Jul. 9th, 2016

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.

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