Altitude attitude

Whenever I watch professional racers I marvel at their speed, particularly going uphill. By and large a professional will complete an average stage in half the time it would take me. They’re around 40% faster than me on the flat, 20-25% faster than me downhill and a staggering 3 times faster than me going uphill. This enormous difference can be explained in part by age, sex, power to weight ratio, years spent training and bike handling skills. Consequently, I always come back from watching them feeling inspired and enthused. So there’s only one thing for it, yes, a trip up the Col de Vence.

After a smooth ascent to Vence, I rode up the first steep section feeling positively enthused. Now I don’t generally look at my Garmin as I’m riding along but as I still can’t seem to download the data, I thought I’d check on my splits. I started off doing 5 minute kilometres which wasn’t too shabby as the first bit  is quite steep. As usual, this went out to 6 minutes once I reached 6.5kms to go and continued for another 2.5kms. This stretch is always my bete noire. It was a perfect day for a ride: not too warm, not too much wind and hardly any traffic. I gritted my teeth and rode on overtaking a whole bunch of people (don’t you just love tourists!). With 4km to go I was back to riding 5 minute kilometres and once I’d passed the riding school, I was positively sprinting.  I rode the last 500m “en danseuse” to complete my fastest ascent this year and a minute shy of my best ever. All that altitude training paid dividends. I’m still waiting for the improved power to weight ratio to kick in but maybe it’s being offset by rapid age-related decline. An hour to ascend, then just ten minutes to get back to Vence.

This is my rest week where I’ll be doing a couple of recovery rides and some splashing about in the pool/sea. Over the coming weeks, I’m going to tackle with a bit more vim and vigour “Operation Elimination of Silly Tan Lines”. I now have my sun bed handily placed on the balcony, outside the office. I could, of course, sun myself down at the swimming pool, but there’s a bit of a bun fight for the loungers during August and I’m wary of frightening small children with my current scary tan lines. In addition, I find  any more than a 30 minute daily dose of sunbathing a bit boring. How my sisters manage to spend all day lazing on the beach is quite beyond me.

Having deposited my beloved at the airport this morning, I have a couple of day’s welcome respite before we meet up again in San Sebastian on Thursday evening. Meanwhile, he’ll have held a training session in Boston and given a presentation in London. I’ll have hopefully restored order to the flat, caught up with numerous administrative tasks, rounded up all the volunteers for La Ronde and baked a few more cakes to feed the hordes.

Reflections on the Tour

I’m still wallowing in post-Tour euphoria; and you thought it only applied to the riders. I’ll come crashing back to earth later this week when I start to miss my daily fix. Fortunately, help is at hand, as I’m heading to the Basque country this week end to watch a star-studded Clasica San Sebastian. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Firstly, I’d like to congratulate everyone who reached Paris: no mean feat.  Secondly, a huge thanks to all  the stage winners and the wearers of the various jerseys for making the last three weeks so entertaining, enthralling and absorbing. It’s much appreciated.

Now, let’s examine some of the firsts:

  • Cadel Evans, first Tour de France winner from Australia
  • Frank and Andy Schleck, first brothers on the podium
  • Mark Cavendish, first Brit (and Manx man) to win the green jersey
  • First time the Norwegians have taken 4 individual stages

I’m sure there were many more firsts but these were the ones which sprang to mind.

Not forgetting, of course, that there was plenty of cheer for the home nation:-

  • Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler’s 4th place was the first since 2000 (Christophe Moreau) having spent 10 days in the maillot jaune
  • Five Frenchmen (Voeckler, Peraud, Rolland, Coppel, Jeannesson) in the top 15 was the best result since 1991
  • First best young rider classification (Pierre Rolland) since 1999
  • First winner (Pierre Rolland) atop Alpe d’Huez since 1986 (Hinault)
  • FDJ’s Jeremy Roy voted most combative rider
  • Amael Moinard, the only Frenchman on the winner’s team (BMC)

The hopes and dreams of a number of notable riders were dashed largely due to crashes in the first week. Some struggled on to Paris, others departed the Tour in ambulances. A speedy recovery and return to two wheels to you all. Sadly, one of my favourite riders has decided to retire. It was on the cards and his fall in the Tour only accelerated matters. You’ll be sorely missed Alex but I’m sure you’ll lead your team to many more victories albeit from the team car.

