Stage 13

Jul. 15th, 2017 12:58 pm
ysobelle: (Default)
 We're having some technical issues, so I'm afraid this isn't proofed. Won't THAT be fun?


Okay.

 

Fine.

 

I’ll watch again.

 

We’re up in the mountains now, and it’s so brutal— as mountain stages almost always are— there IS no peloton. It'a just clumps of riders scattered on the slopes. Alberto Contador and Mikel Landa are out ahead of everyone, with Contador showing that elegant, dancing climbing style as he takes more King of the Mountains points. There are two chases of three riders each before we get to the 20-man Yellow Jersey group. The jersey itself is on the back of Fabian Aru. Froome is a mere six seconds behind him, but Sky teammate Landa is moving himself up to third, now as we speak. Go, Sky, go!

 

The crowds are quite boisterous on the roadside of the ascents, here, but I’m seeing very few crazies, happily. Everyone is screaming and waving hysterically, but staying back. STAYING BACK. It almost brings a tear to my eye. And I’m seeing, oh, one Gendarme on the whole mountain? So I don’t know. Maybe people have learnt after last year’s disaster— remember Froome literally *running* up the mountain through the crowds? Nah. People don’t learn. I’m sure it’ll get worse later.

 

I hate watching descents. I mean, I’d LOVE watching them if they weren’t so damned dangerous. They’re so aerodynamic and sleek and insanely fast. Just effortless. Except you know “effortless” is far, far from the truth. It’s insanely difficult and technical.

 

Ah, race officials have pulled the caravan cars from the gap between the leaders and chase one. Yup. Only seven-seconds— that won’t last. Oh— now down to five. So that’ll be a five-man group in a short bit.

 

G-d, this landscape is just gorgeous. I mean, hell, the hairpins are terrifying, but you know, if you’re not thinking about their potential for blood and death, they’re really quite pretty. And oooh, what a lovely little church up there!

 

Mur de Peguere is our final obstacle to the finish line today. A Cat 1 climb. 7.9% average grade, but oh dang— it goes up in some spots to a 18% grade. That’s sadistic.

 

Quintana, Barguil, and Kwiatkowski are that second group— and Landa and Contador are not pleased. They’re pushing hard, trying to stay away. I’m surprised— they’ve clawed back to 33 seconds. 

 

Oo— sad news: Jacob Fuglsang has abandoned. He seems to have had a crash in these days I’ve been away. Dammit. Heal fast, brother.

 

There’s…there’s a guy dressed as a bishop, running up the road beside the— okay, no, now a guy in a bright yellow wig and a skirt, holding out a bottle of water, which the riders don’t, of course, take. A violinist and cellist on the top of a caravan, both of them dressed in cycling kit. Stay batshit, cycling fans. Stay batshit.

 

Speaking of which, we’re getting to the steeper part of the climb, and just before we get there, the fans are abruptly restricted— and yeah, they’re saying it’s because of Mont Ventoux last year. Thank G-d, cos right before that cutoff, the crowd is pressing in, with a total UN of flags being furiously waved. 

 

Ooo— Kwiatkowski has cracked from the first chase. Ouch. And Jesus Christ on Toast— the road is literally one car width— thank G-d the riders are already in more or less a single file. I would die trying to WALK up this damned thing. There’s a deep, narrow ditch on one side rising to a grass-covered wall, and on the other side, almost straight down, heavy with with trees. I swear to G-d I’m looking for Hobbits with backpacks.

 

Froome is not having a pleasant ride. He’s dropped back through the large group and— they’ve  compared him to a big dog panting in the back window of a car. No, I don’t get it, either. But he seems to have caught his breath, and he’s back to fifth or so, solidly in the middle of the pack, now down to eight from twenty. George Bennet, however, looks like he’s about to explode his knees right out of his body. Yeah…seven.

 

Oooo! Barguil and Quintana have Landa and Contador in their sights! 

 

OH! Man, it’s Bastille Day! 

 

Are you kidding me? Froome is attacking! From fifth to WHAM out front. They’ve picked up his teammate Kwiatkowski, and they’re wrecking the group. Damn! 

 

Up ahead, Barguil has attacked to be first over the summit and grab the 10 KotM points! 

 

So now there are four leaders, and Froome’s attack has whittled the first chase to six. Romain Bardet is attacking now, cos he’s French and it’s Bastille Day, and he wants a French win. Wait, now there are seven. Who moved? Froome is biding his time at the back— 25km to go, yet! Wait— eight? ARE THEY REPRODUCING, HERE?!

 

Holy carp— this is a very short stage— only 2.5 hours— but with huge climbs and fast descents, everyone is going nuts, there’s yet another attack, with Aru riding VERY aggressively. He’s established a break— so now there’s a chase of three and a chase of five. I hate math at this hour! (Lie: I always hate math.)

 

Bardet has moved up to third overall in this race. Man, things change so fast in the mountains.

 

Getting into the more populous areas now, and the flats. Dan Martin has attacked off the group of eight! OH! I didn’t know he was Stephen Roche’s nephew. Famous British rider!

 

For the love of G-d, Simon Yates has now attacked in the narrow streets of town. He won’t get far away, but…man. Dan Martin is still trying to bridge yup ti the first four. Kwiatkowskii s trying to pace Froome up to the front of the group of now-seven. Froome’s the only one in the group with a teammate— that makes a huge difference.

 

4km to go. One more km and you can crash, guys. Except please don’t.

 

Man, there are four huge curves before the line. That’s gonna suck.

 

Simon Yates has gotten far enough to be listed as a chaser now. Oops— no, he’s caught up to Martin!

 

The four leaders are less than a kilometer from the finish! Barguil wants this for France, and because he thought for all of five seconds he’d won Stage 9 only to have the photos prove him wrong! THEY’RE FIGHTING! Contador battles, pushing him to the outside of the turn, but Barguil is not  fazed in the least, coming right back at him and pushing to the front himself, pushing, pushing, looking over his shoulder, pushing— and he’s done it! He’s scored a French win on Bastille Day!

 

Martin and Yates are coming— Dan Martin wants to get back the minute he lost when he was taken out by Richie Porte’s flying body. Yates crosses first, but they’ve both done so well!

 

oh my g-d Foix is breathtaking! I wanna go there!

 

Okay. Quintana takes second for the stage, Contador third.

 

Interviewing Dan Martin after the line. Jesus Christ. I can’t understand a word he’s saying. I obviously need to spend more time in Ireland. Or, you know, *any* time in Ireland.

 

So. First Frenchman in twelve years to win on Bastille Day. Hist first Tour stage win. He’s already in the King of the Mountains Jersey. Kid’s having a good day.

ysobelle: (Default)

 

Guiilame van Keirsbulck. There’s a name. This guy took off from the first km, and stayed away for quite a while. 193km he stayed there, but now, ten miles from the end, he sees the peloton right on his back wheel. Aw, man. He shakes his head, makes a throat-cut gesture with a sigh. He did damned well.

 

Oh, man. There are two 90-degree corners at the end of the damned course today. Right before the finish! They’re inside the 3km safe zone, so yay for that, but that’s not going to help the sprinter’s leadouts. I mean, but definition, this isn’t the best sprinters’ finish, but everyone wants those points, so it’s still going to be crazy.

 

The peloton is out in the country, still, and organized into team lines, already. There are some tempers, too. Sky is staying to the right, keeping to themselves, keeping Froome safe. He’s tucked into the wheel of still-race-leader Geraint Thomas. He just needs to stay near the top of the standings for now.

 

Speed is cranked up, tension is cranked up. They’re under the 2km banner and fighting for positions. Cav is in third in his train, perfect. Where’s Greipel? Where’s Kittel? Not a lot of time! Oh, man, thank G-d, they’re through the — NO! NO! HUGE crash! Yellow Jersey is down! OH FUCK!

 

I can’t see who’s down! Sagan is the— boassenhagen! CAV IS THE— where’ this train? SMASH INTO THE BARRIERS! TWO MEN DOWN! FUCK FUCK! It’s Cav and Sagan! No— Degenkolb! And they’re not getting up!

 

Arnold Demare, French National Champion, has taken the stage, but the medics have run past up the road to the men still on the ground. Cav slammed so hard and so long into the barriers, and John Degenkolb had nowhere to go but a somersault straight over him with his bike. It looks like Cav was trying to get between Sagan and the barrier and it just— disaster. 

 

Fuck fuck fuck— Cav— oh FUCK. Helped back on his bike, crossing the line with a teammate’s hand on his back, because HE’S HOLDING HIS RIGHT ARM TUCKED TO HIS CHEST.

 

I am literally screaming. SCREAMING. You KNOW what that means in cycling. You know. It means bad bad bad. Most often a broken collarbone. Most often out of the race. FUCK. 

 

There’s a shot of Cav dismounting at his bus. His jersey is split wide open from shoulder to waist, and road rash on his shoulder. His right hand is already bandaged, and blood is already seeping through. He’s holding his right arm against him, someone takes his bike. Peter Sagan is right fucking there at the door, right there to try and see how he is. There is no usual grin, no bright goofiness from Sagan. He puts his hand on Cav’s shoulder, and Cav, face blank in shock, pats him on the back. No hard feelings. It looks on the replays like Sagan threw an elbow to shove him, but he did not— Cav tried to get through where there wasn’t a space at high speed, and Sagan reacted normally, trying to keep his balance. There are no hard feelings, and no complaints lodged. Cav took a risk, and it didn’t work. And it was a risk at 40mph.

 

BUT FUCK.

 

So. Geraint Thomas is zipped into yet another Maillot Jaune. Demare, mage winner, is now points leader, so he gets the Green Jersey. He has 124 points, and Sagan only has 95 at second place, so that’s a pretty good gap. Nate Brown is still in Polka Dots, which is an amazing feat for an American. A good day for it, being the 4th. Taylor Phinney is still in third in those placements, with Peter Sagan in between.

 

Cav’s Sport Director Roger Hammond is talking to the press. Doctor is looking at him, then he’s getting x-rays. He’s throwing some shade on Sagan, but I get that. He’s probably very emotional. Not to mention Cav is absolutely their shining star. 

 

Fuck. I don’t want to go look at the news, but I’m gonna.

 

oh my g-d.

 

I literally have nothing to say about this. 

 

oh my G-d.

 

http://www.skysports.com/cycling/news/15264/10936943/peter-sagan-disqualified-from-tour-de-france-after-mark-cavendish-crash

 

I don’t agree. I’m just…okay. Done for today.

ysobelle: (Default)

 

 

Oh my G-d, is that the sun? Seriously? Well, isn’t that nice! We have six riders in today’s breakaway for most of the race. We’ve three riders giving chase— and hey! They’ve actually made the jump! So now there are nine riders out ahead by almost 50 seconds. Strategically, two of these riders now have teammates in this breakaway, which means organisation, which means the breakaway may indeed stay away today. We shall see.

 

Most fun bit today is the swing the Tour takes through, of all places, the Spa-Francorchamps Formula One racing circuit. I don’t really like that kind of racing, but I have to admit, it is cool as hell to see the peloton snaking around the track. Seriously, awesomely cool. Did I mention it’s cool? Cos it is. And then it’s over. Oh, well. 

 

Back behind, the peloton is waking up. There was a slow, small crash, but it doesn’t look like anyone actually hit the deck, thankfully. Today’s colour comments from Bob Roll were what I was talking about yesterday: sleeping on road rash is hell. You move every eight minutes, he says. Imagine rolling over on open wounds every eight minutes. Ugh. How about not?

 

Bad news is Taylor Phinney has lost the King of the Mountains Jersey. The good news is it’s been taken by Nate Brown, one of the other three Americans in the race this year. Well, good news for Americans, that is. 

 

There are two chases now: three, then two, following the four in front. We’re seven miles from the French border, and the fields are full of the most insane, huge-scale art. Dozens of people forming enormous, moving bicycles. It’s so cool! Especially with the sun shining and the peloton streaming past in technicolour.

 

Well, the hindmost chasers are swallowed back into the peloton, leaving seven to keep away: four, then two, with poor Adam Hansen of Lotto Soudal in the middle trying desperately to get up to the leaders all by himself. I don’t think it’s going to happen— there’s no one to help him with aerodynamics. He’s expending all that energy alone, and “Hey, guys! Wait up!” isn’t going to work.

 

Oh, UGH. Romain Bardet has had a mechanical, and AG2R is desperate to get him back into the race. He’s been booted from a race before for drafting the team car, so he and the two riders assisting him all need to watch what they’re doing. It’s okay if they leapfrog from one car to another while they’re working through the caravan, but to stay behind one car for too long is a serious no. Come on, guys. Move out.

 

Holy cow. There’s a really nasty finish today. Narrow road, 11% grade climb, and TWO hairpins.

 

Ouf. On a climb, now, and the leaders’ group has gone boom. Two have dropped back, leaving two to ride on. Watching these poor bastards struggle up an incline after all their hard work just feels sadistic. In fact, the two leaders have separated. Lilian Calmejane is all alone out front, with Pierre-Luc Perichon behind him. Oops— Perichon has been eaten. 

 

15km to go, now, and very long shots down the road show the colourful impressionist shadow of the peloton all across the road behind Calmejane. He’s all alone, which means his chances of staying away are, sadly, nil.

 

Oh no! A few riders have gone down in a crash. Not many, and everyone’s up again, but it’s a little scary, as ever. Looks like it was just a touch of wheels in the pack, and it actually doesn’t even look like anyone hit the ground too hard, if at all. Which reminds me: earlier today, seems yesterday’s breakaway rider Thomas Boudat had a fall, and, when last seen, was carrying his right arm at that distinct angle that says “I didn’t need that collarbone, anyway.” I hope I’m wrong,

 

Ohhh, the catch. Wow— sorry, Lilian. Everyone’s back together now, and the peloton is converging on and in Longwy. 3km to go. The streets are so narrow! Greg von Avermaet is in the front; so is Michael Matthews. They have a mile left— it’s not time for a leadout yet, but everyone seems to be scrambling nonetheless! Peter Sagan is boxed in— will he be able to get through? A moment of levity: Marcel Kittel waves to the cameras as they start up the 11% climb to the finish— he knows he’s not a climber, and he’s not even going to try. Y’all have fun.

 

The Flamme Rouge! 1km left! OH! Richie Porte is in the front! Contador is right behind him! Geraint Thomas is back there— Porte is multiple lengths in front— but Sagan is coming! Sagan is in front— Geraint Thomas is up there too, Dan Martin— Sagan isn’t having it! OMG, Sagan’s foot has come unclipped from his pedal! He doesn’t panic, clips back in, keeps going! Michael Matthews challenges on the left, but nope! Sagan throws his bike, and then sits up, arm raised in confident victory. He’s got it, and he knows it.

 

It wasn’t the most tortuous or brain-exploding stage, today, but it was good riding, and, finally, good weather. I can deal with that. 

