Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 24, Stage 21: Créteil - Paris Champs-Élysées 160 km

My initial reaction to this stage finishing was thank god this shit's over. And, well, that still stands, but after an hour or so, I think I'm better equipped to talk about it now.

So, where to begin. I guess the stage first. I don't like the ceremonial start up to the final stage. I really want the final stage to be an actual race and I'd really prefer that the TDF folks would bring back the ITT as the final stage. I want to see a real race, but I know that'll never happy. I should just suck it up and deal, but I find it hard.

My biggest complaint about the race was the fact that it's been ridiculously predictable and this stage was no different. The worst part, though, was that the racing seemed to start too late and no one attacked hard enough to make a dent. Ben Swift tried, but in the end it was the HTC train that ruled the day. Like I said on twitter, I'd like to see Cavendish consistently win some stages without the train helping him out. None of the other sprinters have the luxury of bring cyclists to the tour for the sole purpose of being a lead out train. I know that people really like, but I'm totally over it. Maybe if HTC disappears, we'll find out just how good Cavendish is when his team gets split apart.

Moving on. Predictable stage was predictable with Cavendish winning the final sprint without having to put forth any effort. It was definitely an anti-climatic finish to a rather crappy race. Perhaps if I liked the GC folks, my feelings would be different. Or maybe if Sylvain (or other riders I actually liked) won stages, I wouldn't be so bitter, but that's not the case. I muted all of the formalities at the finish (including interviews, because I just don't care what Cadel or the Schlecks have to say). I did unmute for Jeremy Roy's presentation of the most combative rider. I like him and FDJ, for the most part, and it was nice to see them finally rewarded.

As for the race as a whole? Not very impressive. I'm not talking about individual performances or stage results (though those weren't too interesting, depending on the stage). I'm talking about the race as a whole. I was really excited for this tour, which surprised me, but I should've realized what it meant -- that this tour would suck for me. I know people are happy (especially Australian fans) but it's hard when the people you're cheering for never seem to win and everyone you don't like wins.

I don't know if I can do this again next year. It takes a lot out of me to care so much only to have everything I like/support destroyed right in front of me (twitter, I'm looking at you). It used to be easier to ignore the GC, but now because of twitter, everyone's crazy and nasty about all sorts of crap and it sucks. Hopefully all of this BS will die down now that the race is over. And, honestly, maybe next year will be better. Perhaps Cadel, the Schlecks and Contador won't be there and then we can have an actual race.

Until next year (maybe), I suppose. I hope you enjoyed the TDF better than I did.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

July 23, Stage 20: Grenoble (ITT) 41 km

OH HEY. I finally got what I wanted, but it almost didn't happen. And, to be frank, I was ready to root for something bad (not crashing, but you know what I mean) to happen to Evans. Because, to be honest, the only thing that could salvage this Tour for me was Tony Martin winning (and even then, that's not enough). But at least I got a stage win for someone I liked before this TDF. Tony's the best at time trials, I don't care what other people say, no one rides like he does. He's solid, he's strong and he's so fucking good that you'd have to move Earth to stop him.

And lord, how Evans tried. If you've been following me on twitter, you probably know that I don't like Cadel Evans. I'm sure he's a nice guy, but I never wanted him to win the Tour. I don't care if he's always coming in second or whatever, that doesn't mean anything. He annoys me, I don't like him and I don't want him to win. But I was especially against him because he was trying to win this fucking time trial and I just wasn't having any of it. It's not that I think Evans wouldn't have earned the win or that I thought Tony deserved to win, it's that sports are extremely personal to me and if you fuck with an athlete I love, then I'm not going to forgive you ever (or mostly ever, exceptions exist).

Luckily I can just be annoyed that Evans' in yellow instead of hating him for beating Tony. But let's talk about Evans. He was a man who knew what he needed to do and he knew (don't tell me he didn't) that he was going to win this whole damn thing today. He knew, because he's not stupid, that the Schlecks -- neither them -- were a match for him. I know that there were some who thought that Evans was too confident, but I think that in this case he was the right amount of confident. It doesn't work on everyone, but there was no way he wasn't going to ride into Paris in yellow. As much as I dislike him, I do like the fact that the yellow jersey switched hands three times in the last four days of the TDF. I just wish it'd changed hands a lot more frequently throughout the whole TDF. As much as people want to tell me that this was a race or the best Tour in ages, I just don't buy it. You give me a TDF where the jersey changes hands 15 times, or even 10, then I will grant you that the Tour's something special. We just haven't seen it yet (if ever).

Voeckler lost a shit load of time and finished fourth overall, which was totally not unexpected. Contador did his best, but it wasn't his year (too much pressure), which was sad (for me). Basso, Cunego and Sanchez were never any sort of threats. And then we have the Schlecks. Again, this too was inevitable. I don't care if they train constantly for time trials, there wasn't anyway they were going to walk away with one of them on the top of the podium. If Andy Schleck was going to win the TDF, it was going to be this year -- and he was never going to do it. Chalk it up to his inability to handle the pressure, the fact that he can't time trial, the fact that he can't do much without his brother, the fact that Leopard Trek's tactics are weird (at  best), or to the fact that he's just not good enough -- he's never going to win a TDF unless the conditions are right. And unless (until) he's up against someone who time trials as badly as he does -- he doesn't stand a chance (unless he gets a TDF suited to him).

Tomorrow is the final stage of the TDF and I cannot wait until it's over. I always find the last stage a pain in the ass. I don't care about the celebration, the champagne, or the photographs. What I wish is that the final stage was a race. Sure, once they hit the Champs-Élysées it becomes fun, but up until that point it's a waste of time. I really wish that the final stage was a true race -- that the yellow jersey was fought over until the very last second of the race. But we don't live in a perfect world and tomorrow will be just like every other year in recent memory (or at least since I've been watching).

Since both Hushovd and Boasson Hagen raced today (and Edvald came so close to being amazing), I want one of them to win the stage tomorrow. If not them, then Sylvain. If not Sylvain, then there are few others. I don't want the Green jersey to matter, I don't want that to be battled out. And I really, really don't want Cav to win the final stage. Of course, he will and I will have wasted July, but such is the risk one runs being a fan of cycling. I may sound bitter, and maybe I am, but this was not a good tour for me as a fan. I've been lucky, in the past few years, it had to end at some point and I guess 2011 was that time.

One more post, tomorrow, and then it's over for another year. I can't wait.

Friday, July 22, 2011

July 22, Stage 19: Modane - Alpe-d’Huez 109 km

I don't really want to write about this stage and I'm not sure I know how. It was a stage, just like lots of  others. Stuff happened, much of it didn't go the way I hoped, but that's the way sporting events go. You win some, you lose some. But at the time I would've been thinking about writing this stage, I found out about the bombings in Oslo and all thoughts of writing about the stage vanished. And then I had to watch the stage (which screwed up taping and so I watched half on Versus and half on a Eurosport d/l), which didn't grab me, no matter how hard I tried. And I was fighting with my internet (thanks for nothing, Comcast) and so I just didn't care that Pierre Rolland won the stage. I didn't care that Andy Schleck was in yellow. I just didn't care.

And the more I thought about it, the more I knew what would happen on Stage 20. Even though I hadn't finished watching the stage, I knew who would win this Tour and as happy as Leopard Trek/the Schlecks were, I knew it wasn't going to last. When things are predictable (and they have been, on this Tour, just like all the previous ones), there's just no excitement left. Perhaps I'm missing something, maybe I've stopped liking cycling the way I used to (but not the way I should -- because there's no wrong way). But Alpe-d’Huez did what it was supposed to do and gave us a winner.

About the stage itself, not my hindsight, let's just say that Pierre Rolland's win was, er. It was a win, I guess? Good for him and good for Europcar getting something at the end of this Tour (barring a disaster for Rolland). I mean, Thomas Voeckler again loses everything and rides into Paris empty handed. I'm glad that I don't care about him/his team anymore. That's a lot of heartbreak that I just don't need in my fandom life. That's not to say that Voeckler and Rolland didn't bust their asses, because they did (they just had help, clearly). And it's not to say that they didn't earn the jerseys and the win, but there was never any way that Voeckler was going to wear the yellow jersey into Paris.

As for Andy Schleck? The only person he had to beat was Voeckler and he just had to gain 15 seconds. In the scheme of the TDF, that's not hard nor a lot. In the stage itself, it was both. Funny how that works. Schleck did it and he ended the day in yellow, which was inevitable. I know, I suggested that it would Cadel in yellow (and hindsight makes me wish he had), because that's what he wanted, but it didn't really work out that way (which seemed to be the best for Evans in the end). A little bit of me was amused to see Andy Schleck in yellow -- but with the ITT on Saturday, there was absolutely no way that he was going to win the whole thing. No matter how much his time trialling had improved, Evans wasn't going to let this get away from. 57 seconds separate Cadel (in 3rd) and Andy ( in yellow) at the end of the day. It was nothing

The thing that bugged me, though, that made me kind of annoyed, was that I actually cared about Contador. I mean, yes, he's a doper and probably shouldn't be racing (but they're all dopers, so maybe that's less important than it could be), but at the same time, the amount of anti-Contador I've seen totally outweighs all the other anti-Evans (does that exist?) and anti-Schlecks (it comes and goes). And because I'm who I am and I hate winners (winning is for losers) and the underdog (even when he shouldn't be), I couldn't help but want Contador to do well. And he tried. Fuck, he tried so hard and he just couldn't do it and it broke my heart just a little bit. Which is weird, but there you go.