Finally, congratulations to the winners of the various jerseys and classifications. I’m sure Dave Z was touched to see his full-sized cardboard cut out atop the podium as part of the winning team. I wonder, does Garmin Cervelo have one for each of the team?

It seems as if the entire world has proclaimed this the best Tour for the past 20 years. I can’t comment as I’ve only been addicted since 2004.

Finally and thankfully

Postcards from the Alps IV, V and VI

According to L’Equipe, spectators wait an average of six hours to watch the peloton pass. At one end of the spectrum are those who watch it at home on television nipping out just before the riders zoom past their front garden. At the other end are those who, generally with their motorhomes, bag a spot on a key climb 3-4 days before the riders arrive. L’Equipe fails to take account of the time it takes to get in situ. This is where the bike trumps all other forms of transport. When key routes are closed to traffic, you can generally still ascend and descend by bike on the day of the stage. Watching the Tour on key stages makes for very long, but highly enjoyable, days hence the absence of any reports for the past few days.

The last three stages have been absorbing, fascinating and have made this year’s Tour truly memorable. Consequently, it seems inappropriate  to lump them together when each is deserving of it’s own fulsome report. Nonetheless, that’s what I’m going to do. Sadly, we sacrified the space normally dedicated to my beloved’s camera in the backpack for more clothes. I’ve spent many holidays in the Alps and while it’s often been wet I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold as this summer. I wasn’t one of those idiots risking hypothermia to grab my 15 seconds of fame in a skimpy outfit. No, we were the mummified couple huddled together sharing a little body heat.

When Andy Schleck rode off on the slopes of the Col d’Izoard on Thursday’s stage from Pinerolo to the top of the Galibier with 60km still remaining, you could hear the collective holding of breath. Was this a suicide mission or Andy’s response to the incessant sniping of the Press? In a move reminiscent of days of yore in the Tour and, fittingly on the 100th birthday of the Tour’s first visit  to the Galibier, Andy’s escape proved Merckxesque.  But that wasn’t all, to the delight of the French public, a last gasp effort from Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler ensured he would spend yet another day in yellow. Evans responded and singlehandedly dragged everyone else up the Galibier. After their exertions of the previous two day’s, sadly Bertie and Sammy weren’t able to remain with the contenders and they both slipped back in the final kilometers and down on GC. Tour over for some and just igniting for others. Only the white jersey changed shoulders, passing from Sky’s Rigoberto Uran to Cofidis’s Rein Taaramae. The eighty-nine riders who finished outside of the day’s time limit were reinstated but, with the loss of 20 points, the margin between Mark Cavendish and Jose Joaquin Rojas, in the fight for the green jersey, was reduced to 15 points.

Another day another fight, you write Bertie off at your peril. If he was going to lose his Tour crown, he was going to go down fighting. Anything Andy could do, he could do too. On Friday’s stage, which finished atop the iconic Alpe’d’Huez, Alberto attacked 15km into the stage. Initially the others responded  but Voeckler and Evans dropped back into the bunch before the summit of the first climb while Andy rode with Bertie, clearly hoping to put time into Evans who tried to organise the chasing group. Cadel had both the brothers for company when Contador soloed off on the Alpe and while they encouraged him to continue the pursuit he desisted. After all, who was the better time triallist? Who needed to put time into who? Exactly.

While Contador was leading the charge up the Alpe to what many assumed would be a Tour stage win, Sammy Sanchez, second on this stage in 2008 to Carlos Sastre, was in hot pursuit tailed by Pierre Rolland who’d been let off the leash by his leader, Thomas Voeckler. With 5km to go, Bertie was visibly fading. 3km later he was overtaken by Rolland who became the only French stage winner of the Tour, the first Frenchman to win here since Bernard Hinault in 1986 and he also took the white jersey of best young rider. Sammy was 2nd again, his 2nd 2nd place of the Tour but, as consolation, he landed the spotted jersey. Alberto was a gallant third and was adjudged the most aggressive rider which was to be his only podium appearance of this Tour. The maillot jaune slipped from the shoulders of Thomas Voeckler onto those of Andy Schleck. Cavendish remained in green, while both he and Rojas lost a further 20 points apiece for again finishing outside the time limit.