 

Your treat for the day? A little bit of fun from today’s stage winner. No, I have NO IDEA why. Just enjoy it. 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcyElUBIW8Q










Bora-Hansgrohe’s Peter Sagan celebrates his victory. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
 Bora-Hansgrohe’s Peter Sagan celebrates his victory. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images


 
ysobelle: (Default)
Stage 2, Dusseldorf, Germany to Liege, Belgium - 203.5km

Wet. Ugh. Wet and slippery and not at all in the good way. But that doesn’t stop Le Tour, so away we go.

Four riders off the front from the very start in Dusseldorf. Three of them, Thomas Boudat, Yoann Offredo, and Laurent Pichon, are Frenchmen. Every time I see that last name, I keep thinking it’s Laurent Fignon, whose 1989 nail-biter on the Champs Elysees against Greg LeMond is what cemented my obsession with the Tour in the first place. My brain is confused. Anyway. The fourth is Taylor Phinney, an American, and second-generation cycling star. His mother, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, is not only a former champion cyclist herself, but also a champion speed skater. His father is the famous cyclist Davis Phinney, second-ever American to win a stage of the Tour (1986) and, Wikipedia tells me, “is the leader in race victories by an American, with 328.” Now he’s leading a foundation to fight Parkinson’s, which hit him when he was 40. Keep kicking ass, Davis!

Trivia for the evening: Boudat is from the Bordeaux region, and is, in his spare time, a winemaker. Huh. Now you know.

Through the feed zone we go, thankfully with no crashes. But yesterday’s crashes are still a topic of discussion. Luke Durbridge’s crash on a tight corner yesterday is shown and holy carp. He went into the barriers like a #2 pool ball from an angry cue stick. Knocked over a whole row of metal barriers. He started again today, but there was too much ligament damage, and his team, taking the long view for his career, pulled him. It took a full week to lose our first rider last year; this year, on the second day, we’re already down three. Three important team riders, no less. Bob Roll is still raging against the Tour’s organisers, incensed that they didn’t make any kind of provisions for slippery roads. He’s right. What, does it never rain in Germany? Come on, guys. Everyone’s on edge the first week of the Tour, and— except for last year— crashes are usually endemic. You open with a high-stakes time trial and take no precautions on sharp turns? Come on.

Jens Voight made a good point, though: first twenty riders, yeah. Go for it. They’re GC and points riders. The other 178? Caution over speed, guys, cos you're not here to win, you’re here to help others guys win. Dammit. Well. Too late now.

It’s gonna be a sprint finish today, and everyone’s throwing names around for the possible winner. I’m intrigued to find no one’s banking on my obvious choice: Mark Cavendish. Y’all know how much I love that guy. Unfortunately, I see why no one’s mentioning him. Up until just a few weeks ago, no one could possibly have guessed he’d be a contender for even getting to the starting line: he’s been suffering from the disturbingly-named glandular fever for a good part of the year, and everyone’s thinking he’s not going to be at his best this year. But as Jens Voight is saying, it’s entirely possible he’s playing everyone, and he could actually be in great shape. I think he’s sneaky enough. We’ll see. We’re also hearing about Peter Sagan, Andre Greipel, and Marcel Kittel, who are all here, in top form, and ready to get some points.

The peloton is playing with the breakaway. Far enough away that no one’s going to try to jump the gap and make the breakaway stronger. But close enough that when we get to the final miles, the peloton can suck them all back in. 35 miles left to play.

The rain is on and off and on and off, but it hasn’t stopped the crowds. The race is in the town of Aachen (aka Aix la Chapelle) right now, and there are no spaces along the sidelines. I don’t know how deep the crowd is, but it sounds like there are bazillions of people, and all of them are screaming and cheering.

Ahhhhhh. So another name for “glandular fever” is Epstein-Barr. Or mononucleosis. Holy carp. Okay, now, that makes everything much clearer for me. Damn, Cav. I had that in college and it knocked me out for MONTHS. And I was the one who used to dance all night in those days. I was fit! I can’t imagine how much it’d screw me up now. Must have been pretty dreadful for him to go from the Manx Missile to the Manx Mat. And now he’s riding the Tour? Guy terrifies me. Pre-race interview this morning, he’s still being cagey. When asked what he learned about his current state of readiness yesterday, he shrugs. “Nothing. It was a time trial; I just wanted to get through unscathed.” And when asked about his chances for more stage wins this yeah, he merely says, “I have a better chance of winning here than I do staying at home.”

He used to be so brash and cocky; someone’s learnt to play the game over these long years.

Well, breakaway’s down to 40 seconds, now. Taylor Phinney’s pushing the pace, but the peloton is approaching. Still, he’s got the polka-dotted King of the Mountains jersey at the moment, and he’ll probably keep it.

OH NO!

Man, I knew this was coming (THANKS TWITTER), but oh NO! 30 km from the finish! Wet roads and a big roundabout and most of the front of the peloton has gone down! Most of Sky is there, and they don’t panic as they form up around Chris Froome to pace him back in. Race radio is saying Romain Bardet of AG2R is down badly. It’s hard to see, but it looks from the replays like the third or fourth rider in the front of the peloton— usually a fairly safe position— just slid out sideways, and because of the curves coming out of the roundabout, absolutely no one could avoid him, especially considering they were picking up the pace to catch the breakaway. Thankfully, it was possible for the back of the peloton to see what had happened and stop, and not add to the carnage, but this is still bad. However, it’s likely those getting up and moving back out won’t push the pace until they know everyone’s moving again— one of cycling’s fair play rules: don’t attack when the race leaders have had a fall.

Bardet is back up, Froome is back up. Their teams are around them, and giving chase. It does look like the peloton is pushing, but not in the extreme: the chasers are hooked back on at the back, and working their way forward again.

Best news of all: race radio is saying *everyone* is back up and chasing again. No serious injuries. Whew!

Dammit. Froome is at the back, signaling to the referees he needs his team car. He’s on a spare bike, his own having gone flying in the crash, and there must be something wrong with it.

The Sky team car catches up. Froome comes to the side of the road smoothly, drops the spare as a mechanic leaps from the car with a new bike, probably one specifically set for him. Mechanic gives Froome a running push, and Sky rider Kwiatkowski is right there to pace Froome back up. There’s a third Sky rider also helping, but I can’t see who. Christian Knees? They’re leapfrogging through the caravan, sort-of-but-not-really drafting the cars, which is illegal, but in the circumstances, race officials don’t look so closely. There’s a fourth Sky rider, too, and they’re all back in the group, now.

At the front, another point for KotM is upcoming, and Phinney has launched himself. He gets that one remaining point for the stage, and then just keeps going: breaking away from the breakaway!

Yoann Offredo manages to join him after a moment, but Boudat and Pichon do not. So now there’s the leading group, the chase, and the peloton. Oh, no— those latter two are gobbled up. So it’s now just two— and they’re faster than the peloton! Fifty seconds!

Well, if nothing else, the sky has cleared and the road is dry. That’s good for the peloton, maybe not so much for the breakaway. Roads are broad now and with few turns. The closer they get to the end, the clearer a view the peloton will have of the men they’re chasing. Will they catch them? Well, this has been touted as a sprint finish, and there are some very, very big names looking for a stage win. They can’t get that win if Offredo and Phinney get there first. The tension is mounting.

5.5km to go. They’re showing Phinney’s crash in 2014. Man, I’d had no idea. He almost lost a leg, and the scars are INSANE. He was told he’d never walk again. Okay, well. So much for that.

4km to go! Oh, Jesus. If I don’t keep my nails on the keyboard, I’m gonna bite them off. They’ve been ahead now for over four hours— will they last another few minutes?

The peloton is merciless and relentless. In a few minutes, the road will straighten out and the peloton will see them. Thirteen seconds ahead, now! We’re well inside the safe zone— anyone crashes now, they’ll get the same time as the peloton. Pressure is off for everyone but the sprinters and their leadout trains— and Offredo and Phinney.

Oh, this is heart-wrenching— long shots show the peloton looming, looming, gaining— OH NO! Dammit. DAMMIT. There’s the catch. It’s over. But it’s the frenzy of the sprinters’ setups that’s started, and the teams are angling their sprinters to the front! Every team is trying to get their man a clear shot! It’s speed and chaos— Kittel, Sagan, Greipel, yes! Cav! — WHO IS IT— AH! It’s Marcel Kittel!

4.37.06. Jesus, that’s a long ride.

Cameras on Kittel, sitting on the curb, face in hands, sobbing, tour handlers standing defensively around him with their legs braced and their arms spread out to keep the press back. Kittel eventually gets up, still crying, and there are hugs and cheers and back-slaps from his teammates— one of whom, Fabio Sabatini, sat up several lengths back as Kittel crossed the line and raised his own arms to cheer his teammate’s victory. Four and a half hours of agony, and now everyone is relaxing and chatting, milling around. There are no huge changes on the GC— Geraint Thomas is zipped into another Maillot Jaune. Kittel comes back to get the Green Jersey in addition to his Yellow. Taylor Phinney, who led for 99% of the stage before losing right at the end, at least gets his moment on the podium, receiving the polka-dot King of the Mountains Jersey. BMC’s Stefan Kung gets the White of Best Young Rider.

So, as I often find myself saying, today could have been much worse. That crash could have been absolute carnage, instead of which it only LOOKED that way. Everyone got up, everyone kept going. Of course, it’s tonight when all the muscles start stiffening up, and the abrasions make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. All the guys have top medics and masseurs to take care of them tonight, and they’re used to this.

So it’s going to be important to watch Taylor Phinney this year. In his first-ever Tour de France, he led the race from the gun to the ramp up for the sprint. He may have to lay low a day or two to restock, but we’re gonna watch what happens next. I’m really thinking that by the end of this race, I’m not going to be accidentally calling Taylor by his dad’s name any more. I don’t think anyone will be.


ysobelle: (Default)
Which is a most un-nice thing to say, and of course I apologise. Of course. Enormously. Let's move on.

The Tour de France 2017 started today. First stage: a time trial nine miles through Dusseldorf, Germany. There is very little to report on its a time trial, I'm afraid, so let's cut to the chase: EXTREMELY wet roads + tight corners - padding on metal barriers = several riders crashing out on the veery first day, amongst them Alejandro Valverde, who was to have been Nairo Quintana's chief domestique. It's a horrible loss for the team. Worse, of course, is the list of injuries for poor Alejandro: broken patella, broken ankle, and a deep laceration on his shin. He left the course in an ambulance, straight to surgery. First word is he's not just out for the Tour, he's out for the rest of the season. Poor guy.

Geraint Thomas has become the first Welshman ever to pull on the Maillot Jaune-- well done to him! Chris Froome came in sixth, making a very, very clear statement that he's not to be trifled with this year. Like he ever is, of course.

But on to hopefully drier roads through Germany tomorrow!


www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2017/07/01/tour-de-france-favorite-suffers-multiple-broken-bones-in-horrible-stage-1-crash/
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage 21: Chantilly to the Champs-Élysées, Paris, 113km

Well. We made it. We’re here. It’s Paris, at last.

Our trek starts this morning at a place I’ve actually been, and have hoped so very hard to see again: the grand and awe-inspiring chateau in Chantilly. The entire peloton sweeps through the grounds on a course lined with spectators, before exiting through a fairly small gate. Through the town, packed with cheering crowds. Out into the countryside, down long, tree-shaded roads. The weather is perfect, and we’re bringing home a field of unprecedented size: 175 riders finish this year’s tour, beating the largest number (2010’s field) by five. I’m ecstatic. Even Sam Bennett, horribly roughed-up by a crash at the beginning of the race, is still with us, though he’s the Lantern Rouge, the very last rider, over five hours down.

After the toasts and the photo ops— all of Sky putting their hands on each others’ shoulders to create a chain across the road (carefully, and a bit wobbly), all of Sky sharing a beer or nine, then some champagne, all the riders chatting and joking with each other— we’re finally in Paris.

It’s such a sight to see the peloton sweep onto the cobbles of the Champs-Élysées, especially with the French Air Force swooping overhead, leaving trails of red, white, and blue. This year, there are eight laps around the Arc du Triomphe, and we have eight riders with a twenty-second advantage. Daniel Teklehaimanot is there. Rui Costa. Brice Feillu. American Lawson Craddock. It’s a good group, but can they stay away? Likely not. And there’s an intermediate sprint, but Sagan’s so far ahead of everyone else in that competition it’s not a competition any more.

Andre Greipel had a planned bike change in prep for the final sprint. Sadly, Tony Martin just abandoned due to knee pain. Horrifically, the cameras come back to Marcel Kittel, who’s off his bike with a mechanical. His mechanic has a new bike to him within seconds, but just a few feet later, he’s off again! Does the new bike have a flat?! He stands up, unlatching the back wheel and throwing it in frustration— it spins into the caravan and bounces off another car, back at him. A new wheel arrives almost instantly, and for a moment, it looks like he has ANOTHER problem! But no, he’s back out, and off again. But G-d, he’s 30, 40 seconds back. He’s drafting his team car, and everyone knows it, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll get a penalty for it. He’s already so screwed. He’s working his way through the caravan, and he will— he WILL— get back into position. Jens Voight, commenting, says this will be the wake-up cal his legs need, and it could be good for him in the long run. I like Kittel. I hope Jens is right.

Seven in the front, now. Marcus Burghardt had a mechanical, and has dropped back to the peloton. Jens brings up a very good point as we see Kittel regain the field: where the hell was Etixx? Why didn’t they come back for their main chance to win this stage? Excellent question.

Three laps to go. The riders swing past Joan of Arc and Norwegian Corner. Ugh— a bike change for Dan Martin, who’s flatted. Again, where’s his team? What’s going on, Etixx? Are your radios broken?

Two sky riders have bridged up to the leaders, now, but not long after, the whole group is pulled back! So now, the whole field’s together. Except for an Astana rider, Alexey Lutsenko, who makes a break for it. A BMC rider takes off after him— Oh! It’s Greg Van Avermaet! He was in Yellow for three days this year, and he’s not done with this Tour yet.

Coming down to the bell lap. Froome is safely tucked into the group of his teammates. Once again in front of St. Joan and the Norwegians, past the carnival rides, as the sun begins to sink. Back to the Champs-Élysées again, and ah, there’s the gentleman with the bell big as his head, ringing it for all he’s worth. The final lap!

Direct Energy is pushing the pace, but Astana is setting up opposite them on the left. The whole field separates and merges as everyone tries to set up, and it’s just messy. Which sprinters are going where? Again around the Arc du Triomphe, and Etixx has finally gotten their collective ass in gear for Marcel Kittel.

OH! There’s a crash, and a hard fall from an IAM rider. There won’t be any catching up for him. But Chris Froome was at the back of the peloton, and now he’s— oh! Another problem! Brian Cocquard! AUGH! It’s a flat! Oh, no, that’s crushing!

1.8km to go. Cofidis is in front as they go in front of Joan for the last time. Alexander Kristoff is up there, Greipel is, Kittel is— no! It’s Greipel! His first stage win this year!

