Monday, July 15, 2013

Feux d'artifice pour la fete national

Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower - Photo credit: Celeste Hutchins
For those who don't parler Français, or don't have access to Google translate like I do, the title of this post is 'Fireworks for French National Day" - or Bastille day as it is known in the English speaking parts of the globe. It happens every year on July 14th and is meant to commemorate the 1790 Fete de la Fédération - not the storming of the Bastille as most people today think. There are major celebrations all over the country, and none bigger than where ever Le Tour happens to be on that day. Every year hundreds of thousands of revelers line the stages in the hopes that one of their countrymen will slip away and claim the top step of the podium on the biggest holiday of the year.

Bjarne Riis taking a moment to connect with the fans! - Fans on Mont Ventoux - Photo credit: B.Blade/ASO
This year was no exception - over three hundred thousand rowdy fans lined the final 20 km of the route hoping to see one of the french riders pass through at the téte de corse and reach the summit first to the raucous cheers of the adoring French fans. Would every French houswive's favorite - Tommy Voeckler be the one to come by bobbing and weaving like a boxer with jersey filleted and tongue flapping in the wind? Or perhaps one of the young climbers who show so much promise - Gadret, Rolland, Pinot or Bardet? 

The always impressive strongman Sylvain Chavanel showed promise and lit up a break with Peter Sagan and 8 others from very early on. their lead stretched to over 7 minutes at one point before Europecar upped the ante and the gap started to fall. By the feedzone the lead had shrunk to 4:35 and it looked like the group would be caught before the real climbing even started. At 29 km to go Chavanel took matters into his own hand and broke from the group. chases ensued but he hit the foot of the Giant of Provence clinging to a 28 second lead. Peter Sagan was the first of the leaders to fall back to the field and the Slovakian took a second to delight the fans with one of his patented wheelies as the peloton bore down on him:

Chavanel continued his valiant effort but once the road turned skyward and the true climbers started to get antsy his dreams of Bastille glory quickly faded, much like the fireworks that would soon be lighting up the night sky. The first to attack were Portugal's name collector - Rui Alberto Faria da Costa and Belgium's feisty Jan Bakelants, Costa faded back quickly but then Euskatel's Mikel Nieve bridged up to Bakelants and he and the Belgian worked together. 

That's when the real fireworks started...for the next rider to take his shot was the newest pride of Colombia, Nairo Quintana. He rode away with 12.4 km to go smoothly, effortlessly and with no visible emotion on his face...a trait that is making him famous all across the social media world. There was almost no response from the field, but I'm willing to bet there was a collective gasp from living rooms all over the world to the effect of "too soon Nairo!". 

Behind him the devastation to the field was well underway. In a sadly too common sight these days, Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans were the first big names to be unhinged. More followed including Valverde, Fuglsang and Nieve (who could not maintain Quintana's pace) as Team Sky took to the front and started the charge that would be the decisive move of the day. Peter Kennaugh and Richie Porte - in what I consider the ride of the day - turned themselves inside out for Froome and decimated the field. Within a few kilometers only the maillot Jaune, Porte and a struggling Contador were left together to chase down the Colombian Quintana. With 7.5 km to go Porte's heroic effort ended and Froome made his move. the lanky South African who spent his first 14 years in the thin air of Nairobi, Kenya showed the mettle of a man who wanted to not only cement his place at the top of the leaderboard, but to make history while doing it.

Porte with the ride of the day - photo credit: Christiophe Ena/AP photo
He quickly caught Quintana who struggled for a moment before catching back up to his wheel. It stayed that way for the next 2 km as they continued to distance the chase group which included just about everybody else who still had a shot a podium. Then there was a clear conversation between the two leaders which ended when Nairo took to the front and pushed the pace again. The twittersphere erupted with talk of an agreement being made and the stage being gifted by Froome to the Colombian for his help in extending the lead over the others.

The twitter experts could not have been more wrong however, as Froome began working to drop Quintana and finally did so with 1.2 km to go. He continued the torrid pace and finally crossed over the line, striking a triumphant (if somewhat awkward) pose a full 29 seconds ahead of Quintana who had been on his wheel only a thousand meters before. Then the wait was on to see how much time Contador would lose. As the camera steadied in anticipation of the Spaniards appearance around the last curve the surprise of the day occurred. It was not Contador that came into view next, but a resurgent Nieve and the previously M.I.A. Purito - A.K.A. Jaoquim Rodriguez. Another 17 seconds later the Saxo Tinkoff jersey finally appeared, only it was Kreuziger first with his team leader (for now?) clinging to his wheel in an effort to stay relevant in the overall GC.

A jubilant Froome doing the safety dance as he crosses the line - Photo credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty images
The parade of the days best riders continued, as the impressive tours of Belkin duo Bauke Mollema and  Laurens Ten Dam came through in in 8th and 9th place. Jean Christophe Peraud took home the honors as the best Frenchman on Bastille day with a great effort to come in 10th, just over 2 minutes down. Richie Porte's amazing day finally ended with a 15th place ride that added to the already strong impression he is making this month as a future contendor for the Maillot Jaune.

Just a little over 2 minutes separated the 18 riders who came in from 3rd place to 20th, but the riders reactions might as well have been from different worlds depending on your standing in the peloton. For riders such as Michal Kwiatkoski, Dan Martin and Laurens Ten Dam, their placings were further confirmation of the bright futures in store for these young men. For others like Contador and Valverde however, the minutes lost and places counted ahead were bitter indications of GC hopes that are fading further and further away...not only for this year, but perhaps for their careers as well.  This race is a cruel mistress to those who try to tame her, she continues to send one brutal stage after another to shatter the hopes and dreams of the men who give everything, every day for that one fleeting victory.. and for the accolades that define the winner as one who beat the best up the lonely road to Mont Ventoux.   

No comments:

Post a Comment