Sunday, July 13, 2014

2 big days for the French so far on La Fête Nationale weekend...

Bastille day is the name given in English speaking countries to La Fête Nationale...or French national day. Celebrated on July 14th it is a country wide celebration of the unity of the French nation which resulted from the bloody French revolution. The storming of the Bastille is traditionally and romantically considered the turning point of the revolution and shortly after it's conclusion feudalism was abolished in the country and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was proclaimed. 

With the history of cycling so closely tied to France, and it's national tour widely recognized as the pinnacle of cycling performance; few things are coveted by athletes on a national level more than a French rider winning on the the day or the weekend of the French national celebration. This years edition of Le Tour offers additional opportunity for French revelry due to the 14th falling on a Monday as the first rest day of the race gets moved to Tuesday from it's traditional Monday spot so a holiday stage can be run and an additional opportunity for a French rider to ride away to a victory given. 

Young Blel Kadri got the French National weekend off to a great start on Saturday's 161 km ninth stage from Tomblaine to Gérardmer La Mauselaine. It was the first true mountain stage and he and his veteran compatriot Sylvan Chavanel broke away from a group of six on the first categorized climb of the day and then worked together for the next 30km to distance themselves from their pursuers. Kadri finally shed himself of Chavanel on the Col de la Croix des Moinats and rode a masterful final 7 km to the finish and the throngs of adoring fans on the mountain top finish. 

Behind him the first real skirmishes between the remaining GC contendors post Froome's departure started. Contador's Saxo/Tinkoff soldiers kept a brutal pace up the Croix des Moinats and caused the first real shake up in the standings. Try as he might El Pistolero could not shake Nibali and though he popped off for a 3 second gain at the finish, Nibali's position as race leader was never in doubt. Only moments behind them Richie Porte the newly crowned team leader for Sky began to put any doubts about his ability to captain the British squad to rest by crossing over only seconds behind the Maillot Jaune and soaring all the way up to third in the GC standings. 

Todays stage continued through the Vosges Mountains of Northern France and though not as decisive a route as Saturdays, it still provided an excellent opportunity for riders to make themselves, their teams and their countries feel like celebrating. 

It was a day to be named Tony as Germany's Tony Martin worked Omega Pharma Quickstep's strategy to perfection as he and Cannondale's Alessandro De Marchi pushed clear of the peloton on the first climb of the day up the Col de la Schlucht. They stretched that lead down the backside with some masterful descending and then Martin struck out on his own on the days biggest climb - the Cat 1 Markstein. 

Were it anyone else it would have been considered stage race suicide to make that kind of break with nearly 60km remaining in the race, but Tony Martin is no ordinary rider and has done this very thing many times in the past with great success. He took calculated risks on the final major descent and continued to grow the deficit to the chase group even after the road flattened. At the finish the lead was an astonishing two minutes and forty five seconds and Martin stood on the top step of the podium and pulled on the Polka Dot jersey of the mountains classification leader. 

The other big story of the day - and the other Tony to make news - was that after breaking away from the Nibali/Contador group Lotto Belisol's French all arounder Tony Gallopin played it smart and ended the day forcing Nibali out of yellow and into second place in the GC. He benefitted from work in the breakaway from temporary partners such as Tiago Machado and Fabian Cancellara who were working futilely to pull back Martin's brutal break. The end result for Gallopin was a nearly 8 minute gain on the GC leaders group and 1:34 lead on Vincenzo Nibali in the overall standings. 

Though you'd be hard pressed to find any experts betting on him to stay in yellow until Paris, Gallopin is no slouch when the road turns upward. With seven categorized climbs (including a whopping four Cat 1's) in tomorrow's stage on La Fête Nationale anything is possible. Either way we doubt Gallopin is too concerned about tomorrow just yet. 

After all he is a Frenchman wearing yellow in France's biggest race in France's biggest sport on France's biggest weekend with a beautiful French girlfriend who also happens to be a former French national road cycling champion. Vive la France!!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Simply the Best?

Peter Sagan came up short again today in the seventh stage of Le Tour de France. It was the closest he's come so far this year, but it still wasn't enough as OPQS's Matteo Trentin pipped him at the line in a photo finish for his second career victory. Sagan is making a habit of not finishing what he starts so far in this edition of Le Grand Boucle. Let's take a look at his finishing position stage by stage through the first 7 days of racing:

  • Stage 0ne - Second place
  • Stage Two - Fourth place
  • Stage Three - Second place
  • Stage Four - Fourth place 
  • Stage Five - Fourth place 
  • Stage Six - Fifth place
  • Stage Seven - Second place
It is obviously terribly frustrating to him and it showed after todays finish, but let's think about this for just a moment... In the first seven stages of the worlds biggest race in some of the hardest conditions ever seen in Le Tour he has finished no worse than fifth place. 

Fifth place. 

He has done this regardless of stage profile. He has taken second place behind the best pure sprinters in the world including Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel on some of the flattest and fastest stages. He has been in sustained breaks over rolling terrain that left those same pure sprinters shot out of the back of the pack. He managed his time almost perfectly in the longest stage of the entire tour nearly winning it, and lastly he rode to a solid fifth place on one of the hardest stages in years over the cobbles of the Arenberg just ahead of the king of the pavé Fabian Cancellara (and he did it without complaining which is more than the Swiss champ can say...). 

All of this would seem to uphold the argument I've been making for a couple of years now, that pound for pound, stage for stage and race for race Peter Sagan is the best overall rider on the pro tour today

Them are fightin' words in some circles but I'll stand by 'em. 

He's well on his way to his second green jersey and who knows how many of those he'll win. He's matured beyond the childishness and recklessness that caused so much concern both on and off the bike in past years. He's shown a patience on the bike that has allowed him to use his mind in addition to his prodigious physical talents to get the great results we've seen recently. If he keeps this up he'll easily work his way into one of the top positions in the history of modern cycling...

...And I for one can't wait to watch it happen. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Beauty and the Beast.

Todays fifth stage of Le Grand Boucle lived up to all the hype bestowed upon it since the route was announce last October. It was an epic day of the highest highs for some (Former CX hero Lars Boom gets his first big pro tour win after a number of near misses) and the absolute lowest of lows for others (Chris Froome gets a ride to the hotel in the back of the Team Sky car). 

Seeing Froomey sitting in that back seat with the window fogging up and a frenzied photographer shuttering away on the other side of the open door was heartbreaking, but it was also arguably the best possible example of the fragile beauty that this fine race projects. For no matter how hard you work, how efficiently you train, how meticulously you prepare or how financially supported you are this race and these roads will do with you as they please. 

Hats off to Lars Boom for playing his cards perfectly and having the strength to pull his move off, but perhaps the ride of the day goes to The Shark (A.K.A. Vincenzo Nibali) for riding a masterful race in his own right and putting big time into the remaining competition for Maillot Jaune. 

The Italian rode like a champion, honored the yellow on his back and showed that no matter what happens in the remaining 16 stages he has proven that he is at the very least worthy of climbing up on that top step on Le Champs Elyseé later this month. 

Lot's of racing still to go though... and we should all be thankful for that.