And then, at the very back, a line of yellow and black, as Sky links up yet again— a bit more securely— and crosses the line arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder. How wonderful!

The podiums are always fun in Paris. Andre Greipel accepts his stage win trophies with his daughters. Peter Sagan comes up for his final Green jersey— he’s off to Rio to compete in the mountain bike competition! Rafal Majka gets his grand Polka Dots, and finally, Chris Froome is granted his final Maillot Jaune for 2016. His wife met him on the line after his win, with their very baby baby, who looked up at Dad in utter confusion, then started crying at the noise and confusion of being surrounded by dozens of clamouring reporters. Maybe one more stuffed lion will make him feel better!

So there we have it. It’s all over for another year. Well, except for everyone now headed to Rio— they’ve got a bit to go before they can rest. It’s been a fun ride, though, and I hope everyone had fun. Thanks for sticking with me.

Until next year!


Overall leader and yellow jersey, Chris Froome, crosses the finish line with his team-mates to win the race. Photograph: Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images, from https://www.theguardian.com/sport/live/2016/jul/24/chris-froome-set-to-win-third-tour-de-france-in-paris-live

ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage 20: Megève to Morzine, 146.5km

We’re about 20 miles to the finish, and in tiny, lovely hamlet streets. It’s lovely. It’s also raining. Yesterday, there was just carnage out there: skin and blood all over the slick roads. It was hideous. Saddest of all, Tom Dumoulin, our time-trial darling, broke his wrist, and was forced to abandon. Dammit.

Back on the last climb today. It is brutal, at times spiking up to a nearly 15% grade. We have two leaders about 1.22 ahead of the peloton. There seem to be fewer crashes, but that could be because the race isn’t on brand-new roads, which get super-slick in the rain. Then again, there’s a big descent coming, so let’s not count on anything.

While Chris Froome has all but sewn up the lead, let’s be honest, everything below him is up for grabs. No one is taking anything for granted. Julian Alaphilippe has made an attack off the front, trying to bridge the gap. Bauke Mollema made an attempt, but Sky is just inexorable, sweeping him up. Pantano has joined Alaphilippe. and Vincenzo Nibali is about to bridge up to them!

NIbali not only joins them, but attacks! Pantano is having none of it, and both he and Alaphilippe drag him back.

The climb notches up a few degrees, and these guys are suffering like hell. Nibali attacks yet again, and this time, Pantano and Alaphilippe just can’t do it. There’s substantial daylight for a while— and amazingly, they all come back together, joined by Izzaguirre, a Spanish rider from Movistar. They’re less than a kilometer to the summit, now. The crowd is closing in, though could be worse, raining as it is.

Behind them, the Yellow Jersey group is made up of fourteen riders. Rafal Majka is there, still in Polka Dots. He’ll be keeping that.

The first four are within the barriers, now, in sight of the banner for the summit. They’re finally through! A pause for some water, and they’re off!

Now the Sky group is over the top. They’ll have to be very careful— it’s a steep descent, and Froome needs to get to the bottom— and the line— safely. No risks, now. Nothing crazy.

Tiny bit of a climb before they’re all set to fall off the mountain, now.

I’m watching the descent, now. It’s almost nauseating— curves, wet roads, and speed. It’s frightening. The first four are falling away from each other. Sky is keeping Froome safe, and not taking any risks— Geraint Thomas leading the way.

4k to the finish. Jon Izaguirre has taken the lead, crossing the line alone after many checks over his shoulder, throwing his arms up with a huge grin! Pantano is twenty seconds behind him, with Nibali in third, Alaphilippe in fourth! And that’s how we finish— with the yellow jersey group following safely afterwards— Dan Martin sprinting to catch up as many seconds as he can.

Chris Froome, as he crosses the line, shakes his head with a smile. He’s just won his THIRD Tour de France. How’s that feel, buddy?

Tomorrow will be a largely ceremonial day for Chris Froome. But he’s the only one who’s going to be able to relax. No one will be able to make up the deficit to him, and no one will really try. But the rest of the podium? The final sprint? Everyone will be in the running— or the cycling— for that. It will, as ever, be beautiful.

Izaguirre celebrates as he crosses the finish line. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images, from https://www.theguardian.com/sport/live/2016/jul/23/tour-de-france-stage-20-live

ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage 16: Moirans-en-Montagne, France to Bern, Switzerland, 209km

Before we go anywhere today, I want to introduce you to the one guy I always look for out on the roads. He’s called “The Devil,” and I’ve seen him almost every year since…man, I don’t know when. He is absolutely a cycling fixture, and everyone knows who he is. Ladies, gentlemen, and all others, I present to you: Didi Sent.

Didi ‘The Devil’ Senft jumps in the air at the start of stage 16. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images




So.

176km out in front of the peloton. That's a lot. A LOT. But Tony Martin managed it, in a breakaway with teammate Julian Alaphilippe, who only dropped away a few kilometers before. The two of them pushed the pace hard on today’s stage into Bern.

No sooner, of course, is everyone together, than one rider takes off again, just shy of the 20km to go banner. It’s Rui Costa, a rider from Lampre, a team from whom we haven’t seen much this year.

But much of the talk today is about Fabian Cancellara, for whom this will be the last Tour de France. And how better to say goodbye than to ride through his home town? It would be wonderful for him to win here, with the finish line a mere 4k from his home, on roads he says he “knows blind.”

Costa, though, is maintaining about a twelve-second lead, zipping through the road furniture that hampers the large peloton behind him. The problem, of course, is that there’s a hill right before the line, and he could easily be caught, seeing that he’s been out there with no one to help him, and the peloton is full of teams. Ah— there he goes. He almost made it, but no, he’s caught.

So now we have all the sprinters’ teams trying to get their men in the right place at the right time. They’re all in a straight line right now until we get to the flat of the approach. Across a bridge, under another bride flying a huge Swiss flag and a banner showing solidarity with Nice.

Oh, lovely: cobblestones! It’s frantic inside 2km now. But the front of the peloton is fractured— there are riders trying to make a break even now! It’s pointless, with the teams organised. Peter Sagan is being brought up. John Degenkolb, too (the one in the terrible car accident months ago, remember), and they’re under the Flamme Rouge!

There’s a bunch, now, not even a whole peloton. Warren Barguil's there, Kristoff, Sagan, Cancellara behind Sagan, Cav, Valverde! And— who is it? Who won??

What the hell, is this the Year of Photo Finishes?? It’s Peter Sagan over Alexander Kristoff by CENTIMETERS. Kristoff, who thought he’d won, and even celebrated, threw his bike just that fraction of a second too late. Sagan didn’t even know until he saw a photo of the finish on his iPhone backstage, at which point, he got a victory kiss from his wife.

I cannot remember a year with so many so-close finishes. It’s kind of great. These are really top athletes in excellent form, and it’s truly exciting. Peter Sagan gets not only his third stage win, but the Green Jersey again, of course— with a huge crowd of Slovakian fans waving flags for him. Chris Froome is still in Yellow, too. Surprisingly, both Tony Martin AND Julian Alaphilippe are presented with today’s red numbers for Most Aggressive Rider. I’ve never seen that before, but it’s so well-deserved. The both of them came in together at the end, side by side, chatting, with the broom wagon right behind them.

Froome is being very circumspect about his prospects, not taking anything for granted when speaking of his competitors. I think it’s probably safe to say, though, he’d really have to screw up on a major level to lose it at this point. Having said that, well, we have a rest day tomorrow, and then— woohoo!— we hit the Alps. And as I always say, anything can happen in the mountains. Froome is lucky: Sky, like so many teams, is still at full strength with nine riders. I don’t remember a peloton ever being so complete this late in the race, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. It does mean, however, that competition will be fierce, and plotting thick and fast.

Should be gorgeous.

Sagan pips Kristoff to the line. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images, via https://www.theguardian.com/sport/live/2016/jul/18/tour-de-france-stage-16-live?page=with:block-578bb2e3e4b08239dbab7b3b#liveblog-navigation

ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage 14: Montélimar to Villars-les-Dombes, 208.5km

Yesterday was a time trial. They’re fascinating and exciting to watch, but they’re really not terribly awesome to read about. It really is a matter of “get on your bike, go that way really fast for an hour, try to go faster than the last guy.” The stage was won by Tom Dumoulin— who won that stage in the hailstorm, if you’ll remember—but only a few seconds behind him was Chris Froome, proving that he really is worthy of wearing the Maillot Jaune.

It was also a somber day. The riders all woke up to the news of what had happened in Nice, and all of them, especially the French riders, were deeply affected. Furthermore, many of the foreign riders have homes in France, too. This is home to a large portion of the peloton. There had been talk about cancelling the stage, but in the end, of course, it went on. It’s the only way. So the day started with a moment of silence before the depart, and the jersey presentations at the end were done quietly, and all at once, as opposed to one winner after the other, with the accompanying pomp and cheer they usually entail. There was another moment of silence, and when it was over, first Chris Froome, and then all the other riders, silently laid their bouquets down at the front of the stage while gendarmes in the crowd saluted. It was chilling.

Today, there’s been a breakaway at the 30km mark. Four riders: Jeremy Roy, Cesare Benedetti, Alex Howes, and Martin Elmiger. It’s mostly a calm day, but there’s been a crash off-camera. Five or six riders went down. Sounds like a rider somehow went into the back of a team car, and there was a pileup. Most of them are back up and back in, except for a Cannondale rider, Matti Breschel.

Which reminds me— remember the crash a couple of days ago where Simon Gerrans went down on a curve, with three Sky riders following like dominoes? The Sky riders were okay, but poor Gerrans snapped his collarbone. Not only is he out of the race, obviously, but he’s also out of the Olympics. He must be gutted.

Ah, dammit. Breschel is out of the race. He left blood on the road— was loaded into a stretcher and raced off to the hospital, moaning in pain. Broken leg? G-d. That’s not how you want to see anyone leave this race. Christ. We’re down to 185 now. Later report: a rider, Dani Navarro, swerved in front of a team car, which had to slam on its brakes. Breschel and a few other riders went straight into the back of the car, even smashing a tail light. I hope he heals quickly.

There was an intermediate sprint today. Benedetti won it, taking 1500 euros for his team. Not bad. The peloton came to sweep up the rest, from fifth place on: Sagan, Kittel, Cavendish. But they’re not done: this will be a sprint finish today at the end.

25km to go. There’s some stiff wind out there. Has been all day, causing the race to start 15 minutes early today. The break is down to less than half a minute ahead. They’ll be caught soon, but hey, they led for 163km so far. They’re all out on wide, open flatlands, so the peloton can see its prey.

Oooo— looks like Alex Howes has been dropped from the breakaway. He's done a hell of a job for a guy who was involved in a pretty nasty crash a few days ago.

A sharp right turn directly into a headwind. That’ll be fun. There’s the catch of Howes. Good job, mate!

Cofidis and BMC and Dimension Data are on the front of the peloton now, getting their sprinters in position. 10km banner crossed. There are crazy winds at the finish.

Another attack in the front group— Elmiger turns on the jets— and now Cesare Benedetti has been dropped. Just Roy and Elmiger left now. Benedetti all but sits up, taking a drink off his water bottle as the peloton swallows him.

There’s a lot of talk in the front of the peloton right now, and it doesn’t look calm. I think it’s a lot of “You take your turn!” “No, YOU take your turn!” Frank Schlek is up there, which is pretty amazing, considering he had a flat half a minute ago and had to stop for his team car.

Holy cow. Long shot from the helicopter is showing big clumps of riders falling back all down the road as the peloton bears down with ever-increasing speed. Up front, Elmiger and Roy shake hands, knowing their demise has come, five minutes from the end.

Oh, DAMN! Two riders have gone right off the road and into the grass on the verge— but they haven’t gone down! They’re back on safely.

Etixx is on the front for Marcel Kittel, lining up their leadout train. But now Lotto takes over as they pass under the Flamme Rouge!

Greipel and Coquard are up in good positions, Cav in third— no! He pulls out from behind Kittel, and WHAM! Cav has taken another win! He holds up four fingers— his fourth stage win! His thirtieth Tour de France stage win overall!

Kristoff, Saga, Degenkolb take the next three positions. Marcel Kittel is not happy— he threw up his hand on the line, protesting that Cav had cut him off. But Cav didn’t come that close to him, and they both swerved— there won’t be an official reprimand.

I’m really pleased for Cav. He’s pleased, too, glowing in his post-race interview. Not remotely a sore loser, Peter Sagan comes up behind him out of nowhere and picks him right up off the ground while Cav’s speaking to a reporter. Back on earth, Cav turns and yanks Sagan’s cap down right over his face.

So Froome is still in Yellow, Bauke Mollema 1.47 behind him, and Adam Yates behind him. We’re heading back into the mountains, but Cav says he’s not leaving yet. And Froome says there’s no way he feels like he’s sewn it up yet. Should be more good racing ahead!


Mark Cavendish celebrates as he crosses the finish line for his fourth win. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images, from https://www.theguardian.com/sport/live/2016/jul/16/tour-de-france-2016-stage-14-live

ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage 12: Montpelier to Mont Ventoux, 184km

No, let me sum up. 13 man break, 5 man chase at 168 to go. High winds snap the peloton into pieces. Wind is so bad, in fact, that the finish line has been moved six kilometers closer, just at the edge of the treeline, since the original finish, at the summit of Mont Ventoux, is currently getting hit with winds of up to 70mph. So the finish has been moved, Pay attention, cos that’ll be important later.

There’s already been a crash. Simon Gerrans went down hard on a curve, followed by a trio of Sky riders, just like sideways dominos. Thankfully, they all got back up, and back in the race.

I watched the stage earlier today, and I sort of want to say, “Yeah, so shit happened, and then we got to the end.” Because while a climb up Mont Ventoux is always exciting, today’s stage was fairly normal up until the end. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So finally, today, we saw some actual attacks from Nairo Quintana, who’s been pretty conservative this whole race, staying close on Chris Froome’s wheel.

Up front, Serge Pauwels and Thomas de Gendt are battling for the lead!

Oh! Froome is pushing up, with Richie Porte behind him, and Nairo in his usual place, but Froome attacks, and Quintana falls off the back! And again, he has no other riders with him from his team!

Dani Navarro has joined the two frontrunners! Bauke Mollema has joined Froome and Porte!

Thomas de Gendt has crossed the finish line first— he’s gained 50 points in the King of the Mountains competition— and he takes the stage win! Pauwels takes second, and Navarro, third.

Further back down the mountain, Porte, Froome, and Mollema are still fighting. The crowds are closing in…and…sigh. Okay. Here’s where it gets fucked up.

If you’ve ever seen a mountain stage of the Tour, you know how insane the crowds get. Just— they’re so close on either side the riders are hemmed in to their elbows. People are screaming and waving flags and jumping up and down, running alongside— if they can get the space— an waving signs. It’s crazy. It’s dangerous. And it makes me very, very angry.

