete’s race or career. Lance’s crash at the base of the Col de la Ramaz spelled the end of his Tour chances and may well be what’s remembered as his ‘turning point’.
Analysis St. 6 The 2010 Tour is beginning to find its stride. After a tumultuous start, the last two days have been less chaotic and we’ve seen far fewer falls and accidents. With almost a week of racing in their legs, the riders are starting to sort themselves out in terms of fitness and fatigue. So conserving energy on the longest stage is no small feat with temps above 90F degrees, but it is possible…
Analysis St. 5 Mark Cavendish got it right today and won Stage 5 by enough of a margin that it should answer any questions about his sprinting form. And judging from his emotional response to winning (tears of relief, perhaps?), today’s victory will hopefully dispel any doubts he may have had in himself coming into the Tour de France.
Analysis St. 4 Six years ago, Alessandro Petacchi won 15 Grand Tour stages in one year, taking sprint wins in the Tour of Italy, Tour de France, and Tour of Spain. He was crowned the new King of the Sprinters, the heir to Mario Cipollini’s throne. But after some dry years, he’s returned to win two stages in the first week, and it’s fair to say he’s back among the elite sprinters in the peloton.
Analysis St. 3 Luck has always played a role in cycling and the Tour, and over the course of a career riders who sometimes benefit from incredible luck must also experience the worst of it. Lady Luck has certainly smiled on Lance Armstrong during his career (remember the trip through the grass in 2003?), but today his luck ran out, with a flat front tire at a very inopportune moment.
Analysis St. 2: When you’re in the peloton, it’s immediately clear that in addition to competing against each other, you’re also responsible for keeping each other safe. Often, both your immediate fate and length of your career depend on the men around you, and vice versa. That’s why riders call out and point out obstacles in the road, and it’s why on days like today, they sometimes neutralize the competition.
Analysis St. 1 There was an instant in the final kilometer of Stage 1 that gave me a horrible flashback to Stage 1 of the 2003 Tour. I saw helmets rise up and then plummet back down, as riders ran into and over a wall of their fallen comrades. As in 2003, Lance Armstrong escaped uninjured, but it remains to be seen whether today’s crashes will force anyone to leave the Tour after just one stage.
Insight St.20: Looking at the route of the 2009 Tour de France when it was released last fall, everyone involved in Lance Armstrong’s comeback knew that Mont Ventoux would be one of the race’s main battlegrounds. The Tour de France is always won by the strongest rider in the race, but with the configuration of the final week this year, it was clear that gaining climbing power was a top priority for Lance’s Tour preparation.
Insight St.19: Nineteen down, two to go. And of the two stages remaining in the 2009 Tour de France, it’s tomorrow’s race to the top of Mont Ventoux that is likely to decide the composition of the final podium in Paris. Alberto Contador’s position in the yellow jersey is secure – barring incident or injury – but the second and third steps of the final podium are very much in play.