Week one review

What a fabulous first week! Take a bow ASO. We’ve had confusion and controversy, thrills and spills, cobble calamity, tears and tantrums, rain, heatwaves, picturesque countryside, beautiful châteaux, fervent fans, the favourites are all still in contention and we’ve only just reached the first really lumpy bits.

As anticipated, Spartacus (Saxo Bank) won the 8.9km Prologue course around Rotterdam where, despite the rain, thousands of fans lined the course.  Sadly, both Mathias Frank (BMC) and Manuel Cardoso (Footon Servetto) fell heavily – Tour over for both of them.

Wind didn’t play a part in Stage 1, 223.5km from Rotterdam to Brussels, but the peloton was very skittish. In the run in, the last sharp right turn took out Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank), among others, while two further crashes saw a large number of riders hitting the deck. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) avoided the carnage and was first across the line.  Adam Hansen (HTC-Columbia)  bowed out.

Stage 2’s 201km stage from Brussels to Spa mirrored an Ardennes Classic but rain and diesel-slicked roads saw riders falling like nine pins, particularly on the descent from the Stockeu. Injuries to Michel Delage (Omega Pharma Lotto) and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions) put an early end to their participation. Meanwhile, Fabulous Fabian, still in yellow, cooled the tempo in the leading bunch to allow the contenders (particularly one Andy Schleck) to get back onto the peloton which then rode together to the neutralised finish. Up front, Sylvain Chavanel, having helped team mate Jerome Pineau to seize the spotty jersey, had pedaled away from the rest of the breakaway bunch for the stage win, snatching yellow from Fab’s broad shoulders. These two have  rescued Quick Step’s dismal season and are now well poised to negotiate contract extensions.

It was anticipated that some of the favourites might come a cropper on the cobbled sections on Stage 3’s 213km from Wanze to Arenburg. It was a truly spectacular stage, hot and dusty, reminiscent of when Stuart O’Grady won Paris-Roubaix in 2007. The first crash of the day took out David Le Lay (Ag2R – La Mondiale) while falls yesterday for Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) left both nursing hairline fractures of the wrist: pretty painful on the pave. Nikki Terpstra (Milram) was a non starter with the flu.

Frank Schleck’s fall (collar bone broken in three places) precipitated splits in the peloton. The smart guys were on Fabian’s wheel and got a tow to the finish. The stage was won by Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team), fitting given that he’d forfeited sprint points the previous day at the behest of one Fabian Cancellara. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) worked with the guys from Sky to bridge up to the group behind Cancellara and minimise the time lost by Alberto Contador (Astana) and Bradley Wiggins Team Sky). Lance (Radioshack) had been in this second group but an untimely puncture saw him surrender time to a number of the other contenders. End result, Cancellara was back in yellow and the World Champion, Cadel Evans (BMC) was now up in third place, 1min and 1 second ahead of Alberto Contador.   

The contenders must have breathed a sigh of relief, the first obstacles had been conquered and they could keep their powder dry for the next few sprinter friendly days. Stage 4’s 153kms from Cambrai to champagne producing Reims, saw Alessandro Petacchi record his 2nd stage win of this Tour. Next up, 187.5km from Epernay to Montargis saw Mark Cavendish win  by a mile. Queue floods of tears as the monkey was now off his back. A bit like buses, stage win no 2 followed on the morrow, on the longest stage, 227.5km from Montargis to Gueugnon. Meanwhile an altercation with a musette saw Amets Txurruka (Euskatel-Euskadi) bid farewell to the peloton. A couple of small girl’s blouses traded blows and bike wheels. The judges awarded a points decision to Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) over Rui Costa (Caisse d’Epargne). Both were fined. 

Let’s just pause and put in context my own endeavours: 550km and 27hours in the saddle. Spartacus, still in yellow, has taken 93minutes longer to complete 1,215km. The conclusion: I’d have missed the cut-off on Stage 1 and joined the non-walking wounded!  Today the boys hit the Jura and a rejuvenated Chavanel, who I feel has usurped Michael Boogerd and Mikel Astarloza to become “The Teeth of the Tour”, recorded his second stage win and again seized yellow. This is going to cost Patrick Lefevre dear.

Cadel Evans has moved into second place  so we could see him in yellow as early as tomorrow. I’m sure it would suit Astana to have BMC working their butts off to defend the yellow jersey.

Basque bravado

Pretty as a picture

A couple of years ago my husband and I drove down to Barcelona on business by way of Girona. We both agreed it looked a good place to cycle and promised ourselves that one day we would return. This week I’ve been watching the Tour of the Basque Country and, again, I’ve found myself thinking, fabulous countryside, great place to cycle, must pay it a visit. 

So I’m wondering whether a cycling tour of northern Spain might be on the cards for next year. My one problem is logistics. I would love to cycle from one place to another but who’s going to carry my luggage? Please don’t suggest I get panniers. I’m not starving myself to loose 10kg only to replace that weight with panniers. There must be another way. 

A cycling club trip perhaps? Too far, the club likes to cycle to its holiday destination. I appreciate that there are holiday companies who organise such trips but I don’t want to cycle with a crowd, just my beloved. I can see further research is required. 

Who's a happy boy?

Meanwhile, one of my favourite Spaniards won yesterday. Sadly, having dropped from GC contention on Day 1, Sammy Sanchez needed a stage win to appease the fanatical Basque fans who line most of the climbs at least 10-deep. It was a marvellous display of both ascending and descending from the Olympic champion, almost  matched by Valverde, who finished second and snatched back the yellow jersey from Oscar Freire. 

Joaquin Rodriguez showed he’s on form for the forthcoming Ardennes classics by storming up some vertiginous climbs today to catapult himself onto the podium. Everything is finely poised for tomorrow’s hilly 22km time trial which retraces some of the steeper climbs of today. Horner is in 2nd place, just 1 second down on Valverde, Rodriguez is 3rd and lying in 4th place is former mountain-biker, Jean-Christophe Perraud, current French time-trial champion.

Of course, no mountainous stages would be complete without some dodgy descending. First up, Schleck the Elder, a man I would not wish to follow down any descent. I understand he flipped over a barrier yesterday and didn’t start this morning. Today, Amets Txurruka attempted a curve from the wrong apex and went down heavily. Fortunately, I understand neither are badly injured. Robert Gesink also fell today and has now slipped down the GC and out of contention. Il Falco (Paolo Savodelli) should give master classes in descending to those (and there’s plenty of them in the peloton) who struggle to ride as well downhill as they do either on the flat or uphill.

Photo of Samu Sanchez courtesy of my friend Susi Goertze