Unrelated to the GC: Sylvain finished 39th on this stage, which was fuck yeah awesome. I'm so proud of him for making it the whole way with his shoulder issues. I love that dude, he is my favorite and the rest of them can suck it (or not, but you know what I mean). And, okay, so the time cut thing. I'm sorry, but people have got to grow up. As hilarious as it would be to see 87 (or whatever) riders kicked out of the tour for failing to keep up make it to the finish in time, it was never going to happen. It's not like the rule didn't exist, it's not like it wasn't there for a reason. And as for the points punishment? You cannot play favorites. Mark Cavendish deserved all the points deducted just as much as the last dude in the gruppetto. And for all the bitching and whining, they knew how hard it was going to be. Yesterday and today's stage were hard and perhaps the Tour ended up being harder than expected with all the crashes -- but the route never changed and it's not the race's fault that the gruppetto was too slow. The TDF folks did what they had to do -- not because the Green jersey was in there or because of the French RR jersey (fuck you for saying so) or because of who else was in the autobus. They did it because the rules allowed them to and there are consequences to actions and if you can't make it in fast enough, you either get cut or you lose points.

The time trial will decide the TDF, just as everyone expected. Because this Tour is nothing if not predictable (I know people don't agree, but when you can only pick from three or four dudes as to who is going to win it -- that's predictable). I want Tony Martin to win the stage and that's that.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

July 21, Stage 18: Pinerolo - Galibier Serre-Chevalier 189 km

Maybe I'm getting tired of the Tour, but I have to admit that I don't understand where all the excitement about today's stage came from. Sure, maybe we've finally got a race, but it's certainly not interesting and entirely predictable. I know what you're thinking, but what about Thomas Voeckler? He did it before, you know. He struggled up a mountain and kept the yellow jersey by a matter of seconds back in 2004. So, honestly, while it was a surprise that he kept up, it wasn't like this was the first time he'd done something like this.

What's more interesting/bizarre to me is the fact that he and his teammate(s) are even up there at all. He's never been a strong climber or descender -- decent at best -- and yet here he is, keeping up with Cadel Evans' attack. I swear he almost considered going off after Andy Schleck, but wisely decided not to waste his energy. The back of the yellow jersey group was shedding riders like, well, something that sheds a lot and yet Voeckler was clinging on to Evans' back wheel for most of the climb. I'm hesitate to call him a wheel sucker, because if he'd had the energy, I'm sure he would've pulled, it's what you do. I'm a bit annoyed that Evans didn't ask anyone to help, but at the same time, he may have known it was frivolous and a waste of energy to ask when no one was going to be able to. But that's not the point.

The point is that I'm supposed to be impressed with Voeckler and I suppose I am, in the same way I'm impressed with Cavendish that day he finished only a few places behind Andy Schleck. Which is to say I'm impressed, but there's a little asterisk next to it signifying that, well, I'm not convinced. And, speaking of Andy Schleck. Yesterday he was dropped and day he zooms ahead like it's nothing and we all remember the last time someone attack like Andy did today. Not that I'm saying he'll test positive or anything, but at the same time it's kind of amusing. 

That's not to say that the only reason I didn't enjoy this stage was because, oh noes, these dudes might be doping. In fact, that's only secondary to the fact that, to be honest, nothing happened. A good friend of mine and cycling fan mentioned to me in an email that perhaps the cyclists are riding scared. Not, like, terrified kind of scared, but with all the crashes this TDF and Wouter's death, they're not taking risks. That makes a lot of sense, more than most other theories people are throwing around. It's not that I think we're seeing a new era of cycling, mostly that it's an unconscious thing and that, in the end, results in more crashes, not fewer ones.

What did I want out of this stage? Not a Schleck win, but that, too, was predictable. I wanted a breakaway winner. I want the days of people attacking for KOM points. I want cyclists who aren't afraid to leave it all on the road. Sure, that's kind of what we have in Voeckler, but as someone on twitter (I think) said, he's riding completely beyond himself. I suppose that's something to be admired and I hope it doesn't backfire, as it's wont to do -- I mean, some good things are too good to be true. But at the same time, I want the real folks who are going after the GC to at least attempt to attack. I guess Schleck was a start, but I don't see it. I can't figure out if he wants to win or not. He tries, but not hard enough and there's nothing about him that shouts I'm a winner. Say all the crap about Armstrong that you want (and I do), but he wanted it and he wanted it bad. The current crop of GC contenders don't seem to have that fire. Sure, Armstrong basically had his tours handed to him near the end of his career, but occasionally he still had a little fire in him. I don't see that, not in any of these guys.

Who does have that fire? People like Sylvain Chavanel (I'm biased), some of these Wiggins-free Sky riders. Boys from FDJ and even a few of the carrots. Hell, even Cavendish has more fire than most GC contenders! Perhaps I'm too cynical (I don't think so), but if there is a new era of cycling, it's full of apathetic boys who want us to think they care, but can't be bothered to show it. It's not the gruppetto guys, they seem to care. It's just the GC. Maybe they'll prove me wrong tomorrow and will have attack after attack, but I'm not holding out hope. At this point I just want the Tour to be over so I can stop caring about these guys.

Tomorrow isn't the queen stage, that was today (and what a joke it was). Tomorrow is a huge stage, it's got Alpe d'Huez waiting for the boys and if that can't motivate them, then nothing will. My prediction is that Cadel Evans will take the yellow jersey from Voeckler and wear it into Paris. I don't want that, but at this point it's the least annoying option and it's really, really annoying. Voeckler has hung on with the big boys far long than he should, but tomorrow's stage will be one stage too far. My hope is for a breakaway that smashes everyone and we have a winner, preferably French and from a team without a win. I don't hold out much hope, but you never know. This tour has been made for disappointment as much as for excitement.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July 20, Stage 17: Gap - Pinerolo 179 km

I did not get to see most of the this stage for various reasons, but I eventually watched my tape of the end of the stage. I thought, maybe because I couldn't watch, that because Sylvain was in the stage, this was going to be his day. Unfortunately it was not to be. Before I started watching my tape, I already knew the result (I looked/cheated/whatever) and so I knew that Edvald and not Sylvain had won. What I didn't know, until I saw some quotes and then the stage, was that Sylvain gave it a really good go. It seems he really wanted to win the stage and maybe thought that he could, but damn you, Team Sky.

This is from the QS website:

Chavanel came in 5th at 50 seconds of the Norwegian winner. "Today I really thought I could give the team the first victory in the Tour. In the break we collaborated really well. When De Weert attacked behind me I stopped collaborating as actively, hoping he could get back in. During the break I saw that Boasson Hagen was checking me out; I knew he was the strongest rider. Personally I gave it all I had. It was nice to spend a stage in the lead. This was probably my last chance in this Tour. After a few really hard days in the last stages I’ve really improved. I’m going to try to be useful to De Weert in the next stages."
Sylvain saying that this was probably his "last chance in this Tour" makes me super sad. I mean, this is right, the rest of the mountains are not the kind he likes (yikes, really). But a girl can dream, right? It's like he's finally feeling well enough to attack more and it's too late. I mean, if he hadn't crashed, he'd probably have one a stage or two, but the RR champion jersey seemed to be more of a curse than anything else, at least for Sylvain. But there's still a whole half a season left for him to race, so you never know what'll happen. His Tour might be over, but there will be other races, just not the TDF.

As for the stage winner? It's totally impossible to hate him. I mean, this was clearly a revenge sort of thing after what happened with Thor on yesterday's stage. And even though I'm totally annoyed that it wasn't Sylvain winning, it's hard to be too pissed when you see how happy Edvald was to win and how much it clearly meant to him. You can't compare a French win with a Norwegian, but it doesn't matter because they're both wins no matter what. Maybe next year, Sylvain. And hopefully we'll see loads more of Edvald.

The GC was kind of hilarious amusing. There were a few crashes by a non-GC rider and Voeckler also ended up the car pack, but he didn't let that stop him. He just kept on riding. There were a few attacks and for a bit it seemed like Contador had gotten away. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you ask), the attacks failed to accomplish anything on the "big boys" as P&P call them. The group, as a whole, gained 25 seconds on Voeckler, but it wasn't nearly enough to take the yellow jersey. At this point, I can see one of two things happening -- the first that Voeckler manages to hold onto the jersey through the mountains because the attacks fail or GC riders can't hack the mountains and then loses it on the ITT on Saturday. The second is that Voeckler loses the jersey early in either tomorrow or Friday's stage -- either one is as likely as the other. I think the latter is the more likely scenario, but you never know with Voeckler -- or this Tour.

Tomorrow is the scary as hell Galibier stage and means that there are only four (!) stages left. Where has this Tour gone, seriously. I can't believe it's almost over. During that first week it felt like we'd been following the Tour for months. At least the crashes seemed to have stopped -- the worst ones, that is. Anyway, hopefully we'll see a proper battle on our hands and someone, not Voeckler, will end the day in yellow. But as I've seen before, in this and previous posts, with this Tour one never knows. If we're lucky, though, tomorrow will give us a chance to see what these guys are really made of -- if they have anything left.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July 19, Stage 16: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux - Gap 163 km

I was hoping this would be a good stage and in a lot of ways it was. The result wasn't quite what I wanted, but it's nice to see a breakaway managing to stick it out. I'd hoped, futility it seems, that one of the guys I was rooting for would win, alas, it was not to be. As soon as people saw that Thor was in the break, it seemed like there wasn't a chance that anyone else could win. And, well, apparently it's inevitable because Thor did, in fact, win.