Most commentators felt that while the actions of the freres Schleck had been heroic, their time-trialling skills were much inferior to those of Cadel, who had the added advantage of having ridden the same course in the Dauphine. The stage was set and, while those going earlier in the order had to cope with damp conditions, the roads had dried by the time the top riders set off. HTC’s Tony Martin, heir apparent to Spartacus, set a blistering and ultimately winning pace. The body language of Cadel and Andy in the start gate was interesting to observe: the first focused and intent, the latter nervous. The brothers posted similar times to remain on the podium, a first for the Tour. Cadel Evans posted the second best time to leapfrog over Andy and take the treasured yellow jersey: the first winner from Down Under. The realisation of a long held dream and just reward for a very intelligently ridden Tour. Thomas Voeckler rode the time-trial of his life to remain in 4th place, the best finish for a Frenchman for a very long time. Pierre Rolland resisted the challenge of Rein Taaramae, a superior time triallist, to retain the white jersey. Bertie and Sammy both turned in very respectable times in the time trial to finish in 5th and 6th places respectively ahead of the Italian duo of Ivan Basso and Damiano Cunego.

Okay, the Tour’s not yet over but today is largely a procession around the suburbs of Paris followed by a criterium around the capital. Etiquette dictates that the yellow jersey is not attacked on the final day. There still remains the question of the green jersey but I would be very surprised to see anyone other than Cavendish win today, his 5th win of the Tour and his 3rd consecutive win on the Champs Elysees. As an aside, I love the fact that all of BMC are wearing yellow Oakley’s today – nice touch.

Postcards from the Alps III

I derive an enormous amount of pleasure from riding part of a Tour stage ahead of the peloton. Today dawned bright with that omnipresent bitingly cold wind. As we rode into Briançon you could see the fresh snow on the surrounding mountains. With a fair tailwind, it didn’t take too long, despite the presence of an enormous amount of traffic, to reach the town in full-on Tour party mode.

 We followed today’s route taking La Chaussée (1.7km @ 8.3%), which had me perspiring heavily beneath my jacket, gilet,  shirt, vest and bib,  followed by the climb up Montgenèvre (7.9km @ 6.1%) and then we rode back: a 40km round trip.

It was like one big international pointage with riders from all over the globe riding up and down the road which was wide but with a significant amount of traffic. I was almost sideswiped by a Polish caravan. As one of only a handful of women , as usual, I received plenty of encouragement from those on the side of the road. Again, there was barely room left to park a moped, let alone a camper van. And, it’s official, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg are deserted. They’re all watching the Tour. 

Tommy sitting pretty

Given the weather forecast, we had planned to watch the race at the finish in Pinerolo but it wasn’t necessary as the outlook was warm and sunny here, provided you stayed out of the wind. We returned to Briançon and watched the race unfold on the large screen. We saw the riders ascend the Chaussée at a positively pedestrian pace. They must have been saving themselves for the forthcoming mountain stages.

French aspirations for a home stage winner were  raised by Quickstep’s Sylvain Chavanel, one of today’s breakaways, only to have them cruelly dashed by today’s stage winner, Sky’s Edvald Boassen Hagen. Two Norwegians in the Tour and two individual wins apiece: Norse Gods rock.

Meanwhile, on the descent into Pinerolo, the yellow-jersey wearer, Europcar’s irrepressible Tommy Voeckler was struck by the curse of the commentator. Just as he was being complimented on his strong descending skills, he veered off the side of the road. He remounted, having lost touch with the leading riders, only to replicate Jonathon Hivert’s mistake of overshooting a corner into someone’s drive.

Bertie and Sammy, that well-known Spanish double act, again tried to put time into the competition on the descent into Pinerolo but the other contenders caught them on the line. Today’s only casualty was Tommy who lost 27 precious seconds. He may rue that come Paris. None of the jerseys changed hands.