So all of a sudden, the cameras go back down to the Maillot Jaune trio and…there’s Froome. Going up the mountain.

On foot.

Running.

On foot.

Short story? Camera bike slams on its brakes. Porte slams right into the back of the bike. Mollema goes head over heels right after him. We can’t see Froome, but it’s later revealed that another motorcycle can’t stop in time, and runs over Froome’s bike, destroying it. There is absolutely, positively no way the Sky car can get to Froome, so he did the only thing he could think of: he tried to get some space, jogging up the road alone. The neutral Mavic car got to him, and tried to give him a bike, but his shoes didn’t fit into the pedals, and the bike was the wrong fit for him. He was pedaling furiously, and going nowhere. Finally, finally gets to the part of the course lined by barriers, the Sky team car AT LAST gets to him, his team mechanic leaps out of the car, throws him on his second bike, and shoves him running up the road. Perhaps a hundred yards up, he passes under the 1km banner, there’s a Sky rider waiting for him, whom he passes, probably in frustration and anger, though he catches up again, and they cross together.

It’s a fucking mess. It’s horrible. “You have guys running up the road in Borat costumes showing their ass,” says Adam Yates, angry that the crowd has become more obsessed with getting on TV than watching a sporting event. And he’s right. he’s completely right. I get that with the last-minute change of finish line, perhaps ASO (the Tour organisers) couldn’t quite get everything as put-together as they usually do. But this isn’t an isolated incident. Every mountain stage gets crazy like this. There are always too many motorbikes out on the road. There have been collisions with motorbikes. Just this spring, a Belgian rider, Antoine Demoitié, was hit by a bike and died. How many crashes have been caused or worsened by all these bikes?

I don’t hate the bikes. I don’t want them all out. Some of them are very, very necessary. There are officials on bikes there to catch infractions. There are TV cameras, and photographers, and that keeps the sponsors happy, and without sponsors, we don’t have teams, and we don’t have a race. But so many? I don’t know what the answer is.

And the crowd? Well, I love the fact that people can get so, so close to the race. Love that. But people cross the line from observers to circus performers, and we have a problem. Bob Roll made the point that with the moving of the finish line, 6km of people had to move down the mountain into the crowd that was already there. And don’t forget: some of these people take caravans and go up there days in advance to stake out a good spot. And get roaring drunk, because what the fuck else is there to do on the side of a road up a mountain in Provence? There are only so many times you can count the same sheep and sing “The Hills Are Alive.”

Today, race officials had to make some very very difficult decisions on what to do with the final standings. Adam Yates definitely crossed the line in a place that would have put him ahead of Chris Froome, and given him Yellow. But this wasn’t a regular stage finish. So they went through existing times, and positions when the accident happened, and in the end, after some very, very long, nail-biting moments of waiting that must have felt endless to the parties involved, Froome tweeted he had retained the race lead. There were some boos at the presentation when Froome was zipped into the Maillot Jaune, but those were from stupid people, and we don’t need to worry about them. When asked later, Adam Yates, who got the White Jersey of Best Young Rider, was extremely chipper about the outcome, saying he wouldn’t have it any other way, and the entire peloton agreed. “You want to win with your legs,” he says sagely.

The bigger the Tour gets, the more of a problem this is going to be. Something needs to change out there before someone else dies.

Chris Froome (right), Bauke Mollema (centre) and Richie Porte were left in a heap by the collision with the motorbike, from http://www.bbc.com/sport/cycling/36797558





Further reading about this insanity:

http://www.bbc.com/sport/cycling/36797558

http://www.sbs.com.au/cyclingcentral/blog/2016/07/15/tour-de-france-stage-12-time-harder-line?cid=trending

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2016/jul/14/chris-froome-mont-ventoux-tour-de-france-2016
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage 11: Carcassonne to Montpelier, 162.5km

Note to self: see the staggeringly beautiful medieval walled city of Carcassonne before I die.

Anyway! Hello, there! We’re 45 minutes into the stage, and there have been multiple crashes, terrible cross tailwinds, and hey! A massive forest fire! A couple of riders went down pretty hard— one of them headlong into a ditch. George Bennett? Thibaud Pinot, the Polka Dot Jersey, is down, too. I’ve never seen the medic’s car treating one rider on each side before, but it’s nice to know they can. Still, it could be so much worse: we’re still at 192 riders. Into the second week, and only six gone? Amazing.

So. Two riders up at the front: French National Champion Arthur Vichon, and Australian Leigh Howard . It’s not a really climb-y stage. Only two Cat 4s— nothing big. It's the wind that’s the problem. And as the stage progresses, the race goes back into the wind from another direction. It’s rough, and makes even this comparatively flat stage dangerous.

The gap to the two leaders was up to two minutes for a while, there, but sadly, now, it’s down to 65 seconds, and it looks like they’ll be caught, soon. Out on the wide, flat fields of this glorious region of southern France, they can, no doubt, see the peloton coming for them, bearing down.

And sure enough, at 61km to go, there’s the catch. They did very well, but this was inevitable. It’s right before a sprint, too, so the peloton has some work they’re lining up to do. There’s a big group pff the back, in fact, though they’re trying to catch up.

OW! They’re into a little town, just over a speed hump, and WHAM! Rafael Majka, Champion of Poland, goes down, and goes down hard, sailing in an horrific bellyflop right over his handlebars, ribs first into the tarmac. The front of his kit is black, though thankfully, not ripped, so he’s not bleeding. His bike lands on top of him, and a gendarme runs up to disentangle him. Worse, Winner Anacona IS bleeding, and limping. He’s taking some time getting back on the road. Tejay Vangarderen got caught up as well, though he didn’t go down, but BMC came back for him, and he caught up again to the race.

1km to the sprint point. Etixx is up in front for Kittel— and they sail easily through, snagging 20 points in the Green Jersey competition. Peter Sagan is right on his wheel, but it wasn’t a huge race. Nevertheless, the crowd is pounding on the advertising placards on the barriers, making a huge noise for the riders.

Ugh— there’s a shot of the Movistar bike mechanic up and out of the car window, securing a falling bike on the fly. There’s only one rider small enough to pass a bike to top GC man Nairo Quintana should Quintana suffer a catastrophic failure where the car can’t get to him, and this is that rider’s bike. With as crazy as this stage has been, no one is leaving anything to mechanical chance.

Here’s an interesting note: at 20km to the end, riders are prohibited from going back to their team cars for bottles of water. It just gets too crazy, But this stage is so intense and so hot, race officials have said they can have until 15km. Also, Michael Matthews, who who yesterday’s stage, dedicated the win to his wife, whose words helped rejuvenate him when he felt like giving up after two crashes, and to his dog, Geegee. Aw.

Wind keeps changing direction, and it’s not a lot of fun. But hey, there are flamingos out there— yes, lots and lots of wild flamingos— so there’s that.

There’s an interview with Marcel Kittel, and they ask him how fresh he is. “I’m as fresh as every else,” he says. Slick answer.

Chris Froome is up at the front of the peloton, unmissable in Yellow. But Tinkoff is pulling at the front, also , to get Peter Sagan up near the front for the sprint, now less than 10km ahead. There are these huge roundabouts that split the field again and again, but they’re going at such a clip it almost doesn’t matter. The riders are strung out across the road in thin diagonal lines, the telltale mark of a crosswind. Jesus— the helicopter pulls back, and the entire race is a ing line— the peloton absolutely wired.

Peter Sagan tries a breakaway— but Chris Froome is on his tail! Froome, who is NOT a sprinter, is going with one of the top sprinter in the world! This is crazy, but it shows Froome’s greatness. Geraint Thomas, Froome’s teammate, is right there with him. Back in the group behind them, oh, damn— Nairo Quintana is alone, and locked in. He has no riders to help him bridge up to Froome, and he’s watching his standing slide. The breakaway is ten seconds ahead, twelve— if this keeps up, Froome could potentially win this entire race right here, today.

Where the hell is Movistar? Why aren't they with their GC man? Jesus.

There are four riders up there— Sagan, Froome, Thomas, and a Tinkoff rider I don’t know— ah, Maciej Bodnar. They’re going at full speed— up to 70km. What’s this? Cav is off the back of the peloton in the cars! Did he fall? Fuck. Sounds like he may have had a mechanical.

Seventeen seconds’ lead, now. Froome has doubled his lead at this point. And Thomas is with him to help.

FINALLY, there’s a Movistar rider with Quintana, but— fuck. There’s Cav, and he’s nowhere. Off the back, pedaling like he’s out for a Sunday trip to the store. Dammit. Something went catastrophically wrong, and there will be no sprint for him. Oooo, yes. Part of his bike sort of imploded. Terrible luck for him!

The first four are under the Flamme Rouge— the 1km marker. Thomas drops back, work done. Froome knows he won’t win a sprint against Sagan, but he is out for every second he can get, as other riders have pushed the pace up as far as they can behind this group. He pushes as hard as he can— keeping up with a world-class sprinter, for G-d’s sake!— and crosses the line right on Sagan’s wheel. It’s amazing!

The next group comes over about six seconds back, but with the time bonus, Froome’s won eleven seconds on the GC. Amazing work, especially considering tomorrow’s stage is up the terrifying moonscape of Mont Ventoux.

I’m listening to Froome’s interview, post-race, and listening really closely to his accent. I had forgotten until today that while he’s British, he was born in Nairobi, and learnt to ride there. I can hear it, now.

So anyway. Exciting stage today, and thankfully, no one’s seriously injured— far as I know. Tomorrow will be utterly grim: Mont Ventoux is a terrible, terrible climb. But hey, it leads to pretty pictures!


Here’s Sagan’s win, with Froome looking over his shoulder, and Maciej Bodnar third, sitting up to celebrate his teammate’s win.

Peter Sagan wins stage 11 ahead of Chris Froome. Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA. via https://www.theguardian.com/sport/live/2016/jul/13/tour-de-france-2016-stage-11-live

ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage 9: Vielha d'Aran, Spain to Arcalis, Adorra, 184km

Turn on the night’s recap for bad news: we’ve had another abandonment, and this time, it’s fucking Alberto Contador. G-d damn it. Former two-time Tour champion, but he never recovered from not just one but two crashes in as many days at the very beginning of the race. Watching him give up and get into his team car is just…ugh. So sorry, man. That just sucks.

Sigh. So. We have twenty men in a breakaway about ten minutes up the road, and they’re so far ahead, they’re in another flippin’ country. Team Sky is, as usual, controlling the pace of the peloton, but the story of the moment is with the breakaway. There’s a whole bunch of sprint points up ahead, and who’s going to— oh, man, well. Peter Sagan, best sprinter in the group, almost casually looks over his shoulder, and decisively leads the group, strung out in a long line, over the line. 20 points for him moves him right up behind Cav. He won’t take green today, though. And in a group this large, I don’t think there are any sprint points left for the peloton to snap up.

I just saw YET ANOTHER stupid spectator with a fucking flag in front of the cyclists’ wheels. One of the riders reached out and yanked it out of the way, as the person holding it was obviously too stupid to figure out it was a problem. My G-d, people, did you all fail physics?

The riders are on the most glorious switchback climb up the Col de Beixalis, and the scenery is spectacular. Down the far side of yet another climb— the second to last— and the breakaway is still away. The riders are all still in the bright sun, but the weather at the finish line is not quite so cheery. So that’ll be fun.

Well, this was inevitable. Further up the road in the rain, a spectator stepped into the road on a blind corner, and George Bennett slammed right into him, laying him out. Again, I feel very bad for the spectator, but seriously: what the fuck were you thinking?

It’s raining, now, and up ahead, Tom Dumoulin has gone off ahead of the breakaway just a little. He’s a good climber, and if he can get some time, he may take this. He’s not high enough in the standings to challenge the Maillot Jaune, so the GC guys aren’t really chasing him. Dumoulin’s now about a minute over his closest chaser, and he’s looking good. The group behind him has splintered— there’s no organized chase. He’s far enough ahead that there are cars in the gap behind him. Were that gap higher, or closing, race officials would pull all the vehicles.

Under the 10km for the largest group that holds Chris Froome. Peter Sagan has fallen off the back— he’s done, and it’s not a sprint finish, today.

Ooooh, Thibault Pinot’s cracked. Ugh. This is not a pretty stage, here. There are 50 points to be won at the top of this climb— the and Rafal Majka is pushing for it. There’s a shot at the finish line, and oh my G-d, there’s HAIL. You poor bastards.

Sky is keeping the pace so high that Nairo Quintana, latched onto Froome’s wheel, will have no chance of an attack. They know precisely what they’re doing. Up ahead of them, the breakaway is…not. It’s in scattered drips of one and two riders. Miserable riders, as they’ve hit that horrific weather.

Oh, no! I’ve just seen a note that Mark Renshaw has withdrawn. Dammit. Well, with Cav’s job pretty much done, I can understand. I just hate to see guys go out. I’m also seeing that on top of all his injuries— and perhaps, not surprisingly— Alberto Contador had a fever this morning. I hope he gets a lot of sleep.

Rafal Majka is fighting to regain the King of the Mountains jersey— Thibaud Pinot has definitely been challenging him for it today, taking over in the standings on the last climb. Can Majka get it back? He has the look of a man in pain, covered with determination. He and Rui Costa are alone, now chasing Tom Dumoulin who made a break at the 12km-to-go mark— and oh my FUCKING G-D. There’s some asshole in a lime green gimp suit, STANDING IN THE ROAD. Majka and Costa, concentrating on their job, have to GO AROUND HIM, as this idiot suddenly realises he’s in the way, and can’t figure out which way to go. Oh, my G-d, people! If you’re that stupid, STAY HOME.

Oh! Richie Porte is taking off from the Froome group— can he drag himself up the GC? Froome is right on his tail, and the rest of the group is pulling back. Dan Martin has tried to break away— he’s only 17 seconds ahead in the GC, so Froome can’t afford to let him go.

Rui Costa and Rafael Majka are only 42 seconds behind Dumoulin, but the real fight is behind them. Porte and Froome and now Adam Yates are battling for placement as they climb up the final peak of the day, Andorre Arcalis. The back of this group is Alejandro Valverde. On the back! This is an elite group. Don’t screw with them.

One kilometer to go for Tom Dumoulin, who is soaking wet.

Porte attacks again, and Froome is right there. Nairo Quintana is hanging slightly back, conserving energy. Malcolm Oliver is breaking out, but he’s pulled back.

Dumoulin is at the line in the pouring rain— the official’s car is sending up sheets of rain to either side, but nothing can dim his smile.

Sprint for second— Majka and Costa are close, but at the line, there’s no huge fight. Costa, then Majka on his wheel. It should be enough to keep the latter in Polka Dots.

Here comes the rest of the group. Daniel Navarro of Cofidis— G-d, I can barely see his wheels for the rain. Winner Anacona, then Thibaud Pinot, and all I can think is “Please, please someone get these guys warm and dry.”