Briefly, I thought made it was Norway against Canada, until the very end when I realized that it was Garmin-Cervelo and not Norway that was binding people together. It meant that Ryder Hesjedal and Thor were working together to, well, totally screw over Edvald Boasson Hagen. To be honest, it was kind of fun to see, even if it wasn't the result that I wanted.

The break had a couple of people I liked, including the Quick Step rider, Dries Devenyns as well as the rider I really wanted to win, Tony Martin. According to someone I follow on twitter (he's German), Tony's been nursing a cold, which meant he's not at his best. It also means that his fourth place was well earned, especially in the shitty weather. I was happy to see him finish so close to the winners because we hadn't heard anything once the break split apart.

One thing that made me sad about this stage was that ideally, with the mountains and weather, it could've been a stage that Sylvain might've won. But this isn't his year. I really hope that next year'll be better for him. Hell, the rest of the season, too. He's due to get back into form around the time of the world championships. Though of Thor's still in form, we might see him in the rainbow jersey yet again. But enough digression.

Thor's win wasn't the only thing going on. Unlike Sunday, we actually had some real action. It seems everyone was expecting a move by Contador and he didn't disappoint, which was actually quite nice. What I didn't expect was that a small group couldn't keep up with him. Voeckler wasn't going to, but Frank Schleck? Basso? Totally couldn't keep up. And Andy Schleck? Well, he's really missed his chance to win the TDF. And his excuses for getting dropped were ridiculous. But such is the way with the Schlecks. Who did stay with Contador? Sanchez (of the carrots) and Cadel Evans.

And, in the end, it was Evans who really made the effort. Which is kind of a shocker because attacks aren't his thing, he's known, at least to cycling fans, as a wheel sucker. A lot of people are saying, in various places, that Evans can't win it or he doesn't have the strength to win. But I don't know. He's only hampered by the strength of his opponents. Of course, much will depend on what happens on tomorrow's stage, along with that ITT. We know the Schlecks are bad at time trials, or at least not that great. But the same can't be said for Contador, he's not the best in the world, but if things work out right, it could be Contador versus Evans.

The next two stages are the real deal, followed by Alpe-d’Huez on Friday. I think that a lot can happen in these stages. Depending on how the GC folks are feeling, Voeckler could be spit out the back and finally lose the yellow jersey -- or nothing will happen and he rides into Saturday's ITT with the yellow on his back, only to lose it. I think the latter is unlikely, but as all things have gone this tour -- we never know. While I believe that Andy Schleck has ridden himself out of the yellow jersey competition, you never know. If he has a good day and those in front of him have bad ones, you never know. We almost have a real race on our hands. Let's hope this keeps up.

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18, Rest Day 2

The Good: 

1) Sylvain Chavanel:
He never gives up. I don't know if it's good for him, but he keeps going. I keep expecting him to DNF at some point, or even DNS. But he doesn't. Instead, he just keeps going, attacking when he can. I love this about him, even as I worry. I hope he makes it to Paris.

2) Geraint Thomas:
I'm still annoyed at the whole Brad Wiggins debacle that lost Geraint the white jersey, but I'm happy to see him attacking and attacking. I also appreciate his attempts at a lead out for Ben and/or Edvald. It doesn't usually work, but the one time it did was nice. I just hope that he (and Sky) keep attacking, especially now that the white jersey's back on their shoulders.

3) Andre Greipel:
The day after the first rest day ended up being awesome because of this dude. With all the Lotto drama (which I find amusing) and the leftover Cav vs. Greipel war of words, it was nice to see Cav put in his place. What I didn't like were Cav's excuses. What I did like was Andre's win. I just wish he could do it again.

4) Breaks:
They've been good this year, even when they haven't lasted. I like to see guys attacking even when they haven't got a chance. I know that often drives people crazy, but I don't care. Effort is sometimes more important/interesting than a win.

5) FDJ:
Gotta give this team credit, they work their asses off in the breaks. They might not have any GC folks, they might not be as strong as they used to be, but they never give up, either. It was good to see two of their riders in jerseys, even if it was only briefly. Hopefully they'll get a few stage wins before the week is out.

The Bad:

6) Crashes:
There haven't been as many, but they don't seem to be stopping. The aftermath of the ones from the previous weeks have been what's really impacted the peloton. I can't believe that Hoogerland is still racing (and attacking). We've also seen some DNFs from guys who just couldn't keep going, like Kloden. It's always sad when a rider has to leave, even if they're on a team I don't like. 

7) The Schlecks:
I don't know what's going through their minds and I don't want to know. It doesn't seem to make any sense. I don't know why they don't attack. I don't know why Frank can't just leave Andy behind, if he's stronger or the reverse. If the Schlecks never win a TDF it's because they can't grow up and leave the other behind. If they do win, it's not because of something they did.

8) Mark Cavendish/HTC:
I know people love him/them. And yes, I'll grant you that I like a few of their riders. But I am so over the HTC train. It's boring (stop me if you've heard this one before), boring, and more boring. It destroys whatever fun/interest a sprint finish might hold. I get it, he's faster and he wants the green jersey. Great. Now shut up and go away. It's much more interesting when there's an actual race at the end, instead of Cavendish walks to the finish. 

9) The Mountains:
I expected better. A lot better. And, like last year, it was just a disappointment. It's really kind of embarrassing that this is supposed to showcase the best riders in the world and, er, it's not. Sitting around staring at each other isn't racing. It's being unable to attack. It's fine if you can't get away, but one or two attack doesn't constitute a competition. And if you're going to be jackassery about this not attack BS, then stop ruining the breaks. You could at least just quit racing properly altogether and then someone who's actually putting in some effort might win a stage or two.

10) The GC/Yellow Jersey:
See above. It's great that Thomas Voeckler (if I hear one more person call him Little Thomas Voeckler, I will punch someone) has the jersey through the rest day. It's ridiculous that he's able to stay (for whatever reason) with the real GC contenders. Aside from anything else, this means that no one's trying. I mean, for pete's sake, it's like no one wants to win the race and they're just content to let Voeckler take it to the ITT and then see how that plays out. Obviously Voeckler's not going to win the TDF, because these dudes are supposed to be better than him (in the mountains, the time trials, etc), but if the GC contenders can't be bothered to try, then why are we even having this race?

Supposedly we're supposed to have some proper racing over the next few days, because it's mountains and more mountains, but I'll be honest with you, I don't expect it. I hope to be surprised, but I don't really except anything exciting to happen. I guess we'll find out tomorrow, though.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 17, Stage 15: Limoux - Montpellier 187 km

I'm using this picture of Jelle Vandendert in the KOM jersey for no other reason than I like it. There were no mountains on today's stage. To be honest, there wasn't much of anything going on stage 15, which is never a good thing.

There was a breakaway, that did some work, but it wasn't overly interesting, which was kind of a bummer. Mostly I like flat stages and breaks, but today was one of those exception days. I don't know that anyone liked today's stage, except maybe HTC (bah).

I know some people had talked about the break staying away today, even though it was a flatish stage because everyone was so tired and ready for the rest day tomorrow. Unfortunately for everyone, the sprinter's teams were in the mood to go after the break and so they did. There was some weirdness involving Gilbert, apparently Phil loves his suicide attacks enough to throw them in wherever he sees fit. Sadly, it didn't work and once again he's no closer to the green jersey.

It was the HTC train that dominated this stage. I've staid this before and I'll say it again, I am sick and tired of the train. Either the rest of the sprinters need to get their own trains or ... I don't know. The only thing I can hope is that HTC folds and the riders are spread out onto different teams. It's just not really fun to watch the HTC train leading out Cav every since time. I know, there are Cav fans who like it, but it just doesn't make for good racing at all.

Tomorrow's a rest day, which I'm pretty sure all the cyclists are looking forward to. Tuesday's an uphill stage before everything goes really up up and then up some more. Hopefully we'll have a fun break on Tuesday. It can't be worse than today's stage.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

July 16, Stage 14: Saint-Gaudens - Plateau de Beille 168 km

Arnold Jeannesson and Jeremy Roy
Today's stage was supposed to change things up. I mean, I totally expected that the yellow jersey would finally change hands. I expected one of the contenders, as they're often called, to finally do something and put their stamp on this race. It seems, from what I can tell, this is what everyone else expected, too. This was a mountain stage, a true one, quite nearly badass (but not fully) and hard enough to make something happen. Um, apparently no one but the fans seemed to get that message.

The day started promisingly enough with a large breakaway (I can't remember the last time I saw a 20-man breakaway, so that was nice). They had a good six or seven minutes on the peloton when I turned stuff on around 6:30 am ET. In that group were a few boys I like, including Sylvain and Jerome, but also Linus Gerdemann. Also in the break were David Millar and everyone's favorite German, Jens Voigt. I secretly hoped that maybe, just maybe, the breakaway would last. I was totally mistaken, but not surprisingly so. It's hard to get a good breakaway to both work together and stay away on mountain stages, especially when you have so many riders who may or may not want to pull for whatever reason. And so, of course the breakaway was doomed to failure.