Postcards from the Alps II

It had started raining heavily before we set out for Gap muffled like members of Michelin Man’s army. It was also cold, another day at 9°. We passed many a sodden cyclist en route happy, for once, to be in the warm and dry of the car. We found the Village d’Arrivee almost by chance on the road into Gap some 2km from the finish line. Happily our names were on the guest list, we were given our bracelets, our goodie bags and ushered in.

I generally prefer to watch a stage as close as possible to the big screen and the finish line. With today’s weather I was more than happy to have shelter, warm food, toilets, plenty to drink and a large screen. Not forgetting a clear view of the run in. The show starts early with reminiscences from French former stage winners, a tour of the hospitality tents of the Tour’s principal sponsors chatting to their celebrity guests, a magician, a trick cyclist…………………Stop, I don’t want to appear ungrateful, just bring on the cycling. There was also a quiz and I was much amused to see that Lance had been franconified (is that a real word?) into Lens Armstrong!

No need to scrap for freebies from the caravan as they deliver bags of goodies at the Village which are distributed by the hostesses. I now have a huge bag for the kids down the club. I was much amused to see cars exhorting us to visit Luxembourg. Why, they’re all here! 

As the day’s transmission started, the break ,which produced the stage winner, had been established only after 100km thanks to a very strong tailwind. On the 163km stage from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap, the escapees included none other than Jeremy Roy and Thor Hushovd. The latter going on to re-enact the Norwegian National Championships in the run in for the line with Edvald Boassen Hagen to record his 2nd stage win of the Tour.

The action was kicking off in the bunch as it approached the final bump of the day, 15km from the finish. It took Alberto three attacks but he finally shook free the Schlecks and shot off with Cadel Evans (looking very good) and Sammy Sanchez in tow. The three descended into Gap where Evans time-trialled to the finish. Thanks to the Spanish boys sticking together Cadel gained only 3 seconds on Bertie and Sammy, but more importantly he leapfrogged Frank.

None of the jerseys changed hands today, but we saw who’s in form and determined to fight for the podium in Paris.  Even before I knew that Alberto would be riding, I predicted a Schleck free podium. GC now looks like this:-

Position N° dossard Nom Pays Equipe Horaire Ecart
1 181 Thomas VOECKLER FRA EUC 69h00’56” 00”
2 141 Cadel EVANS AUS BMC 69h02’41” 1’45”
3 018 Frank SCHLECK LUX LEO 69h02’45” 1’49”
4 011 Andy SCHLECK LUX LEO 69h03’59” 3’03”
5 021 Samuel SANCHEZ ESP EUS 69h04’22” 3’26”
6 001 Alberto CONTADOR ESP SBS 69h04’38” 3’42”
7 091 Ivan BASSO ITA LIQ 69h04’45” 3’49”
8 161 Damiano CUNEGO ITA LAM 69h04’57” 4’01”
9 052 Tom DANIELSON USA GRM 69h07’00” 6’04”
10 118 Rigoberto URAN COL SKY 69h08’51” 7’55”

Postcards from the Alps I

Yesterday was sunny and fresh first thing in the valley. After a hearty breakfast, we set off destination the top of the Galibier. It starts gently enough with the gradient rising slowly up to 7% towards the top of the Lauteret.  We were heading into a strong headwind and I sheltered, whenever I could, behind groups of other riders. My beloved became impatient and waved me through saying I could ride behind him.  This is where he disappears 300m up the road providing no shelter whatsoever from the wind. I ground away.

Despite the layers and my winter 3/4 thermal bib shorts, I was chilled to the bone. I needed a warm drink, a comfort break and a spell in the warm sunshine. Out of the wind it was quite toasty and I began to thaw out. Although the Tour wasn’t  due until Thursday, the world’s stock of camper vans was massed all over the upper slopes of the Lauteret and all the way up the Galibier.  Judging by the registration plates, Luxembourg was closed for the forseeable future.

