Archive for July, 2012

Reflections on the Tour 2012

July 27, 2012 2 comments

Tour 2012

So the Tour is over, and I am back on this blog, the year round one. Feels a bit of relief, the pressure of writing something every single day for the Tour is always a bit stressful. I get into the habit of missing events, not reading a book, a routine that is both a pleasure and pitiless. Not the usual timetable for a retired guy, who “should “ be free to to whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Hah! But I thought I might share a few reflections on the Tour for those of you who never followed me over to the Tour Blog. Nothing well worked, just thoughts.

First, “my favourite moment”, and it only lasted a a moment. It was in fact the Cavendish win on the second stage. Nothing gave me a bigger buzz for the rest of the Tour. There were some quite emotional moments, I am a bit of a British person, and I did like a British guy winning. But that overall winning was more a process than a moment. Wiggins is a rider who I like. That means very little since I have never met him, don’t know his family or his friends, never been Ecclestone, and it is totally unlikely that I will ever know about his world. Or him. What that usually means is that I like his interviews. I like to listen to them, I like his expressions. For a cyclist he is way more interesting than most. Most riders, of course, never get interviewed, so me liking Wiggins among other cyclists who have never been interviewed is really a silly notion. But I do like the fellow. And of course, he is also the winner of the biggest race on earth.

But the Cavendish win was what I like about professional cycle racing, on TV. It is, after all mostly on TV, with slow motion replays and in comfort, that I see the Tour. I would have completely missed my favourite moment, if I were watching live. Cav is often part of a “lead out train”. That means as many as five or six teammates, who get in a line, like a train, and ride as fast as they can for the last few ks of the race. Cav is last in line. One drops off when he is done, and the others keep going. They are trying to make sure that Cav can relax, not have to fight for position, be protected from the wind, make sure there are no cyclists ahead of him because no other train is faster, and then Cav pops out behind the last remaining teammate, continues to go even faster, and wins the stage. This is a work of extreme teamwork, high fitness, pre-planned order of riders, knowing exactly where Cav will finally pop out, a model of planning and fitness. The feel of it is a bit like the the way Sky rode for Wiggins in the mountains, but in a sprint. Like the sprint on the Champs Elysée. Second Stage Sprint.

The second stage sprint was the opposite, a kind of sprint which people once said Cav could not do. This style of sprint is one where the Cav is more or less left to fend for himself. Granted, one or two guys help him get somewhere near the front of the peloton a kilometre or two from the end. In this video you can see Wiggins (black Sky shirt) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (white Norwegian champ shirt), with their yellow helmets, just riding in with the group, not really doing anything to win. But they are also not helping Cav, he is doing it by himself. He can ride fast enough and accelerate well enough to sit behind the wheel (protected from wind) of another train or another rider. Then a bit of acceleration, and another few seconds behind someone else, then a bit of weaving and bobbing and he is near the front. At the beginning of the replay he is quite far back, yellow hat, white jersey with rainbow stripes. In fact, you can see EBH and Wiggo better than him. If you really are interested, I suggest viewing it five or six times. If not, you will miss something. A sublime sprint, one guy riding through and past everyone.

Actually the sprint in Stage 18, which Cav also won, was another example of stealth, and then a totally explosive sprint. Not just helped to the front a bit, but the way he creeps out of nowhere, and then explodes past the last riders.

However, there were other moments and riders who impressed. One of my favourites was the young French rider Thibaut Pinot. I had spotted him last year, and had picked him to win races in Fantasy Leagues long before the Tour. But to be honest, I didn’t know he had such overall class. He showed signs of being more than competent at time trialling. I was very impressed with him riding on his own, and also keeping up with the big names in the mountains, when he did that. It is really not that common for a first year climber to win one stage and finishes tenth. Although Rolland almost did that last year, and did better this year. It was interesting to watch the “sports fans” and so forth get interested too. So now any French person, male of female, can support riders. Voeckler, Rolland, the various old timers (Chavanel, Fedrigo, R. Feillu, Pineau). I would like to think Thibaut Pinot is the next great hope of France. Hope he can handle the pressure. Or better yet, that he really is good enough.