It was nice, though, to see Sylvain attacking. It was also pretty great to see so many FDJ riders giving it their all. Now if only one of them (Jeremy Roy) could win a stage, I'd like that. I'd also like Sylvain to win a stage, but let's be realistic. The conditions, including his shoulder, would have to be perfect and the chances of that happening are pretty remote -- even though we have a week of racing left to go (god, where has the month gone?). But enough of that.

Can we talk about the main GC guys for a second? There's something weird going on with them. I don't mean the Voeckler crap, I'll touch on that later. What I mean is that apparently everyone's completely forgotten how to race. This isn't new, it went on last year and in previous tours, thought not so maddeningly as this (and, of course, it happened in the 80s, I believe, before I started watching). There's been some discussion that this is what happens with a clean tour, but that's bullshit. There's no clean tour -- there won't be and hasn't been, but again, I'll talk about that in the next paragraph or so. Andy Schleck. Frank Schleck. Cadel Evans. Ivan Basso. Alberto Contador. These are your GC contenders, with maybe a few others, but these are your dudes. And, um. Maybe I should be impressed, but for god's sake, ATTACK. I mean, come on. Don't sit on your asses. Don't spend all your time looking at your brother, Andy and Frank. I don't understand what goes on in their minds. I mean, just go for it. You have nothing to lose, but if you don't go, you run the risk of losing everything.

And then we have Voeckler. We've already established why I don't like him and that's fine. This isn't about my liking him or not. What it is about is the fact that people think he's clean. I'm sorry, but what? Are you all blind? You didn't see Voeckler doing this last year. Or the year before. Or even in '04 when he had the jersey the first time. Why? Because he didn't have the power/stamina/etc. Yes, talent and skill, along with experience, has helped him. But seriously, how do you think his team is able to cope? If you think it's something other than doping, you're very, very wrong. But please, seriously, stop acting like you can't believe a clean rider could do what Voeckler's doing, because they can't. I suppose this means that maybe the peloton is evening out and maybe that's a good thing, in spite of doping. But pull your heads out of the sand. You can enjoy his ride, but stop pretending he's clean -- it's okay to be suspicious and still like him, I promise.

Before I talk about tomorrow's stage, a brief shout out for our stage winner, Jelle Vanendert. He made my mom happy by being Belgian and winning. I don't mind, it was cute to see Omega Pharma Lotto's adorable tweet this morning. Also, I hope that Laurens Ten Dam will be able to start tomorrow, because damn, that's badass to keep riding after his accident (luckily he doesn't seem to have done any real major damage -- otherwise I'd be pissed if he'd been allowed to keep riding, but he didn't seem to have a concussion).

Tomorrow's stage will be mostly flat-like, giving the riders a chance to chill out before the rest day on Monday and then the start of the harder mountains on Tuesday. CN says that it won't be a sprinter's day, because everyone's tired from today's stage, but considering the state of the green jersey competition, I wouldn't put anything past them.

Friday, July 15, 2011

July 15, Stage 13: Pau - Lourdes 156 km

I saw most of the stage live before work and I'm currently watching the end of this stage while I write this. I already knew what happened, as my mother filled me in while I was walking to Starbucks, but I have to say it was still kind of a shocker to see it happen. Thor, who is best known as a sprinter and a good classics rider basically lived up to his kit/title as World Champion. He road everyone else off their bikes.

Normally I like rides like this, and to be honest, I enjoyed watching it happen. Except for the fact that I really would've like to see Jeremy Roy win today's stage. But such as cycling goes, this wasn't going to happen. I was bummed, as was Jeremy, clearly. He said in a post-race interview that he'd rather have won the stage than the KOM jersey and, honestly, who can blame him? The jersey is great, but there's nothing (as far as I can tell) like winning a stage of the Tour (unless you want to win the whole thing, of course). Maybe Jeremy'll find another stage that suits him and blow our minds with a win.

Thor was pretty damn impressive. He just buckled down and decided enough was enough was enough and he wanted the stage. It was pretty cool to watch him powering along. He swooped past Moncoutie and just kept going, dragging the Cofidis rider along behind him. They caught and passed poor Roy (though I can't recall if they did it together or separate) and the boy never had a chance. Moncoutie came in second, 10 seconds behind Thor and he was followed by Roy, 26 seconds later. Then things got a bit confusing as the rest of the breakaway straggled in. I'd secretly harbored a bit of hope that Edvald would do something, but that was clearly not going to happen. But it was nice, nonetheless, to see him up there in a breakaway.

It's weird seeing Philippe Gilbert fighting for the green jersey, but he never gives up hope. He got a bit outsmarted during the intermediate sprint, but I imagine as the stages wear on and the true sprinters start falling into the gruppetto, that'll change. Unless, of course, Gilbert can't keep up either, and then who know what'll happen. Especially considering there are only 24 points separating Gilbert and Cavendish (with Rojas in the middle, 13 points behind Cavendish). I hope this race heats up a bit more, but at the moment it's a three way contest with Cavendish potentially running away with it if his luck holds out (ugh).

As for the KOM, we haven't even gotten started on that competition yet. If Roy doesn't have the legs tomorrow, I imagine he won't keep the KOM jersey. Nor do I expect Voeckler to be in the yellow jersey for another day. Of course, I could be wrong and the GC folks might decide to do something tomorrow, but I'm not overly optimistic.

Lastly, Sylvain was present, but ended up going backwards. According to some interviews, he seems to be feeling better, but not really sure he's going to be able to do anything but survive for the rest of this tour. If that's the case, then so be it. There are plenty of races left for him this season and a whole half a season of him in the French RR jersey. And, well, he might even win it again next year. I'll keep my eye on him, though. You never know.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 14, Stage 12: Cugnaux - Luz-Ardiden 209 km

I love a good mountain stage and I love a good mountain stage on Bastille Day. I woke up super early to watch this stage, and that was pretty cool. I wish we could've seen it from the very start, but such is the way of sports. We saw it close enough to the beginning to satisfy all but the greedy in us (me).

It was, not surprisingly, a day of attacks. There was a bigger group, at the start, which lasted for a long while. Included in that group was Geraint Thomas. He was, amusingly, the virtual yellow jersey on the road. I know, some people don't understand the point of that (what are you, new?), but it's fun. Even though we know it won't last (or maybe because it won't), we love talking about it. And hey, if it's someone you like, all the better. It has, of course, on occasion, lasted. Thomas Voeckler's gotten the yellow twice this way, Sylvain as well. And it's happened to others, I'm sure. So, then Harmon got excited about Thomas being virtual yellow, how could you not be a little excited, too?

It was never going to last, of course. But the ride was fun (for the fans, no so much for the boys themselves). After the bigger group, Johnny Hoogerland attacked in predictable fashion. He wanted to keep that KOM jersey, but it wasn't to be. But attacking with him, and sharing in his pain, was my boy Sylvain. I didn't expect him to attack, and every time he got up out of the saddle, all I could think about was how much pain he said he was in when he rode like that. Which, of course, is why he didn't do that so often. They attacked and they attacked hard, but then an Astana rider (Roman Kreuziger) joined them and eventually poor Hoogerland just couldn't hold on. Kreuziger and Sylvain tried hard to catch up to the front group and came very close, but then Kreuziger gave it more gas and Sylvain just couldn't keep up.

I was sad to see him slow and then go backward, but it wasn't a surprise. His attack was, of course, because of his injuries. But I suppose there was never a chance he wouldn't attack, after all there's nothing France likes more than a French winner on Bastille Day. Unfortunately, it wasn't going to be Sylvain's day. He did say, in a post race interview, that he would survive to try another day, but I don't know. I hope he's feeling better, but I don't expect that he really is. My worry is he's making himself worse, but it's up to him, of course (like he'd listen to me, anyway).

France's hope wasn't lost, because Jeremy Roy was also in that breakaway with Geraint Thomas. The two of them road away from the rest of the break, producing the fantastic picture you saw at the start of this post. Alas, it wasn't their day, either. The peloton slowly but surely dragged them back and spit them out the back end. And then the collective world of cycling held their breath -- would anyone attack? Oddly enough the answer was yes. Unlike last year (or was it the year before, these non-attack stages really run together after awhile), both Andy and Frank Schleck attacked! Who knew they had it in them? They weren't particularly effective, in that they didn't drop many people. But at the same time, they did drop their "main" rival, Contador. It looks like he wasn't kidding when he said he wasn't feeling that well.

We should get more attacks tomorrow, but probably the breakaway kind as the Col d'Aubisque isn't supposed to be that bad (ha ha). Would I like Sylvain to try again tomorrow? Of course. Do I expect him to? No. Of course I didn't think he'd attack today, either, but I'm more pessimistic due to his health. I do think that unless Voeckler pulls out another ride (and can his team even do it again, two days in a row?) like he did today, he won't be in yellow. The question is, of course, who will it be. A Schleck? Maybe someone from a break that survives? It all depends on Voeckler and his team.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 13, Stage 11: Blaye-les-Mines - Lavaur 168 km

The lack of crashes seemed to be the most important thing about this stage. Luckily the finish, while wet and messy, wasn't ever going to cause a significant problem for the sprint finish, unless someone lost control of his bike. Since that didn't happen, we were treated to an exciting, though ultimately disappointing, finish.

I've talked before about my like and dislike for sprint lead out trains. Sometimes, I like them. Perhaps it's only when cyclists I like win using them that I can tolerate them, but I'm getting tired of the HTC train. The thing is, no one likes a dominate winner -- except I've begun to discover that's not true. Most people like it when the same guy wins everything. I don't understand this at all. When the same guy wins everything (or most races, or a lot of them in a short period of time) my first reaction isn't "WOO AWESOME!" Instead it's disappointment. It's a feeling of being let down.