George Bennett. Matthias Frank. Diego Rosa. A few others. The remnants of that twenty-man breakaway. But the group with Froome is still climbing, and it’s so dark and grim on the mountain. Dan Martin is pulling hard. But Richie Porte is not giving an inch. Froome, one of his best friends, is right on his rear wheel— they’re beating the hell out of each other today.

They’re finally just a few hundred meters away— Adam Yates makes a breakaway and Froome is right on him! Quintana locks onto them, but there’s the slightest gap back to Porte now, so there may be a second or two loss. Tejay Vangarderen is several seconds back, yet— ouch. The final standings will have changed again. Majka has indeed lost the King of the Mountains jersey to Thibauld Pinot, but Majka clawed back enough points on the final climb to put him a mere three points back, so that fight goes on.

It’s still absolutely bloody disgusting weather out there, and thank G-d there’s a rest day tomorrow.

Tom Dumoulin heads towards the finish line in pouring rain. Photograph: Peter Dejong/AP, via https://www.theguardian.com/sport/live/2016/jul/10/tour-de-france-2016-stage-nine-updates-live

ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage 8: Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon, 184km

I don’t really know what happened yesterday. I’m annoyed about that. Okay, I know ONE thing that happened: the 1km arch— the huge, inflatable X that covers the road— collapsed directly on top of rider Adam Yates. He went into it full speed at the very second it came down, and went flying. If you’d meant to do this in a movie, it would have meant multiple takes and a ton of rehearsal. But no: a spectator’s belt caught on the release cable (because ONE CABLE can take this whole thing down), and wham! Perfectly timed, and utterly horrific. Poor Adam shrugged it off on social media as “a few more scars on his chin to add to the collection.” He even remarked that it was lucky it had been only him and not the whole peloton going at 70kmp. He’s back on the road now, and well up in the standings. STILL one of 198. Again: I absolutely cannot express my joy strongly enough over that. No one has abandoned. No one has been seriously hurt. This makes me fucking giddy.

Yesterday’s disaster, via The Guardian:

The collapsed flamme rouge which blocked the road at the end of the stage. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters



Spain’s Alberto Contador, left, and other riders fight their way under the deflated arch at the end of the seventh stage of the Tour de France. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images



Oh, and the stage was won yesterday by British rider Steve Cummings. Well done, Steve!

So here we are in Stage 8, in the Pyrenees at last, and I was promised llamas. I’m not holding my breath, but I’ve had four hours of sleep and here I am. Because the promise of llamas is more important than sleep. Tour coverage is live on the iPad BECAUSE SCREW YOU, NBC SPORTS NETWORK and I’m watching three riders in a breakaway that I have to tell you, looks pretty damned good to me. It’s Rafal Majka and Thibaud Pinot, later joined by Tony Martin. These are some big names. They've been away for a while, but the peloton is pushing a pretty hard pace. (ETA: It’s not on NBC Sports, cos it’s on NBC. Sorry I yelled at you, NBC.)

In fact, Thibaud Pinot falls off the lead group, and is soon swallowed up by the peloton. Not only swallowed, but practically digested on the spot, dropping back through the mass of riders in exhaustion. Rafal Majka has broken away and is gone up alone— ah. For all of about five minutes. He’s been caught, too. Still the three of them went over a Cat 1 mountain— the Col du Tourmalet, for the love of G-d!— all by themselves. That’s pretty astonishingly impressive.

Believe it or not, Adam Yates, with fresh stitches in his chin, is perfectly placed today to take Yellow. He’s already wearing the jersey of Best Young Rider— could he change it for a better? That’s going to depend on what happens on the next two climbs, cos we’re so, so not done yet.

I have to tell you, it’s days like this that make the whole summer for me. These gorgeous little towns, tucked into the folds and curves of the earth, all grey stone and narrow roads and acres of sunshine on green grass. I want to go to every single one of them. Someone lend me a helicopter?

The cameras catch Alberto Contador, and he looks pretty good, bouncing rhythmically as he climbs. Remember: he’s had not just one but two terrible crashes so far. But he said he had a solid nine hours’ sleep last night, and he’s feeling good. In fact, he’s claimed he’s getting better every day. I don’t really see how a stage of the toughest sporting event in the world— and then another, and then another— can improve your health on a daily basis, but then again, I think most of these guys are utterly crazy to begin with. At any rate, maybe we’ll see some good stuff from him soon enough.

The riders are taking bottles of water from spectators as they climb in the blazing sun. At first, years ago, that surprised me. Anyone remember the year someone threw tacks all over the course? Or the time—

Oh, no. Michael Morkov, the Danish rider who took a handlebar to the thigh in a terrible crash this week, has abandoned. This is our first abandonment, and it makes me incredibly sad. I hate, HATE seeing guys go off injured. Still, it’s been eight days. That has never happened before, so we’ll take some comfort in that.

As I was saying: there was also the time someone actually SHOT at the Tour with an air gun. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have gone to stand on the roads and scream themselves hoarse for these guys, but not all of them are sane. So seeing a rider take water from a stranger is always concerning. But they never drink it: they pour it over their heads as an impromptu shower to cool themselves. Water for drinking comes from their team car only.

Wow. They’re so high in the Pyrenees, almost into Spain. I’m looking for a nun with a guitar, I swear. (Wrong range, yes, I know. The Alps are next week. Shut up.)

We have one more climb ahead: the Col du Peyresourde. They’re coming down this climb— the Col de Val Louron-Azett— very carefully, no one making any sudden moves, or doing that…thing, with the aerodynamic tuck that’s so creepily terrifying. The field is pretty much in a line, winding down the switchbacks towards the valley. Still, they’re going up to 45mph at some points. It’s impressive as hell.

Oooo! And there’s a rider— Wilco Kelderman— who’s had a bit of misfortune on a sharp switchback: his tire has come off the rim. Wham! Down he goes. Right in front of Contador, who barely manages to avoid him. In fact, no one else goes down, miraculously, and a short while later, Kelderman ha a new wheel, and has rejoined the peloton.

Sky is at the front of the pack now, with some Tinkoff riders alongside. Everyone looks strong, but a a little grim. And why not? Look what’s coming: average gradient 7%, which spikes up to 13%. And it comes at the end of a multi-climb stage. Sadistic. Kinda fun.

Chris Froome is up near the front. Nairo Quintana lurking close by. We have 28km to go. The gradient is picking up, and Sky isn’t giving an inch.

For the love of G-d— Sky is attacking! Movistar is hammering right back, and now there are about eighteen riders out front. Can they last? Gah! It’s Froome, with Quintana right behind him. Tejay Vangarderen is in this group— Contador is off the back. Valverde is in there, too— any of these guys could take the lead of the race if they keep this up. Roman Bardet is attacking. Froome pulls him back. They are fighting like hell to get to the top of this climb first— not for the points, but to be first to hit the crazy descent before the line! Oh, Jesus! Froome just punched a really stupid fan in a cheap yellow wig who got in his face! Left hook straight to the jaw, big-ass guy goes staggering back into the crowd, stunned. Froome just rolls his eyes and doesn’t even miss a pedal. YOU GO, BABY!

Froome is over the line! He’s over the top, he’s on the descent, and suddenly, HE’S ATTACKING! Augh! He’s doing that terrifying tuck down off his seat, flattened into the bar of his frame— he’s going at 50mph, AND STILL PEDALING.

https://twitter.com/cyclingtips/status/751797584499384321

The group that’s following him are not organised, and not doing any kind of a chase, Froome only has about ten seconds on them, but he’s determined as hell. Remember: he’s wearing the Number One of last year’s winner, and he didn’t exactly pull that out of a Cracker Jack box. He knows what he’s doing. He’s up to fifteen seconds, now. Who’s going to chase him? And now it’s TWENTY.

(Oh, hey, Frank Schleck is in this chase group. I’m glad— I’ve missed the Schleks.)

There are two chase groups, now, and oh, damn— there’s a shot of Pierre Rolland, and his shorts are just shredded over his hip. I don’t see blood, somehow, so perhaps he’s not that bad? I mean, he’s back up already from whatever happened, and he’s into the group. Seems more likely he hit a wall at speed, and didn’t actually go down. I sincerely hope that’s all. And considering it’s just his shorts and not his skin (okay, a little on his elbow), looks like he didn’t hit it too hard.

Froome is alone, here, alone in Luchon. This is incredible. He’s got seventeen seconds on the closest riders. He’s under the 1km banner, and is he gonna do it? Is this the Holy Week for British riders? There is no one behind him! One more bend, and he’s completely alone! He is STILL pushing hard for every second— and a fist in the air as he sits up— he’s got Yellow!

More riders are coming in, now, keeping what time they can. Froome had thirteen seconds on them at the end— that’s insane. It’s great, though! This has been an incredible week for Britain, and it’s thrilling. It’s Froome’s 31st Yellow Jersey— the most of any rider currently active. Fabian Cancellara has 29, and since he said this is his last Tour, I don’t think he’ll catch up. Especially since, with the ten-second stage winner’s bonus, Froome’s 13-second lead is now twenty-three seconds.

Wow. The replay at the summit is so telling. Just at the line up on Col de Peyresourde, Froome went over first, and Nairo Quintana reached for a water bottle from a team soigneur standing by the roadside. He looked down at the bottle, put it to his mouth, and looked up to realise Froome had chosen that exact moment to attack. Not even a full second of inattention. A fraction. Quintana took one long pull of water, threw the bottle away, and chased, but it was too late. Froome was gone. That’s all it took.

Bob Roll just called the race for Froome. I don’t know about that, man, cos we’re not even halfway through, but I can’t wait to see.

Chris Froome celebrates as he crosses the finishing line in Bagnères-de-Luchon to win stage eight of the Tour de France and take the overall lead CREDIT: AP, via The Telegraph



PS: AHHHH! Closing credits, and crowd shots, and there’s Didi Senft! The Devil of the Mountains! Man, I didn’t see him at all last year! WOOHOO! You go, you crazy old man! And another point of interest: remember when I said that Cav was not a climber, and would probably abandon to go get ready for the Olympics? That’s not a joke. He’s still in the race, but barely finished within the time limit today. Yellow Jersey a week ago, almost disqualified today. Just another day in the Tour de France.
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage 6, Arpajon-sur-Cère to Montauban, 190.5km

Skidding into the live coverage right at the end. Ooops. So let’s see where we are: doesn’t seem to be a breakaway at this point, and the whole peloton is shaking down for a fine sprint finish. Peter Sagan is in green today, as he lost hello yesterday. So Cav moves out of green and into his regular Dimension Data jersey. Greg Van Avermaet is still in Yellow, of course, and that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon.

Looking back, seems there was an early breakaway of two riders: Jan Barta of Bora-Argon 18, and Yukiya Arashiro of Lampre-Merida. They’re nowhere in the GC, so the peloton doesn’t give a damn. The commenters over at The Guardian are having a FIELD DAY with them, though.


Hugh Brechin @HughRBrechin
@LawrenceOstlere Quite a lot of people working at CERN have devoted decades to the frustrating study of Barta-Arashiro particles.

Neil Wellard @theneildeal
@LawrenceOstlere Barta Arashiro is a craft beer brewed by Buddhist monks. They only make 317 bottles a year.

geoffrey manboob @geoffreymanboob
@LawrenceOstlere name the breakaway - Barta & Arashiro: loveable lead characters from a Studio Ghibli film

Russ McClintock @RussMcClintock
@LawrenceOstlere Arashiro and Barta, two minor characters in the Graham Greene novel The End of the Breakaway.


Inevitably, of course, they’re caught, just as the cameras catch a woman, wrapped in a French flag, on a horse galloping alongside the road. They-- the cyclists, not including the horse-- had a lead of almost five minutes at one point, but just two guys on a long breakaway have very little chance of making it to the end from so early. Well done, guys.

55km/35mph right now, which doesn’t sound too fast until you’re in the middle of it. They pass a field filled with old cars and tractors in the shape of a bicycle. It’s kind of awesome.

11km to go. The peloton is lines, now: Sky, SMB, Lotto, Tinkoff, Dimension Data. Direct Energie has been pushing the pace hard— they want Bryan Coquard up there, and they’ll burn up the peloton to get him there.

10.4km. Paul and Phil are talking about the Giant-Alpecin team. I’d forgotten this: back in January, they were out on a training run when a driver going the wrong way on the highway smashed into them. Amazingly, no one was killed, but John Degenkolb nearly lost a finger, and has some pretty hardcore PTSD. There he is, though, in the peloton, after a very competitive year so far. These guys are tougher than their carbon fibre bikes, I swear.

Lotto comes to the fore, setting up Andre Greipel. They’re not starting the sprint or anything: they just want to make sure they set the pace, and have a clear shot for their guy. But all the other teams have the same idea, of course. Etixx wants Kittel up there. Dimension Data has their setup for Cav. Direct Energy, too, for Bryan Coquard. And hey, John Degenkolb is in there, and word is he’s going to try for this sprint, too. You know I have to root for him.

All of them are snaking into town— all, btw, we still haven’t had any abandons, and that’s amazing— and it’s really speeding up. Some riders are dropping back already, work done for the day. The leadout men and sprinters are getting into place. The front of the peloton is strung out from sheer speed. Under the 1km!

Sagan and Cav are in there front— Cav behind Kittel— go go go ! The sprint is on! GO MARK GO!!!

TWENTY NINE!!!

Jesus, this is like watching Cav from three years ago. He was perfect. He used Marcel Kittel as a leadout man, and WHAM— made it look effortless. He’s now a solid second for Tour Stage wins, and only Eddie Merckx is ahead of him. After the stage, Cav dedicates the win to his brand-new niece, born yesterday to his little brother. Welcome to the world, little Darcy!

Another amazingly wonderful thing about the Tour this week, though I know I’ve mentioned it before: we still have 198 riders. This is incredible. No one has abandoned. This has never, ever happened before. We’ve had crashes, of course— I’m used to the first week of the Tour being drenched in blood: the whole week is usually full of nerve-related pileups. And there have been injuries this year. Some guys are suffering through multiple incidents, any one of which would have felled a lesser human. But they’re all still there. That’s amazing. This is the kind of good news I really like.

Cav gets his Green Jersey back. He’s now 29 points ahead of Peter Sagan, and man, he’s happy about it. There’s a rumour he’ll leave the Tour early, to get ready for the Olympics. I hate to see anyone leave the Tour early, but I must admit it makes sense: there’s nothing he’s going to be able to do on the upcoming mountain stages except suffer. I’m also hearing a lot about Fortuneo rider Dan McLay, who is a young, talented British sprinter. As John MacLeary of The Telegraph puts it: “A place on the podium was a stunning reward for McLay, who is making his Tour debut this season and has now had four top 10s in his first six days.” He took a very impressive third today, so he’s someone we’re going to be watching, and seeing often in coming years.

