Jul. 7th, 2016

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)

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.


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!!!


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.)

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