Maybe that doesn't make sense to most of you, but I suppose lots of people like Cavendish, so why should you care? The thing is, I used to like him. When he was a pouty little brat who was trying to prove himself. And then he turned into this monster of an asshole. Now, thought, it seems he's matured. You know what? I don't care. I really, really don't. Technically it's not cheating, but it feels like it to me. Because he has a strong lead out train, it means that he has an unfair advantage. I know, HTC fans and Cav fans will be calling for my throat or whatever, but I still don't care. I'm not saying what he's doing is wrong or against any rules, I'm staying it feels like it is. You look at that train and you think, well the rest of them haven't got a chance. Not because Cavendish is better or faster, or even strong, but because he has being like Mark Renshaw who do all the work for him.

But, you know, cycling, like life and all other sports, isn't fair. It's a race, not a spin around the block. It's a competition and one where people use whatever they can to get ahead. And, in Cavendish's case, it seems to work much of the time. It's disappointing, especially when he ends up being in the green jersey (insufferable, god damn it). But it's a race and he has the most points, so into the green jersey he goes. It'll be a test to see if he can keep it to Paris. Not that I don't think he's a good enough sprinter, but because I don't think he's a good enough rider to keep it throughout the mountains. If Philippe Gilbert has a good day or two and can take a few intermediate points, I can believe he'll get that jersey back. I can also see that not working at all.

That's the thing about cycling, it shouldn't be predictable. Sure, you'll get the winner sometimes, but if the same guy keeps winning, that's lame (see: those seven TDF wins). But whatever. I enjoyed the stage, the rain and the break away. I know, people don't like these and I'm sorry the cyclists hate the rain and are stuck with it. But I like the rain, not because of the accidents and crashes, but because I love the way the race looks in the rain. It makes them seem tougher and stronger than most other athletes. It also used to mean that it was a day for a Sylvain attack, he loves that kind of racing, but he's just not doing it this year, understandably.

Nothing else important, aside from the green jersey, changed due to today's stage. But then again, it never was going to. Tomorrow is a mountain stage, the true kind, and maybe we'll see some true competition for the yellow jersey. The green won't be contested, I'm sure. According so some, the real tour begins tomorrow, but that's bullshit. It's a three week tour, not a few days in the mountains, and whoever's telling you that really needs to figure out if they really like cycling or now. I know, I have opinions, but whatever. There's something to like about every stage of every Tour (even though sometimes you have to search hard).

Tomorrow is also Bastille Day, which means that France'll hope for a French winner. I've been told that it could be Sylvain's day, but unless he's feeling better (and it's hard to say), don't expect him in a breakaway. Though you never know and QS has just given him a brand new tricolor bike. I desperately want him to win and cannot wait for tomorrow's stage.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July 12, Stage 10: Aurillac - Carmaux 161 km

Unfortunately, due to a variety of things, I wasn't able to see this whole stage, so this is going to be a slightly shorter stage report than maybe you're used to. Or maybe you don't care. Regardless, I saw the only part that mattered -- the end.

I will comment to say that I'm really, really tired of crashes. Maybe you expect me to cheer because Cancellara (aka a Leppard) finally crashed. But, guess what? I might dislike the guy, but I don't want any cyclist to crash, ever. It doesn't matter what my personal feelings are, I don't like to see anyone suffering.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I want to say that everyone loves a good sprint. Some people may bitch about boring stage races, but if I'm able to, I love watching them. The scenery, the views of the peloton in motion, the thrill of hoping the breakaway lasts while knowing it won't, the straw animals that look like kangaroos on bikes -- they all make the flat stages awesome (but I like the sheep best). There's something comforting, in a way, to watching flat stages. They aren't boring, they're soothing (unless they're crash filled). They show how a well working peloton should, well, flow. So you can understand why I'm always bummed when I can't watch flat stages (or stages in general). But I was luckily enough to be able to see the last few k of the stage.

First off, the front of the peloton sure improved their bike handling skills after the break was caught. The end of the stage was all corners and they handled it without much difficulty, as far as I could tell. But the best part was the sprint finish. I really thought Cavendish had it in the back. His leadout was looking really strong, as per usual, but something happened. I don't know if he briefly got boxed in or what, but out of nowhere came Greipel. Everyone knows about the mess that is Cav vs Andre and, well, I love that kind of thing. And, you know, it was great to be able to yell "suck it, Cav" at the computer screen (well, on twitter), because of all the shit that's gone down between them.

The takeaway is that Greipel won, finally. But not only did he won, but he beat Cavendish, at the Tour de France. And that, my friends, is definitely not a shit small race. Whatever Cav thinks (and I haven't sought any interviews or anything, because I honestly don't care), Greipel can definitely hold his own and damn, I was happy to watch him win.

Tomorrow is another sprinter's day, at least in theory. I wonder if Greipel can make it a double or if someone else I like can win. Fingers crossed that there won't be any crashes, or at least bad ones.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 11, Rest Day 1

The Good:

1) Yellow Jersey
This has a lot of things going for it, finally. I don't think it'll last. But it was nice to see Philippe Gilbert grabbing the jersey on the first day. And even though it didn't last/wasn't meant to be, I like it. I didn't mind Thor having the jersey, either. I don't like Thomas Voeckler having it, but that's because I'm totally biased against him. I mean, the dude made Sylvain bust ass for no result, but I'm not bitter. Really. Anyway, I'm just glad that Contador/Schlecks/Evans doesn't have it.
2) Non-prologue first stage
EVERY YEAR WE NEED THIS. Because if it means no more Cancellara in yellow THERE CAN BE NO WRONG. I loved having a proper stage, even if I didn't get to see all of it live. But, seriously. The lack of prologue was amazing and I got to see Sylvain in his RR kit before all hell broke loose. 
3) TTT
I love these things. I know they have issues, I know it fucks over smaller teams (or does it? I'm thinking not so) or teams that aren't as strong. But you know what? I don't care. The only thing I wish is that BMC wasn't in the top three, but since that meant Leopard Trek wasn't there, then I can't complain too much. I don't want either team to win the GC, but there are people I like even less, so I guess I shouldn't complain. Of course, that's never stopped me before. Anyway, I love TTT, especially when you have teams flow properly. That's the way a TTT is meant to be and it's fucking glorious. 
4) Sylvain (kind of)/Team Sky Kind of
Look, okay. I know he's crashed (more about that later), but the dude's a badass biker. He never gives up, even when he wants to. I hope that he's not making himself worse, but he understand the importance of the jersey he's wearing. I just hope that if he keeps racing, he won't crash. Again. As for Team Sky, they were on the way to converting me into a fan. Geraint Thomas in white, Edvald's win. Their total adorableness. Bonus points for trying. 
5) Team Drama
I probably shouldn't like this, but all the drama  revolving around the teams (and not the crashes) i awesome. I liked the whole Evans through water at Cav, the drama (unspoken) between Cav and Greipel. I like Andre vs Lotto. I don't know why it's so much fun, but it is. I hope there's more. If there isn't drama between teams, then what fun is racing if everyone gets along? Hopefully this stuff'll make headlines and not more crashes, but I'm not holding my breath

The Bad:

6) Crashes
I have a long post I haven't written yet about the crashes. They have been horrible. There haven't been more of them, just bigger names being involved and the injuries seemingly worse than in previous years. I have theories, of which I will eventually share, but not here. But I just want to say that crashes, regardless of their causes (weather, other riders, motos or cars) are bad things. This tour has had far too many in this first week and will probably have many more before the tour's over. Let's just hope the injuries won't be as bad or end up with a dude tangled up in barbed wire (if I never see those pictures of Hoogerland again, it'll be too soon). 
7) Cars/motos
Look, something has to be done. I don't know what, I have no answers, but seriously. A moto and a car IN THE SAME FUCKING RACE. Something's wrong. I don't know if it's the drivers or maybe people are just getting too careless, but the TDF needs to make a change before, god forbid, a cyclist dies. We've had more than enough of that this year. 
8) The peloton's attitude
I get that you guys are worried about the dudes at the back, but come the fuck on. I'd like to blame this on Leopard, but I have no idea if it was them or Thor, but whoever decided to wait was wrong. I get it, big names are down, but they clearly aren't getting back up and it's not your responsibility to slow the peloton down. It's better, at least in my opinion, not to slow down, not to get caught up in trying to be safe, because when that happens, y'all just get in the way of each other and that's when the crashes start to pile up. You can't change the crashes, but you can look after yourselves and waiting is just asking for trouble. Not to mention that this is a race.
9) Team Sky
I wanted to like you guys, I really did. I do still like your riders, but your tactics are for shit. I'm sorry, dudes, but making Geraint Thomas wait (or letting him wait, I don't really know which it was) was the wrong move. It was clear to everyone watching that Wiggins wasn't going to continue on. You could've sent Geraint along with a teammate, letting the rest of the team wait. But instead you destroyed any chance you might've had for prizes at the end of the tour. I know that you meant well, I know that Wiggins' crash was a shock, but you should be prepared for that kind of stuff. It's a three week race and shit happens all the time. So, sorry Team Sky. You're back to me not liking you (mostly). 
10) Did I mention crashes?
It was really hard for me to watch after Sylvain crashed. I kept on, and so did it, but it was touch and go for both of us. If he'd dropped out, which I wouldn't have held against him ever, it would've made it harder for me to keep watching. I know, his team Cofidis was kicked out a few years ago, but that's different. This was something worse, something horrible. I can only hope that his injuries are getting better and that QS hasn't endangered his career by keeping him in the race. RR kit be damned, the rider's health should be most important (and that's another issue for another time). 
What do I hope from the rest of this year's tour? Fewer crashes, Sylvain to make it to the end and a miracle that Geraint back in white. I also want more Tony Martin. Possibly an Andre Grepel stage win (he's on my fantasy team) and maybe CVV to do something special. Because my fantasy team is all still there, just dragging themselves along. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

July 10, Stage 9: Issoire - Saint-Flour 208 km

If you know a cyclist (professional, commuter or whatever), please give them a hug and tell them how much you love them.