So there we are. Greg Van Avermaet maintains his hold on the Maillot Jaune. Cav’s back in Green. Thomas de Gendt is in Polka Dots. I was wrong about Richie Porte: he’s actually over seven minutes down, which isn’t great, though he’s not exactly alone. His teammate Tejay Van Garderen is the highest-placed American, in eleventh place at 5.17 back. But none of that really matters right now, of course, because race leader Van Avermaet? Their teammate. They all have yellow helmets right now because of him.

As ever, though, it’ll all change the mountains. We’ll see.



Mark Cavendish, centre, crosses the line to take his twenty-ninth carpet Tour Stage win, while watching Marcel Kittel, right. Left, fellow Brit Dan McLay, in black and green, takes third. (Getty Images.)
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage 5: Limoges to Le Lioran, 216km

So…remember when I said Stage Three was the closest finish I’d ever seen? Yeah. That didn’t last long.

I’ve seen photo finishes before, obviously. And Three was pretty damned close. But Four? MILLIMETERS. It was literally TWENTY EIGHT MILLIMETERS. It came down to the fiercest of battles between Marcel Kittel and Bryan Coquard, and even as they collapsed to the ground after the explosive sprit, neither of them knew who had won. It actually took some time for the judges to figure it out, and then, finally, came the official word: Kittel. He’d thrown his bike just that slight bit further. Incredible.

Here we are, then, on Stage Five. Lots of climbs today— several Cat 2s and even a Cat 3. Utterly gorgeous scenery, too, of course. The Guardian tells me this is the first time in eleven years we’ve had all 198 riders still in the race by now. Poor Sam Bennet, though— he’s barely holding on, still suffering from injuries sustained the very first day.

As always, there’s an early breakaway, this time, from the 190km-to-go point and featuring nine riders. This time, though, some of them apparently felt they could do yet better, and now we have a breakaway from the breakaway— three riders— Greg Van Avermaet, Andre Grivko, and Thomas De Gendt, followed by six, followed by the peloton.

There’s a shot of Fabian Cancellara tooling along, and I am utterly delighted to see his white bike is emblazoned with his nickname: Spartacus. I adore this guy.

The scenery is gorgeous, as ever. I keep looking at these tiny hamlets and thinking, “See, this is what all those overpriced subdivisions want to grow up to be. Except: plywood. Poor babies.”

But man, the mountains. G-d. The Cat 3 this stage is almost as high as Alp d’Huez, Phil Liggett tells me, but it’s not a Hors Categorie simply because the climb is much more mild. I’m guessing it isn’t feeling very mild right now. All the people standing by the road? I have to salute them, too, cos there’s no parking up there. They walked their asses up the mountain. Yikes.

A mile yet to go up the Puy Marie, and Grivko has had it. Alas for him, De Gendt and Avermaet make their Belgian way on without him. Also: “Puy” means “extinct volcano.” Have fun with that at your next pub quiz.

Out of the woods and into the sun for the leaders, who are over eight minutes ahead of the peloton. The chase group is down to four, stuck in no man’s land. The two leaders are over the top, and De Gendt has officially taken the King of the Mountains from Jasper Stuyven, who’s back somewhere down the mountain. Also down the mountain, alas, Peter Sagan has cracked. He looks up at the camera on the motorcycle next to him, and offers up an insouciant shrug with his yellow-clad shoulders. He’s looking like he’s cycling through pancake batter. Oooh, so had Vincenzo Nibali, winner of the Giro d’Italia. We’ll see them again before Paris— many times, I’m sure— but not today.

Our four chasers are also over the top, and it’s time to see where the two leaders are. They’re…ugh. They’re doing that thing, there, where they fall down a mountain, and pedal to go faster. It’s dizzying to watch.

Holy wow, man. I would say that the peloton has made its way over the summit, but…it’s not really the peloton any more. It’s the bloody, shattered remains, led by stone-faced Movistar riders, setting a truly cruel pace. i don’t think anyone’s actually abandoned, but they’ll be dragging what’s left of their bodies up the far side of the mountain for a while yet.

Our Belgian duo has finished the descent, and starting another climb. Van Avermaet has decided to attack, and off he goes up the road ahead of his countryman. I’m wondering what De Gendt is thinking, and if any of it is printable.

Somehow, Van Avermaet is, on the next climb, seeming to go even faster. He’s over the top all by himself, and I don’t think anyone can possibly catch him. There’s De Gendt a bit behind him, and then another chase group which contains some of the best riders of the race, who have organized themselves very well.

Man, Van Avermaet is all alone. He’s at least six minutes up, so he’s got yellow. He knows. It’s just him and the race officials’ car with his team car behind that, and he’s on the last bend to the line, everyone screaming for him. He looks over his shoulder at the team car, and a huge grin splits his face. He sits up, points to the BMC logo of his team emblazoned across his chest, and shakes his fists in the air.

De Gendt is alone as he, exhausted, comes in second 2.34 later, but there’s a battle behind him— sprint points are on the line. They’re on a descent, and it could be tricky, here. On and on they go, and I can’t even tell who’s who, now. Into the final few meters. There’s a Tinkoff rider, Rafael Majka, coming in third, which is— DUDE BEHIND YOU! Jesus! Majka very nearly lost third because everyone and his brother came up on the other side of the road. Third isn’t bad, though— it’s a consolation for Tinkoff for having lost Sagan’s Yellow jersey today.

Gevalt. Well, mountains always do insane things to the Tour, and today was no exception. For once, a breakaway actually succeeded. A rider who was nowhere yesterday is in yellow today. Richie Porte, at whom everyone looked askance yesterday, is pretty much right in the middle of the best riders again. Tomorrow isn’t nearly as roller-coaster-y, so things will move around again, but likely not as much. We shall see.

Sleep well, Sam Bennett. We’re rooting for you!


Greg van Avermaet celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the fifth stage. Photograph: Peter Dejong/AP (via https://www.theguardian.com/sport/live/2016/jul/06/tour-de-france-2016-stage-five-live)









Notes:
If you’re not following along with The Guardian’s “as it happened” coverage, you haven’t heard Shakespeare in the original Klingon. The comments from readers are HYSTERICAL.

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/live/2016/jul/06/tour-de-france-2016-stage-five-live



TWENTY. EIGHT. MILLIMETERS. (Getty Images)
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage 3, Granville to Angers, 223.5km

I’m a little late again. Sorry. You’ve seen this before, though: breakaway out front, peloton not overly concerned yet. Wash, rinse, repeat. Don’t worry: it gets much more exciting as we go on.

The two out front today are both Frenchmen: Thomas Voeckler and Armindo Fonseca. Fonseca took off before the 2km mark, and after some time, Voeckler— a seasoned vet of the Tour— took off and joined him. Fonseca, at least, had an advantage of over eleven minutes at one point, but it’s down to 1.15. They pass the sprint point, taking the biggest two amounts of points, but shortly thereafter, the sprinters come through: Pater Sagan in Yellow, Kittel, Greipel, and, of course, Cav in Green. They’re all keeping their numbers up.

Okay, there’s some art in the field that’s just too adorable for words. A hundred people or so, standing in a heart shape around a sign that’s a person waving, and words reading “the heart of France.” And all the people are stepping back, and then in, back and in, rhythmically, so it looks like the heart is beating. AWWW. Absolutely the helicopters were going to find that.

The peloton has picked up the pace. 46 seconds to the leaders. It’s been a long, fairly placid day. One of the longest stages of the Tour (though tomorrow’s is the longest of all) , so no one is really wanting to suffer overmuch. There’s a lot of time to rehash what happened yesterday— such as Peter Sagan not knowing the peloton had caught the last two breakaway riders, which led to him not knowing he’d won the stage til after it was over. Which is why, of course, there was no traditional victory shot of him doing a victory dance over his handlebars on the line. Someone asked Julian Alaphilippe about losing by a hairsbreadth, and he all but shrugged, saying there are worse things to do than lose that closely to the World Champion. But of course, everyone’s talking about Jasper Stuyven beating everyone for so long, and then losing 450 meters from the end. Cycling is not a gentle sport.

Okay. 15km to go, now, and the peloton is definitely out for blood. The road curves too much now for them to see Voeckler and Fonseca, but they know they’re there. They have to slow down a little as they hit another small town— there are far too many of them to go all out in the narrow streets. The leaders have no such problem, and are still going. They’re looking over their shoulders now, though. Voeckler is starting to pull some faces, showing the strain. They’re under the 10km arch, and now the peloton fills the road, fifteen seconds behind. It is, as ever, a somewhat terrifying sight.

Voeckler gestures to a spectator to stand back— he knows what’s behind him. Don’t stand there, buddy.

The sprinters’ teams are organising, coming to the fore and lining up. Oh— oh, the— dammit. There’s the catch. Voeckler and Fonseca moved over to their left, resigned, and are swallowed up, dropping back through the peloton like stones.

This is going to be a very technical sprint. There’s a fairly sharp bend 350 meters to the end once they hit town, and there’s not going to be much space to reorganise for the drive to the line. Paul Sherwin is pointing out that with the way the peloton is now, and the speeds it’s hitting, if you’re not in position already now, you’re screwed. He may not have phrased it quite like that, of course.

They’re so fast at this point! Around one corner, under the 5k banner. I see Dimension Data, Etixx, Cofidis. Cofidis lost their sprinter to a bar fight last week— do they have a suitable replacement in their squad? Sagan is — OH! There’s another sharp turn, and an Orica rider has gone into the barriers! It doesn’t seem too many are involved— the race goes on.

Under the 1km! Sprinters are lining up! I see Cav! I see Sagan! There’s the turn— Cav’s behind Greipel— Greipel’s started early, and—- both of them think they’ve won!

Waiting, waiting— there’s going to be a photo— Greipel had raised his hand, but the look on his face was one of uncertainty— IT’S CAV!

The TV coverage is pretty clear, but it looks like no one’s actually told Cav. But the charts are up on the screen, and it’s official. It’s his 28th stage victory, and — ah! They’ve told the team, and there is much cheering and shouting. My G-d, I’ve never seen a closer finish. That was literally a difference of an inch or two at most. He’s second only to Eddy Merckx for sheer number of stage wins. He had such a terrible year last year, and the year before that wasn’t great, either— I’m really, really pleased for him. He can be a temperamental, obnoxious bad boy, but he’s got incredible talent. (Technically, he’s tied with Bernard Hinault, but he has more seconds and thirds, as well, whereas Hinault “only” had firsts.)

AAAAAH! Fabian Cancellara is in the booth doing colour! SQUEE!I love this guy. He broke his BACK in the Tour last year, and stayed in the race for another TWO DAYS. He’s made of iron, I swear. This, he swears, is his final Tour. He says he’d love another stage win. I can’t blame him.

One other thing makes me really happy today, too: Cav is back with his best-ever leadout man, Mark Renshaw. I hadn’t known Renshaw was with Dimension Data. No wonder Cav’s doing so well.

So Peter Sagan, that long-hair with the fun voice, is back in Yellow. Valverde is on his heels. Froome is only 14 seconds off the front. Richie Porte is, wow, 77th. He’s gonna have to do some serious work to pull this up, but he and his whole team know that. It’s going to get so exciting soon. Geraint Thomas called much of today “boring.” Heh. Not for long.




ONE INCH. No, really.

Photograph: ITV, from https://www.theguardian.com/sport/live/2016/jul/04/tour-de-france-2016-stage-three-live
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage 2 Saint-Lô to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, 183km

Four riders in today’s breakaway: Jasper Stuyven, Veygard Breen, Cesare Benedetti, Paul Voss, almost right from the line. None of them are GC contenders, so the peloton has been mostly complacent. Most of the riders in yesterday’s crashes seem to have rejoined us today, which is good. There have, apparently, been a few crashes so far again today, but nothing terribly serious. Alberto Contador went down again, though, and after his injuries yesterday, I’m really, really trying hard not to think about his pain levels.

There’s a good wind today, and some rain, though it’s spotty, and in some places, it’s even sunny. But it’s also windy in spots, and just all-around unpredictable.

94km to go until the finish line in Cherbourg. And decreasing at a good clip. The riders are taking rain gear off, putting it back on. It’s a compartively calm day so far. With the four riders out in front, there won’t be a competition at the sprint point until the peloton comes up on it. These first four aren’t sprinters, and they don’t care about points. But the rest? Kittel? Cavendish? Oh, they want those points. Movistar is setting up, I see Cofidis— no, that’s Katusha. Greipel is pushing, trying for it with Kittel— and oh, man, they’ve boxed Cav out. Looks like it’s Greipel, Kittel, and maybe Sagan. But Cav is high enough in the standings that he’ll keep the Green Jersey.

There’s a climb to the finish, later on. It’s gonna be crunchy up there. A steep climb, slight, short dip, then a A 14% incline to the line. So the task for the domestiques today is to keep their guys hydrated and fed and fresh, so they can get to that final challenge with as much left in the tank as possible. And the weather sucks. So, you know, lots of fun. Today is a grind. They’re not even trying to catch the breakaway, which is still at about six minutes ahead.

On and on we go, and I suppose I should mention that Cav’s team— his new team— is Dimension Data, whom we saw last year as Qhubeka, in their first-ever Tour de France as a wildcard. Their Daniel Teklehaimanot was the very first black African rider ever to compete, and he won King of the Mountains in Stage 6. And Steve Cummings won a stage, as well— on Mandela Day, no less! They’ve changed their name, but they’re still pushing for charity, as ever, This year, their aim is to bring 5,000 bikes to kids in Africa who sometimes have no other way to get to school.

We’re in the Limoges region of France, btw. And holy cow, is it beautiful. One day, one day, I would love to see it on person. But not from a bike. The helicopters are spoiling me, but in reality, they’d likely just make me sick.

75km to the finish. The peloton is picking up the pace a bit, but the four leaders still have a greater than five minute gap, and there’s a chance, now they won’t be caught. The big teams are lining up at the front, but they’re still eyeing each other more than trying to mount an attack.

As they come closer to the towns, there’s more of what they call “road furniture.” Traffic islands, roundabouts, that sort of thing. The peloton hops like rabbits over the low curbs, and there’s no incident, thankfully.

Oh. Speaking of which, ouch. Sam Bennett, involved in a crash yesterday, tweeted about how horrible his injuries were. Something about bone, and having to be put out to get stitched up. Surely, I thought, he’s tweeting from the hospital. Enjoy your beer, sir— you’ve earned it. And then a shot of him at the back of the peloton, holding on for dear life, but upright and pedaling. You frighten me, man. All of you. Even with all the typical first-week crashes, no one’s out yet. We’re still at full strength. Seriously.

Gap’s down to 4-something. Geraint Thomas of Sky’s had a flat— front flat, so a quick change. Watching the Sky car make its way through the caravan in the narrow streets of a small French town is terrifying. I’ve been driving for decades now, and I wouldn’t even want to do it on a non-race day. I wouldn’t want to do it if zombies had attacked and the town were completely empty.