We set off up the Galibier. Whenever we’ve ridden here in the past, the weather has been simply scorching. Not so today. I began to regret not packing all my winter cycling gear. Yes, I’d checked the weather forecast but this cold wind was lowering the temperature by at least a further 10°. The meadow grass on the mountain was lush and green, full of colourful wild flowers. Indicating that there’d been no scorching temperatures this summer.

The view from the Galibier is magnificent, you can see the peloton advancing from miles away. However if, like me, you’re not overly fond of heights, it makes you feel nauseous. I plodded on as the gradient rose to 8%. But the road surface is good and it’s a fairly regular climb. I was amazed to see riders in short sleeved shirts and shorts: must have been Northern Europeans. This year’s professional jersey of choice was Leopard Trek: those Luxembourgers again. 

Easily the worst bit was the descent. No it wasn’t dangerous, it was freezing cold. Again, we took a short break at the top of the Lauteret to thaw ourselves out before launching back down the mountain. It was a very rapid descent, largely becacuse my hands were too cold to apply any pressure to the brakes. The lower half of my face was blue and the tips of my fingers white. Only after a reviving scalding hot shower, wraping up warmly and eating dinner did I start to feel warm again.

That evening we watched a report on the news where over 200 cyclists taking part in a 120km sportif, which went over the Galibier on Sunday, had been stranded at the top on account of the weather and had spent the night there. They had withstood snow and hail until the local fire brigade halted the race. Similar weather conditions had been encountered by those doing the 2nd Etape du Tour in the Massif Central. Only 2/3rds of the entrants had taken part and less than 50% had finished. In both instances, I would have been a DNS rather than a DNF.

Just the two of us

This is the first time we’ve rented a holiday home in France. It’s spotlessly clean and functional. When I made the booking I rented a chalet for 7. Not in the expectation of having guests but merely to have enough room and facilities for the two of us. The French happily cram 7 people into 3 rooms with only one bathroom. On arriving we were “upgraded” to a larger chalet. I’m not sure that upgraded is the correct term and I’ll explain why.

The chalet sleeps 11: 3 in the lounge, 5 on the first floor and 3 on the top floor. In the lounge/diner/kitchenette there’s seating on the sofa bed and bankette for 7, at a squeeze. There’s 9 dining chairs for a table which comfortably seats 6 plus the plastic patio furniture for another 4 (weather permitting), and there’s 4 stools. There’s 3 bathrooms but only 2 toilets, both in the 2 shower rooms on the top and ground floor. None of the sleeping areas on those floors have doors. So if any of the 5 occupants in the two 1st floor bedrooms (which both have doors) want to use the toilets during the night they have to traverse the other sleeping areas. I suppose 11 people could fit into the lounge/diner/kitchenette but only if they all remained standing.

To be fair the chalet is well equipped and has a dish washer. The combi- grill/oven/microwave is large enough for a chicken which could conceivably feed 4. The fridge has accommodated the few supplies I bought for the two of us. In the chalet’s welcome booklet, there’s a note warning that the boiler contains enough water for a bath and a couple of showers, thereafter you have to wait for 3 hours for it to heat up again. Roughly, it would take all day for everyone to be able to have a shower.

Of course, the chalets are intended for families so you’d presumably have a mix of children and adults and do everything in a couple of sittings. But I’m not used to having so little personal space. On balance, I feel there’s adequate room and facilities for the two of us and our two bikes which are residing in the positively spacious downstairs shower room.

When we drove up yesterday, the closer we got to our destination, the worse the weather: torrential rain and 9°.  By the time we’d eaten dinner, the sky was clear with the promise of better weather to come. On previous trips to the Alps, we have struggled to find great restaurants as most of the menus tend to be geared towards rather hearty fare, appropriate for a day spent skiing walking or cycling. However, I found a gem of a place yesterday evening; the restaurant of a small family run hotel just off the main drag. We had a superb meal for a very reasonable price which I’ll be burning off on today’s ride. It’s early but already the weather is looking promising.