Today we had yet another stage that reminded us of how fragile we humans are and what kind of horrors the athletes we adore are forced to put up with. It's a complicated issue, one that I'm not going to talk about here because this is not the place. But I will say that this Tour de France is possibly the least fun I've had during any Tour. Even the one where Cofidis (with Sylvain riding for them) withdrew from the race. Even with all the other different doping dramas. I haven't seen anything like this, except perhaps at the Giro, but even then the big names were usually spared a lot of the grief. The only big names (so to speak) who've been spared have been on Leopard Trek, so make of that what you will.

Stage 9 was nothing short of a mess. People will blame the crashes on a lot of things -- and there were a lot of causes. From careless riding to careless driving to the weather. I won't speculate, at least not here, but I will say that today's crashes were some of the worst. It's almost as if nothing's been learned since Wouter Weylandt's death. Perhaps that's to be expected or perhaps there was nothing truly to be learned. But I must say that when the rider who is most loathed (in and outside of the peloton) has to be carried from the slopes of a small hill and out from some trees, something's not right. I don't know anyone who likes Vino, hell, I was going to have a good laugh as his expense yesterday (and perhaps did), but it doesn't matter how much you deny doping, no one deserves to crash like that.

But it wasn't just Vino. It was Dave Zabriske. It was Jurgen van den Brock. It was pure carnage, as people like to say.  I dislike that word, just like I dislike people who take great pleasure out of horrific crashes. It's one thing for a crash to happen and people to get up and keep going. It's another for three bodies to be laying on the ground and two ambulances to pull up. No crashes are fun, but these are some of the worst. But it wasn't just the peloton causing crashes. The break wasn't spared and broke our hearts in totally different ways. While crashes within the peloton are expected, rarely do crashes in a breakaway happen and if they do, it's usually from rider error.

Today's breakaway was full of break favorites. Two of those were supremely unlucky in the worst way possible. In a scene that could only come from a course on how not to drive next to cyclists, a car (a tv one?) tried to avoid hitting a tree and instead of slowing down (like a logical person) and waiting for the cyclists to pass, it instead surged forward and sideswiped Juan Antonio Flecha, causing him to hit the deck very hard and careen into Johnny Hoogerland. Flecha suffered, but it was Hoogerland who ended up a mess. The boy dude was flung into a field, but he never got there because the field was lined with barbed wire. There are pictures floating out there in cyberspace of his injuries, which I won't be linking to because they are horrible. The damage that was done to him was outrageous and part of me hopes that both Sky and Rabobank will be taking legal action against the car. Both men finished the stage, but I don't know that either will continue and the pictures of Hoogerland on the podium, bandaged up and in tears, are heartbreaking.

No cyclist should have to suffer being hit by a car and none should have suffer it during a race. This is the second time a race vehicle has been involved in a crash with a rider and as much as I love the coverage, something must be done about this. Sadly, I don't have enough experience to suggest what, but hopefully something will be done.

As for the race itself, it's hard to talk about it because the crashes overshadow everything else. Luckily Sylvain was not involved in any incidents and made it home with the autobus, of which I am grateful. I saw him in the aftermath of that crash, and it was almost as if he wanted to stop and help the Astana rider (who turned out to be Vino), but there was nothing he could've done. And in Vino's, he's another GC rider who's crashed out of the race. There was a brief bit of drama in the peloton, it seems someone was either attempting to attack and another group wanting to slow the peloton down. Everyone knows my thoughts on this, you never wait. NOT EVER. It's a race, not a charity ride. That being said, attacking serves no purpose either, until it's clear that the cyclists aren't joining back up, then attack all you want.

In the end, the breakaway won day, if winning is the right word. Luis Leon Sanchez took the stage win and Thomas Voeckler the yellow jersey. I got one thing right, which was that Thor wouldn't be in yellow, but that's about it. Tomorrow is a rest day and for that I'm grateful, because I'd like a day off from Tour and I'm pretty sure all of the cyclists do, too. May Tuesday's stage be better.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

July 9, Stage 8: Aigurande - Super-Besse Sancy 190 km

Today's stage was not quite as dramatic as previous stages, which, to be honest, was a relief. I wasn't looking forward to crashes and it was nice that there weren't any massive pile ups. What did happen was pretty interesting and kind of exciting. I do like a good mountain stage, like everyone else. I don't have the same animosity toward flat stages as other people do (or those who wish crashes to make things exciting), but you can't deny the excitement of the mountains, even when they're not the massive ones we don't get until later in the tour.

Yesterday I totally predicted that Thor would lose the yellow, especially if Garmin wasn't really up to the task. Turns out that I was totally wrong. Garmin was strong (ish) and at the end of the stage, Thor was in yellow. I did not expect that at all. In fact, when Vino attacked (lulz) I totally expected him to ride home with yellow. I know that people, including myself, have a lot of opinions about Vino. I mean, it's hard to like the guy after he totally refused to admit that he doped. And, of course, he comes back and he's almost as strong as before his ban, so of course people are going to hate him (we won't talk about why I think that's hilarious when people like other folks who do similar things, but that's not a topic for here). I really did think he'd be able to take it and was prepared for the onslaught of anger (which requires me to bring popcorn for amusement). But, in the end, he just wasn't strong enough or everyone else was stronger (or both).

I was really happy to see Movistar win. As much as I wanted the amusement of Vino in yellow, it was totally worth it to see Rui Costa's win and celebration. I don't know if it was in memory of Xavier Tondo or not, but I like to think it was. I also like that the breakaway rider was the last man standing at the end. What kind of shocked me was how quickly Vino disappeared from the race and how easily he was swallowed up by the peloton. But then came the action -- the real action. I suppose Vino was never going to get yellow because Thor was just so freaking strong. I really didn't expect that, but there he was. And then there was Philippe Gilbert! I mean, that man is on fire. I guess he's taking the Sylvain roll this Tour. He's just storming and fighting and battling.

Speaking of Gilbert, though. That man and his team are totally at odds with Andre Greipel. I can't say that I'm very surprised, to be honest. That was always going to happen when you have teams that are too top heavy. and that's totally what's going on with Lotto. Which is why Phil seems to be going after the green jersey with a vengeance, leaving everyone else, including his teammate, in his wake. Not really something I like, but I don't know how much is up to Gilbert and how much is up to Lotto. It's hard to tell and we'll probably never know.

As for Sylvain? He's suffering. Apparently he felt okay at the beginning of the stage and then not so much toward the end, which is totally understandable. I was also glad to see that Chris Horner was not allowed to race again this Tour. I hope his head heals up and he has no lasting damage.

Tomorrow consists of more mountains. I'm really excited about this stage, hopefully it'll be good and we'll have more excitement on the mountains. I don't know who'll win, just that it probably won't be Sylvain. Again I'm going to predict that Thor won't have the yellow when the stage finishes because, at the end of the day, he's a sprinter and not a climber. It's also the last day before the rest day, so we might see some people just pushing it to see how the cards fall. I really hope it'll be awesome.

As an aside, if this doesn't make much sense, it's because I've been writing this while watching this Giant Bomb video.

Friday, July 08, 2011

July 8, Stage 7: Le Mans - Châteauroux 215 km

I should be in bed, but I'm writing this instead, if only because it needs to be done. I actually have a lot to say about this stage that I won't say here (about head injuries, etc), but I will say that I'm disappointed in the behavior of certain teams. I'm also kind of disgusted with the behavior of people on twitter, but again, that's another issue.

I'm kind of surprise that these stages have created so many crashes. A lot of people have said it's because of the Tour route, but I'm going to go out on a limb and call bullshit on that one. Like with the Giro, if you haven't prepared, you only have yourself to blame. If you have prepared and you're still falling, which seems to be the case (most of the time), then that means there are some issues with teams in the peloton. The crashes today were spectacular, and not in a good way because plenty of people ended up in hospital. It's hard to believe that it's only the seventh stage of the tour, what with all the carnage we've left on the road. It's almost unbelievable, if I hadn't watch it happen.

Tom Boonen finally retired, something he probably should've done on Wednesday (but that's another issue), poor guy was suffering needlessly. And then the crash happened. I'm a pseudo Sky fan or something, but I am totally unimpressed with their team tactics. Natalie and I had a long conversation about the fact that most of Sky waited for Wiggins, even though it was clear to us (the fans) that he wasn't going to keep racing. He was doing broken collarbone arm hold, poor guy. What they should have done, because they had some guys near the top of the GC, was send Geraint Thomas back up to the front with another rider, maybe Edvald (though I did hear he fell as well, but I haven't confirmed that). But they all waited and I'm sorry, but that's a really poor decision on Sky's part. Natalie believes, and I have to agree with her to some extent, that this was such a shock to them that they didn't know how to react. But, honestly, that's no excuse. Even if Brad wasn't going to abandon, you don't need the whole damn team there, especially when you have some guys who have stuff to defend. I get that Wiggins is your leader, but seriously. Ugh. Sky haven't shown great foresight with tactics in the past and it fails them yet again. Hopefully they can salvage some more stage wins out of this Tour, though.