Hm. Looks like the front group’s lost Benedetti. Yup. They’ve definitely lost him— he’s in the vast abyss between them and the peloton. With no one to help him aerodynamically, there’s pretty much no way he can regain this group. 3.17 on the pack, with 14 miles/22km to go.

BMC, at the front of the peloton, has said they have no intention of chasing down the leading three. Yet they’re not exactly sitting up. They want Tejay Vangarderen and Richie Porte to get home safe. It’s just gotten through to me that Paul Voss is wearing the King of the Mountains Polk-Dot jersey. So this breakaway is important to him.

Aw, there’s the catch. Poor Benedetti. Nothing to show for the day except, okay, well, he got his sponsor’s jersey in front of the cameras for several hours today (Bora, if you’re curious), and that’s what sponsors pay for. So that ain’t nothing.

BMC’s dropped back a bit. Sky’s moved up, and Dimension Data. It’s raining again. Cameras are fogged and spotted, the road is slick. I don’t like this part. 7km to the start of the climb. The first three are under the 10km-to-the-line arch. They’re not GC men, but one of them, if they’re not all caught, will get the Maillot Jaune today, since yesterday’s win was so slim.

Riders are starting to come off the back of the peloton now. Teklehaimanot is one of them, alas. but he’s still strong. He’ll be in it again tomorrow.

The front three have hit the climb, and they are grinding up this incline. And Oh! Stuyven looks over his shoulder and boom! He takes off, leaving the other two behind. Could he take the stage? Well, who knew he still had so much left at this point?

Back of the race is just gruesome. All the guys who’ve been keeping up all day, but the climb is murderous. They’re scattered now like a broken necklace, but they’re still going.

Stuyven is still alone up front, and it’s looking like he’s a definite contender. He’s hit the dip before the second, final climb, and he’s in that terrifying tuck position, forward of his seat, down behind his bars, making everything he can of his own aerodynamics.

Oh, Christ! Richie Porte has a flat, and his car can’t get to him. The neutral Mavic car is there, but this could be a disaster for him. BMC comes off the front of the peloton, because they have to go back for him. He’s their GC guy. Or he was. They can’t drop back entirely, though, cos they still have to safeguard and shepherd Tejay.

The road narrows dramatically, and Stuyven is still alone, powering through Cherbourg, approaching the climb to Cote de la Glacerie.

3km to go, 2km to the summit. The roads are looking grim, now— too narrow for all these men. They don’t care. Tinkoff is in front, Cannondale, it’s all a battle now. Paul Voss has exploded on the road; they’re passing him like he’s sitting still. Cav has come unhitched, falling back through the mass of riders. This was expected— even by him. He’s probably got more stage wins in him, but not today: he’s not a climber. He used to drop out of the Tour entirely, years ago, after the first week, when the mountains arrived. He’s grown so much as a rider.

Huge roundabout, and a shot of Richie Porte trying to get back into the game. Tinkoff at the front, Peter Sagan pushing. Oh, Christ, it’s so close to the finish— are they going to catch Stuyven on the damned line? That would be heartbreaking! He’s trying so, so hard, but they’re right behind him! He’s over the top— he’s got King of the Mountains— but they’re pulling the motorcycles from the gap between him and the chasers, and— ONE KM left! Can he do it?! I am screaming!

Ahhh, fuck! No, he’s caught!

Peter Sagan is pushing, Valverde is there, who’s up? Is it Sagan?? There’s a screaming fight and— YES! Peter Sagan played his cards exactly right at the line, using Julian Alaphilippe as a launchpad, and damn. Jesus, he doesn’t even know he’s won!

Sigh.

Incredible finish, and my neighbours hate me now, but dammit. Poor Jasper Stuyven. Almost 200km out in front, only to lose it in the last few meters. Such is the Tour.

The rest of the field comes staggering in. There are gaps aplenty, here, but good riders in the front. Chris Froome is there— you didn’t forget him, right? Valverde, Gallopin, Barguil.

Man. I’m still wounded for Stuyven, though much of the talk now is about Peter Sagan, who’s not only World Champion, but now our Maillot Jaune, an honour he, like Cav, has never before secured. Still, Stuyven has made some important progress today. He’s got the King of the Mountains Jersey, and Most Aggressive Rider, and he’s also lost any hope of anonymity, ever again. No one will ever underestimate this kid from Belgium again.

The other story, of course, is poor Richie Porte, who’s earned himself the King of Bad Timing Jersey. That flat, coming where it did, could be catastrophic. He’s an amazing rider, and co-leader of BMC with TeJay Vangarderen, but he’s now almost two minutes down. Can he make it up? Maybe. He’s not co-leader for nothing, and it’s only Day Two. And honestly, making hard and fast predictions before the mountains is laughable.

So on we go, and we’ll see where we are tomorrow.



From: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/live/2016/jul/03/tour-de-france-2016-stage-two-live
Peter Sagan crosses the line ahead of Julian Alaphilippe – the Slovakian didn’t know he’d won until after the race. Photograph: Sebastien Nogier/EPA
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Mont-Saint-Michel / Utah Beach Sainte-Marie-du-Mont
188 km

FIRST DAY OF THE 2016 TOUR DE FRANCE!

I’m a bit late, Long night. Sorry. But here we are. We have two riders out front now, as we have for quite some distance: Antony Delaplace of Fortuneo and Alex Howes of Cannondale, the remainders of a five-man breakaway from the start in Mont St. Michel this morning. There’s a fine, wide road to the end, and there will be a sprint finish for the ages.

It’s 10k to the end. The two leaders are 22 seconds ahead, and the multicolored smear of speed on the road behind them is looming. Five miles left, and the peloton doesn’t really care about them. They’re getting themselves in order for the launch of their sprinters. There’s a strong headwind, but they’re all together, the main contenders in long, orderly lines at the front. Sky, Cofidis, Movistar. I don’t know about you, but my heart is picking up. Oh, I’ve waited so long for this.

18 seconds to the leaders. 6km out. They’re talking about Mark Cavendish, though I don’t know where he is right now. His Tour last year was utterly tragic— crashed on the finish of Stage One, in Harrowgate— streets upon which he grew up— in front of his own mum in her hometown. In front of the Duke and Duchess of Cambrige! Snapped collarbone. I’m rooting for him to do great things this year.

There’s one corner, one town, and ugh— a crash has taken out a couple of riders on the narrow streets. Augh. They’re up, but they look severely annoyed.

Out in the fields and the sunshine. The leaders haven’t yet been caught, amazingly. But they’re not GC men, so they’re not a huge concern to the pack.

Almost to the 1km banner, it’s absolutely down to business and and the peloton has stretched out. Antony Delaplace and Alex Howes are swallowed up without the slightest fanfare, after all that work they did for so long. Such is the Tour.

And there it is— the 1km banner! Under the arch! Here we go! Kittel is well-placed, but— CRASH! Oh, Christ! More of them— riders on both sides. A rider has clipped the heavy metal barrier, and become a bloody human domino, precipitating more crashes. Not many riders, thank G-d, but they’re ricocheting across the tarmac, back and forth at high speeds— hard falls— Peter Sagan is near the front, but Cav is there, too, ripping out from behind Sagan, and— IT’S CAV! MARK CAVENDISH HAS TAKEN YELLOW!

Kittel, Sagan, Greipel have come in behind him in that order, but Mark Cavendish, in taking this stage— the very first!— has taken Yellow. His final turbo boost to the line was the burst of glory we’ve seen from him so many times before— this is his TWENTY-SEVENTH stage win, but his VERY FIRST YELLOW. My G-d, I’m so happy for him. So, so very happy.

He’s being interviewed after the stage, and he pulls his little girl, Delilah, up onto his lap, and my G-d, she’s huge. It’s like seeing your friends’ kids during the summer hols, after a year away. Gosh, I remember when she was just a baby! Now— aw, he takes her up to the podium for the first presentation, and she gets the huge bouquet of flowers for the Stage Win. Then comes the presentation for the Yellow Jersey, and I’m guessing if you look out the window to the east, you might see the glow of his smile. Then comes yet another win: the Green Jersey of the Points winner, and that’s the one for which Peter Sagan is going to battle him this year. Paul Voss of Bora gets the King of the Mountain. Best Young Rider is Edward Theuns. He will be, by definition, one to watch this year. French breakaway rider Anthony Delaplace, unsurprisingly, gets Most Aggressive. As Bob Roll says, he will never buy his own drinks in France again.

Post-race, the analysis is on the barriers at the end of the stage. It becomes clear that the Katusha rider who fell hit one of the feet of the barriers. That’s inexcusable: they shouldn’t be using ones with feet that project into the road. Not there. They’re going 45 miles an hour, and at that speed, becoming a human pinball can be deadly.

Speaking of which, Alberto Contador had a crash much earlier today. Either his or someone else’s moment of inattention at the edge of a traffic island mere inches high completely shredded the right side of his body. His team, Tinkoff, came back for him, and shepherded him back to the back, at times holding him up from both sides while he had to change what seems to be a broken shoe. He spent a good amount of time hanging, one-handed, off the doctor’s car, getting bandaged. He finished the stage, but the key is going to be how stiff those road burns are after a night sleeping on them.

So here we are: a completely typical, incredibly exciting first day of the Tour. It’s going to be a glorious ride— it always is— and I’m hoping for a year with fewer broken bones, fewer crashes, and more glorious victories. Vive la Tour!


Mark Cavendish crosses the line to take stage one. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters, via The Guardian
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage Twenty-One: Sèvres to the Champs-Élysées, Paris

Well, here we are: the last day. The meandering, aimless, I-Don’t-Know-Where-We’re-Going wander though the French countryside that culminates in one of the most iconic race routes ever. Out of 198 riders, we have a mere 160 remaining. Up at the front, all the winning jerseys: Green, White, Polka Dot, and, of course, Yellow, are riding together, giving the cameras perfect photo ops as they chat and roll. This is like the last school day before summer vacation: no one’s really working, and everyone is chatting with the people they may or may not see again for a bit.

Unfortunately, it’s a grey, cold, rainy day. I’m hoping the rain lets up early enough to dry off the Champs-Élysées, because as beautiful and storied and iconic as it is, it’s small, flat, slick cobblestones, and while it’s dangerous for cycling at the best of times, it’s murderous in the rain. Race Officials may well call the race for the Yellow Jersey over before the riders get there. The sprint would likely happen, still, but it’s possible that would be called off, as well. I’ve seen that happen on other stages when the weather’s been hideous. People love a good fight, but no one loves carnage.

Ah! At long last, Chris Froome rides from the front of the peloton ahead a couple of yards to the red official’s car from which a large white flag flies. Within a moment, the sunroof opens, and Tour Director Christian Prudhomme pops up. The two men begin to chat about when and where the race will be called for Yellow, and it looks like they’ll do it when the racers cross the finish line for the first time (the last part of today’s stage is ten laps of the Champs-Élysées). That means Chris and the GC contenders can all take it comparatively easy, sitting back a bit and leaving the insanity for the sprinters. It’s the same thinking that created the rule that anyone crashing within the final three kilometers of a stage gets the same time as the group with which they were travelling: the end of a sprint stage can be utter madness, and whatever works to lessen that tension and get more people out of the way is a good thing.

Prudhomme has waved the flag long since, now, just after shaking hands with Froome and Peter Sagan, but the riders aren’t doing much, yet. They’re cruising through the forest, chatting, laughing, and being cheered by the enthusiastic spectators, wrapped, as the riders are, in rain jackets. There’s an incredibly touching human interest piece on AG2R rider Jean Christophe Perraud, who pressed on and is finishing the race despite leaving sizable amounts of skin and blood on the roads after horrible crashes. French President François Hollande said of him, “He won’t be first in Paris, but he’ll be first in our hearts.” It may be cold out, but it’s rather a heartwarming day.

It’s so chilly, in fact, that Chris Froome has stopped altogether to put the Yellow Jersey on over his rain jacket, since there’s no way anyone would cover it up. I’m sure he gave some spectators quite a thrill, stopping there in front of them. As he moved back up to the peloton from his team car— gloriously accompanied by the sound of church bells— we’re told that the rate of injuries per rider was actually lower this year than usual. While most years average 2.7 injuries per rider, this year, it was only 1.7. Gee. I think I won’t quit my day job.

Chris is back up with his teammates, now, and we see that all of the remaining Sky riders have big yellow stripes down the back of their jerseys, and big yellow armbands. And ahhhh! They all link arms and sit up, eight abreast, while the photographer right in front of them goes nuts. Ahhh, I was so hoping to see that! Poor Richie Porte tries taking both hands off the handlebars, but his bike is having none of it, and wobbles like a baby giraffe. Shortly thereafter, the entire team is back at the car— also newly decked out in a huge yellow stripe and yellow trim— for their plastic champagne flutes, toasting their manager and staff, and each other. I think champagne has to taste better with Parisian rainwater in it.

The riders swing up towards the very last climb of the Tour, a Cat 4 hill at the Meudone Observatory, and we’re treated to an utterly breathtaking montage of just a few of the staggering landscapes through which we’ve travelled these last three weeks. When I win the lottery, I’m going to go to France, find one of these pilots, and just say, “Pretend it’s a Tour day and fly me everywhere. Start with the castles.”

Today’s the day for photo montages, statistics, and human interest pieces. There is, of course, a bit on the heartbreaking story of Tony Martin, who missed Yellow by millimeters four days in a row, finally got it through sheer heart, only to lose it in a horrible crash the next day that snapped his collarbone right through his skin. I think he’s actually here, today, commentating for a German TV station. I hope he’s okay. He’s a young rider— he’ll be back.

We’re into the outskirts of Paris now, and Jens Voight, whose retirement accorded him the honour of leading the peloton onto the Champs-Élysées last year, is reminiscing. Does he miss the race? He says he was nostalgic the first morning, looking at all the bright, hopeful faces at the team meetings before the Grand Depart in Utrecht, and that lasted until the crashes started. He did his time, he says, and has no regrets. In other words, I think, he got out with all his limbs intact.

AH! They’re FINALLY in Paris proper, swinging past the Louvre, the ferris wheel, and onto the Champs-Élysées! And they cross the finish line for the first time, and the watches are stopped— Chris Froome has officially won the 2015 Tour de France!

I’m so thrilled. I love this day. I love it SO MUCH.

We have ten laps and 65km to go, though. The peloton is cruising, content to let Sky lead the way at a very gentle pace. The Women’s race was this morning, and it was just crash after crash. The men know this— they were watching from their tour buses, and no one is in a hurry to repeat that, even though the rain has stopped.

But before long, the peloton has stretched out into a long, thick snake as some of the riders are trying to kickstart the actual race part of our show. Soon enough, Sylvain Chavanel— a great rider whose name I haven’t heard at all this year— has taken off, getting a twelve-second lead on the race. It’s not surprising in the least that a French rider is determined to step things up a little. It takes a while, but there are finally some battles and breakaways starting behind him.