Well worth the wait

Mindful of the importance of today’s stage, I was up and out at the crack of dawn. It was lovely and quiet, still a little fresh, with only the road cleaners and the odd car heading for the nearest bakery for me to worry about. I sped to Menton, easily my fastest ride there ever. My traffic light karma was in overdrive, I didn’t have to halt once: not even on the Promenade des Anglais. I stopped in Menton to top up my bottles and get a drink  to fuel my ascent. There’s a tap as the road splits (left over the Col and right to Ste Agnes), but the water’s of dubious quality.

The first kilometre of the climb is steepish but fortified by my recent sugar hit, and taking advantage of every bit of shade, I forge on. Up towards Ste Agnes the terrain undulates . I just grind away enjoying the view back down to the sea. The view improves, the gradient rises steeply and I’m now in the lowest of low gears. I take the left turn. It’s taken me  50 minutes to get here and I’ve emptied my larger bidon. It rises again and I press on. As a distraction, I start giving some thought to today’s stage where, realistically, we might know more about the real, relative forms of the main contenders, or not. The next 5 kilometres pass remarkably quickly and I’m soon speeding downwards. I’ve seen hardly any cars, just a couple of goats.

As I swoop through La Turbie, stopping at the fountain to fill up my bottles, I’m making good time. I  head up over the Col d’Eze enjoying the warm sunshine, the scenic views and the prospect of a cracking afternoon’s Tour viewing. Riding this route has done wonders for Thor Hushovd’s climbing skills, who knows it might do something similar, albeit on a smaller scale, for me. My traffic light karma begins to desert me on the way back and I take refuge on the cycling track on the Promenade. It’s busy, but not as busy as the road. In no time at all, I’m grinding my way back up to the apartment. It’s taken me an hour less than I estimated but that’s largely due to the time at which I rode rather than any great feat on my part. I shower, slip into something comfortable and sink a couple of litres of water. I’d like to check the ride information on my Garmin but I’m still waiting for a response from them. I’ve been waiting for 6 days!

On today’s queen stage, 168.5km from Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille a large group breaks away almost from the start, swiftly joined by another 4 riders, 24 in total. Only 4 teams are not represented: Saxobank, Radioshack, Omega Pharma-Lotto and Saur-Sojasun. There’s plenty of French riders, including 3 from FDJ, but no Jeremy Roy. Is that allowed? Despite having Charteau in the break, Europcar control the peloton until Leopard Trek take over intent on whittling down the numbers and delivering the Schlecks to the base of the final climb.

The French are desperate for a stage win and today’s excitement, and ultimate disappointment, were provided by French champion Sylvain Chavanel and, later on, FDJ’s Sandy Casar. However with Voeckler STILL in yellow, the French are now talking him up as a potential Tour winner. Stranger things have happened.

With just 10.5km of the final climb remaining, Andy Schleck puts in a dig. It’s countered. The favourites basically mark one another all the way to the finish. Tour rookie, Jelle Vanendert, still smarting from his 2nd place at Luz Ardiden, takes off in pursuit of the hapless Casar who’s soon overtaken. Jelle’s nemesis from Friday, Samu, pursues him and gains back a few precious seconds on the other favourites but can’t overhaul today’s victor. So Omega Pharma Lotto take their 3rd stage win of the Tour. With just 2kms to go Andy puts in a more serious dig which allows him to take back 2 seconds from the others. Most of the favourites finish together although a couple were distanced on the climb further shaking up GC which now looks like this:-

Rank Dossard Name Country Team Time Gap
1 181 Thomas VOECKLER FRA EUC 61h04’10” 00”
2 018 Frank SCHLECK LUX LEO 61h05’59” 1’49”
3 141 Cadel EVANS AUS BMC 61h06’16” 2’06”
4 011 Andy SCHLECK LUX LEO 61h06’25” 2’15”
5 091 Ivan BASSO ITA LIQ 61h07’26” 3’16”
6 021 Samuel SANCHEZ ESP EUS 61h07’54” 3’44”
7 001 Alberto CONTADOR ESP SBS 61h08’10” 4’00”
8 161 Damiano CUNEGO ITA LAM 61h08’11” 4’01”
9 052 Tom DANIELSON USA GRM 61h09’56” 5’46”
10 124 Kevin DE WEERT BEL QST 61h10’28” 6’18”

Two jersey’s changed hands: Vanendert now has the spotted jersey and Sky’s Rigoberto Uran is the latest, best young rider.

