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.

Merely mislead

According to the club website, last Sunday’s pointage was at Andon. However, every other club, at least according to the Nice Matin was going to Canaux. A quick check on the map before we left revealed that the two were not too far apart.

My husband and I set off very early while it was still quite fresh. To be honest, I would have worn arm warmers had I realised it was going to be that chilly through the Vallon Rouge and Gorges du Loup. The super fast group from the club over took us on the climb up to Greolières where they subsequently stopped to refill their bidons. We checked. The website was wrong. The pointage was at Canaux.

This week end, we’re off to Marie sur Tinée. A delightful perched village and the setting, IMHO, of the best ever pointage feast. If I was to award a cup, and I’m still toying with the idea for next season, this would win it hands down: definitely worthy of 3 toques.

Mindful of the fast approaching Rondes de la St Laurent, I have been working on my sprinting for the past week or so. I rather like the period post-Tour, when everyone is inspired to get out on their bikes. A bit like the UK post-Wimbledon, when, for two or three weeks, you can’t get on a tennis court for love nor money. Generally, of course, this means there are more riders I can overtake. For example, on Tuesday I overtook one yellow and two spotted jerseys. Immensely satisfying, particularly as they were all overhauled on a climb.

I’ve convinced my husband to take part in the Rondes though have advised him that I expect him to pace me back up to the peloton, à la Lance and Kloeden, should (or should that be when) I get dropped, as us girls get to race with Les Grands Sportifs.

At this point, I should add that my husband is not too good at pacing. If it’s really windy he will gallantly offer to ride in front of me. He then sets off at a pace I can’t sustain and is forced to slow to let me get back on his wheel and, as soon as I do, he sets back off again at an unsustainable pace. This is far more tiring for me than having to ride on the front into a headwind.

 Somehow, I suspect that neither Cav, nor anyone else, is quaking in their boots at the thought of my improved sprinting prowess. Though, to be fair, the finish is uphill, so it probably wouldn’t be to Cav’s taste. Perhaps he could lend me his lead out train.

Normal service resumes

The Tour’s now over and life can return to normal. However, I can’t let the opportunity pass without giving a few final thoughts on the past three weeks of unadulterated pleasure.  First, the Tour beautifully showcases the splendours of France and each day I find myself making notes on places I’d like to visit. No wonder it’s the most visited place on this earth. Frankly, I never, ever want to live anywhere else.

Chapeau to every rider who finished the Tour, you’re all winners in my book. My special commiserations go to all those who for various ills and injuries didn’t finish in Paris. In particular, Jens Voigt and Kenny van Hummel, two guys whose combative and courageous qualities would get them places on my cycling team any day, fantasy or otherwise.

Contador confounded no one by winning his 2nd Tour de France and 4th Grand Tour. His composure and comportment throughout were beyond reproach. While only one guy can adorn the top step sporting the yellow jersey, it’s generally thanks to the efforts of his team mates: well, possibly not this time, with the exception of the TTT. No, his team mates’ efforts, and indeed those of Contador himself on the penultimate stage, ensured that Lance made the bottom rung of the podium. Bruyneel didn’t achieve the 1-2-3 he was looking for and while he might blame Contador, I, and many others, feel the blame lies much, much closer to home.  

The best British result ever: 6 stage wins for Cav, the fastest sprinter, bar none, and 4th place on GC for Wiggo. This surely confers bragging rights down at my cycling club. Though I admit the French too had a pretty cool Tour: 3 stage wins; a French team with the yellow jersey for a significant part of the Tour; promising, emerging French talent in their inaugural Tours; and 4 seasoned, French pros in the top 20 on GC. Of course, for some teams, things just didn’t work out the way they hoped, but that’s life.

I was much amused that for every day Franco Pellizotti spent in the spotted

Spots galore
Spots galore

 jersey, so the spots spread. Not just his shirt and shorts but shoes (surely a step too far), socks, glasses, gloves, bike, monitor but not his helmet. Why not? Liquigas, could you not have sprung for a helmet? I note that, on the final day, the spotted shoes were replaced with red ones (much better) to reflect he had also won the overall “most combative”.