In fact, overall, regardless of who won stages, I think there is a generation of French riders of all sorts, that are coming through. These include some excellent, very young sprinters who were not even at the Tour. And these new guys could well be clean. So hopes “all of France”. A youth I know has just sold his downhill cross bike and bought a road bike. He got bitten by the Tour and road bikes last year.

Other dominating theme for me was the total domination of Sky. I thought about it a lot throughout the Tour. Alternately amazed. Suspicious. Upset and interested in what money can buy. Nice jersey though. Watching the new methods (like having lots of money) come in and the old take a hit. Basically everything they do will be imitated. Already many of the young riders on other teams are “warming down” on a home trainer, as from this year when Bradley did it. The management planned it out, they found the riders, they trained them up, they gave them all iPhones and cool bikes, whatever. They did a serious professional job. In a totally commodified world. Many other riders and managers were very suspicious of this new change (even declaring it was not change and everyone was already doing that. And they saw Sky behaviour as unseemly bragging. There were articles discussing whether they were the most hated team in the peloton. However, Sky said we have the methods. We have the plan. And then, to the totally annoyance of all doubters, they won the Tour with Bradley inside three years. They even had another guy on the team who might have won it over everyone else, since he finished second. Such an excellent plan, one that worked of course. I assume everyone is clean. I think they did a very good job. But I somehow doubt they can hold the guys together. Cav should be going soon. He wants to not be ignored during a Tour. Maybe Froome. He wants to try and win the Tour. But to be honest, I doubt if there are any English speaking riders in the world who would not mind a year or two at Sky. They pay well, the conditions are good, and they can produce a winner of the Tour, given a certain caliber of rider, like Bradley. Nobody could even put a dent in the Sky plan.

Not all that much talk or action about drugs, I liked that. Di Gregorio bundled off and busted. And some strange stories before the Tour that didn’t make much sense. Very tolerable.

There were the guys who we knew about, but the average sports fan did not. They blossomed in the Tour. Sagan for one. Well, in fact, if it were only Sagan who blossomed, it would be a good year for blossoming. No one has any idea how much and what he can win. What he did was very marking. Very. Tony Gallopin too. He was mightily impressive for quite some time. He was just a team-mate, but he was doing really well, climbing remarkably well for a rider I thought was a sprinter-rouleur.

Rolland and Voeckler confirmed that each of them can win a stage in any Tour, and they did it again. Or if they tried either of them could pick up the mountains jersey and finish in the top ten, which they didn’t quite do, but almost. I like them both, but fear Rolland is going to not mature very well. Good body, wrong attitude. But of course, I am just a sports fan, and don’t even know either of those guys.

Greipel was good to see winning. Nibali was very good, showed some attacking tendencies even if they were hopeless against Sky. Froome was very good indeed, even provided a little gossip when he got too frisky. I liked how Zubeldia managed to do quite well without ever doing anything whatever of any notice. That’s hard, but someone does it every year. Cadel had a bad Tour, but that story lent a bit of interest.

And a very quick mention of Tejay van Garderen, who really did show that there are young Americans with big hopes and the skills to match. Not forgetting Taylor Phinney, although more for one day races than stage races. Then there is this guy who hasn’t done the Tour yet, Nairo Quintana, “The Return of the Colombians”. So there is enough new blood, and even missing older guys (Schleck, Contador) who can come back, that we can look forward to next year. With the Tour, as soon as one is over, you are looking forward to the next year.

I would say this was an slightly better than average Tour. Because Bradley and Sky won so much, it took a bit of edge of it. It was way above average for anyone who is British, and cares about cycling. They say next year it will be hillier. In any case, it had some damn fine racing moments. Enough.

Back to the regular stuff of the blog. I read lots of cycling blogs, and might write about that subject one day. There are some good writers out there, writing about cycling.