Swimmingly

As part of my training programme I’ve been swimming on alternate days. I verified with my coach that he didn’t expect me to be steaming up and down the pool during my 30 minute session. Instead, the pressure from the water is intended to help my legs recover from the previous day’s exertions. I should add that operation “Elimination of silly tan lines” is going nowhere. I typically swim as soon as the pool opens, while the pool is still partly in the shade, and then beat a hasty retreat. On the other mornings, I’ve ridden for 3-4hours in the sunshine which has only exacerbated the situation. I feel it’s now reached irretrievable proportions.

My beloved, having spent all day yesterday (a French Bank Holiday) meeting with potential clients in Nice,  is spending today with the same clients before heading off to a meeting in London on Saturday. We were supposed to be departing on vacation on Saturday morning. Our departure has been postponed by a day. However, strict rules on the use of Blackberries and the internet will be in-force while we’re away. I have to take this draconian approach otherwise my beloved will say “I’ve just got to tend to a couple of emails” and two hours later I’ll still be waiting. The only reason I drag him away on vacation is to get him away from the office and work. In this respect cycling is an excellent distraction. My beloved, like me, has not mastered the art of cycling while answering his mobile and once, in situ, near the big screen, at the arrival town, it’s almost impossible to hear oneself think let alone conduct a conversation on one’s mobile. So I’ll be encouraging him to post a holiday message on all his email accounts and mobile phone.

The French newspapers are full of Thomas Voeckler’s heroic defence of the yellow jersey and, to a lesser extent, the exploits of the other French riders on yesterday’s stage. The stage winner, Olympic Champion Sammy Sanchez recording his first ever Tour win, barely gets a look in. However, one would expect parochial and partisan reporting. I’ve no doubt that the pink pages of Gazzetta will have been evaluating the performances and chances of Messrs Cunego and Basso. The pages of La Marca have given more than adequate coverage to Sanchez, both his win and his on-going opportunities. Naturally enough, Contador’s form, or lack of, is examined in detail. So I thought if I really wanted to appreciate Sammy’s win I should head on over to check out the pages of Berria, the only newspaper written in Basque.  And sure enough:-

Super Samu

“Frantziako Tourra

Luz Ardiden Sanchezena izan da

Euskaltel-Euskadikoak “ametsa bete” du Tourreko Luz Ardidengo etapa irabazita. Samuel Sanchezek, arriskatuta eta urrutitik erasoa jota, gogor eutsi dio helmugaraino, eta azkenean Vanendert atzean uztea lortu eta 12. etapa irabazi du. Laranja izan zen atzoko kolore nagusia. Ehunka euskal zale izan ziren atzo, festa giroan, etapaz gozatzen. ”

While, I’m assuming none of my readers speak Basque , I think it’s pretty easy to work out what’s being said in the introductory paragraph. Needless to say Samu was awarded more than adequate coverage for his magnificent win.

Today’s Stage 13 has been billed as one of transition where it’s highly probable that a breakaway containing those riders way out of contention on GC might succeed. The slightly mitigating factor being the distance on the flat to the finish in Lourdes from the base of the Col du Soulor. I rode part of this last year. We cycled from Bagneres du Bigorre to the top of the Col d’Aubisque and then retreated to just below the summit of the  Col du Soulor to have lunch and watch the race unfold both on the road and on the television. You might remember  this was the day Lance got into a small breakaway.  After the race had finished, we rode back. The descent is fast but not technical. Maybe Alberto should light a few candles in Lourdes at the end of today’s 152.5km stage from Pau before climbing into the Saxobank team bus. It’s just a thought.

