Thursday, July 17, 2008

Stage 12 - Thursday, July 17: Lavelanet - Narbonne, 168.5km

I'm not going to talk about the Ricco thing here, I'll do it over at Wannabe, mostly because I have some things to say and I don't want them to taint my thoughts on the stage. I will say just one thing, Ricco being dismissed and Saunier Duval-Scott leaving the tour meant that Gerolsteiner's Sebastian Lang moved into first place in the KOM competition. This makes me very happy.

As for the stage itself? Sometimes it felt like there was nothing going on, but that was not the case. The peloton was probably in a slight state of disarray, but it ended up working out in their favor. How? It allowed two (eventually three) riders to breakaway and that gave the peloton the ability to relax a bit and sort themselves out. And since the Tour was going through some truly beautiful country (though this is almost always true for bike racing) so it wasn't a big deal -- plus, my parents were here so we spent a lot of time talking while the race was going on.

Here are things that didn't change on the stage: the yellow is still Evans' (sigh) and Freire still has the green jersey. The young rider jersey that Ricco wore moved to, ironically, Liquigas' Vincenzo Nibali. I was hoping it would be the younger Schleck brother or Thomas Lövkvist, but that was not the case. One last note before I talk about the sprint finish. The most aggressive rider was FDJ's Arnaud Gérard, the boy I said I'd cheer for if the break lasted (even though we knew it was doomed).

Now, how about that sprint?

It was, in all honesty, pretty damn awesome. Before I even go into any detail, I'm going to state that I was cheering for Thor (because I like him and because he's on my fantasy team), Mark Cavendish, and (on the off chance ...) Sebastian Chavanel. Now that that's out of the way, let's get onto why I loved this sprint so much.

First off, it started really early, there was no fast paced scramble of domestics right before the finish line. Instead, there were trains. Actual, visual team-loaded trains. There was Milram for Zabel, Quickstep for Steegmans, Credit Agricole for Thor and, of course, Columbia for Mark Cavendish. I was shouting pretty loudly, just as my parents who were watching (amused) with me.

I really thought that Columbia had gone too soon, especially at the roundabout when half the peloton went the other way and lost places and time. But somehow everyone was brought back together and the trains began attacking each other. Milram, I though, they're strong. And then it was QS. I never really thought CA had much of a chance, but Mark Renshaw was powering his way for Thor. But, in the end, after Columbia had done their work, Mark took over. He sat behind two QS riders (at which point I yelled something like 'LET THEM LEAD YOU TO THE FINISH, MARK'). But that, of course, wasn't going to last. And then things got dicey.

We had a overhead shot, and then a front shot and it was all mixed up and you couldn't tell who was who and which riders were attacking and then suddenly, you knew. Mark just roared to life and launched himself perfectly (there's no other word for it) to and then across the line. He beat everyone in a style that is uniquely his. But, even more exciting (to me) was that second place finish. Here, I'll spell it out for you.
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia 3.40.52 (45.77 km/h)
2 Sébastien Chavanel (Fra) Française des Jeux
3 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Quick Step
4 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram
5 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank
6 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Liquigas
7 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole
8 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone
9 Julian Dean (NZl) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30
10 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Gerolsteiner
Yes, that's Sylvain's little brother. How awesome is that? I believe it was the Eurosport commentators who said that Sebastian, given 10 more meters, would have won the stage. And they are right. He was on fire and I really, really hope he can mix it up in the next bunch sprint. I think it would be great for France, FDJ and, well, fans who like cyclists that never give up. And then Cavendish gave the cutest interview ever to the Versus guy and was so adorable about the Green jersey and ... It's obvious that he's the real thing. I hope he wins more stages (and not just Tour ones) and his events in the Olympics.

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