I was really glad that Sylvain survived and escaped the crash. He had to chase back, but seem to be all right, all things considered. I do hope he's made the right decision to stay in the race. I don't know anymore, though (again, I'm planning a big blog post about this later). There were other issues and the Chris Horner thing is something I'm only going to gloss over, because it makes me so angry. RadioShack made a wrong decision and luckily Horner didn't pay for it.

The sprint was exactly what I'd predicted on twitter, a win for Cavendish. I must say that I don't much care for that, especially since I kind of wanted Greipel to win, just to spite Cav. But of course that wouldn't be the case because of course HTC was far from the crashes, that's what you get for riding up front. How the Schlecks didn't fall is beyond me, luck of the GC, I suppose. At least Cav and his teammates seem to be getting on well, which you can't say for Lotto (no matter what they say in the press, I'm not buying it). It was a decent sprint, not as much fun as his previous win this tour, but I suppose a girl can't have everything. What I did think was hilarious, if horrible and mean spirited (but still funny), was Cadel Evans acting like a petulant child (what an idiot). It seems he accidentally (ha ha) threw water at Cav, I'm not sure what their deal is, but it's almost as good as the tire throwing at last year's Tour, maybe? Proper, crash-free drama, I loves it.

Tomorrow is a more mountainy stage. CN says medium mountains, I say that if the riders keep behaving they have been so far, no mountains will be just medium. I wonder, though, if the peloton will just let the break have at it and not deal with all this crap. The only thing is if Thor's feeling pretty good, Garmin might give chase to keep him in it. But, we won't know until tomorrow. I just hope that, you know, we don't lose any more boys. This race is really taking a toll.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

July 7, Stage 6: Dinan - Lisieux 226 km

No picture today, I can't really seem to find a good one that sums up the stage. What was today's stage? A pain in the fucking ass. There were some crashes, though nothing like what happened yesterday. But, seriously, the rains just wouldn't let up and normally this would be a day for someone like Sylvain, but that was not meant to be at all and, in fact, might not happen for the rest of the tour. I promise to talk about the finish and all of that crap, but first let me say that this tour is really hard for me as a fan.

I was really excited right before it started, especially because Sylvain was going to be racing in the French national colors and he had had a pretty decent start to the season with a long layoff and preparation. And then the stuff with the QS team bus (which was probably something, but ended up being nothing) happened and made me think that shit, he might not be racing this year. But that was overcome. And then, on stage one!, he caught caught up in a mess of crashes, but didn't seem to get hurt. And then not much else happened until yesterday. When he crashed and he crashed hard. He obviously thought it wasn't bad, though the report on cyclingnews (linked in yesterday's post) wasn't as optimistic.

And then stage six happened and it was a MESS. It looked yesterday like Boonen was the one who was hurt worse and maybe yesterday he was. But today, well, reports had it that he almost abandoned and this quote from the QS site basically says as much:

"It's been a day I will remember for a long time. I'm still in the race thanks only to my sports directors. I even stopped during the stage, but they spurred me on by reminding me that this is the TOUR and that I'm carrying the symbol of my country on my shoulders. I stuck it out even though the mobility in my shoulder is really limited. I can't relaunch and every time I try to stand on my pedals I'm shot through with pain. To suffer like this while riding is no walk in the park, but I also wan't to stay tough for all the fans who have supported me, even today along the sides of the roads", said Chavanel after the stage.
Seriously, my heart is like so hurting here. Which is ridiculous, because it's just a race and he's just an athlete but it's my favorite sport and he's my favorite cyclist/athlete and so of course it hurts. So, maybe being excited for the TDF was my first sign that something was wrong. Unfortunately, I don't know what will happen to him and of course, it's clear he doesn't know either. I suppose, as a fan, my only care is for that of his health. I would like him to finish the tour in one piece (if that's even possible now), but if he's suffering to much, as much as it sucks for me as a fan, he should stop. I wouldn't want him to get hurt further. But at the same time, it must be killing him to being in the French RR jersey and be suffering so much on only stage six of the tour. Gah.

Enough of that. Today's stage was awesome at the end. I know yesterday I said I don't like trains and I think I can stand by that. Today's sprint was not won by Cavendish (woo!) but it was orchestrated by two lead our riders. How is this different? Well for one, they had to do this through a lot of traffic and two, they didn't outpace everyone. Ben Swift worked his ass off and the Geraint Thomas took for and, well, was fucking amazing. They both gave practically everything to push Edvald Boasson Hagen across the line. This wasn't a traditional lead out and I liked that (either that or I like Team Sky (or maybe both) but I'm not saying). The sprint was super exciting and the result made me really happy, instead of pissed off, which was a nice, if not surprising, change.

But mostly I'm spending all my time worrying about Sylvain. I know, that makes me a lame fan, but I can't help it. I've been spoiled a lot in recent years. Hopefully Sylvain can pull himself together and keep going, but I'm not convinced.

Tomorrow's stage is flat, or as much as one can be, and we'll probably have a traditional sprint at the end. I imagine there'll be a breakaway, but that the GC'll stay the same. And then, of course, it'll probably be Cavendish who wins by a massive amount and I'll be back to disliking him strongly. I hold out hope for something different, but not much. I won't be able to watch much of this one, I don't think, so it'll probably be a tape delayed stage for me.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

July 6, Stage 5: Carhaix - Cap Fréhel 158 km

This picture has pretty much nothing to do with anything, but I liked it and I'm having fun editing these. They're mostly from Yahoo, in case anyone wanted to know. I just make them smaller and play with colors. Because I can, y'all. It's a little things, you know? But, onto today's stage because, well, it was quite a stage.

Hey, guess what? Today's stagey also sucked, but this time in a totally different way. Unlike yesterday, I did get to see most of this stage, though not all of it. I watched the beginning as I was getting ready for work and the rest later, but I thought, when I left for work, that it was going to be just another flat stage without too much excitement. But, um, can I just say that I was really, really wrong. I mean, I couldn't've have been more wrong then if I'd say, oh, it's going to snow during the tour stage today!

In a way, it was kind of weird because the weather was, if hot. But on the other hand, the roads were narrow and once the first crash happened, everything seemed to slip out of control. The peloton, for some reason, couldn't hold onto themselves for long enough to avoid crashing and the stage was just one big mess after another. One thing that's struck me so far this tour is that everyone seems to crash. Usually the big crashes seem to keep away from the GC riders and even some of the more well known guys, but almost everyone's crashed at least once so far. I know that's not quite true, but that's how it feels, in a way. Today was no exception as Contador crashed and it seems Chris Horner may have, too (but don't quote me on it, my days and RadioShack riders are running together). I was sad to see that some riders crashed quite hard, especially Brajkovič (I feel extra bad about that because I'd just talked about him on tumblr, sorry dude).

But, of course, what really made me bummed was the news that Sylvain had crashed. I haven't see any video (I can't get any to play and I'm not rewinding my tape to watch it). But I do know that he hurt himself, but not bad enough to leave the tour. But he was taken to hospital and according to cyclingnews he "dislocated the acromion-clavicular joint in his right shoulder." Which, I don't even know. I mean, I like drama as much as the next person and I totally understand that cycling is a dangerous sport and crashes happen, but damn. I kind of wonder if there's something going on with the make up of the peloton, because there were a lot of crashes at the Giro and even at last year's tour. I don't know that there are more of them (I feel like I've had this discussion before), but there are a lot. And I'm pissed that one of them involved Sylvain. Of course, I wans't happy that Boonen crashed either and his was far worse. I'm totally impressed that he kept on riding, what a stud.

As for the result of the race? Well, for those of you who don't follow me on twitter, you'll be surprised to learn that I wasn't overly upset about the win. Seriously. I don't really want Cavendish to win shit, especially when he's got a train (I am so over them. I mean, honestly, enough is enough. HTC, Fassa Bortolo called and they want you to stop using their tactics). I get so tired of other people doing the work because that means sprints aren't a fair fight to those sprinters without strong teams. I know the green jersey's been won without sprint lead outs (Erik Zabel), but not every one is amazing like that. So even though Cav had a train (that kind of failed) and he sucked onto Geraint Thomas' wheel (sigh), he didn't really have a proper lead out. Tony Martin got way ahead (and teased me, because I desperately want him to win a stage) of Cavendish, totally fucking that up. But then! Out of absolutely no where, Cavendish pulled out a win. I mean, seriously, that is what a good stage finish should be about. None of that crap from Stage 4.

And while Cav's post race remarks pissed me off (stop being so passive aggressive, dude) and I don't like his general attitude, his skill on the bike is hard to challenge when I actually get to see it. Lead out trains destroy what could be amazing races when Cav wins bike six bike lengths or something. But today's sprint finish was almost perfect (it would've been perfect if someone else had one, but whatever, details).