Stage Postscript: When they showed birds of prey feeding on a carcass during today’s stage I was relieved to see it was a lamb and not a rider. Everyman and his dog tried to get in this morning’s breakaway but it was only when FDJ’s Jeremy Roy, Mr Breakaway 2011, joined a group of 9 other riders that the break stuck. That break blew apart on the Col d’Aubisque but it was on the descent that Thor Hushovd (Garmin), one of the breakaways,  made what was to be the winning move to catch first David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and then the luckless Roy, within 2.3km of the finish, to register his 63rd win. Roy was in tears as he crossed the line in third place. He has taken the spotted jersey and the prize for the day’s most combative rider, but he knew these were scant consolation.  He’d narrowly missed the big one – a Tour stage win.

Endurance

In preparation for next week’s hills, I’ve been doing endurance intervals. Basically, riding in a higher gear than I would normally to replicate effort on a steeper ascent. I don’t mind these exercises as my natural inclination is to churn a higher gear, and lower cadence, as my legs are much stronger than my lungs. The weather was fabulous today with yesterday’s storm having eliminated the humidity of previous days. I enjoy riding during this time of year as the number of cyclists on the roads increases substantially, many of whom are tourists and unused to the terrain, allowing me to overtake many more riders. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to blast past a group of cyclists when riding uphill.

With television coverage of today’s important stage starting earlier than usual, I wanted to be in my optimal viewing position on a timely basis. Having completed my prescribed exercises, I had just enough time to collect the newspapers before heading home. My beloved having been fed, watered and packed off to a business meeting in Nice. I was hoping for some clarification of form after of days of speculation.

It was widely accepted that Thomas Voeckler would lose the yellow jersey. He didn’t. The occasion combined with the support of his team mates and, of course, the magical yellow jersey allowed Monsieur Panache, Monsieur Chouchou to remain in contention to the delight of the French viewing public, despite a spill on the descent of the 1st Cat. Horquette d’Anzican 80km from the finish. They weren’t the only ones to be pleased with today’s events. The Basque fans lining the route also had cause to celebrate as one of my favourites Olympic Champion Sammy Sanchez recorded his maiden Tour win atop Stage 12’s fabled Luz-Ardiden. Sammy looked mightily relieved and close to tears on the podium. To be fair, everyone expected him to use the occasion to gain back some time. He also takes over the spotted jersey from Johnny Hoogerland. Cavendish remains in green.

Who’s a happy boy? (Photo courtesy of AFP)

There’s more good news for the French. The most aggressive rider in the Tour thus far, Jeremy Roy (FDJ), who I recall getting hell last year From Marc Madiot (not a man to mince his words) for contending the lanterne rouge, won the Goddet prize for being first over the Tourmalet. Sylvain Chavanel showed off the tricolour jersey with an attack on the first climb in the company of Johnny Hoogerland. In addition, another of FDJ’s promising young riders, tour rookie Arnold Jeannesson is now in possession of the white, best young rider, jersey. Geraint Thomas, one of the day’s breakaways, was adjudged to be the most combative. Fitting given that he was pipped by Roy over the Tourmalet and worried us with some kamikaze descending off the opening climb.

The BIG news is that Alberto hasn’t been sandbagging. He lost further time today after enduring successive attacks from the brothers Schleck. Of course, it’s too soon to write him off.  Cadel Evans, the Schlecks and Ivan Basso all looked very comfortable. Also looks like Tom Danielson is finally fulfilling his promise as Garmin’s annual surprise Tour rider.

Not unnaturally a large number of riders slid out of contention and the GC now looks like this:-

Rank Dossard Name Country Team Time Gap
1 181 Thomas Voeckler FRA EUC 51h54’44” 00”
2 018 Frank Schleck LUX LEO 51h56’33” 1’49”
3 141 Cadel Evans AUS BMC 51h56’50” 2’06”
4 011 Andy Schleck LUX LEO 51h57’01” 2’17”
5 091 Ivan Basso ITA LIQ 51h58’00” 3’16”
6 161 Damiano Cunego ITA LAM 51h58’06” 3’22”
7 001 Alberto Contador ESP SBS 51h58’44” 4’00”
8 021 Samuel Sanchez ESP EUS 51h58’55” 4’11”
9 052 Tom Danielson USA GRM 51h59’19” 4’35”
10 101 Nicolas Roche IRL ALM 51h59’41” 4’57”