Hold on— Ivan Basso is back today? Jesus Christ. That’s two men who had to leave the Tour and have immediate surgery, and they’re both back to commentate. What the hell are these guys made of? They make steel look like scrambled eggs.

The sun is slowly starting to wake up (though it’s still very grey), and so are the sprinters. I see Andre Greipel at the front with the rest of Lotto, and Peter Sagan is methodically chucking all the extra ballast he was carrying: his rain jacket, for one, which will make some spectator an incredible souvenir.

Sylvain Chavanel has faded, and we now have three men off the front: Nelson Oliveira (Lampre-Merida), Florian Vachon (Bretagne-Séché) and Kenneth van Bilsen (Cofidis), with four laps left. They had a space of 28 seconds at one point, but it’s down to 19 now. Around and around the Arc du Triomphe we go. The Chamos is dry, now, amazingly. Turns out the last time there was an actual wet finish was 1977. Huh. And now we know.

Two laps left, and I’m still pulling for Mark Cavendish. But I hadn’t realised that he’s lost his best leadout man, Mark Renshaw. Renshaw abandoned in the eighteenth stage with an horrific migraine. UGH. Fav is so far down the GC he can’t even see the top, but that’s no matter. In his early days, he’d come to the Tour, win all the first week’s sprint stages, and abandon once the race got to the mountains, because he’s a phenomenal sprinter and a terrible climber. (Like most sprinters.) But the last few years, he’s made it through the mountains, and I couldn’t be prouder or more amazed. I want him to win.

Oh, FFS. Froome has to pull over. There’s a bloody plastic bag stuck in his back gears. His teammates have tried to yank it off, but it’s not coming. So his team car meets him by the side of the street, and hand him a new bike. Bright yellow, of course!

The front riders are up to four, now, having been joined by Astana’s Andriy Grivko. And amazingly, the sun is out. Joan of Arc is shining in her new gold leaf as the riders come around Norwegian Corner (so named because that’s where all the Norwegian fans gather, draping themselves and the barriers in flags).

The giant hand bell is ceremonially rung as the riders begin the final lap. French Air Force jets fly over the Champs-Élysées, streaming the colours of France, and I burst into tears. This is magic.

They’re off in earnest, now, for the sprint. Sky surrounds Chris near the back, insulating him so he can party like a rock star in just a few minutes, finally off the bike.

Lotto has lost peloton control in the front to Orica GreenEdge, but it goes back and forth many times. Cav is tucked into the pack right next to Peter Sagan. There’s no leadout train yet, no organisation. Down into the tunnel they go, one last time between Joan and the Norwegians, and oh, man— under the red kite and OH NO! There are three riders down— one of them is lying in the road not moving!

But the race doesn’t stop!

Alexander Kristoff of Katusha is going! Greipel is behind him, then takes off with Europcar's Bryan Coquard beside him— where is Cav!? No! there’s no time! IT’S GREIPEL! Andre Greipel of Lotto has won another sprint— the grandest of them all!

And there, seconds later, all alone, is Team Sky, arm in arm again, eight abreast, crossing the final finish line in the brilliant sun: the 2015 Tour de France is over.

It doesn’t take long to set up the giant, open-backed stage for the final jersey and trophy presentations. Andre Greipel gets the stage winner’s commendations, then it’s Peter Sagan getting his Green Jersey for the overall win. Then Nairo Quintana comes out to get his grand White Jersey, and it’s impossible not to say something about the fact that this guy is TINY. there are huge Colombian flags waving from the crowd, and they’re bigger than he is.

Most Aggressive rider goes to Roman Bardet, who honest to G-d looks like he’s twelve. And he’s really not that much older— we’ll be hearing so much from him in the future.

Movistar is backstage, all of them holding the huge bouquets given them as winners of the Best Team competition. Their faces show so much joy. And, I’m sure, relief. They head up to the stage, accompanied by their manager, all holding their flowers, and each one with a trophy of a rider’s number 1 on a yellow background. The podium girl is holding a stuffed cow, and I want to know who gets THAT.

And there, finally, is Chris Froome, up on the podium collecting his final Yellow Jersey and stuffed lion and the gorgeous, enormous, cobalt-blue Sèvres footed bowl, then turning and waving to the crowds up and down the Champs, grinning hugely. This is his second Tour de France win. I doubt it’ll be his last.

And so that’s it. We’re all done. The riders get to go home, now, and sleep, and eat what they want, and drink what they want, and sleep with whomever they want as opposed to being crammed into hotels and buses and pelotons with their teammates for three weeks. No more cameras on motorcycles, no more screaming crowds, no more guys in clown suits running up the road beside them.

Until the next race.



Team Sky’s Chris Froome (yellow jersey) crosses the finish line with team-mates to claim his second Tour de France. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA, via The Guardian
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage Twenty: Modane to l’Alpe d’Huez, 110.5km

Another beautiful little French town, another easy depart, another roll through the neutral zone, and another explosive breakaway the second the flag goes down. Four men— Nicolas Edet, Ramunas Navardauskas, Lars Bak, and Alexandre Geniez— take off, and they are going hell for leather, easily outpacing the peloton.

This is a short stage, today, so anyone wanting to do something spectacular is going to have to do so early. Accordingly, early in the climb up the Col de la Croix-de-Fer— yes, the same col as yesterday only we’re going up the other direction today (it would have been the Col du Galibier, had there not been a landslide there recently)— there are already several attacks. There’s one off the front of the four breakaway riders, and then, back down the road, Valverde attacks form the peloton, and Quintana follows. By all accounts, the two Movistar riders have planned this— could this be the stage where Quintana goes from the second step on the podium to the top? He’s 2.38 down. It’s a mountain all to itself, but is the Best Young Rider enough to level it?

The leader, FdJ rider Alexandre Geniez, goes over the summit of the Col de la Croix-de-Fer alone, but there is so much happening behind him. Quintana leads Valverde over the summit, but Nibali has challenged Froome, who refuses to give an inch, and together, they outstrip Froome’s teammate, Richie Porte. Once over the top, Froome, who’s an excellent descender, catches up to Quintana. And slowly, the group of leaders begins to coalesce again, at 80 or 90kmph down the sweeping, gentle curves of the mountain road. Thank G-d this isn’t a technical descent, or someone would be flat on the ground, I’m sure. There are too many men here with too much to lose.

As they cross a gorge with an amazing waterfall in it that really looks like it should have a few dwarves, some elves, and a couple of hobbits traipsing along it, they’re back as a group of about fifteen to twenty. They haven’t caught Geniez, though. And as they slowly make their way to the beginning of the climb up l’Alpe d’Huez, we’ve settled into Geniez, two chase groups, and Froome in the peloton. It won’t last: Froome himself is a good climber, but most of the now-thirty or so guys around him may not be. Then again, that’s why he’s IN Yellow.

Ouf— off to the side, Nibali has flatted. He’s calm as his mechanic brings him a new bike from the car, making sure to take his water off the bike he’s discarding, and three teammates are right there to pace him back. But of all the times to flat, just as you begin to get into the rhythm of a giant climb? Not good. Not good at all.

Okay, two six-foot-tall bananas, a guy with an inflatable kangaroo on his head…okay.

Oh! Quintana is attacking! Richie Porte is right on him, making sure he stays with the young rider to keep Froome in contact. Porte manages to get in front of Quintana, pacing the entire group, keeping things calm. But it’s only for a few minutes— Quintana attacks again! This is his plan for the day: attack and attack and attack, and make today the day he goes for the win. Froome, who’s a good climber, but doesn’t have Quintana’s explosive climbing attack power, is staying steady, letting his teammates catch Quintana and keep him from getting too far away, but everyone is grinding. Today is not an easy day.

11km to the summit. The switchbacks have begun. We’re at about an 8% gradient now. The Yellow Jersey group is down to about nine now. The attacks are working. In fact, Valverde is breaking out, but he’s so far down the GC, no one is going to waste energy trying to catch him. Speaking of catches, Nibali, today’s winner of the “Worst Place Ever to Flat A Tire” Award, has, amazingly, managed to claw his way back to the group. Just in time to see Quintana attack AGAIN. Quintana pushes and pushes, knowing he’s got Valverde holding a spot for him just a few seconds ahead— clever plan! But Sky refuses to panic. Their sangfroid is remarkable, and is a big part of what’s kept Chris in Yellow all this time.

Up ahead, Thibaud Pinot, who’s been shoving on with Canadian rider Ryder Hesjedal of Cannondale Garmin, has managed to catch up to his FdJ teammate, Geniez. Hesjedal refuses to give up, though, and there are now three up there, leading the race. Well, for a moment: Geniez has done what he can, and gotten his team captain, Pinot, up to the front. Now he starts to fade back, job done.

Quintana Is working his way up through the dying riders of a chase group, and it’s now Winner Anacona setting a pace for him. He’s got 30 seconds on Froome at the moment. He needs a whole two minutes more, however, to take the top spot, and though he’s good, that’s a superhuman goal. Especially considering Froome has two teammates to help him— Richie Porte and Wout Poels— and Quintana only has one.

And there’s a guy with an Irish flag running alongside the Colombian, screaming “Allez allez allez!” Talk about international.

Geniez refuses to die completely, however, and he’s staying alive, keeping up with with a few other riders. All the groups now are single-file, making their way through the bat-shit crazy insanity that is Dutch Corner. Which is not a corner. Everyone is in orange, the road is painted in orange, someone's let off an orange smoke bomb, and the fanatics— seriously, there’s no one crazier about cycling than the Dutch— are barely separated enough to let the riders through. There are enough costumes to put this weekend’s Otakon to shame, and, just like Otakon, I can’t figure out what half of them are meant to be. I think I saw penguins. The noise is unbelievable. Unspeakable, but that’s mostly because there’s no point in trying to speak: no one could possibly hear you over the screaming din. There’s seriously a space of about 30”, if that, between the walls of screaming insanity: it parts like the Orange Sea before the riders, and flows back together again behind them.

Okay. There are four guys in green gimp suits, with stuffed turtle shells on their backs. Don’t look. Well…at least we’re well past the guy in the Borat mankini.

Thibaud Pinot is alone at the front, 5km from the summit. He knows right behind him is Winner Anacona and his teammate Nairo Quintana. And Quintana makes another attack! It’s amazing to see him go! There are Colombian flags all over the place!

My jaw is dropping. There’s a camera back on Chris, and I hope to fuck I’m hearing people screaming his name, because if they’re actually booing, I’m going to want to hit someone. Some asshole spit on him yesterday. Someone also apparently thew urine. Seriously: people like that aren’t cycling fans. They need to stay the hell home.

4km to the summit for Froome— Richie Porte has recovered, and is back to support him. But he’s over a minute down from Quintana, and they all need to hit it hard to catch up to the Colombian. Quintana knows he’s got Hesjedal and Pinot ahead of him, and that’s it. Quintana wants the stage win. He’s out for blood.

Winner Anacona cracks and slides backwards, and Quintana comes upon Hesjedal. Hesjedal refuses to go down without a fight, and shows an enormous amount of heart, but he just can’t do it. Now it’s only Pinot, and I’m betting he can hear Quintana sharpening his knife close behind. 27 seconds, but it’s uphill. Can he do it?

1.15 back, Froome is with Porte and Valverde and a Europcar rider I can’t quite see.

Pinot is not panicking, but I honestly can’t understand why. I’m panicking FOR him. But he’s under the Flamme Rouge— no, Quintana is only 22 seconds behind, and they’re both now on the flat of the town square! Behind them, Porte has cracked! Froome is alone now, and he has GOT to do his best to keep Quintana at bay!

We’re almost at the line— and yes! Pinot punches the air, clutches his helmet, and cheers! He’s done it— a Frenchman has won on l’Alpe d’Huez! Quintana is only 20 seconds behind, and still looking strong! And Hesjedal has held on! He’s third!

Here comes Froome! He’s got Valverde right there beside him and he’s not giving any quarter— but it’s good. He still has a solid lead in the GC, still, and he has all but won the Tour and assured his spot on the top of the podium tomorrow in Paris. And I feel like I’ve drunk eight cups of coffee. And I don’t drink coffee.

That’s pretty much the race, right there. Tomorrow is a ceremonial ride. In Armstrong’s heyday, he and his team would cruise the road arm in arm— however many of them were left— holding champagne flutes. There will be a final sprint on the flat of the Champs-Élysées tomorrow, and that will be exciting as hell, but the main work is done. It is, as they say, all over but the shouting.

Post-stage, cameras catch Geraint Thomas, asking how he feels now that it’s all done. “Oh, he did it?” he asks, not having spoken to anyone on his team yet. He doesn’t sound surprised, though. This is a man who has supreme confidence in his teammate. He’s proud of his team. And man, he should be. Sky did an incredible, almost unbelievable Tour. Jesus. They’re strategists, they’re scientists, and they’re athletes. They were a near-perfect team.

Thibaud Pinot takes his acclaim on the podium as stage winner, and of course, this is the time our broadcast chooses to show a montage of how his tour has gone: his multiple crashes and mechanicals, and— ulp— his temper tantrums, screaming at his mechanic at one point, thumping his bike on the ground in frustration at another. But as we saw yesterday, nothing clears a man’s reputation quite like victory, and the final shots are of his exultant face as he wins the stage.

Here’s Chris Froome getting his 8,425th yellow jersey (okay, 29th). He stands in the sun, shaking his head just a little. He can’t believe it. But he’s got it in hand— 1.12 over Quintana, and no one will touch him tomorrow. And then, remarkably, he comes back out again, because he’s also taken the Polka Dot Jersey of the King of the Mountains. Interestingly, since Froome will wear yellow tomorrow, and Quintana, who’s second in the KotM competition, will maintain the White Jersey of Best Young Rider, it will be Romain Bardet in spots tomorrow. Which is what he was wearing today, before the other two men displaced him. (Bardet is also second in the White Jersey race.)

Quintana gets his White Jersey on the podium, his head exactly the same height as one of the podium girls. That’s one short guy— but that’s to his advantage. He has less mass to drag up the mountains he climbs so well.

Chris Froome is interviewed now, and I’m seeing again that gaunt look and folded-paper lines around the mouth I saw on Armstrong for so many years at the end of the race. He’s incredulous, giving all of today’s credit to Richie Porte and Wout Poels and all his amazing teammates.

Peter Sagan gets his Green Jersey— his fourth now, in a row. As ever, when he opens his mouth to speak, I find myself having to refrain from giggling— his voice is so nasal, and for some reason, always makes me laugh. I think it’s also partly because the guy is such a trickster, always poking fun at people, running around laughing. He’s also quite hot.

I have a bottle of not-Champagne I may open tomorrow for the final, wonderful stage in Paris. Today was such an amazingly executed piece of strategy and skill. It’s been a great Tour. I’ll miss it.




Froome, Richie Porte, Wout Poels and Valverde take on the chaos that is Dutch Corner
Photograph: Tim de Waele/Corbis, via The Guardian
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