I hope tomorrow is exciting, though I doubt I'll be able to see the end of the stage (unless they really up the pace). It's another hilly (though a bit more than previously) stage that could give us some mini fireworks. I'd like to predict a nice breakaway lasting, but I'm not so sure. It seems that the peloton is hungry for stage wins, so it'll probably be more like stage four than anything else. Which, if there are different riders at the front, I could totally be a fan of. At this rate, though, I'm just hoping that Sylvain'll be starting.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

July 5, Stage 4 Lorient - Mûr-de-Bretagne 172 km

Today's stage was just another part of a really crappy day. I don't really know what to say about it. It should've been fun to watch. I like weather mussed stages, especially in the rain. Cyclists I like tend to do well/attack in these stages. But I neglected to realize, yesterday, that Sylvain's far too close to the yellow jersey to be able to attack safely, and therefore he didn't. I was kind of right about the breakaway, which put a lot of effort into their attack. But, sadly, didn't work out. I was kind of hoping that Movistar would get a stage win, but that'll just have to wait. Instead, we got what most people think was a fantastic finish. And, I suppose, if I was in a better mood and more forgiving, I'd agree. But I'm not.

I'd hoped, during the stage, that Gilbert would win. Obviously Sylvain wasn't going to win, but my hopes were resting high on Gilbert and I was sorely disappointed. Granted, it wasn't really his fault that he didn't win. Nor do I think that it was an issue with his team. While they're obviously not the strongest, they do their best. Sadly, today seemed to destined to give me disappointment. Which I suppose I should be familiar with, after all I am constantly disappointed by the Tour de France. I wonder why (rhetorically speaking) the biggest race in pro cycling is the one that always pisses me off the most. Anyway, back to stage four.

Prior to today's stage, I really thought I'd be okay with Cadel Evans as a winner, but it turns out that I'm not. I suppose it helps that I'm consistent. But, honestly, I have no idea what I want as a GT winner. I used to like them, but mostly they just tick me off. I remember rooting for Hamilton, for Armstrong (ugh), for Ullrich at least once. Hell, I cheered for Vino and Landis. But now, I don't know. There's nothing at all appealing about any of the GC folks (save CVV and he probably won't win, ever) to me. They all come off far too brash or their fans put me off before they even get started. I know, it's totally judgmental of me, but I never said I was fair. I'm an emotional fan and a poor loser who holds grudges. It's part for the course, as they say.

My mom said she didn't care who won, as long as it wasn't Contador. I'm tempted to agree, if only to save us from his stupid finger guns celebration. But I don't know, I wanted Gilbert to win and that pretty much colored the result of the race for me. Maybe I need to change the way I watch and cheer for the Tour, but I don't want to. I don't want to like these guys who think they're better than everyone else. Maybe it makes me a bad fan, but whatever. It's not fun when the same people are always winning or in contention. That's what made the first two stages of this year's tour so good. It wasn't predictable. It was different, it was fun, it was the way the Tour's meant to be. And then we had today's stage it was everything you'd expect and that was a disappointment.

Maybe the rest of this tour'll be different, but I don't think so. Call me cynical, call me negative, but I don't care. I just call it like I see and how I see it isn't fun. That's why there are far more interesting things going on, like the intermediate sprints (no crashes!) that seem to be strange (PhilGil attacking, but no Cav), but not drama-filled as I thought. Maybe that'll change, but we'l have to see. Or looking forward to the KOM. I'm hoping we'll have some superb breakaways that'll rack up KOM points. And, of course, the young rider competition is the only one that hasn't disappointed me yet (but there's still time ;).

The good thing about today's stage was that the leaderboard didn't change. Otherwise, I'm just looking forward to tomorrow's stage. Maybe it'll give me something fun, at least I'm hoping for something better than today.

Monday, July 04, 2011

July 4, Stage 3: Olonne-sur-Mer - Redon 198 km

It was a sprinter's day and to cut to the chase, a sprinter won. Not just any sprinter and definitely no the sprinter most people wanted to win. It was a true pleasure to see Tyler Farrar take this stage win for a number of reasons:

a) it was his first TDF stage win
b) it proved to his critics that he is good enough to win on the big stage
c) he won the stage for his best friend, Wouter Weylandt and we all remember what happened to Wouter
d) Garmin worked extraordinarily well as a team

And in reference to that last point, I was both delighted and surprised to see Thor Hushovd taking his turn in the lead out for Tyler. I would imagine there's been some animosity between Thor and Tyler, and why wouldn't there be? Obviously having two sprinters on your TDF team is never a good idea, but it seems, at least for this stage (and probably because Thor's in yellow), to be working. Top heavy teams are usually doomed to failure, so it's a nice change to see it working out. Now the question remains, will it last?

We also had the first real intermediate sprint contested today and it was ... Well, it was a mess. Not just because Cavendish and Thor were DQ'd for god knows what. But also because these are going to end in disaster before this tour's over. It was weird, I mean I knew there were sprint points coming up, but I didn't expect the fight for them to be, well, like a race finish. I know people love the excitement of stuff like that and don't get me wrong, I like it too. But come on. Sprint finishes are terrifying at best and dangerous at worst. And when you have something like a sprint finish in the middle of a stage? Recipe for disaster. There's no team organization, no lead outs, just a mass of riders battling with each other. It's no wonder that Thor and Cav were DQ'd, regardless of the real reason.

I like the idea of intermediate sprints, but I'm pretty sure they're not going to work. I hope that I'm proved wrong, but I'm not actually expecting to be. Bruised and batter sprinters do not a fun TDF make, not even when I dislike them. We'll see, though.

Thor's still in yellow, amusingly. And the top five haven't changed too much, which is fine with me. I'd kind of like to see Millar in yellow, honestly. Though I'm secretly annoyed as to the Schlecks being 7th and 8th. Easy rides, ugh. But, hey, it's only stage three so that means a lot can (and hopefully will) change. I'm glad, so far at least, that there was a TTT on the second stage and no prologue.

Stage four, which I won't get to see live, at least with sound for most of it, it a hilly stage, as they're called at the Tour. I hope to see someone like Sylvain do some attacking, but it might be too early for that. Probably some French riders on the French teams will head out soon after the race starts. I'm not sure it'll be a group finish, but you never know.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

July 3, Stage 2: Les Essarts (TTT) 23 km

I love Team Time Trials. There's nothing like them in any sport and, hell, there's nothing else really like them in cycling either. Sure, you have teams that are supposed to work together, but we all know that isn't always the case. But in team time trials, you have to work together and if someone fails or falls/crashes or can't keep up -- especially early on -- then you're screwed. What I also like is a well-oiled TTT. I like the rhythm that some teams establish, where they it's almost like watching a machine as each rider does a turn on the front. Mostly it doesn't work that way, but when it does, it's a thing of beauty.

What about this TTT? Well, for me there was a lot at stake because of the results from the first stage. I like that we had a non traditional yellow jersey leader and I was kind of hoping we'd get more of that, if not Phil (because OPL isn't a strong time trialling team), then someone else. What I didn't want was someone like the Schlecks, Contador or Cancellara getting in yellow. Or, god forbid, one of their teams or Radioshack winning the stage. Luckily things worked out for the best, though for a while it didn't seem like that'd be the case. Saxo Bank was first out of the gate and they did a really fast pace, but as happens with the first team (and rider) of a time trial, they're doomed to lose since everyone's trying to beat the time of the first person.

The results weren't exactly what I wanted, but they would suffice.
1 Team Garmin - Cervelo 0:24:48
2 BMC Racing Team 0:00:04
3 Sky Procycling
4 Team Leopard-Trek
5 HTC - Highroad 0:00:05
6 Team Radioshack 0:00:10
7 Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:12
8 Saxo Bank Sungard 0:00:28
9 Pro Team Astana 0:00:32
10 Omega Pharma - Lotto 0:00:39
I wanted Sky first (I can hear you judging me, I know) because I wanted Geraint Thomas in yellow, but that wasn't to be. Then I'd kind of hoped for HTC to win, just because maybe Tony would've been in yellow? I'm not entirely sure. But Garmin definitely was an okay first, even though I'm not over pleased with Thor, I neither dislike or like him (though my mother loves him, so she was happy). What I didn't want was Leopard Trek even close to the top and for a while that's what looked like would happen. Which meant that I cheered BMC on extra super hard, even though I'm not the biggest Cadel fan and, thankfully, I got a suitable, if not ideal, result.

Geraint Thomas got to keep his white jersey and in the end, that's the only thing I cared about. That and Sylvain/his team finished well. They were 14th, which wasn't too shabby. Not great, but again they're not a good TTT team. Apparently, according to an interview with Gerald Ciolek, they started out strong but communication broke down. I'm not surprised, to be honest. Every team excels at different things and TTT isn't always one of them. I'm just glad that Sylvain's still only 56 seconds back (at 44th) so there's still a chance that he can win a stage or two, and maybe even get the yellow jersey for a day.

I did enjoy the stage, including Contador's team not being able to hang onto any sort of lead. I liked to see Cadel Evans (sigh) gaining time on the leaders. What I didn't like to see was how Cadel busted his ass and Andy Schleck barely did anything as Cancellara towed him to the line. I know, he had to ride the same stage, too, but come on. Sometimes TTTs aren't fair, but I suppose neither is life. I also didn't like to see Bernhard Eisel crashing, that looked pretty awful. I will also say that I was totally surprised how the TTT made me root for teams (HTC, Sky and Garmin, as well as BMC) who I never really thought to root for before. I'm not sure I like all their riders, but hey, sometimes the team is more important (SIGH).

Tomorrow will hopefully be a big breakaway, ending in a sprint finish. At least a girl can dream. Right?