Who Really Won The Tour de France?


"I think that's it guys, you can take the stabilisers off now,"

“I think that’s it guys, you can take the stabilisers off now,”

Now That Was A Tour de Force

After last year’s golden daze of cycling mayhem, a first British TdF winner followed immediately by a hugely successful cycling Olympics, it was always going to be hard to get a better Tour. However, this Tour has exceeded all expectations. Finally visiting every single French Department (check), outstanding drama from the word go (check), brief punch through the Pyrenees (check), cross winds and echelons (check) and a kick ass finale up some really big alps (double and sometimes treble check). And finally the kind of spectacle that only the French can provide going down the Champs-Élysées and round the Arc de Triomphe. This Tour had everything. So really it was the Tour that came out on top.  The rest are merely basking in its shadow.

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Who’s Really Winning The Tour de France (part deux)


"Yes, I think you'll find I've just won the Tour de France, unless you care to stop me..."

“Yes, I think you’ll find I’ve just won the Tour de France, unless you care to stop me…”

Back On The Offensive

Friday looks like being the new ‘attack day’ on this tour We saw the very briefest of phoney wars being overtaken by full on action as first Omega Pharma Quickstep, then Saxo Tinkoff blew the peloton apart on the way to Saint-Amand-Montrond. Last week it was Cannondale shredding the peloton over some mini-mountains and effectively winning the Green jersey for Sagan, this week it was Mark Cavendish’s team doing everything to eliminate the sprinting competition as they took advantage of some serious cross-winds and the whole show went echelon crazy. Saxo-Tinkoff then blew the remnants of the peloton apart as they sought to claw back some of Chris Froome’s time advantage over Contador, before Cavendish put the icing on the cake and outsprinted Sagan to take the stage.
 
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Who’s Really Winning The Tour de France?


2013 Tour de France route map

Less a circle than a strangely designed @ symbol, the 2013 route has been a masterpiece so far…

This Is Offensive Sport

The tediousness of the 2013 Prem season aside, this has been something of a watershed year for sport. You can almost feel the barriers coming down and there’s a real sense of the old guard/old systems being superseded by the brash new kids. For me the most obvious sign has been the refusal of lesser players to be cowed and the rise of offensive play. The most perfect example of this being Bayern Munich taking the game to Barcelona and crushing them in the process, but you could also see it in the strategies employed by teams like Tahiti, Japan and Brazil in the recent, excellent Confederations Cup.

In essence it’s a reaction at the consistent dominance of the big players. Faced with what appear to be fait accomplis, the smaller, supposedly weaker teams have recognised that there’s little point in simply playing the defensive game, hoping your opponents crumble and somehow let you into the game. Instead they have taken the game to their opponents, surprising them in the process.

Sure it doesn’t always work. Both Tahiti and Japan crashed and burnt, losing all their matches and being roundly spanked in the process, but it really worked for a Brazil team that had looked distinctly average when playing against Engerland only a fortnight before their Confederations Cup final against Spain. Their desire to attack meant they scored vital early goals which changed the complexion of their games and won them the Cup.

This Is An Offensive Tour

Cycling has had a similar epiphany. Faced with the apparent dominance of Sky, other teams and riders have have to adapt to have any chance of winning. Right from the off this Tour has been offensive. Even the route has been unsettling. Riders have had to compete right from the start, without the usual bedding-in time trial that would give the also-rans a comfortable, breakaway legitimising deficit from the word go.

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Tour de France: The Elephant On The Bicycle


So here we are two weeks in and so far we’ve seen the fantastic Thor Hushovd carry the Yellow jersey for the first week and the outstanding Tommy Voeckler hold onto it for the second. Current wisdom suggests that neither will win it, despite Tommy carrying it all the way through the Pyrenees without losing any time. Yet so far none of the supposed main contenders have shown the slightest interest in actually competing for the damn thing.

Aside from pushing themselves in the second day’s team time trial, where perpetual nearly man Cadel Evans lost out to Thor by a second, none of the big boys have done anything remotely imposing so far. Indeed, their only notable contributions appear to be crashing out (Wiggins – assuming we class Wiggins as a big boy rather than a middleweight contender), losing time (Contador – not once but twice) and generally failing to show themselves.

Instead they sit in the front end of the peloton, like corpulent lions or 16th Century soineurs, gazing over the other riders before cherry picking out the ripe young ones to satisfy their repulsive lusts. You would have thought that after two weeks one of the would have put their heads up and actually tried to at least challenge for a stage win (note to big boys, Thor won the second Pyrenean stage in spectacular fashion, while Tommy led a stage-long breakaway to take the Yellow jersey). So far all we’ve seen of Cadel is that he’s happy to come in third in the bunch, that neither of Team Schleck has the balls to dominate the race and that Contador seems happy to leave the Pyrenees four minutes off the pace, without having made one single significant attack.

The truth is that for two weeks these guys have gone missing. Certainly in comparison with previous recent champions like Armstrong or Indurain, none of these boys looks worthy of leading, let alone winning the Tour. It would be a travesty if these guys simply trundled over the alps and left it to the final time trial to sort out a winner.

No. All the va-va-voom in this year’s tour has come from the unexpected side of the tracks. Thor mutating from a Green jersey winner into a great World Champion, Tommy retaining the Yellow jersey over and over again despite everyone telling him he will lose it, new boy Vanendert fighting his way to not one but both Pyrenean mountain finishes, coming second in the first and winning the second, and tragic Frenchman Jérémy Roy fighting his way into nearly every breakaway of significance prior to almost winning the second Pyrenean stage and being pipped to the post by Thor Hushovd. These guys are the true heroes of the tour so far.

Here’s hoping one of these guys takes the Yellow all the way to Paris. Because on form so far none of the big boys deserve it.

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