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!!

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